Wasdale Fell Race 2021

After years of thinking I would never get to try the Wasdale Fell Race a Covid-19 cancellation gave me the chance to be on the start line. On the second Saturday in July I’m usually guiding the Craghead Banner through Durham City taking part in the Durham Miners Gala. Due to Covid the Gala has been postponed in 2020 and 2021. The 2021 event was due to be a celebration of 150 years of the Gala which first took place in 1871. Approximately one hundred thousand attend the Gala celebrating County Durham and the region’s mining heritage.

Craghead Banner at the Durham Miners Gala
photograph Roy Lambeth

In the lead up to the race I’m feeling apprehensive. A first 20 mile race since May 2019 and plenty of climbing. I’ve only ran one race in eighteen months and I’m not sure how it will go. On the positive side it will tick off a bucket list race and I can collect a few more Wainwrights for my 45@45 challenge.


Wasdale isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to. From North Durham travel north to Hexham, along the A69 to Carlisle, south west to Sellafield and finally east to Wasdale. The last half dozen miles on narrow single track roads take forever with plenty of traffic coming both ways. I’m delighted Elaine Bisson offers to drive as 1) I don’t have to 2) it gives me someone to follow in the race. Elaine is training for the Lakeland 100 and Dragon’s Back. I’m training for err, I’m not sure yet, let’s get today out of the way first.

The organisers of Wasdale Fell Race have asked everyone to book a time slot for number collection and kit check. As my time approaches heavy rain starts to fall from the sky and the clag comes down. It is looking like a miserable day ahead. I’m dreading the difficult to navigate part halfway through the race. Waterproof on, number collected I’m ready to go.

Not long before the start the coat is off as the weather improves. Jon, Danny and Graham who I was running with a few weeks ago are standing at the entrance to the campsite looking sad. The runner they have traveled from North Tyneside to support on leg 4 of a Bob Graham attempt has just quit during the rainstorm and their journey has been in vain.

The last descent from the car park field with the clouds closing in

The Race

After the usual pre race briefing from the race organiser we are away. The first three tops are new to me but there are some familiar climbs later on. Illgill Head and Whin Rigg pass in a flash and it is time for the big descent to Greendale. Grassy and steep I try to take it slowly not racing the runners flying past. On the more technical rocky section at the bottom I’m overtaking a couple who don’t like the twists and turns without going flat out.

The wooded section near Greendale gives some relief from the sun which has burnt off the cloud. The day is becoming warmer than I expected. I’m enjoying it so far and have an interesting see saw battle with a runner in a pink shiny t-shirt up Seatallan. Reaching the top concludes my three new Wainwrights for the day. I’m feeling OK and trying to eat and drink enough to get me through.

The long trek to Pillar follows a faint trod before reaching the familiar slopes of Scoat Fell. I’m already feeling burnt and there are still ten miles to go. Slowly the field are passing me but I’m still on target for my 5.30-6 hour finishing time. Pillar to Great Gable is via the eastern side of Kirk Fell, again it’s a faint trod but there is always someone in front to follow.

It All Goes Wrong

My legs are starting to feel it on the climb to Great Gable and once over the top I’m hurting with every step. My hips seem to have stopped working and it is painful running downhill. I slow as much as I can on the steep gradient but it doesn’t improve when I get to the stretcher box and start climbing up to Esk Hause. I walk for what seems like hours towards my eventual target Scafell Pike. By now it seems like everyone in the race has passed me on the climb and I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I find I can run a little on some of the flatter, less rocky terrain and try to keep up with a group in front. My legs are still making creaking noises but I’m moving faster now. Scafell Pike comes and goes and I feel relief the race is almost over. The grassy surfaces after Scafell Pike feel fantastic after all of those rocks and boulders and I can run again. It is only when we get to Lingmell Nose I remember how steep the descent to the finish and car park below is. I shuffle painfully down the bank and surprisingly overtake another runner who is walking slowly backwards down the hill. The finish is in sight, I try to push on for the last 100 metres but it is in vain. I sprint over the line at 15 minute mile pace and I’m relieved to be done, finishing in 6 hours 8 minutes.


My legs continue to creak and groan as I find the car and Elaine who has been patiently waiting over half and hour for me. I’ve missed my target time by a big margin but I’m happy to have finished. My legs seize up over the next half hour as I refuel and we get ready to leave. In the car on the way home I can feel my shoulders are sunburnt and my legs have gone into a deep sleep.

Half an hour from home I start moving my legs trying to get ready for leaving the car. I’ve got the hens to lock up before walking up the street with my gear. It isn’t a pleasant experience but as always I survive and Tracy is happy to see me. The next time the Miners’ Gala gets cancelled I’ll have another go and try to improve my time at the Wasdale Fell race.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the Wasdale Fell Race 2021. Is there a race you always miss due to other commitments? Have your legs stopped working three quarters into a race? Let us know in the comments below.

Read some of our other blog posts for more hilly adventures on dreamingofthefells.uk

Penine Way Run

Chevy Chase Recce

45 at 45 Challenge

Supporting Juhana’s Bob Graham Round

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