Within days of going live I can testify that Paul's new e-mail group is already a great success. Through facilitating the sharing of transport, encouraging people to make the trip, swapping navigational notes, a large group of Ilkley Harriers appeared for the Three Shires Race at Little Langdale, to the extent that it seemed like red and green vests were actually out-numbering those of the local Lakeland clubs.
It's not usually possible to write much of a report on fell races. Runners disappear up a hill into the mist, and then reappear out of said mist, one by one, some several hours later ... well, that at least was my wife's take on it, and, to be honest, she's about right. Running is something to do, rather than write or read about. However, this weekend was a little unusual since I was close enough to the action to be able to provide something of a commentary, and there does appear to be a demand for the stories behind the races we are all doing. Competition is so strong in the club that I think everyone wants to keep tabs on each other's form.
Hector Haines, full of confidence from winning the short course Lakeland trial last weekend, looked set to blaze the trail for Ilkley, but who would chase him around? On the first long climb up Wetherlam, under clear blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, with Hector having charged off with the leaders, there seemed to be some kind of weird force holding the Ilkley pursuants together. Halfway up the climb I was able to see Jim Ryder, Steve Turland, Dave Wilby and Lawrence Basham all within a hundred yards of each other, and just ahead of me. Knowing that I'm going to lose ground on the descents I feel that I have no choice but to push hard on the climbs, and feeling in a sociable mood, I thought I'd try to have a chat with everybody on the way past, thinking that once we reach Swirl How they'd all pull away from me. I caught all but Lawrence before the summit, who, as leader of the Harriers peleton, wasn't aware of how closely he was being followed. He admitted later to having had to make a sudden readjustment of his ambitions at this stage of the race. Just seconds after reaching Wetherlam ahead of all his main rivals, he suddenly found himself in the position of trailing them all!
The traverse across to Swirl How via Prison Band is a delightful route and the views were fabulous. As we neared the summit a familiar voice called my name from behind, one I hadn't heard in a race for many, many a year. It was Peter Haines (father of Hector, husband of Sarah, and, for the record, now committed to joining the club), obviously having rediscovered long buried levels of fitness and determination as a result of training with his son. I know how good a runner Peter is (this is someone who was once able to run Borrowdale in very close to 3 hours!), and I know he doesn't race unless he is fit and competitive. He was going to be the man to beat today.
The descent to the Three Shires Stone offers some good running and I managed to keep everyone just about in sight, and Peter behind me - although I knew this would only be a temporary state of affairs. At Wrynose Pass the opportunity of a cooling shower in a stream was too good to miss, as also was the chance to take on lots of water. After a refreshing drink I took off in pursuit off the Ilkley lads, watching Peter seemingly skip up the Pike o'Blisco ahead of me, and soon reel in Dave and Lawrence. He was clearly a man on a mission.
From the top of the Pike the quickest route to Lingmoor involves retracing your steps for a few hundred yards before picking up a runner's trod (a path created as a result of a race). This has the effect of allowing you to see who is immediately ahead and behind you in the event, great when you're feeling strong (or taking on the role of race reporter), but awful when you're struggling! First to be sighted were Jim and Steve, pretty much together and running hard, followed not far behind by Peter Haines. These three were going to have a great contest. Lawrence and Dave appeared as I neared the summit cairn and this was clearly going to be another good contest. Could I keep in close enough contact to be able to witness the battle? Dave was clearly struggling, and was going to be well down on his superb time of last year, but Lawrence was not at home on the rough descent from the Pike. Indeed it was quite gratifying to see him pansying around (sorry Lawrence) as much as myself, although, in fairness, he did at least stay on his feet, which is more than I managed. I've since found out that we do at least share the same excuse of having broken a leg in the past and are both running around with metal and pins holding us together!
I tracked Dave and Lawrence all the way up Lingmoor, and down the wonderful, mostly grassy descent, to see Lawrence pull away to get home just ahead. Before then, Jim had got down to the road in the lead of his three-way contest, only to suffer a moment of madness, and commit a real schoolboy error by turning left rather than right, and allowing Peter to pip him to the line, closely followed by Steve. Earlier still, Hector had finished just one place outside the top ten, a terrific performance as he was almost certainly the youngest competitor in the entire race.
It didn't seem very long before Eddie Winslow and Kevin Gooch appeared in the Ilkley camp, then Alison Weston and Sarah Haines (both in the prizes) followed not long after by Jo Foster and finally Rachel Gooch. I think that makes a total of 12 and a half runners for Ilkley, which must count as one of the best turnouts for a non-championship Lakeland fell race in club history. Best of all was being able to hang out afterwards and soak up warm September sunshine while trading banter with each other ... and there was a lot of that, as there always is after a classic race in the Lakes. Everybody has a story to tell!