An emotional farewell from Jessy. “You can do this thing!” were the words, accompanied with some tears and a nice big hug.
I leave Torquay for Keswick, driving in my green diesel VW polo. Although its a bit messier, much slower and terribly noisier than the banana car, one advantage was the Bluetooth connection for the stereo. The Bastille Album would accompany on my journey. Music blaring I hit the road to Keswick. It took 8 hours to negotiate the M5 and M6. It was a bit like my training, slow traffic but kept moving.
I decided to munch on Prawns and sushi on the way up and bought a bigger sushi pack to eat for dinner. Much less calories than a normal pasta meal but my thinking was that I would sleep better and earlier if I wasn’t too full of food.
On arrival to the new base at the Crossthwaite Conference Centre I felt different. This year I was a stranger. No Paul as he was out putting up checkpoint markers. I was in an unfamiliar building and room, no friends with me to share the experience. Just me on my own. Nervous, scared me, not really feeling the excitement of previous years. In fact I didn’t feel like I wanted to really be there and certainly not feeling up for attempting to complete the course the next day. I was given my race number and pack including 2013 event T shirt, event bag and complimentary gels and energy bar provided by the sponsors Clif Bar. Then to an unfamiliar desk where I had a plastic dibber thing taped to my wrist. I remember getting a similar thing taped to me on the OMM a couple of years ago.
I felt as though I was in some sort of surreal dream. I said my hellos and goodbyes and then headed outside. Even though my current state of mind meant that I wouldn’t be needing the information, I went over to check out where the path went towards Skiddaw. “That’s nice” I thought as I eyed up a gate and path towards the cloud covered mountain in the distance.
I then jumped in the car and drove towards the B&B. I didn’t know my intentions. Maybe Paul would be in the room. Maybe I would do my last minute kit checks and get my head down. I was trying my best to avoid a large meal so just stuck with the sushi bought en route and some nuts and fruit.
In the room – no Paul. I felt quieter and lonelier than ever.
I watched the end of Andy Murray finishing off some poor other tennis player at Wimbledon. After checking my pack for torches, food, gels and making sure I had my vaseline, tights, top, buffs all ready for the morning, I then opened up the map to check it out one last time. My last opportunity to examine my schedule, relive the road run from Honister to Keswick – I am sooooo looking forward to that section!! I just hope I can make it to Honister with some time in the bag.
Just before getting into bed and Buzzzzz – A message from our met office friend minibar who also happens to be in the Lake District, to support a Bob Graham attempt. Also a free weather forecast!
I climbed into bed at 8pm with the knowledge that I should be able to get more sleep ahead of the event than ever before! Boy I was really putting in my best effort this time!
Phone on charge.
A text from Rambo – copied to me the weather update from minibar – Cloud cover over the peaks from midday. Potential of showers from midday. This means I would get rain and poor visibility for the Scafell Pike / Scafell / Corridor Route / Great Gable part of the course – the part with most slippery boulders and also the section of the course where my body has given up on me in previous attempts. Oh dear. My heart sunk down to somewhere in my stomach. I was already feeling pretty bad but now I felt completely afraid – Afraid of failure, afraid of slipping on rocks, afraid of bonking in the middle of a cloud filled mountain and losing my way.
“Oh well at least if I drop out I could get to the pub with some reasonable drinking time” I thought to myself.
I put my head back on my pillow after texting a thanks to Rambo.
It’s Jess with pictures of the boys at Toby’s Scout investment night. “Wow” I thought. I texted back that I was a proud dad but that I was sleeping now.
Jess texting “ring me!”
I called and chatted about the potential weather and nervousness etc. I put the phone down and finally put my head down to get some sleep.
“I love you. Sleep Tight xxxx” text from Jess.
I elected at this point to switch the phone off. No more interruptions. I need this sleep!! I put my head down again onto this very comfortable pillow. I lay there for a few minutes waiting for the phone to go again but it wouldn’t as it’s switched off! Ahh, sleep at last …….
I have to switch the phone on as it is also my 2:30am wakeup call!!!!
Need a wee.
After a while of laying there thinking about going to the loo, I finally go to the loo.
Lay down again.
Eyes very shut.
Thinking about the event. Thinking about the mountains, the potential of wet slippery rocks and how my training may or may not have prepared me for them. Dreaming about the…..
CRASH! The door flies open and a wet, tired, hungry Paul staggers into the room. He did not look great.
“Paul, how’s it going?!” We hadn’t seen one another for 1 whole year but that didn’t matter. We are such good friends that time sort’ve doesn’t get in the way, if you get what I mean!?
Paul’s hair was pointing in odd directions, as if he’d used strong hair gel and then had got into a fight with a gorilla. He was dripping. A mixture of rain and sweat I think. Paul then explained his ordeal this afternoon. He had been dropped off at Honister to go and place the check points at Pillar and Great Gable. The weather on the mountain was extreme wind, rain and little or no visibility so he found it a real struggle to get to Pillar. He said he found the top and then headed back down towards Great Gable, but after half an hour of heading towards Great Gable found himself back at the top of Pillar again. I’m not sure how that is possible myself (surely you must keep going down hill off Pillar!!??) Anyway, he continued his tale. He said that he’d corrected himself and used the map and compass to navigate his way off Pillar properly. He said the walk / run towards Great Gable was very windy and the terrain was a mixture of slippery rocks, muddy and boggy paths. The climb to Great Gable, he went on to explain, was extremely hard work on wet boulders with difficult navigation. Once he reached the summit he realised that he’d in fact climbed Kirk Fell. That’s the wrong mountain!
Paul said that with the strong wind and heavy rain he was close to Hypothermia but had to go on. He descended Kirk Fell and Climbed Great Gable. The delay meant that he would struggle to be off the mountain before dark but he kept on going and eventually was out of the weather and back to Honister just before dark. If he’d been an hour longer we may have been calling mountain rescue for him.
He sat in the chair in the corner of the room devouring the fish and chips he had brought in. He really was not in a good way, but seemed to be happy to be in the dry and with some food inside.
We eventually got around to the pleasantries of “how’s the family?” before deciding that I needed to sleep and Paul needed to shower.
Once again I put my head down. Closer to midnight than originally planned, but I did, or at least I think I did (?!) get some actual sleep before my 2:30am alarm buzzer.
The Alarm went off. Up I got.
Clothes on. Plenty of vaseline in all the areas than have given me jip over the past few years – The lower back (Grizzly), inner thigh (many), bottom crack (can’t remember when but that made me walk funny for a day or so).
Shoes on, pack on back and I’m ready for the off.
Drive to Crothswaite Conference Centre and park up. I’m in auto mode at the moment!
“Oh”. That’s all that I can think and say when I see a hundred ish ultra athlete looking people preparing for the event. They all have not one ounce of fat, look mountain rugged, are head to toe in proper mountain gear and drinking special formulated energy type drinks and stretching / exercising / warming up. Then there’s me, sipping my water nervously. Unsure whether to have one or two handfuls of nut/raisin mixture for breakfast. Feeling as though I needed to use poles just to walk towards the coach.
The accents and type of discussion revealed to me that I was surrounded by folk who not only knew the lakes but lived and breathed the Lake District mountains. I did not belong amongst this crowd. I was an imposter and it won’t be long before I am found out!
I sat on the bus and texted Jess. It was only right that I interrupted her sleep! My text was an “I don’t want to be here” type of message.
The coaches were now full of people. Odd, eccentric maybe but one thing was for certain they were all focussed and very fit athletes.
We drove off into the dark, towards our start, the Swirls Car Park at the foot of our first Mountain, Hellvelyn.
Not much of a strategy for the first mountain other than head uphill and follow everyone else! I did have a sneaky short cut on the downhill direct to the road rather than following the path south and back north before joining the road further along. Would probably save a kilometer or so. Every saving counts.
Plan in place. Training in place. Me in place. No beach shorts. Bad weather forecast. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there still. I felt rubbish. Not sick but somewhere between half asleep and sicky sort of feeling. We mingled around n the Swirls car park awaiting the pre-race briefing. I extended my walking poles and messed about with my GPS watch for a bit.
Paul then called us all. There were about 150 competitors. These were no ‘normal’ folk that I could tell. These were all the real deal. Hats and insulated tops. Gloves, fell running shoes, lean, muscley legs.
We edged towards the starting dibber point at the bridge. The event started with competitors passing Paul one at a time, dibbing the control as we went through. Paul wished me luck. I thanked him and followed with “I’m gonna need it”.
That was it. The climb up Hellvelyn had started. The poles were working and I was working – up I climbed. My head torch was off straight away as the daylight was already enough at 4am to be able to see. The climb up felt quite good. I had my watch going and I knew when to take on drink and when to take on food. I took the mountain steadily and seemed to catch up with people on occasions. I don’t recall a major flux of people overtaking me for once. I carried on and on, only ever stopping to take on food. I was able to drink on the move with the extended straws from my bottle.
As I ascended the wind picked up and the clouds seemed to pass by. It was a familiar feeling. Almost like an old friend. I had been so nervous for the past 24 hours but there was nothing to be nervous about. I reached the summit of Hellvelyn one hour into the race, just about as per my schedule. The peak was easily found, dibber dibbed and then the speedy run across and downhill back down towards the next checkpoint.
I got to the sneaky shortcut and no-one else around me was using it – they followed along the longer, flatter path. The route I took was steeper but straight to the road. When I stopped for my first wee of the day I was caught by another sneaky competitor. The two of us ran down to the road and then I took off when on the road, very quick I was to the first checkpoint. Paul was already there after being driven there from the start. He seemed impressed “You’re making good time!” he exclaimed. Of course it was only early but yes, good so far.
I dibbed in and topped up with water ready for the next long slog up the valley towards High Raise and then Bowfell.
Still following others I fast walked up the valley known as the Bog.
There’s a very good reason why it is called the Bog. squashy, grassy, boggy, damp. Some runners were getting caught in the mossy areas which left people up to their knees in boggy stuff. I kept moving along nicely, hopping over streams and slowly gaining altitude again.
The weather was nice. Not too warm, not too cold. Good visibility. The boggy valley soon turned into a climb up to the next check point on High Raise. Not an official peak in this event as it’s not one of the ten highest but a significant mountain nonetheless.
Back down the other side and I was running again. Following the people ahead still but this time I was unsure if we were going in the correct direction. My recollection was that you could see Angle Tarn from High Raise and pretty much all the way to the foot of Bowfell but I couldn’t see it today. There was a significant pool of water but it didn’t seem to be Angle Tarn as I had remembered it.
I kept stopping to check map / compass but I wasn’t really with it enough so I elected to try to keep up with the group ahead. Unfortunately they’d disappeared over a little hill somewhere. I carried on and eventually saw some dots in the distance which I think was the people ahead.
This all turned out not to be a drama and we got to Angle Tarn and the foot of Bowfell eventually. It seemed to take a long time. Up the easy, but longer, path towards Bowfell. This is where the footing becomes more of a challenge. Rocky stoney paths, soon turning into boulders as we climb up. I put my poles away as this is where I seemed to remember we were on boulders for the next few hours.
The boulders are slower but it still didn’t seem to be too problematic getting to the summit of Bowfell. This is where I noticed I was being caught and passed by the occasional serious looking fell runner. Straight back down the same path but this time towards Esk Pike to the next check point. Like High Raise, not an official Peak but there’s a Dibber there anyway. Back down the other side and we’re at the official check point at Esk Hause. An opportunity to take on more water. A quick hello to the marshalls and off again towards peak 3 at Great End.
Great End seemed bigger than I remembered it but was not too much difficulty.
Then I found myself with a problem. The clouds had started to come in and I couldn’t make out where Scafell Pike was let alone Ill Crag and Broad Crag which were the next two peaks. I moved in the sort’ve correct direction. The clouds would go and then re-appear. I had slowed down in my quest try to understand where I was on the map and where I was supposed to be heading. I was caught up by a guy with his GPS map. He told me we were next to Broad Crag. “But we haven’t done Ill Crag yet!?”
“We must have missed it” he said. ‘I don’t get’ it I thought. Then an old guy with one walking pole sped by us. “Ill Crag’s this way” he exclaimed.
‘I’m keeping up with this guy’ I thought.
“I had my GPS upside down” the other guy said.
‘I’m avoiding the GPS guy’ I thought.
We moved along towards Ill Crag and then the upside down GPS man tripped and fell hard onto the rocky path. He lay there looking pretty dead so I went over to assist. “Are you OK?” I called as I approached. He looked up and slowly got himself back onto his feet.
I then let my uncaring side take over and ran off, leaving him to try to re-catch up with the speedy old guy with one stick. I caught a glimpse of him climbing over some boulders so I headed over to him.
Dibbed in and then the quick jaunt over more boulders to Broad Crag.
Dibbed in there and still struggling to catch the old guy with the stick. He was so quick! I wonder whether he was one of these old famous fell runners making a return race and even though he’s lived with arthritis well into his seventies and spends most of his days using his bus pass to get him to the bingo hall and back, can now easily make us townys look like snails climbing a polyelectrolyte coated shiny vertical surface.
If you don’t know what polyelectolyte is then I’ll explain. It’s used in water and waste water treatment to assist in flocculation which makes solids particles attract to each other to make them easier to settle or to thicken.
At my first ever site I made a bit of a polyelectrolyte mess and discovered how slippery the stuff was. I had got it on my hands and although I scrubbed them with hot soapy water my hands still felt slippery and everything I touched seemed to slip out of my hands.
That night at the pub everyone was laughing because I really struggled to hold the pint glass even with two hands, my hands were so slippery! Then when the laughing bar maid collected the glasses she picked mine up, juggled with the slipperyness of it for what must have been about 10 seconds before smashing it big style on the bar. Her laugh had turned into a frown as she then found it difficult to pick up the next glass Her hands had become slippery too.
I guess you had to be there but it was funny, and memorable.
So anyway where was I? Oh yeah struggling to keep up with the old man up Scafell Pike. I reached the peak, dibbed in and realised I had probably not really fed or watered on schedule for the last 3/4 hour or so with all the excitement. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as previously. I need to keep to my feeding and drinking schedule. I sat down and topped up my water bottle and transferred gels and food from the main pack to my more accessible front pouch.
I then looked over to Scafell. It was cloud covered. Then the cloud blew aside to reveal it’s horrific looking cliffs and memories of the faller from two years ago. The cloud returned and engulfed it again, hiding the dark grey dramatic sharp edges and covering it with cotton wool.
“I’m not going up that one” exclaimed the 10 peaker next to me. “Me neither” said another the other side “Take the 2 hour penalty but at least I’ll stand a chance of making it round”.
I was in a predicament. I wanted to do Scafell but it looked a bit scary and I really didn’t fancy doing it on my own.
The old guy had long since run off somewhere.
I didn’t really fancy going all the way down to Mickledore, all the way up the awful Foxes Tarn waterfall in the mist and on my own and then navigate myself to the summit of Scafell. I had struggled just a few minutes before to find Ill Crag and Broad Crag. They are two of the easiest peaks on the event so what chance would I have of finding Scafell? Or any other mountain peak? What was I doing here? I’m no mountaineer. I’m not a good runner. I don’t navigate. I’m rubbish on boulders. My body gives up on me after 12 to 14 hours. I want to go home. I’ve had enough.
I skirted around the cairn at the top of Scafell Pike. Would anyone want to do Scafell?
I decided to phone a friend. Looking for reassurance that Scafell could be skipped with a 2 hour penalty I phoned Jess. Unfortunatley she told me that I was ahead of my own schedule so therefore I should just do it.
I looked around for anyone else planning to attempt Scafell. All I spoke to either were skipping Scafell “I’m not going up that!” one guy exclaimed, pointing at the cloud filled top which then momentarily cleared to reveal the rugged, dangerous looking cliffs of the mountain again.
Now I was truly buggered. Jess expectant of me going to Scafell but neither me or anyone near me in the same race wanted to do it.
Then, just when I was feeling like giving up on the idea, I heard someone say “yes”.
I then noticed a couple of 10 peaks competitors sitting down munching away. I approached them and asked “are you doing Scafell?”
“Yes and we’re heading there in 3 1/2 minutes if you want to join us” was the response. “Are you sure sure? That would be great!” I said, still surprised that anyone else fancied it ! “You are erm ….. going up erm ….. Foxes Tarn aren’t you?”
“Nope, Lords Rake and back and then Corridor Toute onto Great Gable”.
Oh no. Lords Rake was the scramble up the narrow scree slope with that massive great boulder at the top leaning down, being kept there only by friction and at any moment about to fall and wipe out all who are below it.
I wasn’t going to try foxes tarn on my own. Jess wouldn’t like me going up Lord’s Rake but it was her encouraging me to do Scafell and this was my only real option.
“OK I’m in”.
“Great, I’m Andy, this is Steve” the man said pointing towards the other guy who still sat down munching.
“30 seconds Steve” said Andy. These guys seemed to be organised.
I introduced myself to my new found friends. “Ron?”, “No, Grom” “ a bit like Graham, but Grom”.
Andy seemed to be the more serious of the two. He had short hair and I would say in his late forties. Quite regimental in his approach, he was in control of the timings, the food and water, the navigation. Andy was the leader of this expedition. Steve seemed to be doing as Andy says and every now and again making some sort of comment such as “No Way” and “I’m not going up there” thing s like that.
Andy said to me shortly after set off towards Scafell “Steve’s my brother. I’m the oldest”. It seemed to make sense. You could tell there was a connection between them but so different in personality. Just like brothers I suppose!
So, now there were three of us attempting to complete this stupid event. My main task at least for the next few mountains, would be to keep up with Andy and Steve and get to Honister with some sort of outside chance. That would be better than any of my previous attempts and I was expecting nothing out of the next few stages other than tough mountains and tiring legs. We’ve been going for 8 hours so you’re not going to feel at your freshest.
As we reached Micheldore we found Mark Bottomley – race co-director, handing out Clif Bar supplies and generally keeping tabs of who was going on to Scafell and who was not.
Then the point at which you choose your route to Scafell.
Andy pointed down to Foxes Tarn for Steve’s information. Steve wasn’t keen on Lord’s Rake either, but knew that it was quicker so had to go along with it. I learnt as I went along that Andy and Steve had completed the 10 peaks the previous year but had failed to make it within the 24 hour cut off. They were back for unfinished business.
As we started towards the scree slope of Lord’s Rake Andy told both Steve and I to leave 30 seconds between us so that any scree / rock movement above wouldn’t cause too much problem to the next man below. Makes sense – I’m going along with whatever you say Andy!
“What would Jess Say?” I thought as I slipped and slid up the steep scree slope towards the slab boulder that teeters over the rake, looking like it will fall at any moment, but hasn’t for nearly 15 years now.
We maneuvered up the slope. Every step forward moved much scree and rock half a step back. Quite a tough ascent and every now and again a call from above and you had to take action to avoid large stones hurtling down past you. I made a point of not looking up once during the ascent. It was only when I reached the boulder itself that I gulped and quickly negotiated my way around it. “Phew”.
Andy and I took on some water and food while we let Steve catch up. As he arrived we turned to continue “Oy, give me a chance to rest too!!” called Steve. Good point, there’s nothing worse than trying to keep up and every time to catch people up because they’ve stopped to take on water you need that water and food more than anyone!
“I am NOT looking forward to this” said Steve as we headed back down. “I think I’ll sit lie down and slide”. We got to the teetering boulder again. Everyone goes under it except me. I went over. Concerned that going under was going to destabilise it and cause instant death.
‘If I’m on top I could just ride it down and everyone else crushed’ I thought. “A stick of Dynamite wouldn’t move that” Andy advised, leading the way towards our potential last few breaths in this life.
“After you” said Steve.
I climbed over and then had to slide over towards the right hand side as some people were coming back up on the left. You need to hang on to the side or risk sliding down without much hope of stopping and causing an avalanche. I grabbed rocks on the side but they just broke off in my hands as I descended uncontrollably and faster that I was comfortable. I was nearly into Andy’s back before I was able to control the descent and finally stop.
I let Andy get ahead and then just sat down and sort’ve swam down on my bottom. The seemed the quickest and probably safest way down. Occasionally there’d be a scream from above followed by a big bouncing rock but no injuries or deaths on this descent.
“Phew! I’m Alive”. I felt as though I was in new territory now. I’d never been down Lords Rake before, and although I don’t ever want to do it again, I did find it kind of exciting. The adrenaline rush stayed with me for at least an hour.
We found a short cut to the Corridor Route which takes us towards Great Gable.
Sticking to my plan of food every half an hour and drink every 15 minutes, I felt OK so far.
I struggled to keep up with Andy and Steve on some of the corridor route – it’s quite tricky with the rocky paths and I guess they were a little more accustomed to the difficult terrain.
They kept letting me keep up though which was really kind.
Eventually we got to the base of Great Gable. Ascending was OK. Quite a few boulders on the top and also very cloudy meaning that we could never see where we were heading until we got there.
As we got to the summit we were caught up by two competitors called Russell and Jon. Andy and Steve knew them from the previous year’s event and our group of 3 became a group of 5, for the time being at least.
Russell was quick and a good navigator. He and Andy discussed strategy while the rest of us were there for the excercise. Russell had a GPS which proved very useful for the descent towards Beck Head.
As we got to Beck Head my Stomach was churning like anything. I knew Andy and Steve would stop for food / drink so I announced my intentions to go and find a rock to poo behind.
I searched my bag and couldn’t find the tissue paper anywhere ‘I know it’s in here somewhere’. By now it too late and the poo was in full flow so I’d have to use my hat, map or something to wipe my bottom.
The Crepe bandage feel out of the bag. “Perfect” I thought. I’m not going to use the bandage out here anyway and crepe is a very similar word to crap so sort’ve makes perfect sense!
I made my mess and tried to keep it hidden within reason. As I pulled my running tights up the 4 appeared from out of the cloud and we were off again.
As we set off towards Pillar I noticed that Jon was struggling to keep up. The Christian kindness in me would normally be encouraging but my reaction, which I am quite ashamed of, was of celebration “Yes, it’s not me holding the group up now!” I was able to keep just ahead of Jon with the occasional overtake from him when stopped to take on an energy gel.
As we got closer and closer to Pillar though I seemed to struggle. Maybe this was psychological. It was the ascent to Pillar two years ago that finished me off. Maybe physical. I’ve been going for about 12 hours now so I was bound to be feeling the strain. Whatever it was though, my pace was dropping off. The group ahead, even Jon, were keeping ahead of me. As we ascended and reached the 3 or 4 fake summits, it seemed like hope of me making it around was dashed.
The last ascent to the true summit took it’s toll. I couldn’t even see the team ahead. I kept thinking “All I have to do is make it to Honister, then it’s where I shine – The road route back to Keswick”. I was sooo looking forward to the road.
Up to the peak at Pillar and the weather was deteriorating. There was also a strong wind and signs of rain in the air. The team were just finishing their break and about ready to get going again when I arrived to dib my dibber at the checkpoint. Andy noticed me texting Jess and asked if he could borrow the phone to let his wife know of their expected time at Honister. “No problem”. I gave him the phone and he discussed estimated time of arrival with his wife. We headed down and along the tough path back towards Great Gable. This was the section that I had looked forward to the most. Downhill / flat all the way to Keswick from here. I ran some of the easier sections and found myself with Russell and leading the pack for a lot of the time. I tried to convince him that the road was the quickest way. He seemed to agree so that was positive. I had convinced myself that I was doing the road option whatever happens. I’ve been looking forward to it for too long now, and this path was hard work. As the path went on and on and on, I soon found myself slowing again and moseying along as similar pace to Jon. The wind and rain had really picked up now. Visibility was worse and I was shivering even though moving.
It reminded me of my first Lakes experience a few years ago. The cold wind and rain blowing through you. Everything hurting – Not just the legs but my arms, shoulders, hips, fingers – everything. Could barely see the path beyond 10 metres, freezing cold body, legs slowing down. “Just keep moving” I told myself. “I need to get to Honister” I tried to convince myself that Honister can’t be too far now. Unfortunately, it was far and my tempo was reducing. The heat completely drained from my body. I kept taking my water and food but there was nothing left in the tank. My energy levels were fading and I was falling hopelessly into the total body coma that had engulfed me in previous attempts.
It wasn’t getting better and my day was getting close to ending.
I kept thinking about the road. I was desperate to run for a bit but if I’m on my own I may not make it. Even if I did make it to Keswick in good time there’s no way I could attempt Skiddaw on my own. I don’t think Andy will want me holding them up so maybe I am better and they would be better if I run the road on my own.
My day was now uncertain aswell as the physical suffering. Uncertain if I would keep going at all. Uncertain what route I will take IF I make it to Honister. And then there’s always the minibus option. That would be the quickest route to a beer!
I was now falling well behind Jon but just about able to make out his shadow ahead. We had been dropping down for a while. As we slowly descended, the cloud began to clear and the wind dropped. I could see the other three ahead. As the path improved, so did my speed and before long I was back with the pack.
The 5 of us headed down towards Honister and towards a well deserved hot drink and some food.
The food and drink was nice but it felt very cold. The others were dressing for winter with extra layers, fleece lined jackets, hats and gloves. “It’ll get very cold soon” said Jon. I put a fleece on and my jacket on.
Anthony (Paul’s Brother) came over to ask if I wanted a lift to Honister. “Yes I’ll get my beer money” I replied jokingly. He started to grab my bag from me. “I was only joking” I said. “why would you NOT want a lift?” he said to me. “No I’m gonna give it a go” I told him. “I have friends now”. I pointed over to my team.
Andy and Steve’s wives were helping them to dress, drink and eat. They seemed to have a well practiced drill.
I waved my road shoes hopefully towards them but no they were going over the hill. No road running for them. They adjusted straps and headed back outside.
That’s it then. I’m going over the hill too. I put my head torch on and ran out to keep up with my team who had already left.
Andy kept reminding us of the time restraints in order to finish within 24 hours. The section to Keswick went OK but we weren’t particularly quick. There was a hill but it wasn’t too bad a climb. The worst part was the descent. It was another rocky path and quite tricky to keep any momentum going. After that though the path was flat and easy. We were at last able to move at a quicker pace. I was finding the pace comfortable. Darkness set in and the torches came on. Andy was a bit worried about the progress. “We’re about 15 minutes behind schedule” he explained as we headed through the outskirts of Keswick towards the Crothswaite Centre checkpoint. We entered the centre to find a very busy room. Some retirees, some finished. Lots of noise and the check point dibber itself. The marshalls told us that we were now unlikely to finish within 24 hours and did we want to continue? I was shocked to hear this. I knew we were 15 minutes behind Andy’s schedule but surely 4 hours was enough time to get up and down Skiddaw? Andy looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we have time but we must get moving”. I went to find some water and instead found Paul.
Paul looked very excited to see me. “You’re doing really well” he exclaimed. He helped me top up my water bottles for the last leg. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
I didn’t answer but just looked at him and shook my head.
I gave him that “don’t ask” look. It was more like a “I’ll tell you later” type of thing. I just wanted to try to keep going.
We headed off. It felt like we were warriors going into battle. Paul and the organisers were willing us to succeed but they knew the odds were stacked up against us in the form of a huge mountain known as Skiddaw.
Our team of 5 were still going and encouraging each other. Andy was desperate to keep us going at pace but I knew the climb would need to be steady. “We need to get to the top by 1:30am latest” said Andy. This was going to be a tough push. If we pushed too hard then we could very well tire one of us out completely. I managed to get in front going up the path and kept the pace steady. The climb was steep and very long. I started off wanting to remove my clothes as I was overheating. Not wanting to stop i just unzipped my jacket and unzipped my fleece whilst on the move. We did not stop once in the ascent. One foot after the after at an achievable pace and we had made it to somewhere high up.
The wind picked up as we ascended. The overheating started to turn into shivering cold again. The zips went back up again. The visibility reduced as we climbed into the cloudy heights.
It’s unbelievable how windy it can get when the weather is so calm at low level. The wind picked up and up and the overheating of a few minutes earlier were long forgotten as the freezing cold winds picked up.
The wind was so strong that my walking poles were being blown horizontal. I had to hold them across me to stop them being blown about. Russ was now heading the pack as he had the GPS map. We all followed him in this extremely windy, bitterly cold mountain top. He stopped and told us that we were at the peak. We all looked around and couldn’t see a pile of stones or trig point or anything but cloud. I was afraid to wander off as you could so easily lose the team up here. I noticed a shadow about 15 metres away and moved towards it. It’s here! I shouted. No one heard me. The wind was too strong for anyone to hear! I ran back over to them and called them again. We all headed towards the Skiddaw Check Point. We were at the last of the ten Peaks. It was 1:20am. We had caught up on Andy’s schedule. There was no celebrating or hanging around though. The wind and rain was taking it’s toll. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes and was shivering terribly. Walking was a struggle but I think it was the same for everyone. The cooling effect was also causing a bit of trouble for my digestive system. My stomach started to groan and shortly after I had to apologise and squat to have a dump ! Yes my bowels needing emptying in that instant. This time there was no wiping up. We were in a hurry so I just pulled my pants back up and ran to catch up with the group. As we were coming away from the peak the ground became softer and much more comfortable than the sharp rocky path. Then we realised we had ventured away from the path onto a grassy slope and were dropping off the wrong side of Skiddaw. Russ navigated us back towards the path as we needed it to find our way off the hill properly. I recall Paul’s own memory of getting lost coming off Skiddaw and then coming in late. This could be a real problem. The other trouble was that we couldn’t see a thing. We did eventually get back to the path. Maybe we lost 5 minutes but that’s all. We then kept on the path by moving in a line of 5, the end people keeping the edge of the path in their sights. It was very tricky moving along at any speed. The path was slippery and also there were these ragged sharp edges so any fall would end in a horrible injury. We kept moving. Kept on the path. The wind started to drop a bit. The cloud was clearing. The path was improving. I was feeling quite sick now. I think my body had given up on trying to digest any more nuts so I just took straight energy gels for the last 3 feed stops. I was still sipping water but even that was making my stomach churn. I had to stop myself vomiting a number of times coming down the hill.
Then, the cloud cleared enough to see the glow of lights from the town of Keswick to our right. The finish was actually in sight. I didn’t believe that we could still make it in the 24 hours though. The descent seemed to take for ever and we weren’t heading for Keswick, more towards the left of Keswick. As we dropped and dropped the talk from the team was of finishing and that we should be within 24 hours. 3am was approaching though. We made it to the last dibber before the finish at the car park to the south east of Skiddaw at 2:45am. That gives us over an hour to get to the finish.
Just keep moving. One step in front of the other. I felt phone vibrations in my pocket, but there was no way I was going to look at the phone. I needed to concentrate on not tripping over in the dark. We were on a much better path though a dark wood, heading in the direction of the Keswick lights that we had seen earlier. Now I was heading the pack along side Andy down the hill. Andy seemed relaxed for the first time all day. He confidently announced that we were 15 minutes away. I checked my watch and it was 3:15am. Wow. We really have to go badly wrong to mess this up now!
The path felt good under foot. Any tree roots were easily spotted and negotiated and probably the only thing to worry about. No more strong wind and rain, no more shivering, no more needing to poo. I was still aware that I could take a wrong turn and get lost in Keswick though so I stayed close to the group.
Ahead I noticed a street lit exit to the wood. We were on the verge of getting to streets with lights and houses and shops. It’s not often that I look forward to running on pavement / tarmac but at this moment it was my favourite terrain, but don’t tell anyone. We were close. A check of the watch – 3:20am. “Just around the next corner” said Andy. We were jogging but the other three were not. Then I recognised where we were. The street past the garage. Then the right hand turn into the drive towards the finish.
My phone still vibrating.
I told Andy we had to wait and finish as a team. Russ and Steve were moving at pace but Jon had dropped right back. I ran back to see him. He was dragging himself along, but slowly. “Come on, we could get in under 23 ½ hours if we run the last 100 yards!” I forced Jon into a jog to the finish. We caught the other three and walked as a team towards the steps of the centre.
I had dreamt of this moment many times and didn’t truthfully imagine that it would ever come.
As I climbed the first step the team thing went out of the window and I ran through the reception room into the hall where there sat some dead looking people, mountain trauma, Raynet, the race organisers Paul and Mark. I ran past them all, jumped, hopped, threw my arms in the air with walking poles flapping about possibly nearly destroying light fittings or taking people’s eyes out shouting “YES! I did it!!!”.
Paul congratulated me. “You did it! That’s amazing!” I jumped around some more. Hugged Paul. Jumped around some more. “Oh, the dibber”. I dibbed in and then ran out of the room to phone Jess.
Before she could answer I was already crying like a baby. “I did it Jessy. I really did it”. Jess was crying back. I don’t remember the exact words but pretty sure they included “I love You”, “Awesome”, “Amazing”, “you nutter” and things like that.
After 23 hours 25 minutes and 16 seconds I had finally achieved a goal that I didn’t believe anyone like me could ever achieve.
I went back into the centre room where Andy, Steve, Russ and Jon were talking of the day. We congratulated each other again and then found seats as we were in need of a little rest. Paul came over with a 10 peaks medal for me. I got him to take my picture. I knew that it would end up all over Facebook so I checked to make sure I looked OK and noticed that I had let my stomach hang out a bit too much so I got Paul to take it again, this time holding my stomach in.
I sent it to Jess and before long I was on Facebook and being liked and congratulated by the hashing and the Facebook community.
I noticed that I had received a text from Rambo. It was at about 11:30pm and said “On On Gromit. You know you can and will do it now. Well Done. I am envious. On On, Rambo & Doris”.
I texted Rambo back to tell him that I had finished and to thank him for all of his help.
I then found the text’s from Jess:
00:53 “Got you on tracker. Please try and text me at Skiddaw. Youre so gonna do this thing”
02:55 “Hi baby, waiting up for news, so please give me a call! Xxx”
03:00 “Are we there yet? Soooooo excited!!!!! Ring me! Xxx”
03:29 “CONGRATULATIONS! I LOVE YOU FOREVER! XXXX”
The sit down and calm down happened with a cup of tea. The cup of tea just made me feel sick again but I drank it anyway. Just because I could.
The next morning was great. I awoke to Paul returning in the room after his night of finishing off his race director duties. My eyes weren’t really wanting to be open but after a shower and only about 2 hours sleep, I was hungry and I had an exciting achievement to share with the world. I saw Sally, Paul’s mum.
“How did you do?” she asked. “I did it!” She had a look on her face as though she was going to do the biggest burp ever. She was actually waiting for the punch line and then a few moments later after realising that I was actually telling the truth the look of shock took over “Oh. What? You did it? Really?”.
Sally’s reaction I think summed up the achievement for me. No one really believed I was capable of such an achievement except maybe Rambo and Jess, although I think their belief was even more of a wish than true belief.
After a superb yummy cooked breakfast from Amanda in the Dolly Waggon and a few more hours sleep, Paul and I hit the pubs.
The beer flowed nicely all afternoon, way past my usual limit of about 5 pints. The day deteriorated into drinking Jaeger bombs, torquay and cokes, wine and pretty much anything else that fit into a glass. My last memory of the day was trying to guide Mark back to the B&B. Paul and I were congratulating ourselves. It’s not often you can beat an accomplished ultra marathon runner such as Mark but we had well and truly smashed him that day!