Borrowdale Fell Race
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Borrowdale is a classic long Lake District fell race starting and finishing in the village of Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale valley. At approximately 17 miles and a total of 6500 feet of ascent (27km, 2000m) across some of Englandʼs roughest terrain and its highest peak, Scafell Pike, it is also one of the toughest fell races that we run.
This year only three Cambridge Harriers participated, Clem Dixon, Tarbo Fukuzawa and Christian Poulton, with stalwart Ian Marshall unfortunately having to pull out at the last minute due to a recently sustained training injury.
After Tarbo having been singled out for a compulsory kit check due to his minimal sausage waist pack, 350 runners (only 237 eventually finished!) shuffled forward, and following a short word from the race director, we were off. I took up my place next to Clem Dixon, keen to take it easy along the valley and through the farms before the tough climbs begin owing to my own recent injury. Tarbo powered ahead of us and that was the last we saw of him.
The first climb is a heads down, hands on knees march up an incredibly steep slope to the first peak and checkpoint at BessyBoot. The summit seems to take an age to reach, but once there the next section is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Itʼs surprisingly boggy in parts and there is a real danger of being sucked in up to your waist, which both Clem and I succumbed to early on.
The second checkpoint is at Esk Hause and from here you join the hoards of walkers making their way to the summit of Scafell Pike. The most direct route is off the well-worn path and straight up across rocky ground however. Over a boulder field towards Scafell, thereʼs a steep drop then a solid climb up to the summit checkpoint which was teaming with walkers. From here the real fun part of the race begins – the direct drop down the scree slope to what is termed the Corridor route. Itʼs incredibly tough and quite dangerous to those below due to dislodged rocks that roll down the steep slope. Once at the bottom, Clem and I had the satisfaction of smugly running past other runners who had to take the time to empty their shoes which had filled with stones on the descent since we both had the foresight to be wearing trail gaiters.
The next checkpoint at Styhead Tarn Clem and I tried to make as quickly as possible since here is the first point where you can be timed out. The problem with this one is that youʼre still at around 500 metres above sea level and around 2 miles of rough ground from the nearest road so itʼs not a good place to be dragged off the course!
Taking the runners line off the Corridor route, we made it to the checkpoint with plenty of time to spare, grabbed a few jelly babies from a marshal and set off for the very steep and unrelenting climb to the summit of Great Gable. Both Clem and I are good hill climbers so we made good progress up the unrelenting slope, passing a few other runners and eventually, after what seemed an age, reached the summit and checkpoint, dibbed our dabbers and made off across open ground to Grey Knotts for a direct descent to Honister Slate mine.
Sounds easy, but increasing fatigue played a trick on us and instead of taking the path that would have led to the right of Grey Knott, we took the line that swung us out left. Luckily we caught sight of a local club runner and attempted to follow her as best we could, not being able to match her speed and agility in descent. However we made the descent off the high ground down the grassy slopes to the path that led back down to the slate mine and the Honister checkpoint. This is the second point on the course where you can be timed out, but again Clem and I had plenty of time to spare so no need to worry. Grabbing a few mouthfuls of water we then began the last ascent up to Dale Head with its numerous false summits. Clem and I both knew that Dale Head was 750m above sea level and had set our Garmin watches accordingly so this was no surprise to us and we managed a good steady climb up to the final checkpoint and our descent back down to the finish.
A steep and rocky ascent through Rigghead slate quarry and then you follow a marked route across farmland with the finish field visible in the distance below you to spur you on.
Clem and I ran at a steady pace towards the finish without any heroic sprint finishes to find Tarbo lounging on his back on the grass having already consumed the free sandwiches and tea on offer. We were almost an hour behind him!
1st Ricky Lightfoot MSEN 03:03:57 35th Majka Kunicka WSEN 04:00:05 81st Tarbo Fukuzawa MSEN 04:21:01 181st= Clem Dixon M50 05:12:25 181st= Christian Poulton M50 05:12:25