Although I've targeted a few long cycle events this year, and travelled to Switzerland for Sierre-Zinal, the main focus for 2006 has, of course, been the Ilkley Harriers Fell Championship. With so many talented runners now in the club, I saw this as perhaps the last chance I would have to join my name to a list of illustrious past winners. I can imagine that James Parker was crowned on several occasions, Reg Haigh, Nick Pearce certainly, Geoff Howard. I wanted my name to sit alongside those of these local fell running legends!
The series was going well until the last counter at Round Hill where I seemed to get the balance between racing and training all wrong and allowed what I thought was an unassailable position to slip. As pointed out by Paul Wood after completion of his mind-bogglingly complicated spreadsheet, the fell championship was wide open, with any of a half dozen contenders being potential winners. Long nights pouring over the numbers and extrapolating potential scenarios convinced me that, realistically, there were just three of us in the reckoning. Peter Shields and Lawrence Basham were both safely back in the clubhouse with their 4 races completed, but with not enough points to raise a challenge. Only Graham Pearce and Emma Barclay could steal the glory. Theoretically speaking, Mark Iley, Jamie Hutchinson and Jason Hemsley were all possibles, but they had to rely on all of the three main contenders either not turning up or having a complete disaster. And that was never going to happen.
I have very fond memories of the Bradley Fell Race, going back to when it was a strictly BOFRA affair. Both my lads had their fell racing initiation here and all my memories are of perfect late summer days: that quintessentially English picture of bouncy castles and tombola stalls laid out around the perimeter of an immaculately kept cricket pitch, teeming with families making the most of the last weekend of the summer holiday. Sadly, this was not going to be the picture presented to us this year. As the promised improvement in the weather failed to materialise on Sunday, and it continued to rain, and rain, and rain, my plan to cycle over to the race in the usual tradition seemed like a rather foolhardy one. With such a glittering prize at stake, I didn't want to risk not even making it to the start line. Would I be able to scrounge a lift off someone at such short notice?
Fortunately, Bernie Gibbons came to my rescue, and I was saved from a wet and windswept journey to the race. The scene we were greeted with on arrival was another quintessentially English one: a sadly deserted and bepuddled field, with just a couple of running vests on view to indicate that, yes, we were actually in the right place, the whole gala having decamped to the village hall. But the torrrential rain had now stopped and it looked like the atrocious weather had finally passed by. As the sun came out, so did the fell runners. From thinking there might not be very much competition at all, I started to spot some favourite adversaries: clubmate from Wharfedale, John Wootton, and then the distinctive Kendal vest of Mike Walsh ... and then a host of red and green vests, including Emma, and then, in a blue vest, an incognito Graham. Game on!
For me, these days, with PBs now irrelevant, fell running is all about the crack, the scenery, renewing old rivalries, and chasing (or being chased by) red and green vests. Bradley was going to offer all of these, and I started to experience the adrenaline surge that I need to run well. Chatting to Emma and Graham, it was obvious to me that they were psyched for a hard race. Emma was clearly disappointed not to see me mud-splattered from a gruelling cycle over from Ilkley! Graham was trying to make out that he should be due some handicap points for being so young, and not yet at his prime! They very much wanted to win this coveted title. They made no mention of their real ambitions, so I rather disingenuously feigned no knowledge of the entire contest.
Without the gala, the scene was a little lacking in atmosphere, but Roger Ingham, in his own inimitable way, managed to whip up some enthusiam and expectation while the junior races were completed. By the time he started us off, I was in the zone, and I think I did myself justice. The steady climbing suits my style and I was very happy to turn around at the top not too far behind Graham, and with a comfortable lead over Emma. I was also excited to be ahead of John and Mike, neither of whom I have beaten in many a year. That gave me the incentive to run hard downhill. It's a very fast and furious descent and the three of us in the running for the title all ran a pretty good race. Although the calculations are complicated, and the presence of young Harry Coates meant that this was to be no bonanza day in terms of points, I was confident that I had done enough. I think Emma knew this too, her feminine intuition clearly seeing through my nonchalant front. Your day will come! And Graham's too, I'm sure. As they pointed out to me, a little ungraciously perhaps, it's a lot easier when you're as old as I am! Huh ... if only they knew!