As I mentioned in my previous post, things are a little out of chronological order at the moment, until I’ve caught up on myself!
The Kinder Downfall Fell Race was actually at the back-end of April, on the same day as this year’s Virgin London Marathon. But whilst the runners in London were melting into the tarmac, up in the Peak District things weren’t quite so barmy hot. In fact it was raining!
Kinder Downfall Fell Race
The Kinder Downfall is the name of the waterfall which sits in the bend in the rocks that makes up the Kinder Plateau. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, Kinder is pronounced Kin-der and not as in the adjective for being warm and helpful. The race itself is one of the ‘standards’ of the area and is one of the older races that still goes ahead. At 9.6 miles long, it’s also the longest fell race I’ve competed in to date, although I’ll be back on the mountain next month for the ‘Kinder Trog’ which is longer.
The race itself has a navigation requirement and runners are expected to carry full FRA kit. Even when the weather is decent, things can change very rapidly on mountains and the clag comes down on Kinder at the drop of a hat. In reality when on the mountain whether you’re running, walking or racing, common sense says to make sure you are prepared with waterproofs and a reliable means of navigation.
At 11am all the runners were outside the church in the middle of Hayfield and it was raining pretty enthusiastically! Some of the runners decided they would carry their waterproofs and get wet in the meantime. Others, including me, had their coats on. The forecast wasn’t bad but not great either, and I decided that starting warm and dry was a better option than trying to get re-dressed halfway up a hill!
After a briefing I couldn’t hear we set off up the road, which was the start of the first ascent. The road became and trail but it was wide enough for people to pass each other without incident. Having got onto the trails the terrain leveled out a little. Not flat, but not doing anything steeply.
It was just after the 2 mile point when we reached the bottom of William Clough. This is a rocky ascent crossing and following a stream which is headed towards the reservoir below. I’m sure some of the fastest runners bounded up this like goats on springs. However I possess neither super-power (can being a goat be a super-power?) and as such my ascent was inelegant, to use candid diplomacy in my description! It certainly contained minimal running and a lot of quick decisions about where feet were going. I was conscious there were people behind me so I didn’t want to slow them down any more than necessary.
The first part of the ascent was about a mile in length with the latter section being cut-out steps in the rock. Some runners decided to run up the edge of this but I decided that steps were good for me. At the turn here was Check Point 1 and I realised I was going to have to shout my number as my waterproof had superglued itself to me! You see it was no longer raining but it was hot work scrambling up the ascent and as such the outer was dry, the inner was not!
Kinder Plateau – but not flat-eau
The ascent continued for a final sharp gradient and we were finally on the Kinder Plateau. Now from a profile view, this looks a lot less technical than it is in practice. Whilst there’s minimal gradient, the surface is broken-up gritstone. So rather than running on the level, you are in fact bouncing boulder to boulder whilst trying not to remove skin from arms against other bits of protruding gritstone.
A group of us followed in quick succession as the path itself was narrow with only a few passing places. One lad kept disappearing off on his own routes through the gritstone although it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference as he never broke away. After some time we finally reached the Downfall itself which was a case of planting feet carefully on stepping stones across the water to reach the other side (it’s not huge). I’m pretty sure Check Point 2 was a little further along here somewhere!
I’m not sure if the group dropped back or if they’d gone off ahead but for the next mile or so I was following one other runner trying to get the best route to avoid injury or embarrassment. We passed the Kinder Mountain Rescue Team volunteers along the Plateau and of whom were very cheery until we reached the section where I’m informed lots of people go wrong. Clearly the organisers had got wind of this and decided to flag the correct route, which certainly helped keeping us on the straight (ish) and narrow (definitely). A few more climbs and we passed near the trig point of the mountain and began the descent.
What goes up must come down
The difficulty with descents is that things happen very quickly. It was noticeable at the end of the race the number of people carrying war-wounds from the day, mostly it seems due to them using their faces as a means of braking…….. The descent started on stone flagging which was quick but always with the risk of slipping as they were still wet from the heavy rain which had since cleared up. I overtook the chap I was following earlier and found some other runners ahead during which time we all overtook each other several times. As the flags eased up we hit Check Point 3 at Edale Cross and ready for the fun to begin.
The next section of the descent I’m sure was the bit that most of the injuries came from. A very uneven rocky descent, leaving almost no decision time as to where to point feet next. Somehow (and unusually for me) I stayed upright. This section then took us down to where the fields began. The first field was cambered which is a nightmare to run on. Basically you need one leg shorter than the other to be able to run on this surface with any comfort. But after that the fields became level under foot and a very rapid downhill ensued. I started overtaking people, mainly because I couldn’t stop! The oncoming stile was a bit concerning but I managed to stop just before it; interestingly judging by the amount of blood on it I suspect someone else didn’t stop……..
Who moved the finish?
By now I was flying and was looking forward to crossing the finish line. Except the finish line didn’t come. Trail turned to tarmac and no end was in sight. We then turned to run through the campsite and I realised that my eagerness with speed was a bit premature. I probably had a mile further to keep this pace up else all those I’d overtaken would pass me again!
From the campsite came another road and a crowd of people. The finish? Well, no. Just a group of people telling you to turn right! Aaaaargh! However, having done that we entered a play park area and the finish line was in sight. At least once we’d woven our way around the final section of the course. But finally I was home in 1h37m37s. Not a stellar time to run less than 10 miles, but with 2000ft of ascent thrown in, I was happy with that. Not least because I was still intact, although my clothing was soaked due to wearing a waterproof throughout the race!
The Kinder Downfall was certainly my toughest fell race to date. Simply due to the frantic negotiation of the terrain whilst still trying to run as hard as I could. But despite the lack of plaudits that one would receive after a commercial road race, that feeling of achievement was far greater. I’d taken on an iconic race and managed to make a reasonable job of it! It’s one I’d certainly recommend, but not as you’re first fell race. Go for something shorter and less technical before taking on something as physical as this.
Sadly very little in the way of photography as the camera on the course missed me!