What a difference a week makes. Just 7 days after many of the country’s best fell runners battled it out over Yorkshire’s wintery 3 Peaks, blanketed in late April snow, lashed by icy blasts of hail, England’s finest found themselves baking in an early May heat wave on the hills of Derbyshire’s Glossop Dale.
The draw of FRA English Championship points ensured many of Calder Valley’s strongest runners made their way to the Peak District to line up in a field of 366, for Saturday’s “Up The Nab” fell race. The category “A – Short” rated route, the toughest level based on ascent per mile, started at Glossop Rugby Club, with a scrum of elite runners, representing all of England’s major fell running clubs, competing for national honours. The English Championship is made up of 6 races, two long, two medium, two short, chosen each year from the most challenging courses in the fell running calendar. Runners compete based on a points system according to performances in the “counting races”, the runner with most points over their best 4 races is crowned as national champion – the highest honour in the sport – along with further championships across male and female, teams and age categories. Many of Calder’s elite runners have set their sights on seizing titles following strong performances last year.
Calder’s Ben Mounsey is the club’s best hope for national glory, and he made his intentions clear, leading the way up the first climb as runners embarked on 3 ascents of Whitely Nab, totalling 1200 feet of climbing packed into a mere 4 miles of grassy hillside. This effort placed huge demands on the in-form Mounsey, whose strategy was to hit the front then work hard to build up an early lead, taking advantage of his devastating pace in attempt to split the field early on in the race. As Ben approached the first summit he had a few metres advantage on the chasing group, but wilting in the heat he began to falter. He picks up the story, “I tried to put in another effort but something was nt right – it was like I was missing an extra gear. I was beginning to feel the heat already and it was not long before I was overtaken by all three of my main rivals. My tactic then was to try and stay with this elite group” Mounsey had to finish in the top 5 if he was to have any chance of keeping his hopes of winning the championship alive. Feeling dehydrated and desperate for water the Calder Runner battled to stay on the coat tails of the leaders, but was soon overtaken by fell running legend Rob Hope who finished 5th at the previous weekend’s 3 Peaks. This was a worrying situation with 3 quarters of the race left to run as Mounsey had opted out of the 3 Peaks to increase his chances against those he hoped would still be recovering. On the penultimate climb Mounsey put in a massive effort to launch himself to the summit just behind Hope with the 3 leaders a few seconds in front. He then upped the pace to take over Hope on the descent, holding on over the final climb and sprint finish to keep a critical 4th place in 34.41, behind first placed Simon Bailey of Mercia (34.04), Steven Hebblethwaite of Keswick (34.10), and Sam Tosh of Rossendale (34.27). “This was not my finest performance. Although I’m in form I didn’t get my tactics right at the start and I didn’t feel at my best. But I’m not making any excuses, I was beaten by three better athletes on the day and had Rob not raced at the 3 Peaks then I’m sure I would have been 5th. The main thing is I didn’t give up and I fought hard to earn a top place finish so in many ways it’s one of my best results this year. This was a good result and it puts me in a very strong position with 4 races still to go.”
Mounsey’s 4th place means that he is still in first place overall in the English Champions. Calder Valley’s strength in depth was demonstrated as Karl Gray came in 9th (35.27) as first Vet 45, an amazing effort on the back of tired legs after his outstanding 4th place at the 3 Peaks, securing a GB vest for The World Long Distance Running Championships in Slovenia. With Tim Ellis, Darren Kay, and Alex Whittem putting in strong results Calder Valley’s elites can be proud of taking the honour of 3rd placed team ahead of many of the UK’s most formidable clubs, with James Logue and Jason Williams counting to help Valley’s men secure maximum points in the veterans category. One of the runs of the day came from Dick Spendlove who was 1st in the vets over 70 competition.
The ladies also had a great race with Lucy Collins, fresh from the London marathon and Gayle Sugden, also tired from the 3 Peaks, pushing and encouraging each other all the way round the race to finish 9th and 10th respectively. Lindsey Oldfield ran one of her best races ever where she raced hard downhill to sneak in front of some other club runners to help to secure 17th place and a great second team place for the ladies. The ladies are still in a strong position after the first two championship races to be in contention for a medal. Rachael Crossland ran a solid race to take 5th place as an under 23 suggesting real potential for the future.