Billy Bland Challenge 2015

A year older and theoretically a year wiser the Heptonstall Hurriers returned to the scene of their greatest triumph. Their goal was to take on the Billy Bland Challenge and run it faster than any pub team from Heptonstall had previously managed.

Five groups of runners, each with their own cunning strategies to get them round. How did they get on? Here they are, in their own words…

Leg One: Robin and Joey

We weren’t alone at the Moot Hall as the midnight hour approached, with 3 other groups preparing to set off. As the silent chimes range out we headed through the late night revellers through the little ginnels before beginning the climb up Skiddaw. The warm evening with its relatively clear skies gave us some lovely views across the fells, although it did make for warm progress up the well worn track. The cloud dropped in as we hit the peak, as it seems wont to do on the top of Skiddaw, and the compasses came out. In our eagerness not to overshoot the drop onto the track we dropped off the peak too early and found ourselves doing an unscheduled scree scramble before we ultimately found the fence line and then the path again. It’s always much easier to find in the daylight. We lost the path again briefly through the boggy section at the valley bottom –  leading to some high stepping over tussocks and more than one topple (although nothing to rival Chris’ spectacular stunt later in the day).

Robin took the lead up Great Calva, with me ruing my lack of stiff hill preparation in the weeks leading up to the event. There is something slightly dispiriting about being passed by a group of runners in shorts and vests on their way toward the full round. We made the summit in good spirits though, went and touched the peak and retraced out steps back across the rocks to the fence corner before beginning the drop down that leads past the river to take you to the foot of Blencathra. A group of runners came through like an express train, nipping through a gate with a clear sense of purpose. We followed them through and marvelled at the peloton style they had adopted, wondering that if one fell would the others simple trample them underfoot. We crossed the river – I drank my fill having lost my water bottle somewhere in the bog between Skiddaw and Great Calva – and headed up Blencathra. Robin again took the lead and navigated us a great line across the fells to the summit. The sunrise across the valley was beautiful; as we hit the top of Blencathra I could imagine nowhere more spectacular than the Lakes at that moment.

With daylight now present we decided to take the most direct route down to the handover. Notwithstanding a few slips and slides, and a few ‘don’t look down’ moments we got down Halls Fell pretty quickly. Our pace was quickened by the fact we could see figures in the lane! The final descent along the wooded path and onto the lanes of Threlkeld was welcome; we even put in what felt like a sprint finish to the hand over point.

There is something very special about running at night. There is something even more special about setting off at midnight into the Lakes. Many thanks Robin for sharing the experience with me, and getting my weary form up those peaks.

Alternatively, in the words of Robin: “It was dark… we were slow… we got lost… we were late”

Leg Two: Pete and Richard H

Here’s a top tip for an easy life. If you’re going to do Leg 2 in the Billy Bland Challenge and it’s going to start in the middle of the night, then hire a tracker from Open Tracking. That way you can plot your team mates on Leg 1 from the comfort of your pop-up tent in Threlkeld, and time your getting up to the last possible moment. That was my big idea and it would have worked perfectly if only I knew how to dismantle the tent afterwards. Fortunately a responsible adult in the shape of Richard was on hand to help out, by the cunning expedient of reading the instructions.

Then Joey and Robin sauntered along with the baton and Richard and I were off, sprinting through the village, dodging the juggernauts on the A66 and haring up the flank of Clough Head. Much of Leg 2 is broad grassy ridge which means that once you’re up there you can actually run, which is what we did.

We weren’t alone though. The high ground of the Lake District is popular in midsummer even in the early hours of the morning. There were other teams doing the Billy Bland challenge, serious runners doing the Bob Graham round, runners in the 10 Peaks Lakes challenge and the summit dodgers of a 55km and a 110km trail race, all vying for space. And with good reason, because sometimes the scenery of the Lakes forces you to forget the physical demands of whatever it is you’re up to and take a look around you. These challenges are set in the Lakes because it’s such a fantastic location.

It was one of those good-to-be-alive runs and it felt like we scarcely put a foot wrong. When we arrived at a crowded Dunmail Raise (to some generous applause  from the many support teams loitering there) we found that the team were down on last year’s time, but only by a few minutes…

Leg Three: Tim and Peter

After hugs all round, Peter and I took over from the speedy leg 2 runners on our ascent of Steel Fell.  A steep start but it soon passed and we were travelling well over the moors to the Langdale Pikes.

A quick selfie on the top of Harrison Stickle was followed by a trip up Pike of Stickle.  We crossed Martcrag Moor without falling in the bog of doom.

After Rosset Pike the climb up Bowfell started and the clag came down, we’d stay with limited visibility until coming off Scafell.  The clag gave us a little difficulty as we found ourselves on the top of Bowfell slabs, not on the path.  What we thought was the top of Esk Pike was a subsidiary peak but hey ho, we found the real one shortly after.

Hordes of people about during this stage, 10 peakers, other BG contenders and numerous people climbing Scafell Pike.  This kept us moving well because you can’t be a roughty toughty fell runner without running all the uphills, can you?

A major navigational cock-up took us south off Scafell instead of North West but fortunately we realised as we came out of the mist so we contoured back round to the path.  However this last error meant we missed beating last year’s time for this leg.  Anyway, down to Wasdale with a scree run to hand over to Paul and Chris with another less than successful selfie.  The ice-cream that followed was much appreciated.

Leg Four: Chris and Paul

After the customary Hurriers’ ineptitude in a few abortive attempts at taking a handover selfie in the glare of the sun with the camera facing the wrong way and keys and binoculars being exchanged at the same time, Paul and Chris set off at a decent pace through a gate (worryingly marked “Private”) up the climb of Yewbarrow (628m) the summit of which they reached somewhat surprisingly in the 7th fastest ever time on Strava having passed a somewhat taciturn BG team. Thence to Red Pike (816m) over decent undulating ground via Dore Head in great visibility with fabulous views back to Wastwater and over the whole of the western lakes.

Paul’s prior route knowledge passed them deftly to the left of Scoat Fell and thus directly to the spectacular spires of Steeple (802m) via a precipitous connecting ridge. Out and back to the summit with a few words exchanged with yet another BG team and a raft of “10 Summit” racers midway through their challenge. Again, some lovely running on grassy open tops with some occasional scree over to the col and thence up the greasier scramble to Pillar (892m), passing a slick BG team whose runner was looking very strong and ended up finishing the round in 19 hours 59½ minutes – brilliant! The mist at this point rolled in and reduced visibility to about 50 yards so it was map and compass time as they made the long descent to Black Sail Pass thence up the shoulder of Kirk Fell (802m) following the fence posts Paul had remembered as a handrail from last year. From the summit they dropped down to Beck Head via Rib End to begin the interminable pull up Great Gable (899m).

Mist was still very much in evidence which was a bit of a blessing really as it was impossible to know how much more climbing there was at any point, despite the best efforts of descending “10 Summiters” with their “not far now lads” words of encouragement. From the summit of Great Gable they followed the strong BG team (who had in the last stretch made 20 minutes back on their target time) with a slick bit of off-piste nav to Windy Gap (which was living up to its name), and then passed that same team again on the short pull up to Green Gable (801m).
At this point they relaxed comfortably into the final mostly downhill section of the leg, confident that a good new Hurriers record for the leg would be set and that all was good with the world. Their consequent lapse in concentration lasted for just long enough to ensure that:
1 – in true Hurriers style they missed the left turning to Brandreth and carried blithely on towards Base Brown before realising their error thus necessitating some embarrassing backtracking as the mist lifted.
2 – Chris tripped over at full tilt on the rocky descent lacerating his arm and leg, whacking his shoulder and knee tendons (and, most importantly, losing his watch).
After a good five minutes of writhing around on the ground inventing new expletives he pulled himself together but found that both running and walking were nigh on impossible – plumping instead in the end for Malcolm Tucker style swearing, coupled with groaning and hobbling.

Time was subsequently sadly haemorrhaged as they plodded on over Brandreth (715m) and Grey Knotts (697m) until at last the road and Honister Pass hove into view and Paul was able to skip mountain goat like off to the handover and salvage a few minutes whilst Chris continued to swear his way off the hill looking like a Hammer House of Horror extra in a rubbish fellrunning film.

Despite the (literally) bloody final section, Paul and Chris had a great run over this remote, spectacular and dramatic section of the round.

Leg Five: Richard L, Charlie and Steve

Up, up, flat, down, up, flat, down, up, down, down a bit more, flat, finish, beer.

And the final score is…?

Despite the cock-ups and catastrophes we managed to beat our time from last year. More importantly we had a great time doing it and would recommend it to anyone.

Leg Runners Time Total
1 Robin Gray and Joey Daniels 5:21 5:21
2 Pete Fitzpatrick and Richard Henderson 3:49 9:10
3 Peter Bowles and Tim Brooks 5:12 14:21
4 Chris Sylge and Paul Cotton 4:31 18:52
5 Richard Law, Charlie Boyce and Steve Grimley 2:22 21:14

Some random pics…

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