Sunday, 19 May 2013

Old County Tops

Race prep. The right way!
Old county tops. 3 little words, and the prospect of quite a long, hard day out. Something along the lines of 38miles and 10000ft of climbing. To be honest, its pretty much what I've mainly been training for over the past few months. My partner Alasdair was putting in some hard miles throughout February, when I took a month off running, and I basically didn't want to end up being the one holding us back.Lots of training later and the big weekend arrived. 5pairs from Glossopdale, and a good number of us travelled up on Friday evening, staying in a climbing  club hut.
Pasta followed by beer followed by bed was the order of the night.
Pre-race pasta
Up at 6 and do a few last minute kit checks before we headed down to Dungeon Ghyll for registration and a proper kit check. Standing there with a rucksack made me feel positively over prepared when the guys with bumbags started turning up.
All too soon it was time to start, and we made our way to the  car park. The Glossopdale runners had
strategically placed themselves right at the car park exit. So when starters orders were called, everyone else lined up behind us. Head of the pack and we are almost first out of the gate.

No need for having recced here as there was a great line of runners in front of us, and an even longer one behind. I soon realised that this was also the ascent line which Andy and I had used for the Ian Hodgeson
The Glossopdale dream team
Mountain Relay last year. Comfortable with knowledge of this line, I settled into an easy pace - rain and headwind notwithstanding, and carried on up the hill, trying to keep no further than 20 metres behind the seemingly indefatiguable Alasdair. (It wasn't actually the same line, it just looked like it and my mind was playing tricks on me. Just another normal course of events for a feel race...) Andy was having much the same amusement with Dan, asking if I had a leash to keep Ali back, and if he could borrow it to keep Dan in check...
After Grisdale tarn a split came, with the top 2 teams taking the line directly up, and the vast majority of others opting for a more diagonal line. Both, of course took in a fair amount of steep ascent. We chose the first, direct
line up the hill, and then a shallower angle across, over and then up to the top of Helvellyn. On the long ascent up, we saw the front runners zooming down the descent line, among them were Julien and Mark, who had accelerated away up the path. 

To the top, check time about 1:50. Oh. The one thing I remember is Andy Anastasi saying "with the OCT, if you get to the top of Helvellyn in less than 2 hours, at some point further on, you're really going to suffer". Oh well, we're going to be suffering anyway.... but not before a fantastic downhill section where Alasdair and I had a brilliant line, overtaking a number of teams, and, incredibly, nearly catching up with Julien and Marc by the bottom of Wythenshaw! They were only about 100m ahead of us, and Alasdair appeared to surge to try and catch them, but I put a stop to that with the comment "I can't catch Julien up a hill in a bog on a good day, let alone in the middle of an epic... let them go". 
So we did. 

We battled on up what was essentially a vertical bog for what seemed like mile after mile. I suppose we must have been slowing down a little as Dan and Andy, who we had left behind on the descent (Andy had apparently decided to attempt to concuss himself on a stone halfway down), were catching us by the top. As we approached the only part that we weren't entirely sure about navigationally, we were together. 

Around High Raise and down to Angle tarn we kept our momentum, I think I only managed to fall over about 3 times on that part, and we got to Angle tarn without too much upset or confusion, which was a real relief. It was very much the part that could have scuppered us. 
We said our numbers at the checkpoint, Dan and Andy were informed that the team with their number had gone through about 10 mins before, which was a little confusing. What was also a little worrying was that we were 6th and 7th respectively. Top 10? At this stage? Surely some mistake?

I was a bit worried about just when the wheels might fall off. If we are going this well, then at some point, somewhere along the way, we're probably going to bonk hugely. Well, no point in standing around worrying about it. I put my very very very sodden gloves back on, stuffed more food in my mouth and started up the path to Esk Hause. It had been raining more or less constantly from the beginning. I was starting to get a bit chilled, and my hands, even in massive gloves- which were now soaked, were also going cold. Not a good sign. We just needed to keep moving, even if everything was starting to weigh a ton. 

Alasdair and I put some time into Dan and Andy, and the other team that was with us through to Angle tarn, on the way to Scafell summit. Trying to eat as intelligently as possible, while moving as fast as possible so as to keep warm. Further up into the mist, across the sharp rocks, past the walkers in their full waterproofs, looking at us in our shorts as if we were mad. To the top, - about 4:38 - we shout our number to the marshal as a group of 3 peak baggers attempted to make very lame jokes about us running (and who were thoroughly ignored) and down to the direct line off the summit. 
We vaguely knew were we were going, and with the assistance of a compass bearing and semi-photographic memory we were soon thrashing our way off the hill. Tired legs and complaining knees were amplified by the steep grassy terrain, and muscles were screaming at us to stop. With other teams really not all that far behind there was no option but to just keep on going. 

Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of descending, the ground flattened out and stretched over toward Great Moss. By this time I had stopped counting how many times I had fallen over, it must have been somewhere in the high teens, but now came the boggy section. Less falling and a whole lot more trying to get legs out of holes with no bottom.
Having spoken to Dan about this section last night we knew it would take about an hour or so. Yiannis has apparently done it in 55 mins in the past, which is scarcely believable. It was decided that we should just keep on moving as fast as possible no matter what the terrain. There was no-one in view behind us, so we needed to be vigilant. If there is someone obviously chasing you, then there is always incentive to keep moving, but without that incentive, it is easy to become complacent. 

Not us. 

Into Cockley Beck
Every step taken as fast as possible, every slip recovered or rolled out of to keep going as fast as we can.
No stopping to take off gloves, no stopping to get anything out of main packs, just food from side pockets, and keep on rolling.
We thrashed our way through indeterminate bog, crossed a couple of rivers, churned our way up a climb, and with fatigue well and truely setting into our legs, pounded our way down into the final food checkpoint at Cockley beck. Alasdair was craving a banana at this stage, and from conversations with others who have done the OCT in the past, the food at Cockley Beck has attained a mythical status. Tea, sandwiches, bananas, cakes, flapjack, water, you name it, it was there. For all I knew, there would be candles and a sit down dinner, more welcome than that, though was the sight of Els,Caitlin and Josie Swan on the path, cheering us along and telling us that we were indeed still 6th. 

Happy Face
6th? at this stage? Again, scarcely creditable. I was still wondering just when the wheels were going to come off. 
To the checkpoint, a Tuna sandwich, Alasdair got his banana, and I could almost see that we were going to get sucked in to comfort eating… if we stayed too long we might be losing valuable time that we would need at the end. Mutually, we grabbed a small amount of food and set off up the ridiculously massive climb up to the Old Man of Coniston. Ahead of us we could see some other teams - quite a way ahead. 
The climb was incredibly strength and will sapping, despite the clag it was still getting warmer, and there was no end to the climb. The teams we could see were about 15 mins ahead of us, and climb as we might, there was no way to close the gap. We continued trying to eat, but it was getting to the point where food tasted of ash, and it was difficult to swallow with the effort of walking uphill and breathing at the same time. 

Eventually the top came, and "running" recommenced. It was closer to a shuffle than a run, but slowly we got the limbs moving again and started the clag ridden bash across to Coniston. That route is a whole lot longer than you expect. It took us forever to run over there, the main point which kept me going mentally was that we could see the tracks of the teams in front of us. Then those teams started to come past us on the way down and back off Coniston - must be getting close then. 
We eventually got to the top, shouted out number and started to run back. Fatigue was really really kicking in now, but after 6:56, we had done the final Top. Now all we needed to do was get down and back. 

On the way off we passed a huge number of teams, they all looked really fresh to my tired eyes, and I could see the possibility of a top 10 position rapidly diminishing. Just needed to keep going as hard as possible. Only about 6 miles or so left. We dropped a slight clanger on the route off, not following the optimal line - this was in fact the only navigational error of pretty much the whole day, which was astonishing, and all credit should go to Alasdair and his recce and navigational skills, however, right to the last checkpoint before the horrendous descent down the road into Little Langdale we kept in 6th. 

On that descent we were passed by a team that looked incredibly strong. Where we had started out, perhaps a little too fast, I suspect they started slower, and had scythed through the field as the day wore on. They were passed and down the hill, and we had no energy to stay with them. The powergels then made their appearance, inside the last hour of a race like this, nothing else works like them to keep you awake and tuned in to getting to the end as fast as possible. It doesn't matter about stomach cramps, because you should be finished before they hit...~!

Right at the end
The pace picked up imperceptibly as we realised how close we were. Throughout the day both of us had been the flagging member of the party, and we had both been the stronger part. Now we were reliant on each other to get through this final part.
We crossed into the valley at 8:05. A chance for a sub 8:30 if we get a shift on. Down and through the fields, and across streams. The ending had been flagged and we got to the first of the flags at 8:21. Hoofing it down toward the end, we knew we had it in the bag and crossed the line in 8:24:11.
7th overall.

That was a pretty long day in the saddle and from wondering if we might make it into the top 20, getting a top 10 finish was a huge bonus. The time was amazing as well, especially after speaking with others who have run it in the past, saying that it was pretty much the worst conditions underfoot that they had ever had to run it in.

Julien and Mark came in 5th in about 8:04, Andy and Dan were 10th in about 8:45ish. We missed out on the team prize (to locals- Ambleside) by 59 seconds. Which, over 8-9 hours of racing is pretty good going. So 3 teams in the top 10. John and Phil came in just under 10 hours,
Chuffed with that
and Andy F and Dave were just over 10.

An excellent day out in the Lakes, and that makes 3 top 10 places in 3 consecutive races for me. Unheard of, and very much unexpected. The long runs in the last few weeks, and the general training that I've been putting in has certainly paid dividends. I didn't hold Alasdair up, and in fact, we made a very strong pairing. There is talk of a  sub 8 hour next year. I may have to continue training....
I am now the proud owner of a 3 county tops t-shirt and a lot of soggy gear. Unfortunately, no team prize this year, but that means we shall have to try all the harder next year.
Theoretically THIS LINK should take you to my strava course for the race. 

Thanks muchly to those who organised it, the Achille-Ratti club, those who manned the checkpoints and made this event happen.Thanks also to Els Swan whose photos I have shamelessly copied off facebook.  
Post race sustenance in the Stickle Barn
 Thank you.


  1. Just as a separate comment, I was wondering how good the overall time was and looked through the archived results. It would have got us a top 10 placing every year except one, when we'd have been 12th.

  2. Great write up Tim and great race. Els says you're welcome to the pics and that it was wonderful to see all of the Glossopdale teams doing so well both at Cockley Beck and at Langdale.

  3. Good run gentlemen and a nice report. Almost felt guilty passing you descending Wrynose - almost anyway!

    See you next year.

    Slattery & Smith

  4. No, you deserved that. We were toasted by that point and didn't have a whole lot more to give. Well run!