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Ancient Feet: 16 - Funny He Didn't Mention Knackered

...Just before I reached this haven of civilisation, hordes of fell runners began to hurtle past, almost mowing me down in their headlong rush. I am full of admiration for these barmy individuals who move at breakneck speed down impossibly steep terrain as well as managing to keep running when tackling the uphill stretches...

Alan Nolan, continuing his trek across England, is impressed by the runners competing in the Borrowdale Fell Race.

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Although we still had several miles to cover before we reached our destination for the night, the youth hostel at Longthwaite in Borrowdale, the most arduous walking was behind us and I was happy to relax and enjoy the views for a while. On the other hand, Paul was restless and I released him from his obligation to walk at my pace as it seemed unlikely that he would lose his way now that the hard part had been completed.
Now on my own, I took my time as I worked my way across the fell tops to join the low route towards the Brandreth fence which Wainwright recommended as the suggested rendezvous with any strong and experienced fell walkers in the party who may have preferred the High Stile alternative. Strong and experienced — that must be me then. Funny he didn't mention knackered. Sit down and wait for them: they will not be here for hours yet. There was no sign of Don, Tom or Joe waiting for me, so I assumed they must have passed through here hours ago. I trudged on towards Honister, where I would see the first traces of habitation since I left Ennerdale Bridge that morning: that is, if you can call a slate quarry and a youth hostel habitation. At least I would be able to get a drink, having finished my own rations much earlier.

Just before I reached this haven of civilisation, hordes of fell runners began to hurtle past, almost mowing me down in their headlong rush. I am full of admiration for these barmy individuals who move at breakneck speed down impossibly steep terrain as well as managing to keep running when tackling the uphill stretches. Despite my admiration, they soon became a bloody nuisance as I felt compelled to stand aside every few seconds to let them pass. This was more out of self preservation than etiquette as they were moving at such a speed that I would have been flattened otherwise. There were bloody hundreds of them but, after a while, I came across one runner who had stopped as he was suffering from cramp. The only surprise here was that he was the only one. He told me that they were all taking part in the Borrowdale Fell Race and that he was just one of several hundred competitors. I found it quite staggering that so many entrants had travelled from all over the country to take part in such a demanding race. I imagined that local runners must have a distinct advantage in being able to train on the fells, whereas many of the runners were wearing vests indicating that they represented athletic clubs up and down the country and most of their training would have been on running tracks or roads.

I remembered that the Riverside Bar in Rosthwaite displays an honours board giving details of all the winners of the race over the years, with the incredibly fast winning times. There is also a map of the route, which takes in the summits of Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Dale Head so, although these runners had already been up two of the highest mountains in England, they still had another long climb to complete before the finishing line.

I decided to visit the Riverside Bar some months later and the winner that day was one Simon Booth and, incredibly, it was his eighth consecutive victory and his ninth in total. His time was recorded at an amazing two hours forty-six minutes. If that is impressive, then even more so is the record of Billy Bland, who won the race ten times between 1976 and 1988 and he holds the record time of two hours thirty-four minutes. The course distance is an estimated seventeen miles and involves about six thousand five hundred feet of ascent. The mind-boggling times put our own prospective achievements into perspective. I know absolutely nothing about either Billy Bland or Simon Booth but, clearly, they are the David Beckham and Wayne Rooney of the fell running world and isn't it unfair that they receive no real recognition or reward for their achievements?

They have a talent which puts them at the very top of their sport but, because that sport is not easily televised and is a minority sport, their talent is unrewarded. Top footballers, pop stars and film stars are paid obscene amounts of money, not because their talent as footballers, pop singers and actors is any greater than Simon's and Billy's talent as fell runners, but because they are watched and heard by millions of people around the world. In other words, they provide enjoyment to millions, whereas a top fell runner can provide enjoyment for only a few.

It is an accident of birth. If the situations had been reversed and Simon and Billy had been born with the equivalent amount of football talent, they would be multi-millionaires. Whilst Wayne Rooney would be running up and down the fells, famous only within the fell running fraternity, wondering when he could upgrade his car to a second-hand Mondeo, Simon would be selling his golden metatarsals to the highest bidder, considering whether his advert for a full-time car cleaner for his fleet of high performance cars should include amongst the perks the free use of his fully-equipped gym and spa (including use of the state-of-the-art navel de-fluffing machine), and negotiating a publishing deal for his book, Simon (How to make millions by getting a ghost¬writer to unite a few hundred pages of tosh and selling it to gullible fans by putting a photograph of me on the cover).

In the meantime, David Beckham would be living in a bothy in the Lake District, nursing knees shattered by the strain of all those miles running up and down mountains, hoping that a visitor to the Riverside Bar might buy him a drink for old times' sake and that Victoria wouldn't keep on about having a new bike. Billy would be receiving a fortune at L A Galaxy, having captained England more times than anyone (except John Motson) can remember, and would have to decide soon whether to accept the invitation to be Guest of Honour at the premiere of the new movie, Bend it like Bland.

The Borrowdale Fell Runners website gives full details of the race and, as I suspected, the local runners have a distinct advantage. Not only is Simon Booth a member of that club, but five of the first seven finishers were members. Simon finished five minutes ahead of his closest rival and only the first seven broke the three hour barrier.
There were three hundred and eighty-three starters and only thirty of these failed to finish. The last four to finish just failed to beat the six hour mark. I mention the number of entrants and some of the other times as they emphasise the magnitude of the winners achievements. I am in awe of these people.

Despite the efforts of the fell runners to slow my relentless progress, I made it to the slate quarry in time to get a drink from the quarry shop. They leave tea, coffee and orange squash for thirsty walkers to help themselves, requiring only that they wash their cups or glasses and leave a small donation. A great example to others of kindness and consideration towards the fatigued hiker. I drank my fill and set off for the final three miles of the day's journey, crossing the road (yes, a road; the first I had seen in almost nine hours) and wending my way through gentler countryside to the beautiful Borrowdale valley, green fields nestling below the surrounding mountains. This is where Prince Charles stays on his visits to the area and it is easy to see what attracts him back on a regular basis. Having said that, I do know for a fact that he doesn't stop at the youth hostel, so at least we wouldn't have to put up with him snoring and farting in the dormitory all night.

It was about six by the time I arrived at the hostel, over nine hours after I had set out from my comfortable digs with my landlady's scepticism ringing in my ears. Well, I had proved her wrong; but how would she know?



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