Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay
by Lynne Hume
Leg 1 – Hazel Davies & Lynne Hume
Leg 2 – Catherine Spurden & Jodie Gray
Leg 3 – Cat Evans & Zoe Hebblethwaite
Leg 4 – Holly Wootten & Shirley Murray
This was my first experience of the Hodgson Brothers Relays and arriving at the start field in Patterdale early on Sunday morning, there was a general buzz of excitement as teams gathered, faffed about with kit and finalised the logistical plans for the day.
For anyone who doesn’t know much about these relays (as I didn’t until recently) there are four legs all starting and finishing in different locations, so as well as getting together a team of eight fit and healthy people, the organisation required to get each pair to the right place at the right time has to be spot on, and was superbly done by our captain, Cat.
Instructions received, and thankfully realising the dibber was in fact the relay ‘baton’ that we needed to pass on at the changeover, Hazel and I went for a warm up. We’d both been called in as reserves in the few days prior due to illness and injury and the nerves were jangling as we headed to the start line.
There was so much chatter and excitement we couldn’t hear a word being said to us over the microphone but we were off, cheered out of the field by enthusiastic supporters with a fast start along the road and track to Side Farm before the steady climb to Angle Tarn.
Struggling for breath the entire way I didn’t feel on top form but kept pushing, knowing this was the shortest leg and feeling the pressure to get the team off to a solid start. We were quite well matched, managing to stay within a few paces of each other the entire way, unlike some pairs we noticed where the stronger one kept surging ahead and then waiting. I felt for the runners having to catch up and was glad that wasn’t us.
The descent on this leg is short but very steep and grassy before heading through bracken to the final track descent. There were several slips and slides for us, probably the quickest way of getting down, and there was a lot of squealing going on behind us as others did the same, seemingly enjoying it far more than I was!
Safely on the track and checkpoint dibbed, we knew we could now leg it down to the finish and Hazel set the pace brilliantly for that final half mile, me gritting my teeth and hanging on.
The changeover was all a bit confusing. Dibber to the right, a crowd of people, marshal to the left, other runners coming in and no clear path to Catherine and Jodie to hand over the dibber. A second or two lost maybe but they were on their way.
Cat and Zoe were at the changeover along with Lindsay and Helen to cheer us along and a few of the Keswick vets team were still around. If anyone told me what position we were in I didn’t take it in and jogged back to the start field hoping we’d given the team a good enough start (we later found we were sixth).
Back at the car getting warm and dry we heard over the tannoy that the mens team had gone through Kirkstone Pass in first place so we knew they were going well but we had no news on the ladies standings, how Catherine and Jodie’s leg had gone or when they handed over to Cat and Zoe. We’d met up with Shirley and Holly at this point to drive them to Hartsop Hall ready for the leg 3/4 changeover and seeing the nervous look on Shirley’s face I was relieved to be done and just enjoying the day.
We crossed paths with some of the Keswick men on the way to Hartsop Hall and got an update on their race as well as seeing the Keswick vets team changeover. There was a great atmosphere and the weather was being kind to both runners and spectators.
With plenty of time to spare, Shirley and Holly had the nervous wait for their start as Hazel, Lindsay and me concentrated on working out the ladies team positions. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds with ladies pairs also taking part in the mixed event. Ambleside came through first, then Helm Hill followed by Dark Peak, all spaced several minutes apart. We were starting to expect Cat and Zoe and the anticipation grew as we waited for a glimpse of yellow and green. Would they be fourth? Yes they were, and no sign of another ladies team for several minutes afterwards so plenty of time in hand, not that Holly and Shirley knew that as they set off.
It was now we learned that Catherine and Jodie had had a great run, gaining two places on leg 2 to bring us into fourth, with Cat and Zoe keeping up the good work on leg 3 and extending the lead over the fifth placed team, not to mention gaining several places in the overall standings against the open, mixed and vets teams.
In Zoe’s words:
A bluebird blue sky, blustery autumn day. Hopping up and down in the car park at Kirkstone pass, the anticipation, watching runners appear on the skyline and flow down the picky rocky path, trying to identify teams. The chatter of spectators, race organisers mixes with the nervous faffing and cajoling of leg three pairs. It feels like we aren’t racing today, just there to be part of an end of year celebration of this mad sport. Suddenly spotting Catherine and Jodie on the descent, into the pen, fumbling dibbers, congratulations, good lucks and we’re away.
Through the rocks and grass, up the pitch path, surrounded by other teams. Running hard to the top of Red Screes overtaking people, breathing hard. An experienced line down to the high valley. Then the feeling of legs too tired to keep it up.
Cat doing an amazing job of cheerleading through the tussocks and bogs, a brief view to the east, mountains lake, sky, climbing up feeling slow now, and over to the pile of stones and then the descent, relaxing muscles and mind, controlled falling down the grassy, muddy, wet, the crazy exposure of the few steps by the waterfall then down between boulders, over rough grass through loops of wire and waterlogged paths, wading across the beck. My favourite part this year – the run down the rocky path, legs still fresh enough to enjoy it, calling out the danger spots and features along the way – lift those knees! like a really fun recce. Rock hopping to the finish pen, seeing Holly and Shirley ready to run, being cheered and cheering, dib, yells of encouragement and hugs. It’s always wonderful to run that leg, and always humbling and great fun to run it with Cat, despite not being able to get into race mindset this year, it was my favourite leg three yet. Sharing the stoke of running as hard as we can with a group of likeminded souls and all those who cheer us on. There is nothing else like it!
So, with six out of eight safely round and the final two well on their way the race was drawing to a close. Back in the main field we waited at the finish line, re-fuelling on the excellent refreshments provided by Patterdale School, and sharing the day’s adventures, crossing fingers that Holly and Shirley were going well.
There was no change to the final placings. Ambleside came in first, but Helm Hill had significantly closed the gap taking second. Dark Peak came next, with Holly and Shirley looking strong as they brought Keswick home in 4th place. We discovered Holly had taken a nasty knock to her ankle on Cofa Pike but it wasn’t evident as they sprinted to the finish line hand in hand, cheered on by the rest of the team. I’d been told this was one of the best days on the fell racing calendar and it definitely lived up to that expectation. It was an absolute privilege to be part of Keswick ladies team at such a prestigious event; a true celebration of fell running, team work, fun and friendship.