Famous Grouse Fell Race – race review

If you’ve been following my writings this year, you’ll know that I’ve run a fair few of the Hayfield Fell Race series. After dipping my toe in to one last year, I’ve come back and done 7 of their races this time around.

And it’s been tough and challenging, but a huge amount of fun. When you’ve been used to running on flat tarmac, the move off-road takes a bit of getting used to. And add the steep climbs and descents that come with fell races and it really is a new skill-set to master. And whilst that’s a definitely work-in-progress, the more I do off-road, the more I want to do.

Hayfield Series & Championship

Anyway, as part of the Hayfield Series, there was also a championship available to be part of. The 9 races were split into south, medium and long counters, and to qualify you had to run at least 4 races, with at least one in each category. And whilst there was no chance of a rookie win for me, completing (and competing) was a challenge I was very much up for.

I completed 5 races in the Championship, the last one being Cracken Edge in August. In fact, looking at my records I’d only done one fell-race since then. I thought it had a while – it was!

Famous Grouse Fell Race

However, the final race in the Hayfield calendar was the ‘Famous Grouse Fell Race’. At the end of November there were no promises on the weather and only that the race started from, and ended at The Grouse Public House in Birch Vale.

Registration was an on-the-day and out-of-the-back-of-a-car affair, with a huge cost of £2 per entry. Yes, you read that right. A far cry from the expensive corporate events that may be available on a tarmac road somewhere near you.

Everything about the event was typically low key. In fact the turn-out was perhaps a bit smaller than in previous years due to a couple of big race events locally which had been included in running club championships clashing and drawing people away. Which was a shame, no least because there’s a fair possibility that this would be the final Famous Grouse Fell Race, after a 27 year run. But who knows, it may be back…….


The course looks a bit like this:

Famous Grouse Fell Race

Famous Grouse Fell Race

My Race

As with most of the fell races around here at least, it starts with a climb. 2 miles-worth of climb in fact! Now, the infamous barometric altimeter in my Garmin has made this climb look buttery smooth. It really wasn’t. What started out as a broken-tarmac track rapidly became more broken and less tarmaccy, until it was just a track. Not a level one either. However, despite the length of the climb, it was very much runnable and I overtook a number of people ahead of me. Three of us stayed together for much of the climb, with those in front and behind quite a way off. After a bit of changing places I managed to get ahead to try to chase after the next group.

As I approached the highest point (the top of Big Stone) I was not far behind a group of about four runners. Unfortunately for me, their downhill skills were a cut above mine today and they whipped down the other side whilst I seemed to struggle getting grip; strange given I was in my X-Talons which are normally fine. It was a bit of bambi-on-ice-on-a-downhill today for me and it really wasn’t a descent I was proud of. I did however remain upright, so things could have been worse!

Upon reaching the bottom of this first big descent and at about the 3 mile mark at Peep O’ Day, the course took a sharp left onto another farm track which rapidly became a grassy, cambered path. This sort of terrain can be hard work to run on as your legs are essentially having to operate at slightly different lengths. Needless to say, the runner I caught at the top of the big climb passed me on this section. A bit frustrating, but I pushed on and tried to stick with him, which I did until the stream crossing and the start of the second climb.

Famous Grouse Fell Race

Famous Grouse Fell Race

The second climb was a lot less runnable than the first, with a combination of gradient, unlevel ground and a general knackeredness of being 80% into a race. It wasn’t that I was making particularly bad progress, just that he was making better progress. Thankfully this climb was short and it was into the final plunge of a descent for the last mile.

Normally such a descent would be fine for me and I’ve regularly overtaken people at the end of races like this. So I’m not sure what was going on today. I just didn’t feel I had confidence in my grip today. That said, as the path became ever-more less-broken and more-tarmaccy (it was the reverse of the initial climb) I could relax a little more, but I never quite got to the place I wanted to be. The runner in front had gone into another gear and was pulling away and I was more concerned as to if anyone was closing on me. Given the grip- issues and the gradient I certainly wasn’t going to risk looking around, instead just focusing on getting to the bottom of the hill, and to the pub, unscathed.

As I got to the bottom, various spectators were standing in front of the finishing runners which meant for emergency brakes to be applied before splattering into anyone! Someone did shout my official time at me, but I was too busy trying not to collide with anyone, I just heard 46 something. I stopped my watch on 46:23 and it turns out my official time was 1s better at 46m22s.

Race done – thoughts and comments

Although I was very warm now, standing around in shorts and a singlet top at the end of November is not to be recommended, even if the weather is OK-ish. So from there I headed back to the car. I had work to go back to, after all!

All in all, I really enjoyed my day out in the hills this morning. Yes, lots of places to improve on and that’s a matter of practice and (re)-gaining the confidence. I’ll check my shoes to make sure they’re not completely clogged up with anything which might have reduced their grippyness, but I suspect it’s an issue with the user, not the equipment!

At £2 for an organised event, what can I say? That’s less than a cup of coffee if you chose to go to one of those places on the high street! And the photographs were made available in the evening, for free.

I’d love to recommend the race in future years, however as stated above, this could be the swan-song of the Famous Grouse. We’ll have to wait and see. But if it’s back in 2019, it’s well worth a run!

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