Fell and Trail Running

Borrowdale Fell Race 3rd August

My first fell race after the Bob Graham and things didn’t really go to plan. My Old County Tops partner Dawn knew I had done this race and wanted to try it. For various reasons we couldn’t get a date for a recce so turned up at the start line with only a vague idea of where we were going. The day is scheduled to be warm which is magnified on the fells. I’m sensible before the start I cover myself in sun cream and ensure I carry plenty of fluids.

The race starts and finishes in the small village of Rosthwaite and takes in Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Dale Head. It is about 16.5 miles with 6,500ft of climbing. A few lung busting climbs and a dance down the scree from Scafell Pike should be the highlights of the day.

I had decided to run with Dawn as I was worried I might get carried away and hit the wall in my first real race back. We agree to aim for 5 hours (which is only slightly slower than my race pb anyway) and set off near the back of the field along the tight stony path. I enjoy hearing about Dawn’s new house and the running trails in the countryside near there. Dawn has even won a fell race in the last month wearing two left shoes.

Eventually we start climbing. For me Bessyboot is the worst climb of the day it is steep, grassy and has a couple of false plateaus. After a couple of miles flattish rail running the race starts here. I reach the top and wait a few seconds for Dawn. She isn’t smiling which is a bad sign as Dawn is always happy. She says she is feeling a bit dizzy and might be sick but wants to stay in the race.

We continue along the race route gradually climbing to Esk Hause. Dawn is struggling and we are being overtaken by a few runners every mile. The dizziness isn’t improving, she decides to drop out at the second checkpoint and is walked back to the start by mountain rescue. My race plan is in tatters, I decide the best idea is to overtake a few people, enjoy the day and keep safe. Scafell Pike isn’t as busy with tourists as I expected but I had a long line of runners in front of me surfing down the scree off the mountain. It was difficult to get your own rhythm descending when one false step could send a bowling ball down the slope onto one of the pins spread out below.

I’ve overtaken a few people and find a nice line into Styhead. We all know what’s up next 450 metres of climbing to Great Gable. We know it is going to be relentless and hurt so it isn’t as bad as Bessyboot which looks easy on paper. I’m doing OK with plenty of fluids left but the nut bars I chose to pack are like cement setting in my dry mouth. I’ve got nothing else left so a tiny bite followed by a drink to wash it away starts to quickly deplete my supplies.

Three quarters of the way up the climb I pass a runner with a sore knee who has had a fall. He says he is OK but it looks red, skinned and perhaps a bit swollen.  I’m looking at my feet and the next step most of the time. The summit of Great Gable suddenly appears, it is a welcome sight but I know in a couple of miles we will be climbing again. I take a line which is too low while skirting Green Gable but quickly rectify it. I’m in familiar territory now and sure I can keep going.

I surprise two runners in front of me by opening and running through an  extremely loud gate which is orphaned out on the fells, once the crossing point for an impressive iron fence. It is a lovely run down into Honister and I follow an excellent line into the slate mine provided by Paul from Northumberland Fell Runners. Three cups of water later and I’m climbing again up Dale Head. I like this climb and take it slow and steady passing a few more on the way including another NFR who likens the climb to conquering Everest. By the top I’m pretty much exhausted but its only downhill running to the finish back in Rosthwaite.


Mark on top of Dale Head

I’m happy to follow the runners in front until I realise I might just make it under the five hour target we set before the race started. I push on for the last half mile over the bridge, along the track beside the car park field and through the maze of buildings to the finish field. 4.59.21. I’m happy with the finish, felt quite strong and wasn’t effected by the heat much.

I’m relieved to hear later from Dawn she is home safely and I’m sure will be back on the fells soon.

Mark Davinson

Red Kite Trail Race 14th July

A beautiful Summers day in July and the short trip to Dipton for a friendly welcome and a not so friendly course. A good turnout from DAC including those who knew what to expect and a few who had no idea. It was good to see some of the juniors taking part in the fun run and John at the top of the last bank with words of encouragement.

The DAC crew minus Mark who was warming up

When the entries opened in earlier in the year three things attracted me to sign up to my first planned race for four months. 1) It was 6 weeks after my BG attempt, I should be race fit. 2) I know the course, can relax and enjoy the race 3) I love the big hill at the end and should be able to overtake a few people in front. As usual I was totally wrong. I’ve felt tired and achy since the BG, there were some route changes since the last time I ran it and worst of all the race was reversed with the big hill becoming a descent at the start instead of an ascent at the end. banner Craghead and South Moor banners fight their way through the crowds

A stressful day managing the Craghead banner parade through the village and in Durham on Saturday had me tired and distracted. On my warm-up I was frustrated and couldn’t stop yawning but I enjoyed the new track from the woods near the end of the course. Dom, the chairman of DVTR, told us about the changes and the hills in the pre-race briefing and we were off.
I approached it the only way I know how. Pull myself together and go for it. After hurtling down the first stretch of hill I hit the incline linking the two descents and realised from my laboured breathing it was going to be a painful hour of running. I successfully navigated the slippy stream crossing (definitely more difficult this way) at the halfway point and set off back up the valley to the finish.

Stream crossing

The main advantage of the reversed and simplified course was that it should be more difficult to get lost, unfortunately this didn’t prove to be the case. A short detour brought the little group I was running with back onto the trail behind a few runners we had previously been leading.
Graham had appeared ahead of me after the diversion. Despite rib and shoulder injuries he was running much faster than he had suggested pre-race. I decided to increase the pace to close him down quickly which was a mistake. As soon as I got close a long hill appeared in front of us and my legs started to argue. I eventually squeezed past Graham near the top and headed for the finish.
I’ve got no idea what John said at the last corner but it spurred me on to the finish closely followed by Graham. For two blokes who had low expectations prior to the race, both finishing in under an hour on a hilly 8 mile course was a good result. Well done to local lad Stephen Gibson who won the race and the DAC ladies who finished with smiles on their faces.
Scenic, low key, friendly and cheap. A challenging course. What more could you ask for? A race to add to your wish list for anyone who hasn’t done it yet.

Mark Davinson

Bob Graham Round 1st June 2019
Not content with running on surfaces that frighten even the toughest of tough Mountain goats, DAC’s very own wildman of the hills Mark bravely (?) tackled the famous Bob Graham Round.

Please clicky the link below to download and read his report of this amazing feat of endurance and probably madness:

Marks Bob Graham Round

Cleeve Cloud Cuckoo 30th May 2018
1EE5EF8F-9DF3-4DA7-8E90-7346A3A25BC1After a hard month of running with 2 Bob Graham supports and a 37 mile fell race what could be better than a short holiday in the Cotswolds to wind down and relax? A multi terrain race on a big hill in misty weather where do I sign up?


I came across the race by accident. We found a seat dedicated to a former member of Almost Athletes a local running club in Cheltenham. When we got home I looked them up and found their regular Wednesday offroad training session was cancelled the next night due to a local race. Cleeve Cloud Cuckoo started and finished at the strangest golf course I have ever seen. Sheep and cows grazing on the fairways and greens of the course.

A decent sized field of over 100 gathered at the start. The now obligatory team photographs were taking place all around me I felt a bit out of place and 250 miles from home. I enjoyed the pre race briefing “avoid the livestock” and we were off. I tucked in behind the front runners in 6th place and felt comfortable for the first mile which was mostly a gradual uphill. As the course began undulating I started to struggle especially losing places on the flat parts although I was still able to outrun those around me on the hills.

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Coming into the last mile I was working hard and clinging onto a place in the top ten but I could hear other runners catching up behind. As we started up the last hill they attacked me and each other with the lead in our little group changing hands a few times as we snaked around the trig point. I pushed on and headed the group on the last half mile downhill. Unfortunately the legs didn’t have it and all three passed me on the final decent. A quick look around showed I wasn’t under pressure from anyone else and I subconsciously let out a little cheer.

I finished in thirteenth place completing the 5.6 miles in 40.57. A nice friendly race with a few hills and enough flat bits to keep everyone happy. Well marshalled and taped. It seems like there is a vibrant running scene in Cheltenham with someone to suit everyone. Hoping to try the Parkrun on Saturday.

Mark Davinson

Old County Tops May 19th 2018

The 30th running of this classic pairs race starting and finishing in the Langdale valley at the fabulously named Dungeon Ghyll. Some would describe this event as a nightmare 37 miles, over 10,000 feet of climbing and running with a partner for the whole race. The general idea of the race is to take in the highest peaks in the old counties of Cumberland (Helvellyn), Westmoorland (Scafell Pike) and Lancashire (Coniston Old Man)before returning to Dungeon Ghyll.

The race was a sell out a week in advance with 160 entries sold. As I arrived at 7am the car park was filling up fast. A queue for the mandatory kit check and number collection was twenty metres long. I enjoyed a half hour relaxing in the sunny morning knowing my partner Dawn Metcalfe has a reputation of turning up at the last minute. When Dawn arrived the queue had disappeared. We were able to quickly go through the traditional ritual of tipping a bag full of kit onto a table and showing the marshall hat, gloves, compass, emergency food, whistle, map and waterproof body cover.

At the start we had the usual mix of advice and warning from the race organiser especially in relation to staying hydrated and using the mountain becks for water. We shuffled away along a short road section and immediately began to climb and descend. Four miles later we arrived a the A591 and began the serious climbing up Helvellyn via Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. By now the sun was already hot and a few competitors were feeling the heat. After a steady hour climbing we reached the summit and began the descent toward the checkpoint near Thirlmere which was providing water and snacks for breakfast.
helvelly descent Helvellyn Descent

Soon after the creckpoint we crossed the road again and the Derwentside A.C. support crew were there to meet us offering support and encouragement. We began the long trek from Dunmail to Scafell Pike via Angle Tarn. For us a three hour long undulating run across open moorland with few paths and little shade. We were rewarded with fabulous views, scenery and even patches of snow high on the mountains. The climb to Scafell Pike was complicated by the number of walkers, attracted by the warm weather, who were scurrying up and down the mountain like a swarm of ants. There were no tourists on the extremely steep downhill to a nice shallow stream in which we could cool our feet.

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Scafell Pike

Cockley Beck was our next stop with the prospect of more support keeping me going as we traversed heather and bashed through bogs continuing on our way. The checkpoint was another food station and had much needed water.
Jacob and Kent 19 May 2018 Lake District
D.A.C. support crew

By now every injury I have ever had was starting to flare up and I saw sure at least half of my toe nails were falling off but there was still one big climb to go. Coniston Old Man was unchartered territory for me as I had never climbed it before. Instead of steep and rocky it was long and grassy with some runnable tracks in places. I was focused throughout this leg on the decreasing distance to the finish with only a half marathon to go at Cockley Beck. Dawn was pushing me forward and we began to overtake other pairs on both the uphill and downhill sections. It was a relief when we finally reached Coniston Old Man as the major climbs were over.

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Coniston Old Man
After the descent back to road level we were 4 miles away from the end of the race. Dawn strongly suggested we should be able to run the 4 miles in less than 27 minutes so we set off at our quickest pace of the day. Despite our good intentions we finished in 10h05m03s. At the finish we found out fell running royalty Rob Jebb and Ricky Lightfoot had beaten the course record which had stood since 1989.

Overall a magic day out on the fells despite the difficulty of the terrain and the length of the course. Will we be back next year to get under the ten hours? Watch this space.

Mark Davinson
Bob Graham Support May 5th 2018

Despite having less than two hours sleep I was full of energy and looking forward to an early morning half marathon of severe climbing and descending. An early May Saturday morning just before 3am, standing outside the Moot Hall in Keswick while the rest of the country sleeps. A deserted town apart from a few inebriated locals waiting for their taxi home and four fell runners eager to help one of their number join the legendary Bob Graham Club.bg1
Waiting to go In 1932 Bob Graham climbed 42 lakeland peaks in 23 hours 39 minutes to celebrate his 42nd year. For the last 85 years fell runners have tried to emulate the feat of 66 miles and 42 peaks in under 24 hours. Between 1960 and the end of 2017 there had been 2170 successful attempts. The ultimate test of Lake District endurance attracts runners from all over the UK and abroad.

Job description of a Bob Graham (BG) support pacer:
• Carry the safety equipment and food of the person attempting the round so they are lighter and use less energy
• Nag them to eat regularly (usually at half hour intervals) and stick food in their hand when they ignore you as constant feeding is important to keep the body moving
• Keep them up when they are down and grounded when carried away by excitement as both can cost time and energy
• Provide encouragement or advice where needed
• Help navigate on the route so the attempt isn’t derailed by getting lost
• Witness the runner reaching each peak as required by the rules (the person attempting much have at least one other with them at each peak to verify the completion of the round)

I was allocated leg one with an early start to make the most of the daylight throughout the day. Leg 1 is like August and September in the football season, with legs 3 and 4 being the hard winter months when injuries and suspensions hamper the team’s performance. The same as you would never give a team which is top of the league in September the championship a BG runner who successfully completes leg 1 on time still has up to 20 hours hard work left to complete the round. Leg one starts at the Moot Hall in Keswick and takes in Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra before finishing in Threlkeld at the cricket club.
leg1 Leg 1 map

On the day in question we encountered very few problems, enjoyed a beautiful sunrise which was a fabulous orange glow in the dark as we climbed Skiddaw and turned into a fabulous morning by the top of Blencathra. As always descending was harder on the body than ascending and scrambling down Hall’s Fell into Threlkeld gave the legs some relief. Job done for the day and only a couple of minutes behind schedule. After a brief stop for new socks and more food Stuart was away again onto leg 2 of his adventure and I was getting a lift back to Keswick for my journey home.
dawn breaking
Dawn breaking on Skiddaw ridge

Two hours later I was back home watching Stuart’s tracker on the internet and did so for most of the day and night. After a strong first half on his 21 hour finishing schedule he got noticeably slower compared to the predicted times. It was one of the most frustrating nights of my life watching a little dot move extremely slowly around the Lake District. Knowing a year of preparation would come down to a few minutes and a 50/50 chance of success or failure. There was a feeling of helplessness and nothing I could do to help. Stuart finished in 23 hours 46 minutes.

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Mark Davinson

Teenager with Altitude Fell Race April 21st 2018

Most endurance runners look forward to April as an exciting month in the calendar. Light nights for more training, the start of the track and field season and the London Marathon. For me it is time to start getting back onto the Lake District fells. Highlight of the month for the last few years has been the Anniversary Waltz (11.5 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing) and its rather twisted older sibling the Teenager with Altitude (15.4 miles and 7,600 feet of climbing). Both were coming to an end this year after the death of co-organiser Steve Cliff. Steve raised over £750,000 to fight Motor Neurone Disease which took his life in January.

Only three weeks before the race there had been snow on the ground in Stanley. Now the weather was expected to be over 20 degrees throughout the race and only one checkpoint along the route with water. As I filled my bag the night before I was nervous about acclimatising to the heat and studied my map to ensure I knew where the streams where my water bottle could be refilled were located.

We arrived in the beautiful Newlands Valley on a bright sunny morning. Race kit on, sun cream rubbed in and final bag check over I jogged to the race HQ. After the ritual of number collection, kit check and safety briefing the run was underway. After a long walk up Causey Pike in the first mile it was a relief to reach the check point at the top, only to veer from the ridge line down the side of the mountain. Two checkpoints later and an undulating detour we reached Grasmoor the highest peak on the race at 852 feet. After just over two hours I reached the Newlands Hause checkpoint about half an hour before the cut off time and greedily filled my bottle with fresh water.

The second half of the race was more familiar to me, but I began to struggle in the heat and found it much more difficult than other times I have run similar routes. As always, the big climb to Robinson was energy sapping and I needed more water supplies from a slow stream near Dalehead Tarn. I was slowing down and there was nothing I could do about it. I overtook a few of the slower runners completing the Anniversary Waltz on the way to Catbells.
After fifteen miles I could have done without the hundreds of tourists enjoying a day out on Catbells but safely navigated I pushed on down the steep grassy slopes and finished the race in a disappointing 4.25.40 (winner’s time 2.46.54) feeling dehydrated, hungry and drained. My watch said 16.6 miles. I’m not sure where the extra distance came from.
Chauffeur for the day Jason Taylor, who had run the Anniversary Waltz, said I looked awful so job done as far as I’m concerned. I would love to do it again and hope someone else takes it on next year.

Mark Davinson

Headcam race report
Race start (I’m near the back)