Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge, Sunday, June 17, 2012

Geoff Davis

A Few Words About Joss & His ‘Challenge’

Most of you will know this already, so apologies. For those who don’t know, Joss Naylor is probably England’s best known fell runner. He has lived all his life in the Lake District valley of Wasdale where he worked as a sheep farmer / shepherd until his retirement. Joss is well into his 70s now but still does some amazing runs for someone of any age (e.g. 70 Lakeland peaks at age 70 in under 21 hours!). In his prime, Joss held many very impressive fell running records:

  • Winner of the Ennerdale fell race in nine consecutive years;
  • Holder of the record number of Lakeland peaks climbed in under 24 hours;
  • Winner of the Lake District Mountain Trial in four consecutive years;
  • Completed the Pennine Way in 3 days 4 hours;
  • Completed all the ‘Wainwright’ tops in 7 days (aged 50); and
  • Many, many more amazing feats!

Chris Brasher described Joss as “The greatest of them all (with)… sinews stronger than any man made substance and his will is harder than a diamond… the toughest runner in Britain”.

So what of Joss’ Challenge? Joss set this up in 1990 after running the route in 11hrs 30mins under atrocious conditions. It is a self organised challenge for veteran runners over 50. The time allowed increases with age and runners must be accompanied over the route and raise over £100 for charity. The linear ‘course’ runs from Pooley Bridge, at the ‘north east end’ of Ullswater, to Joss’ home at Greendale in Wasdale — a distance of around 48 miles involving 17,000’ of ascent across 30 Lakeland peaks.

What a view
photo courtesy and © John Telfer
My JNLC Experience

It was Christmas last year when I decided that I would attempt the ‘Joss’, as soon as I turned 55, when I would become ‘entitled’ to an extra three hours for the challenge. A sub-12 hour ‘Joss’ had never really been on the cards for me – but 15 hours — well that might just be about doable. However, I received a ‘wake-up call’ on a late winter outing across ‘leg 3’ of the Joss, with two merciless NFR task masters Paul Hainsworth and Dexter, when my fitness was shown to be woeful. The only solution, as it often is in life, was hard work i.e. I needed to put in more long hard days, over unforgiving mountain terrain, preferably in bad weather. So that’s what I did — mixed in with supporting Paul on his successful sub-12 ‘Joss’ and training with Steph Scott for her ultimately successful BG.

The support team look after Geoff
photo courtesy and © John Telfer

Come the big day I still wasn’t fully convinced that I was sufficiently fit. An attempt to run three of the four legs three weeks previous had ended in me having to cut the day short (mind you the temperature was 25°c !) and I thought I was still a couple of long runs short of a picnic. The knees were also starting tell me that I should be descending at a more sedate pace than they’d been happy with five years ago. The weather wasn’t playing ball either, resulting in postponement from Saturday to Sunday and the loss of some key pacers and navigators.

Driving with Susan from Jenny’s abode in Bothel round to Pooley at 6am it was still raining and the cloud was down to about 1000’. However, it was dry in Pooley when I set off at 7am with three very able pacers (Kevin Bray, David Atkinson & Phil Green). After having a punishing couple of months Kevin had to ‘drop off the pace’ as we made up six minutes getting to the first hill. The cloud licked the tops of the fells, and the westerly wind was stronger than I expected, as we pushed on to pick up the plethora of grassy tops on the first half of the first leg. Dave interrogated Phil to find the secret to his surge in fitness since last autumn (buy a turbo trainer!) – although I interrupted frequently requesting various items of food and drink (that salmon and potato baby food was a mistake!). I felt fine on this leg, making up minutes here and there and hitting all the tops ‘spot on’ — any ‘lack of fitness’ wasn’t apparent thus far.

I felt quite buoyant when we stopped at the first road crossing, nearly half an hour ahead of schedule, and Susan had ensured everything I needed was at hand. The five minutes rest was quickly over and off I went up a misty Red Screes followed by Steph Scott, Bernard Kivlehan and Dave on his second leg. How wet the conditions were underfoot was hilariously illustrated on the descent from Red Screes when Steph and Bernard managed to ‘measure their length’ simultaneously; one head first, the other Salomons first! Helped by such entertainment I continued to make up time through the showers and across the rockier terrain of Hart Crag and Fairfield. Still the perceived lack of fitness hadn’t materialised and by the time I reached the next road crossing at Dunmail I was 42 minutes ahead of schedule. I felt able to allow myself a smile!

Geoff tackles a rocky climb
photo courtesy and © John Telfer

Susan’s organisational skills were once more to the fore as I was able to eat, drink and change my sweatiest clothes all within 10 minutes – recorded by Graham Daglish the official photographer. Beginning to enjoy myself I exclaimed “here we go” when the rest time was up and Paul Hainsworth, Dexter (David Armstrong) and Tom Reeves swung into action. Paul led us up what Dexter later described as “one of the toughest climbs in the Lake District” (Steel Fell). Even here I made up a couple of minutes but knew the next section was one of the toughest on the ‘challenge’. It seemed to go on forever and for the first time I began to ‘feel the pace’. Having convinced myself that I must have lost a boat load of time getting to High Raise, Dexter gave me the news that I’d made up five minutes. I was amazed! This pattern continued for the next couple of hours: I felt as if I was struggling, my mood started to ‘dip’ but I continued to make up time: six minutes on Rossett Pike, six minutes on Bowfell and nine minutes onto Esk Pike. I was so surprised that I checked with Tom to confirm that Dexter was telling me the truth! He was — I arrived at the last crossing point (Sty Head) 1 hour 14 minutes ahead of schedule!

Another quick turn around and I was off again this time with a new NFR crew of John Telfer, Peter Reed & Chris Little. At last the weather started to improve; the wind had decreased somewhat and by the time we got to the top of Great Gable all the remaining tops were clear of cloud and the sun was even threatening to come out. My ‘low mood’ had picked up since Bowfell and improved even further as I made up nine minutes getting to Kirk Fell. There was now really very little possibility that I wouldn’t beat the 15 hour target and I started to enjoy myself. Warned, on my instruction, that I was unlikely to respond to any ‘chat’ on this leg, my pacers were surprised to find me almost ‘personable’ – readily engaging in conversation and even joking! The climbs came and went without me having to pause at all. The amusing antics of Chris and John kept me going as they dashed back and forth like rings on a curtain pole taking photos and filming my ‘epic journey’.

I found the scree slope off Haycock, made a successful descent while the final steep climb onto Seatallen (about which I’d had nightmares) fell to a determined ‘heads down’ no nonsense assault. It was almost in the bag – just the relatively easy crossing of Middlefell to do and then it was a quick run off the fells to Greendale. Both of these were accomplished with minimal fuss and at just after 8pm, nearly two hours inside the 15, I ran onto Greendale Bridge to be embraced by Susan and greeted by a smiling Jenny. Joss soon arrived and seemed genuinely pleased that I’d made it in a ‘quick’ time. The six of us chatted for a while about the day, recent weather, Joss’ life as a sheep farmer in Wasdale and his forthcoming Olympic torch bearing. We’d probably still be there if, as Joss said, we hadn’t “brought the laal midges” with us!

Geoff chats to Joss
photo courtesy and © John Telfer

Well that’s it — all done, and life carries on. Challenges such as the ‘Joss’ cannot be achieved without your own hard work. However, their real appeal comes from the need to involve a like-minded ‘Team’. An NFR ‘sage’ recently pronounced that “friendships are forged through shared experiences” and I’d like to thank all my friends who shared this experience including the pacers named above (particularly Paul who navigated leg 3 ‘carrying’ a twisted ankle for best part of it), those at road crossings such as Graham, Jenny Wren, Linda Bray & Jan Little who saw to my every need, the pacers ready to help on the 16th but couldn’t make the 17th when I changed days at the eleventh hour, Joss himself and of course to Susan who’s help on the day was second to none and who has been so supportive in hundreds of ways since I decided to ‘have a go at the Joss’. I would also like to say a special word of thanks to Kevin & Linda Bray who, apart from Susan, are the only people to have helped on all of my ‘big three’ Lakeland challenges: the Bob Graham Round (1999), 50 peaks at 50 (2007) & the JNLC (2012). In addition, Kevin has always been ready to assist in the fell challenges of my friends, some of whom he may not have met till the actual ‘day’!

And finally… my challenge raised an amount of money for a worthy cause — Parkinson’s UK — a charity that works to find a cure for the disease that blighted the final years of my Aunt’s life who died last year.