This time last year, it was a Championship race. This year, the big names were all over at Buckden Pike, battling it out, and I thought it was about time I got involved in solo racing in the Lake District. Yes, I did the OCT, and I was a part of the Ian Hodgeson relay, but I've never actually done a proper Lake District race.
So this is as good a one as any to start with.
The weather looked promising. Well, it looked promising to give us rain in the morning, or at least, for the first hour of running, and then to brighten up. It rained on the car as we made our way up, but nothing more than that.
Sitting in the car in the farmers field, waiting to register, Julien and I looked up at the fells, which were covered over in clag at the top, but not too much. It looked like a splendid day to be out in the hills, be it a race day or not. We weren't expecting many people to turn up and register, as the Champs were on across the way. I didn't expect to be registering in a barn, either, but every race has its little idiosyncracies.
We got back in the car pretty fast after registering, as the breeze was fairly chilly. Others were running around warming up, but I've always wondered about warming up for a race as long as this one. Is there really any point? Would it just herald blowing up earlier? Does it prevent your legs from aching any more or less? I really don't know. So we sat in the car.
Pretty soon the time came around, and a small gaggle of us, perhaps 30? I don't know, congregated at the beginning, and pretty soon, we had been started, were out of the gate and up the track, straight into quite a climb.
Julien had, of course mentioned he would be taking it easy on the first climb of the day. And, of course, he went out of the gates like a rocket. Apparently he had seen another guy who was also a V50, and it would have been rude to let him get away up the hill.
I plodded along up the hill, legs not feeling particularly fired up. Like lead actually. No spring at all, though I managed to keep pace with some people who were somewhere down in the group behind the leaders- ranking somewhere in the 20's I guessed.
Then, after a km or so, there was a significant split, the different ways up to BowFell. I chose the less direct route, which I vaguely knew, as opposed to the more direct route which seemed more popular, but I really wasn't confident of.
The climb went on, and I was pretty much on my own. The clag closed in around me, and I was completely unsure of where I was, and, indeed, where to go to get to the top. Up was the best option, so I carried on moving up the hill. For a moment, I was lost, all alone in my world of cloud, looking at my map and my alitmeter. I realised there was another 100metres to go until the summit, then, I heard a couple of flapping numbers, pinned to the chests of other competitors, followed the sound, and made my way up to the first checkpoint. Excellent. I have no idea if I have kept my place that I had at the beginning of the climb when we split, if I have gained places, or if I have lost them.
I was a bit concerned for a short time there, but now I had another couple of people around me, I was feeling a little better. At this point, I realised that I was a little faster than them, but my speed would be for nothing if I was constantly going the wrong way and having to re-navigate. So I chose to throw my lot in with them for a while, and get across to the next couple of summits. From Bow fell, my on the ground knowledge isn't rubbish, but it certainly isn't great enough to navigate at speed in clag.
So we set off across the spiky rocky terrain, and quickly came to the second summit, which confused me completely, as I expected to be getting to Great End next.
Oh. No. My mistake. I missed a summit in my head that was written down. Now it makes a bit more sense.
More running across spikes and rocks and up to Great End. I can see a large group of people going up the hill in front of us. Maybe I have lost more places than I thought? I speed up my legs, as I know where I am now, up to the top, though my quads are really feeling it by now. Perhaps I should have warmed up and my legs are complaining bitterly about it. Ah well, not to worry about it now.
We catch up with the large group as we about turn and head back off Great End. (though I think not on the best line that we could have taken), and it turns out to be a large number of guys supporting a Leg 3 Bob Graham.
As we crash on up the hill toward Scafell Pike, passed Ill crag and Broad Crag, I make sure that I don't make the same mistake as I've made a number of times before, heading off too far left or right. Thankfully I don't, and teetering over the rocks I make up good time up onto the top. Figuring that I was getting hungry I reach into my bag and grab a bar. Fingers a bit numb mean that its a struggle to open, I take half a bite, and go to put it back in my bag, the bar slips out of the wrapper and down into a crack between some stones. Damn.
At least I still have another bar and a gel, so that should keep me going.
I'm overtaken by a runner, and overtake another one back, and we hit the top of Scafell Pike. It's surreal in the middle of a race to be running through cloud and on your own, and all of a sudden be in crowds of people at the top of a hill, and equally suddenly, be away from them again.
Off the Pike I followed a Bowland Fellrunner and a Dark Peaker, who appeared to take a very direct line down to the ascent up to Foxes tarn. On the way down I tried to get some more food out, and again, dropped it. Damn. Not turning into a very good race for nutrition! I suppose I'm just going to have to ignore the hunger and get to running, we're nearly at the part that I know, but there is a group of about 8 of us climbing up to the tarn and beyond.
Astonishingly I am making time on them, and by the time we have gone up past the tarn and are making out way to the top, I'm in front. Not what I expected at all.
Once we reached the top of the climb, again it was someone elses turn to lead. The clag was still down, we could see very little, and to keep up speed for all of us, we followed, and hit the checkpoint.
All of a sudden, who should appear behind me, but Julien! I thought he would have been through this area a long time since, but it seems he didn't get quite the line he was expecting off Scafell Pike and up to Foxes, meaning he lost a bit of time.
No chance to say more than a quick greeting as we skipped off across the slippery rocks. Shoes as effective as iceskates as we slid around trying to gain purchase. I kept as close as I could to the Bowland vests. There was meant to be an easy grassy sward somewhere around here, but as far as I could tell, no-one really knew where it was. Stones and rocks almost all the way then.\
It was a good thing I was following someone as the checkpoint on Slight Side was a lot lower down from the summit than I was expecting, and from there we took a direct line off the end, rather than cutting around the back down a more forgiving route. It was part run, part scramble, part jump as 6 or 7 of us hurled ourselves down the hill, trying to find the fastest line. Down the rocky, grassy steepness, and then onto a massive scree field that started with large rocks, and gradually became more and more runnable as we plunged down it. What a fabulous descent.
The only minor issue was all the small pebbles that were now inside my shoes. Ah well. Do what Joss does. Let 'em bed in.
500 metres later, I decided against Joss's wisdom, stopped and emptied the what seemed like kilogram of stones from my shoes. It took a while, with relatively numb fingers, and I lost every place and all the time I had gained on the descent. Such is life. I just need to go a bit faster and catch them up and overtake them again.
As we had come down into Mossdale, the cloud had lifted, and we were blessed with a beautiful day. You could see everything, most usefully, you could see exactly which bit of bog you were going to plant your foot in next. I had caught up with my fellows and overtaken them by the time we got to the Esk, and managed to keep my pace going across the marsh towards Lingcove beck. I discovered a sneaky little line which was a bit faster than my OCT line, which was very cool, and waded across the beck with only one other runner.
We could see a group of runners wending their way up Swinsty Gill, but I had already decided that I was going to take the alternative line across and over Stonesty Gill. No idea why. I think it had something to do with Juliens suggestion before the race. I can see why he likes the ascent. It is long, arduous, off camber over horrendous terrain and generally a complete pig of a line. It took forever, and I was utterly convinced that the 5 guys behind us, who had taken the Swinsty Gill line must have got over the top and been on their way a long time before we were even approaching the top.
There were another couple of guys taking the same approach as us, which raised my hopes slightly, and cresting the top on my own I glanced at my map to make sure I was going to take the right line across the grassy plateau toward the correct gully to go down. Nearly finished. One last climb and descent, and it will all be done.
I was feeling pretty hungry, and there was a nagging pain in my right side, the dreaded stitch. It tends to appear during, or immediately after really rough terrain, and the vast majority of the race so far had been just that. Not good at all. The speed at which I could negotiate the flat, and then the downhill would be severely compromised unless I managed it well.
Speed was kept down as I traversed around toward the gully between Great Knott and Cold Pike, giving myself a bit of a scare as I leapt across the top of Gaitscale Gill, expecting it to be a little stream, and jumping over the part that was actually a 10ft waterfall! Heart pounding I continued on, but I could feel myself slowing, and others were catching me.
I could also see figures coming down from the top of Swinsty Gill, who had taken the other ascent, and all I could do was keep on the pace which I knew would not become debilitating. I lost about 3 places coming into the bottom of Pike of Blisco, but managed to hold on to a couple of them on the ascent, finally getting enough brainpower together to work out how to rip open and get most of an energy gel down my throat. (some of it went on my watch, and I could barely get the buttons to work today. Lots of button pressing and licking off the offending gel worked quite well though).
The final checkpoint was reached, and just the final downhill. I'm certain the view was fantastic from the top, but I have no idea because I didn't stop to look. There were 4 people in front of me, that, on a good day, I could have kept up with and maybe even beaten, but it was getting to the point of really having to concentrate to not have the stitch really hurt. However, that Dark peak vest was still only just behind me - despite the fact we took different routes up the previous hill, we were still at Pike of Blisco at the same time.
We picked our way down through the rocks, a myriad of different routes exist, and he had the better of me for the most part, I just didn't have the ability to stretch out. From the car I had seen the massive grassy slope leading down toward the finish, and I couldn't wait to get there. He had taken one line down through some rocks, and I was sure I saw a better way, so I took that, and ended up at the top of the grassy slope at exactly the same time as him. The others had already nearly reached the bottom of the steep, steep slope, a long way down, and we began our knee breakingly, thigh burning descent. I could see now why a good number of people wore mudclaws throughout the day, they were a complete necessity for a hill like this. I kept slipping and sliding, and there was almost no sensible way to keep my feet.
Apparently last year, a number of people had just sat down and slid.
Well, it was wet enough, it was close enough to the end that it wouldn't matter too much if I was completely soaked, and sitting down wasn't going to make my stitch any worse. So I chose a line that looked pretty good, few rocks, few drops, and decent grass, and just slid.
Whoosh. I'd say it was a great way to descend, but it wasn't completely comfortable, and it took a lot of concentration to brake myself to ensure I wasn't just going hell for leather without control, but I certainly outdistanced the Dark Peak guy.
Once the gradient got back to something approaching easily runnable, I regained my feet and plunged on toward the finish. Less than a kilometre to go now, the stitch can happen and I think I've got enough distance on the other guy to make it work. Through some ferns, through a bog, through a... crunch. My left ankle goes over, agonising pain and lots and lots of very load swearwords. I keep running with a pronounced hobble type limp. There must only be 400 metres to go now, and I have to go through a stream, so that means a bit of cold water to go on my ankle to make it a little bit less horrendous.
Wade through the stream, still a limp, up a hill, I think I have enough distance to keep this place. Jump a gate and a final run type limp type hobble type fall down a path to the end. Where I sit down and don't get up for quite a while.
17th, in 3 hours and twenty or so minutes. 21km and about 2300m ascent. That'll do.
I had time to get changed, eat some food, chill out a bit and wait for a decent photo before Julien came in. He had been led astray(!) by another runner, thinking they were somewhere they weren't, and ended up losing about 20 mins of time, so he just took it easy and jogged the rest of the race, walking some of it, and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. (so much so, another runner even enquired if he was actually part of the race).
despite this, he still came in about 22nd.
It was a glorious day out in the Lakes, and it wa a shame we didn't have a few more of the club up there to enjoy it with, but they were off enjoying themselves at other events.
I think it will be nice to have a couple of weeks to run and bike without massive Lakeland descents taking it out of my legs.
What a great introduction to solo racing in the Lake District. I now know what I need to practice, to begin to get good at them as well.
Blogging on a phone, so apologies for the lack of witty coments on the photos.