Borrowdale Fell Race 3rd August 2019

Borrowdale Fell race was my return to hill racing after the Bob Graham round in June. Things didn’t really go to plan. My Old County Tops partner Dawn Metcalfe knew I had done this race and wanted to try it. For various reasons we couldn’t get a date for a course recce. This meant we turned up at the start line a little unprepared. Our race maps, fell running kit and navigations skills could all be needed.

The weather forecasters expect the day to be warm which will be magnified up on the fells. I’m sensible before the start, I cover myself in sun cream and ensure I carry plenty of fluids. Unlike my last Borrowdale which was initially cloudy and rainy the weather is clear and fine at the start.

The Borrowdale Fell Race race starts and finishes in the small village of Rosthwaite. It is one of the biggest races on the FRA calendar and always sells out. Major climbs on the route are Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Dale Head. It is about 16.5 miles with 6,500ft of climbing. A few lung busting climbs and a dance down the scree from Scafell Pike should be the highlights of the day.

The Borrowdale Fell Race race starts

I had decided to run with Dawn as I was worried I might get carried away and hit the wall in my first real race back. We agree to aim for 5 hours (which is only slightly slower than my race pb anyway) and set off near the back of the field along the tight stony path. I enjoy hearing about Dawn’s new house and the running trails in the countryside near there. Dawn has even won a fell race in the last month wearing two left shoes.

Eventually we start climbing. For me Bessyboot is the worst climb of the day it is steep, grassy and has a couple of false plateaus. After a couple of miles flattish rail running the race starts here. I reach the top and wait a few seconds for Dawn. She isn’t smiling which is a bad sign as Dawn is always happy. She says she is feeling a bit dizzy and might be sick but wants to stay in the race.

We continue along the race route gradually climbing to Esk Hause. Dawn is struggling and we are being overtaken by a few runners every mile. The dizziness isn’t improving, she decides to drop out at the second checkpoint and is walked back to the start by mountain rescue. I’m in 255th position at Esk Hause but it is a nice day for a run.

Borrowdale Fell Race 2019 report

Dawn drops out

My race plan is in tatters, I decide the best idea is to overtake a few people, enjoy the day and keep safe. Scafell Pike isn’t as busy with tourists as I expected but I had a long line of runners in front of me surfing down the scree off the mountain. It was difficult to get your own rhythm descending when one false step could send a bowling ball down the slope onto one of the pins spread out below.

I’ve overtaken a few people and find a nice line into Styhead. We all know what’s up next over 1,000 ft of climbing to Great Gable. We know it is going to be relentless and hurt so it isn’t as bad as Bessyboot which looks easy on paper. I’m doing OK with plenty of fluids left but the nut bars I chose to pack are like cement setting in my dry mouth. I’ve got nothing else left. A tiny bite followed by a drink to wash it away starts to quickly deplete my supplies of fluids.

Three quarters of the way up the climb I pass a runner with a sore knee who has had a fall. He says he is OK but it looks red, skinned and perhaps a bit swollen.  I’m looking at my feet and the next step most of the time. The summit of Great Gable suddenly appears, it is a welcome sight but I know in a couple of miles we will be climbing again. I take a line which is too low while skirting Green Gable but quickly rectify it. I’m in familiar territory now and sure I can keep going.

Closing in on the finish

I surprise two runners in front of me by opening and running through an  extremely loud gate which is orphaned out on the fells. It was once the crossing point for an impressive iron fence. I always enjoy the run down into Honister. Paul from Northumberland Fell Runners picks an excellent line into the slate mine which I follow. Three cups of water later and I’m climbing again up Dale Head. Dale Head is a familiar climb and I take it slow and steady passing a few more on the way. This includes another NFR who likens the climb to conquering Everest. By the top I’m pretty much exhausted but its only downhill running to the finish back in Rosthwaite.

Mark on top of Dale Head race photograph

I’m happy to follow the runners in front until I glance at my watch. With just over a mile to go I realise it might be possible to make it under the five hour target we set before the race started. I push on for the last half mile. Over the bridge, along the track beside the car park field. Then through the maze of buildings to the finish field. I complete the race in 4.59.21. Finishing in 156th place I have overtaken 99 runners in the second half of the race. I’m happy with the finish, felt quite strong and wasn’t effected by the heat much.

On the drive home I’m relieved to hear later from Dawn she is home safely. She promises me she will be back on the fells soon.

Have you done the Borrowdale Fell Race? Is it on your list? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured image Honister by Joe Hayhurst.

Read more posts on our Dreaming of the fells blog page.

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