BRITISH FELL RUNNING CHAMPION
This year one of my main goals was to have a good crack at the British Champs. I was second equal with Morgan Donnelly in 2013 (to winner Rob Jebb) in quite a close final result, decided on the fourth and final race of the series - the fantastic Peris Horseshoe in Snowdonia. I learnt a lot by doing these races, particularly the importance of reccying: racing onsight, navigating from the front in the snow and mist of the Mourne Mountains was less than an ideal strategy and I found myself narrowly second (to Gavin Bland, previous British Champion) in the Silent Valley race. Unfortunately, on returning to the Mournes for the 2014 Champs race on Slieve Donard, I hadn't listened to my own advice and ended up coming totally unstuck - again without the benefit of a reccy - in the thick mist, along with half the field. So 2014 was out too for me and the Champs.
Come 2015 I was keen to have another go but was clear from the start that reccying of the courses was essential. The first race, Ras Y Moelwyn starts from the lovely village of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales. It promised to suit me well as it wasn't too long and looked to be quite rough. I headed down early and had a good long look at the course, working out the best lines and getting a feel for it. After carefully checking race rules, route details and mandatory checkpoints it was time for the race, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a really variable and interesting course on which everything seemed to come together for me (fitness, navigation, pacing) to achieve a clean win. I didn't forget my plan however and diligently stopped by at Wasdale for a Lingmell Dash reccy on the way back home to Scotland. Now the pressure was on, Durisdeer in the Scottish Borders was the next race, which after reccying I knew would be a toughie. Rob Jebb's record seemed very quick considering the mix of tussocky slow terrain, and hard steep grassy ascents. There was also a fair amount of flattish running, which relatively speaking wouldn't be my strong point. Again this was a race I enjoyed as my prior reccy allowed a route choice which put me from around sixth place into first place without much extra effort from me, on the descent from the first peak. From here in I was being chased and had to dig in to try and keep ahead. Going up the big penultimate climb I felt slow in the rough grass and Rob Hope followed closely by Tom Owens came past me. Still quite close together I hung on as best I could down and then up the final small climb. I knew Tom was gone at this point, but put my all into a fast grassy descent to pull back on Rob and finish in second. Post race cakes were a highlight, probably some of the best of any race I've yet been to. Lingmell Dash was the short race of the series, and I felt it could go reasonably for me as long as I didn't let the fast ascenders get too far ahead. It's fair to say my strength is in descent, but with only around 15 minutes downhill on this one I was going to need to really go for it. A spanner in the works was a minor calf injury around 10 days before the race which had me frantically attending for sports massage and physio. Thankfully things held out; I wore an elasticated bandage for some extra support which seemed to help without hindering motion too much. Watching the ladies race first gave quite a good tool for making some final tactical decisions, and the race really went how I had expected. I lost some ground on the ascent, to be fifth at the top, but managed to push on down and get back into second behind English Champion Simon Bailey. I couldn't quite catch Simon - who also beat me on the slightly similar Blisco Dash in 2013 - but my second place was enough to secure the Championship for me. The Seven Sevens in Ireland looks a brilliant tough race although with the Champs in the bag and with various other non-running commitments, I decided not to go this year.
So, a satisfying result and the effort of reccying and a generally more methodical approach was well worth it. Next up I look forward to racing another Ben Nevis, then a trip to New Zealand before back to some longer Scottish hill missions. Thanks to Norman Walsh for footwear.