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Newlands Memorial Fell Race 2024

The gradient began to steepen but my pace remained constant, a true testament to my monumental training effort over the past weeks. Around me, the fells shone in the sun, a bright blue sky overhead and hardly a cloud in sight; but I had no time to gaze in wonder. My legs ached and I longed to stop to rest my tired feet, but I knew I must continue. What seemed like an eternity later I rounded a corner and saw my goal. With renewed vigour, I forged on, reaching my destination before stopping gratefully, revealing in the joys of not moving.

But that's quite enough about my walk to the start line, onto the race report.

In my defence it was quite a long walk to the start point and, had I known how long it was, I would maybe have set off a little bit before I did. A few years prior, I had tried to enter Teenager With Altitude, a longer route that runs an hour before the Newlands race and joins up with it half way along. I had been unable to start, failing the kit check due to not having a hat, an item I never considered bringing with me on the fells as I have always considered my hair to be a hat. I had entered the race amidst moving house and changing jobs, neither of which being conducive to getting in any good training, reccying the route or knowing where my hat was. In hindsight, I should maybe not have entered that race, and maybe the car that was on fire in the middle of the road, as I tried to drive there was a sign that I should maybe sit this one out. Anyway, I had assumed the race had started from where I had been turned away. I was wrong.

I finally arrived at the start line and, before too long, we were off, running the two-and-a-half miles of track to get to the first ascent: Robinson. I had told myself before the race that, once on top of Robinson, that it would all be ok, and I could enjoy the rest of the race knowing the worst was behind me; a bold statement to make about the first of six hills. Looking at each section, I saw that the <1 mile climb up Robinson was so horrific that it made the remaining eight miles seem enjoyable. At the time this seemed a nice thought: a small portion of torture before leisurely, happy mountain times. And, while the logic was indeed sound, it was by no means a comfort when said climb was, quite literally, looming. 

The climb began, and I began to die a little inside. The heat was oppressive, a solid wall of solar energy battering into me. I gulped my water like a greedy pelican, not thinking of preserving fluid for the remaining miles, convinced I would perish before I reached the top. This was worrying, I was already too hot and, with each step upwards, I was moving closer to the sun, a worrying (and uneducated) prospect. I had recently spent six-months in New Zealand, where I spent an enjoyable time complaining about how hot it was. When travelling further south in the country, I was warned that it got ‘really cold’ where I was moving to. Arriving, I asked one of my new housemates about this. They confirmed this, saying it was going to go down to 10C during the week. He spoke about rumours of frost on the floor in the same way I would talk about a rumour of a  glacier ploughing its way along the A66 and smashing through the Pencil Museum. The sweltering temperature as I climbed Robinson were only 2C warmer than the freezing temperatures that this man so revered. It was not just me though, all around me, people were complaining about the heat, suffering from cramps and generally looking sweaty and thirsty: the hills were alive with the sound of smacking lips.

I reached the summit, and, with jellied legs, realised I would actually have to do a spot of running. I did just this, immediately going off course gaining the slower tourist path instead of the faster line down towards Hindscarth. From here, the runners of the aforementioned Teenager With Altitude race were mingling with us, looking not much more exhausted than I was, which was admittedly a bit embarrassing. A man in an Ambleside AC vest passed, effortlessly bounding past me despite the numerous more miles he had done. I had recently faced my fears of social interaction and joined a running club; even being brave enough to purchase a club vest. I had set it out the previous night, next to a pair of my snazziest shorts, but, on trying it on in the morning, I decided against wearing it. There are several features that make a vest appealing: tanned body and the sort of bulgy shoulder, bicep and tricep combo that, if traced, would create a perfect Sine Wave are definitely amongst them. However, growing up in Cumbria, and with the heavily lower-body-focused hobby of fell running, I did not look overly dashing in the vest. Pale, clammy oystery flesh covered barely by the vest with frail noodle-esque arms dripping out of each sleeve made for a stomach turning combination. Surprisingly, I felt more naked than if I had gone topless. I decided that I would be embarrassing Ambleside AC enough with my poor performance and decided to leave the vest at home.

The views were amazing and, without breaking stride I pulled out my phone to capture the view. Looking back at the image after the race, I saw I produced a photo so bad that it made me consider throwing my phone into a stream. It was not bad due to a thumb in the frame or motion blur from my extreme speeds. Nor was their excuse of clag or clouds, the view was clear and beautiful, picturesque fells stretching as far as the eye could see. It was quite simply, and without exaggeration, the worst picture ever taken. Blissfully unaware of my photographic inadequacies, I finished the climb before descending, choosing possibly the steepest and rockiest line, before reaching the bottom and picking up my stride. The previous week I had done the Loughrigg race that, if you can be bothered reading the report here, can be summed up with one word: boggy. Should I sum it up in two words it would be: very boggy, so you get the picture. On the start line, I joked with someone who witnessed me fall into a bog that, despite the aforementioned extreme heat and relatively dry conditions for the past week, if there was any bog left, I would fall into it. As I reached the bottom of Dale Head, looking ahead to the climb up High Spy, my ankles were suddenly submerged in water. 

The single worst photo ever taken

The next climb was horrible. The worst type of climb: a runnable one. I tried my best, lurching forward, reaching into my bag for my ‘nutrition’, a small bag of Terry's Chocolate Orange minis. As I had my kit checked at the start of the race, I felt myself needing to apologise for the lack of any suitable food and instead just bringing sweets like a 10-year-old. With a grim look, the kit checker told me that it wasn't the worst that day. The way he said it suggested that he had seen some things. I wondered what other people could have brought to make him appear so jaded: a sleeve saturated in broth? A sock filled with beans? A water bottle with frozen peas floating in it? I wondered if anyone could get away with long, chewable fingernails as nutrition and dismissed the thought: if my hair isn't a hat, then fingernails aren't food. Despite my misgivings, the small chocolates were just the boost I needed to get me up and over the fell and soon I was back running again.

The final hill was upon us, and as I approached I saw some large plastic signs facing the opposite direction, telling a trail race that happened to be on the same day where to go. I could see where I needed to go and, upsettingly, it was upwards. I reached the top of Cat Bells and, after dibbing, descended. A few crags down and my ankle made a heroic cracking noise. I stopped as my whole ankle had gone numb and sat down, wondering what I was going to do next. There was not much chance of bailing, the quickest way down being the race route. I had twisted my ankle a smidge on the smoothest section between Robsinson and Hindscarth so was slightly concerned that the two twists might have done a bit of damage. But, after a while, the pain receded. Not just pain of the fresh injury, but the pain of the earlier twist as well; it appeared I had created a whole new branch of physiotherapy based on the principle of double the injury for none of the pain. Tentatively, then growing in confidence as my ankle failed to scream in agony, I descended the fell, ran the short road section before dibbing for the final time.

After collecting my time, I walked slowly back to the car and drove to Keswick. I lay on the grass in Crow Park, looking over at the fells I had run over, marvelling at how beautiful they looked from this distance. The aforementioned trail race was finishing behind me, a comically large, blow up finishing arch complete with PA being a beacon of un-necessity in the quiet of the day. Around me people were walking around with medals, with some even taking selfies with medals clamped between their teeth. From outward appearance, there was no indication I had done a race, no prize, medal, t-shirt. Just how it should be.

fell runner in lake district
Looking strangely conspiratorial

fell runner in lake district
Finally, one where I am smiling

Thank you to Cumberland Fell Runners for another well organised and fun race, and a big thank you to all the marshals and people who took the time to make this happen.

Thank you Grand Day Out Photography for the pictures of me running and finally getting one of me where I am not leering in pain.

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May 01
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Beast of a race I did it last year and need to go back that climb up robinson feels like Everest 🤣🤣🤣

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