Committed athlete Tom Addison notched the biggest win of his off-road running career with victory in the opening 2014 FRA English Championship race at Pendle. In this blog, Tom writes about how he had to push his body to the limit to beat a field stacked with England’s best mountain running talent.
Pendle has always been one of my favourite races. I won my first ever FRA English Junior Championship race there as an under-16 in 2005 and four years later won the senior race.
When it was announced that this year Pendle was to be the first counter in the FRA English Championship, I knew it was a really good opportunity for me to make my mark.
Going into the race, and having never won an English Championship race as a senior, I was determined to give it absolutely everything in a bid to break my duck.
With a good winter’s training and a confidence-boosting win at Middle Fell last month under my belt, I took to the start line feeling better than ever.
I was also unbelievably fired-up after the disappointment of the previous weekend when, in the opening race of the British Championship in Ireland, I got completely disorientated in the Donard Challenge mist and was subsequently disqualified for missing a checkpoint. It’s definitely an understatement to say I was out to make amends at Pendle.
The pace was fast from the off, though that was always going to be the case given the strength of the field. It was like a who’s-who of fell running. All the top lads were there -and they all had their race faces on.
I wanted to be towards the fore right from the start so I got myself in the lead group as we ran up the opening road section. I knew the 7.3km course suited me, so I had to make the most of the opportunity.
As we left the road and started on the first real climb of the day, I looked around to see who was there. Sure enough it was all the big-hitters, including Morgan Donnelly, Simon Bailey, Rob Hope, Tom Adams and Rob Jebb. This was going to be one hell of a race.
Morgan pushed on at the front and upped the pace again. I knew I couldn’t let him, so I gritted my teeth and hung on.
As we started on the fell-side proper my legs were burning. Yes they were already tired, but the adrenalin pumping through my body was unbelievable. This helped me put any pain to the back of my mind and I decided to go to the front and really push on.
In the past it has never been me who has dictated things in such a big race but I just felt that maybe this was my time. I hit the front and kicked-on. I was running hard, really pushing myself, and seemed to be having both good and bad patches. Every time I had a good patch, I pushed hard again. A few gaps started to open.
I know how strong lads like Simon, Rob Hope and Rob Jebb are, and obviously they have a lot more experience than me in winning big championship races, so I just kept going as fast as I could. It was really intense, but, at the same time, I found myself thriving off such a full-on battle.
As we crested the first climb and began the descent down to the foot of the ‘Big End’ there was a group of four on the front -me, Rob Hope, Simon and Tom Adams.
I was still on the front and didn’t want to give anyone any respite, so I really made it hurt on the descent. It was my big move to try and break clear.
Rob Hope, however, was in no mood to let me go and as soon as we rounded the corner to start the steepest climb of the race he took the lead.
The Big End is basically five to six minutes of pure hurt. It’s too steep to run and in April-time you can expect it to be pretty damn muddy too.
So with my hands on my knees, I walked like my life depended on it, desperately hanging onto Rob.
The lactic in my legs was insane but I knew I couldn’t let Rob go. Had I done so, I honestly don’t think I would have seen him again.
Rounding the summit of Pendle Hill neck-and-neck, we started the long, final descent. It was fast and furious stuff as we hurtled at break-neck speed down the fell-side, the lead swapping hands several times.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Simon, who is also an inov-8 athlete, appeared on my shoulder. Where the hell had he come from? I didn’t have time to think about such things as Simon was going even quicker than Rob and I! In an instant the pace increased yet again to a gear I didn’t know I had in my locker.
This was it. The race was seriously on. It was going to be a case of who wanted it most.
Onto the road again, the three of us remained side-by-side. Had we raced back down the road the same way we had earlier gone up, I don’t know what would have happened, but this year the course had a sting in tail, with a small incline before four really muddy fields to the finish line.
On the small incline, I dug really deep. It was now or never time. I kicked hard and opened up a 10/15m gap. The thick mud sapped that last bits of energy I had left in the tank, but again the adrenalin helped me forget about the pain.
Those last four fields were like a really muddy cross-country course. It was hurting. A lot. All I wanted to see was the finish line.
Entering the last field I looked around to see I had about a 20-25m lead over Rob, who was chasing hard. That last field featured a steep bit of downhill and two really sharp bends. The grip underneath my X-Talon 190 shoes gave me the confidence to attack the muddy corners. I was thankful to have them on my feet. Had I slipped and fallen Rob would have been past me in a shot and my dream would have become a nightmare.
Rounding that last corner, I sprinted for the finish line and almost immediately it dawned on me what I had achieved.
It’s a big relief to have a first English Championship win to my name and a real confidence-booster going forward into the second race of the championship at Coniston next month.
It was also great that fellow inov-8 athlete Victoria Wilkinson won the women’s race at Penlde as, like me, she had a nightmare in the mist at the opening British Championship event.