Teenager With Altitude

The Teenager With Altitude is a fell race in the Lake District that caught my eye a couple of years ago as the route takes in the Newlands Horseshoe. Lily and I love running around that valley, and so I mentioned to Alan how I fancied racing it sometime. When entries opened in January, Alan contacted me and said “so, are we doing it then?”. I didn’t hesitate and since it said entries were limited to justn 75, we both quickly entered. It was advertsied as a 15.4 mile fell race, with 7600ft of climbing – that’s more climbing than the Borrowdale fell race, and in a slightly shorter distance, so I knew it was going to be a tough one!

I header up after work on the Friday night, arranging to meet Graham, also from Belper Harriers, but now living in Newcastle, at the campsite in Grange. Graham had got a late entry into the TWA little brother race, the Anniversary Waltz. Alan was already up there staying elsewhere. It was a very cold night, but the weather forecast was good for the Saturday.

We made our way over to Stair Village Hall at 9:30, to sign in, and collect our numbers ready for a 10:30 start. I was really looking forward to the race, albeit a little apprehensive as 7,500ft of climbing in 16 miles meant it would hurt. Having said that, I was looking forward to spending some time in the mountains, on what turned out to be a glorious day, and knew that if nothing else, it would be a good training session for my upcoming BG attempt.

There were a number of checkpoint we had to visit: Causey Pike, Outerside, Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike, Newlands Hause, High Snock Rigg, Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head, High Spy and Catbells. The start of the race was at the foot of Causey Pike, and after a kit check, we all lined up in a bunch, looking up towards the summit, some 1,500ft above us. It was an imposing start, as the line we were going to take went straight up. Before we knew it we were off, and within a matter of meters the majority of the field was walking. The leaders shot off, and other than seeing them in the distance occasionally, they were gone – very impressive!

It was a tough climb to start with, and although I had made the effort to do some small hill reps to warm up, you can’t prepare your legs for the length and intensity of this climb. My calves soon began to scream at me, but I knew that as soon as I summitted and started descending, my legs would be ok again. After 25 minutes of steep climbing, and some scrambling towards the summit, Alan and I reached the checkpoint at the top at the same time. Following a short ridge run, we made out way off path down towards the foot of Outside. It was here that I had my customary fall, catching a foot on a tussock – thankfully, it was all grass and no rocks, and after a bounce and roll I was straight back up – a guy behind even commented how impressive and well practiced it was! I saw the leaders descending off Outerside before I had even started the climb. This wasn’t too bad a climb, and I soon reached checkpoint number 2 at the summit.

The next section of the race was the one part I wasn’t sure about nav-wise. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, as the weather and visibility were so good, I could see all the lines I needed to take as there was a line of runners stretching out ahead. It was tricky underfoot, tussocky, rocky, and in places quite boggy which made it quite tough running. After traversing underneath Eel Crag, we dropped down crossing a river and joined the main path that zig-zagged up towards Grasmoor. I have no idea of what position I was in, but I felt comfortable by this point, with the pain from the intial climb subsiding.

Next came the climb to Grasmoor, and the highest point in the race (~2,650ft). I was expecting this to be quite tough, and it was a slow drag as first we climbed up the path, and then moved off path taking a direct line for the top. There were 2 different lines up here, and I took the line that looked more obvious, and popular – but it was still a hard, hands on knees climb. Around half a mile from the top, the gradient eased off a bit, and I was able to break out into a run again towards the summit cairn and checkpoint number 3.

The next section was my favourite of the race. From the summit of Grasmoor, we descended down, and round along a narrow ridge to Whiteless Pike (checkpoint 4), before plummitting steeply off Whiteless Pike, off-path down towards Newlands Hause. The descent from Whiteless Pike was an exhilirating, totally out of control, freefall. It was fantastic. It was tussocky, but ridiculously steep at the top, with my GPS saying 48% at one point, and I ended up switch-backing trying to control my speed as much as I could – unsuccessfully!

After checkpoinnt number 5 at Newlands Hause, once again we climbed (suprise suprise), this time up towards High Snock Rigg (and the start of the climb up towards Robinson), parallel to Moss Force waterfall, and the next checkpoint. Again this was a very steep climb, but once we got out onto Buttermere Moss, it was runnable again. By this point, despite having only gone 8 miles, I was starting to feel my legs each time I wanted to break out into a run.

Soon we were on the climb up towards Robinson, and this was a plod. I was starting to pull away from the guys around me, but I wasn’t closing in on the guys ahead! The summit of Robinson (and checkpoint 7) marked the point where the Anniversary Walz runners joined us. They had started an hour after us, so there was a steady stream of runners coming up from Newlands Valley. From here to the finish, both races shared the same route. I found this both good and bad – bad in the sense that since I was quicker than these runners I had to make sure I didn’t fall into their pace, and slow down, but good in the sense that I was able to see the runners ahead and gradually pick them off. Other than the race number saying which race we were in, I had no idea who I was racing against. From this point onwards, I have no idea if I overtook anyone else in my race!

Photo: Grand Day Out Photography

From Robinson, we descended before climbing up towards Hinscarth, before descending again and climbing up to Dale Head. I love running around this section of Newlands Valley, and Lily and I have run it numerous times, so I knew what to expect and the lines to take. From Dale Head we dropped steeply down again – I decided to take the line I took last year in the Borrowdale fell race, going straight down to the tarn, but the runners around me all went right taking the (slower) path. This is another cracking descent, steep and very rocky – you just have to be careful not to run straight off a waiting crag!

From here on in, it’s very straight forward – one final climb up to High Spy, before running back along the ridge, predominantly downhill towards Catbells. By this point I was starting to feel a little weary, partly due to the heat, but I was also just tired! It was on this ridge I had one small shot of cramp in a calf, but thankfully nothing significant came of it, and it didn’t slow me down. After going through the final checkpoint (11) on top of Catbells, and dodging the crowds, we made a switchback descent down a grass path – this was the only flagged section of the route, as the National Trust had apparently asked us to stay off the main path. The final run in to the finish followed, down a few winding lanes leading back to Stair.

I loved this race, and was pleased with how I ran. I finished in 48th place out of 138 in 3:39, yet the winner, Carl Bell, was over an hour ahead of me setting a new course record of 2:37. How he was able to run that fast, over that terrain, I have no idea!! During the race, I took on 1.5 litres of water (and electrolyte), refilling one of my 500ml bottles up at Newlands Hause, 3 gels, 2 Mars bars and a handful of sweets. I will certainly be back next year to try and beat my time!

I think due to my training for the BGR, I have lost some of my speed, but I have certainly gained endurance. The following day after the race, I felt comfortable going for another 11 mile run, with ~4,000ft elevation, taking in BG Leg 5. This certainly shows my training is paying off which I’m really pleased with.

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