When I mentioned to my Dad that I was racing at Longshaw Sheepdog Trials, he immediately responded that it would be a tough race for me, as “most of them have four legs”.Joking aside, this is fell racing in it’s purest form; a race based around a traditional local fete, fayre or in this case, the longest running Sheepdog Trials in the country. In this respect Longshaw can trace it’s origins back to 1898, and standing in the trials field waiting to start with the beautiful old lodge behind us and the entire Burbage Valley spanning out ahead, that history felt very tangible. It was a brisk late Summer’s morning in 2015, but it could have been any morning in the last hundred and seventeen years and I imagine the scene would have looked almost identical. There is a certain energy to be taken from that. And I took even more incentive from taking part in this famous race that has had more than it’s fair share of fell legends gracing it’s start line; the record is held by the legendary Lloyd Taggart with a seemingly unassailable 38:07.
The fell race itself is a shade under six miles with a touch over a thousand feet of climbing. Runnable but very technical. And on Saturday morning in full sun it seemed like the most glorious place on the planet to test out my legs. Proper fell races are fast, and the basis of my last three months of training has been slow and steady. Lacking those upper gears, I was hoping for a strong run and to get the old heart rate as far into the upper levels as present training will allow. I was also pleased to be looking out for Nicola, who was volunteering as a race marshall for the first time and was very excited at the prospect of sticking on the hi-vis and yelling at runners for the morning.
Pre-race camaraderie was high, mainly thanks to our esteemed MC Mr Jim Fulton who kept the crowds ably entertained. A quick word on the microphone from the Trials’ President, and it was time to get underway.
Battering through the first fields, I was splattered head to toe in peat from the bogs within about three minutes. Tactics don’t really apply in a race like this, it was just heads down hard running, over the road crossing, Nic’s first marshalling point, and then starting the climb up on to Burbage Rocks. I was with the leaders at this point and feeling rather strong. In fact so much so that I was more inclined to hold back a little than push on. Keeping one eye on the BPM counter on the watch I moderated my effort but hovered around the top twenty right the way along the edge to Burbage Bridge.
Once through the bridge there was a fast descent down Fiddler’s Elbow and I gained a bit of ground on those in front. After crossing Burbage Brook a couple of times directly (ie straight through it) it was time for the grunt up the Plummet on Higger Tor. Never a pleasure! My effort was still in check, just, but as ever my slighter weaker climbing technique meant that those behind kept me well within striking distance, and so once we topped out to the encouragement of the DPFR marshalls on top of Higger the subsequent descent towards Winyards Nick meant that I really had to light the burners to get away again. A couple of runners, including my old team mate Julian Wareham (recently placed top 30 in the Lakeland 50!) came with me and we started to gap the rest of the field.
Shortly after, having crossed the road, I was starting to feel the effects of this sustained high tempo effort, and although I was still running strongly it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to significantly kick for the finish. I flashed by Nicola who had moved to her secondary marshalling point and concentrated on getting the job done, which meant a laboured run to the finish up a moderate final climb. Not a bad section on paper, but in reality a tussocky minefield that required legs, lungs and concentration.
I was level with my friend Julian at this point, confident we would hold, but when a guy surged from behind and sprinted for the line I shouted for Julian to push and upped my effort to draw ahead. I finished in 19th position from 130 starters and felt pleased with my race, all things considered.
Hanging around at the finish line to cheer in friends, it struck me how Longshaw represents all that I hold dear about fellracing. It is so bloody tough (the gnarlier the better), yet everybody there had a smile on their face. Stories were swapped, war wounds compared, all still to the backdrop of Mr Fulton’s commentary on the loudspeaker. Eventually we all retired to the beer tent for the prizegiving and, well, to drink beer and eat cake. A grand day out.
Now. Any ideas how I get peat stains out of Merino Wool?
Shoes: Inov8 X-Talon 190