Runners make their way up Pen-Y-Ghent lane at the start of the Three Peaks Race
The last year has provided the usual interest and excitement for those competing in, and following, the British fellrunning scene. As normal, the main focus was on the British and the English championship series, although there were the usual range of mountain marathons, local grand prixs and long distance championships to compete in as well.
The season proper kicked off in early March at the Black Coombe race. This was the first counter in the English championship, and it provided a tough return to competition for many. The race was led from start to finish by the former English champion, Rob Jebb of Bingley Harriers, although the main talking point on the day was the number of people who got lost. With thick mist enveloping the summits navigation was tricky and led to many people missing checkpoints, going to the wrong checkpoint or even visiting the same checkpoint twice! Second and third positions in the open race were taken by Rob Hope of Pudsey and Simon Booth of Borrowdale. In the ladies field Natalie White, also running for Bingley, led home with Helen Fines of Calder Valley and Bingley's Sharon Taylor following home in second and third respectively.
The next championship race was the long British Championship counter ‘Mourne Mountains’ in Northern Ireland. This was a new route, designed to provide a testing course, but not tire people excessively for the Three Peaks race at the end of the month. On the day the field was led home by Rob Hope who overtook Shettlestons Jethro Lennox almost on the line after the latter took an unfortunate tumble within sight of victory Lloyd Taggart of Dark Peak was third man home. Angela Mudge set out her championship intentions by cruising to a comfortable victory in the ladies race, with second and third places taken by Fiona Maxwell of Mourne Runners and Helen Fines.
Angela Mudge, 2008 British Champion and Three Peaks runner leads a group of runners towards Ribblehead
The next race in the English championship series was the classic Three Peaks race, which this year also hosted the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge, a World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) endorsed event. The added prestige of incorporating a world championship, and the rapidly increasing popularity of the race in recent years, saw what was thought to b a record entry for an UK fell race, with 685 finishing. The race saw Jetho Lennox crowned the World Distance Mountain Running Champion with a superb victory from Tom Owens and the Slovenian, Mitja Kosovelj third. The run of the day however came from the Czech runner Anna Pichrtova who broke Sarah Rowells already outstanding course record, setting a new mark of 3.14.43. Second lady was Angela Mudge, suffering a rare defeat on home soil and third place was taken by Angela Bateup of Australia.
With all the interest surrounding the World Championship incorporated into the race it was easy to forget that the race was also an English championship scorer. Rob Jebb and Sharon Taylor scored maximum points as the first English counters home.
The 2008 British Fell Running Champion - Rob Hope
Three weeks later the British championship visited Wales, with the Moel Elio race the second counter in the championship. The race started on the edge of Llanberis, and took in the summits of Moel Elio, Foel Gron, Foel Goch and Moel Cynghorion ending with a quick run in to the finish at Llanberis Youth Hostel. The race was won by Bangor student Nick Swinburn and Angela Mudge, consolidating her lead in the championship.
Moel Elio was followed by the Druisdeer race in mid-June, taking runners to the hills of Dumfrishire. These was an area unfamiliar to many of the runners, but provided a challenging course, with Rob Jebb and Angela Mudge the victors. Second and third were Borrowdales Morgan Donnelly and Jethro Lennox in the men’s race and Natalie White and Elke Schmidt of Bellahouston in the ladies race.
After Druisdeer three races remained in the British Championship, and unusually all three doubled as English championship counters. The first of these was the Blackstone Edge race, moved from its usual midweek slot to accommodate its status as a championship event. As is usual for short championship races, the men’s and women’s races were held separately to avoid congestion on the course. Angela Mudge cruised to victory in the ladies event, securing her fifth British championship title in the process and leaving Natalie White and Lizzie Adams of Hallamshire to finish in second and third places respectively. In the Mens race it was Rob Hope who was first home, consolidating his lead in the British championship, with the in-form Morgan Donnelly second and Jethro Lennox third.
The 2008 World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion, Jethro Lennox
Next up in the English championship was the classic, medium length, Kentmere Horseshoe race, which was the one race remaining which was solely an English championship counter. With Rob Hope and Rob Jebb missing from the mens field, and Natalie White absent from the ladies field the race was wide open, with no clear favourites in either race. In the end it was Pudsey and Bramleys John Heneghan who was first home, with Morgan Donnelly continuing his run of second places and Gary Divine third. Helen Finnes took top placing in an English championship race for the second time this season, with Jackie Lee of Eryri taking second and Calder Valleys Sally Newman third place.
The long Borrowdale race saw the British and English championships double up once again, and provided one of the most exciting races of the year. The race was heavily oversubscribed, with championship status adding to the demand for places in this already popular race. However, the organisers were pragmatic enough to ensure guaranteed places for those contesting the various championships. Such a policy meant a very strong field lined up in Rosthwaite for the start of the race.
Rob Jebb, 2008 English Fell Running Champion
Rob Jebb took control of the race early on and led over the summits of Scafell Pike and Great Gable, where he had a two minute lead. However, with mist limiting visibility on Great Gable Rob made a navigational error that was to cost him his lead, and ultimately his hopes of a medal in the British championship due to his earlier, illness forced, retirement from the Mourne Mountains race. Simon Booth was the race victor for the tenth time, with Lloyd Taggart second and Jethro Lennox third. To say that Simons victory was a result of Robs error would be unfair as it is not possible to say if Simon could have used his superior descending abilities to overhaul the deficit in the latter stages of the race. In the ladies race Janet McIver added another impressive long race victory to her palmares. She was followed home by Dawn Scott of Lochaber AC and Jill Mykura of Carnethy in second and third.
The British and English championships were both concluded at the short Dufton Pike race on the 2- th of August. The race was part of the Dufton show, and was a classic show race. A fast run out to the base of Dufton fell was followed by a steep ascent and descent and finishing by running by retracing the run out.
The last runners make their way towards Pen-Y-Ghent
The ladies race was won comfortably by Natalie White, with Lizzie Adams second, and Scunthorpes Emma Clayton third. In the men’s race John Heneghan was victorious with second place taken by Scottish runner Alisdair Anthony of Ochill whilst fellow Scot Jethro Lennox was third.
With Rob Hope having already secured the British title ahead of the final race and Angela Mudge also confirmed British champion it was only the English champions that were to be decided on the basis of the results at Dufton. With her victory here Natalie White claimed the English ladies title, and with Rob Hope failing to beat Rob Jebb it was Jebb that went away with the title. As well as the overall winners many other medal places were decided on the basis of the results at Dufton. Full championship rankings, including all age categories can be found on the Fell Runners Association website.
The 2008 Ben Nevis Race winners with the Mayor of Fort William
2009 will see some significant changes to the championship format, and in particular the British championship. This will change to a four race series, with one race each in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. The races will include a short, medium and long and one race duplicating the category of the race held in Northern Ireland. Completion of the championship will require a result from one of each category of race, with a minimum of three races to count. This change is bound to have some detractors, as well as supporters, but it will be interesting to see if it results in increased participation from home nation runners, as at present the British championship is, bar one or two very notable exceptions, very similar to the English.
Jonathan Brownlee on leg 1, setting Bingley on the way to victory at the 2008 British Fell Relays
Aside from the championships there were numerous other notable achievements over the year, perhaps the most noteworthy of which were the performances of Janet McIver in the Lakeland classic races. Janet smashed her own record in the Duddon Valley race, set a new record a Ennerdale and a new Joint record at Wasdale where she crossed the line with Jackie Lee. Elsewhere Rob Hope and Victoria Wilkinson, representing Lancashire and Yorkshire respectively, were crowned inter-counties fell champions at the Belmont Winter Hill race, and the British womens team took gold at the European Mountain Running Trophy. Britian also had its first visit from the Buff Skyrunning world series with the Ben Nevis race incorporated into the series. The race was won Augusti Roc of Spain and Angela Mudge.
The start of the 2008 Ben Nevis Race
Unfortunately the end of the season saw a rash of bad news stories persistent wet weather lead to the cancellation of two classic end of season events. The Lake District Mountain Trial and the Ian Hodgson Relay, two of the calendars most popular events, were both cancelled. These cancellations were not a result of flooding on the course, but due to the unavailability of parking, with farmers and land owners understandably reluctant to risk the ruin of their waterlogged fields. But by far and away the biggest story of the year was the cancellation of the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) midway through the first day of racing.
Runners brave the elements on the controversial 2008 OMM
This saw the sport receiving perhaps its greatest amount of publicity ever, with the story featuring as the lead headline on most major news websites and programmes over the weekend of the event, and was also the subject of several radio phone ins. Undoubtedly the event will provide a subject of discussion for those familiar with the event, and those less familiar with the sport, for many months to come. No doubt there was a certain amount of hyperbole associated with the reporting of the event, but it will be interesting to see if this has a long term impact on how the sport operates, regardless of the fact that there were no serious injuries, and that all competitors were accounted for by Sunday afternoon, the original scheduled race finish time.
Looking towards 2009, provisional information suggests that the following races will form the 2009 championships:
Half Tour of Pendle (Med) 7th March
Carding Mill (Short) 30th May
Tebay (Med) 20th June
Wasdale (Long) 11th July
Dent (Short) 29th Aug
Langdale (Long) 10th Oct
Slieve Bernargh (Short) 4th April
Stuch O’Chroin (Long) 2nd May
Tebay (Med) 20th June
Y Garn (Short) 1st Aug
The British relays are to be hosted by CFR, suggesting a location in the West Lakes area for this event.
It is unlikely that the 2009 season will generate as many news headlines as this year, but for the runners it will hopefully prove to be just as interesting.