After running Stoney Middleton fell race and discovering the many shorter fell races that are listed on fellrunner.org.uk I decided to sample one called Salt Cellar. Hosted by Steel City Striders and ran in conjunction with Accelerate Running Store, Sheffield, it’s part of their Grit Stone Summer series. Beginning at Ladybower reservoir, the location of my previous marathon from hell 4 weeks earlier. I’d either gotten over the experience, or I’d clearly gone mad as I felt ready to return to the scene on a muggy Friday evening and race once again.
Salt Cellar Fell Race
Salt Cellar Fell Race Start Line
On the sound of the horn, there was a quick scurry over to the narrow footpath where we all had to funnel up some steps before turning left along a short tarmac road. After 150m of flat, we all veered right to an immensely steep climb up out of the valley. I hadn’t anticipated how much climbing there would be in this run, even after reading the route information clearly stating there was 500m of ascent over around 11km of course.
After the harsh climb to get up above Ladybower, we began running across the open Moorland continuing to climb all the way up to Higger Tor. The scenery was familiar after the Mickleden Straddle race I’d ran close to here back in February but the climate was completely different. The air was dry and once we were atop the hills the wind felt cold and its sideward direction snatched my breath away on each inhalation.
The name of the race is derived from the fact that the whole ascent is to reach and touch the gritstone outcrop known as Salt Cellar. The final climb across to the top of Salt Cellar was dry, the ground hadn’t seen a drop of water in weeks but the descent wasn’t going to offer the same cleanliness. The touching of the stone is obligatory and there were several marshalls at the peak marking the bib numbers down and checking that I’d touched the rock. I’m not sure what would happen if you didn’t touch the stone, may be disqualified?
After touching the Salt Cellar the descent down was along a limestone wall where footing was tricky. The race organisers had warned about taking our time down this section due to the narrowness of the path. About halfway along the wall, we were greeted by a lovely bog and other than the odd wall scuttler, we all had to get a little muddy reluctantly traipsing through it. The route then swept through wild ferns that were 5-6 feet tall that had only been semi-flattened by the marshalls marking the route the night before.
Dark Peak Fell Running
What goes up must come down, and with 500m of descent to get through it was the following treacherous descent that I really regretted my choice of footwear. I’d worn my Salomon road running shoes and the heel drop was far too big. I was struggling to keep my foot from sliding off the edge of the heel and kept having to scuff the opposite side along the ground to try and correct it. Lesson learnt, don’t wear road shoes whilst running a fell race.
On the final kilometre to the finish line, I was reminded of this lesson when I came to a steep grassy descent to the tarmac road. I lost my footing and skidded down on my arse until it levelled off a little. The brief fall added friction burns to both buttocks to complete my collection of scrapes and scuffs from navigating these unused hawthorn laden paths back to the finish line.
I pushed as hard as I could in the final km, determined to try and catch the runner in front of me but he was just too far ahead and too fast. His pace helped me to cross the line below my target time of 1 hour 10 minutes though and I managed to get round in 1:08:18. This placed me 58th out of 258 runners. Considering the fellow runners were mostly club runners I’m pretty happy with the result. Next stop, Doverdale Dipper Marathon, two days later on Sunday.