My debut on the fells
I had scheduled two obstacle course races in for this weekend but both were disappointingly cancelled so instead I searched the internet for a fell race in preparation for the upcoming Red Bull steeplechase and Snowdonia marathon and I was lucky enough to find the Belper Rugby Rover 30k.
The venue was as local as a fell race could be to me, the race distance was maybe slightly further than most would chose for their first outing over the fells but one I felt comfortable with after the challenges I’ve already done this year and those I still have ahead and the elevation of just under 3,000 feet was significantly higher than anything I has ever experienced but less than several races of this nature. It had also been voted the UK’s 11th best race of 2013 by a Runner’s World.
The race day was Sunday but I’d decided as it was in such a beautiful area of the country that I’d make a weekend of it and use it as my little families first camping trip so Saturday morning we were off to Derbyshire where we had found a lovely family friendly camp site named Golden Valley just 10 miles away from the race venue.
After a good nights sleep in the tent I awoke to a lovely morning and as I arrived in the small town on Belper the sun was already shining for the 9.30am start time. It was a short, guided walk around the corner into an industrial estate to the start line but within a couple of minutes of the off came some woodland that lead along a very narrow path and into the countryside where I stayed for the remainder of the race until the course took me back on myself for the last 2 miles. Other than that though it was on a huge loop up and down the Derbyshire hills.
The first steep incline came around 3 miles into the race and could be viewed from the race head quarters where my wife, daughter & dad looked on in support. As expected, it was a tougher climb than any I had encountered in any race before and although the shortest of the three big climbs ahead of me it was also a lot longer than anything I had managed to find to train on.
I reached the top feeling pretty good. I had purposely gone out quite hard because I had read in some race reviews from previous years that there were some bottle necks and narrow paths early on so I didn’t want to get held up. I found myself in the top 30 or so and then pushed on past a few more off the top of the hill.
A lot of people had told me that going down the hills was as hard on the legs as going up but I found myself free rolling at relative ease and thoroughly enjoying myself in the process.
Once back down the course brought me onto the more familiar terrain of country roads where I really got into my running and caught several runners that had hit that first hill with full purpose. I was feeling full of confidence and in full flow as I met the next and largest of the hills on course. My 3 person support team had made their way to the bottom of this hill and as I made my way up I was inspired to push on by my little girl’s shouts of “go on Daddy”. This hill started off very steeply and seemed to just keep on going and going. As the hill continued the terrain changed. First it way road, then stony ground became rocks before turning into county fields with a succession of styles
One style jump after another all on hilly, uneven, grassy fields broke up any running rhythm for several miles but the course did open up enough for me to get a clear view into the distance and count up the runners in front of me to find to my surprise I was now in 11th place.
Finally I reached the top and began to come down, this time a lot more gradually through all sorts of different landscapes. At one point as I reached a cluster of old farm houses I was almost in their back gardens wondering if I was still on course. This was a familiar thought process throughout the races before I spotted another arrow, a bit of red and white tape or the runner in front of me.
Then came some beautiful woodland and the third and final big hill climb. For most of this I could see the runner in front of me which motivated me to keep pushing hard as for the first time my legs started to feel the strain. It felt great and very relieving to reach the top knowing the hills were done and I kept on pushing on the final down hill section before the course opened up back into the town and onto the same path as the first couple of miles but in reverse. I knew the finish was near and I opened my legs for the last time still feeling good.
I sped into the playing fields finishing strongly still in 11th place which I was satisfied with for my first ever fell race. I was surprised at just how strong I had felt throughout the race and how well my legs coped with the hills. This race had filled me with confidence going into some big races with was exactly the intention. The course was as beautiful as anything I have experienced. I absolutely loved it. The only negative I could give this event was that there was no medal to show for my efforts other than that it was spot on.