Many may have been wondering why Felix McGrath, one of the club’s most successful and progressive runners during the long pandemic has been conspicuous by his absence in results recently.
Far from taking a break from training he has been powering relentlessly up and down Nightingale Valley and over our neighbouring Mendip Hills in pursuit of making his mark at the top level in his first love fell and mountain running.
Following two convincing victories in minor Welsh fell races in the Brecon Beacons, he opened his serious season at the second round of the British Fell Running Association’s National championships - the 13K Blencathra challenge in the Lake District National Park near Keswick - and proved that his lonely leg sapping preparations have not been in vain.
Not only did he finish in the top ten of this elite event for the first time as a senior competitor, but in 7th place he finished only 44 seconds outside the former course record that had stood since 2009 despite the race being held in pouring rain and low-lying mist that put a premium on local course knowledge.
What clearly gave him real encouragement was to really mix it with many of the country’s star fell runners – the event was won by the current European champion Jacob Adkin with the former World U23 champion James Dugdale in 4th place – while he was actually only 12 seconds behind Adkin in second place at the at the top of the first and steepest climb of Bowscale Fell, proving that when it comes to the climbs he can be a match for anyone.
“I am not so sure about that, but to be fair to myself I was handicapped by having never run the course before or even recce’d it,” said Felix. The clouds were literally hanging over the first summit of Bowscale and in the mist I almost lost my bearings on the further climb to Blencathra. I never find the fast downhill stretches easy, but it would certainly have helped hugely if I had been sure exactly where I was heading.”
He had dropped to 6th place at the Blencathra summit, but was still in contention, albeit not with the flying Adkin, but lack of knowing the exact route on the downhill fun from the top of the final peak of Southern Fell together with his admitted weakness descending fast – he was only 25th fastest on that stretch – lost him a further place as he crossed the finishing line in 59:23 for the 8.1 mile course.
“I know now that I can be competitive with these guys and just need more experience”, concluded Felix.
Undaunted and his confidence boosted by his effort at Blencathra, he will return even more determined to the next round of the championship series in just over a week’s time, which is a shorter event over Alderman’s Ascent near Oldham and for which he plans a recce this weekend so that he will not start at an obvious disadvantage.