Sat 16 October 2021, Tebay, Cumbria Low Borrowbridge, Tebay was the perfect venue for this years British Fell Relay Championship on Sat 16 October. The long walk to the start field from the car park didn’t detract from an excellently organised race by Helm Hill Runners. The event has grown considerably over 30 years, since the 3rd running of the race in 1991, and the first time Preston Harriers had entered teams. On that day we entered 3 teams, with the A team finishing 20th from 88 finishers. Three of those runners are still club members, Steve Taylor and Gordon Thompson from the A team and Joe Howard ran in the C team.
This year Preston Harriers had 2 teams entered, a Men’s A team and a Mixed B team in a field of 227 teams from around Britain. Leg 1, a marked course, went under the M6 for a 5.9k/390m climb of Little Coum. Alistair Palmer led out the A team with the best performance of the day finishing in 40th place. Putting your fastest runners on the first leg is often the way, and the ever youthful John Rainford (V60) got the B team off to a good start finishing 113th.
The 2nd leg is the navigation leg, the runners only getting a route map 400m after the start. Using only a map and compass, Jon Green and Craig Walker set off to find their way around the 6 checkpoint route of 10k/700m climb around the Howgills, finishing their leg in 113th place. Further back John Rainford handed over to Roy Parkinson and Jim Doherty, both with navigation talents, and they successfully got round in 181st place.
Leg 2 is where the race can be won or lost, depending on your navigational skills. This was admirably demonstrated by Carnethy Hill Runners, who improved from 13th place at the end of leg 1 to take the lead after leg 2, which they never relinquished to win the race by 2min 13 secs from Dark Peak Fell Runners, with Matlock AC finishing 3rd.
The toughest leg of the day was the marked course of leg 3 comprising three steep climbs over 10.3k/940m climb. The steep sided, grassy, Howgill fells are, on a wet day, ideal for showcasing that well known fell running technique of bum sliding. Sometimes this may be by design, but mainly it isn’t. On that terrain, even a good pair of studded fell shoes are not enough.
Steve Taylor was ideally positioned on the lower slopes of Blease Fell, at a junction where runners from legs 2, 3 and 4 crossed, to observe the spectacle employed by many runners. Not surprisingly, the top runners did not seem to partake of this activity. Perhaps it is nothing to do with shoes, and more to do with descending skills after all.
Fortunately for Dave Parkington, and Craig earlier, Steve did not manage to capture their efforts on camera. Dave, and John Griffiths finished leg 3 in 116th position, with the team lying 92nd overall. In his first fell running season, Ben Naylor anchored the team home over the 5.3k/370m climb leg 4 finishing 81st on the leg and pulling back a couple of places for the team which finished 90th overall in 4:24:36.
In the B team legs 3 and 4 saw the girls do their part in the Mixed team. Anna Keller, another newcomer, paired with Claire McDermott for leg 3 and finished 195th before handing over to Olga Wiggins on leg 4. Olga’s ever present enthusiasm for fell running at Preston Harriers, has recently been directed to producing YouTube videos of ‘Preston Harriers day at the race’. It is something we now look forward to seeing by Sunday evening. She completed the day in 211th position for an overall Mixed team place of 178th in 5:24:27.
A special thanks must go to team captain Mick McLoughlin for organising the teams and transport to the race. Unfortunately, injury prevented him from running, but he was there for the day giving his support. Steve’s photos can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/148140721@N02/albums