Steve Birkinshaw – Old County Tops Fell Race

The Old County Tops is a classic 37miles/ 10,000ft route that starts in Langdale and goes up Helvellyn, Scafell pike and the Old Man of Coniston (the traditional county tops of  Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire).

It is run in pairs with over 100 teams competing this year. I was racing with Tom Gibbs who I have run with and against in Fell Races and Adventure Races for the past 15 years.  I thought it would be ideal training for the Dragons Back, although in the Dragons Back Race it will be 5 days in a row not a single day.

The race started steadily and, as expected, it was clear it would be a battle between three teams for the win, with Andrew (Scoffer) Schofield and Rob Jebb, and Chris near and Tim Higgingbottom all looking strong.

The snow on Helvellyn was a bit of a surprise and with a cold wind I was happy to get off there and down to Thirlmere. There is then a long and generally gradual climb to Scafell Pike – Scoffer and Rob got a slight lead followed by me and Tom with Chris and Tim close behind. But by the time we reached Cockley Beck (after the descent from Scafell Pike) for the final big climb up Coniston Old Man we were all together.

I pushed hard up the climb and we managed to drop Tim and Chris. On the long ridge out to Coniston Old Man, Tom was suddenly really strong and we got a lead on Scoffer and Rob. By the time we had reached the 3 Shire Stone on the long descent we were out of sight. Tom was cramping up badly on the route round Blea Tarn and back into Langdale but we carried out strongly and finished first in 7 hours 3 minutes, followed by Chris and Tim 7 minutes later and Scoffer and Rob ten minutes after that. It was a great day out, a really well organised race and it is good to be racing all the way.

I was going strongly all day and this has given me confidence for the Dragons Back. However, I am worried that my knee has swollen up a bit. I think it will be fine after a few days rest. But on the Dragons Back resting after one day is definitely not possible. Anyone doing the race will have to do the Old Counties Tops sort of distance and climb for five days in a row, this is going to be impossible with a knee that swells up after only one day.

The Dragons Back will be a very tough race.

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