Thanks to Greg for this barefoot running review of the Saddleworth Edges fell race
This race report is incomplete because ……….it was a DNF ! Now that might not seem that bad but in my entire racing career this is only my third ever DNF. My first was a bike crash in a regional triathlon championship that put me out of racing for nearly a year. The second was the final race of my triathlon career and ended racing for nearly 15 years, so trust me this is a big deal. Anyway to the race…..
The race route info states:
“The race starts at Tanners mill and starts with a steep climb up a grassy field. ”
That is an understatement ! It was nearly vertical well to a softy road runner like me. Then it just kept on going up and up and up !!! Being at the back from the start,getting left behind and watching everybody else just float up the fell through knee deep heather was an inspiring sight if I had not been dying. My legs and lungs wanted to explode. As i was working that hard my legs filled with blood and swelled to full pump. This whilst wearing skins compression shorts meant that my legs couldn’t work properly and felt like they were going to burst.
The climb to the stone shelter and trig point at the summit is unrelenting but offers fine views.
I guess it did but I couldn’t breathe or feel anything but pain in my legs by this point. Basically everybody had left me a long way behind by the time I reached the top of Alphin fell. The Marshall was very kind and pointed me in the right direction off over the peaty fells to Wimberry Rocks before climbing again to Stable Stones Brow.
The edges turn narrow and rocky from here to Chew Reservoir but pleasant running and beautiful views if you can afford a look.
And here lies my main issue……..I cannot run….no I don’t know how to run on boulders and knee deep peat bog.
By the time I had left the checkpoint the runner in front of me had disappeared from view and was just a spot occasionally in the distance and as if that wasn’t bad enough emotionally, another runner who had turned up late , mooched up the fell and passed me laughing saying he didnt know the route and had set off late and wasn’t this jolly or something ! I asked him to let the Marshall know I wasn’t dead , feeling fine, moving slow but still moving. He took my race number and said he would let the Marshall know. Nice guy really but right at that time it just emotionally destroyed what little confidence I had left that I could finish the race. It’s one thing being last its another being passed by somebody who set off ages after we had all started. It just did me in. After that I concentrated on moving a quickly as I could and trying to figure out what I didn’t know that others did ? And how to move on this style of terrain.
Being relatively local to dovestones I have walked the area a bit and knew where I was even running past a previous brew stop. But there was no time to stop or enjoy the views today as I was painfully aware of how slow I was moving and how hard the terrain was to run on. Paths 6 inch wide with a huge drop to the side, heather attempting to trip you up with every step and loose rocks underfoot are not easy for a softy road runner to move over. My confidence increased and waned with every step with occasional ridiculously humorous moments when I was following footsteps across peat sections only to sink to my knees in peat bogs. I attempted to follow the stud marks from all the other runners. Walsh fell shoes leave a distinguishable tread print in the mud and they became strangely comforting to follow considering that I couldn’t see anybody anymore. They at least let me know I was on roughly the right track.
Then I hit what can be at best described as a rocky set of drops. Now all the real fell runners out there wouldn’t even think twice about this bit of the run but I just stopped at the top and laughed to myself at the drops in front of me and couldn’t figure out how to run at any pace down them. Walking, scrambling yes but running no. Then it went from what was the ridiculous to the sublime. Long gullies in the peat all churned up by the other runners that I sank into generally mid calf but up to knee deep. That was when I saw the Marshall at Chew reservoir about the 4 mile point.
I would like to thank that Marshall hugely. When I approached him there was no hint of impatience or ridicule in his support for this heavily overweight, vibram wearing, obviously out of his depth road runner. Just support for making it that far. We discussed the route on and the option of my DNF. He stated …..it gets easier from here but the next bit is the same until the next trig point. That was it I had had it ! The road back to the start was too tempting and just knew I didn’t have the will to finish just to say I had finished. We chatted about the run and he suggested that I was doing the right thing by knowing my limits and that was it finalised. I ended my race and thanked him for marshalling and waiting for me.
As I set off down the access road I felt like a weight had been lifted. But then the analysis started. What went wrong? Why ? When ? And how? Also what did I have to do to become a fell runner ? As I walked / ran back to the start I reflected on my race and a few things became painfully clear
I am too overweight to run up fells. Simple as that. Gravity is nobody’s friend less so mine.
I’m not fit enough to run up fells. Again simple get fitter.
Compression clothing is great but not when it stops your legs from working because it is too tight. I never knew my legs swelled up that much when working really hard.
You NEED grip it’s not negotiable. Vibrams are great on roads and trails but are just pointless on peat moors. I’m not ready to put shoes back on but both Walsh and inov8 now make minimalist zero drop fell shoes with the midsole removed that I need to take a look at.
I don’t know how to run on fell and moorland terrain. The skill set used on roads generally transfers to trail running but trail running is not fell running. It’s another world with an entirely different skill set and I have not got a clue how to move over that kind of terrain at all. I need more time spent training on the fells. It’s a skill set that can be developed , its just going to take time.
On roads it’s as simple as keep putting one foot in front of the other, on the fells it’s not that simple. Route choice and being able to read the ground is crucial to ground speed. Again it’s a skill I don’t have.
If you choose to bail on a race……don’t bail at the furthest point from the start/ finish ! I still had a 3.25 mile walk back. Trust me its a long and lonely walk.
I had a great time and learnt loads. As with my other fell race I have come away feeling like fell running is where I belong. I have so much to learn about the sport it’s like starting running all over again and whilst daunting its very exciting. I love being out there on the fells and the sense of camaraderie and genuine concern for your fellow runner is refreshing. As is the belief that it is my responsibility and nobody else’s to keep myself safe and get my sorry butt off the fell when i dropped out. On the roads somebody would have had a bus to take me back to the start and taken all responsibility off me.
A huge thank to you to the organisers Saddleworth running club, all the marshals, support crew, everybody who talked to me and made me feel welcome, brew run for stocking a great post run chilled lemon drink and everybody else out on the fells that day.
As far as giving it a barefoot rating…..well I’m not sure it would be possible to “race” over this terrain fully barefoot. It would be possible on a dry day to run the route. It would be a great challenging barefoot walk where pace is irrelevant. Running on fells is like stepping onto the moon, everything you think you know about running stops working. As such I’m rating it as a BBBB (severe) but this still feels lacking as I don’t believe that our feet have enough grip.
Greg is a member of the Northwest Barefooters running group and an active member of the Barefoot Beginner facebook group.