Our athlete Oli Johnson reflects on his victory in the brutal 37km (2290m elevation) Ennerdale mountain race
After a couple of weeks off racing I was itching to get going, and Ennerdale presented the perfect opportunity.
A warm, clear day meant that the race was a real treat with awesome views to be had – when you remembered to steal a glance up from the rocky ground!
I first ran the race last year, when I came second to Rhys Findlay-Robinson. Unable to close a two-minute deficit that Rhys gained on the first climb, I shadowed him all the way round the 37km course, which takes in the summits of several of England’s highest and toughest mountains.
Determined not to make the same mistake again, and more confident in my fitness, I set off more assertively this time around and pulled out a gap on the chasing pack by the first checkpoint at Great Bourne.
I pushed on over the next runnable section to Red Pike, which is where the route really gets interesting with full-on technical and rocky ground all the way around the head of the valley. My x-talons 190 shoes revelled over this section. They were, as always, light and agressive. Perfect.
I knew that Kim Collison and Pete Vale, both experienced runners on this route, were hot on my heels, so I was running scared over Haystacks and onto Green Gable.
When I reached the halfway point at Green Gable, however, I looked back to see that I had opened up a decent-sized gap. From there on it was all about not doing anything silly and looking after myself to avoid blowing up.
I relaxed into the race and filled up on food and drink – probably a bit too much as I ran out of water on the way up Pillar, with still almost an hour to go to the finish! Fortunately the marshals had done a great job in lugging water up to the checkpoints, which meant there was the odd gulp here and there to be had on the run back. This kept me going on what was an increasingly hot afternoon.
It’s a great feeling to be out in front on a classic race like Ennerdale, but you can never underestimate the route. It presents plenty of obstacles all the way to the end; be it the slog up Haycock, the drag up Iron Crag, a forest full of brashings or the cramp-inducing sting in the tail up Crag Hill.
I made it into the finish in one piece where I was welcomed with a handshake and some kind words from fell running legend Joss Naylor – a good enough prize in itself.
Ennerdale has certainly become a firm favourite of mine and I’m looking forward to trying to improve my time against a championship field next year.
This was a good fitness test ahead of some tough races over the next few months, including the English Championship race at Wasdale (34km, 2750m elevation). Time to start doing some homework…