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Loughrigg Fell Race, 10th April 2024

Loughrigg Fell Race

Date: 10/04/2024

Distance: 4 miles

Ascent: 1080ft

Organiser: Ambleside AC

Time: 45.15

Race Description

About as simple as it gets (the race, not me). From Rothay Park in Ambleside, up to the summit of Loughrigg then back down again. The race starts with 200m on the flat, before going up a steeply sloping road. This is mostly wide, however, there are two serious bottlenecks at the bridges to contend with. Once off the road, you stay on a wide rutted track before you cut off and start on up the fell. Other than the aforementioned bottlenecks, and the final climb to the summit cairn, there is space to overtake during the entire race. The route is a hectic mix of grass, mud, rock and bog so you will be guaranteed to arrive back filthy. 

Race report

I haven't written anything on this blog for quite a while. While I could pretend it was due to an intense bout of training: every waking minute taken up by either running or listening to Eye of the Tiger, a quick glance at my race time would show that this was a blatant lie. The reason is less glamorous, but far more relatable: laziness. At work the previous week, we discussed which of the seven deadly sins we most related to. I said sloth. No one believed me; “you run up hills, how can you be lazy” they said. Yet I am exceptionally lazy, refusing to put a great deal of effort into most things, relying on my devastatingly high abundance of natural talent to slosh me along the waterslide of life. I even manage to do fell running, a notoriously knackering activity, in a bone-idle way. I love running in the fells, but really don’t see the appeal of putting much effort in. All that fighting for breath and burning of lungs sounds like far too much work, which is apparent when you see that my race pace and my normal training running pace is virtually identical. I keep up my weekly mileage and ascent mainly because I love being in the hills, but also because, if I don't, my usual trundling up the fells will start becoming difficult again. The elders of MENSA HQ still doubt that I am the epitome of sloth, but anyway, back to the race. 

It was a carnival atmosphere. The smell of Factor 50 filled the air, and all around people were slurping ice lollies. David Guetta had set up a small DJ Booth and was throwing down some of the latest bops on the wheels of steel as people danced and swayed, clutching brightly coloured cocktails, soaking up the last of the day's warmth. 

Well, that was not entirely true, but should you have looked at what people were wearing, you would have assumed you may be on the beaches of Ibiza in the sun rather than the North of England in the rain. Brightly coloured vests and small shorts were in abundance as if in a valiant last stand against the armies of drizzle and gloom. We marshalled on the grass, already churned and muddy, and, after a short race briefing, we were off. As we reached the first ascent, something miraculous happened; I started overtaking people. Not walkers who happened to be going the same way as the race. Not people injured and lying on the floor, unable to move. Genuine runners; I wondered if my friends had had a whip round and paid a few people to lag behind me, but regardless, I gained several places. As the road moved onto track and, and the mile (singular) slipped away, there was very little of note to report.

We moved off the track and onto the fell and, just as I started thinking about what shenanigans I was going to populate this blog with (not that I ever actually spend much time talking about the race) I fell into a bog. It was not overly deep, merely going mid-calf, but it did almost remove my newly purchased Inov8 shoe. At this point 100 odd runners (and possibly around 15 normal runners) had passed this way, so the ground was churned up and the bogs were expanding and deepening like damp black holes. I feared what they would be like on the way back, would they have all formed into one giant sinkhole that would go on to devour Ambleside? Would I be able to call a marshal to help? Foot smothered in filth, I continued on. 

As I ran, I realised I had been a bit silly in my choice of footwear. For the past six years, I have only worn La Sportiva Mutants for everything I did: running, walking, working, putting out the bins*. However, a physio had pointed out that they were completely the wrong shape for me and were crushing my toes. I replaced these with some wider Inov8 shoes that, being red and with a bulbous end, looked like a cartoon thumb that had been hit with a hammer. They also have a high rubber rind up the side that, while making it look like I am cutting about in an edam, makes them feel like less of an extension of my foot and more like a shoe (which is a weird complaint to make about a shoe). While no doubt excellent, they do take some getting used to, and in time I am sure I would grow to love them. That being said, their first proper run out probably should not have been a race.

*The four sections of Matthew's Hierarchy of Needs, a widely discredited alteration of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

A few bog falls later and the leading runners, having already reached the summit, started coming past in the opposite direction, emerging out of the mist like The Dead Men of Dunharrow. As the number of returners began to increase, the summit cairn began to materialise. I scrambled up, dibbed my dibber, then realised I would need to show the marshal my race number. This was made more difficult for a number of reasons

  1. I had pinned it to my T-shirt, which was under my jacket

  2. My jacket was a pullover, I could not unzip it to show my number

  3. My jacket and T-shirt were soaked and had fused into one mass

  4. My hands were cold and lifeless

I shuffled forward, desperately pawing at my garments, succeeding in only pulling up both items, revealing my clammy oyster-like flesh to the unfortunate marshall. Another few tugs, and I heard a shout of “145”. I was undecided if this was my race number or the number of pounds he would pay for me to put my rancid carcass back under its coverings and leave. Either way, I took it as permission to turn tail and descend the fell. 

If I had to describe the descent in two words, I would go onto the settings of this blog and wonder what on earth was going on. If however, I was forced to stick to two words, it would be: wet and slippery. I slid and slipped down the descent, my feet skidding, with less ability to gain purchase than the time I went to an auction with my hands super glued into my pockets. The only traction I received was when I fell into the ever-deepening bogs, the first smothering me up to my knees in thick mud, the second drenching me with muddy water, which became a whole lot muddier with me in it. Mercifully soon, I was at the track and all that was left was the long descent back down into the town. 

Crossing the finish line I stopped my watch, 45 and a bit minutes. I had hoped for 40 minutes but I am sure that I spent at least 20 minutes pulling myself out of swamps, bogs and peaty deposits so in many ways*, I had surpassed my expectations. I waddled back to the car, my new shoes squelching in protest after their damp initiation. While it may not have been everyone's cup of tea (or cup of filthy bog water) I could not have thought of a better way to spend a Wednesday evening. 

*Except for the only important one

Onwards and, very pertinently, upwards.

Thank you to Ambleside AC, and all the marshalls and helpers who make this happen.

Image credit: Grand Day Out Photography:

loughrigg fell race
The smile of a man who knows he has just traumatised a marshall

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Great write up, those bogs varied so much in depth it was impossible to judge

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