Full Report: British Athletics Fell and Hill Relay Championships

 

After several weeks of organising and pulling the teams together we were nearly there.  We had been tantalisingly close to fielding a ladies’ team as the numbers of those available, uninjured and fit fluctuated up and down but alas it wasn’t to be.  So, with 2 teams firmed up; one male and one mixed we were ready to go.  Unfortunately, the last minute rejig of the teams had meant that I had had to place some runners on legs they would rather not have been on including myself but we took it for the team donned fell shoes and bum bags and proceeded to the holding pen.

Fell running is a unique sport to the British Isles due to the nature of our mountains.  In general our fells, hills, Bens and Bryns are a little too small to put roads and well-made paths up them so it’s not quite the same as European mountain running.  The routes are generally off path on sheep trods but have a lot of climb in a small distance with a bit of navigation so it’s not trail running but the navigation is not so refined as to make it orienteering.  It’s an odd sport much like the people who take part.  It’s cheap and grass roots.  The top athletes who take part would be Olympians if this was a good spectator sport that attracted big sponsorship deals.  In essence it’s like turning up to a pub car park and paying £3 to run against Mo Farah and if you win you get to choose your prize off and old pasting table with a selection of Aldi bought goodies on display.

The British Athletics Fell and Hill Relay Championships 2017 are the pinnacle of this eccentricity.  This year’s event was in Llanberis and again organised by Eryri Harriers.  There is a great atmosphere and all the big clubs, big names and record holders are there.  If you like off road running the atmosphere is great, the competition high and the courses tough and Pensby were there trying not to come last.

Good solid performances on the individual Leg 1 by Lisa Grantham for the mixed team and Zach Ryan for the men’s.  I didn’t get to see Lisa for the rest of the day after she set off from the start line but she set the mixed team up well for the day.  Zach who is new to fell running with just a handful of races under his belt put in a blinding performance finishing well up the field despite picking up a nasty gash to his wrist which required gluing due to awkwardness of its position.

Leg 2 was covered by myself and David Green for the men and Lucy Partridge and Julie Dala for the mixed.  Zach had set the men’s team up so well that whilst out on this 9 mile run with over 3000 foot of climb we were being overtaken by some of the most famous fell runners still active.  It was an absolute privilege to be overtaken by them and was a great reminder of how accessible this sport truly is.  I had a shocking run as like several of the teams’ members I was not on top form.  Apologies to Dave for holding him up as I just didn’t have it in me on the day.  Julie and Lucy overtook Dave and I about 6 miles into the run just below Hebron Station.  They looked really strong and continued to pull away over the last 3 miles of the race.  On the high tops of Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion the clag came in with very strong winds which made me worry about our navigators on the forthcoming Leg 3.

Post-match analysis, fell running forums and the kangeroo court that is Facebook has shown Leg 3 to have been a bit of a disaster.  The fineries of orienteering map legends was lost on most of the fell runners on the leg and certain proscribed routes were ignored and compulsory crossing points on walls and fences ignored.  These deviations from the rules were meant to have been committed by even the best of teams there.  Despite this it was a challenging route in tough weather conditions which meant visibility was down to 5 – 10 metres and you struggled to stand in the wind our runners performed well.  Mixed team Andy and Fiona McGivern and men’s team Andrew Sumner and Roy Fisher managed to find all controls despite having to yomp up the tussock grass strewn rear face of Moel Eilio without being able to see many navigable features around them.  A huge well done and thanks to all 4 runners as this is the leg most difficult to fill when compiling the teams.

Our Leg 4 runners started in a mass start.  Mass starts are utilised at the relays for the teams that are lower down the results table.  This allows everyone to get back safely and in daylight including the marshals who will have been on the wind battered fellside for six to seven hours.  Alex Royden ran for the mixed and Anthony Dala for the men.  Both runners boxed off our teams’ efforts in fine style putting in performances that maintained our positions as the weather continued to deteriorate and kept the Pensby entries off the dreaded last place.

Thank you to all runners for throwing your hat into the ring and a big thanks to Lisa and the Dalas for agreeing to run at the last minute.  Also, thank you to Jeff Adams who was unable to run but still gave me background support both during the organisation of the teams and on the day.  Also thanks to Nigel and Pat for coming to support.

Paul Challender