Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Fellsman 2013 - Hokas & Poles

Nick and I raring to go at the start in Ingleton
Climb up Ingleborough looking back to Ingleton
Climb up Ingleborough
Top on Ingleborough... Snow!!!
Descent off the top of Ingleborough

Viaduct after Stonehouse at 27 miles
View from near top of Great Knoutberry

Finished!!!! (photo courtesy of Nick Ham 100)

Loads more great photos taken by Nick Ham are available here
 So this past Saturday with just 5 days recovery after London saw me travel North to Yorkshire to take on the Fellsman. With 100km and 11000ft of ascent over rough water logged fells its got to be the toughest 100k in the country. Having completed it twice before in just under 17 hours I wasn't looking this year to go back and challenge those times. Instead I was viewing this event as time on feet and not looking to push the pace. I was also keen to run with fellow Fellsman junkie Nick Ham who has now amassed at least 7 finishes. So the pressure was off and we went out to 'enjoy' the best that the Dales has to offer.

Previous reports on my blog (2012 report here) describe the Fellsman in a lot more detail than I intend to go into here this time around. These are just the highlights (and lowlights!).

We arrived the night before at Thresfield School which was our base for the night camped in the huge school hall. A long journey north saw me arrive a shade shy of 10pm so it was a quick kit check to ensure I had all the mandatory gear, and very late dinner, and then I hit the sack (quite literally).

Alarms set for 5am not that it was necessary sleeping in a hall with all the comotion. A 'reasonable' 5hrs of sleep and thoughts turned to the run ahead. I was relaxed and really looking forward to this one. The weather was looking good on the coach which shuttled us to the start in Ingleton. And so if proved with a cloudy start, brief hail shower but then sun for the afternoon and evening. The wind was blowing but nothing compared to the previous year. The night though was very cold down to below freezing. This event can be summarised as a continuous series of constant ups and downs from start to end. The bits that are flat are tough to run on because the varied and rough terrain. Not too much groomed trail here. Instead its either endless tussocks, bogs, heather, flooded pastures, or rocky paths. Fun to run but not fast which was just as well.

I had two weapons in my armoury to assist me in my quest - HOKAS AND POLES. Such was the brilliance and performance of both these items that they had to feature in the title of this post. I bought the Hoka One One 'Stinson Evos' especially for attacking the downhills at Western States and boy did they not dissappoint on the Fellsman!! I was concerned that they may not provide enough stability on the uneven terrain because of their extra height but any concerns quickly dissappeared as they ate up the terrain with ease. They were awesome and did what it says on the tin 'its time to fly'. They gave me the confidence on the rocky downhill sections (during daylight) to just go for it. I compare this to how I tiptoed down one section into Dent at the 20 mile mark. They really do make a massive difference when descending.

And then there's the ups where my second secret weapon came into its own. My poles were a god send!! I don't have much need to run with them but I was approaching the Fellsman as a kind of mini-UTMB training run testing all the gear I intend to use out there. And again they really came into their own on the steep ascents as well as keeping a good technique on the decents. And the reason the 'Hokas and Poles' thing stuck with me is that we found ourselves running with a female runner Rachel who was also sporting both items. So it was that I coined the phrase Hokas and Poles to unite us against the toughness of the event.

The day section was extremely enjoyable as we went about eating up the miles slowly but surely in a steady and efficient way. I was fuelling well and keeping hydrated. It was at night where for me the speed and time on feet started to effect my outlook and positivity for being out there. The major factor was the cold which combined with the fact that we ('we' being a group of 7 of us who were grouped together before nightfall) were moving slowly meant it was hard to keep warm. The mandatory kit rules had also increased this year after the torrid conditions experienced last year which forced the organisers to stop the race. I was extremely thankful for the 3 long sleeve tops, plus base layer and jacket which only just kept the chill at bay. Its my hands where I always seem to suffer the most. I still haven't found a pair of gloves that keep my hands warm without resorting to bulky ski gloves.

I kept reminding myself as we slogged it through the night section that this was perfect training. The scariest thought was that at UTMB I would need to endure 2 full nights of this moving at a similar speed. I therefore need to readjust my approach to such a race and be prepared for the long slog. Leg speed is irrelevant in such a mountain race. What I need to work on is an improved mental endurance and a positive outlook when faced with such a situation again.

During the final few hours of the Fellsman I accepted our fate of a 20hr ish finish time (3hrs slower than last year) and was able to move quite happily in the knowledge that it will soon be over. I think the trick to such long slow event is to ignore the miles as they go by so slowly and instead get into the mind-set of time on feet and be prepared for that. I'm expecting UTMB to take me around 35hrs or longer so i damn well better get use to this otherwise I won't survive.

The Fellsman is a tough event and not to be underestimated. Even at my third attempt the navigation was no easier than the first time especially at night. My sincere thanks go to Nick Ham who did a great job of leading the 7 of us around the dark fells. That certainly made things more enjoyable and less stressful knowing I was in safe hands!

Next up is the NDW50 in three weeks time. I want to do well in this one and place highly so its back go training and working on my speed endurance.


  1. Nice one Stu. Excellent training for UTMB. Time on feet and mental strength to tough it out until it's over are key to success.

  2. Nice report! Glad you are a Hokas/Poles convert :-)
    I arrived marginally before you folks, 'twas a good event. The offer for you and Nick to come for beer pre-UTMB is a real one, though perhaps a plate of pasta might be a better idea... Drop me a line sooner rather than later so that we have coms established! To find my email just google either me or my other half Steve. You'll find my surname on the Fellsman list a bit before your time (#94), google either of us and you'll get to workplace emails: we're the only family in the country with this surname (!)