So I thought I'd collectively answer the few texts and messages I've received from Saturday's paired leg with Pete on the British Fell Relays navigational leg 3 :
"What was it like nav'ing with the Master?"
"Good day exploring with Pete?"
"I heard Pete got lost - is this true?!" ....... Read on.
I've wanted to do the Fell Relays for the last two years but not made the Teams. It’s a great privilege in my opinion to be representing the Club in such a National, prestigious race so to be coupled on the navigating leg with the Navigate Master was a cherry on the cake.
The unknowns of a navigating leg made for all the joys of preparation in the few days before:
Rox: "What distance are you running?"
Rox: "How long are you out for?"
Rox: "Well how long do you know the day lasts??"
Me: "No idea"
Rox: "What time are you setting off?"
Me: "Ah... 10am."
Pete promptly arrived and a lovely drive to the Lakes with the usual traffic and all the tension of a 'relay start' .... somehow two hours before mass start never quite seems enough as you stand, staring into the horizon for Clubmates to appear.
A short while after the start (a few hundred metres) you’re handed the map. Now this was quite disorientating to start with, I couldn't see straight away where we started from (Brain: “...big red triangle, Jamie”.... Oh ya, fanks).
The route to CP1 seemed fairly straightforward whether you were East or West of the Greenhead Gill. Again I was a bit disorientated already at how quickly we arrived at CP1, I expected at least twice the distance, so straight-away I started to try and figure this in my head.
Pete was very keen on ‘shared responsibility’ for the navigating so a quick natter of initial route to CP2 and we set on traversing along the low hills of Heron Pike (Pete: “No point climbing if we don’t need to” … he has a point).
I thought I’d take a bit of a lead but took a little bit of figuring out location/distance/direction… a path was marked up with red flags which I mistook to be the boundary when it turns out this was flagging for Leg 4. We found ourselves unknowingly at Alcock Tarn which at the time I couldn’t see on the map. We head off in the general correct direction which I thought was North, only to be told by Pete we were heading East… “Eh….?!” I check my GPS compass (I checked, its allowed) and he’s right.
It’s strange how I could go from fairly sure on the location and direction to almost lost in the wilderness. I’ve always found myself to be fairly competent looking at a map and orienteering myself off sight and without a compass but goes to show how ‘featureless’ this crag-filled, tarn-covered hilly scenery can be.
Equally, seeing people run in different directions - whether they be route choices on nav leg, leg 2 runners or early leg 4 runners - makes you question your thoughts and there’s an overwhelming instinct to follow them. A few checks of features and direction and we were back on track to CP2 (with a few following us).
After CP2, Pete’s expertise really came into play. A brief natter about route to CP3, he suggested a straight line over the tussocks rather than a meandering traily path along Rydal Beck, and I was all for it. Whilst pace is similar to those around us, you can see from the screenshot and Strava fly-by how advantageous this was. Edit: to add how good this line was, we timed 39th on CP2-3 section.
It was about a 1.5km run up and I had a few glances at the map to CP4. After dibbing CP3, we’d have to either trek up the big hills of Rydal Fell or…. Actually there was no ‘or’ dammit. Some very clever course planning meant no matter what option, you had to make your up it.
So up we go with the surrounding others equally complaining. A couple of different route options ultimately to the top of the hill - a couple choosing a line up a dried gill, me choosing hands and knees option, I think Pete had found an escalator as he seemed to ascend heavenly-like with ease.
Another moment of Pete-brilliance as he explains we’d continue a bit further up Great Rigg to avoid descending into the rocky crags on the West face on the way down and keep it runnable. Good plan.
At the top whilst the legs came to, I had a brief look at the map, figured it was another 1km straight on up Great Rigg - hang on, we’re orienteering here, Army vernacular - 1 klick North (*fistpump* yeah) before we deviate off the hill. I clocked this distance on my GPS watch (I checked, it’s allowed) and the km was soon up. Runners were peeling off left down Great Rigg, into the clag; impulse to follow comes and goes. “Shall we turn off” I asked, “Not yet” Pete replied and we duly continue up. My calves were feeling every bit of climb from the steep ups, “Shall we peel off Pete?”, “Climb a bit more” comes the reply. The bit more went by and sure enough, he’s off left down the hill.
A real slip-sliding descent down, grabbing anything I could for a few more points of contact and we were nearing the bottom. I can see what Pete meant, doing that with rocky underfoot would’ve been a damn sight more restricting on the pace.
The path traversing around Great Tongue mid-way up was fairly obvious choice. We press on with little discussion… the Royal ‘We’ as Pete pressed on whilst I had a little moan about calves hurting, shoes retying and general fatigue. We’d done about 8km at this point, get a grip lad!
Traversing around, the clag cleared and I could see the tremendous valley in front and the hills of Seat Sandal further ahead. “Control point is in this Valley, isn’t it Pete?” This was me checking but also asking “Please don’t tell me we have to go up that!”
CP4 was a ‘stream path junction’ somewhere along Little Tongue Gill. You could see runners from every direction making their way into the valley, trying to find the small orange & white box in the middle of the ferns, some heading North, some heading South and us heading West. Another moment of Pete’s brilliance as the control point magically appears out of nowhere, 10m in front of us.
It hit me how good it was to see him work. This stint was set up from the moment we hit the top of ridge on Rydal Fells…he’d planned the route off Great Rigg from the elevation rather than the distance; this setup the traverse along Great Tongue and then the descent down the valley to the control point, all whilst running at great pace. Master at work!
The route back to the finish was straightforward, made hard work with keeping up with and ahead of a small group of four - reminding myself this is a race.
We finish in a fantastic 1hr 43, mere seconds from some big A-teams of the day, and some great orienteering lessons learned in the process. Thanks Pete!