All posts by Emma Adcock

Race Report: Dragon’s Back Race

A write up of my experience running the 2023 Dragon’s Back. Gear list at the bottom.  Long race, long report.

380km. 17km up and down. 6 back to back ultras in an unrelenting heatwave. Conwy to Cardiff. Castle to Castle.  Trail, track, road, rock, tussock, stream, gulley, valley, heather, bog and grass. New friends. Unforgettable memories. High highs and low lows.  Wales in a week.  

The Dragon’s Back was first run in 1992 when a former parachute regiment soldier, Ian Waddell, in a moment of what most would call madness, thought the Cambrian Way with add-ons could be much more than just a tough long distance walking trail. It could be a foot race across an entire country.  Since its first running it’s now secured a place up there amongst the world’s toughest mountain races. 

A beautiful and laugh-out-loud (if fell-running ‘in jokes’ are your kind of thing) write up of the inaugural event can be found here

Despite 1992 being widely regarded a success, the sheer logistical complexity of safely organising an event where runners relentlessly cross vast distances of inhospitable, low-phone-coverage terrain meant it took a long hiatus until 2012 when Shane Otley re-launched it.  The race, which has (now) been run only 8 times, has a short history.  However what it lacks in history it makes up for in infamy.  Past winners have included some greats of UK fell and mountain running (Steve Birkinshaw, Marcus Scotney, Jim Mann, …). The race has several documentaries about it (see here).  

Not only does the race cross an entire country, but it does so in a deliberately difficult manner, ticking off all the highest points and covering all the toughest and wildest terrain paying no attention to how a crow might fly.  Mention you’re running the race to someone who knows about mountain running and you’re generally met with a serious expression or a “Really? …That’s a serious race that” (direct quote).  Indeed there are few other races with a finish rate below a third.

As I first ascended Cnicht (the first peak on Day 2) in April on my first race recce, the challenge had seemed vague, daunting, insurmountable, incomprehensible, and a very long way. 

However, little by little as the months moved on and September drew nearer my confidence grew and grew.  I learnt the main lines of the major days and even some sneaky shortcuts. I took wise counsel from previous ‘Dragon slayers’’ Simon Barnett and Will Kernick on glorious and memorable recce days.  I got colder and wetter than I’d ever been alone in the hills traversing the Rhinogs in a hailstorm (I wouldn’t do that again. Don’t do this. It’s not fun).  I held my tent up with my bare hands in the middle of the night in storm Betty in 70mph winds and got up and ran the Cadair Idris climb almost from bottom to top the next morning on two hours sleep.  I trained hard with my coach, and previous race winner, Marcus Scotney gradually upping my volume [ignoring taper this was ~13-14hours per week, but with significant variation], telling me to run slower, tirelessly listening to me worry about minor niggles.  

I raced hard in the months leading to the race, achieving a previously dream result 4th at UTS 100k (with a podium having been a real possibility until a big bonk!) and a win at the Helvellyn Sky Ultra (‘rain and lightning’ adjusted short course). I used the score course of the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon to squeeze every ounce of knowledge/wisdom I could from my partner, previous race winner, Steve Birkinshaw distracting him as he tried to navigate on rough ground.  I bought more and more race specific gear and weighed, re-weighed and re-weighed it.  I studied maps and watch-crashingly-large gpx files. I looked at previous races and decided the majority of the winning times were ‘doable’, changing my goal from top 20, to top 10, to top 3.  I ran. I ran. And I ran.

Hundreds of runners toed the line in Conwy castle before sunrise on the morning of the 4th of September listening to the Conwy male voice choir and encouragement from the Conwy mayor.  It was a moment with a special atmosphere, dark and cool.   As runners nervously stepped from te to toe, supporters chattered and waved flags from the ramparts.  The only way out was back the way we had come through the imposing castle gates (and the gift shop!).   

I was side by side with some ‘very serious’ runners with extensive long-distance running CVs and top results in famous races – all cunningly positioned towards the front to avoid bottlenecks on the narrow castle walls.  I heard my parents cheer from the ramparts above. I sipped my water, checked my watch, stretched, noticed a niggle in my hip that had bugged me for three weeks was magically gone.  I was ready and in the right place.  I was nervous, but for the right reasons, I was here to race hard and that was, in some hard to explain way, important and it mattered.

In the race briefing, on a beautiful summer evening in Conwy the night before, Shane, the race director had encouraged every competitor to be clear on their “why”.  He, with a knowing smile, told us we’d all have moments where we questioned what we were doing, or didn’t think we could keep going. At that point we’d need to draw on the reason we were there.  What was mine?  Did I have one? Was to race hard and be ‘competitive’ a ‘real’ reason?

It was glorious to run the first half of day one at a relatively controlled pace with Jon Shields into the Ogwen valley.    Jon mentioned we were pushing the pace and he was “obliging”. However, I don’t think we were going that hard and by my estimations (which proved to be accurate) we were a few minutes behind first leg winning splits from previous years. This was the right place to be – many have gone out too hard and paid the price later.  I led the race into the first support point at the Ogwen valley, welling up for not the only time in the race, as my parents cheered me on from the road side. It felt significant to lead the race, whatever would happen next, into the heart of Eryri.   

I then pushed hard up Tryfan (it turns out at a similar pace to training) losing sight of Jon.  I knew I was moving hard, but it felt less hard than training and I was in the last shade of the day.  I was also eager to make it difficult for a mystery third placed runner Jon and I had seen gain rapidly on us over the Carneddae.  I had to walk the tightrope of fast, but not so fast that I’d burn a match I’d want or need later.  Tightrope walked, I then climbed the first Glyder alone in a windless, scree furnace.  Avoiding a poor line Simon Barnett and I had mistakenly followed a few weeks before (head left!),  Here I held the effort back, ensuring I couldn’t hear my heartbeat in my ears.  There was still a long way to go that day, let alone in the race.   Where I would normally put my hands on knees and push, I stood up.  Where I would normally run when topping out, I ‘trotted’ somewhere in a quasi run/walk.   Messing up my line on the descent to the Pen-Y-Pass, falsely believing I knew better than my GPS, I slipped and tripped through some steep, gnarly heather.  I dipped my hat/buff combo in the first of what would be many very questionable, sheep-poo ridden bogs, and tried to stay relaxed. 

Next came Crib Goch – a mountain and ridge not for the scared of heights.  I moved slowly up the climb (or what I thought was slowly, but looking back seems to have been a strong pace).  I increasingly noticed the heat and fatigue setting in but, efficiently moved over the sharp bit of the ridge skirting round some bemused tourists.  I remembered my first time on the ridge when Simon B scampered along beside me hands free as I clung nervously with two hands to every hold.  It’s amazing the difference that practice makes.  Eventually descending Snowdon and beginning the last climbs of the famous horseshoe I felt serious fatigue set in and climbed deliberately very slowly, resigning that if someone passed now they truly deserved the day.  No one did and I arrived in camp ahead.  

I lay in the stream by camp thoughtless, alone, staring at the mountains, decompressing, cooling.  Jakub arrived 40 minutes later.  We passed each other as he went towards the stream, agreed it was a hot day and went our separate ways.

Here. In the race. In the lead.

Day two saw even more heat, and the introduction of race risk protocols including an up to 30 minute, neutralised cool off in the middle support point.  *Insert joke here about dragon’s breath / fire*.  This was a wise move from the race team.  Day one had seen many struggle with the heat including several stories of fainting.  Helicopters were called multiple times in the days to come and without these breaks there was a serious risk to competitors.   

Such heat required a different racing approach and strategy.  The higher temperatures, forecasts suggest hitting 30 with very little breeze in places and on some climbs on day five in feeling very extreme, boost your heart rate and reduce the rate you can climb in control.  Pace management becomes and became vital.  Previously ‘runnable’ climbs (some might disagree!) were downgraded to walks/strolls.  Where streams were and how much water to take on each leg the next day became fundamental to each night’s planning.  Getting wet at every opportunity was paramount.  I adopted a rule to ensure my hat and buff were always as wet as possible, dipping them in every stream and puddle, however questionably brown.

Day two is also my favourite of the race. The first section Cnicht and the Moelwyns had been the setting of a bank holiday spent with my partner Millie and her parents and these hills are for me ‘Goldilocks’ hills. Hard, but not too hard. Steep, but not too steep. Technical, but not too technical. Just right.  Setting off last, I passed major competitors Jon and Robyn in the first few hours moving efficiently and ahead of rough pace predictions. However, coming through the picturesque village of Maentwrog was my first low of the race.  With a few ultras under my belt, I now know the warning signs and I know how to fight them. Slow down. Eat more. Eat more. Eat more. Eat again.  Repeat to yourself a second wind will come. Control the pace. Eat again.  I did this and in an hour or so I was moving well again down into the glorious and unforgettable glacial Bychan valley for the support point.   I was making good time, but where was Jakub? He’d set off 30 mins up and, although we had a 30 minute free break at the support point and I’d moved reasonably well, I hadn’t seen him.  The staggered starts created an extra level of uncertainty compared to other races.

Next we traversed the Rhinogs, a mountain range I’ve had the pleasure of crossing four or five times now.  It’s easily one of the wildest places you can go in Britain.  If you’d like a challenging day, far from help, on often trackless terrain, threatening and consistently windy conditions, and exorbitant route choice, look no further.  I’ve crossed the mountains in all conditions now including hail and low visibility (do not recommend!) and now, as in the race, full on furnace.  

I moved well, took the now infamous “wall line” shortcut (providing one of the more exciting moments of dot watching to a live-streaming friend) and passed a familiar set of mid and upper order runners all on their personal journeys and challenges.  Coming up the final climbs of the section I gambled a little and took a line I’d never tried but always believed was quicker cutting wide right beneath Diffwys through some tussocky grass on some very faint trods (so faint they should perhaps be demoted to just narrow areas of grass leaning a different direction rather than trods).  On the final climb I spied Jakub something like 5-10 mins up and I relaxed.  He sped-up and re-gained a couple of minutes in the last 10k road run into Dolgellau, but I had increased the gap overall on the day.

Still here. Still in the race. Still in the lead.

Day three is the longest of the race, but definitely easier than the previous two days. Cadair Idris, the Tarrens, Machynnleth Co-Op (not a peak but a significant milestone as the first en route shop beyond the Snowdon cafe), and Pumlumon Fawr.  Although I had a good lead of towards an hour at this point, there was (and generally is at any point in the Dragon’s Back) a long way to go. 

With some tactically timed trips to the info tent and loo, I let Jakub get a 5 minute or so headstart up the road and then began to chase.  I pushed the first climb using Jakub in my sights to pace myself so as not to go too hard. But when I topped Cadair Idris, exactly at the point of catching Jakub, in something like 1 hour 30 I knew we had gone off fast.  Jakub however wasn’t hanging about and we ran off the top at a similar rate to short trail race pace.  I was hit with two immediate feelings. One, this is awesome – clear skies, awesome views, great trail, flowing running.  Two, this is terrifying – has Jakub been saving his matches?

We ran together for the rest of the morning chatting about races he’s done back in Poland. I enjoyed some company. And Jakub enjoyed not having to concentrate on the route and just follow.  Impressively, Jakub had never been to Wales and was running everything for the first time following a little arrow on his wrist.

Heading up the first Tarren, I decided to start racing a little again and pushed a bit in another furnace of a climb.  Noting the heat I made sure to really measure the effort, but by the second Tarren I had a few minutes in hand.  The flowing long descent into Macchynleth (the most runnable part of the whole course – often at that perfect just slightly downhill gradient that is every runner’s dream) passed quickly and gave me the confidence to stop in the Coop for the now semi-famous multipack of Walkers ready salted.

The last section of the day, although in my opinion one of the easier in the race, was this year made one of the harder by unavoidable, shadeless, beating heat with no streams for cooling until about 1.5 hours in (minus one very brown puddle).  The terrain here rolls, limiting your view of the trail in front and behind.   As a result I had no idea if I was gaining on Tris, moving away from Jakub, or anything really. All I knew is that I was very hot, but still moving well enough. I nailed the line up Pumlumon (*go right early, embrace your inner OMM runner, bash some heather in quest of track*), passed the always beaming and encouraging Carmine (who carried an accordion around the Hatchling ‘short’ course), topped out, and ran fluidly back to camp. 

Still here. Still in the race. Still in the lead.

Unpack bag and lay out sleeping gear. Protein bar. Stream to wash self and clothes. Debrief with Jakub.  Charging rack to charge watch. Clothes up to dry. Chips and soup portion 1. Chips and Soup Portion 2.  Foot deep clean with wipe. Dinner portion 1. Dinner portion 2.  Chips portion 3 (if allowed).  Check Dragon Mail. Plan next day with Jakub. Wash dishes. Bed before 9. This was the routine and pretty dialled in by now.

Marcus, my coach, in what is now a hilarious message to read back, urged me to treat day 4 as a “rest day”.  Arguably the second easiest and I had a good gap. If a day were to be a rest day then this would be it.  However, Jakub had proved himself an opponent of serious quality.  A gap of just over an hour was not enough with day 5 in a heatwave still on the cards.  And the concept of resting as you run more than 60k across Wales including several mountains, is a little hard to put into practice.   

I left a short gap for Jakub, ran c.90% of the first climb (which I had planned to walk) out of the camp and caught him on the first descent.  As we moved up to the set of awesome wind turbines that line the route into the Elan valley I allowed the pace to rise a little. I still felt comfortable.  I was perhaps going a little quick, but nothing stupid. And I was eating so much!  I’d planned 80-90g of carbs an hour in packing, but was now eating way more than 100g. I think I may have been up around 150-200g that morning (that’s about c.8 normal SIS gels an hour or about 50 individual wine gums if you’re counting!).   

I moved through the tussocks consistently enjoying the journey of passing now familiar people on the trail.  However, when dropping towards Elan Village I ate myself out of my morning’s food with 20/30 mins to the support point.  Jakub later told me that when he arrived in the support point, I had looked more tired than I had done at any other point in the race. I felt it too. There was no buzz anymore. I told my parents, who were leaning on the support point fence, “the race was hard”. They laughed.  I ate more.  

Feeling the real potential for a blow-up I was super careful on the next section to Drygarn, the last big top of the day.  Although within my comfort zone pace wise, I was outside my comfort zone feeling wise.  I was low today and no amount of SIS gel, gummy or cliff bar was shifting the fatigue.  I took no risks, kept eating and drinking and kept a comfortable, but not race winning pace.  

This felt like the right plan, until topping out I saw Jakub a couple of metres back saying he’d felt like a tortoise chasing another tortoise having seen me in the distance a few k back. That was a significant margin he had crawled back.  Had I gone too hard early on? Had he spent no time in the support point? Had he saved all his energy for now? Or had he gone too hard pushing the ascent and gapping me by what must have been about 5 mins on the climb? 

Pretending I wasn’t thinking any of this, as fatigue and the difficulty of the race became increasingly apparent, we chatted as we ran along the top and began a long descent.  The descent was relatively straightforward, but included some more tussocks where I pulled away from Jakub. To his credit, I think there’s less of this, at times, frustrating terrain in Poland. I thanked my choice of gear (see below).  

From here it was broadly two 10k ish road runs separated by a final short mountain pass to go.  With the exception of a surprise nose bleed on the final climb this all passed without hitch until about 6k to go.  Continuing to eat double my planned food I again ran out.   As I checked my watch I wasn’t worried, but over the space of about a k I went geographically uphill and physically downhill until on a short hill I completely and utterly bonked.  If you’ve bonked yourself, you’ll know the feeling, nothing left. Nothing.  Top 10 runner Owen, who I’d passed a few k back, came back past me and very kindly subbed me an extra gel.  This gave me enough of a boost that I could get running again.  I saw my parents with a couple of k to go, welled up for the second time and found previously hidden final energy for the last push to camp.  My mum later said I had  “looked emotional and done in today” as I passed them. 

In camp that night I was very nervous.  

Still there. Still in the race. Still in the lead. But, done-in. Tired. Permanently hungry. Eating myself out of food.  Day 5 – the ‘sting in the dragon’s tail’ – to come.  

I read and re-read dragon mail and support messages from friends and family and got some extra food from the ‘donations’ box from pulled out runners. However, as much as I tried, I couldn’t shake a feeling of significant apprehension for tomorrow.  The nerves and butterflies peaked at the daily 6am force feeding session which was breakfast the next day. This was a new feeling.

Day 5 is a monster on any day, let alone after 4 back to back ultras. 70k, 3-4k of ascent and descent.  All three acts of the ‘Fan dance’ from the Black Mountain in the West to the corries of the Pen-Y-Fan and its sister beacons in the East.  Again I set off as usual a few minutes or so after Jakub.  But this time things felt very serious.  This was the day when, as Shane had informed me in great depth and with great concern the previous evening with very limited if any celebration of the 4th day’s running, many frontrunners’ wheels had come off in previous years.   

I caught Jakub on the first climb, just as well as I hadn’t reccied it and my watch had its only malfunction of the week just here.  We then ran together for the first couple of hours enjoying the cloud inversion in the valleys and chatting about how far we’d come. At one point he told me a story about an adventure race where he had swum with a bike for 6k in a river.  I kept eating.  And this time with no risk of running out.   Determined to avoid Day 4’s run-out and conscious we would not be stopping in the Llandovery bakery, with today being Jakub’s last real chance for a big move, I was carrying literally kilos of food more than I had ever carried in my pack for any event / leg ever.  The trade-off a heavier pack and a resulting pack rash, for extra calories, was a I think a wise one.

As we neared Usk reservoir, things clicked and I pulled away again, not through a specific kick but just through a comfortable pace that was a few seconds a km quicker.   By the top of the Black Mountain which I climbed chatting with fifth placed male Iain Best, friend of a friend, eating and drinking, in a furnace (the third hottest climb of the race), I couldn’t see Jakub behind and I felt comfortable.  I took a reccied shortcut, managed to get myself even briefly ‘cold’ on the next climb with repetitive stream dunking and arrived in the support point feeling like I was flying.  Through the middle Fans I kept things very controlled and restrained, with a good lead in the race, conscious of the now serious unrelenting heat and very eager not to do anything silly. Indeed a little internal mantra at this point was “don’t do anything stupid” on repeat.   

Reaching the end of the leg, I ran with Robyn for a bit and we moaned, celebrated, and shared some memories from the week together.  The women’s field was particularly impressive.   Robyn herself podiumed the overall race with 4 women in the overall top 10.  This would have been 5, if not for an unfortunate drop-out for Victoria in the middle of day 5.  

Moving away from Robyn on the Pen Y Fan range, I moved relatively easily and enjoyed the views over the final big hills of the race.  Although the quads began to ache in a big way on the long final descent, I found the energy for what felt like full gas along the final few kms of river valley and road to camp 5. 

Still here. Still in the race. Still in the lead. Repeat camp routine.

I was happy, but very conscious that I still had another ultra to go and a blow-up, injury, and/or heat exhaustion on day 6 could/would mean disaster.  You can take nothing for granted when there’s a long way to go. And, as I said above, in the Dragon there’s always a long way to go.  

Jakub, Robyn, Alyssa and I pushed out at a pre-negotiated joint start time of 7:10.   We ran the first climbs together and as we began the first long descent of the ‘slides’ of day 6 (‘relatively steep climbs then long flowing descents’) I pulled away. I kept the pace consistent, kept eating (again way more than I had planned), and really tried to enjoy the views. Just before the first support point I saw Millie, my girlfriend, for the first time in a week and egged on by this and a high five with my Mum leaving the support point the next c.30k passed in a blur with a brief moment of lucidity when I saw some close friends on top of one of the final bumps. 

I neared Cardiff on the Taff trail and found the experience of passing hundreds of people out enjoying a fine day, completely unaware of what I was doing or why I had a big tracker strapped to a large running pack, bemusing and confusing.  Having no one to specifically race or chase I didn’t push the pace, but just got it done. “Don’t do anything stupid” I whispered to myself multiple times.  Although you can’t see the castle until the very last moment, I wasn’t worried – a casual walk with some friends in the park months before had serendipitously doubled up as a cheeky last mile recce and avoided any last minute navigational hiccups.  As I hit the castle, legs that previously felt tired were suddenly full of running and I felt like I could run forever on the cobbled home straight. 

Cameras and photos.  A humbling round of applause that lasted forever.  Sweaty hugs. Welling up again.   Matt and his microphone asking me all kinds of questions I had no idea how to answer.  A huge smile and overwhelming pride.  I’ve had few more profound moments than crossing that line in Cardiff.

I will never forget the preparation, the week itself, or the people that made the experience what it was.  I will be forever grateful to Millie for dealing with the unsociable running/training schedule, support every step of the way and my growing addiction to spending weekends in the hills; my parents for following the whole race so I saw them for a mini boost every day; the other sharp end runners Victoria, Robyn, Jon, Tris and in particular Jakub for making the race a true and serious competition at a high level; Marcus for the coaching; Will K for down-to-earth wisdom, recce company, and buckets of encouragement; Simon Barnett for inspiring me to do the thing in the first place; The whole TRC crew for hilarious whatsapping and committed dot watching; the race crew and volunteers who with unending energy and good humour moved a small country of tents and gear from one obscure campsite to another; the medics who’s trapped a couple of my toes; and everyone who cheered on the race at any point on any day!

Here’s also to the real heroes of the race.  Those who started earlier every day and got in a bit later. Those who had less time to rest, recover, wash and eat – life’s literal essentials – and still got up the next day (often hours before me) and gave it their all. Their resilience I found truly awesome and inspiring and I will take with me as long as any other memory from this race.

Over and out.

*** 

For those interested my gear choice was…

  • Pack = Salomon ADV 12 + Salomon soft flasks (x6 – 4 in pack and 2 in drop bag)
    • It’s a bit less aero / snug than some other packs out there, but it’s flexible and fits the gear you need for an event like this. I particularly love the mesh/reservoir system once you modify a bit and undo a few of the bits they stitch up that, in my opinion, should really be unstitched.  It feels like you have unlimited, zipless, permanent access to anything you need once you get used to keeping things in the same place all the time. It only rubbed on day 5 and 6 when I loaded it up with enough food for a small family for a week.
  • Shorts = Patagonia Strider Pro shorts
    • These are awesome and crucially, and unlike my dad’s 15 (?) year old gym shorts I generally run in, don’t slip down in the rain. They’re a little shorter than a traditional short, but not the kind of semi speedo you see some runners in.  I’ve (c.400km in ;)) yet to find a fault.
  • Buff = Buff brand Buff
    • Past shoes, this is the most important piece of kit I had with me in recces and in the race. Windy? Secure your hat with it. Cold? Wrap it round your face. Warm? Dip it in a stream and get it round your neck. Other brands are available and I have about 30 ‘buffs’ at home.  I don’t happen to think a Buff is a hat, unlike some race rules, but I think a buff should be mandatory on all kit lists.  The one I have is a little thicker and more cottony than most buffs. My preference.
  • Cap = Buff speed, super light, cap (alway on) and Sealskin waterproof all-weather cap (unused)
    • The option to choose a cap depending on the conditions was key. And through training I’ve found that these two cover all conditions. 
  • Shoes = Inov8 mudclaws (day 1-2), Saucony Peregrines trail shoes (day 3-5)
    • I think this was a unique choice.  Everyone else I know who has done the race has used more traditional ultra shoes with much more cushion. Choosing these shoes I was choosing precision and fit over comfort. I was choosing racing.  I train in both these shoes all the time – the inov8s for anything steep and the peregrines for my day to day trail running – so I know how they feel and I know I can run all day/week in them.
      • The mudclaws were a particularly extreme choice.  They are a shoe designed for the short, sharp fell race, and typically grass/bog and not the bare rock typical of day one in particular.  In some online reviews they’re described like the ‘formula one’ car of trail shoes. Grip and speed. But lacking comfort and like football boots on road.  Unless you’ve trained for it / tried it. Don’t use these for long distances straight off the bat, especially if there is any road involved.
      • The Peregines were a bit less of an extreme choice.  However, they’re not an ultra shoe in the typical sense and pack a bit less cushion than the shoe most choose. Again I wanted a little more precision/feel, which paid off I think.
  • Socks = Injinji ultra toe socks, 3 pairs
    • Toe socks should be part of the mandatory kit list for blister limitation. If you don’t run in toe socks, change that right now. Game changer for comfort. Note, however that I find the mid and lightweight options from Injinji insufficiently durable for anything but shorter days and the ultra socks (my choice) are quite thick/heavy … so worth some experimentation to check which work for you. 3 pairs was not enough as by day 4 I was on to a morning game of which is least damp.
  • Waterproofs = OMM halo smock (unused) and Haglofs LIM goretex (unused)
    • I’ve made several bad waterproof decisions over the last year or so and think I’ve settled on these for now. The OMM is incredibly light and packs down super small.  It’s not robust enough if the conditions turn, but it more than passes kit check on a sunny day, holds off a light shower, and it’s a perfect second waterproof layer if the conditions are vile – doubling up waterproofs is a game-changer.  The Haglofs is slightly heavier, but robust, well designed and unlike other jackets I’ve owned with similar specs keeps water out – for me if I need to whip on in a hurry it also fits my pack underneath. I’m yet to fault it.
  • Watch = Garmin Fenix 6
    • Solid. Does what I need it to do with strong battery life.
  • Gloves = Inov8 3 in 1 (unused) and a pair of neoprene cycling gloves (unused)
    • The latter are a secret weapon in above zero torrential rain, working like a wetsuit to keep your hands warm (but wet). The former tick a lot of boxes – lightweight and very flexible – but I wore through one pair quite quickly last winter.
  • Sleep system = Rab Neutrino 400 bag, Thermarest NeoAir mat, Nemo elite pillow
    • There’s a worrying amount of conflicting advice on the best item in each of these categories.  It can be daunting googling, reading reviews, checking prices and deals.  I know, I’ve been there, multiple times late at night on my phone. But I don’t think you can go far wrong with these three.  They’re relatively expensive, and there are cheaper options available, however they are mid-to-top range products from brands that specialise in the respective piece of gear. They’re durable and effective.  The sleeping bag is super comfy, but might be a bit narrow for some who like to sleep in power stance, but that’s true of all sleeping bags and no one really sleeps in power stance.  I can’t yet fault the pillow or sleeping mat.  With hindsight I would have taken a summer sleeping bag, not the Rab three seasons, but I didn’t predict the unseasonably warm weather.
  • Top = UTS 100k finishers Tee
    • I’m sure there are more technical tees out there.  But, good to be consistent day to day 😉
  • Headtorch = Fenix HL18R (unused)
    • This is a good, light, very adjustable headtorch and would have comfortably met my needs.  Had I been planning to spend lots of time in the dark, I wasn’t, I would have probably taken my Petzl Nao. It’s a little heavier than the Fenix but secure, super bright, steady, and you can vary the light level to balance battery and illumination.  (It can be a little annoying to use a mobile phone app to control some of the torch’s more niche settings … however once calibrated you don’t need the app out on the course) 
  • Tape = Zinc Oxide
    • Lifesaver. Tape your feet anywhere you have ever had a blister or anywhere you might get one or as soon as you can when you feel a hotspot and you’ll limit the damage considerably.  On a race like the dragon’s back, your feet will take a pounding, they’ll be wet a lot, they’ll be hot a lot, they’ll rub.  Pre-emptive taping will change your race and changed mine – one blister, on a spot I hadn’t taped and never had a blister before.
  • Food  = Mostly SIS Beta gels and chews, plus the occasional cliff bar and a pack or two of walkers ready salted each day
    • I did all my maths around c.90g of carbs an hour.   However, I wish I had taken more gels and by the end I was mixing and matching anything I could get my hands on and think I averaged >100g an hour for the week if I had to guess.

***

Hugh Chatfield

17/09/2023

hughac94@googlemail.com

Spring Time in the Mountains

by Rick Ansell

I love being in the hills. I love going to bed knowing there are hills all around. I love waking up in the middle of the night and remembering where I am and then waking up again in the morning to find myself there. I aways feel a deep sense of peace and timelessness, of drama and at the same time an unchanging constancy. Whatever crap we humans throw at each other the hills just sit there. I feel tension drain from me as I arrive and usually a sense of mounting (or should that be mountain?) excitement rise within me. I don’t know why, I just do.

I like whisky too but not in the same way. Offer me whisky, even a fine Talisker, at 6.00 am and I will probably politely turn you down. Liking the hills is just part of me. Liking whisky is transitory, occasional. Liking hills is an absolute

I can sit and watch the sunlight slip across the crags shifting the shadows as it goes and I can happily watch rain sluice down and white threads form on the hillsides as it all pours off in temporary streams. But I feel an urge to walk them, too, to see what is at the top and to feel the air up there. One of my earliest memories is lying in bed in my grandmother’s house in North Devon. Across the lane outside there was a grassy hillside rising up. I pestered my father for days to take me up so I could see what was at the top. Eventually he did and we walked along the ridge on sheep paths and looked down over the village to the sea and the breeze felt different up there. My four-year-old brain registered that this was a special place. The hill would have been less than 100m high.

Bored during lock down, I thought a lot about hills and sat looking at maps of places I couldn’t go to. I imagined walks and runs and tried to feel the wind on my face and the rocks under my feet. I planned routes.

On the internet there are endless lists of hills and browsing through I came upon a list I was vaguely aware of: the Birketts, 541 tops in the Lake District. Everybody has heard of the Wainwrights and nowadays proper runners skip across all 214 of them in less than a week. Even our own Simon Barnett trotted round them all in a fortnight. Can’t be that much of a challenge and it’s all a bit obvious; all very mainstream. Looking at the Birketts there were hills I had never even heard of in places I hadn’t ever visited and I reckoned I knew the Lakes pretty well. I started plotting them on the map. There were a lot and they were all over the place and not in nice organised ranks. Many were so obscure there wasn’t even a ring contour in the place. Having plotted them I spent ages trying to join up all the little circles until I had a continuous line with a few side loops. I could probably have spent longer making the line more efficient but suddenly lockdown was lifted and I could get out again.

But the maps sat there giving me a little wink every time I opened their cupboard. Towards the end of last year, I decided I was in a pre-retirement phase. How would it be to take six weeks off in the Spring and follow that line and do those loops? Six weeks in the hills. My wife spoke of salaries and pensions but she gradually came round. I remembered Geoff Head.

I travelled up on 3 April, ate a fish and chip dinner in the Old Keswickian, touched the Moot Hall and walked up the hill to Burns Farm. The trip had started.

I had planned the walk to take 40 days – it seemed a nice round number, with two rest days. I had a train ticket back for Friday 12 May and had told my boss I would be available for work on the Monday. Each day was about 25 km, though I hadn’t bothered to count the contours and calculate the ascent. I had reckoned that 25 km a day would be six to eight hours. A steady day; not too draining. By 3.00pm on that first day I was beginning to find a flaw. I had walked pretty hard but still had 10km and both Great and Little Fell to visit before I could camp. The day took just over nine hours in the end.

On previous trips I have found anything less than eight hours a day is sustainable but once I start going over nine hours, I start getting grumpy, tired and depleted. The second day was nearer ten and the third over ten. For the first couple of days I wasn’t carrying too much but on the third morning, in Patterdale, I bought nine days of food to see me through to Ambleside and suddenly I was carrying a lot. More weight meant a slower pace. I gradually resigned myself to the fact that there weren’t going to be many short days. I became interested to see what would happen.

I nibbled away at the Dodds Ridge and eventually crossed Kirkstone Pass to start on the Eastern Fells. There was a big day round the hills Simon and I ran one January night on a Dark Mountains 12 hour event and then a gentler day when I looked forward to a coffee and cake in Bampton only to the find the pub closed. Storm Noa hit me in the Sleddale Hills. I was aware of his/her..their coming as a glance at the altimeter suggested I was 100m higher than I knew I was. The pressure was dropping alarmingly. The sky turned that slate grey/green colour that warns of utter evil. It’s not the inky black of a summer thunderstorm but something much greyer and horrorful. The wind started to drive sheets of water at me and I hurried to escape down into Swindale. The plan had been to climb back out and camp at Haskew Tarn but I didn’t fancy my chances up on the moor. I pitched in the crook of two six-foot walls but still had to get out twice during the night to re-peg the tent and I watched anxiously as the little stream rose up its deep embankment until it was only a couple of feet from the tent.

By morning Noa had gone on their way and I was left with a cold front trailing behind. It was a last gasp of winter and snow showers came and went all day leaving the higher tops white and me just cold. It was miserable and it was here that I started to wonder why I was doing this. It was much harder than I had thought. 25 km was a big day now. My knees were making each descent slow and painful. I would battle through the mornings thinking constantly about making a bee line to a nice warm, dry café. I had been getting a few texts from Simon: ‘Hope you are smashing on’, he would say. I kept telling myself: ‘Simon says to smash on. Can’t let him down’. He had asked whether I had a tracker and I began to wish that I had. Somehow it would have been comforting to think that someone might be watching were I was going. By the afternoons I started to feel more positive as I realsied that although it was going to be another nine-hour day, I was going to get there and as soon as I stopped and got the tent up, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I made a pact with myself not to give in the morning when I seemed to be at my lowest.

For 48 hours I saw nobody as I plugged across the tussocks and bog, picking off nondescript tops. In poor visibility navigation was sometimes a challenge when I didn’t really know what I was looking for – some nebulous flattening on a nose with no nice cairn or read and white kits to mark the spot. I just had to hope I had visited the right spot when I couldn’t see anything. Often, though there would be a couple of stones and I wondered if Dave Birkett had been round to mark each of his tops. Eventually, two days later I bumped into my first person just near Skeggles Water. He thought I was his mate John and it took a while before I convinced him I wasn’t. Weirdly, I met him with his family the next day on Wansfell as I made my way to Ambleside. I assured him I still wasn’t John.

Early one morning on a remote and insignificant hill called Brunt Knott I found a guy sitting with his dog. We chatted for a bit and he asked what I was doing. When I told him he was full of enthusiasm for the trip. I tried to counter his positivity, telling him it was actually proving to be pretty hard work. “Well of course you are going to have to tough it out at times, it won’t be easy’. Somehow being told that what I was doing was hard made it seem less bad. I had expected it to be easy but being told it wasn’t going to be easy made my experience so far seem more bearable: “It is supposed to be difficult, so it’s Ok that it is.”

Ambleside was big milestone. I had booked myself into Brathay Hall for the night. A shower the chance to dry clothes and get a meal boosted moral. It was just a few more days to Keswick and my first rest day. I thought a lot about freedom. Getting up and going to work every day often leaves me feeling stuck on a treadmill, even though I quite enjoy what I do. Walking through London to work each morning I dream of being free to wander the hills. Now I was getting up each morning and wondering if I wasn’t just on another treadmill, looking forward to a ‘weekend’ or day off. I remembered many years ago travelling across the wastes of Patagonia and thinking: you could be so free here you would never escape.

I started asking myself what I really wanted. An ice cream or a good coffee is a great pleasure but it doesn’t offer the same level of satisfaction as arriving at a remote camping spot after a long day. Without a working week, Friday just isn’t the same.

The next day the sun shone and I had a lovely wander, for the first time in just a tee shirt, along the north side of Langdale and over all the Pikes then north on Bob Graham lines to High Raise. I camped high up the Wyth Burn, a lovely remote feeling valley I had admired last year as we ran up to High Raise on my Joss Naylor.

Each day memories of events, races and other trips would flood by as I coincided with the lines of the Bob Graham, and the classic fell races or I passed spots that had camped at in the past when I first started to explore the Lakes. I remembered the people I had been with, the Bob Grahams I had paced. It began to feel like a valedictory tour at times.

I could feel myself starting to lose weight. My legs were becoming matchsticks. I remembered the Seven Ages of Man. I felt I was entering the ‘age of the lean and slippered pantaloon’ with my shrunk shanks. I knew I wasn’t eating as much as I was burning.

I had to camp early one wet and foggy evening as I just couldn’t maintain the schedule but I knew that the day into Keswick was a short one so wasn’t unduly worried. Arriving in Keswick on a warm afternoon, life felt good. I forgot about ‘Monday morning’ put aside thoughts of long days to come and made myself only ever think about the next day.

The following days took me Back o’ Skidda. There was a day of ferocious wind on Blencathra and then a wet trudge out to the Naddle Crags from Mungrisdale. When I got back to the village wet and hungry the pub still wasn’t open so I pushed on to visit all the Caldbeck Fells and Great and Little Calva. It was late when I stopped but I had the prospect of s shorter day and a café in Ulldale. The next day I had planned to stay at a campsite and their website had talked of a bistro on site. I was really looking forward to a meal that wasn’t pasta and tinned mackerel but when I arrived it was closing and I dined on two packets of crisps and an array of cakes. It was all they could offer me. The pasta would have been preferable if I had had any left.

Paulette and Max came up to meet me for three nights in Braithwaite at the end of April. We ate pub food and there was beer each night. There were long days out over the Buttermere Fells but I didn’t have to carry all the gear. When they left, I felt I was entering the second half of the trip; the downhill run.

Bad planning left me with an impossible day and I got behind with the schedule. A couple of wild wet days on the Ennerdale hills made things harder. I could see no way of catching up on the schedule despite deciding to miss out Pillar Rock. I knew I was never going to brave enough to solo it in the wet. I met a couple on Fleetwith Pike on a morning when I was feeling particularly blue. They were heading back down after a wet night out. They asked what I was doing and were overwhelming in their encouragement: ‘You’ve got to keep going, it’s an amazing thing. Just do it at your own pace’, the girl said when I moaned about being slow and behind my schedule. It helped me resign myself to taking an extra day. ‘This is what I am doing. If I miss that train then so be it’, I told myself. Little acts of kindness had a big impact. Later that day I was sitting on Kirk Fell soaked through when another couple appeared out of the storm. They opened a flask and offered me coffee. The warmth of the gesture as well as the drink got me over Pillar with a spring in my step.

From the peaks of the Ennerdale Horseshoe I headed south to the peaks of the Duddon Valley and Black Coombe. I remembered the weekend running a SLMM with Max. The one Brian had planned. I passed the fence corner where we had had our first control. Poor Max hadn’t realised that unlike when we went walking in the hills, on a Mountain Marathon we didn’t stop when we got to a top, we just kept going.

After two more days of rain and low cloud and tricky navigation, summer suddenly came on. I crossed the Duddon Valley and all the trees were in leaf, wild flowers bloomed in the meadows and beside the lanes. Farmers were busy with the lambs. On a long trip like this you really notice the change in the season. I had been woken earlier and earlier by the dawn chorus each morning.

I headed back north over the Sca Fell tops on a day of blasting wind and camped at Seatoller and had a day in Keswick to resupply and get clothes cleaned. I had a planned eight days left; the home run.

I fulfilled a long-held ambition of camping in the Upper Esk Valley perhaps the most lonely and dramatic area in the Lakes with the great crags of Sca Fell above you. Old County Tops country and The Great Lakes Race comes through here too with the crossing of the Esk always exciting and sometimes impossible after heavy rain.

The Caw was the first hill I ever climbed on a school trip. I camped below it on the line of the Duddon Race and continued north over the Coniston Fells and across Wrynose Pass. That night I camped by Red Tarn. The weather was not cold but at night now I needed layers of clothes in my sleeping bag just to keep myself warm. I felt I was slowly wasting and I ended up eating the next day’s ration of chocolate just to generate the warmth needed to go to sleep. In the morning the decision was made to add another day. My Friday train was cancelled because of a strike and I had the option to travel any other day. Getting home on Sunday would still mean I could return to work on Monday at a pinch.

I struggled over Crinkle Crags to Bow Fell, the last really big hill. Sitting on top feeling sorry for myself a bunch of fell runners came up recceing the BG. “Oh it’s Rick isn’t it, the man from Tring”. They fed me jelly babies and we exchanged stories. I wished them well for their attempt and headed to the Old Dungeon Gill for a late lunch and an early finish feeling much better

On the campsite there the warden came over to chat and ask about my tent, an American made one, not seen much in the UK, and what I was doing. When I told him I was almost done with the Birketts he promised me a free breakfast the next morning to celebrate. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish now.

I finished off the Coniston Hills and headed down the west side of Windermere to pick off tops in Grizedale Forest. On the last day I rounded the end of the Lake, had coffee at the Lakeside Hotel and headed up to Gummer’s How, the final hill. Then suddenly I was on the bus back into Windermere. I sat on the train digging ticks out of my arms with the tip of my penknife much to the consternation of the person sitting next to me. By the time I staggered into work next morning the trip was already seeming like a dream. But I know those days will stay with me.

Race Report: Paddy Buckley Round report  8-9 July 2023Race Report:

Richard Bedlow, Tring Running Club & friends

After completing my Bob Graham in 2019, I replaced the Lake District calendar that had pride of place in our kitchen with one from Snowdonia.  For the past four years or so, the subsequent iterations of Snowdonia calendars have served as both inspiration and a prompt to get out and run some hills in preparation for an attempt at the Paddy Buckley, often considered the hardest of the big three UK rounds. 

The round is about 61 miles long, has 28,000ft of ascent and descent covering 47 peaks in Snowdonia and has no time limit although most try to go sub 24 hours.  The route naturally divides into 5 legs, each with their own unique character but all tend to include towering peaks, sharp slate, deep bog and incredible views.

After completing the UTS 100 in 2021, I felt fit and strong and was sounding out likely Tring supporters for an attempt in April 2022.  However, in sliding down the last descent on leg 1 of the Hodgson Brothers relay in October 2021, I came off second best with a rock which left me with torn ligaments, a severed tendon and three fractures in my ankle.  18mths, one operation and another Snowdonia calendar later, I lined up in Llanberis next to the human flying machine that is Hugh Chatfield at the end of April to have my first crack at the round.  Long story short, the difficult but correct decision was made to pull out of the round midway through the penultimate leg in the face of worsening weather that I wasn’t prepared for.  I will forever be grateful to the fab bunch from Tring who made the journey to Snowdonia to provide such wonderful support over that weekend.  More on that later.  

After a couple of beers and a few whatsapps with trusted advisors, I resolved to have a couple of weeks of R&R then reacquaint myself with Incombe hill to have another go on 8 July…

Leg 1: Bwlchgwernog to Pont Cae Gors. Eifionyd (15km, 1,550m elevation)

Supporter – Hugh Chatfield

17:50 on Saturday July 8, the weather was muggy but the forecast looked decent for the next 24hrs with the possibility of thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon which I felt I could live with if I got that far.  My plan to go reasonably hard on the first leg to get the round off to a fast start, hopefully get a little ahead of schedule and then hang on grimly for the rest of the round.  There are very few runners better equipped to provide a fast start than Tring’s Hugh Chatfield who very kindly agreed to come and support me again. 

We set off in decent spirits, covered the road section quickly and started the first climb up Bryn Banog.  Once on the hill, I found it hard going immediately which wasn’t a good sign but I got my head down and welcomed the showers that kept us company over the first couple of tops as it was quite warm.  I told myself the high perceived effort was just in my head and once the body accepted I wasn’t going to stop it would relax and it would get easier.

This leg has a rough start with any decent lines completely obscured by bog, heather and bracken before gaining height where there are some runnable sections along the tops.  I was climbing pretty quickly and enthused by Hugh’s excellent banter we were gaining a minute or two on each climb. The light rain had made the rocks slippery but visibility was good and the rest of this leg passed without incident.  I was pleased to tick off the Nantille ridge which is one of the more exposed sections of the round and was able to follow a decent line staying as far left as you dare across the more technical bits.  We then charged down through Beddgelert forest and into the first checkpoint at Pont Cae Gars where Andy Collings and his van was waiting.

I had 3hrs 29mins in the schedule for this leg including the road section into Nantmor and we arrived 20mins or so ahead of schedule.  I was feeling a bit hot and bothered, but did manage to get some flapjack down along with some energy drink over the leg.

Woza and Emma were waiting at the checkpoint to take on sherpa duties for the next leg over Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon and into Llanberis.  I’d never met them before, but if you ask someone to draw a gnarly ultra runner you’d end up with a pretty good likeness of Woza.   He appeared to be chiselled from slate and had the PBR route tattooed on his leg which was helpful as I’d left my map in the tent.  Emma had come across from Macclesfield to join the fun and Hugh was going to stay on to tap the top of Yr Wyddfa before heading back directly to the campsite.

Leg 2: Pont Cae Gors to Llanberis. Yr Wydda (21km, 1,860m elevation)

Supporters: Hugh Chatfield (to Snowdon) Woza and Emma

You can always tell how you’re going on these rounds by the reaction of your support crew at the handovers.  The look of concern on Andy’s face as he handed over my PBJ sarnies at Pont CG suggested I looked how I felt which was somewhat buggered.  After a quick stop, we set off just as the sun was setting behind us painting the sky red.

ugh and Woza quickly fell into step comparing adventures whilst I trudged behind them trying to distract Emma so I could hide half a sandwich that was making me feel ill.   Woza knew the lines like a pro and we trodded up Craig Wen and Yr Aran without losing any time on schedule. 

The early evening was clear, warm and basically perfect.  As we turned towards Snowdon, headtorches came on and in the distance we could start to make out a snake of headtorches winding up to the summit.  There was a race in process which required runners to do as many laps from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon as they can in 24hrs via the Llanberis path.  We all agreed this was a poor use of time and effort but it really added to the atmosphere of the leg.

At the top of Snowdon we were greeted by a pool of blood that looked like the aftermath of a shark attack.  After a moment’s pause to silently wish the injured party well, we carried on into the clag that had suddenly materialised out of nowhere.  Hugh peeled off at this point and disappeared into the mist threatening to show the ultra-runners how to really do hill reps on his way back to the campsite while the rest of us headed onwards along the largely runnable ridge towards Llanberis.

The final four tops were shrouded in thick clag which made me very grateful to have Woza and Emma with me to navigate.  They were superb and we didn’t put a foot wrong.   We were still making decent progress and Woza kept us all amused with anecdotes of contenders getting lost in the back streets of Llanberis and missing their scheduled cut-off times.  The HQ for the 24hr Snowdon race was also based in Llanberis and meant it was quite busy for the early hours of the morning and filled with broken runners disappearing off into the clag for another slog up Snowdon and a few well hydrated locals.

On reaching the checkpoint, I collapsed into the chair drenched in sweat, muttered a few oaths under my breath and looked accusingly at the tea, recovery drink and rice pudding Andy had laid on for me.  I was feeling broken and managed to consume half a pot of rice pudding, a can of lemonade and a nibble of mango before hiding the evidence of my lack of eating under the chair hoping nobody noticed.  I said my goodbyes to Woza and Emma at this point and my mind turned to Elidir Fach and the atmospheric ascent through the slate mines out of Llanberis.

Leg 3: Llanberis to Ogwen. Glyders (16k, 1,800m elevation)

Supporters: Roland Kelly and Lee Ireland

I think I’d met Roland briefly while supporting Andy on a BG but had never met Lee who was a mate of Woza.  Both exceptionally gifted and experienced runners, they both looked on with a reasonable degree of scepticism as to whether I’d even make it out of Llanberis let alone complete the leg or the round.  First impressions weren’t improved when I realised just before starting the first climb that I’d left my head torch behind having stupidly taken it off at the checkpoint.  Thankfully Andy had noticed and was in hot pursuit to hand it over so not much time was lost. 

I continued to feel sick and was also feeling shame as I was not giving a particularly good account of myself. I was acutely aware people had made massive efforts to come and support my round and this was not going to plan.

The mind plays tricks with you over the course of these rounds.  Imposter syndrome and the horrible feeling that you’re letting people down are never far away.  The only reliable weapon to keep these devils at bay is the constant reassurance that you’re ahead of schedule or doing well.  I reminded myself on the slow trudge up Elidir Fach that sub 24 was Plan A, however getting round and successfully completing the PB was a very credible Plan B.  My family and friends had already sacrificed enough to support me in this all-consuming mission and I owed it to them and myself to finish. So, I told myself to stop feeling so bloody sorry for myself and crack on – I was in great company and spending quality time in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. 

Having tapped the tops of Eilidir Fach and Fawr, I resolved to get a piece of flapjack (or “sh**balls” as Lee described them who was not impressed that I hadn’t individually wrapped them) down me as I knew I was in real need of calories. 

I chomped it down and then spent the next 5mins on my hands and knees being violently sick and emptying my stomach completely of what little calories and fluid I’d put in.  Lee congratulated me on the volume given how little I’d taken on board, however I knew my body had hit the hard reset button and I was crossing my fingers the system would reboot properly.  Onwards.

The early hours of the morning over the Glyders were magical.  Not a soul about, tufts of cloud sometimes obscuring the tumble of jagged rocks that pass for peaks with a pale moon overhead.  The wind started to pick up and I was feeling the cold so added another layer, coat, gloves and a hat remembering the lessons learnt from my previous effort.  Lee and Roland were excellent in making sure I was warm enough at this tipping point on the round. 

Head torches came off somewhere around Glyder Fawr which made the sketchy scree descent off Glyder Fach and scramble up Tryfan much easier.  Thankfully the earlier rain had also dried off and it was superb to lay hands on Adam and Eve on the top of Tryfan.  The last time I was here was with Simon Barnett at Easter when he nimbly mounted Adam before leaping onto Eve to gain the freedom of the mountain again.  I’d neither the time nor energy for showboating and so we quickly stepped over someone who had bivvy’d on the summit and started the rocky descent to Ogwen.

We arrived at the checkpoint behind schedule having taken approx. 1hr 20mins longer to do the leg than I had 5weeks earlier.

At Ogwen, I was met by Andy who rightly admonished me for hiding my half-eaten food at the last checkpoint and he proceeded to stand over me like a schoolteacher to ensure I got some cold pizza and rice pudding down before heading on.  I sat with my head in hands asking anyone who would listen why we do this to ourselves. Andy reminded me that I was going to have to walk home if I didn’t finish and showed me a video of my kids wishing me luck. I grabbed a handful of cherry tomatoes in desperation.  A corner was turned, the tomatoes tasted great! At 3 calories a pop I’d need to eat around 3,000 of them to complete theround comfortably but thankfully I was too tired to do that maths.  The sun was now shining brighter in the sky and it was a glorious morning to be alive!

Leg 4: Ogwen to Capel Curig. Carneddau (15km, 1,250m elevation)

Supporters: Tate Eldred and Lee Ireland

Tate met us at Ogwen and Lee was going to carry on over the Carneddau.  Tate’s boundless enthusiasm for adventure and cheeriness in the face of adversity was exactly what was needed as we headed up the steep Roman nose of Pen yr Ole Wen. 

I’d done this leg a number of times before, mainly in the dark or snow, and to see it in its full glory was spectacular.  I still wasn’t eating much but I did manage to wash down a slice or two of pizza and a gel which was enough to keep the legs moving.  I knew it was going to be a struggle but I’d resolved to complete the round no matter what which took the pressure off and I began to really enjoy it.  We began to tick off the tops taking decent lines and, having made reasonable time up Pen LLithrig y Wrach, realised we’d actually made some time back on schedule and that a sub 24 round was still a possibility if I could get a move on.  It was stick or twist time.

I was feeling like a new man compared to the last 15hrs, so gave Lee the nod and he took up point position in our trio and led us down into Capel Curig at a steady run which felt sustainable although I was aware I was burning matches. 

At this stage, the sense of relief at not feeling sick and being able to enjoy the round was euphoric and with the sun out is was warming up nicely.

Leg 5 – Capel Curig to Bwlchgwernog. Moelwyns (32km, 2,410m elevation)

Supporters: Patrick Butlin for whole leg and Tate Eldred to join at the quarries for final section

Andy looked pleased to see me at the checkpoint by Plas y Brenin and noted that it was the first time I hadn’t looked completely buggered since setting off.  I managed to eat half a bacon sarnie washed down with a lemonade and a can of his 0% Heineken which, together with some cherry tomatoes, went down v well.

Patrick led us off in the direction of Moel Siabod examining a custom 1:25,000 map of the PB that he’d specifically ordered for the weekend.  I’m not sure he could get all of it tattooed onto his person at that scale but it seemed to do the trick and we hit the top on schedule.  I was really feeling the lack of energy at this stage but managed to jog the runnable bits to keep on time. 

This leg is the longest of the round and is characterised by fiddly navigation over rough terrain where it’s tricky to get a rhythm going.  It’s also composed almost entirely of bog.  Over one section, Patrick bravely went first, skipping over the ground and calling back cheerily that it looked worse than it was and I could wade through.  It speaks of the trust between contender and support crew that I unquestioningly blundered straight ahead and disappeared up to my waist immediately.  Thankfully I was able to grab some firm ground to heave myself out as Patrick was too busy laughing to drag me out.

The forecast thunder and lightning stayed away, however the previously sunny skies darkened, the wind picked up and we were caught in some heavy downpours.  Full waterproofs went on and together with slowing down due to general fatigue, I knew at this point that plan A and sub-24 was not going to happen.

Tate and Andy had agreed to meet us at the quarries halfway through the leg for a resupply and Tate was then going to join us to provide some relief to Patrick from my awful chat. There is a craggy bit by Clogwyn Brith just before you reach the quarry that can be tricky if you miss the optimal line which unfortunately we did.  After dithering for a bit, I thought I saw a line down and decided to take it on rather than retrace my steps to go around which Patrick wanted to do, and so we agreed to split up and meet at the quarry buildings.     Tate and Andy who had seen us apparently crag bound and in need of rescue, headed over to lend some help from the ground but lost sight of both of us as I descended a horrible route mainly on my arse while Patrick went the sensible longer way round.  It turned out that the quarry buildings I then headed towards were at Plas Cwmorthin rather than the agreed meeting point and so I spent 5mins or so walking downhill in the wrong direction.  Andy and Tate eventually met with Patrick at the right buildings and, with no sign of me, reached the conclusion that I had come to an unfortunate end on the crag and started to draw lots over who was going to extricate my broken body.  Little did they know I was now retracing my steps.

back up to the quarry and cursing both my own stupidity and the additional elevation. We eventually reconvened and agreed never to part again!

The final stretch of the round was uneventful having made peace with the demons in my head a long while back regarding the elusive 24hr barrier.  I was relaxed, delighted that without a catastrophe I was going to complete the round and able to enjoy the final few tops.  Well, no one really enjoys Cnicht but you know what I mean.

Reflections and thanks

These rounds are special and it’s a privilege to be able to spend time in the hills a million miles away from reality.  Sometimes I need to spend this time alone, but the camaraderie that comes from sharing these times with like-minded folk, some of whom you may not have met until they turn up in the middle of the night at a bus stop in Llanberis to run with you for the next 9hrs or so is impossible to explain unless you’ve experienced it and deeply humbling.

Thanks to everyone that helped make this happen, for coming out that damp weekend in April when it didn’t happen and then again in July when I made my peace with Snowdonia.  

Andy C – massive thanks for stepping in at short notice, driving up from the south coast (twice!) and rustling up some extra support for the July attempt.  Huge thanks to Matt W, Ross, Claire, Fraser, Fraser’s dad, Henry, Jerome, Simon, Tom R, Hugh, Woza, Emma, Lee, Roland, Tate, and Patrick for believing in me and all your help.  I am in your debt and hope I can carry your sandwiches on similar adventures soon.   Your collective positivity, wisdom and humour got me round. 

Special thanks to Famo Bedlow: Em, James & Lucy for the unswerving belief, encouragement and patience, it wouldn’t happen without you. 

That’s it.  Done.

p.s. If anyone knows of somewhere that sells decent Scottish calendars, let me know…

Fossils, A Rick Ansell Adventure

“Where’s Dad?” My wife asked my son amongst the melee in the Coniston Sports and Social Club.

“I don’t know, probably talking to another fossil” was the reply.

I reminded my son to have a bit more respect for his elders and betters when I found out. 

“But I’m better than you Dad” was the reply.  Somewhere along the line my parenting skills seem to have been lacking.

In fact I was deep in conversation with an old acquaintance, Darren Parker who was telling me about the previous day’s Black Coombe Race which he had done.  Darren is absolutely not a fossil and still runs in the youngsters’ age category (V50) which is probably why he was able to contemplate two major races in two days. 

It was disappointing that I was the only representative of Tring.  Most of the other Club’s fell running community was pottering about the beach in South Devon pretending to be bears or something, I didn’t quite get the gist of it.

As an experiment for this year’s Kong Mini Mountain Marathons the map is being given at registration so routes can be planned in advance rather than as part of the race time.  Not an improvement in my view.  We wended our way up to the start at the Miners Bridge with our noses in our maps.

I was really not feeling confident at all.  On the Wednesday run I had had to pull up in Tring High Street and walk back to the Club with pain down my hamstring, a recurrence of an issue that has plagued me all year.  On Thursday it was noticeably uncomfortable walking to work.  We were sort of committed to the weekend, though, as Max’s car (actually my car, which he appropriated) had expired so he was reliant on us picking him up from Liverpool (not) on our way to Coniston and a campsite had been booked.  I reasoned that whatever, I could do some kind of a walk and at least collect a few points and have a bit of a day in the hills.

We started together and Max bid me a cheery/cheeky “See you later, Dad” and disappeared off up the hill.  I followed at a more sedate pace.  The control we had both opted to visit first looked potentially tricky and I was confident that I would catch him as he dithered about looking for it.

I soon caught an old mate, Roger Ashby.  Roger is roughly the same age as those ammonites you find on the beach in Dorset.  He isn’t too sure of his age and I think race organisers tend to use Carbon 14 dating to ascertain his category.  Roger gets about the hills with walking sticks these days and is inevitably late back incurring enormous penalties in every event he does.  I have to say I find him a huge inspiration.  Our conversation was interrupted by Darren hurtling back down the path.  “Whatever are you doing” I called.  “I’ve lost my compass” was the reply.  The day was clear and we didn’t really need a compass but he was gone before I could make this point.  He never found it either….  Perhaps age is catching up with him.

When I got to the first control, a rather insignificant stream junction in an area of marsh, Max, disappointingly, was nowhere to be seen, he must have got it quickly.  Secretly I was rather pleased.  Having produced a son who is able to use a map and compass properly is one of my better achievements, I think.  I found that I was able to manage a slow jog but as soon as I increased the pace my hamstring threatened to go into spasm.  It was very frustrating as I felt quite lively and able to push the pace on a little where the terrain allowed but this wasn’t often and probably I wasn’t losing much time.  Certainly I was keeping pace with another guy who looked  a bit younger and was not quite getting the lines.  From the stream junction I made my way to a small but obvious knoll and then to the top of a craggy hill which was worth 40 points..  The fourth control on my list was at an old mine in the next valley.  A good path ran down beside a wall to the valley bottom from where I could follow the stream up to the ruin.  A guy in front followed what looked like a clear trod that traversed the hillside and seemed a more direct line and didn’t require any loss of height so I followed along but soon regretted it as the trod was horribly rocky and not at all runnable.  Although I cursed the guy for leading me astray, in hindsight it was probably a good option as I wasn’t really doing too well at the running anyway.  From the ruin it was just a hop across a low ridge to a very desirable 50 pointer below Wrynose Pass. 

My shoe was cutting into me badly.  I knew it had given me blisters in the past but I couldn’t remember where the blister formed so had put some Compeed in my bum bag to use when I found out.  A brief stop to patch up my foot helped only a little and I decided to plan to avoid any contours where my left leg was uppermost as this was exacerbating the problem.

From the sheepfold, the only way was up.  Those in front seemed to have formed a line up the stream which to me looked a bit of a roundabout route.  I double checked the map to see if they had spotted something I hadn’t but if they had I couldn’t see what it might be.  The only place any of us could sensibly be going was the top of the ridge above.  My more direct route entailed a lot of dead bracken and steep ground which I didn’t enjoy but I did pop out on the ridge ahead of most of the line.  I was just congratulating myself when a voice behind called:  “I’ve been hunting you down on that climb, Rick” and there was Geoff Briggs.

Geoff is a fellow V60.  We have run against each other for at least 30 years and he was always better than me.  A while ago he had his ankle bones fused and so now is not able to run but he has trained himself to walk at a prodigious speed and last year he won the V60 category.  That was not going to happen again.  If Sherlock had Moriarty, I have Geoff.

We dibbed at the control on the cairn and discussed options.  There was a very tempting 50 pointer down on the hillside towards Cockley Beck but after considering it we both agreed it was too much of a commitment and headed around Swirl How for another 50 point control on a little knoll on the ridge to the south.  Geoff had started about 20 minutes before me so I was wondering what he had been doing to get behind me but I had a clear strategy with a lot of in built safety.  On the hills above the mines there were two 40, two 30 and a 20 point control, so 160 points altogether.  I reckoned there should just about be time for them all but if I couldn’t there was always an option of a direct run down to the finish.

Geoff continued south while I backtracked and found a cunning line below Swirl How and onto the Prison Band Ridge.  Here I met Roger grunting his way up sticks flailing at the rocks.  “Don’t be late, now Roger”, I said.  “I won’t”.  But I knew he would be.  He was heading up hill and away from the finish with not much more than an hour to go.

My next target was on Black Sails a small top between Wetherlam and Swirl How.  The description was knoll and there were any number of knolls in the complex ground to choose from.  Three people had just come past me and I allowed them to lead me in to the right one. Then there should have been a lovely fast run down to a small pond on the Wetherlam ridge.  I hobbled down as best I could and was pleased to find that I still had 40 minutes to get the last three controls and run in.   A steep descent got me the first 30 point at a sheepfold in the valley.  The next one was on a(nother) small knoll on the ridge above.  Did I have time?  It was a bit of a climb and the legs were tired.    Go for it.  I climbed a bit and looked up, a little tuft of bog grass on the lip of the ridge seemed very close.  Good decision.  Hope it’s the right knoll.  It was.  20 minutes to get back and find that stream junction on the way.

It took a little while to realise that what I thought was a patch of forest on the map was actually mine workings.  My brain went into retirement and I dithered about trying to work out exactly which stream junction I was looking for.  Time was ticking.  Suddenly the Legend that is Mark Seddon came flying by.  Mark was unbeatable at Mountain Marathons for ten years back in the Jurassic Period.” Have you found that stream junction?” I enquired in a voice that I hoped suggested that us oldies need to stick together and support each other.  “Yeah, it’s just there” and so it was, 30m away.

I trotted back to the finish with a bit les than five minutes in hand.  And there was Max sitting looking very smug.  “I had a really good run, I must have got over 400 points”  And he started to tell me where he had been.  It sounded like he had visited most of the Lake District, certainly most of the bit that was shown on our map.   We made our way to download.  “370 points, he said.  A shame I messed up that one at Blind Tarn, I would have got that extra 30.  So what do you get Dad?”

“430 as it happens”.   I replied.  Do you remember when you were young I once read you story about a hare and tortoise?  

RESULTS

  1. Steve Birkenshaw    647 points

20   Mark Seddon           467 points (1st V 60)

      29   Rick Ansell             430 (2nd V 60)

      42  Geoff Briggs              400

      51   Max Ansell              370 (10th Senior)

      106 Darren Parker           270 (having lost 150 points and a compass)

      157 Roger Ashby           100 (having lost 170 points)

163 ran.

Doing an OKT

“Beware the idle moments”. I think it was the Soothsayer warning Julius Caesar about his impending doom but Michael Burgess, a great Shakespeare scholar, will correct me….Anyway, the warning is good.  It was in an idle moment, I think after a Peak Raid event a couple of years ago, that I found myself wondering how many peaks over 500m there were in the White Peak area.  I think we had just been on Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill, two very spectacular features but neither over 500m in height, that got me thinking. I soon found a list.  Unfortunately, I also had an appropriate map and the list was transferred to the map.  Then I started to link up the tops and I found a circle could be made, well more a wobbly oval then circle, an oval with a sort of horn on the end.  It looked like it would be somewhere in the region of 50 km to follow the line all the way round.  A good winter’s day, I decided.  Then it occurred to me that as nobody else was likely to have done it I could create an FKT.  OK I know Martin Stone has told us all that we shouldn’t use this term but talk about Mountain Records but the term persists.  I’ve always wanted to have an FKT to my name.  Obviously I’m never going to break the Pennine Way record or anything so identifying a run that nobody else is likely to have thought of is the only way to go…More an Only Known Time perhaps than a Fastest Known Time.

I made my first attempt the day of Storm Arwen.  The plan was to start and finish at the Cat and Fiddle, the iconic pub where the old Rucksack Club Tan Cat run used to finish, linking the two highest pubs in England: Tan Hill and The Cat and Fiddle.  That run was about 120 miles….   Driving up from Buxton the road was covered in about a foot of snow and the drifts either side were higher than the car in places.  I ended up in a convoy of 4×4 heroes and it was only when I got down to Macclesfield the other side that I realized the road was officially closed.  Someone must have moved the signs in Buxton.  Anyway, there was nowhere to park as everything was drifted up so I drove out of the snow, spent the rest of the night in the car and came home. Even at 6’ tall I reckoned there would a good chance of completely disappearing into a drift and not being found till Spring.  There is, I suppose, a sort of melancholic romance in dying in an avalanche on Ben Nevis or the North Face of the Eiger but to die in a snow drift on Whetstone Ridge seemed pretty pointless even if I could get to Whetstone Ridge…A second attempt in January last year didn’t get beyond Northchurch due to inertia.

Third time lucky.  I have actually been injured all this year but a visit to an osteopath last week seemed to sort things out.  “Try a short slow run at the weekend and see how you go” was his advice.  Well, I certainly wasn’t going to be running fast and what exactly is meant by short?  If you are Jerome McAlister short is pretty much anything less than 100 miles so 30 should be OK? even if that was rather more than I had managed in the whole of January…

I was working on Saturday so drove up in the evening and just made the chippy in Ashbourne before it closed.  I noticed the sign in the car park at Derbyshire Bridge saying ‘No Overnight Parking’ but reasoned I was only going to be there for half the night and settled down in my sleeping bag in the back of the car.  You never sleep particularly well before these adventures and a near full moon shining in through the windows didn’t help.  In the morning I had to scrape the frost off the inside of the windows… and then the outside of them.  The morning was glorious cold but cloudlessly clear.  The plan was to start at 09.00 from Errwood Dam in the Goyt Valley with an ambition of finishing in eight hours so just at dusk.  A certain amount of faffing meant I didn’t actually start till 09.01.23 (Martin has told us we must record the seconds on all attempts nowadays).  I had been unable to find a toilet so once started I needed to duck into a handy forest for my ablutions.  That complete I remembered I had forgotten to put any preventative Compeed on my heel and I thought I could feel a nascent blister so another stop was needed before, really, I had started.  Despite all this I was soon up on Cats Tor marvelling at the spectacular day.  I had run part of ridge along to Shining Tor in the November Peak Raid so had some familiar territory to begin with. 

I settled into the run, padding along the flagstones into the earlyish sun, trying not to slip on the ice.  From Shining Tor, at 559m the highest hill of the day, I could see the Cat and Fiddle with its parked cars just a skip away.  Then it was on to Whetstone Ridge an unmarked and unremarkable hill top that nobody sensible would ever bother to visit.  Across the valley the next objective stood proud: The Shutlingsloe, the Matterhorn of Cheshire, if it is not too disrespectful to the Matterhorn to suggest anything in Cheshire could resemble it.  It is a steep enough climb, though, as anyone who has done the Roaches Race will testify.  The Roaches Race route takes a fairly direct line from here to the top of the Roaches themselves but the route crosses fields that are private and permission is only given for the race day so I had to take a longer route following proper rights of way.  I was starting to have a bit of a low point here and needed to constantly remind myself that this was supposed to be a run not a walk.  I was hoping to find a burger van at Roach End where I could buy some water.  Unlike in proper hills where there are plenty of drinkable streams, most water courses here are either boggy dribbles or cross roads and I don’t like drinking from a stream once it has crossed a road.  The Roaches were busy but there was no burger van so I made my way up to the trig just about managing to outpace the Sunday walkers and then trotted back down again.  I’d have to wait till Flash where I knew there was a pub.  There was a long road stretch to the village and in case you didn’t know, Flash is England’s highest village (as the sing proudly declares) so of course the long road stretch was all up hill.  I bribed myself with the promise of a cup of tea at the pub and a refill of my bottle if I ran all the way.  I was as good as my word only to discover the pub didn’t open till 4.00pm, two hours away yet.  A kind woman working in a garden offered to fill up my bottle and I scrambled up to the top of Oliver Hill and sat down for a drink and jelly baby.

The next three hills might actually have only been two.  In my list they are named Axe Edge and Cheeks Hill.  Axe Edge was a blade like ridge rising above the A53, and clearly named on the map.  Cheeks Hill was a nebulous tumescence about 900m away and then to the north another fine axe like ridge with a trig point on was actually the highest point around but was unnamed on the map.  I suppose if I had looked up some grid references things might have been clearer but to avoid any problems I decided to visit all three tops but Cheeks Hill was really not worth the bother.

From the trig I could look across to Cats Tor and reminisce about the morning’s entertainment while trying not to look to the north east where I was heading, to reach the tip of the ‘horn’ of my oval at Black Edge.  Three tops to go, each one about half an hour apart at my current pace.  Some muddy paths helped me along for a while but the crux of the day was, I knew, going to be the stretch of moor between Combs Moss and Black Edge.  Anything called Moss is bound to be boggy.  Anything called Black is bound to be covered in thick heather.  Surely the good people of Staffordshire (I think I had crossed back over the border) would like to visit two of the most prominent tops in their county?  Surely there would be a good trod across the moor from one top to the other?  The good people of Staffordshire obviously had much too much sense to go anywhere near that moor.  It was an execrable morass of bog, heather and tussock.  It was also an ecological disgrace as in places the heather had been ripped up to allow new growth to provide food for the grouse who only seem to be able to eat new heather shoots.  And the grouse were only being fed to be shot.  My mood was as foul as the terrain.  Although the moor felt like the back end of nowhere it was not, really, very far from a road.  The main roads of the White Peak are favourites of the motorcycling fraternity.  I have no objection of course to anybody having a good time but all day long the whine, drone and croak of bike engines disturbed the peace of what is really gently pretty hill country.  Along with the bog and tussock I found myself swearing loudly at the intrusive racket.     

There was only a limited sense of satisfaction in reaching the final top as I then had to retrace my steps the 2.5km across the moor to get onto the Midshires Way track that would lead me much less painfully back down to the Errwood Dam and my car.  As I turned back west, though, the sun sank below Cats Tor and the sky filled with a vast crimson wash.  I found myself getting all goosebumpy despite the tribulations of the bog.  The cold came on quickly and I was glad to drop down off the moor into the darkness of the valley as the last for the sunset faded and a full moon rose gloriously behind me, lighting my way over the final few metres of the dam wall.  It was 17.35 and Martin could put his seconds where he liked. 

On running my wheelie thing over the map I found that actually the route was more like 43 km and had about 1,655m of climb.  I was a bit disappointed that it had taken me so long but I had more than doubled my mileage for the year.  To paraphrase a very sexist Edwardian aphorism: it was a good day for an old git.  I reckon an FKT would be under six hours.

For the record: the run was done solo, unsupported (except by the woman in Flash).  There was no prior recceing apart from knowledge gained during races in the area and traditional navigation was used throughout ie map and compass.  (Actually I only used the compass once and promptly ignored it as I didn’t like where it pointed me).  If anybody fancies it, I’ll send you my times and the list of hills.

My London Marathon

Mark Innocenti

I sit here overjoyed and in slight disbelief, it’s all a bit of a blur. In the weeks leading up to London I had been in two minds whether to race it ‘all out’ which meant attempting to go sub 2 hours 30 minutes or at least dip under my PB of 2:31:53 from Berlin 2018 OR just go out to enjoy the day and the crowds, whilst still maintaining a Championship Qualifying Time of sub 2:40.

I was very conscious of the punishing year to date, competing for England at 100km on road in April had taken a lot out of me and I had raced an awful lot over the summer (I was not being a good example to my coached athletes!) at all distances from the 5.4 miles Wendover Woods Hill Run, right up to a disastrous attempt for a fast time at the Ridgeway 86 at the end of August. I had not had the consistent speed work I would usually focus on before a marathon, however there had been glimmers of good form. Course records at the Chiltern Challenge 50km in July and also at the Dunstable 20 at the beginning of September, but I felt these performances had been largely due to the training volume at the start of the year rather than any specific training. I’d also picked up a very slight stress in my left foot after the R86 and had been nursing it a little, swapping some easy runs for bike sessions which helped improve things, albeit it remained a doubt in my mind.  

A week before the race I was still rather adamant I wouldn’t ‘race’. My daughter had been in hospital unexpectedly, work was manic and I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’. However, I was looking forward to seeing some friendly faces at the race, the buzz of running in the championship pen amongst some incredible runners and of course the home crowds. A few days before I decided I had little to lose and it would be silly of me not to attempt to run the first half well, then to reassess at that point, in the hope that I may be able to push for a PB from there. So the plan was to go sub 75 minutes for half way and the rest was in the hands of the running gods, if I blew up I blew up!

The morning of the race was relatively stress free, tubes and train worked well and there was the usual mix of nerves and excitement, although I did feel rather calm this time around, maybe due to putting less pressure on myself. The Championship pen is always a great experience, catching up with old and new faces and getting close up to the elite athletes; Bekele et al who were warming up. The weather was overcast, dry and no wind. We joked that ‘there will be no excuses today!’ I bumped into a friend and very good Serpentine Club marathoner Andrew Fraquelli (PB 2.28) and two of his club mates all looking to dip under 2:30. We agreed we would start together. Although I was conscious I would let them go if I felt it was too quick. We were brought forward to the line and there was a poignant minute’s silence in memory of the Queen. The elite athletes were announced to the cameras a few yards ahead of us and they gave their usual waves and within seconds of that we were off!

After the initial elbow jostling the first few miles is all about finding your rhythm, staying calm and not going off too quick. We ran as a small group of four early on, chatting a little and reviewing our pace each time our watches vibrated through a mile. We were all in good spirits and there is always a lift around the downhill at mile 3 which puts you immediately up on pace. I had written 3 mile splits for 2 hours 30 minutes (5:43 per mile) down the inside of my arm in biro and used that to judge things. The first 5 miles ticked by 10-15 seconds quicker and I was concerned that it was too fast. However, I did feel comfortable, my breathing was relaxed and running in a group helps to pull you along. A few more miles ticked by marginally slower but still ahead of time. The crowds were incredible around the Cutty Sark and the noise only grew the closer we got to the City. It was around this point where I lost contact with the runners I had started with. I had latched onto a much larger group of around 10-12, I looked over my shoulder on several occasions expecting my friends to catch me. However, the gap behind me had opened up. To avoid dropping back and getting isolated I made every effort to stay on the back of the group. As an ultra-runner I think I am perhaps more aware than most that any tiny benefit you can eek out in a race should be taken and it can build up to be quite significant over time. I chose to stay on their shoulders as it was an opportunity to conserve some energy for the second half.

Turning onto the iconic Tower Bridge is always one of the highlights of the race, the noise is electric, so much so that it encourages you to fist pump the air and gee the crowd up even more. It’s also very close to the halfway marker which I went through in 73:43, marginally ahead of where I wanted to be. It’s at this point where the mind games really start to play out. On one hand I was concerned that I had gone too fast and would suffer in a few miles time, and on the other I knew that the race really started now and I had given myself a great platform to do something I had always dreamed of. I kept telling myself, ‘this is what you train for’, ‘soak it all up’ and ‘don’t waste this opportunity’ and most importantly, ‘stay calm and don’t do anything stupid’! I found myself doing calculations in my head. If I could only keep pace to mile 18-19 I would then have an approximate ten second buffer per mile to still dip under the magic number, 2:30. It’s funny the tricks the mind plays on you, but it can also be a very powerful tool.

By mile 17 or 18, the field had spread out and I had a minor wobble. I found myself running on my own and got a little isolated in the twists and turns of Canary Wharf. The wind also seems to have a tendency to increase at this point on the course as it’s funnelled between the tall office blocks. I did have to work harder into the breeze for a mile or so and this resulted in my slowest mile of the race so far. Doubts started to creep in. Thinking I was slowing down I took my fourth gel slightly earlier than planned in the hope it would help avoid an energy crash. Fortunately, my pace seemed to return to where it had been. By mile 20 the streets start to become more and more familiar as you see the City ahead and various landmarks come into view. I spotted a few friendly faces in the crowd and a group of my old Highgate Harriers club mates had given me a lift.

‘Just. Ten. K. To. Go…..’

I was now working harder, there were less runners around me and the temperature was warmer. Nevertheless, my heart rate and breathing seemed stable and energy levels were good. Dare I say it, but I felt controlled, even fluid. As you repass Tower Bridge there is a lovely downhill sweep onto Lower Thames Street. I know it well from old Thursday lunchtime tempo sessions I used to do with colleagues when I was working in the City a few years ago.  This helps a great deal as I knew I would be approaching the Embankment soon enough and then Big Ben starts to come into view. The question was, did I have anything left or would the wheels start to come off?!

Amazingly, I continued to feel good and noticed I was starting to overtake one or two runners. I concentrated on the next, and then the next, each one giving you a lift while taking your mind off the pain. It’s enough to get your tail up and with a little over a mile to go I was giving it everything I had. The crowds near Big Ben and St James Park are electric. Breathing was now more laboured, I was puffing hard but just about hanging on and in control. Onto Birdcage Walk, time to start emptying the tank! As I turned onto the long sweep at Buckingham Palace I was really pushing, grimacing through the pain but in many ways it was euphoric. It’s not everyday this happens! This was it, the last 200 meters of the London Marathon, and as I turned onto The Mall there was nobody between me and the line. I sprinted with all I had, all the way through the line, oh the relief! I crumpled over to catch my breath. A glance at my watch – 2:27:19. I punched the air in celebration and shock, I had done it, a dream had come true, what a feeling! I subsequently found out this equated to 34th place in the masses (6th in age category), 62nd overall including the elite.

Thank you for reading this and to everyone for their support along the way, to the 7’s for pushing me on a Wednesday night and all the well wishes building up to the race. The smile hasn’t yet disappeared from my face. A special, special day.

One last note – Thank you to everyone that has turned up to the Monday track sessions so far and to the club for supporting it. It’s amazing that so many of you are getting involved and the encouragement and camaraderie during the sessions is fantastic. It’s a joy to see and long may it continue.

See you soon

Mark

Bob Graham – solo unsupported – anticlockwise – 21/22 Sept 2020

Simon Barnett

Summer 2020. Following Covid-spoiled plans to do a Ramsay Round in May that were somewhat made up for a few reps of Incombe Hole plus an on-spec Dartmoor Round, my summer was left feeling a bit unfulfilled. To try and compensate, in the midst of furlough I hatched a vague plan to attempt a solo BG.

Nearly two years on now, and it’s probably time to get some more enjoyment from this adventure by writing it up.

In late August/early September I made the necessary plans, waited for a good weather window, tapered, packed, went to bed ready to drive up the next morning but woke in the middle of the night and announced that I had failed to avoid the children’s germs and that instead I would be moping around at home feeling sorry for myself. Another taper followed aligned to what looked like a good weather window, only to be aborted a couple of days out by a recall to work for a meeting. Ninety seconds into that meeting I was excused and was left feeling that the odds were stacked against me.In late August/early September I made the necessary plans, waited for a good weather window, tapered, packed, went to bed ready to drive up the next morning but woke in the middle of the night and announced that I had failed to avoid the children’s germs and that instead I would be moping around at home feeling sorry for myself. Another taper followed aligned to what looked like a good weather window, only to be aborted a couple of days out by a recall to work for a meeting. Ninety seconds into that meeting I was excused and was left feeling that the odds were stacked against me.

Heading towards late September and some more high pressure was forecast. This was it. I was delayed getting away and arrived in Keswick early evening with a 2am start and a sub-24 hour finish in mind. I wandered into town and tipped a couple of people off by phone about my plans. I felt a good sense of nervous anticipation as I sat on the steps of the Moot Hall in the fading light and visualised what was to come.

I had snuck a couple of speculative recces in a few months earlier over what would be Leg 4 and 5. I’d decided to mix it up and go anti-clockwise. I wondered how much slower I would be than 12 years previously when a massive contingent from Tring RC had turned out to help get me round clockwise. I didn’t want to be constrained by worrying about time so had simply jotted down some Leg times.

I settled down in the boot of the car for a few hours of lying horizontally. My mind was busy. The forecast remained fair so that was OK. Did I have enough food? There would be around 14 hours of light, so plenty of darkness to contend with, but could I find my way? How much water should I carry on the drier Legs? Sleep was hard to come by. It had been a bit of a stressful day one way and another and I was nervously excited about getting underway.

I sipped on an energy drink as I walked through the deserted streets. I had the place to myself. No late night revellers to see me off in the early hours of this Monday morning. I hung around, adjusted my laces and set off on the nose at 2am.

Across the fields out of Keswick, feeling light on my feet despite my very heavy bag, I could feel the adrenaline kicking in as my headtorch bounced back in dense fog. Holding the torch at my waist didn’t help – this fog was thick and unexpected. Was it localised, just near the river or was I heading out into some pea-soup on Leg 1? I stuck on the road to High Snab snubbing my favoured route of Howard’s Way (named after the 55th member who introduced me to it during the first BG I supported). I figured there was less chance of a nav error on the roads.

The fog had quickly cleared and at this point the night was bright enough to turn the torch off at times, clad with what seemed like a million stars as I trotted out towards Newlands. My main memories of Leg 1 are the darkness that set in and the steepness of the first climb to gain the ridge up to Robinson. It’s short but felt never ending and some doubts entered my mind. This was followed by some uncertainty between Robinson and Hindscarth when the vague outlines, or what I thought were the outlines of the hills felt strangely peculiar. I cast those doubts aside and didn’t bother with the map/compass.

I trusted my knowledge of the hills and before long was arriving 20 mins up on my basic schedule at Honister. A lot of faffing ensued as minutes evaporated – locating a stream and filling up water flasks with hydration tablets and choosing what to eat. I had gone to town on food. No corner had been cut. Rolls. Bars. Dried fruit. A pizza. Another pizza for good measure. Sweets. Chocolate bars. Crisps. Nuts. Had I started with the amount of food that I finished with, I would still have had plenty to spare. My bag was ridiculously heavy.

I started the climb towards Grey Knotts feeling a bit frustrated that I had spent so long at Honister. Filling a couple of flasks shouldn’t take that long! The darkness was thick and enveloped me. The stars had long gone and there was not much to navigate by beyond the assistance provided by the headtorch. Things went rosily over Brandreth and Green Gable. I hoped the breaking dawn might illuminate the rocky descent of Great Gable but I wasn’t that lucky. I ended up veering further left than I intended and accidentally found a fast scree run, albeit shinning myself on an oversized rock at one point. Some lights really perturbed me for a few minutes, coming in and out of some cloud that was shrouding Gable. I was convinced there was a hippy campsite floating halfway up Gable but during a bigger gap in the cloud it became apparent that they were from the valley bottom in Wasdale.

Breaking dawn looking back over Great Gable with Leg 4 in the background, enjoying a rice pudding
breakfast

Dawn broke quickly and spectacularly climbing Kirk Fell and I celebrated by sitting on a rock and eating some of my heavier food items including a rice pudding. I properly relaxed for the next couple of hours – moving freely, enjoying the now fine views, not having to worry about navigation. A couple walkers who must also have made an early start came the other way off Red Pike and I was soon at Yewbarrow, looking down into Wasdale. I thought I’d spotted a cunning route off Yewbarrow on Google maps, but was left berating myself as I didn’t go where I had intended and ended up in an impenetrable rock field and wasted a lot of time making sluggish progress.

I finally arrived at Wasdale 30 minutes ahead of the rudimentary 23 hour schedule and ran straight through without stopping. There was no need to stop at any of the road crossings, so I didn’t. I figured that resting there might not provide any rejuvenation, looking up at the next incongruous climb. And the next climb out of Wasdale was brutal. It dragged on and on. Suffering through the heather next to the scree run was tough. Then some more cloud resulted in a bit of an unnecessary dogleg before I popped out of the cloud and I was treated to some spectacular views which I enjoyed with a few slices of pizza on top of Scafell.

The reward of toiling up Scafell was some fine views and an excuse to stop for a
few minutes. This cloud soon burnt off and only returned about 12 hours later.

With Scafell out the way I moved well, spurred on by memories of a recent family walk up Lingmell and Scafell Pike, through to Rossett Pike although the warmth of the day started to make itself felt. From Rossett I decided to keep some height and go round the contour rather than drop and climb up onto Martcrag Moor. Suddenly tiredness struck and I was unable to run on a very runnable gently sloping downhill path. It was evident that it was going to be hard work from here on. The Langdales came and went without incident accompanied by the occasional patch of feeling OK. Running towards Calf Crag was a particular highlight. It was hard work but after months of lockdown this was joyful.

The climb up Seat Sandal was not a joy. After arriving at Dunmail 50 minutes up, the climb up Seat Sandal was unrelenting. I’d reccied this off fresh legs a few months previously and had thought nothing of it before scampering down the rest of the Leg to Threlkeld. Today however was going to be very different. Finally on top I had to sit down and properly compose myself. I took about 10 minutes, finding every excuse I could to stay. I cleared all the rubbish out of my external rucksack pockets and buried it in the bottom of my bag, which of course involved emptying most of the bag in order to do so. I let Kirsty know that my phone battery was suffering and I’d be turning it off so don’t bother tracking me until nightfall when I’d turn it back on again.

The wind got quite stiff and was buffeting me around a bit. I stood up, feeling better for the rest and headed for the Fairfield out and back. That went well as did the long climb up the zigzags to Dollywagon Pike. The effort of the day was properly catching up with me now and instead of making up time, which I had secretly hoped to do, I started to lose it against schedule. Other walkers became scarcer until I overtook what turned out to be the last ones I saw for the day coming off Helvellyn Little Man. I had the hills to myself, trying desperately not to look straight ahead to the Northern massif as my speed slowed to a fast walk and the wind grew. My hopes of clearing Mungrisdale Common in daylight faded as I slowed down, accepting that the vast majority of the final Leg would need to be navigated in darkness.

I’d found a good route off Clough Head in my reccie, but managed to overshoot it and ended up a little off-piste before the going became easier again. Upon regaining familiar ground I managed a half decent jog down to Threlkeld, feeling quietly contented, knowing that I had almost seven hours to complete the next Leg to finish within 24 hours. Straight through Threlkeld and up through the farm. I was headed for a bench on the fell-edge where I made sure I got ready for the ensuing darkness. I rearranged my bag burying copious amounts of food that would not be needed at the bottom of the bag and bringing warmer layers, and the as yet unused map and compass to the top, along with the head torch and spare battery. I turned the phone back on and made sure my altimeter watch was set correctly

Nothing for it now but to head up Halls Fell Ridge, where the darkness set in. At the last possible moment, about two thirds of the way up Blencathra I turned the 5 head torch on. For much of the day it had looked like I could and should be a bit further on than this before darkness fell. But it was what it was.

Up and over Blencathra smoothly, but clouds blocked out any natural light from the waxing crescent moon. Once over the top it was pitch black. Before long on the descent I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was hoping to skirt the stone field keeping it on my right, but I never even saw it. I’m not entirely clear what happened next, but I had a considerable wander around Mungrisdale Common before getting my wits together and setting a compass bearing to the River Caldew – albeit not on the well worn trod which made going frustratingly slow.

I was lucky to hit the Caldew and pick up the BG trod again. Cue a massive sigh of relief and a few glances at the watch to try and work out how much time had been wasted. Somewhere about now I noted that in 2008 I would have been back at the Moot Hall. The fence was a welcome navigational aid up Great Calva and once a right turn had been established on the descent it was now a case of putting one foot in front of the other and trying to savour the moment.

Skiddaw in the darkness seemed as interminable as my smile was wide when I caught site of Keswick for the first time on the final descent. I was not moving fast, but it was impossible not to jog as the various aches and pains of the day eased. I stopped in the woods for a wee to make sure I would not be hopping around the High Street with a full bladder upon completion. Across Fitz Park and up the steps to the door of the Moot Hall at 12.32am where I sat and reflected on the day for 10 minutes before 2 lone men wandered past, nodded and briefly mentioned the words Bob and Graham to each other. A slightly better sleep followed in the car before a fry up and the drive home. I recovered well with no lasting effects, feeling more fulfilled and, Covid pending, focused on some winter training to lead into a belated Ramsay Round in 2021.

Inevitably, I’ve been asked what’s easier. Clockwise or anti-clockwise? It’s a bit like comparing apples with pears though. In 2008 I didn’t carry a thing, having spent 5 months intensively reccying. I had every need cared for by a crack team, with only three hours in darkness accompanied by a first-class mountain marathoner. Running fresh anti-clockwise out to Newlands and then Honister is quick, but leaves the sting of the Northern fells for when you are most tired. Descending the West Wall Traverse and the descent from Bowfell aren’t as formidable as might be imagined, although West Wall Traverse and Lord’s Rake might be a bit different with people coming the other way. If you can still run, the descents off Rossett, Sergeant Man, Clough Head and Skiddaw are theoretically fast with good going under foot. The climbs out of Wasdale, Dunmail and Threlkeld are all more intimidating than clockwise – although if I were to run off Scafell tomorrow faced by the prospect of Yewbarrow I may contradict myself. The finish off Skiddaw with Keswick coming into view below is a nicer way to finish compared to the pavements of Portinscale.

Either way this particular adventure was a great day out. Running the BG alone is a different prospect and a different experience compared to being supported. There was no prospect of letting down the people who give up so much to support, the ability to wait for settled weather was a huge benefit, knowing that you and you alone are responsible for any nav errors is comforting contrasted by knowing that you and you alone are responsible for correcting them. Although the lows were perhaps a bit lower on my own, the feeling of achievement was unparalleled both alone and supported, clockwise and anti-clockwise.

Job done. Back at the Moot Hall after a fine
day out. Tired but content.

Race Report: Mountain Trial

Simon Barnett

The second Sunday in September has become a permanent fixture on my running calendar. Held in a different location each year the Lake District Mountain Trial is a challenging day out – visiting a set number of checkpoints in a set order.

Although there is a different planner most years, there is a school of thought that says following a hard year, you can expect an easier time the following year. 2021 was broadly accepted as being a tough year on the Classic course, taking me just under 7 hrs. There are Medium and Short course options too.

On the start line 600m beneath Great Dodd towards the northern end of the Helvellyn range, I was hopeful that the ‘easy year’ maxim may play out.
I had nearly timed out in 2014 when this event was last on the Helvellyn range so I was a little nervous, knowing that I am always capable of having a bad day.

Thanks to the prospect of train strikes and trains being short-staffed it had been a labour of love to even get to the start line, involving Friday night wild camping and whittling Saturday morning away in Kendal. Not to mention whether the event would go or ahead or not due to the Queen’s passing. But I was well rested and the forecast was fair, with the prospect of some rain pushing in from late afternoon.

Leaving the start line it was an immediate climb and short contour to map issue. A quick glance at the map and my hopes for an easy year were realised – although is there ever such a thing as an easy year?

Checkpoint 1 was a short bash through some heather and rocks to a prominent hill top with some great views up and down the valley, but no time to admire them for long today.

A longer tussocky climb and a 2km contour to a sheepfold for the next checkpoint, inadvertently stumbling across checkpoint 9, the penultimate checkpoint of the day on the way.

There were participants from the medium course heading off in a different direction. And now I had my first route choice. I opted to lose some height and take in the Old Coach Road before climbing steeply again to an outlying hill. Alone I wondered if it was an inspired choice or a daft one. It turned out to be neither as I arrived at the hilltop checkpoint within 30 seconds of another competitor who was moving at the same speed as me.

Then came the daft route choice, compounded by a nav error which took me to the end of the Old Coach Road followed by an additional mile down some tarmac. Back on my intended route and I made the long contour on a path around Glencoynedale before climbing to the Old Chimney, that used to serve Greenside Mine some half a mile beneath the surface.

I made up some time on the next checkpoint as some speedy runners flew past and led me down a cheeky shortcut before I was towed up Mires Beck by a line of Helvellyn triathletes, cheered on by their supporters. 16th fastest on this leg – by far the best of the day.

Another choice now required. Cut down to Grisedale and climb up the valley to the tarn before ascending Dollywagon Pike or mingle with the walkers over now misty Striding Edge? I made a good choice and had some fun along Striding Edge whereas a friend chose to descend, in the process losing her map and cutting her shins on rocks in head-high bracken. (She managed to finish through memory and taking a photo on her phone of someone else’s map).

The mist cleared just as I approached the reentrant checkpoint below Dollywagon’s summit. Faster runners were pouring past now. Drained of water I opted to fill up from a questionably murky trickle at the checkpoint and could feel my stomach turn each time I took a sip for the next hour until I reached a crystal clear stream.

By this point I had run back over Helvellyn, for the second time skirting the actual top. I walked much of this 55 minute leg unable to muster a run, knowing that I had more than enough time to complete the course before it closed 5pm.

I got going a bit better on the next leg, by coincidence another 55min one, skirting the tops of Stybarrow Dodd and Great Dodd after an unrelenting climb through tussocks to regain the ridge at Sticks Pass.

A couple more controls and a steep final descent back to the start/finish at Fornside Farm in St John’s in the Vale. Another Mountain Trial in the bag – now level with Brian (12), with Nigel in my sights (13), gradually closing in on Rick (17) whilst Kevin is on a tantalising 22.

Across the finish line before any rain fell to swap a few stories and learn that Nigel Bunn’s daughter, Fiona, had comfortably won the medium course outright.

Classic results
1 Philip Rutter Helm Hill 4h13m
26 Simon Barnett 6h21m
54 starters, 44 finishers.

THE JOSS NAYLOR LAKELAND CHALLENGE

by Rick Ansell

One of my students asked me the meaning of ‘I was humbled’ last week.  I did my best to clarify it.  It was very much how I was feeling last Friday when I realised a group of people had given up their weekend to run with me and drive round the Lake District to support me.  Some had spent large fortunes on train fares and fuel and spent hours in traffic jams to get there too.

The occasion was an attempt on the Joss Naylor Challenge.  For those that don’t know what this is, it is a run from Pooley Bridge in the north east corner of the Lakes to Greendale Bridge in the south west corner.  It is a distance of 48 miles, includes 17,000’ of ascent and visits the tops of 30 Lakeland hills.  It was first run by the legendary Joss Naylor to celebrate his 50th Birthday.  Joss did it in vile weather in under 12 hours and decided it would a good challenge for the older fell runner: the old gits’ Bob Graham.  He set various time limits according to age.  For the over 60s (me) this is 18 hours.  Two other members of Tring have completed the Traverse: Michael Burgess at V55 in under 15 hours and Brian Layton at V60.  Ex Tringer Alan Whelan completed it last year in a very fast time for V55.  There is a requirement for the contender to be accompanied by a pacer on each hill top to verify the run, hence the large team of friends to whom I am indebted.

The forecast was for occasional drizzle and low cloud gradually clearing.  The forecast was wrong.  The postcast (which obviously was right) was 14 hours of rain.

At 01.50 Pooley Bridge was quiet as the four of us waited on the bridge for the clock to tick round, one of us rather nervously.  At 02.00 we padded off down the track beside the river.  Patrick and Alex had recced the way out through the camp site and no time was lost here.  I think recceing is cheating and these things should always be done on sight or just using existent knowledge but trying to weave a way between people’s tents in the dark is tricky.  On Arthur’s Seat the lights of the farms beside Ullswater twinkled up at us but by Loadpot we were in the cloud and starting to get wet. When we got to High Raise the wind was up and conditions were becoming distinctly unpleasant.  The mist was definitely a hard drizzle.  Alex, Patrick’s brother-in-law is a resident of Montana and more used to running on the trails around the hills there.  This was a fairly precipitous introduction to real fell running.  Max stuck close and handed the bottle and jelly babies as his father demanded.  The rain meant I had to remove my glasses.  Removing the glasses meant I couldn’t read the map so the main burden of navigation fell on Patrick who did sterling work.  On High Street Alex announced that he was cold and he did indeed seem to be close to hypothermia.  We crammed a hat on him and jelly babies in him and hurried on to Threshthwaite Mouth where there was respite from the wind and he could pull on more clothes.  The dawn came reluctantly as though the day had seen the weather and wanted to stay in bed.

By Stony Cove Pike the torches were ineffectual and we romped down the wall and completely missed the turn to Pike Howe.  Patrick caught the error 500m further on as we arrived at St Raven’s Crag.  Back we went. 20 mins lost to the schedule.  Annoyed, I made up quite a few of these descending to Kirkstone.  The car park seemed deserted, just a couple of camper vans loomed in the mist.  Panic.  And then Scott saw us and leapt out of a car we hadn’t seen in the fog.  Suddenly the place came alive.  Coffee was poured, potatoes offered, bottles filled, Jaffa cakes grabbed and we were on our way with another five minutes saved. 

I was running on a 17 hour schedule based on Brian’s crossing so even being 20 minutes down was not critical as it would still get me to Greendale inside the 18 hour limit.  Of course, it is in no way competitive but I didn’t want to do a time slower than Brian’s 17.06, even though he was a year younger than me when he did his so it wouldn’t really count.  I was also keen to beat Hugh’s time of 17.17.  (OK so this was Hugh’s time for the Bob Graham Round about 30% further but he’s 40% of my age and about 100% better).  Certainly, on that first leg, as I called out the time on each top, Max would tell by how much ahead or behind we were on the schedule and every time we gained a minute or two my spirits lifted as I imagined Brian toiling in my wake. Imagining Brian sitting triumphantly at Kirkstone watching me come in 15 minutes behind him was not conducive to good morale.

The new team included Scott Collier and Kevin Harding.  With them to navigate there was no point in me even carrying a map.  Paul acted as mule and handed drinks and food when required.  The pace was a little slower than on the Hodgson Relay that goes this way but by Fairfield we had pulled back more time and on Seat Sandall the rain seemed to ease off.  We found the BG trod and soon we could see the cars at Dunmail and there was Julie out to meet and greet.  It is a tradition of the Traverse that a previous completer will come out to wish contenders well.  On runs like this when there are times you feel a little fragile it is amazing what a boost a friendly face can make and the thought that someone else is thinking of you and wishing you well; has made the effort to come out early in the morning to say hello gives a huge mental boost.   “You’re going really well, Rick” she said as I came in.  Whether or not it was true, I believed her and felt good for it.  These long runs are such mind games and each time Scott or Paul or Ned murmured: “You’re descending well, Rick” or “You climbed that really strongly” I felt a genuine boost and really wanted to make it true.

He didn’t know it but Kevin probably saved my life at Dunmail.  I was so focused on the chair sitting beside the road and the thought of a sit down and some rice pudding that I was just about to run straight out across the dual carriageway in front of the traffic belting over the pass.  Kevin’s warning hand stopped me just in time.  Julie surveyed the new team: Scott, Simon Barnett, Ned Needham and Paul Addison.  “You’ve got a crack team here” she said admiringly and clearly meant it.  Yes, I knew I had.  Between them they had decades of hill days and, as Paul said to me: “Simon is a secret weapon, he just seems to know every trod on the hills”

On the long stretch to High Raise the clouds began to clear and for a few wonderful moments we were graced with a rainbow and views of the hills we had come to run over.  Climbing High Raise was a chore, though, the rain came on again and the weather closed down.  Despite this I felt better on the nice grassy trods down to Stake Pass and was genuinely enjoying the running.  Nothing was hurting, I didn’t really feel fatigued.  There was a wonderful sense of focus in what we were doing all working together to keep moving and get the fastest lines.    I wanted to get Rossett behind me so I could get stuck into Bow Fell which loomed large in my mind.  Things went quiet as we toiled up Billy Bland’s Rake.   It felt slow but on top Scott informed us that we were now 15 minutes ahead of schedule and immediately I was lifted.  Scott headed off down the Band to the ODG for lunch leaving Simon, Paul and Ned to lead me through to the end.  We retraced from Great End towards Esk Hause and ran down the track past Sprinkling Tarn rather than try to find the direct descent.  It might be slower but it was safe.  I felt jaded now, wet and tired of the endless rain; my knees were painful on the descents

A party had come up from Wasdale with coffee, brownies, potatoes and bars.  It was cosy behind the stretcher box and nice to stop moving. Simon had to gently suggest that progress should be resumed but the rest and Nurofen had reinvigorated me and the I felt strong again on the long climb up Great Gable.  We wanted to use the scree descent off the top but the scree we found was a bit bigger than the ideal.  We stumbled onto Beck Head with little time lost and the final big climb on Pillar just the other side of Kirk Fell.  A couple of minutes were lost to over confidence of the line off Kirk Fell but we were now around 30 minutes up on the schedule.    My back was getting very tight and on the slopes of Pillar I had to lie down and try to stretch it out.  It improved it for about 150m but that was enough to get me over the top and but for the fog the end was in sight.  I kept telling myself to concentrate.  A trip here could end it all prematurely; too cruel at this stage.  Scoat Fell, Steeple and Haycock were ticked off.  Knowing the end was close now, my mind was starting to get demob happy and the climbs were becoming hard, my legs seemed to lose strength.  “Are we ahead of schedule?”  enquired Ned.  “About 30 minutes”.  “Could I suggest we slow down a bit then?”  ‘Suggest away’ I thought, ‘but not if I can help it’.  I was wondering if I could go under 16.30

Finally we were on Middle Fell and trotting down the path.  We heard Greendale Gill long before we saw it through the clag, clearly in spate.  I realised just how much rain had come down since we started.  Then we dropped down out of the cloud and there were the cars and the bridge that we had be running to all day and a little group of friends to welcome us in.  Simon called the final time at 16.27.  Passers by looked on curiously as we stood for photos in the rain, drinking coffee and grinning from ear to ear and satisfaction, as Fred Rogerson used to say, dripping like fat from a goose from one of the group.

Huge thanks to:

Max Ansell, Patrick Butlin, Alex, Alison Harding, Paulette Milego, Paul Bayley, Scott Collier, Kevin Harding, Paul Addison, Simon Barnett, Ned Needham and to Julie for meeting and greeting.