I nearly didn't make it after having a massive headache on Thurday and finding my blood pressure to be 205/136. That's seriously high so I took myself off to the docs. It'd gone down a bit by the time I saw him but, having tried everything to avoid going on the pills for years I agreed to try some ACE inhibitors (but not until after the race).
So, after a Friday night at Ambleside Youth Hostel and awaking to a very rainy grey morning I drove over to the New Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale and met Kieran, along with his wife Jo and their dog. Also there were Goyt Valley Strider clubmates Claire and Caz and Paul and Will as well as ultraplodder Nick. Other famous faces were Sarah Rowell and Yiannis Tridimas both presumably having a break from supporting Bob Graham attempts.
I made a major mistake even before setting off from home. I've clearly got into a trail running mindset and chose to take my XA Pros (one new pair and an old pair). I didn't take my Speedcross as I'd not run more than 21 miles in them and didn't know how they'd work over this distance. I didn't take the Mudclaws as they'd skinned my heels in the past over a long run. So, the choice on Saturday morning was between a well worn pair of XA Pros or a new pair which I'd only worn twice. Normally the new pair wouldn't be a problem as I'd been using XA Pros for many years and even did the Bullock Smithy in a pair straight out of the box, but this new pair were an updated model and the fit wasn't identical so there was a risk involved. In the end I opted for the old pair and spent the rest of the day regretting it. Hindsight now tells me I should have worn the Speedcross.
So, at 8:15 on a late start (due to dealing with EODs and partner swaps in the main registration queue) a record breaking 103 teams set off from the car park at New Dungeon Ghyll under a grey sky. It had stopped raining half an hour before the start so the jackets were still on. Down the old Langdale road (farm track) to Chapel Stile (to the clangs of a Swiss cow bells bringing back memories of the Jungfrau Marathon) then up and over the shoulder of Silver Howe heading for Grasmere. It was on the descent into Grasmere (where my ggg-grandfather was christened in 1805) that I received my first lesson in shoe choice. Slipping in the mud I came down coccyx first onto a rock, also damaging my right index finger in the process. No real damage done (although my finger was out of action for the rest of the day and is still painful a week later).
On through a very quite Grasmere and up the A59 for half a mile (to come across the same cow bell) before turning right up towards the Great Tongue. The poles came out here (I'm not proud) and the jacket and gloves went on for the drag up to Grisedale Tarn and up into the clouds hugging the Helvelyn ridge. The race split here. Half went straight up the monstrous incline to Dollywaggon Pike. We, the rest, took a sloping line up the hill until we met the ridge path. Kieran had plenty of time for a break waiting for me to drag my carcass up the hill. The top was covered in frozen snow. A Bob Graham attempt by Aly Raw of Bingley Harriers had been through a hour of so before us and they were running through a snow storm. (She completed in under 23 hours for the record). We were soon at the X wall shelter where the cheery marshalls took our number. That's four times I've been on Helvellyn and I've yet to have a view of any description.
Off we dropped down the side of Helvellyn on a SSW heading. Next time (Did I say that?) I'll drop a bit further West where the ground levels out more. On the top section the scree rocks were covered in a thin but very solid layer of ice. The combination of snow, ice and shoes fit for ten pin bowling made for the first of several interesting descents. We eventually picked our way down and dropped through the trees to Wythburn car park and checkpoint where we picked up some malt loaf and jam sandwiches.
The Wythburn valley came next. Three quarters of the way up we came across a dead ewe with a live lamb snuggling into it. A hiker said he was going down to tell the farmer. Hope it made it.
We took a line to the left of the stream cutting over the shoulder of High Raise, rather than contouring round like most did. I prefer our route choice. We dropped down onto Stake Pass then round the back of Rossett Crag to the time-out checkpoint at Angle Tarn with 15 minutes to spare.
Photos: Nick Lander
Now we've got to get to Cockley Beck in time then we're safe. Just the little matter of Scafell Pike and the Great Moss to deal with first.
With Angle Tarn looking spectacularly black and sinister behind us we headed off up to Esk Hause. We hadn't gone far when I recognised the pair in front of us. It was Paul and Will. We gradually hauled them in and I enquired as to where Paul's poles were to which he replied that they were for girls. He's obviously been listening to our clubmate Al. I'll remind him of that when we're heading up Garthsgate Pass on the Lakeland 100 in July. We went up and over Broad Crag and up Scafell Pike together.
The race organisers had advised anyone who hadn't recce'd the southern drop off Scafell Pike to retrace their steps down to Little Narrowcove and drop down there. This was our plan until Will said he'd recce'd the route recently so we tagged on and set off down what I remember as being a vertical cliff looking from the bottom. We hadn't gone far before Will said that the route he'd recce'd was further to the right and he'd recce'd it uphill! However, he managed to find the way down but not without leaving me behind in my roller skate shoes. They took off over Great Moss while Kieran waited for me to slide my way down.
I was a bit weary going over Great Moss which seemed to go on forever. Just before we reached Mosedale I downed 500ml of isotonic drink and that seemed to revive me no end. We tanked it down Mosedale, passing three of four teams and nipped past Paul and Will just before the Cockley Beck checkpoint 8 minutes inside the cut-off. The cakes, sandwiches and bananas we're just what the doctor ordered. After topping up the drink bladder we set off for the last hill. I was surprised to see Paul still in the checkpoint as he's normally in and out like a shot. They'd previously told me that Claire and Caz were behind them which meant I was first in our club. Not that that made the upcoming climb any easier.
The poles came out again as we set off up towards Swirl Howe, cutting off the corner of Grey Friars. After a steady 500m of ascent, during which we climbed alongside a pair of guys from the Pennine club, one of whom was revelling in being much higher than his Dutch countrymen. Kieran spent quite a while waiting for me going up here. We picked up the top path here and headed off in the direction of Coniston Old Man (COM). This part of the route was an out and back to the top of COM so we were now seeing pairs on their way back to the finish.
At Levers Hawse I had to succumb to the inevitable and squatted behind a rock only to realise everyone dropping down to the hawse could see my backside sticking out. That's twice things have gone wrong here. A few years ago I was just finishing day 2 of a Saunders Mountain Marathon and just had to drop down to Low Water for the last control when my partner took a bee line in the mist for what turned out to be Levers Water. We lost a good 90 minutes looking for a control that wasn't there. Never again did I trust someone else's navigation.
We were then up and over the upturned pudding bowl that is Brim Fell and up to the Old Man. Three down, none to go. A quick swig of water and we were off back down. Skirting round Swirl Howe we dropped down to Three Shire Stone and onto the road. This is where my shoes at last came into their own. We tonned it down the road pick up at least three teams in the process. At the wall corner we turned left and along the Lakeland 100/50 course (albeit in reverse) past Blea Tarn picking off another weary pair. The drop down into Langdale felt much shorter than it does going up it. It was then across to Side House Farm where I admit we cut that corner by going through the gate to the left of the farm.
At this point, with just a quarter of a mile left, I ran out of steam. I could feel the tank emptying with every step I took until I was reduce to a walk. Kieran waited for me on the bridge. I used the tiny drop off the bridge to get going again and managed to run the couple of hundred yards to the finish in a time of something like 10:45, well outside of the sub 10 we fancied at the start and over three hours behind the winners. Considering 20% of the field didn't finish and I was running in carpet slippers we can't complain though. A grand day out on the hills. (Oh, and did I mention, I was first in our club?)
After refuelling on the marvellous lentil soup and cakes I then tried to find a room at the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel but they were full so I set off to Bingley to deliver my painting of Dave.
During the event, as I was trudging through some of the boggier sections I remembered why I'd decided not to do OMMs anymore and to focus on trailrunning, but with hindsight I really enjoyed this event and will probably be back for more (with the right shoes of course).