Coniston Fell Race (Roger Laycock)

Coniston Fell Race
What a cracking race! Steep climbs, fast descents, rocky technical sections great views and excellent cakes at the finish. Perfect! No wonder Matt Fretwell chose this as a first attempt at a longer race; apparently he’d never done anything as long as this 9 mile, 3,500ft classic. Hard to believe for such a good runner who seems to have been having good results with the Harriers for years. Any lack of experience certainly didn’t show and hardly seemed to hold him back as he blasted round in 1 hour 20 minutes, finishing 19th, (from 200+) not far off the front runners and that despite suffering blisters on the long, long final descent off the last checkpoint on the Old Man. An excellent result. Well done Matt.

It felt chilly in the valley before the start, but except for a stiff breeze on Swirl How, the second checkpoint, conditions were perfect. Dry underfoot, clear enough to enjoy the tremendous views into the Lakes and down the coast South of Black Combe; vest and shorts weather with just enough sun to work on a tan. It doesn’t get much better in the Lakes in April- well most times really.

My legs were still surprisingly weary from a three day run along the GR221 in Mallorca (150km and plenty of climbing), an equally excellent, but very different route, the previous week.( If you fancy doing it, let me know). For those who’ve done the Three Shires and know the joys of the first climb up Wetherlam, Consiton too packs much of its ascent into the pull up to the first Checkpoint on the summit. Not quite as brutal as the thigh burning slog from the Langdale side, but the height gained is no less demanding with a lung busting steep start, hands on thighs (for me anyway) for the first half mile and then a long, long trog up to the top. Sometimes tussocks, more often rocky, craggy paths needing concentration, reaching the summit doesn’t come soon enough for those of us who prefer downhill!

The run out to the second marshal at Swirl How is just the same as the Three Shires route with some scope for canny route choice and fast. In perfect conditions a great little section and chance to get air back in the lungs and run with ease. In clag, a different prospect with plenty of scope to go off exploring- I’ve been tempted before! The need not to make a larger and surprisingly easy error, going the wrong way off Swirl How, heading for Wrynose and not South towards Coniston Old Man, forgetting which race your in seems crazy. How could anyone mistake North for South, up for down, but apparently in poor conditions many do. Not this time, with a colourful string of vests setting out the good running route ahead, though sadly Matt, in his high-viz Harriers strip was long gone. (Does anyone actually like our health & safety inspired, luminous green, ‘look at me’, club colours?-just thought I’d ask- on behalf of quiet a few others).

Anyway……there are a few sections overall where route choice can make a small difference before the final run off the Old Man, but the best options from the summit do make quite a difference. I played safe, not knowing the best way off and took the direct line; straight down towards and through the old quarries. Picking a line, trying to maximise running on grass was great fun. Jumping off small outcrops, leaping boulders, taking the brakes off to chase down the runners in front. I managed to pass a few who were less reckless than me, but sadly lacked the speed on the last half mile down the old mine road (more sessions with Andy & Carole needed) to hold them off. Being overtaken by runners I think I’ve already passed for good, takes miles out of my legs. Those that knew the best line appeared out of nowhere, having gained lots of ground on people like me who hadn’t run or reccied it recently. Even more demoralising; they’re in front , but made less effort getting there! A great descent, fast (it’s all relative) furious thigh burning fun.

Coniston is a super race, similar to Fairfield and Kentmere (which I know quite a few Harriers have done) in the type of running and ‘feel’ of the race; classic Lakeland days out. Challenging, but not intimidating, something for everyone, great fun and great atmosphere, oh and great cakes, (or have I already mentioned that?!) Sadly, it usually clashes with the 3 Peaks, which means many Harriers don’t really look at doing it, but if you fancy a change from running a fell route on road, path and pavement, give it a go. You’ll love it!

Roger