The Teenager With Altitude is a fell race in the Lake District that caught my eye a couple of years ago as the route takes in the Newlands Horseshoe. Lily and I love running around that valley, and so I mentioned to Alan how I fancied racing it sometime. When entries opened in January, Alan contacted me and said "so, are we doing it then?". I didn't hesitate and since it said entries were limited to justn 75, we both quickly entered. It was advertsied as a 15.4 mile fell race, with 7600ft of climbing - that's more climbing than the Borrowdale fell race, and in a slightly shorter distance, so I knew it was going to be a tough one!

I header up after work on the Friday night, arranging to meet Graham, also from Belper Harriers, but now living in Newcastle, at the campsite in Grange. Graham had got a late entry into the TWA little brother race, the Anniversary Waltz. Alan was already up there staying elsewhere. It was a very cold night, but the weather forecast was good for the Saturday.

We made our way over to Stair Village Hall at 9:30, to sign in, and collect our numbers ready for a 10:30 start. I was really looking forward to the race, albeit a little apprehensive as 7,500ft of climbing in 16 miles meant it would hurt. Having said that, I was looking forward to spending some time in the mountains, on what turned out to be a glorious day, and knew that if nothing else, it would be a good training session for my upcoming BG attempt.

There were a number of checkpoint we had to visit: Causey Pike, Outerside, Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike, Newlands Hause, High Snock Rigg, Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head, High Spy and Catbells. The start of the race was at the foot of Causey Pike, and after a kit check, we all lined up in a bunch, looking up towards the summit, some 1,500ft above us. It was an imposing start, as the line we were going to take went straight up. Before we knew it we were off, and within a matter of meters the majority of the field was walking. The leaders shot off, and other than seeing them in the distance occasionally, they were gone - very impressive!

It was a tough climb to start with, and although I had made the effort to do some small hill reps to warm up, you can't prepare your legs for the length and intensity of this climb. My calves soon began to scream at me, but I knew that as soon as I summitted and started descending, my legs would be ok again. After 25 minutes of steep climbing, and some scrambling towards the summit, Alan and I reached the checkpoint at the top at the same time. Following a short ridge run, we made out way off path down towards the foot of Outside. It was here that I had my customary fall, catching a foot on a tussock - thankfully, it was all grass and no rocks, and after a bounce and roll I was straight back up - a guy behind even commented how impressive and well practiced it was! I saw the leaders descending off Outerside before I had even started the climb. This wasn't too bad a climb, and I soon reached checkpoint number 2 at the summit.

The next section of the race was the one part I wasn't sure about nav-wise. Thankfully, I needn't have worried, as the weather and visibility were so good, I could see all the lines I needed to take as there was a line of runners stretching out ahead. It was tricky underfoot, tussocky, rocky, and in places quite boggy which made it quite tough running. After traversing underneath Eel Crag, we dropped down crossing a river and joined the main path that zig-zagged up towards Grasmoor. I have no idea of what position I was in, but I felt comfortable by this point, with the pain from the intial climb subsiding.

Next came the climb to Grasmoor, and the highest point in the race (~2,650ft). I was expecting this to be quite tough, and it was a slow drag as first we climbed up the path, and then moved off path taking a direct line for the top. There were 2 different lines up here, and I took the line that looked more obvious, and popular - but it was still a hard, hands on knees climb. Around half a mile from the top, the gradient eased off a bit, and I was able to break out into a run again towards the summit cairn and checkpoint number 3.

The next section was my favourite of the race. From the summit of Grasmoor, we descended down, and round along a narrow ridge to Whiteless Pike (checkpoint 4), before plummitting steeply off Whiteless Pike, off-path down towards Newlands Hause. The descent from Whiteless Pike was an exhilirating, totally out of control, freefall. It was fantastic. It was tussocky, but ridiculously steep at the top, with my GPS saying 48% at one point, and I ended up switch-backing trying to control my speed as much as I could - unsuccessfully!

After checkpoinnt number 5 at Newlands Hause, once again we climbed (suprise suprise), this time up towards High Snock Rigg (and the start of the climb up towards Robinson), parallel to Moss Force waterfall, and the next checkpoint. Again this was a very steep climb, but once we got out onto Buttermere Moss, it was runnable again. By this point, despite having only gone 8 miles, I was starting to feel my legs each time I wanted to break out into a run.

Soon we were on the climb up towards Robinson, and this was a plod. I was starting to pull away from the guys around me, but I wasn't closing in on the guys ahead! The summit of Robinson (and checkpoint 7) marked the point where the Anniversary Walz runners joined us. They had started an hour after us, so there was a steady stream of runners coming up from Newlands Valley. From here to the finish, both races shared the same route. I found this both good and bad - bad in the sense that since I was quicker than these runners I had to make sure I didn't fall into their pace, and slow down, but good in the sense that I was able to see the runners ahead and gradually pick them off. Other than the race number saying which race we were in, I had no idea who I was racing against. From this point onwards, I have no idea if I overtook anyone else in my race!

Photo: Grand Day Out Photography

From Robinson, we descended before climbing up towards Hinscarth, before descending again and climbing up to Dale Head. I love running around this section of Newlands Valley, and Lily and I have run it numerous times, so I knew what to expect and the lines to take. From Dale Head we dropped steeply down again - I decided to take the line I took last year in the Borrowdale fell race, going straight down to the tarn, but the runners around me all went right taking the (slower) path. This is another cracking descent, steep and very rocky - you just have to be careful not to run straight off a waiting crag!

From here on in, it's very straight forward - one final climb up to High Spy, before running back along the ridge, predominantly downhill towards Catbells. By this point I was starting to feel a little weary, partly due to the heat, but I was also just tired! It was on this ridge I had one small shot of cramp in a calf, but thankfully nothing significant came of it, and it didn't slow me down. After going through the final checkpoint (11) on top of Catbells, and dodging the crowds, we made a switchback descent down a grass path - this was the only flagged section of the route, as the National Trust had apparently asked us to stay off the main path. The final run in to the finish followed, down a few winding lanes leading back to Stair.

I loved this race, and was pleased with how I ran. I finished in 48th place out of 138 in 3:39, yet the winner, Carl Bell, was over an hour ahead of me setting a new course record of 2:37. How he was able to run that fast, over that terrain, I have no idea!! During the race, I took on 1.5 litres of water (and electrolyte), refilling one of my 500ml bottles up at Newlands Hause, 3 gels, 2 Mars bars and a handful of sweets. I will certainly be back next year to try and beat my time!

I think due to my training for the BGR, I have lost some of my speed, but I have certainly gained endurance. The following day after the race, I felt comfortable going for another 11 mile run, with ~4,000ft elevation, taking in BG Leg 5. This certainly shows my training is paying off which I'm really pleased with.

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I signed up for the Lakes Mountain 42 back in January as prep for my upcoming Bob Graham attempt. The race, held in the Lake District, was advertised as 42 miles of Lakeland summits, fells and dales, with 10,000ft of elevation gain. With the BG being 68 miles (and 28,000ft), I thought this race would act as a good benchmark, to see where I currently am, and how my training has been going.

The race started and finished in Askham, at the east end of Ullswater, and with it being a 6am start on the Saturday, I made my way up after work on the Friday. The race organisers (NAV 4 Adventure) had laid on accommodation at race HQ, which made it very easy on the race morning - wake-up, breakfast, go. I knew it was going to be a long day, so made sure I had a decent breakfast before setting off - porridge, 2 x toast, banana and 2 x coffees.

It was a very surreal start. Starting from the centre of Askham, a lovely little village, the starter didn’t want to make any noise in order to avoid waking the locals. Instead, she started mouthing the word ‘go’ and started waving her arms. The sun had just risen, but even though it was nearly pitch black, there was no need for a headtorch. It was very cold, and there had been a thick frost overnight. We soon left the village and made our way onto the open fells, immediately climbing.

It was a near continuous climb for 10 miles, to the summit of High Street (828m), via Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill and High Raise. I set off with the intention of running slow and steady, and soon settled into a rhythm (my ‘long day in a the mountains’ pace) and into a group of 3 with Ally and James. The route was not waymarked, but the climb to High Street was very straight forward, made easier by the bogs being frozen. This was also the same area where the Saunders Mountain Marathon had been last year so I was vaguely familiar with it. As the sun rose, the views all around were stunning, with a cloud inversion over Ullswater, and endless views towards Helvellyn - where we would be in a few hours time. I soon realised it was going to be a warm day, and from that moment onward, made sure I was drinking consistently.

After High Street, we made our way down towards Angle Tarn, and then down into Patterdale and a feed station. This was just under 16 miles in, and I was feeling good. After topping up my drink and having a mouthful of food, I was on my way again. I was still in the group of 3, and we now made our way up towards Grisedale Tarn, before descending down steeply towards Dunmail Raise, and then to Wythburn, and the next feed station at 22 miles. There were now 2 of us, as James had dropped back, and the marshall confirmed we were in 10th and 11th. I stopped here to take on some more substantial food, and to refill my drinks again with electrolyte. Ally didn’t hang around and shot straight off onto the climb. It wasn’t even 10:30 yet, and it was hot, and I knew it was only going to get hotter on the next climb, up Helvellyn.

I like the climb up Helvellyn from Wythburn, having done it twice before, including in the 3x3000’s last year. It’s a long, but the views down to Thirlmere, and across to the Scafell range are incredible, especially on a day like this, when there was not a cloud in the sky. I felt strong on the climb, but took it steady as I knew we still had another 20 miles or so to go.

After summiting Helvellyn, we made our way along the ridge, going over Lower Man, and then to White Side. From here, it was then a long 5 mile descent down to Glenridding and then Patterdale. I was not looking forward to this, as it was steep, dropping around 2,500ft, and after already running over a 26 miles, I knew it might hurt! I caught another runner on top of White Side and another on the descent, and I ran it well, taking direct lines where I could, cutting the switchbacks, and trying to stay off the rocky path as much as possible. The rocky path started to take it’s toll on my feet, and from this point onwards, my feet hurt. This was the same issue I had last year in the 3x3000’s, and need to work out how to handle this for my BG attempt.

Upon reaching the Patterdale checkpoint, I again filled up my water bottles, and tried to take on some food - easier said than done in the heat and after running for 6 and half hours. I soon set off again for the final 10 miles, and started climbing Place Fell. We’d run past this earlier so had seen the line I needed to take. I was following another runner up here, and it was a drag. It seemed to go on forever. I caught the other runner at the top, and after exchanging pleasantries, ran off along the ridge before descending down to Martindale. It was at this point the other runner asked where I was from, and after explaining he started laughing. It turns out, this was Graham, who used to run for Belper, and is a friend of Alan and Saul, and who Alan had previously asked to help support me on my BG attempt. Small world.

Me and Graham ended up running the rest of the race together, returning to Askham after 9 hours and 4 minutes, in 8th place. All in all, I was pleased with how I’d run. My legs felt great all the way to the finish, and I felt as though I’d paced it well throughout. I had planned to use this as a training run, for a long day out in the mountains, and as a bonus, can’t complain with a top 10 position.

I was happy with my liquid consumption over the day, taking in just over 4 litres of water/electrolyte. I ate well for the first half of the race, snacking on Kendal Mint Cake, Mars bars, cheese and pickle rolls, pizza and a pork pie, as well as sweets and a couple of gels. It was harder to take on food in the second half due to the heat, but I managed to eat enough, and I was happy with how I fuelled throughout the day.

It was a fantastic day out in the high mountains, and with the weather as good as it was, it was a privilege to have been able to be out for the day in the Lake District.

Next up, the Teenager With Altitude fell race (15 miles with 7,500ft elevation) in 2 weeks time.

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Having done the Llanbedr to Blaenavon fell race last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was keen to do it again in 2017. Also, being in the midst of my Bob Graham training, I thought that it would be a great way to see how I'm getting on. Last year I came 6th with a time of 2:33, so I was hoping to better this, and go under 2:30.

Llanbedr to Blaenavon is a 15 mile point to point fell race in the Brecon Beacons, starting in Llanbedr and finishing in Blaenavon, going over 3 peaks along the way - Crug Mawr (550m), Sugar Loaf (596m), Blorenge (559m), with a total of 4,500ft of elevation gain. Having done the race last year, I knew what to expect, with the Blorenge being a brutal final ascent, and therefore legs like jelly for the final 2 miles down into the finish.

We stayed with our friends James & Lowri who live just outside Abvergavenny, and James was also planning on doing the race for the second time. The race was a 12 o'clock start so at 10am we started making our way over to the finish to register. As it was point to point, we then all trooped over to the start in Llanbedr, with 5 of us piling into my car. After a warm-up, and race briefing, we were ready to go.

I planned to run quite hard from the off, as I thought that with the experience from last year, and the fact I had been focussing on mountain training (whereas last year I was training for the London Marathon), I would be better placed to handle the race, and knew where to attack or run conservatively. However, not long after the start within a few miles when we were climbing the first peak, Crug Mawr, my legs were burning and I felt tired. Not a good start to the race! I'm not sure why, but I can only put it down to the amount of hard training I have been doing recently. I struggled on, hands on knees walking on the steep sections, and running where it eased off. The approach to the summit seemed to go on forever - it was a lot further than I remember from last year! As we approached the summit I was in a group of about 6 guys, in a line all running at a similar pace. After going round the trig on the top, the fun really began. I knew that as much as I had struggled on the climb, I would do well on the descent. It's a cracking descent, all off path, descending steeply down through bracken, tussocks and occasional bogs - and this year, I knew where I was going! I loved it. Runners were everywhere, however I took a slightly different line to those ahead, and that coupled with how I was running, I leap-frogged about 4 guys. It was a very fast descent, finishing with a mile or so on a gravel drive, and then a short section on the road, before we started the climb up onto the Sugar Loaf.

As soon as we left the road and started climbing again, I started to struggle again. Chris, a runner I know from Mynnyd Du caught me and asked if I was alright as he expected me to be climbing better than I was. From that point on, something seemed to click, and I used that as motivation. I dug deep and started to pull away. I don't know what changed but suddenly everthing started coming together again.

As we summited Sugar Loaf, Lily, Lowri and baby Cerys were there cheering me on. I said to Lily on the way passed how I couldn't climb to save my life today, but at the same time the marshall on the summit confirmed I was currently in 7th place (even though Lowri told me I was in 4th!). All in all, not too bad all things considering, and being able to see a few of the guys ahead, I hadn't given up on a top 5 place.

Thankfully, this year as I knew the route, I knew the line off the summit, and similarly to the Crug Mawr descent, I felt I ran really well, catching the 2 guys ahead of me. However, as soon as we entered the woods, I caught a rock and it sent me flying. I seemed to roll and bounce back up, cutting both knees and both hands, but thankfully, despite a fair bit of blood, it was just superficial. I continued through Abergavenny, occasionally glimpsing the runner ahead of me, desperately trying to close him down before the final climb up the Blorenge.

 

Like last year, the Blorenge was a killer, however, this year, I was expecting it. From bottom to top it's 1 mile, rising 1,448ft, with an average gradient of 28%. The final third has an average gradient of 40%! Despite running hard, I had been saving something in the tank for this. After a brief stop at the drink station, I started making my way up. I knew I had a 30 second or so gap on the guy behind, but the guy ahead was out of sight in the woods ahead. I started climbing, and pretty quickly slowed to a walk. I soon realised I was closing in on the runner ahead and soon caught and passed him, with him complaining how hot it was. I continued up and soon broke out of the trees and then the hardest part of the climb began. Ahead of me I saw the next guy and before I knew it I had caught him. He was really struggling, complaining of dehydration so I gave him some of my water as I passed him. Once summiting, my legs were like jelly, but I knew that it was now pretty much all downhill. I tried to run off from the summit, but cramp was setting in, with sporadic spasms in my calves. I was conscious of the guys behind, but knew I had pulled away a bit on the climb. Thankfully, I was able to run the cramp off and descend the final few miles down to the finish quite comfortably.

 

I crossed the line in 3rd place, in a time of 2:25:14 - 8 minutes faster than last year - a result I was very happy with.

All in all, whilst I seemed to struggle on the first one and half climbs, I was really pleased with how I descended, and how I climbed on the final, and hardest peak. I can't complain with a top 3 position, and more importantly going under 2:30. It was another really enjoyable, well-organised race, and one I will definitely be back to do next year - sub 2:20 perhaps?!

Up next, the Lakes Mountain 42 Ultra next week - 42 miles with 10,000ft elevation gain. Can't wait!

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