Sunday, 18 May 2014

Old County Tops 2014

What a day!
Such a shame that Mount Famine and Cader Idris races were on the same day as the OCT this year, but you have to choose a favourite.

Sometimes you have a plan. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't, and you just have to go along for the ride.

Prep - ie. suncream
The weather for the day was spectacular, the complete opposite end of the spectrum from last year. Al and I decided to drive up in the morning, and saw the dawn break as we sped up the M61. The day was promising to be as fantastic as forecast. Having come 7th last year, in 8:24, in pretty grim conditions we were hopeful of a better time- ideally sub 8 hour, which is quite a decent time for a 38 mile race with 10,000ft of ascent in it, no matter what the conditions. Since last year we
had the route sussed out, so no problem there. It was simply going to be a matter of fitness, and ability to get around the course.

I'd been getting out on a load of long runs and bike rides since February, and Al, although not training for the BG this year, had been getting some time out on his feet as well, including doing the London Marathon in sub 3:30, raising money for Mountain Rescue.

We got to the Langdales with plenty of time, got kit checked, and mooched for a bit, until getting geared up about 20 mins before the start. No point in warming up really- not for a race that was going to take most of the day. The plan was to be at the front of the pack to begin with, so as not be be in a mass scramble going up the first hill over into Grasmere, and just take it from there. Yes, there was a little pressure from saying we wanted to do a sub 8 hour, but I think both of us knew at that point, there were more things likely to go wrong than right this year, and as long as we were going at a pace comfortable enough for the slower of us, then that was fine.

From the off, we headed out in front at what I thought was a very comfortable pace. The mass of the pack was a good 20 metres or so behind us and we had a clear road ahead. I wasn't too worried about them not catching up with us, as long as we felt comfortable, and I felt absolutely fine. Al said he was too, so we
Leading the pack
carried on in fine style. The first few kilometres passed quickly as we stretched our legs- I hadn't been out for a week, so I was really happy to be running again, and even over the first hill, we were quite a way in front of everyone else. Concerned that we might have overcooked it at the beginning, I checked again and again with Al- how is the pace? Are we going too fast? I feel fine- are you ok? Apparently we were all good, so we forged ahead.

Finally getting passed by
Even through Grasmere we held a large margin, and then up onto the first ascent to Dollywagon. It was only about halfway up that the eventual winners passed us- I was expecting that to happen far, far earlier. My legs were still raring to go and I was all for chasing, though Al was a little less happy on the ascent, so I hung back with him as about 7 teams
Looking back from Dollywagon
passed us. Fellow Glossopdaler Dan also caught up with us, with Andy trailing behind somewhat, and we ran together to the bottom of the steep ascent of Dollywagon Pike. Al directing me over to the
diagonal ascent, while Dan and Andy took the more direct ascent before the cut back horizontally.
They came out on top faster than us, and by this time we were losing places again with team after team washing past us. Al was not having a good time on the ascents, but I was sure that his legs and lungs would kick in sooner rather than later, but until then we'd go at his pace.

Striding edge. What a day. No. Really. What a day!
Up onto Helvellyn we were catching up with Dan and Andy, though it was already looking less than likely that we would be hitting a sub 8 hour pace. So I got out my camera and started taking a few pictures. When I packed in the morning I figured that a small camera would make little or no difference to the speed I was going to go, so it went in. Glad it did - what a great day to have a camera on a race.

Marshals at Helvellyn
From the top of Helvellyn and we cut back down, with some really decent speed, Al leading the way as we picked off about 7 teams on the descent down into Wythburne. Always a great descent, we hammered down to the bottom, filled up with water at the feed station and loped right on, though even on the flat sections I noticed that Al was already a little less fast than me, and I was still feeling fresh as a daisy.
Parallel to the road, and a right, cross the road and onto what I see as the hardest ascent of the day, up
Al - raising spirits in Wythburne
Wythburne. We started out ok, but soon got slower and slower. Running was replaced by walking, and then slower. Teams streamed past us. Not a good time.
I took a load of photos, relishing the opportunity to actually see where we were, considering that last year all I could see was mist. It really is a fantastic valley. Poor Al was struggling to keep up, even as I was struggling to go slower.

Being overtaken toward Angle tarn
Food was consumed, water was drunk, and finally, eventually, we topped out and started the contouring and ascent over to Angle tarn. Again, something I have never done in good visibility. By this time Dan and Andy had come, been and gone, and were far away from us being able to chase. We negotiated our way through the tufty grass and boggy bits, and by the time we had got to the bottom, before the final slight rise to the path to the tarn, we had a quick chat. Al was not feeling good. Dizzy, nauseous, he
kept falling on relatively easy terrain that otherwise would not prove a problem to a runner such as himself - worrying. More teams passed us as we walked up the hill. If he was feeling this bad, was it time to bail out? Ok, so we won't get a t-shirt (only finishers get a t-shirt), but if its that vs me having to drag him off the hill, that is the better option.
We joked about having checked to see what colour the t-shirt was before we started... if it was a colour we weren't bothered about then we should bail... We decided to plod on over to the Checkpoint at the Tarn and see how Al felt there.
Stopping for a chill with Konrad and Jasmin
8 hours as a time frame was out. 9 hours was looking decidedly dodgy- if anything, it was going to be a 10 or 11 hour race at the speed we were going- along with the minor issue of stubbing my right toe REALLY hard, and going down cursing. A bruise, maybe, but nothing to stop the running.

We struggled on over to Angle Tarn and the checkpoint, and as we wandered into view, who should be there but Konrad and Jasmin- who should have been running except for an unfortunate accident with a gate the day before (so I was told). We stopped for a good 5 mins, chatting away, letting strength seep back into the legs, and scoffing some haribo that were offered us. Yes, even MORE teams passed us by, but by this point, it didn't matter. Daz Fishwick also came past giving me a good opportunity
to take a pic of him. Before too long, Al was feeling better, and we made the decision to carry on. Timings were out of the window, and it was just about getting around.

We started the ascent to Esk Hause. The next team from Glossopdale, Carl and Tim C can't have been too far behind us, and we were chatting about when we were going to get passed by them as well. I kept an eye out behind us for those bright Aston Villa shorts that Carl tends to wear, but never caught a glimpse of them.
Up to Scafell Pike. Views Galore. 
Up and up we went, no running at all, but walking, and slow at that, around and across the sharp stone of Scafell. I danced my way across them, taking photos, and someone shouted "hey- is that Scott Sadler over there?" - I disabused them of that notion, saying that Scott was, of course, much more handsome than me.
So Scott- I was mistaken for you today - even though you were over in Ennerdale.

We caught up with Daz Fishwick on the final ascent of Scafell Pike, where I chatted with him about the
descent- he didn't know the direct line and was going to come back down the little cove way. I said that we were going direct, considering the speed we were going, we certainly wouldn't be hard to follow.
Al leading the way down the direct line
At the top, we beelined off toward the descent line, and wove our way down the hill, quite happily, until I stubbed the same toe again, and went down cursing even more... hopped up, and carried on.
It is a great descent line, and Al led us down perfectly. 3 teams followed us, and were very grateful indeed!

Down toward Moasdale and the sun was really beating down on us. I was never particularly worried as my water consumption was more than adequate for my needs, and still had plenty as well. We put distance between us and Daz and mosied
The line- Look - there it is. 
Wow- and that'd be Scafell. 
on down through the valleys, with some stunning scenery around us. Up and over to Moasdale, we picked off 4 teams who had taken a really odd line, and then Als legs came back with a real vengeance down
Always time to take a photo
toward Cockley beck, and I had a hard time keeping up as we powered past another team and zoomed into the feed station.
If ever there was a welcome sight, it is Cockley Beck feed station. With Grey Friars looming in the background. 
Tuna sandwich and a banana for me, a cup of tea and an egg sandwich for Al, and we headed off to perhaps one of the more challenging parts of the day - the climb up Grey Friars. I think its a much better climb than the one out of Wythburn as I KNOW I can't run it. On this day, although the sun was out, there was a lovely cool breeze, though we were in no shape to take advantage of it. Slower and slower we went as we ascended. The gaggle of runners we could see ahead of us on the climb edged away, those behind us swarmed up and overtook us, and there was nothing else to do but take photos, smile, and just get on with it.
Runners strung out below us - taken while Al was having a magnificent cramping session on his hamstrings... I had a while to take some photos.

More runners strung out...
People attending their feet near the top of Grey Friars... if you wear Hokas for a race like this, what do you expect?
Eventually we topped out and jog/walked along toward the Old Man of Coniston - final top of the day. The breeze was getting up, and I was wondering if I should have worn my helly instead of a very thin and breathable t-shirt- also, did I have enough food?
Alison and Lindsay!
I had planned on being out 8 hours, not a whole lot more. A bit of a concern, but by now we were close enough to the end not to really need to worry too much.
Just along the edge we came across Alison and Lindsay, who were out for a run and cheering on the Glossopdalers in the race. Al carried on while I stopped for a chat. Apparently Dan and Andy weren't too far ahead, and Andy was having a bad time of it. Now that climb was out the way, Al was looking stronger than he had been all day and we made our way along the edge.

Runners were now on their way back from the top on the out and back course, and soon enough we saw Dan and Andy, who had already been to the top, and were on the return leg. They looked much stronger now as well - doubtful that we would catch them.
Al, looking spectacular
Out to the end, chat to the marshals, and look at the view, bit of food and water (I suggested to the marshals that maybe they should have had something a little stronger than water, but nevermind),
Marshals at the Old Man of Coniston
and back along the ridge, passing Daz on his way out, and also Stefan from Pennine, who I hadn't seen all race.
We also came across fellow Glossopdalers Carl and Tim, who were going well.
Synchronised running from Carl and Tim - the OCT debutants

The final descent caused us some issues last year, and was the only bit of the course where our route finding could have been better. This year we absolutely nailed it and dropped off the top to 3 shires stone, down the long horrible road, where a number of cyclists were pushing their bikes up- and getting overtaken by half a
Final Descent off the Old Man
team - the other bloke apparently wasn't having any of that kind of speed down a road, and then the final left turn, along through a path, round the lake, again passing Alison and Lindsay with their words of encouragement, and a final plunge down a hill- with a momentary pause for me as I got some barbed wire wrapped around my leg... thankfully the only wound came from me hitting a rock as a result of the slip caused by the wire, and a nice little jog back into the finish, with no-one else really near us at all.

Flags means the final 500 metres~!
Astonishingly, despite walking for more than half the race we came in 20th in 8:48, just less than half an hour slower than last year. Considering the shape Al was in at Angle Tarn I was surprised just to finish it, let alone with a sub-9 hour time - especially with all the poncing around with the camera that I was doing.

I wasn't devastated with the time, though I reckon if ever there was a year for a decent sub 8, this would have been it, I think that it shows that where you run with a partner, there is double the chance things can go wrong. It equally could have been me having a shocker of a day, holding Al back, and I'm sure he would have held back with me and helped out as much. I know there are others who would love to have done a sub9 hour with or without a knackered partner. Perhaps this is a lesson in that you can't out run not having a good base of distance and endurance training on the fells.
Al, coming home strong. 
It was a concern that we really hadn't put in all those hard miles early on in the year, and it came back to bite going up Wythburne.
Did we go out too fast? Did we burn out too quickly? I don't think so. No matter what pace we set at the beginning, the crash was going to come eventually.

No matter what, I got a lovely day out in the Lakes, 38 miles in the legs in preparation for Jura, and for Ennerdale in a couple of weeks, and some steely resolve to do well.

Well done to Dan and Andy for beating their time from last year, coming in 13th in 8:30, Carl and Tim for their debut OCT in 9:40, and Zoe and John - who I didn't see all day, for about 10:37, and well done to everyone that competed and completed yesterday- and thankyou to all the long suffering marshals.
Finally, congratulations to Spike and partner from Dark Peak for winning the day in 7:10 or thereabouts. Good running sir - you have a target on your back for Jura and Ennerdale.
Carl and Tim finishing

Post race rehab

Post race Bun fight - the food after the OCT is legendary
Daz modelling the OCT tshirt


  1. Great blog, thanks for sharing with us. It brought it all back in an instant!

  2. Cracking blog with great pics of an amazing race over the big stuff, it's interesting to read other peoples stories of the day ;)
    Thanks for that !