An impressive total of 10 Wigan Harriers vests were on display in Grasmere this weekend as our runners travelled to Cumbria to take part in the famous Gallop. Perhaps for accuracy the Gallop should be in the plural, as the event has now expanded to offer 5k and 17k races to complement the original 10k. Harriers had competitors covering all 3 distances under the blue skies and baking heat of a glorious June day.
After extensive use of the toilet facilitates our apparently nervous competitors set off for the customary warm up in conditions that barely warranted it. Sun tan lotion was the order of the day as the thin covering of clouds parted and temperatures began to climb.
All 3 races, plus Nordic walking events set off at the same time after mustering on the playing fields and being led through town by a lone piper. The advice from those who have previously tackled the 10k course was to go steady on the initial climbs towards Loughrigg terrace as a fast start would cost dearly later in the race. This was to prove even truer over the newly extended 17k event.
Over 250 hundred runners in total went on their way as the hooter sounded bang on 11am. Dave Waddington, Mike Harris and Darren Jackson lead the way for Harriers followed by Jacqui Jones and Julie Platt. Graham Millington and Gary Wane were the last of the 17k Harriers ahead of Nina Fisher and David Newsham contesting the 10k, and junior star Charlotte Newsham taking on the 5k event.
Whatever the distance all the competitors had to take on the testing climb out of Grasmere along the Red Bank road. It wasn’t difficult to fathom why this stretch of tarmac is locally famous as a clutch killer for unsuspecting tourists. The road twists, turns and takes the energy out of eager legs before the route diverts to softer trails through the woods. Any respite afforded by the shade of the trees was cancelled about by the even steeper climbs towards the open fellside. The 5k race darts off to the left at this point with a few speedy youngsters having outpaced the seniors now dropping off on the return to Grasmere.
Harriers swapped a few places before breaking out onto the rough rocky paths above the lake. With a gentle downhill trend this section offered the chance of a bit of speed tempered by the trickiness of the terrain. A wrongly placed foot would have ended in disaster. With eyes firmly fixed on the squirming trail ahead most runners would have missed the splendour of the surrounding fells now bathed in glorious sunshine. The path passes the famous caves before plunging down a treacherous shale switchback. The loose detritus underfoot claimed Jacqui Jones here with a couple of minor warning twinges in her knee finally translating into a sharp pain that signalled the end of her race.
Luckily for Jacqui the 17k and 10k routes split at this point, with the shorter event turning back along Rydal lake towards Grasmere. Jacqui, Nina and David now made their way along the shores of Rydal and had the classic route choice to make at the big boulder: its either the direct, fast route with a calf deep plunge through the lake itself, or a longer scramble up and over the boulder. Nina chose the climbers route and kept her feet dry! A little further on the race hits the pebbled beach at the foot of Grasmere lake where at least one runner was seen to deviate from the route and plunge headlong into the cooling waters!
As the 10k race headed for home the 17k runners were on tarmac again on the roller coaster route towards Ambleside. The pace quickens as the road bottoms out near Pelter Bridge with a flat run in to the climb over Loughrigg Fell. This is where the pain really began with all but the hardiest of fell conditioned runners forced to a speed hike up the initial twists of tarmac up the fell. Darren Jackson and Graham Millington paced each other up the lane before exchanging places as the hellish incline leavened off in time to turn back into tricky broken rock. For those of our runners taking part in the Lakeland 50 this is familiar territory as the route of that monster event also passes over the fell at this point.
Dave Waddington was still setting the pace as first Harriers and threw caution to the wind on the descent from Loughrigg letting gravity do its best as he careered down the hillside. After safely negotiating the treacherous rock paths so far, Graham Millington was brought to his knees along the shores of Loughrigg Tarn after tripping over a loose dog. Getting up and carrying on Graham was a little vexed that the dog remained loose and continued to harassing him, prompting a short exchange of Anglo Saxon with the owner. Luckily for dog and owner well known animal lover Gary Wane wasn’t similarly harassed or it may have ended even less pleasantly!
All our runners report taking full advantage of the water stations en route with most going for the 2 cup strategy of one for drinking and one for the head!
From here the runners are soon back on familiar ground as the race loops along the terrace above the lake. This time runners take a sharp turn and plunge down a steep, narrow path down to the lake itself to join the last few kilometres of the 10k route. Shouted warnings were needed as runners began to encounter 10k Nordic walkers strolling two abreast and unaware of the rapidly advancing presence of downhill runners. Team Millington had chosen to position themselves along this stretch and shouted encouragement to every red and black vest that passed. Darren Jackson even found time for a brief exchange with his neighbours who happened to be out for a stroll by sheer coincidence and spotted him dashing past.
With smiles for the photographer it was just the final 2.5 miles back along the lake shores with one final climb to go. The marshals on the last gate turned down Grahams request to close it after he passed! The final couple of kilomteres seemed to take an unreasonable amount of time to cover with the final lap of the field a cruel twist at the end of a testing course. Nina Fisher reported a competitor overtaking her with a last sprint for the line only to realize as her legs tied up and Nina coasted past that the finish was another half a field away! Nina claimed 59th place in the 10k in 56:07 with fellow runner David Newsham coming home in 1:03:33 for 115th
Dave and Mike were on the line along with the other of half of Team Wane taking finishing snaps, (or should that be other 2 thirds since the happy news?). Dave Waddington had finished in a superb 12th place overall (in 1:17:58), but with such quality opposition in his age group was still only 5th V40. Mike Harris came home a strong 17th in a time of 1:22:52, with Graham Millington belying his twisted ankle from the previous week to finish 3rd Harrier in 1:27 and 22nd place overall. Gary Wane show-boated his way over the line in 27th place (1:28:08) having come out on top in a last lap battle with a fellow runner. Julie Platt bagged 5th lady overall and just missed out on an age category placing in 1:30:30 for 32nd place overall and Darren Jackson completed the team in a solid 33rd place despite not having enjoyed the conditions and terrain at all in 1:31:27!
Despite some sterling performances the run of the day belonged to rising star Charlotte Newsham who flew round the 5k course to bring honour to the club with 1st lady and 2nd place overall in 24:34. This was a tremendous effort over a very tough course in draining heat and Charlotte got a rousing cheer .
Those runners able to hang around in Grasmere after the races celebrated a grand day out in the only acceptable manner in the beer garden at Tweedies bar. The contingent of runners staying over in Grasmere took those celebrations on so late into the evening that Mr Millington was warned by text at 1.15am that the next days ultra-training run was unlikely to happen. It’s probably for the best if full details never emerge but a good weekend was had by all! This is the second successive year that Harriers have targeted the event and despite a course universally described as “brutal” it is likely we will be back for more next year!