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Matthew Burns

THE WEDNESDAY EPICS: WILSON RUN TRAINING BEGINS

Today, in the chill of the early afternoon, a hundred and more pupils and a dozen staff will set out for Frostrow Wall. Training begins today for the 2015 Wilson Run, which takes place on 24th March. 

This term’s Wednesday Epic Runs are the backbone of the preparation for our sixth formers who face, what is for many, a daunting challenge. This historic cross-country fell run, called ‘the hell in the fells’ in The Guardian, once featured on BBC news because of its scale and significance to the school’s community and to the town, to Old Sedberghians and to families of pupils. Since 1881 the run has only been cancelled on three occasions and it draws support from all over the world.  

The Wilson Run is ten miles of tracks, roads and open fell. It’s a test of fortitude, frequently inclement weather, with a backdrop of hundreds of spectators and a House competition in which most will count.

Though it’s not for the faint-hearted, and entry is optional, nearly everyone wants to participate  and it’s something Sedberghians feel they must do – it’s a day to be there, to be in it, and it’s also a chance for upper sixth to improve on their previous attempt.

Some pupils will be running to beat their father, uncle or grandfather’s best time. Some will fly by helicopter back from a University interview just in time for the start of the race – as happened in 2013! The determination begins with the Wednesday Epics.

To non-runners, or those who run only sporadically, the event can be a tough call indeed, and pupils must qualify if they are to participate. Though many are undoubtedly fit for the sports field, ten miles takes its toll on these athletes, too. With this in mind, Lent Term now sees a pattern of mid-week preparations for the big day. These are long, increasingly arduous runs. 

Each Wednesday, when the pupils and staff, set out, it makes an unusual spectacle. Week by week, the normally empty hills that surround us see long colourful snakes of well-clad runners – the front going twice the pace of the tail, all determined to reach the top, the target, but just half way, on that day’s hill.

First is Frostrow Wall, a relatively gentle ridge between the Rawthey and Dentdale, just south of Sedbergh. Then Arant Haw, around the north flank of Winder, and up the punishingly steep Nab, to a fine undulating ridge and the summit, manned as usual, by some very heavily-clothed staff issuing jelly babies.

Few decline. Next, the massive whaleback of Rise Hill to our south-west; five miles of steady climbing to the rarely visited trig point, and five more miles back. We usually cut the first tracks through early winter snow. Returning the same way, stragglers are picked up on descent.

The Calf (‘…that makes the Sedbergh man’, from the School Hymn) follows: crown of the Howgills. Finally the behemoth summit of Calf Top in the Middleton Fells to our south: two to three hours of lovely wild running, often on deep ice-encrusted snow drifts with fine views of the lowering sun over Morecambe Bay. Most follow the flags back and get home by dusk. 

After this, we get familiar with the Wilson Run course. It doesn’t feel quite so daunting after all.

Jim Fisher, Head of Geology and Wilson Run Organiser

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