The title to this post isn’t strictly accurate. Whilst there are 3 races in the ‘3 Days in May’ I actually only ran two of them. Non-running life gets in the way sometimes!
3 Days in May – carnival time
The 3 Days in May are a set of short fell races starting in the High Peak village of Hayfield, to coincide with the village carnival which happens over the same three days. The three races themselves are a subset of nine races that make up the Hayfield Fell Race Championship.
- May Queen Fell Race (Cat BS) – 3 miles
- Mount Famine Fell Race (Cat AS) – 5 miles
- Lantern Pike Dash (Cat AS) – 1.2 miles
A quick bit of nomenclature
This is to explain a little terminology to those who have no experience of fell races and is a very broad overview. Races are categorised by length with ‘Short’ referring to 10k or less, ‘Medium’ being 10k – 20km and ‘Long’ being anything beyond 20km. In addition the amount of climb per km is also included in the categorisation. Broadly speaking, 20-25m climb/km or less is rated a ‘C’, 25-50m/km a ‘B’ and >50m climb per km is a Category ‘A’.
This is a very broad overview and there are other factors which are included, but you get the gist; a Category A race will have significantly more climb than a Category C race over a similar distance.
May Queen Fell Race
The first race takes place on the Friday evening. It was a gloriously sunny evening and the High Peak looked fabulous. So nothing better than getting out to run!
The race is roughly 3 miles long and consists of running from the Scout Hut in Hayfield up to the top of Lantern Pike via nearby trails, and back again. Getting started was fine with the 2018 May Queen starting the runners off.
There’s often a bit of a scramble at the start of such races as often there are narrow trails to follow (and/or stiles to cross) so those who are faster like to make a quick start to avoid being slowed on these bottleneck sections. As I’m not particularly quick I’m quite relaxed on these sections. Usually I get into a decent groove and all is fine for the ascent.
Except today I had the annoyingly auto-untying shoelace syndrome going on. Half-way up the climb to Lantern Pike I stopped to re-tie it and I think it had untied itself again before I got to the top. Not that it was losing me any time on this section, but there’s plenty of opportunities to trip over without adding some new ones. Unfortunately my brain didn’t seem to want to suggest ‘double knotting’ the lace, which would have helped…….
The decent was not one of my finest attempts. Narrow sheep tracks and high heathers are not my forte and I spent considerable energy slowing myself down so I didn’t fall over, rather than just going with it. A case of more practice required. Oh, and tieing your shoelaces effectively!
Something went a bit wonky with the GPS track on the descent. Essentially it should have been steeper for longer and then a bit of roughly level. Rather than something that appears to involve abseiling…..
Once down off the fell it was onto a rough stony track which I made better progress on because it was on the whole a bit wider. This terrain is still quite technical though making sure you’re not going to trip over anything. But then once reaching something that resembled a driveable track, I was able to find a bit of speed, not that I was going to be catching anyone. In fact I was conscious of another runner on my shoulder all the way down and so I was pushing more to retain my placing.
On reaching the finish funnel I’d somehow managed to shake off that runner and finished in 27m52s and in 37th place (out of 91). It turns out the runner just behind me was the first lady to finish so I figured my run couldn’t have been that bad as there’s some fantastic female runners out there.
Mount Famine Fell Race
The second race is held on the Saturday morning. I must say I hadn’t read too much about the Mount Famine Fell Race other than it being a Cat A event, and my first of that level.
The Saturday morning was hot. Another beautiful day in the High Peak, but not conducive to fast running. Not that this was ever going to involve ‘fast’ in my case.
The event itself was quite an experience; certainly the difficulty had ramped up considerably over night. And whilst there’s plenty of tougher fell races out there, there’s something about doing your ‘first’ toughie!
Unlike any other race I’ve started, there wasn’t an obvious startline. All the runners lined up on the path beneath a steep embankment and as the race started everybody plowed into the embankment, with bracken, thistles and brambles ahead rather than anything that resembled a route. Very quickly it became apparent that for most of us, it was a matter of getting up the incline by whatever means possible!
Upon reaching the upper path we continued our ascent along in somewhat single-file (another bottleneck, or a chance to get your breath back!) before a short and quick descent to a lower path. It was then another steep climb as we headed towards Mount Famine, whose gradient changed from ‘slightly up’ to ‘very up’ throughout. It was at this point I’d glanced at my watch and realised I’d barely covered a mile at this point! The path continued to ascend Mount Famine and most of the people around me were walking now. At it’s steepest points all limbs were deployed to keep moving forward.
The summit was high as it was brief and we were treated to a rare downhill, although it was short-lived. Negotiating a herd of cows at the intersection with a track was interesting before it was another climb to the top of South Head. I’ve run down this way before and it didn’t seem half as steep or long as going up it!
Summit eventually reached and it was a very quick decent on the other side. Almost too quick as I nearly went flying in front of a group of marshals before continuing on the decent into the valley. 2 miles in of a five mile race! I reached the marshal at the bottom and then started the toughest ascent I’ve done in a race to date. It was hot and it was steep. All limbs were in contact with the ground at some point and it appears that at one point I was moving so slowly that Strava assumed that I must be stationary!!!!
There was a little bit of overtaking / being overtaken, but basically everyone around me was moving at a similar crawling pace. The chap in front commented that at the current time in the race, the winners would have just been finishing and it’s hard to believe that such a short distance could take such a long time! But eventually I reached the stile at the top. And whilst it was still heading upwards back up Mount Famine again, the less insane gradient made it feel almost easy!
The last couple of miles were something more akin to running! Some of the footings were a bit more challenging and I had to slow back down but at least once I reached the rocky path at the bottom I felt a lot more comfortable with the running. In fact I took a number of places in the race on this section; others were either slower on their descents or had blown up in the process. There were a couple of near-misses where I tried to take wrong turns but I made it to the finish which was in the same place that the Downfall race finished last month.
I don’t think it’s ever taken me that long to run 5 miles, but the official time was 1h8m15s and 58th place (out of 106 finishers). So for the first fell race, just slipping into the bottom half of the results, but today was very much a learning experience for me. It’s terrain that I’d not tackled before and has provided me with a list of things I need to work into my training. I carried water throughout which I’m pleased I did although perhaps taking an extra gel would have helped give me a little more oompf up the steeper climbs, which were definitely an area to work on!
Here’s the route and profile courtesy of Strava:
The 3rd day?
The final race of the weekend was another AS category race, the Lantern Pike Dash. This 1.2 mile race is a straight up and down of the climb we did on the Friday May Queen event. Just shorter and steeper. Unfortunately due to work and other commitments I was unable to get over to take part and join the 30 other runners who did the full set of races. But to be honest, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Another scorcher of a day with a tough hill on already exhausted legs. Disappointing I couldn’t do all three events, but it’s one I’ll save for another year!
It’s great to have races on your doorstep. Whether it be road races, trail races or fell/mountain races, when you don’t have to factor in travel costs and time in getting there, there is a great appeal. It’s even better when they’re benefiting the local community by bringing in funds to support them. Especially when the cost of each race isn’t far from a drink or two in the bar afterwards.
That said, just because a race is cheap and local doesn’t necessarily make it ‘good’ or ‘easy’. In the Hayfield races, the quality is definitely there. You’re getting something well organised and as you were expecting. Unless you wanted it easy. Whilst there are many tougher races out there, these ones are equally not for the faint hearted. Whilst the May Queen Fell Race is possibly a candidate for your first fell race (it’s well marshaled), Mount Famine is definitely a notch or two higher on the experience scale. I’ll certainly back to do them both, and hopefully the Lantern Pike Dash too. Now I know what the challenge is, I want to see if next time I can make a better job of it! Plenty of room for improvement on both races!