FRA Hill Relays 2017

The dust has settled, the tent is back down and packed away in the loft, stories of heroism are doing the rounds and a glow of happy tiredness is warming its way through fuzzy limbs as memories of the Hill Relays fade into happy delirium.

I have received some information about what went on, so I shall use that as a basis and then embellish as I see fit. Nothing new there then.

As we know, the Relays were held over in Llanberis, abley hosted by the very talented and well oiled machine that is Eryri. An advance party of GDHers went down variously on Friday and Saturday in order to recce and get in some highly involved kit faff prior to the actual day of racing, which (apart from Scotland) may well have been the best and longest faff known to our teams in a Hill relay event. Reports of an average of at least 9 cups of tea each may well have been consumed even before race day. A record which may only have been bettered by John Hewitt at the height of his powers.


The melee at the bottom

The day dawned and all went well until everyone tried to get to the start area. A pothole unfortunately jumped up and bit one of Zoes tyres, rendering it somewhat flatter than is optimal for driving on. Thankfully there was a Hunk there (in the shape of the rather dashing Mark Davenport) who jumped to her rescue. Minor issue being that changing tyres takes longer than you might hope – and although Mark was meant to be registering the gents team and getting the numbers, he ended up with somewhat dirty hands. Rapid communication to the race organisers was done using some rather nifty semaphore, and Mark was able to get in and register at the last gasp, handing out everyone elses numbers on the way down to his starting pen.

Leg 1

Leg 1 was always going to be a bit amusing with about 6 miles and a carp load of ascent. (related to the salmon, but with bigger feet). The field went off with vigour, our 3 lovely teams being carried along in the midst. The Darlings leg 1 runner was Mary Jeal who went out and conquered with a smile. Apparently there was mud on the course, but not a drop could be seen on Mary at the end of the leg. Walking on water- floating on bog and generally running fantastically, she came in to pass onto leg 2. The Babes leg 1 runner was the tyre busted victim herself, Zoe. Taking the opportunity to leave Fox for a short time, she went and busted out a ridiculously fast time, faster even than any other runner and then took a while to lie down in a cold puddle just out of sight of the finish, enjoying the sweet, sweet solitude of parenting that comes from knowing you don’t have to be anywhere for at least 5 mins and you have time to yourself. Soon enough the rest of the field came gallumphing past, Zoe chose her moment and joined the scrum back to the start. Mark had fun on his leg. Newly dirty from changing a tyre and holding a minor fleshwound from the previous days recce, he set off bravely up the hill, challenging for 1st place (from mid pack). Halfway up he decided that the tyreiron was not actually necessary kit and disgarded it in the direction of a marshal, and then spent a couple of moments explaining he was NOT trying to commit ABH, it was just that he was kind of in the middle of a couple of things and didn’t really need the extra weight. On the way down Marks knee was giving him a bit of gyp, so the tried and trusted bum-slide technique was pressed into action and saw him gain several places on other teams that insisted on staying on their feet.


Zoe storming the ascent.


See – not a drop of mud on her. Mary showing true form.

Leg 2

Jamie and Mark Harrison took over the running responsibilities from Mark D on Leg 2. The longest (depending on how you navigate on leg 3) leg with most ascent. Call it 14 miles and 1500m of ascent. I haven’t looked it up, I’ve pretty much just made it up on the spot, so don’t quote me. Jamie was feeling a bit more sprightly than expected as he bailed out of XC the day before instead of trying to drag himself around a mind numbing 3rd lap of Heaton park – a good choice, I have to say. Mark H made himself useful by pootling along behind Jamie, making sarcastic comments and taking photos, like all youngsters do. Jamie committed himself to the long haul, ensuring he was taking on enough food on the way around and had the last laugh when Mark bonked spectacularly on the last few Km run in to home, lending the whippersnapper a gel, and, I suspect a few choice words which probably included such gems as “youth”, “pride”, “fall” and “you owe me a fiver for that gel”. The Babes leg 2 probably went a lot smoother what with the well practiced running machine of Kasia and Jenny taking over hostilities in the ladies section. Their climbing skills – honed in the alps – made short work of the climbs and descents, though they were said to have been slightly confused by the lack of 4 legged friends accompanying them on the hill, and so ran all the faster to get back to see their K9 charges. Charmayne and Jo lined up for Leg 2 in the Darlings corner, taking on some of the toughest terrain than either of them had yet experienced. Yes the hills may have been bigger, the underfoot a bit soggier and the distances longer than ever before, but that isn’t something that daunts a lady in a Blue and Orange vest. They set out with the intention of finishing the course, and darn it, they did so in style and … um, more style. There may have been a picnic stop. There may have been a number of photo stops. There were almost certainly a couple of minor navigational “amusements” but they aquitted themselves superbly. It did take a while to get around, and the Leg 3 runners had set off in a mass start before they got back, but that is a mere technicality.

Leg 3 the Nav leg

So leg 3 is an interesting one, and was even more so this year. It isn’t quite an orienteering course, but then it isn’t quite a fell running course. There are route choices, but there is a whole hullabaloo going on across facebook and the FRA forum about runners that may or may not have “cheated” by going across wall etc. I’m not getting into that, but it does show why some teams were massively faster than others. The Babes headed off into the mist with ace navigator Jude at the helm, backed up by relative newbie, but equally as able map-reader Ellen. As they charged off into the mist all was well, and a perfect point to point navigation could almost certainly be relied upon. Compass bearings were worked out and carried out with un-erring precision, point after point fell to their machine like accuracy and after what seemed like barely an hour they ambled back off the hill, high-5ing their way down the increasingly slippery run in to hand over to Lizzie on leg 4. The Hunks of leg 3, Julien and Matt Huxford – which is the ace and which is the carrier of food in the pair, I shall leave to you to decide, headed off to point 1 in a flash of blue and orange. Matt unfortunately asked Julien if he had any jokes, and was shocked to discover that he didn’t…. Julien then got distracted trying to remember a joke and they took a somewhat circuitous route (via CP6) to CP2. After that, joke remembering was reined in for a while as nav took precedence until other teams were falling to Juliens unique navigational style. Matt managed to fall over at least 5 times, but luckily he managed to cushion his fall by landing on his face, so all is fine. He also used the celebrated “dog with worms” bumslide style of hill descent (his words, not mine). I believe they managed a direct route to CP6 after knowing where it was from before and shot off the hill to hand over to Paul. The Darlings were set off in the mass start, and so had a bit of a mission on their hands to get through the nav section. … I shall leave it to Alison to talk you through their race….leg3

We were part of the mass start for leg 3 runners at 1.30pm, so began with a fair crowd of people.  We had also been out to watch which way the front runners headed off at the start of the leg so the first ten minutes were spot on.  We slightly overshot the footpath turning to cp1, but retraced and continued upwards to cp1 where we bumped into Jo and Charmayne in the last kilometre or so of their leg 2 run.  Quick hello, then off through some gorse bushes, up to a wall and along a track for quite some distance, through quarry workings and then we could see cp2 up ahead at a wall corner.  Great.  Then we decided to keep going up and up and up, ascending to the summit of Moel Elio into the clag.  This added a big chunk of time and we ought to have contoured round the mountain, towards the stream upon which cp3 was situated.  However, we finally gained the summit (there is lovely cairn at the top) and  headed down and along the ridge, pausing slightly when it started going up again but carrying on (and on and on), passing a couple of runners coming towards us who said something about cp4.  Eventually, we stopped and realised we had definitely missed cp3 as we were practically at cp4.  So we began contouring back, thinking if we hit the stream we could follow it up to cp3, but then decided this was a rubbish plan and climbed back to the ridge track and retraced our steps as far as the point where we had thought it was a bit odd to be climbing again.  Couldn’t see an actual stream but felt that if ever there was a perfect place for a stream this would be it and sure enough, our judgement proved to be sound as – hooray – there it was!  We actually whooped and danced with joy when we found it (notwithstanding it must have taken about 2 hours since cp2).  On the plus side we knew the route to cp4 so were able to run straight to it.  There was a nice marshal (Nick) at the checkpoint and he was on the radio confirming to HQ that we were there and ok.  We checked the map again and set off, confidently, for cp5.  For quite a while, we were fine, clearly on the right track through a series of marked crossing points but then we must have overshot and ended up doing some lengthy map faffing trying to work out which wall corner/stream junction we should head for and the best way to get there (and, for added muddle-headedness, also completely ignoring the obvious trail of footprints).  We knew cp5 must be “over there somewhere” so eventually we just headed straight to the stream and used that as a handrail to go back up the valley, as this would at some point bring us to the checkpoint.  This worked brilliantly.  To the extent that not only could we see cp5 but it began making its way towards us!  No, we not hallucinating.  Nice guy Nick was carrying it to us.  That was the good news, the bad news was that the course was officially closed and we were the last people (of the whole event) out on the hills and could we please come back to base with him?  We did “suggest” we could dib for cp5 and “quickly” go to cp6 (it wasn’t that far away) but he said no, definitely not.   He was on the radio, assuring the base team that we were fine and they could stand the ambulance team down.  I did ask if Mountain Rescue had been about to come out and he said no, it hadn’t got to that stage.  Poor Nick, he had to put up with us for the remaining couple of kilometres to the lane above the base and at which point he said “It’s ok, you can run ahead now”. 

We did so and could see a few lone figures clustered round a little pile of baggage – our lovely GDH team mates relieved to see us and quite amazed we were in such good spirits.  They had even saved us two pieces of Andrea’s rocky road!  I haven’t bothered to look at any stats but we were out for five hours and it was nearly dark when we finally got back to the base.”

Quite an epic – There is a note at the end about this as well – so keep reading….


Ahhhh. Rocky Road. *drool*

Leg 4 – the glory leg

The Babes handed over to Lizzie “the flyer” Leason who has been practicing her short fast races up in the dark realms of scotland. She did herself proud, rocketing around the course in an astonishingly short time. So fast was she that the Blue and Orange of her vest was smeared across the vision of all who saw her, the friction of the air bled colour from that very vest, so who knows what colour it will be next time she races. (I really hope it’ll continue to be blue and orange!). The Hunks final leg was taken by Paul Stitt. Despite having been somewhat in the injury box for the past few months, Paul had the best run of a long time, his cycling fitness certainly standing him in good stead, with barely a tweak from past injuries, he battled on to the end knowing that cake and beer awaited the finishers. The Darlings leg 4 runner was none other than Beccy Smith, who again ran with the mass start. She started conservatively, but soon broke ranks and ran like the wind, showing her true speed and potential. Mud and blood spattered, she ran into the finish in excellent time – in fact, an hour faster than her publicised time on the website. Superb running!


Paul heading off on the final stint

Thanks to all those who took part, organising relay teams is a bit like herding cats, so really, thankyou. Especially to those of you who took part at short notice.

Thanks also to Andrea for providing what I understand was excellent Lemon drizzle cake and rocky road.

Thanks to those of you who put up and took down the tent.

As a final note, I’d like to mention that although Alison and Becky may have been on the hill for 5 hours, they were fully prepared. They knew what they were getting into and had no qualms about it. This is perhaps something we should all aspire to be like. Have the skills to get out and do things, have no fear of what the hills or races hold, and have the knowledge and ability to get off the hill safely should we need to.

Excellent running ladies and lads. I hope you are inspired to get out on the hill even more.

Final results looked like this: Hunks 84th. Babes 130th. Darlings not listed with a time. 176 teams finished.


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