Race Date: Sunday 19th July 2015
Holme Moss Fell Race: A Bright and Breezy Day in the Dark Peak
It’s fair to say I wasn’t very enthusiastic about Holme Moss Fell Race, all I’d heard about it in the days leading up to the race was negative; it was long, tough, with insanely steep climbs, equally steep descents, and David Perkins (a strider who usually beats me in races) had taken 5hrs to complete the race last year. To compound my lack of enthusiasm, when I left for the race on Sunday morning the rain was lashing down and so I was soaked before I’d even got to the car.
My passenger for today’s excursion, Sian Evans, was hardly any more encouraging, and I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that she wasn’t exactly raring to go either. At one point we joked about me turning around, dropping Sian back in Crookes and us both just forgetting all about the race and coming up with an excuse for the no-show. It was just a joke though, no serious consideration went into it at all…
I was concerned, after finally finding the correct location (following one or two wrong turns and much criticism of my navigational ability by my passenger), that I might fall foul of the FRA kit check, and also look like a complete idiot, having neglected to bring a hat or gloves (I really should have known that “full FRA kit” includes hat and gloves, and they weren’t messing about on the checks either!). As it turned out I needn’t have worried on my kit concern, because I did find my gloves and Phil Howson was kind enough to loan me his striders hat. Secondly, my slight lack of kit was put into perspective by our supposedly seasoned fell-running specialist, Andy Davies, who turned up without map, compass, whistle, hat or gloves. Somehow, by the generosity of friends and strangers alike, he managed to scrape together the full kit, including some totally inappropriate gloves that were basically a pair of marigolds. Still, Andy was born and raised on the fells (or that’s the rumour anyway), so I guessed he’d be alright.
Our Striders line-up for the day was; Andy Buck, Andy Davies, Mick Timm, Sian Evans, Phil Howson, Sam Needham, and Steve Clarke. I’m contractually obliged at this juncture, to point out that; (1) Andy Davies came 4th in this race last year, and (2) Phil Howson was running with a broken toe (but in both cases they don’t like to mention these things, so I have done that for them).
So to the race; well it’s bloody hard, that’s the first thing to say. It may not be as long as Edale Skyline, or as tough as some of the Lakeland Classics, but regardless of what Phil Howson might claim, 18 miles, with 4,000ft of climbing (about 3000ft of that compressed into 4 or 5 very steep climbs) is certainly not what I’d class as an easy race! In poor weather I could see it being horrendously difficult (hence the FRA kit checks). The start was typically informal, just some shouted instructions from the race organiser whilst most people continued chatting, then we were off. Within seconds the usual quick starters had disappeared from view, and that was the last I saw of Mick Timm, Andy Buck and Andy Davies until I stumbled across the finish line some time later.
The initial 3 miles from the start are fairly gentle, with a mix of tarmac, farm tracks and pasture, at the end of which comes the first of the ridiculously steep descents, followed immediately by an equally epic climb. This first climb really bunches the field back up, so I had a good idea of how far behind some of the other striders I’d already fallen (quite a long way), but I was happy to treat the race as a long training run and just stick with a manageable pace. I’d been running along with Sian for the first 4-5 miles, but I felt really good at this stage, and couldn’t help pushing the pace a bit. Sian insisted I didn’t need to wait around for her (although with hindsight that may well have been a tactful way of telling me to get lost). Therefore, like any good clubmate wouldn’t do, I left Sian behind without so much as a backward glance, nor the slightest word of encouragement, and I didn’t see her again until the finish line. Classy!
Following the first serious climb there’s a long steady “contouring” section which gradually rises up to meet the Woodhead Pass, where the route crosses over by the Holme Moss transmitter mast, then the main circuit begins and the “fun” really starts.
Almost as soon as you leave the Woodhead pass behind, the route drops down a treacherously steep 100m or so, before splashing through Hayden Brook, and launching into a 150m climb straight back up the other side. From there it’s a long run south up to Westend Moss (at 527m high), before a nice steady descent over a couple of miles towards Woodhead Reservoir. It’s a great part of the course to take a look at the surroundings and recover some energy, but of course, with fell racing, what comes down, must go up, and once you hit the bottom of the hill at the southern tip of the route, there’s a lung bursting, calf-busting 200m high climb straight back up to Bareholme Moss.
The route then turns west and Holme Moss veterans are probably turning their attentions to the looming climb up Laddow Rocks. Not me though, being a first timer I’d never seen or heard of Laddow Rocks, and I was too busy chatting away with a very nice lady I’d been running with for the past 3 or 4 miles, who confidently assured me that the climb up to Bareholme Moss was the worst of the climbing done with. Encouraged by this, me and my “new best mate” upped the pace (very very slightly!) and carried on down another steep descent only to find ourselves at the bottom of yet another enormous climb, topped off by a fairly sizeable cliff face – Laddow Rocks. So, another energy sapping trudge up the hill ensued. By this point I should have twigged that my new running buddy had no idea of the route. It wasn’t like she’d really pretended otherwise in fact, having even told me she was a member of Hong Kong Road Runners, and this was her first ever UK fell race. But the penny still didn’t drop, and I’m just a sucker for a pretty face, so I was soon happily following her on a ludicrous “short-cut” which was nothing of the sort, and ended up taking us through a field of boulders obscured by head high bracken, causing both of us to have numerous stumbles before we crashed out of the undergrowth and re-joined the sensible runners on the main route.
Laddow Rocks was every bit as hard as I’d been led to believe. Since starting fell running, I’m getting used to hills that are too steep to run up, but not hills that too steep even to walk up and have to be climbed on all-fours! I was getting a bit downhearted at this point, but then just ahead of me (or more accurately directly above me at the top of Laddow Rocks) I spied our very own speed-demon and serial hashtagger, Sam Needham. I admit it gave me a boost, as it always does on the rare occasion I catch up with a faster runner, but my initial thought – either I’m running really well or Sam’s having a really bad day – was answered in the usual way when I caught up with him not long after the climb. His first words were “I’m dead on my feet mate, my legs have gone to jelly. I’ll never hear the end of this now, Howson’ll be miles ahead”.
I wasn’t having a blinder , but Sam was having a ‘mare!
We ran on with Sam for another mile or so, before my new friend and I kicked on a bit leaving him to 8 more miles of anguish, and from there, I ran what was my favourite leg of the race heading north-east along a conveniently flagstoned section of the Pennine Way. The running was easier, nice and solid and flat underfoot, with a helpful tailwind too. From there on, it wasn’t exactly flat, but in comparison to what had gone before, the run back around to the Woodhead Pass was quite enjoyable and all very runnable.
By this point I was still feeling quite good, and so I’d dumped my new mate and moved on. Good company though she was, my competitive edge had emerged and I felt I could still go a bit faster, so she had to be ruthlessly cut adrift. Easy come, easy go. I continued onward, tired but having recovered well enough after Laddow Rocks to see our own Phil Howson twice briefly coming into my sights up ahead. Credit where it’s due though, as hard as I tried, I never really got near actually catching him, and he soon disappeared into the distance where he stayed for the rest of the race. Did I mention he was running with a broken toe?
I got my payback for upping the pace (bigtime!) just before getting back to the Woodhead Pass though, the depressingly familiar, and always excrutiating muscle cramps appeared with a vengeance (right up the inside of my thigh!) and left me stuck rooted to the spot just beside the route groaning in agony at least 3 or 4 times. My former friend from Hong Kong overtook me (I could’ve sworn she was laughing to herself as well!) and disappeared into the distance, along with 15 or 20 other runners I’d worked hard to overtake over the previous 1/2hr or so.
Although I’d enjoyed myself a lot more than I expected up to that point, I have to say it wasn’t much fun at all once the cramps had set in. Twice after that I managed to plough straight into knee-deep sections of bog, and an unfortunate chap from Dark Peak running right in front of me disappeared into a chest-deep hole, which seemed to have appeared from nowhere.
I hobbled on for a couple more fairly flat but painful miles, and soon enough the only major obstacle left to cover was that huge climb we’d first done at the 3 mile point. By now, I was cramping up every time I lifted my right knee, so the last climb was, in a word, awful. It wasn’t until we got back on the tarmac that I found my feet again, put in a reasonable effort, and finally finished after 18 miles and a fraction under 4hrs. It wasn’t the most dignified of finishes either as my calfs cramped up just after the finish and I crawled to the end of the funnel on hands and knees. Fortunately, Andy Davies and Andy Buck quickly picked me up, to save the image of the club being dragged pathetically through the mud in front of everyone watching at the finish line.
Good race or bad race? I couldn’t decide, I found it really tough going, and when the leg cramp set in I really had to grin and bear it, but I’m glad to have done my first AL fell race, and there were plenty of genuinely enjoyable stretches on the route.
My fellow striders had a mixed day. Andy Davies was the very “modest” hero of the day, being 1st strider home in a fantastic 12th place overall, in a time of 3.0 (and he asked me to add: against a much stronger field than last year where he finished 4th overall). Mick Timm and Andy Buck both had cracking races finishing just either side of 3hrs 30. Andy Buck in particular, looked as fresh as a daisy at end – although he had been sitting around drinking tea and eating cake for half an hour before I crawled over the finish line. Phil Howson, running with a broken toe let’s not forget, came in comfortably ahead of me in 3.45, followed by me in 3.59, with a despondent looking Sam Needham declaring himself “just glad to have finished” in 4.03, and Sian Evans, after finishing with a hell of a good sprint in a thoroughly respectable 4.08 certainly didn’t mince her words. I can’t repeat them in a race report, but suffice to say, Holme Moss is not Sian’s favourite race.
With all Striders (and our temporary Dark Peak travelling companions) back safe and sound, all that was left was tea-drinking, cake-eating and prize-giving. Andy Davies, Mick Timm, and Andy Buck each won a prize for their highly placed age-category finishes, and Andy Davies, always magnanimous in victory or defeat, insisted that only the prize winners should feature in the team photo, with the “riff-raff” reluctantly allowed to stand at the back.
In conclusion then; Holmfirth Harriers put on a well organised, great value, and friendly event. The race is well marked and marshalled, with a great focus on the safety of the runners, whilst still providing a route that is challenging and tough enough to test the best runner. In bad weather I imagine it would be brutal and I don’t think I could’ve completed it in such conditions, but amongst the steep sections, the exposed moors, the heavy going bogs, and the difficult rocky tracks, there are enough scenic, runnable sections that make the race enjoyable to be a part of, especially on a fair weather day, for a fair-weather fell runner like me.
There were 154 finishers out of the 158 starters. The race was won by Matthew Lalor of Barlick in 2.44.21. First lady was Helen Berry of Holmfirth in 2.56.57.
Official results: Holme Moss fell race results
The smiles indicate this was taken before the race!!