I was stood in a field in Rosthwaite, a tranquil village nestled amongst the central fells of the Lake District. “Hello Danny!”. I looked up to see a familiar face, it was Trevor Matty from Dark Peak. Last year, we hobbled together, cramping up in agony as we made our way to the final checkpoint. We never made it in time for the cut-off and rode the “bus of shame” to the finish. This year, we were back with a score. I was apprehensive as I left home, but had a bit of a morale boost when I bumped into Striders Geoff, Susan, Jules, Steph & Mike H at Penrith service station.
The first mile of the race resembled the Great North Run with jostling and walking as the horde crammed through narrow gates. But it wasn’t long before track became footpath then trod. As we passed the final gate, Billy Bland (the record holder of 35 years) was stood there holding it open for us. What a treat it was to see a legend in the flesh albeit it briefly.
As we climbed up Bessyboot, there was lots of enthusiastic overtaking, but I was wiser from last year. This was a race you didn’t want to overcook. I held myself back and followed a runner who was keeping a sensible pace.
First checkpoint reached and it was just the start. It was only 4 miles to the next checkpoint, but it was across the boggiest terrain I had encountered, every step you took, your foot sank into the ground anywhere from an inch to a few of feet! It was energy-sapping work. And all this was going on whilst having to mind steep drops to the side and climbing uphill much of the way.
An hour later, we crossed Bogistan (I made that up) and started the climb to Scafell Pike. The terrain was entirely different, as we climbed scree then a giant boulder field. None of this was runnable as you had to carefully pick your way with each step. As we climbed higher, we became enshrouded in cloud and the wind-chill effect was more noticeable. Once the summit was reached, the best part was to follow, the scree run!
I was too terrified last year to enjoy this, but once you got the knack it was really fun, sliding your way down. Each step you took threatened to set off a mini avalanche and once in a while, there would be a shout of “watch out” as a boulder would loosen and roll downhill. Thanks to Aaron Gourley’s tip, I had a pair of gaiters which saved me from picking rocks out of my shoes.
It was over too soon and now I had to traverse the “corridor route” which was really scenic but there were a few bits where you had to be careful with a few precipitous drops. Before long I was at the foot of Great Gable, her intimidating profile looming overhead. I made the climb up at a steady pace. It seemed to go on forever but it was only 30 minutes before reaching the top. Here, I passed Trevor who seemed to be good spirits, I wished him well and pushed on ahead.
The climb down was equally steep and rocky as we scrambled down. The next few miles contoured around Brandreth & Grey Knotts and it was quite fiddly. Unnervingly, I seemed to have a small group of runners following me. I gave up on the finding the best line and used the fence as a handrail with my pack in tow.
Throughout the race, I had been monitoring my time constantly. Last year, I was cramping up almost every few minutes after Great Gable and made the Honister checkpoint 50 minutes after the cut-off. As Honister came into view below, I glanced at my watch, I had over 20 minutes to spare; I knew barring a calamity, I was going to finish and celebrated inside.
The final climb up Dalehead wasn’t as bad as I thought and my legs though tired still had energy. After tagging the summit & was a steep grassy drop into the valley with no definite path. I disagreed with the line a Calder Valley runner took and thought I’d be clever by taking a direct but insanely steep approach down. So here I was trampling downhill like an arse (and landing on it a few times too!) whilst everyone else followed her whilst staying upright. In the end, there was little difference (minus my dignity) as we reached Dalehead Tarn at the same time.
After navigating a slate quarry, the Rosthwaite finally came into view below. What a welcome sight! The final mile was all downhill and I mustered enough energy to go on the offensive, picking off several runners before crossing the finish line. What a race! If you’re into fells, I’d strongly recommend it as it is has everything; distance, terrain, technicality and pace to challenge you. But if you’re not familiar with this part of the Lakes, make sure you recce it.