Every August a small village in the Yorkshire Dales holds an event that is synonymous with fell running- the Burnsall Feast Sports. This year gave me my first opportunity to take part in this classic race steeped in history, with origins dating back to 1870. And it was on my birthday too, so a bonus camping weekend ensued!
A ten mile road race takes place before the main event, with many runners choosing to enter both (question marks over my fitness and niggling injuries meant I chose just the fell race, a wise move when you see how tough both races are and you are not fully fit). There were also many categories of junior races taking place, which was a fantastic spectacle with crowds lining the streets to welcome the young runners to the finish outside the village green.
As with most fell races, there is such a relaxed, friendly and low key atmosphere, with a small cash payment on the day to enter and quick form to fill in (none of this registering in advance malarkey!). So around about 4.30pm I toed the start line and set off with 130 other runners up to the top of Burnsall fell. I started off mid-pack with the intention of pushing on only if I felt my calf was not giving me any problems. To be back racing again after 6 weeks off was a real joy, and after five minutes I was feeling good so I stepped up my pace and managed to pass a number of people and into the top 20 on the climb up. There is a distinct path that leads you to the summit, very narrow in places which meant you couldn’t really overtake past a certain point, which was a shame for me as I could have run the whole climb, something I wasn’t expecting. Clearly my cycling and swimming training in the weeks off running had really helped my fitness levels.
It may be a really short race (only 1.5 miles in total) but there is 899ft of climbing, which you certainly feel by the time you round the cairn and flag at the top. But the descent is where the fun really begins. Rather than re-trace the route up, you just go straight over the top, and straight down through very steep, trackless, sometimes waist-high heather, with the intention of finding the gap in the dry stone wall half way down. Back in 1910 the legendary Lakeland fell runner E.H. Dalzell descended in an unbelievable 2 min 42 seconds during his record run of 12 min 59 seconds. The top runners vault the gap in the wall, I took a slightly more conservative approach(!)….. and consequently lost a fair few places on the way down, but I ran as quick as I could without pushing too hard to re-ignite my calf and ankle problems of the last 7 months.
Amazingly Dalzells record stood until 1977 when Fred Reeves broke this with a time of 12.48, something JR Wilde matched in 1983. This year the winner (Sam Tosh) did it in 14.28, still pretty impressive if you ask me. Vic Wilkinson was first female in 16.52, equally as good and just shy of the women’s record.
I came down in 19.51 and 29th place, really pleased to remain injury free, having absolutely loved the race, atmosphere and weekend as a whole. The evening culminated in a few enjoyable pints in the Red Lion pub afterwards, so happy days.
Many thanks to Andreas Mayer for some of the professional looking photos in this blog!