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SOB Fell Race 2024 (Stile End, Outerside, Barrow) Kong Winter Series 3

Date: 06/01/2024

Distance: 5miles

Ascent: 1800ft

Organiser: Kong Adventure

Time: 01:06:10

Position: 175/234

Cuisine chosen: Chocolate Digestive

Route description:

The SOB Fell race is almost entirely on fell, with only a few hundred metres on farm track at the start. There are three fells, however, the majority of climbing is done ascending Stile End, the first of the three. The ascents are not technical, and you wont need to use your hands at all, just slog your way up. The navigation is relatively simple, however, be aware the best lines are not the popular lines used by walkers. 

A fast race, but difficult to overtake, make sure you position yourself well at the start so you don’t find yourself blocking people or having to fight through a press of bodies.

Race Report

The Curse of Kong has lingered with me for many years. In 2021, I entered four of their winter series races and was prevented from even making it to the starting line of a single one. To make it more spooky, all of these DNS results were due to the same reason. At the time, I was working as a ranger in a forest and, each of these four races was just after a large storm which caused all the trees in the forest to lay horizontal in order to hide from the winds*. I therefore had to spend each of the race weekends looking at trees and assessing how dangerous they were, which did limit my capacity to race. In the Spring of 2022, I entered the Buttermere Sailbeck race and, feeling confident I would not get caught out by a storm, was certain that I would be able to at least start the race. Driving over to Buttermere, I was informed by a rather flustered looking gentleman that a bus was stuck up ahead blocking the way through. I did consider if this could be a ruse, meant to prevent a runner of my extreme talent from showing up, showing off and showing everyone up. I decided to turn around and use a hefty slice of local knowledge, to find a secret way into Buttermere. By the time I managed to fight my way along the road, past all the hordes of people who also happened to know the secret way, the race had already begun and I was too late. I decided to retry, a year and a half later, in December 2023 with the Clough Head race. By now, I was starting to see a pattern that I was determined to break.** I woke up on the day, acutely aware that I was in a job that does not involve trees and that the road to the race is almost impossible to block due to its width. Alas, the curse had found another way to strike as my lane had decided to become an ice rink. My car could not move. I had to drop out.

*For those with little experience of forest management, trees are meant to be vertical, and it is a right bother when they become horizontal.

**This is also the case with the OMM which I have entered twice, both times it has been cancelled the only two times it has been outright cancelled in its 56 year history (although it was abandoned midway in 2008)

I entered the SOB race, resigned to receive another DNS. After completing the Nine Standards fell race earlier in the week, and then doing a rather treacherous muddy run the day after, I feared the curse would strike through an injury. I was right, but not in the way I thought. Returning from the muddy run on Tuesday, I was delighted to see that my landlady's dog, Roux, who I had not seen since before Christmas, was back. Delighted, I ran over to her, reached down to deliver some swift pats and twisted my knee. The ape of misfortune, it seemed, had struck again and, with only three days to recover it looked like another failed entry. I rested furiously, stretching and strengthening and doing as little movement as possible, essentially, being bone idle. By Friday the knee felt good, but I knew the proof of the pudding would be eaten in the trio of Lakeland fells I had to run over the next day. 

On the day of the race I found a distinct lack of texts demanding me to come into work. Walking to the car, the ground was covered in a huge lack of snow, like a thick, invisible blanket. Arriving at the car, feeling things were too good to be true, I found my keyhole to the car was frozen shut. I jammed the key in, but it would not turn. I felt a hairy figure watching me, chuckling menacingly.* I pressed my lips to the keyhole and exhaled a few times, well aware of how peculiar this would look to anyone watching. It worked, my super heated breath melting the ice in the mechanism and allowing me access into the car. From there it was a matter of scraping the windows using my new ice scraper, a Christmas present from my dad, who had waxed lyrical about its merits. I had previously only used a Tupperware box lid which I thought had worked well until I saw the scraper slice through the ice like a thermal lance through a mint choc chip ice cream. Screen cleared, I got into the car, drove off and, before long, arrived at the race HQ. 

*I really hope it was that ape

Kit checked, ominous black X daubed on my hand, and registration complete, we shuffled into place on the narrow lane, the slower runners making their way to the back. In a perverse quirk of the race, due to the large number of runners, and narrowness of the starting area, the runners who had modestly placed themselves near the back, had to run far further*. Racing commenced, and we ran along the twisting path, skirting bogs and jumping streams. Ahead lay Stile End, the first of the three fells we had to ascend; already there were runners on its ridge, like spines on some great mythical beast. The ascent required no real navigation or technical skills, just a good old fashioned slog up a fell. My knee felt good, but I knew the true test would be in the descent. This soon came as I crested the fell, and began gently descending towards Outerside, determined to just finish the race. Descent completed, there was a distinct lack of pain in said knee. My over enthusiastic mind, drunk with triumph, screamed “you’re healed, you’re unstoppable”. The slightly more pessimistic part of my mind, the part that reminds me that I shouldn't eat an entire Christmas cake despite it being the exact daily calorie requirement for an adult man, reminds me that multiple colleagues at work said they would have absolutely no sympathy if I injured myself. I therefore committed to staying slow and steady and began my way up the next fell. 

*By the time I reached where the first runners had started from, I had already hit the wall twice and eaten all my snacks.  

The ascent of and descent of Outerside was easy to navigate and allowed me to focus on just enjoying being out in the fells, and the end to all that horrifyingly wet weather we had been enduring. The day was beautifully clear, the cloud lingering on the fells this morning having mostly burned off, making seeing where to go relatively simple. Outerside under my belt, and having completed SO, I ran towards the final fell: Barrow. A long sloping path and a short ascent later, I was standing on its summit. No time to lament on the beauty of the fells before me, shrouded in swirling mist, I made my way down the fell, the finish line, and the end of my curse visible down below. A final hurdle lay before me; a very muddy and very steep patch of grass with a stone wall at the bottom. I started down before sliding uncontrollably; staying upright using a vast array of arm flailing and torso wobbling. I worried for a crisp moment that I would continue sliding down, accelerating as I went, to go slamming into the dry stone wall below, emerging on the other side like sinister Playdough and being counted as a DNF*. But fortune smiled upon me and I stayed upright, avoiding the wall, and from there it was a simple run down the farm track to the finish.

*Or being disqualified for corner cutting

They say slow and steady wins the race. It certainly did not for this race, but I did not hurt my knee, and I vanquished the Curse of Kong, so maybe you could call that a win...

A big thank you to all the marshals and helpers and to Kong Adventure for an excellent race:

Image credits Stephen Wilson:

Skiddaw in a cloud inversion
The view across the valley Credit: Stephen Wilson

A fell runner

a fell runner in cumbria

Holding a biscuit next to a mountain
Holding the artifact aloft, I banished the ape of misfortune

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