For a moment I feel on top of the world. I’m certainly at the top of England as for a brief second I stop to savour the moment. I’m 2hrs21mins into the race making slow, but steady progress, but I’m not here to break records, and certainly not Billy Bland’s record of 2hrs34mins set some 30 years ago. That being the fell running legend that has, back at the foot of the first peak of Bessy Boot, held the gate open to allow us through unimpeded – I feel privileged.
I’d longed to run this race since my very first hike to the summit of Scafell Pike and subsequent celebratory pint in the Scafell Hotel bar where, engraved on a wooden tablet hanging on the wall, are the names of all the winners of this classic fell race.
Standing on the start line I felt a mix of excitement, nervousness and awe. I was now part of this race. I’d made the cut having ran the requisite qualifying races but I still felt a little out of place. Danny Lim has made the grade too and briefly joins me on the start line. The weather is kind as we set off.
The field quickly spreads as we make our way along the Borrowdale valley floor before turning off for the steep ascent of Bessy Boot. My heart rate hits 91% so try to slow the pace but I also need to ensure I will be going fast enough to meet the cut offs.
Checking in at the summit of Bessy Boot the race swings west along the ridge heading towards Esk Hause. It’s undulating and following a period of heavy rain, the ground under foot is soft and boggy, so much so that guy in front sinks to his waist. This makes for hard running as we contour the ridge around Glaramara and Allen Crags.
Eventually, Esk Hause is reached and we can make our way to Scafell Pike. The ground changes from soft, wet bog to hard, uneven boulder fields. This section requires a high level of agility and concentration to make it safely across.
The summit of Scafell Pike is as busy as a local park and a thick mist briefly obscures the view but my main concern is the infamous scree shute that leads us back onto the corridor route towards Styhead Tarn. At the top I look down and there’s a line of runners tentatively making there way down which restricts my desire to bound down wildly for fear of dislodging rocks that could potentially do significant damage to anyone in the way.
Despite my reserve it’s still a fantastically adrenaline filled descent but my shoes are filled with debris so I join the many others who’ve taken a moment to empty their footwear at the bottom. Once I’ve laced back up I head off down the corridor route which, can be treacherous in all conditions before cutting off and following a faint runners line towards the Styhead checkpoint.
From here starts the solid climb up to Great Gable. The race line is straight up as we pass walkers zigzagging up the path. It’s here I start to feel the strain and realise that I need to get more fuel and water into me. Checking in at the summit the route swings East towards Green Gable and across to Honister Hause. This section is a real struggle and a group of runners pass me as I begin to slow down. Thankfully as I reach the head of the ridge before the steep drop down to the slate mine at Honister I pick up but it’s still painful.
Honister Hause has a 3:30pm cut off, I get there with 10mins to spare. I’m happy to have made it but now have to tackle the 1mile uphill climb to the summit of Dalehead. I have issues with Dalehead after my visit here during the Teenager with Altitude fell race earlier in the year. The climb zaps me but my main concern is how my legs will hold up on the near vertical drop off the side to the tarn for the final run in.
As expected, the descent is painful and I can only watch as those in front of me seem to glide away into the distance. But before long I’m back on level ground as the race snakes its way back through the farm at Rothswaite and into the finish field. As I turn the corner Danny is walking in the opposite direction which confuses me but then I realise he’s not made the cutoff at Honister.
I’m cheered in by quite a reasonable amount of people and it’s only when I’m handed my race time print out that I realise just how long it’s taken me to complete the race. I was thrilled to have got round, my body was battered, every muscle ached and I was covered in mud but I’ll never forget the pleasure I got from having been part of a truly classic race.