A planned trip to the Lakes to recce a few miles of next month’s Old County Tops race left myself and Jenny with the perfect excuse to take part in the Newlands Memorial race (formerly the Anniversary Waltz). At the start of last week, the race was full, and entries/transfers had been stopped however due to the sheer amount of interest the race organisers had reopened entries until Thursday and luckily, we had two free spaces offered from Steve at Ribble Valley.
Driving up on Saturday morning we concluded it was going to be a tad warm with the temperature already at 20 degrees at 9am. As we got into the village of Stair there were runners everywhere warming up to start the longer of the two Newlands races, named the Teenager with Altitude. Having avoided running down fell running legends Nicky Spinks and Darren Fishwick we parked up and started making our gear choices.
After a leisurely chat with Graeme from Todmorden, we headed to registration only to be informed that it was about to close. Following a mad dash, we managed to get signed in and both noted how the race entry forms were all nearly full. We made our way up to the race start and it was nice to see lots of Yorkshire representation including my competitive sidekick Ethan from Wharfedale.
The race starts by making its way up the valley and through Little Town. This section is fast, and I found myself hovering in around 15th place with Graeme from Tod running on my shoulder. I like to consider one of my strengths pacing and as we hit the bottom of Robinson a few lads flew past me. The climb in total is around 1700ft and takes the best part of half an hour so I knew that trying to follow these attacks would be foolhardy.
I have learnt a lot about fell running over the last two years, I used to consider myself a strong climber and always pushed on ascents, but more recently I have discovered that if I slow myself down on the climbs then I save a lot for the tops (flatter sections). I think this is basically an extreme version of a cross-country racing technique that I have transferred over.
Running off the top of Robinson I found myself steadily pushing through the field however on the next few climbs I decided to power hike rather than run a few people came past me on each climb, but I would catch and pass them again on the downhills. At this point, the heat of the day was setting in and I was regretting carrying no water however I did manage a slurp at Newlands Beck. Jen had taken a litre of water with her as she was to be out longer.
Climbing over Maiden Moor I noticed that my second toes on both feet had started to burn. Two weeks earlier at the Howgills English champs race, I had lost my nails on both my big toes due to the sheer number of downhills in the race. I had decided today to tape them to avoid the pain (bad idea). As I climbed up the final climb of Catbells I could see two runners just in front of me and recognised one as Mark McGoldrick from Wharfedale.
Coming off the top I started to chase hard however as I descended an onlooker informed me that the section was marked and the flags were higher up. I ran back up the hill and followed the flags as to not risk a DQ. I probably wouldn’t have caught the two in front of me, but this added on a good minute in my estimation which was disappointing. I crossed the line in 6th place and just 8 minutes behind the day’s winner and fell running superstar Rob Jebb.
I chucked myself straight into the beck and dubiously inspected my feet. After 10 minutes of cooling down, swapping stories and rehydrating it dawned on me just how massive this result was to me. Having read the book Feet in the Clouds 6 years earlier as a road runner, I could have only dreamt of finishing a fell race, yet here I was slumped in a sweaty mess having finished in the top ten of a Lakeland classic.
Waiting for Jen is always nervy she spends the whole race hoping that she doesn’t see me until the end and I spend the whole race hoping I see her at the end. Having said that Jen is super strong in the hills and has never dropped from a race to this day. Jen crossed the line and much like me dived face first into the beck. I could see straight away this had been a tough day for her and she later informed me she had considered dropping out at four miles but in typical Jen, fashion pushed on to finish strong.
Having completed the race Jenny has managed to qualify for next years Three Peaks marathon (if she wants to race it) and has done this in the space of four weeks, super proud. The race was topped off with a massive portion of pasta and free beer (spot on).
With the Three Peaks on Saturday looming large the foot situation is not good for me. Taping my toes had created a larger issue as the taped had frayed and rubbed against both my 2nd toes. Both now have 2cm open blisters on them and I’m currently struggling to hobble. I will still attempt to make it to the start line on Saturday but will have to be realistic with my ambition on a big PB this year. I don’t regret racing hard at Newlands, to date it has been my strongest position and in a simply magical location.
P.S. Sorry Ross I was too broken to recce the Old County Tops… TBC.
Rob Jebb (1st male) 1:40:50
Jon 6th 1:49:16
Sharon Taylor (1st female) 1:54:00
Jenny 189th (38th female) 2:49:19
291 finishers in total and 11.49 miles with 3636ft of ascent.