By Chris Bowen
Yesterday, I ran the Stretton Hills race which was the first race in this year’s English Championship. That’s not why I ran it. Dave was planning to race, we had a day out receeing it a couple of weeks ago and as there were still places left last week, I thought I may as well do it.
The English Championship is organised by the FRA every year. There are six races to choose from: two short, two medium and two long. Your best four count but you have to do one of each length. The first 20 runners in each 5-year age category gain points for the championship table (the first 10 in the categories with fewer runners). You have to run as your first claim club and you have to be a member of the FRA or affiliated to English Athletics. There are also team championships so there is an opportunity to gain points for your club as well as for yourself.
While I was waiting for the race to start, watching the blizzard going on outside, members of Pennine were talking about how many team counters they had for the various age categories. They only had three ladies there and although I am a member of Pennine I couldn’t count as I was entered as Goyt Valley. In fact, I had to register as Goyt Valley as it’s my first claim club (of course!) Someone asked me if I would get points for the Goyt Valley ladies team. Since I was the only GVS member there I pointed out that we didn’t have any teams at all! That made me wonder why we don’t have GVS members entering these races. Is it because they are thought to be too difficult? Or is it because people don’t know about them?
I must admit they do tend to be hard races with navigation skills needed. They are definitely not for novice fellrunners. You can’t gamble on following someone else if the clag is down and the route will not normally be flagged. They are definitely real old-fashioned fell races usually with route choices. Stretton Hills was a short race, just less than 10k but there was 630m of climbing and some of the ascent was like the climbs on Horrid Farm but longer!
So how did I get on? Well I wasn’t last and I found all the checkpoints but that is about all you can say. The field is of a very high standard, of course, with the best fell runners in the country at all ages taking part. At Stretton Hills there were six FV60’s and four FV65. Often in local fell races, I’m the only old lady there. This time I was 9th out of the 10! I was up against the likes of Wendy Dodds, Ann-Marie Jones, Pat Goodall etc. I was pleased not to come in 10th place to be honest. The weather was interesting with strong wind and some sleety showers just to add to the atmosphere. By about half way through, the steep climbs and descents had really spread the runners out and I lost sight of the runner in front of me and had to find my own way back to the finish. Good job I’d recee’d it as getting out a map and compass would have made me even slower. As in all fell races though everyone was very friendly, the marshals were encouraging even though they must have been freezing cold and fed-up of waiting for the tailenders like me. And as with many fell races there was lovely soup, tea and cake at the finish.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve done one or two English Champs races as they are always in Pennine’s Championship. Dave tends to do them and I’ve sometimes entered if I thought I could get round without being cut-off. Since I turned 60, I’ve scored points in the FV60 championship just by turning up, as there are relatively few FV60 and FV65 ladies. Last year I finished in 10th place in the FV60 championship and I only did one race which was the Edale Skyline.
The races this year are Stretton Hills(S), Howgills(L), Great Lakes(L), Blackfell(M), Grisdale Pike(M) and Ilam(S). Getting an entry has been problematic in the past but this year they have a different system. The best runners in each category have guaranteed entry if they want it, then anyone can enter over about a week when entries open. Places are then allocated by random ballot. This seems to have worked for Stretton Hills as everyone who wanted a place got one and there were a just few places spare.
So, if you enjoy hard races and can find your way reasonably well across unmarked rough ground, it is worth considering entering the English Championship. Perhaps something for our more competitive (in both senses of the word) runners to consider for the future.