Clag Happy

Black Combe
AM – 13km (8m)/1000m (3281ft)
Sat 12th March 2016


You’ve got to love racing! It’s not only one of the few times I’m allowed out with a responsible adult present, but often it’s the banter and surprises that make the day unforgettable.

Responsible adult duties were taken on by Mr Tinman, who it was revealed does lots of very grown-up stuff and is often called upon as double act to high profile politicians; not sure if he’s Ant or Dec though – but who is?

Filling a two hour drive of pre-race chat is not as difficult as it sounds and with a packed car of five fell runners and kit, banter soon turns to recent race performances and the explanation of the the not so politically correct term ‘chicked’. Obviously used by the yoof, I had no idea, a description of the superior prowess of a female athlete compared to your own sloppy effort and an opening debate that the hard working organisers of Women’s Week would have been proud.

First hints of what the day had in store came passing a street sign named ‘Black Combe View’ the blanket of opaque white clag that loomed above was ironic; like a work of modern art complete with cryptic message – the only thing clear was it was going to be an interesting race.

Race organisers had done a fantastic job of hiding the parking, tricking everyone into thinking they’d arrived too early, until turning down the lane to the line of cars that disappeared in the distance and off into the sea.

Cosy changing facilities meant you were hit with just how cold it actually was out of the marquee and in the field but between running in and out, changing from vest to base layer, to long sleeve base layer, buff then gloves, it wasn’t long before the split start saw the ladies disappearing into the unknown with the men setting off not much after.

As a championship race there was a very strong field in both the female and male categories. Athletes you hold in awe, amazed by the hours spent dedicated honing their skills and able to hold their own at the front of the field without the advantage of the dancing conga line that we all benefit from further down the pack. Or that’s the idea!
I made a mental note from earlier advice of not going hard off the start and save something for the second climb. Having done the race in 2014 it soon became all too familiar. The first climb didn’t seem as bad as I remembered but then the visibility started to be a problem and all you could do was try desperately to keep sight of those in front.

Sam and Pat got off well and myself, Andy and Jon seemed to jockey for position but they got away on the drag to White Combe which went on forever. I caught up with them at the Fodder Rack. In fact I caught up with about the last 30 people that had passed me as they loomed out of the mist on top of the marshals from all directions. Big thanks to the marshals here, they really had their work cut out. You could hear the panic in the frantic shouts trying to recognise each race number for the other to scribble furiously. This worked in my favour and got me back within my group.
Then the second climb! Exactly as I remembered and it took no prisoners. I caught up with Jon and we had a moan, as only grumpy old men can – not of the climb but how we should have settled with vest only and how ridiculously hot it was!

Andy had powered off and as the climb levelled so did Jon (powered off, not levelled). I won’t see them again. A cheeky look at my compass on reaching the checkpoint and off over the heather to the descent path. This really paid off as I hit the path further down and it was a while before Jon came hurtling past. Expecting Andy any time I looked over to my right to…Rob Hope!!!


Now I’ve done quite a few fell races and we’ve all looked for that photo online where you can clearly remember majestically bounding gazelle-like over the tussocks with a huge grin, loving life but the harsh reality, closer to the truth, is you realise the years haven’t been kind, the painful expression suggests maybe taking things a bit easier at your time of life and you know there’s a thriving bridge club at the community centre. So where’s a photographer when you need one, your tripping over them normally and yet the one chance of recording for all time, me battling down a descent for a whole 5 seconds with one of fell runnings elite and a photographer… nowhere to be seen! I was going to ask if he’d not taken the advice to pace himself till the second climb but it looked like he’d had a bad day at the office. I’m sure any reply would’ve been in good humour.

Well there were some big surprises at the finish. A mixture of elated and bemused faces, as stories were swapped. The fell sage Fishwick often says ‘only in fell running’ a never more apt line and why I’ve come to love our sport. No matter how much regard we have for our fell running greats, it’s reassuring to know that they are just human and are faced with and have to deal with the same issues we all do in each race. The ability to take it all with a pinch of salt then get back to their goals is what matters.


The results made very interesting reading and it turns out the coordinates penned on Toshy’s arm must have in fact been fell groupie mobiles! Pat’s 7th fastest descent is incredible amongst such a strong field, with top efforts from Sophie (our only lady) and the usual suspects that turned out from Rossendale.

Now I doubt Rob will be dining out on his tale of the day he battled for his place down the descent from Black Combe with a Rossy Harrier, only just managing to break away, anytime soon. It’s an image I’d rather not spoil with the truth of a photograph to be honest but I think we’ll all take something away from the day, be it a lesson learnt, a string of extraordinary scalps or just the one shoe!


Not taking anything away from Calders poster boy Ben’s achievement. I think the day belongs to Victoria Wilkinson. Incredible, establishing such a dominant lead in those conditions and truly out in front on her own. Not only that but breaking a long established course record, a fine ambassador for Women in Sport, Sport England take note. In that respect I don’t think anyone could disagree – we’ve all been ‘chicked’!

Well done Victoria ‘this girl can’.

Race Report by Scott Hitchen

Full Results and Splits