Leading, Teamwork, Cake Race

Saturday 4th May saw the Cake Race, a major fell race in the FRA calendar and for that matter the Saddleworth Runners calendar. (The FRA is the Fell Runners Association.)

And it made me think about leading and teamwork. So I thought to write about what I experienced on the day. So this is a sort of semi personal/work blog entry.

The setting is Diggle (actually Diglea) in the historic Saddleworth Parish for the race HQ, start and finish. It is a fell race, not a road race.

The quick facts

0ver 200 runners, around 100 spectators, racing 10 miles with approximately 1.7k feet of climb across Saddleworth Moorland, with what can be changeable weather, where accidents or hypothermia can occur, supported by a team of approximately 50 people, and Holme Valley Mountain Rescue. Yours truly was in charge.

What did the race entail?

The race saw just over 200 runners, most from clubs, some from as far as Leicester, with a race start time of 11am. Prior to that all runners have to be registered by a team of approximately 10 people who also kit the runners out with wearable tracing chips for recording times and their being monitored around the course by hand held units linked to the mobile network. Safety is paramount with runners required to carry safety kit (in this case full kit due to the weather) and checked by a team prior to racing. Runners normally arrive from 9am, as do spectators, and that’s a lot of cars in an old village. So we have a team of 10/15 car marshals. Out on the field or race route are your safety marshals, approximately 10, based at important locations where runners could get lost, and where assistance can be provided. Two carry big emergency rucksacks. At Diggle and along the race route is the team from Holme Valley Mountain Rescue and their vehicles. Back at Kiln Green Church (race HQ) is the team of helpers including those manning the kitchen to provide drinks and food, and running the cake competition.

Out of interest, why call it the Cake Race?

It is called the Cake Race since if a runner brings a cake to be judged in the competition, they get their race fee back. The cakes are eaten for charity donations after the race.

Speaking of charity?

All the money raised by a £5 entry fee, donations, money made from cake and drinks sales goes to charity. All local. For example, Dr Kershaw’s Hospice, Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, Marsden Golf Club Juniors, Kiln Green Church, local Scouts fundraising for a defibrillator for Kiln Green Church, Diggle Band Club for help with parking, and National Trust Marsden Moor (especially poignant as they appeal for funds due to the recent moorland fires.)

So, as you see the money goes a long way.

Where did this leave Peter Cobley?

I normally start planning the race from October the previous year for the sole reason of getting permission from landowners for the race, which can take a lot of time. Part of the race runs across SSSI areas (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and this involves Natural England permission, which can be complex and this year was more so with the spate of fires started accidentally or deliberately across the moors.

By January onward of the year of the race I’ve formulated the teams, and start to recruit people for the roles, for example Deputy Race Organiser, across to Safety Officer.

Some tasks are performed as we head toward May. These range from checking our kit including safety, booking the Church, ordering Portaloos, booking Fabian 4. It is quite a list.

(One important element is liaising with the FRA as they keep a close eye on safety compliance, and they have requirements for both runners and race organisers.)

I thought I’d share some stats

  • The race is 16k/9.9 miles long, with 518m/1,699 feet of climb over the course, obviously there is also descent.

  • It crosses the moors between Diggle and Marsden.

  • The Fell Runners Association is affliated to England Athletics. This is who provide insurance for runners and organisers.

  • The run is classified as BM by the FRA.

  • The B means the race should average not less than 25 metres climb per kilometre, and should not have more than 30% of the race distance on road.

  • A category “M” (medium) race is over 10 kilometres but less than 20 kilometres.

So it is a good old slog for fell runners. What does it look like?


  • Yorkshire Water. As ever lovely to deal with and exceptionally professional and helpful.

  • National Trust Marsden Moor. The local branch are great to deal with, especially this year when they were under inordinate pressure with the moorland fires.

  • Marsden Golf Club. A delight to deal with and very helpful.

On the day, leadership and teamwork?

On the day I realised that it all came together smoothly because of planning prior to the race, and this is detailed planning. Yes, a pain in the bum, but oh so important. You cannot leave this too late, it creates stress and things get missed.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Yes, I know we have all heard this a thousand times, but what I try and do is break the overall task down whilst keeping it simple.

So, it is a fell race. What needs doing? And from that come tasks such as car marshalling, across to race marshalling across to registration or finish funnel or results. From this people are asked to run and take responsibility for each area. They can then focus on their particular role and brief and area, so freeing up your own leadership time to focus on other tasks.

I am a massive believer in delegation and empowering people. You give them the responsibility to research the task and learn. Prior to that you simply do a SWOT on who is right for the role and mutually discuss it with them.

So on the day, people got at it like an Ant Colony. People collected the trailer with kit and delivered it, people turned up at 8am to lay the floor, set up tables, sort registration out including timing chip bracelets, get kit check set up, sort the kitchen out ready for runners and cakes, put road signs up, and so it all happens.

The team were brilliant and crucial in running their own specific tasks.

Importantly, you also need good number 2’s. I had the two Claire’s and Jen. One Claire is my wife who was Deputy Race Organiser and the other who was Safety Officer. Both took charge of time consuming areas (e.g. registration set up, Mountain Rescue and race marshals) allowing me to focus elsewhere. You don’t want to many number 2’s as that can be hard to manage and tiring on brain power. Jen importantly took charge of the kitchen and cakes, a headache in it’s own right with about 30 baked cakes arriving.

You also have to appear calm even when you are not. Otherwise people panic. Let people make their own team decisions and back them up. If they have questions they will find you. Coming back to the earlier point of preparation, if you have briefed people properly then they know what to do. If you have the right person they will figure it out if they cannot find you. And who says you are always right???


  • Preparation.

  • Get people involved from day one, as you are not infallible.

  • Leadership is empowerment in my Cobley World, it is not about barking orders.

  • Mistakes do and will and should happen. It is life. Just deal with it.

  • Yes, have a contingency plan for things, but you CANNOT plan for everything. Don’t try to as you will wear your brain out and end up slavishly following a plan and not exercising the grey matter when thinking on one’s feet. For example at the half way point (technical reason) we were not able to record 36 runners. So we did not know if they had passed for safety reasons. We dealt with it by not panicking and waiting for them to arrive at the finish correctly recorded. We let Mountain Rescue know who were plugged into our system. Stuff happens.

  • Smile and enjoy yourself.

The team

They delivered on the day. They worked hard. They pulled together. They looked after our runner guests.

I love them all, and man kiss them.

Flickr photos

Kindly taken by Dean Moynihan.