Having won two of the opening three races in the 2014 English Fell Running Championship, our athlete Tom Addison went into the fourth event, Kentmere Horseshoe, as the man to beat. With pressure and expectation high, the 24-year-old knew he had to deliver. And deliver he certainly did, emphatically winning the 20km race, which includes 1006m of ascent, by a two-and-a-half minute margin. In his latest inov-8 blog, Tom, whose coming-of-age wins at Pendle and Coniston were his first-ever in the English Championship, writes about his Kentmere victory.
I was really nervous in the build-up to Kentmere as I knew it was set-up as a showdown between Rob Hope and I. We’ve been battling against each other all season, with Rob winning the third counter at Ennerdale (Tom didn’t run Ennerdale) and finishing just behind me at Pendle and Coniston, both after sprint finishes. I knew I had to do everything I could to win Kentmere and boost my points ahead of the final two championship races at Sedbergh Hills and Hodder Valley (a runner’s final points score is calculated from his/her best four results).
Rob took it on early as we started on the rocky path up Garburn Pass. I was just happy to sit in. I wasn’t feeling too great up Garburn. After racing at the European Mountain Running Championships in France the previous weekend (Tom placed 15th), my legs felt a bit jaded.
Just before we left Garburn and headed onto the steep climb through the bracken I took the lead. Not for long though. My inov-8 teammate Morgan Donnelly soon took over on the front. Morgan set a really strong pace on the upper section of the climb – not bad having finished in a brilliant 5th place at the International Snowdon Race the day before!
So hot were the conditions that it felt like an oven on that climb. The sun was really beating down on our backs and, while still feeling jaded, I also knew I had to remain cautious at such an early stage.
As the gradient eased I took the opportunity to hit the front. With a long, fast, runnable section ahead of us, I began to push the pace. Rob, as expected, came with me. Soon the two of us were away from the rest. Now it really was showdown time!
Traversing around the summit of Yoke I managed to open a small gap on Rob. I looked back and realised, although still early in the race, this was an opportunity to make a real move. We hit the bottom of the climb up to Ill Bell and I went for it. My legs, suddenly, seemed to click into place. I had a real spring in my step as I bounced towards the summit and the first checkpoint. It sounds strange, I know, but the harder I ran the better my legs felt… so naturally I gave them hell!
On reaching the summit and its multitude of large cairns I looked back and figured my gap over Rob was about 30 seconds.
Rob is not the type of runner to give up and I knew he would chase me hard on the climb up to High Street, the highest point on the race route at 828m and checkpoint number two.
With this in mind I upped the pace once again. This long, runnable section really suits me, and I knew I had to make it count. Running beside the wall to the summit, I really made it hurt. This was always going to be a key section of the race for me. Rounding the trig point on the summit I saw my gap over Rob had increased to around a minute, maybe more. That was the last time I looked around. After that I just focused on getting back over last third of the race as fast as possible.
Having run round the course lots of times in the months building up to the race, I felt confident in my navigation – made easy on the day thanks to the weather – and in terms of pacing myself. On previous recce runs with training partners Mark Addison and Rob Jebb, we had put in a big extra climb by dropping down into the next valley over – Longsleddle – before returning back up onto the race route near Kentmere Pike. By doing this extra mileage and ascent, I had hoped that when it came to race day that the course would feel shorter. It did, but it certainly didn’t feel any easier!
Leaving High Street behind I attacked the descent into Nan Bield Pass. After that came the final two relatively small climbs, first up Harter Fell and then Kentmere Pike. Having done a lot of fast trail and mountain races this year I felt there was real speed in my legs and I used this to my advantage on these final two climbs. I pushed hard all the way to the third and final checkpoint on Kentmere Pike before, suddenly, my legs decided they’d had enough! That final descent back off Kentmere Pike over the technical, stony path into the valley bottom was so tough. I seemed to loose coordination, obviously paying the price for hammering it so hard over the rest of the course. I eased the pace back and took care over the technical ground, before hitting the main path along the valley floor to the finish.
I must admit, it was nice to run into the finish on my own and not have a sprint finish, like at Pendle and Coniston. I had nothing at all left in my legs, so I don’t think they could have handled a sprint finish on this occasion!
It was also nice knowing I had stamped my authority on a championship race and been brave enough to take it on out front on my own. It’s the first time I’ve done that, and it felt great. Yes, it brings more pressure, but running on my own, knowing I was in front, gave me real confidence.
Next up is Sedbergh Hills (22.5km/1830m ascent). It’s a race, which like Kentmere, is fairly near my home in Kendal and one I’m really looking forward too. I will be on the same hills the week before too, for the World Mountain Running Championship Trial Race. It’s all very exciting but at the same time I need to make sure I keep doing the things I’m doing. If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it!