A long line of runners were strung out above me dragging themselves up the grassy ridge of Lingmell in ungainly, clambering motions. Running was impossible due to the sheer steepness! This was the start of the Scafell Pike fell race! I was excited to finally be here! I was now enjoying the challenge of trail shoes on wet slippery grass incline versus gravity. The very start of the race had been one lap of the Wasdale campsite field, before heading up. This was to ‘thin people out’ they said, as the path up was narrow.
At the start-line I had looked around mystified, as so many people were not carrying anything. I had the equivalent of a fridge-freezer on my back! Full waterproofs, leggings, spare top, hat, gloves, 1.5 litres of water, full OS map, compass, phone, money, GPS device, etc. etc. It was very heavy. I could have done with less, but it made me feel secure as this was my first fell race. I would probably survive a nuclear holocaust. They also had very different footwear to me! Shoes with inch deep grippers! I admit this made me feel a bit disadvantaged in terms of competing! In fact, at the start I just let them go, and off they went powering round the field! Including Fiona. Fiona is a runner from Pendle. I had arrived with an hour to spare, and bumped into her. This race is a series of three; Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, and she was doing them all. I find whenever I befriend someone before the start of a race, I then have a strong urge to beat them! Especially as she looked similar age as me! However, the fridge-freezer combo was not helpful in this! I pressed on, climbing up the lower slope of Lingmell. I had studied the map super hard during many evenings so had the map in my head plus a small selotape laminated one-page copy in my pocket! Finding myself now with the back of the pack there were group of people chatting, laughing, crawling up on all fours, trying to walk up backwards and I joined them for a bit! One guy kept stopping, and then powering up past a load of people shouting ‘I’m not racing today!’!
I had forgotten the weight on my back now and was into my stride and I wanted to race. So I dug in and started to power-walk past people. It was going well, I was feeling determined! I fired my legs up and passed a few more. Runners were spread out now. Below Goat Crags, the path became less steep. This was across the boggy, grassy catchment area of the Lingmell Gill. I took advantage of this and started running. I passed quite a few more, and then. Yes! Fiona was ahead, and I found I could pass her! We exchanged breathless ‘Well dones’ and I went on ahead. Behind her smile the expression on her face told me she was secretly totally racing me! 🙂
Next was a tall skinny guy (in fact 80% of participants were tall skinny guys) with a green top on. He kept up a good pace and it was hard to overtake him. Especially as we were now crossing the many braids of the stream and his long legs were advantageous. The tributaries of the steam lay in those unsuspecting deep cuttings in the bog, hidden in the bog grass. a nice deep wet surprise! After the bog, the big rock buttress of Scafell Pike towered above us. I was still feeling good. I estimated I had done the equivalent of three Roseberry Toppings now. (The Lake District being so far away, and the ‘chaos of life’ meant I hadn’t been able to get across to do any training. So I had used the nearest steep hill I could think of to do hill reps on. 4.1 Roseberry Toppings = 1 Scafell pike). So, one Roseberry Topping to go! The way up to the buttress was a mossy bank of slippery slime in a shady hollow with sharp rocks. Very precarious. But I was right behind the green-topped guy now, and managed to pass. Then it was up, up, up the rocky, baron crag to the summit!
I pressed on! I was now above the col and could see down the other side! I looked up from my feet for a fleeting moment to see down the other side, to a green, rocky landscape shrouded in low lying mist. Beautiful! But I had to look at my feet! Then, the first man came bounding down the rock scree towards me! Flying from one rock to another! He definitely spent more time airborne than in ground contact! And then, the next guy and the next, all bouncing down! I pushed on, using my arms to propel my weight forwards and upwards, feet in steady rhythm. From one most secure looking rock/foot hold to the next. Sighting the next one, and the next. I was now following a rocky zig-zag path. Up the next zig there was a rounded stoney cairn on the corner. A group of walkers plodded round it with their happy lively dog skitting about, his paws sliding on flat rock surfaces. They heard me coming and kindly got themselves to the side. At the same time, more runners came bounding downhill towards me, including two ladies. I urged myself on past…and the summit could be seen nearby! A hug flat-rocked cairn at the top and four summit marshals stood facing me in bright yellow jackets. ‘What’s your number?’ one shouted to me as I reached them. (My number was half covered by my top tied round my waist). “45” I replied, handing him my plastic token. Wayhay! Half way and I was in 3rd lady position! I really wanted to look at the views… but I didn’t want to lose my place!
A quick glimpse up and I had an awareness of more rock, mountains and ribbons of mist! I turned round and staggered! My legs seemed to need a few moments to get into ‘downhill mode’! I willed them on and began a dicey descent! Parachute would have been easier!
The “path” was a screeish mixture of loose rocks, pebbles and gravel! And the rocks were angular and sharp sided, as my shins found out! I leapt from rock to rock feeling my life expectancy decrease to 5 minutes! But I was not going as fast as the more experienced people behind me. A few men passed me..and then two ladies. Oh no! and then Fiona past me with a surprised and determined look on her face! I made a decision then and there. I could attempt to keep up with them and risk injury, or I could keep a careful pace for me. All the lovely races I have signed up for this year went through my head, and I decided to slow down and be careful. After scrambling down the slippery grassy bank with spikes of stone, I ran across the bog enjoying the beautiful views of Wastwater below. More people passed me. The big crags of Illgill fell overlooked the lake, with tremendous grey screes falling into the water. Visibility was good and I could see the Irish Sea on the horizon and the faint grey outline of the Isle of Man. I leapt on down, past sheep, rocks, a few walkers and soon the campsite came into view below. It was a further knee wrenching, thigh aching descent down to the head of the valley, to the finish.
A group of finished runners were munching on flapjack as I arrived and I was happy to join them! Then I climbed back up a short way to meet my family who had been doing a little walk during the race. The kids were enjoying sliding downhill on their bums! Later, there was a short presentation when everyone had finished by Joss Naylor! A kind and humble man. He thanked everyone for coming and then conducted the prize giving. It was lovely to see a race with such a big age range, from 20’s to over 70’s! and nice that there were therefore age group prizes reflecting this. I was pleased to see Fiona get the first F40 prize, and also to win first F40 for the series! Well deserved. She kindly complimented me on my uphill running and said she had given herself a kick up the bum when I passed her! She said she had found it the most technical of the three mountains. I congratulated her. I had enjoyed it. And it had been an interesting and enlightening experience!
And I shall end my report by leaving you with this poem, which sums up the lakes really.
Solitude in hidden places by Heidi Sands 9/2/17
The mountains surround me, all shades of green
The sun shines upon them, as beauty moves, I’ve seen
— Shadows dancing on the hillside —
— Holding so many places to hide —
There is solitude there, away from the busy streets
Where traffic is flurried, or backed up where it meets
The mountain scenes, bring peaceful pleasure to view
Every season, from greens, multi-colors, white, to blue
Extract from the book Running My Way by Tamsin Imber with permission from Pitch Publishing.