by John Battrick
Everyone knows that the first Sunday in October is the best day of the year. But it still took three alarms to get me out of bed at 6am, well 6.05am, actually 6.10am ready to be out of the house just after seven. Off we went piled into Steve Halsall’s car – I haven’t got the steadiest of stomachs as a passenger, never mind in the back, so just kept quiet and tried not to initiate poor Dan Spencer into the team by sending my breakfast down his back. After a quick car swap at Lamby’s we were all stuffed sardine-like into Rachel’s seven-seater, with Harry and Steve Hebb going direct. Car sharing pushed about as far as it’ll go!
After an hour’s faffing which included inadvertently parking directly on the leg one race route until we realised our mistake, Phil appropriating and no doubt doing unspeakable things with my industrial-sized pot of Vaseline (possibly never to be seen again), and Lamby having a good go at convincing everyone that ‘no ordinary man’ would even consider running with the surely life-threatening knee injury he had sustained ten days earlier recceing leg four, we were good to go so Lamby and Dan headed to the start line. Lamby put on his race face (I like to imagine him snarling, red-eyed, saliva flying and biceps heaving like Popeye’s), and predictably shot off like a bullet whilst Dan hung on as best he could on the road section.
Meanwhile Steve Halsall and I jogged down the valley towards the start of leg two, trying our best as we went to convince Ben Abdelnoor and Jack Wright that our last-minute team changes and copious ‘leg-swapping’ had pretty much put us out of the running this year. Sam had come down with something the previous week, Lamby still had 13 stitches in his knee, Harry’s confidence on the rough bits of leg four was in question (although his fitness definitely wasn’t), and although well known as a top orienteer Dan was a relative unknown on the fell running scene. Ben Ab did his best to do the same – apparently Matt Elkington was after an easier run on leg one ready to go for the win at Langdale next week, and his running partner had been asking to borrow a pair of fell shoes off a teammate the previous evening. What he neglected to tell us was that that same partner, Gavin Dale, had headed off for a little tempo run up the race climb and taken the Strava CR from the fell gate to Angle Tarn a few days previous.
Soon the leg one runners were incoming from the pump-house checkpoint down the track to the changeover – Ambleside first followed 20 seconds or so later by Keswick – and off we went. We were oblivious as we set off to chase Jack and Ben of the eventfulness of the race so far… Dan had put so much of himself into the climb that he’d thrown up twice as he turned onto the trod towards Brock Crags. Instead of shaking his confidence it had, in his own words, ‘sorted him out for the descent’. Lamby had done his best to recreate the stitched-up wound on his knee on the shin of the opposite leg – he couldn’t recall doing it, obviously.
It didn’t feel like we’d gone out particularly hard on leg two – having discussed our intention to save plenty for the fast sections on High Street and the long final descent during our jog over – but we were on the shoulder of the Ambleside lads before Hayeswater and had put a good bit of time in once we’d rounded Knott. High Street, Threshthwaite Mouth and Caudale Moor Tarn came and went without issue, and we were the first pair in to Kirkstone to hand over to Matty and… well, Carl had given himself a head start and was through the gate and gone by the time Matty had dibber in hand!
We watched the dots head up towards Red Screes, and reckoned on at least a 30-second lead as they disappeared over the top. Jogging down towards the leg three-four changeover I got chatting again to Ben and Jack of Ambleside, this time about the superb runnable routes at the upcoming British Fell Relays. Turns out they hated the idea of a fast, eyeballs out race and wanted a slow, rocky nightmare of a route instead – proper fell runners, I suppose.
As usual Steve Hebb was warming up until the last possible minute, half a mile away down the track whilst poor Harry looked nervously up to where the leg 3 runners could appear at any moment. In a flash down came Matty and a ‘resurgent’ (commentator’s words, not mine) Carl, and – with Steve thankfully present and correct – off they went. Realising we now had eight to transport back to Patterdale in a seven-seater, and with no-one backing down and volunteering to jog the three miles down the bridleway, an unsuspecting member of the public was duly flagged for a lift. Matty recalled sheepishly a section of the descent where he was flying, gapping Carl with elegant ease and showing his true prowess as one of the best there is, only to hear from his partner directly behind, ‘You can speed up if you like Matty!’.
Steve Hebb and Harry had a gap of around 2 minutes 40 seconds as they set off, not that they knew that of course. Steve was hanging on on the climbs and Harry likewise on the descents, so they said, but nevertheless the lead only grew from there. Whilst we waited for them to battle over the rocky tops of Hart Crag, Fairfield and St. Sunday there was a little time to catch up with the women’s team about how their day was panning out, to make the most of the superb spread of cake in aid of Patterdale School, to quiz Lamby about how exactly he had managed to forget to pack his emergency food, and even more astonishingly had managed to blag his way out of a penalty, and to gather round the finish funnel just as two yellow specks appeared hurtling down towards Thornhow End.
Down the finish funnel they came to wrap up a time of 3:34:23. Not the quickest of our five-year winning streak (that was 3:30:23 in 2018, when the likes of James Appleton still showed his face every once in a while – has anyone seen James…? – and Dan Haworth was yet to join some unknown club in darkest Derbyshire), but not bad. Ambleside were through in 2nd place in 3:39:00, and Dark Peak 3rd in 3:41:59.
More cake was eaten, Lamby’s second gruesome injury in the space of two weeks was sewn up at Patterdale Mountain Rescue base by his long-suffering partner (amazing skills given no medical training… just kidding, she’s a doctor), and the coveted HBMR ‘shoe’ was presented to us once again.
There was one clear stand-out performance on the day – one which showed exceptional levels of stamina, willpower, and patience. Rachel of course, who photocopied maps after Carl forgot his, drove six muddy bodies around all day without a thought for the inside of her car, and put up with endless chat about racing lines, shoes, tactics, and everything else in between.
Well done to all the teams involved, here’s to next year!