Different races are great for different reasons. Everyone has their favourites. It could be the landscape, maybe the long history of legends who have won it. It might be the pie & pint in the pub at the end. It could be that they’re just really bloody hard. Then there are a few special races that are all of these things rolled into one, and therefore romantically referred to as The Lakeland Classics. An elite series of races. All tough, all long (or super long) and all on every fellrunner’s wish list. Originally set up to save a collection of races from extinction, due to runner numbers being on a steep decline, a time based (not position) scoring system was set up as a series and The Lakeland Classics Trophy was formed.
Most people just love having a go and being part of these great races, perhaps dreaming of a top fifty. Imagine a top ten? But then, somebody has to win them…
So when Sam Tosh was the first Rossendale Harrier to do so in as long as anyone at the club can remember, I thought I’d ask him about his best season to date.
You’ve had some good results in recent years but it seemed like you went up a notch last season. What was different about 2015?
First and foremost I’d say consistency, both in training and racing. From May through to October I was able to race regularly whilst keeping up some decent volume/quality in training. It was the first time in a number of years that I’d managed this, with 2014 being a virtual write off in racing terms. Of course the five months of winter I spent in New Zealand, working and travelling, did no harm either!
Apart from your time spent travelling. Did anything else get in the way of achieving consistency? And how did you overcome this?
Returning to the UK I started full time work again in June. As almost everyone can appreciate, this in itself provides a challenge. Whilst the average day leaves me with plenty of time to train, a busy period or bad traffic soon sees me squeezing training in at all hours. Further to this being based in Birmingham half the week did my climbing legs no favours! Other than that it was mostly a case of trying to stay healthy and injury free. Whilst I had to manage some ongoing niggles during the season I was still able to train throughout with certain adaptations i.e. No downhill running / more cycling. Anyone who trained with me will have definitely noticed the contrived routes and sessions.
You must of been feeling pretty confident going into Langdale, but did you think that you could actually win the race?
With it being towards the end of the season I knew what sort of shape I was in, I was confident even with it being my longest race of the year. After managing wins at a few shorter races earlier in the season. I was standing on the start line of all my races aiming to win.
The only small doubt I had was route choice. Being between both the Ian Hodgson & FRA Relays I didn’t get chance for a recce. Whilst I’ve run most of the course before, it was 7 years ago! This was the main influence on my tactics as I knew there were some experienced runners likely to be at the sharp end.
Photo by Andy Jackson
Onto the race itself. How did that pan out? Did route choice play apart in the end and how did you get on with the infamous Bad Step?
A front group of 5 formed early on including local and past winner Ben Abdelnoor. Up to Esk Hause a pattern emerged of me leading the climbs whilst he would pick up the pace on the descents and rougher ground. It was a clear day so there were no difficulties with nav and his route choice seemed sound. I stole a few meters on the stepped path to Esk Hause so waited for the others, making sure I got the right trod under Esk Pike. I was surprised here when Ben and Morgan Donnelly decided to go up and over, I stuck to my guns with Tom Brunt and Andy Fallas, trying to keep pace on the race trod below. It paid dividends as we opened a 30 ~ 60 sec gap on the other two. Although it was short lived and a slight error contouring from Three Tarns saw us all re-group on the final climb to Crinkles high point. Here I was happy to follow as we stuck left, tip toeing above a big drop before swinging back in below the Bad Step. Having not been down it before I was more of a beached whale than mountain goat; substance over style! No real time gaps opened but Ben managed to gain a small amount by avoiding it to the right. Following the short (but agonising) kick up Blisco the final descent was tactical. I picked a good line off the top and dropped the others. Not knowing the lower half meant I was reluctant to go it alone so slowed to re-join the train. Finally crossing Blea Tarn road, the pace went from steady to eyeballs-out in a matter of seconds. It was after negotiating the endless gates I managed a cramp filled sprint to pip Morgan and the others by one second.
Langdale is one of the true classic races of the sport. You must’ve been over the moon?
Together with my win at Burnsall and getting my local race record at Knowl Hill it was a real highlight of the year. I’ve been racing on the fells 10+ yrs now and even as a junior I aspired to win a Lakeland Classic. Over the moon would’ve been an understatement!
With it being a fairly long and close fought race I was knackered immediately after but I soon recovered with a pint and pie, after which I was able to appreciate it a bit more. Adding more significance was that I’d started the race 7 yrs ago, that wasn’t such a good day and ended with my first DNF after a fall coming off Bowfell. As such to finally come back and win the race made it even better.
Beating Dave Lewis’s record at Knowl Hill (photo by Steve Bateson)
Moving onto 2016. How do you plan to build on from what you achieved last year?
When I look back on my training I think there are some significant improvements that can be made. 2015 was far from perfect in this regard so if I’m able to learn from mistakes I’d like to think I can see better results. From racing in 2015 I’m also well aware of where my strengths & weaknesses lie, hopefully over winter I’ve been able to work on the later whilst not diminishing and of my fortes. Likewise at 24 I’m relatively young (especially in fell running terms!) so each year I’m still seeing improvements in strength regardless.
If you look at the men’s championships over the last decade, the top end of Fell running has been dominated by a the same three or four names (Jebb, Bailey, Hope, Taggert etc). As they get a little older (but not much slower as yet), do you think it’s time for a fresh group to emerge?
Yes, their consistency is what I probably find most impressive, churning out results year after year! I think there are now some younger runners starting to challenge, Tom Addison’s 2014 English Championship win was good to see. There are a number of others who are becoming increasingly competitive and at the same time it’s good to see Rossendale’s own improving, in both relays our average age must have been in the mid 20’s. From a personal perspective yes I’m definitely aiming to be in and amongst the group of names mentioned, to have their longevity would be great but first and foremost I’m focussed on enjoying and making the most of 2016.
Many thanks to the following photographers for the use of their photos. Please check out their sites here.
Stephen Wilson at Grand Day Out Photography
Steve Bateson at Running Pix