Although it seems as though no time has passed since the conclusion of the 2008 Fellrunning season, it is already time to start planning for the 2009 season. It has become customary for the series to take in a number of classic races. This year, we will also visit a couple of events new to the championship, and others that have not been used in a while.
The start of the 2006 Carding Mill Canter – This will also be the start of the Stretton Hills championship race in 2009. (Photo – Phil Winskill)
The first thing of note about 2009 is the major change to the format of the British Championship series, with the number of races dropping from six to four, and a requirement to complete three races in the series (as opposed to four previously). This change has taken place with the ostensible aim of increasing participation in the premier event of the season, particularly amongst those from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The season starts on the 7th March with the classic English Championship counter, The Half Tour of Pendle, one of several races that runs over Pendle Hill in East Lancashire. This particular race is a truncated version of the Tour of Pendle (which conversely is usually the last major race of the year, being run in November).
The field sets off in a championship race – will 2009 again see bumper fields? (Photo – Phil Winskill)
Following the Half Tour is the trip to Newcastle, Northern Ireland for the opening race in the British Championship, Slieve Bernagh on the 4th April. This is one of the toughest short races in the calendar, with a huge amount of climbing and a number of technical descents packed into a very short distance. The severity and challenge of the race, paired with a good post race party, makes the long journey worthwhile.
The interminable run in through forest tracks at Stuc A’Chroin. (Photo – Chris Upson)
The Stuc A’Chroin race route. Copyright Ordnance Survey 2009
The long Scottish race of Stuc A’Chroin is celebrating its 21st anniversary on the 2nd May 2009, and as a result this classic race has been picked once more as a British Championship race. The race is a tough mixture of fast running and rough ground, with varied terrain including forest tracks and open moorland, running from Strathyre to the summit of Stuc A’Chroin and back by slightly different routes.
The 2009 Stretton Hills race route. Copyright Ordnance Survey 2009
For those contesting the English Championship the next race, after a three month gap, is the short Stretton Hills race on the 6th June. This is a new race for 2009, and at the time of writing the route has not been confirmed. What is known is that the race will start from Carding Mill Valley at the edge of Church Stretton, the location of another short championship race in 2006. These hills offer some superb running, and although they are not too high the climbs are often brutally steep and should not be underestimated. Further details should be posted on the website of Mercia Fell Runners in due course.
Following the Stretton Hills race is the medium length Tebay race on the 20th June. Tebay is the only race that doubles as both an English and British championship counter this year, and again is a race unfamiliar to many. The race takes place from the small village of Tebay, most famous for its motorway service station, on the north-western edge of the Howgill Fells. The race is typical of the running in the Howgills, with steep ascents and descents punctuated by sections of fast grassy running, and tricky navigation if the mist comes down.
Lloyd Taggart, closely followed by Ian Holmes and Rob Jebb in typical Stretton Hills scenery. (Photo – Phil Winskill)
Next up in the English Championship on the 11th July is the one race more likely put fear into a hardened fellrunner than any other, Wasdale. When last used in the championship in 2005 this classic race saw 40% of the 238 starters fail to finish, a huge drop out rate for a fell race. 2009 is likely to see another rush for the limited places and it will be interesting to see if this will result in a similarly high attrition rate amongst people seeing it as one to strike of the list of ‘must do’ races. Although the surge in popularity of these long Lakeland races is to be welcomed it is also important that competitors give them the respect that they are due.
Following Wasdale it is back to the British Championship for the last race in the 2009 series at the short Y Garn race from Rhyd Ddu near Beddgelert, Snowdonia on August 1st. This is a short, sharp, classic ‘up and down’ race and may well see many of the overall championship positions decided on the day, promising some excellent racing.
Rob Hope, the defending British Champion. (Photo – Paul Sheard)
With the unusually early conclusion to the British Championship, English runners will be redirecting their remaining energies into final two races in the English Championship. The first of these is another new addition to the championship, Dentdale on the 29th August. This is a classic Dales show race with a hard run from the Dent Village show field to the summit of Aye Gill Pike and back. This race started in 2006, and although it has only attracted limited numbers of runners, has been well received by those who have taken part.
The final race in the series is another classic race, The Langdale Horseshoe on the 10th October. This popular end of season race has often been the decider in championships, and as the second long race to the tough Wasdale, is likely to see championships places decided once again.
Aside from the main championships there will be the usual other championships running in 2009 inluding the Lakeland Classics and the inter-counties championship. It is Cumbria’s turn to host the inter-counties championship at the Hutton Roof Crags race on the 23rd May.
The start of the Ben Nevis Race, a Buff Skyrace again in 2009. (Photo – buffskyrunner.com)
Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see the impact the huge publicity garnered by the cancellation of the 2008 OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) will have on mountain marathon entries and whether it is a case of ‘all publicity is good publicity’. It is also to be hoped that the other two major events cancelled by the weather in 2009, the Lake District Mountain Trial and the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay, both return as strong as ever in 2009. The absence of these events from 2008 provided a rather lacklustre finish to the season for many.
The annual British Relays are to be hosted by Cumberland Fell Runners (CFR) on the 18th October. The venue has so far been given simply as North-west Cumbria, which doesn’t really narrow it down much. Possible locations may include Buttermere, Ennerdale or Wasdale. Wherever the venue actually is, it promises to be an excellent event in perhaps the best Fellrunning area of the country.
2009 is likely to see a number of British runners compete overseas in various events, with the Buff Skyrunning series proving as popular as ever, and participation in the summer Alpine races also as high amongst Brits as ever.
Multiple British and English senior and veteran champion Ian Holmes followed by perennial British Championship contender Jethro Lennox. (Photo – Phil Winskill)
The 2009 European and World Championships are in Telfes, Austria (up only) and Campodolcino, Italy (up and down) respectively. There are also changes here in the coming year, with home nation teams no longer travelling to the World Championships; this year, a combined Great Britain team will participate.
In terms of title challengers it will be difficult to look beyond last year’s title holders in the men’s championships. Messers Jebb and Hope have been almost unbeatable over a season’s competition in recent years. Having said that, if Simon Bailey was to return to contesting the championships he would pose a serious threat to the pair’s dominance and Jethro Lennox is likely to pose a serious threat in the British Championship once again.
The female championships are potentially more open than the men’s looking at recent years results. However this is largely because the same group of women have not recently competed against one another in successive seasons. There are several possible challengers for the titles, but this is dependent on who decides to contest which series. Potential winners include Natalie White, Angela Mudge, Janet McIver and Anna Bartlett amongst others.
Janet McIver, winner of the 2008 Lakeland Classics series, and a strong championship contender. (Photo – Paul Sheard)
It will be interesting to see if the changes to the format of the British Championship series have the desired effect of increasing home nation participation, and also to see how the changes are received amongst the general body of competitors. There have been some rumblings of discontent, with the matter raised at the FRA AGM, however as there was no large body of opinion that made itself known for or against the changes it was decided to go with the altered format. The success, or otherwise, of these changes will ultimately only be borne out by the numbers participating. Although 2009 is unlikely to see any repeat of the huge numbers running the 2008 Three Peaks race (although early indications suggest I may be wrong on this) it will be worth seeing how the numbers of competitors in championship races compares with similar races from previous years. As with recent years it will be interesting to see if the big name races continue to attract large numbers, whilst superb races such as Scafell Pike and Buttermere Sailbeck struggle to break the 100 mark with respect to numbers of competitors.
Simon Bailey, a serious contender for the British and English championships, if he decides to compete! (Photo – Phil Winskill)
Regardless of the in and outs of the championship organisation, 2009 promises to offer another great year of racing, with the regular excitement of the championships and also the interest of new events that seem to be springing up annually.
The start of the 2007 Ian Hodgson Mountain relay, which hopefully will return after its cancellation in 2008. (Photo – Paul Sheard)
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