Race date 21st April 2018. Report by Joe Buckman.
While most people were heading South to London, I was on the road North to the Lake District. Destination, the beautiful Newlands Valley.
Lying just south of Keswick on the Western shores of Derwent Water, Newlands Valley has some imposing big mountains which host the Anniversary Waltz and Teenager with Altitude fell races following variations of the ‘Newlands Valley Round’.
The race has been run for 22 years by Steve and Wynn Cliff who got married in the chapel in the valley and ran the route as a celebration of their wedding. The Anniversary Waltz fell race is held each year to commemorate Wynn and Steve’s wedding. Sadly Steve has recently passed from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and so respectfully this was set to be the last running of the anniversary waltz race. The profits also get split between Newlands Valley and MND and over the years Steve has raised a whopping personal total of £750,000 for MND research. So that all said, it was a worthy cause to battle up the fells on a very hot Saturday in April.
I have done a fair bit of Lakeland running but never a fell race. The route is 12 miles with 3600ft of ascent taking in a horseshoe of the valley which includes Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head, High Spy, Maiden Moor and Catbells. Sounds a doddle right! I had read Alasdair Menmuirs race report from 2017 and so was aware of the challenge ahead. I believe the words ‘jelly’ and ‘legs’ were used a lot.
After kit checks and some pre start speeches (including an emotional round of applause for Steve) we tootled off in the back 50 of a field of over 500. The fell runners of the Lakeland are another breed, with weathered skin and muscles that I’m pretty sure the ‘average’ person doesn’t have. It was a good plan to start at the back though as it gave us the opportunity to overtake throughout the race, and stopped us from shooting off too fast. So with a smile on my face, suncream slathered on and running next to a guy in a wedding dress we settled into the steady run up the valley. The smile was soon wiped off my face when I noticed a long line of ants crawling up a vertical wall in the distance. The race route up Robinson was brutal. A 400 metre climb from the valley floor to the ridge straight up the side followed by another 200 metres to the peak. I haven’t found myself having to scale hillsides with hands on the ground in the Peak District before. However arriving on the ridge I felt good. Another 200m of limestone scrambling brought me to the summit plateau where a steady run to the trig point allowed me to tick off the 1st of 6 peaks for the day. My legs were still feeling strong which gave me a confidence boost that may be I can hold my own in the home of fell running. Onwards to Hindscarth!
Here I overtook someone in a Dark Peak vest. He might have been around 80 years old but dark peak are a serious fell running club so I was taking that. More men in dresses ticked off our numbers at the top of Hindscarth…delightful. It’s worth pointing out, as always, that the army of volunteers, marshalls and general support were brilliant around the whole route.
At this point there was a lovely runnable descent into the saddle between Hindscarth and Dale Head. One person reminded me to look at the view. It was immense with hardly a cloud in the sky. I also found myself at this point running next to female Bob Graham record holder Jasmin Paris. I should say she was on a longer version of the race and so certainly wasn’t equal to her in place!
Up to Dale Head via a lovely cliff side path and over the half way mark. Legs still going well, sun still shining, people still chatting (there was quite a lot of chatting) and still great support from people who had walked all the way up to cheer the runners on. I was sticking to my plan of a couple of jelly babies at every peak, and taking on a lot of water regularly to counter the hot blue sky conditions.
I had been warned about the next part of the race. The descent from Dale Head was one of the most uncomfortable bits of fell running I have done. Some very steep ground with sporadic rocks and tufts of grass sent the quads screaming and feet shoved into the front and sides of the fell shoes. I just wanted to get through that bit and was in awe of some of the seasoned descenders managing some serious speeds getting down it.
The last section of the run was the most runnable on the tops however with tired legs some of the climbs felt tougher than they should have been. Some short ups and downs to tick off High Spy and Maiden moor before finding ourselves at the base of the steep climb up to Catbells, the 6th of 6 peaks for the day. Being a very popular hill in the Lake District Catbells was full of day walkers and support for the race. Some rousing cheers pulled me up to the top, where following a Totley runner by just staring at his back and trying not to lose distance, I totally missed running (or walking…) right past the supporting fell running legend that is Joss Naylor. The route became flagged at this point to guide us back to Stair village and the finishing field by a steep winding grassy path down the West side of catbells. Crossing the line I jumped straight into a handy stream in the finishing field to cool my burning feet. Included in the £9 price of the race was an inscribed glass, a free meal and beer on tap. Combined with the sunny weather, we hung around in the finishing field for 3 hours.
I can safely say this is my favourite fell race I have done. For the route, the atmosphere, the marshals and support. It was just a great event. I would recommend it however sadly it was the last running of it. Fingers crossed a local club may take it on though.
493 people took part in the race with 481 completing it. The race was won by Sam Stead of Keswick AC in an amazing 1 hour 40 minutes 4 seconds.
I was the sole Strider on the day and finished in 201st in 2 hours 29 minutes 30 seconds.
Full results here