The Bowstones Fell Race follows a route through Lyme Park which is very much my stomping ground. It’s also a very popular event and unlike many fell races, sells out within a couple of days of opening. And as it occurs on New Year’s Eve, it’s generally the last race of the year!
The registration to book a place was done through the Fikket electronic booking system. As mentioned, it sold out within the weekend the places were made available. Bramhall Runners, who organise the race, decided this year to restrict transfers to a very specific window and any transferee had to pay for their ticket without the transferer getting a refund. This approach was explained to reduce the amount of admin and highlighted that the profits were going to charity anyway so essentially everyone ‘won’. In practice, at £7.50 for race entry, this wasn’t an issue for people. Whether or not the admin was any more straightforward I don’t know!
The race is roughly 11km with over 1000ft of climb. Effectively there are three main hills plus a bit of undulation towards the end. Here’s the route and profile:
The first two climbs were relatively short with the third one which takes the Gritstone Trail from deep within Lyme Park up to Bowstones Gate (the top edge of Lyme Park itself) being the main climb.
I’ve had a few problems again with my calves and heels which is something I’m having to monitor closely. Last time I had these issues I wrote off many months through injury, which is something I’m keen to avoid repeating. During the first couple of miles, the heels were a bit sore, but they subsequently seemed to calm down. Whether that was them warming up or that it was my body just ignoring the pain information I’m not sure. I’ll be revisiting the physio in the new year to get them checked over all the same.
As with many of my fell races, I tend to start off mid-pack at the beginning. It’s a bit annoying having to dodge around people slower who are in front, but it does suit me to start a little slower and get into my pace, rather than risking going out too quick. Aside from that, there were team photographs needing to be taken!
Anyone would think it was cold with all those layers on! As usual I decided that I would overheat the minute I started running and therefore went for minimal clothing!
I soon got into the rhythm of the race and the first two climbs didn’t pose any issues at all. Things were a little annoying going into Knightslow Woods where there is a stile, and thus things queued up a bit. Things weren’t helped with other park users wanting to cross the stile in the other direction. Unfortunately (from a race point of view) the route isn’t ‘closed’ and whilst we just suffered the moanings of dog walkers who were being delayed, I think it did result in a sizeable queue to cross the stile further back. Not a problem when you’re not racing for a time, but it can be a bit frustrating.
By the time I got to ‘The Beast’ (that’s what it’s called on Strava, so it must be true), the big climb from Knightslow Wood to Bowstones Gate, I was feeling a bit of my earlier pace. I ran-walked this section, although seeing our huge Dennis the Menace mascot at the top was a huge benefit. One high-5 later and I was almost at the top of Higher Moor, ready to begin the descent.
Unlike some of the races I’ve done, the descents on this course are relatively untechnical. Mostly grassy downhills with a few lumpy bits, but nothing more than that. And unlike my previous attempt at the race in 2015, I managed to do all of the descents upright, with no sliding down face-first or anything. So that was a result. There was a little bit of position changing between the runners around me at the time, but we were all going roughly at the same pace.
Having looped around the Cage and headed around the back of the car park, there is one short final climb. It was interesting to see a number of the runners around me crumble on this; it’s not that it’s especially tough (it’s not!) but at the tail end of a hilly race, if you’ve given it full-throttle already, it’s a climb too far. I made up about half a dozen places here and then focused on the remainder of the course hoping I wouldn’t be overtaken again! The complication in these latter stages comes in the form of 3 cattle-grids which I have to take very slowly as otherwise I’ll trip and break something! I survived and finished 54th overall in a time of 51m34s which was a couple of minutes quicker than in 2015.
I enjoyed my race today. It was a no-drama run with no specific agenda which meant it was a relaxed affair. Coupled with the lack of travelling to get there it was all the more sweet.
Bowstones is a very straightforward fell race, and a good one to start with if you’ve never raced off-road before. Good because it’s untechnical and there’s no navigational requirement (or risk of getting lost). It’s not the cheapest fell race though, although some of the costs are for using a race-timing/management company. That said it does raise money for charity so it’s all good. And the photos taken on the course were made available for free by the photographer, JP Kearns.