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Nine Standards Fell Race 2024

Date: 01/01/2024

Distance: 8 miles

Ascent: 1801ft

Organiser: Howgill Harriers

Time: 1:23:09

Position: 100/145

Cuisine chosen: Carrot and Coriander soup and bread

Route description:

An out and back race, starting at the marketplace of Kirkby Stephen, running for around two miles on road to pick up a rough track for just over a mile. A large area of bog makes up the final mile so be prepared to get wet and muddy. The whole route is wide enough for overtaking and it is a near constant uphill, rising nearly 1800ft in four miles before descending the same way, making it a quick course. 

Race report

Around the UK, the nation was enjoying its favourite New Years day pastimes: waking up on bathroom floors, prising slices of cold pizza off sofas, gingerly taking paracetamols and slumping into chairs, swearing to never drink again. For 145 people, however, this was replaced by the joy of running up a hill and being submerged in bog.

I stood in line in the Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue base, waiting to collect my race number for the Nine Standards fell race. Behind me a dog wandered around, clutching a folded piece of paper; whether trying to sign up or not, neither I nor, by the look of it, the dog knew. Registration complete, I trotted after a group of runners in the distance, heading towards the starting area, a 15 minute walk away. As I caught them, the group split, half going right, another half going left. I had banked on little navigation needed in this race but already, before it had even begun, I was being tested. I chose straight on, for the logical reason that, on the left, nothing is right, whereas straight on at least had a 50/50 chance of being right. About five minutes later I stood at the starting point, mentally congratulating myself for the excellent display of mental gymnastics. As the last of my self applied mental back slaps were delivered, I noticed the runners from the other group also standing at the start line. 

The race began and 145 runners began pounding up the road. The atmosphere was surprisingly electric for New Years Day with a number of people leaning out of houses or stood on the side of the road calling encouragement. I have never enjoyed road running. For one thing, there are far fewer reasons to start walking than on a fell (unless you fall into a particularly massive pothole). The gradient increased and, in an effort to take my mind off this fact, I tried to work out what time I should aim for. Unlike other races I had done, I was going in completely blind. I had never done a race of this sort, or been to this area, so had no real idea what to expect. I heard someone at registration say they were aiming for one hour up and half an hour down and, judging by the density of their legs, they looked like they knew what they were talking about. Before long, we reached the track and the pace slowed. I began to overtake a few runners, as this was far more my terrain, and I began to settle into a rhythm. 

“Keep left at the bridge” a Mountain Rescue volunteer shouts, I nod and direct some noise at him. It was meant to be “Thank you” but it ended up, due to my dry mouth, being more of an incoherent rasp. I had read about this part before the race, the start of the boggy ground where it was impossible to not get wet; the aim was not to accidentally go for a swim. While the left hand side proved to be stable, it still was not overly solid, and a runner in front disappeared up to their knees with a loud exclamation, before dragging themselves out, covered in mud. Shoes growing heavy with accumulated filth, I continued up the track. Finally, on the skyline ahead, the standards appeared, a line of tall rocky cairns signifying the halfway point. Spirits bolstered, I continued my way up. 

I reached the summit, rounded the standard, and began to run down. This was a far easier descent than my previous race at Crag Fell, lots of grass and mud to naturally slow me down, and, should I fall, provide a reassuringly soft (albeit socially unacceptable) landing mat. The bridge appeared and I splashed past it, joining the path and running down gaining some pace on the faster surface. Before long I rejoined the road. The hugely variable mix of terrain meant that, for most runners, there was a decision to make about what trainers to wear. The soft bog, hard rough trail and road almost needed three different sets of shoes to adequately traverse. Fortunately I was spared this dilemma by dint of having the worlds fussiest feet, which complain and scream in agony if I don't wear La Sportiva Mutants (they would pick a really expensive pair). The lugs of the shoes had been fantastic on the bog and the path, but, now I was on the road, they were less than ideal. The gathered mud on the shoes made them quite slippery, mixed with the, faster than normal speed, I was running down hill but, somehow, I made it down into the town unscathed.

A marshal stood waving people left (most likely to prevent people making a beeline through someone's garden). “All downhill from here” he shouted. I presumed he meant the course, but a slight incline lay ahead of me. I judged that he, possibly rightly, considered the Nine Standards the highlight of anyone's year and, now it was all but over, it was all downhill from here. I crossed the finish line, my legs wobbly and ruined, grabbed a cup of water and collapsed onto a bench. After my legs felt like my own again, I followed a line of runners, heading back, chatting about the race, to the base, for refreshments. Refreshed, and full of soup, in ones twos, we headed home, happy and optimistic for a good year of fell running ahead.

Another excellent race and a great way to start the year. Thank you Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue, Howgill Harriers and all the people who cheered from the sidelines as we came past. What a start to the year. 

fell runner on the nine standards
All downhill from here. Image credit:

A dog holding some paper
"Anyone know where to sign up?"

Soup in a cup
Soup-er tasty

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