VERY few people can doubt that 2021 has been a strange and confusing year, but for the summer running season at least, there was the “usual” dramatic final run accompanying the Wasdale Shepherd’s Meet at Wasdale Head.
The race itself is a lung inversion, thigh fatigue, a fight to the top of Kirk Fell, taking only the toughest runners 2330 feet above the start line.
About a mile and a quarter from the summit, this is one of the steepest and longest continuous climbs of the season, even described by Wainwright as “a relentless, relentless treadmill, a crawl that clings to the turf. , not a step ”.
As if the challenge of scaling an almost vertical mountainside weren’t enough, the route includes challenging scree sections, including very loose boulders that slide underfoot, slowing down even the fastest runners and baffling the reckless. . The very welcome view from the summit is further enhanced by the even more welcome volunteer from Wasdale Mountain Rescue who patiently waits to count all the runners.
The descent follows the same route as the ascent, but personal route choices can get you down as you wish, with some interesting choices. Whatever route a competitor takes, it is usually much faster than the ascent and includes some exhilarating scree for the brave. For the less courageous, it’s a rock-nail bite trial until the grass is encountered again.
This year, however, the grass has been described as oily which makes it slippery underfoot. Despite the apparent dangers of the race, the only real risk is getting lost at the top as perception can lead the unwary to take the wrong path back. This year the chances of getting lost or taking a varied route to the finish were greatly enhanced by very low clouds which confused even the most experienced runners.
So, navigation skills were a must this year, adding to the excitement and exhilaration of the challenge.
58 seasoned and slightly mad seniors and 46 equally grieved juniors crossed the start line and raced madly up the wide rise above the wall, to begin their various ascents of Kirk Fell.
During the fight for the top there was a lot of shuffling of the order, but the one constant was that Buxton’s Finlay Grant was first at the top and then first through the finish funnel to win the race (39.41) against Brian Pennington of Cumberland, 2nd, (41.41) and Andrew Cox of Moorfoot runners, 3rd, (42.29). Likewise, the women’s race experienced some shuffling of order but was again dominated by Elsie Butler of Howgill Harriers who finished in 4th place overall, to win the women’s race (42.44) of Kirsty Hall of Wharfedale Harriers, 2nd, (48.19) and teammate Jean Powell, 3rd, (51.58).
Climbing to the base of the scree and just inside this year’s generous portion of low cloud, the U17 race is a challenge even for the bravest young riders. This year’s winner was Nathan Hird of Wharfedale (19.54), Vladimir Wiggins of Preston Harriers, 2nd (20.37) and Alex Matthew of Bowland, 3rd, (20.52). The girls’ race was won by Olivia Aldham (24.26) of Wharfedale making it a double win for the club. The second daughter was Cate Matthew of Bowland (30.09) securing a home full of junior podiums for Matthew’s juniors.
The U14 race climbs towards and rounds a large, practical protruding boulder in the drop side and was won by Jack Sanderson of Settle Harriers (7.27) to end an outstanding season for him. The 2nd and 3rd boys were the duo of Keighley and Craven Archie Peaker (7.49) and Ewen Wilkinson (8.08). Keighley’s daughters dominated the U14 race as Katie Buckley won (9.25) over Charlotte Chambers (9.42). The 3rd daughter was Betsy Willis of Wharfedale (12,56).
The U12 race goes up halfway up the hill before turning right for a loop through the ferns, then back over the wall to the finish line. Zeke Sumner of Ambleside won the boys’ race (4.23) ahead of Noah Cook of Furness Fell Runners, 2nd, (4.52) and William Oakden of Keighley, 3rd (4.59). As often happens in junior races, the girls show the boys how it’s done and this race was no exception. Keighley’s Bethan Buckley won the girls’ race (4.37), finishing second overall and continuing a family streak of winning the race. Daisy Woodcock of Keswick was 2nd daughter (5.11) to Holly Nicholls of Wigan Harriers, 3rd, (5.24).