Monday, 18 May 2015

Old County Tops- 2015

Team GDH (minus Al) and the banner
So up until about a week ago I was firmly entered into the Cader Idris Fell race. I was looking forward to doing a race I had never done before, but still felt slightly jaded that I wasn't doing the OCT - perhaps one of the best days out in the Lake District.
I knew Caity was having a bit of a tough time finding a partner for it, and I volunteered myself as a back-up plan unless someone else was found - I didn't mind missing Cader - as great a race as it might be - the Old County Tops is always a fantastic run, especially when shared with a friend like Caity. 
A week before the race Caity was still casting around for a partner, so thinking it would be better for an all Glossopdale team, rather than have her run with someone from another club, I got my name down on an entry with her and we sent it in.

Evening last minute route checking
A week and a day later we were there lined up on the start with 4 other teams from Glossopdale (well... 3.5, but you can't have everything). We had stayed up in one of the static caravans near the start the night before, and had a lovely convivial evening that didn't get alcoholic, or indeed go on too long. Breakfast was a general hotchpotch affair, with some excellent 80's music from Linds, and some choice music non-knowledge from Al. (the Clash, with their classic "londons burning" being the pick of the bunch).
Team GDH at the start

Caity and I have never really raced together, though we have run together a fair amount... the main watchword of the day was to be "steady". Whenever one or other thought the other person was getting a little carried away with the pace, the warning would come out, and we'd pull the pace back a couple of notches. Kit check done, we all made our way to the start, and GDH kind of crowded around the start and had a couple of lovely pics taken by John Hewitt - sadly not running this year. The speech was done and dusted, and all too soon the count down and the start.
Tim C got off to a classic Bedson-esque sprint start in honour of our dear team member who is overseas at
the moment, and was able to ensure that Adam Perry wasn't able to say that he lead from the line...
Tim C, doing the honours in place of Carl

We took it remarkably easy along the first trial section, chatting away and making sure that we didn't go too crazy at the very start. The idea was to keep it steady, and whatever pace we started at, we wanted to make sure we could keep it up for 37 miles. At the first climb up Silver Howe, there was no running going on, and we walked up easily, with a fair number of teams overtaking us, and stretching out into the lead, however, the most important thing about today was that it was going to be a good day out.
Across the little top, and down into Grasmere, and all of a sudden, we were on our own. A fair number of teams ahead, lots behind us, but no-one around... how odd. Still, past the pub and along the road - where a number of other teams caught up with us - and then to the first major up of the day, up to Dollywagon pike before the remaining climb to the first top of the day  - Helvellyn
Caity on the climb out of Grasmere
The climb up the valley to the base of Dollywagon is a nice long easy ascent. Al and I ran it all last year (before blowing up rather spectacularly), so Caity and I took the chilled approach and walked a fair amount of it - much to the disgust of one bloke from Ambleside who forged past us at a rate of knots and a couple of disparaging words about "walking already".... yup. And no problem with that.

The long valley to Fairfield and Dollywagon
By this time about 5 people had gone past saying "hi" to Caity and having a chat with her, so I decided to try and keep a tally of how many people ended up doing that. (I lost count after about 15...) So we walked/ran/walked up the lovely valley, being overtaken by another good few teams, but as it gets steeper
toward the end, we held our own. A minor traverse around to Dollywagon, and we took the direct line up the side, alongside Bowland Mark and his team mate, who soon shot off ahead of us.
Caity, with Bowland Mark in the background
The direct line really does have it's benefits, but when you compare it to the diagonal, I think that it's down to the runners, rather than the nature of the terrain - it really is much of a muchness.

The wind was really beginning to cut in from the east, so we put on waterproofs (one of about 6 robings and disrobings of waterproofs during the day), and forged on ahead up the ridge to the summit - again, being sensible with pacing, and generally enjoying the day out.
Top of Helvellyn. Crikey it was blustery - the marshals were sitting in the lee of the shelter, something I haven't seen necessary in previous races, and once we had checked in, we turned tail and legged it down the crazy traversey hillside down to wythburn - but not before I had checked out our time at the peak... pretty much 1:51 bang on. As fast as I've ever done it before - when I felt like we were really tanking it as well.... and today was feeling, not easy, but more like a relaxed pace.

Dropping down into Wythburn we didn't exactly take the most optimum line, but it was pretty good, and we got to the feed station in good time, grabbing a flapjack and sarnie before carrying on. I then astonished Caity with my ridiculous food disappearing trick (aka eating), by demolishing all the food I had picked up within about 200m of setting off, as she was still on her first bite of sandwich.
Up the path, across the road, and then to the ascent of wythburn. Long. Torturous. Generally unpleasant, and to my mind, the toughest part of the race.
Giving it some speed on the way up Wythburn
We could see teams in front of us, but no-one was really behind us at this stage, so we blundered up the valley, walking and running it as much as possible until we got to the first of the flat boggy sections. Bowland Mark and partner were taking an interesting route across the valley from us - and I could see where we needed to cross the valley up ahead. We passed a team up ahead, and then bashed through the bog to gain the other side, and up onto the hillside.

Hang on a sec - this looks... well, different. I don't remember climbing up here last year. Nothing for it but to just carry on. We were now on the same side of the bog as Mark&co. and where we needed to be eventually, but it didn't feel right.
We scrambled up over the next hillock and saw.... the next flat boggy bit. The bit that we normally cross at the other end. Bugger. Navigational error. Still, if we carry on contouring a bit, and ascending a bit, we'll get to where we want to be, just not in the way we (I) originally thought. So we set about contouring on a bit of a brutal slope, and with a glance behind us, I could see 4-5 other teams speedily making their way across the flat sections. Ah... this could cost us some time and places, but nothing to do now, but commit.
Showing the toll it was taking... Wythburn is a hard place to keep a decent pace.

Along and up, with the slope giving us a bit of gyp on the feet as we climbed up, and up, and all of a sudden, we were exactly where we wanted to be - with a massive headwind. Proofs on again, and over the crest, hit the right height, and hang a left, and follow the contour.
We were going for a good while with me looking nervously around thinking... well, we came out of that ok - but I hope this bit is right as well. 3 minutes later - the tongue of land we need to ascend to Angle Tarn appeared around the corner... Bang On.
Traverse, Traverse, and drop - a few teams in front of us, and as we cross the stream at the bottom I look behind us - and there is- no-one. Not a soul. The teams behind us appear to have evaporated - at least they weren't blindly following us.
Across the bogs to Angle Tarn

Across the stream, where the rocks were very slippy indeed, and then the climb to Angle tarn. Several times along here I needed to be pulled back by Caity - "easy now" and slightly more pointedly "maybe I should have brought a lead" - I was a bit eager to catch the teams just in front of us, but Caity rightly brought me right back to the speed we had agreed on. The long up was indeed long and horrible, and eventually we got to Angle Tarn, just a couple of minutes after John Hewitt had got there - he didn't even have time to get his camera out (don't worry - others did). We were given what appeared to be banana flavoured cement from him, and were merrily sent on our way up Scafell Pike with "1st mixed team" ringing in our ears.
Nope. Not counting chickens yet, we're just out for a nice day.
Greeting Chairman Hewitt at Angle Tarn
We carried on up the stone steps, chewing on banana cement, looking about us and slowly catching up with Bowland Mark. Figuring that it was going to get pretty blustery as we came over the crest, we pre-emptively put on waterproofs (again) - true to our prediction, it got ridiculously blowy, and we passed Bowland Mark as he and partner stopped in the wind to faff with waterproofs - onward and upward, and never look back.

We traveled over the barren land up to Scafell at a decent clip, passing walkers and tourists (maybe it wasn't a decent clip.... maybe its just all the walkers are really slow and we had a slightly different perception of speed?). Passed a large group of Japanese walkers in full wet weather regalia that I attempted to engage in conversation -though they seemed quite mystified by an idiot in shorts going up the hill at twice their pace, let alone that I was talking Japanese at them...
The large amount of walkers on Scafell Pike meant that route finding was a little challenging- walkers don't tend to congregate on the best running lines, but we skipped our way across the rocks in good order, thankfully they were dry and grippy, and soon enough the summit-y bit appeared, and we scrambled up, with the wind battering us from the right. One bloke looked on as we climbed past and said "is this some kind of marathon?" To which the answer may or may not have been "no mate, if it was a marathon, we'd have been finished a long time ago!".

The Summit was crowded, and it wasn't exactly easy to pick out who we were meant to be giving our number to - but once we had, Caity brought out her formidable navigation knowledge saying "bearing off the top Tim - its xxx degrees".
"excellent. Have you got your compass out?"
Ah- Eskdale. What a sight.
And we headed off down the hill in the right direction anyway - the direct descent. I've done it a few times, but Caity had descended here more recently than me and was fresher at reading the landmarks we needed, so together we made our way safely down.
Caity descending off Scafell Pike
It wasn't the most optimal route - a little bit of scrambling was necessary, but it was pretty decent. We popped out just above a couple of teams that may have overtaken us, or maybe they had a real nightmare getting down off the top... who knew? Eskdale and Mosedale spanned out in front of us - a glorious sight we set off down the somewhat less technical, but no less demanding, ridiculously steep grassy descent.
Descent off Scafell Pike. Sorry- no more race pics from here, I kind of lost the will to take the camera out.

Toward the bottom, with the sun out, and really out of the wind, waterproofs came off again. The river and bog were crossed in short order, and with only a comparitively short distance to Cockley Beck, our spirits lifted and we strode over the rest of the boggy terrain with aplomb.
There was no-one really near us at this point, so no other teams to gauge our time from, and we trundled into the legendary feed station at Cockley Beck pretty much on our own - there may have been a team leaving just as we pitched up, legs a bit fatigued, but very happy.
Well - we'd earned 2/3 of our t-shirt, but as Caity pointed out to me, if we pulled out here, they probably wouldn't give you 2/3 of a t-shirt to take home.

The amount of sandwiches and fruit and tea and drinks and goodness knows what were on display at Cockley beck. The people manning the checkpoint were happy and smiley, and the legend of the aid station lives on! A couple of tuna sandwiches, recharge the water bottles, and off we went, up the biggest, longest, gnarliest section of the entire race - the ascent of Grey Friars.
On its own, it is a formidable ascent. After running from Helvellyn via Scafell Pike, it's even worse.

Also, prior to the race we had been told about a couple of barbed wire fences that had been erected somewhere on the climb, and that we were under no circumstances to climb them - rather, use the stiles that had been put in place. I was a little confused about the exact location of the fences and stiles, and hadn't had time to recce - so instead of taking the direct line up the gully, we opted for the slightly circuitous route around to the right from the farm. Slightly easier underfoot, and slightly less steep, with the added bonus of not having to worry that we might end up on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence.

As is ever the case, it took a couple of years for us to get up Grey Friars - a team in front of us appeared to have 3 people on it- which was a bit weird, as the OCT is strictly pairs only... odd, but there was no way we were going to speed up to ask them what was going on. I stopped at one point to take a stone out of my shoe, which had been slowly boring a hole in my foot since we descended off Scafell Pike. Caity said she would carry on slowly, and by the time I had taken off my shoe, removed the offending particle and got it back on again she was a long way up. It took quite a while to catch up with her.
(Her side of the story is that she said she would carry on slowly, and upon going at the slow pace, realised that she couldn't go any faster even if she wanted to).

Toward the top, again, realising it was going to be a bit flipping windy on top, the waterproofs got broken out again, and true to form, as soon as we crested the top, it was very windy, and the wind chill started to get to us.
Traversing around the side toward the Old Man of Coniston, we saw a team just coming back and off - it must have been Adam Perry and Partner, on the way to winning. Another team was with us as we crested the top, and one of the pair was gamely keeping up with us as we set out along the path, but the other was not having it in any way shape or form - so another team was overtaken.
Pretty soon we began to see other teams who had done the out and back, but by this time, the wind was proper strong and we had been reduced to walking. Caity was saying she was done in - and I was saying exactly the same thing back to her... but we consoled each other with the fact that all we really needed to do was keep plodding on, and that'll be us done... near to the finish now, so no need to push too hard, we just need to finish.

That out and back to the Old Man is a stupidly long way by any measure, especially after murdering your legs on Grey Friars. We eventually got to the cairn, bent down to look into the marshals tent, shouted our number at the marshals, and turned tail - back the way we had come, and off to Three Shires Stone.
We had a bit of a spring in our step now - the peaks were all done, and although we were knackered, there was pretty much only downhill left.
I say a spring in our step, but to be honest, it was all we could do to not fall over. Legs were like they had been replaced by some kind of wood, and my hands - although gloved up - were frozen and pretty much useless for anything more dexterous than wiping snot from my nose.

Another team had even more of a spring than us, and went past us like a pair of rocket powered runners. We were very content to let them go, as we trundled back across the ridge. This time it was our turn to say hello to runners on the out leg, smug in the knowledge that we were on the way back... and who should we see, but the Ambleside bloke who had merrily shot off ahead of us walking on the first ascent to Dollywagon pike. Nice. Smug.
Across and over to the descent to Three Shires Stone, we took a semi-decent line, but not the optimal one. The team that had overtaken us had disappeared off into the distance ahead of us - no chance of catching them again. Nevermind.
On the steep section to the road my right knee started hurting a bit, so I ended up semi-hop-limp-jumping down... which looked appealing to Caity, who copied me, thinking it was a revolutionary end of race descending technique. We must have looked like complete idiots coming down that hill.... but we got down, passed the guys taking numbers, and the 25% sign at the top of the pass - which you don't see very often, and then the long haul down the road.
To take our minds off the horribleness of having to hack down a mile or so of road on knackered legs we chatted about the next Glossopdale club social, and made plans for the one after that as well - and soon enough, we had got to the bottom - the sun was out, and the waterproofs came off.
I now looked at my watch for the second time in the race.

That can't be right. We're 5k from home, my previous best time was 8:24, its not going to take us long to get the the finish... heck, even sub 8 might be on.
We started out along the path to Blea tarn chatting about bits and pieces, and after a while, Caity said - "I don't want to alarm you, but I reckon we could get sub-8".
Yup - but again, lets keep taking it easy - don't want to break each other just now.

More along-ness, and a slightly hallucinogenic episode where we passed a bloke with a wheelie bag in the middle of the forest... weird.
We came out of the trees, and up to the road crossing, and something that had been crossing my mind was the mixed team record... I was sure it was 7:50. We were less than a mile from home, and had 20 mins to go. Surely we'd get it?
Caity was a little sceptical, saying it was 7:25 or so, but I wasn't convinced. As we contoured around the final hill, I tripped rather spectacularly stubbing a finger against a rock, but managing to roll back up again without too much more damage.
Down the hill without too much of an issue, onto the final path, and we were going well. Caity was leaving me for dead at some points - so it was me deploying the "easy now" phrase. Over the stiles, and then down past the stream and the farm into the final few hundred metres.
I so wanted to walk.
Really. Really Really.

But no, together we pushed onto the end, round the corner and into the finishing field where we came in to a smattering of applause. Not many people back yet - and no John Hewitt. How odd! So we collapsed on the floor for a moment of sweet respite from standing.
John arrived a couple of moments later, not believing that we would have got around so fast - and was asking what place we had come in at - no idea at that point. 2 minutes later, the team that had forged past us on the way off Coniston came in. No idea WHERE they went, but it certainly wasn't optimal.
Me and Caity at the end.
I went for cups of tea for John, Caity and myself, and came out to news from the organiser that yes, we were indeed first mixed team, yes, we were top 10 (8th), and yes, it was indeed a new record - 7:43, knocking 6 mins off the previous record, held since 1993.

Thats a bit much to comprehend really! Wow!
A quick sandwich, and not much else - really not in the mood, or indeed a physical state to eat anything, so we headed back to the caravan to shower and change, before wandering back down to the finish field - just in time to hear our names being read out, for us to go and get our prizes.
Washed and changed.... and going to get our prize

I have to say, that as a day out in the hills, it was truely fantastic. We were well matched as runners, and it didn't feel like it was particularly fast. The fact that we came away with a trophy and a record is just unbelievable. I've never won anything in a running race before, so to say I am absolutely chuffed is a complete understatement.
Proper pleased as punch
Thanks for letting me be your partner in crime Caity! Glad I did the OCT instead of Cader now.
The top 8

Congratulations also to Nicky Spinks and partner for beating the womens record by 2 mins, and the V100 record also fell. Well done to Adam Perry and partner for winning in the second fastest time ever - and a particular well done to the partner (martin?) for keeping up with Adam.
 And superbly well done to the Glossopdale finishers - Al and Neil, Skusey and non-GDH partner, Linds and Zoe - Glossopdales first ever all female team in the OCT, and Tim C and Alice - who had an epic meltdown, only to finish smiling and jolly as ever... and who only really entered to see what it was like.
Props to you all!
Neil and Al, finishing well and still smiling
Skusey and partner - well finished!

Linds and Zoe - first ever Glossopdale ladies team

Tim and Alice, applauded by John H as they come in

Zoe - proud owner of OCT t-shirt, purloining vast amounts of cake.

 Thanks to Chairman Hewitt, who, while he didn't race, as I'm sure he really wanted to, provided excellent support throughout the race and the weekend. Thanks John.

John Hewitt. Glossopdales new facebook and social media darling/junkie
And finally, thanks to Achille Ratti for putting on such a superb event. Organisation, marshalling, communication, the whole thing - first class - as ever. It makes it very hard to even contemplate doing another race instead next year!


  1. Great write up Tim, almost felt like I was there running it too😉
    Top effort being that quick! Especially with taking it easy and all the walking you did! !

  2. Brilliant blog Tim. How do you remember it all?!