Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra, Saturday, December 7, 2019

55 Miles, 11,000ft ascent.

Elaine Bisson

Its just after 6:30 on Saturday evening. It’s dark outside, you can hear the wind howling. I’m sitting in a cosy cafe in Ingram next to John Kelly (amongst others!) A beautiful glass 2nd female trophy is on the table in front of me. I’m sipping on hot, sweet, tea and chatting about Nicky Spinks, Jasmyn Paris, TDS, BGR, Grand Round attempts and Spine training. I’m covered in mud, its smeared all over my clothes, across my face, remnants still linger in my eyes occasionally making everything blurry. My hair is windswept and matted with mud and rain. I have an indent on my forehead from where my headtorch has been pressing for the last few hours. I no doubt stink. I’m tired but extremely happy. It’s a deep sense of satisfaction, one that I’ve craved for months now. This is it, this is what I love and this is why I keep returning.

Its Friday night, I’m standing in my bedroom, clothes strewn across the floor. I’m wondering what bag to take and what clothes to wear. I’m not off  out for a wild night on the town, I’m preparing for a day on the wildest of Northumberland fells.
I seem to have grown horns and quite quickly I get the sense that my family are avoiding me. Occasionally my kids peep in but they rapidly retreat and leave me to it. I go to bed early, hoping to sleep but instead I keeo checking I haven’t missed my alarm. It finally goes off at 2:55. I tiptoe round the house and start my journey at 3:30. Its quiet on the roads until I turn of the A1 towards Ingram. I catch up with a long line of about 10 4x4s, the mountain rescue team on their way to race headquarters before they’re deployed across the fells in the hope they will keep us safe.
At the race briefing I stand next to Nicky Spinks. We are to run the route in reverse, the forecast is for extreme weather conditions, winds now of 40mph, gusts of 60mph, increasing all day to reach 80mph. We are to get the higher more isolated terrain over with first.

The wind gets stronger as we climb, the voices of Carol Morgan and Nicky Spinks  have long since disappeared. I can just about make out the white trig point of Hedgehope hill. There is a string of lights stretching far across the fells. The sun is rising from its sleep, reluctant to awaken amidst the imminent storm, its colours splash across the sky. The bogs glisten  and sparkle as though they are things of wonder. A man, submerged up to his thighs calls for help as another two go to his aid, hauling him from the bog. Our fight against the elements has begun.

The wind strengthens as we climb toward the Cheviot, the fog descends yet despite the ferocious wind, the mountain rescue in red jackets still welcome us and wish us well. It’s hard work running forwards on the slabs to the summit, the wind is blowing us sideways. Reaching the trig I tap it with my hand, I wonder if that’s what everyone does, or do they loop round it or is standing within a metre of it enough?

Then its back the way we came, passing people precariously, neither wanting to leave the safety of the slabs to step into bog. Nicky isn’t far behind, she is the only one not to smile, not to wish me well. I wonder how many metres I can keep up this charade of being first female?

The border ridge is magnificent in its wild windswept beauty. Dropping down beneath the fog the views stretch up to Scotland and over England. Rolling hills for miles around, uninhabited countryside. Isolated. Unforgiving. The ground beneath our feet also wants to reclaim its ownership, to deny the presence of humans.  Complacently, I attempt to step on a slab that has sunk deep beneath the bog. The sensation of plunging out of control, sinking into the bog is worse than the drop on Tower of Terror. My breath is taken away as mud splats in my face, eyes, all over my clothes. I have to grab the nearest slab to pull and crawl out. I can’t see properly for miles, bog swimming around my eyes. I have nothing clean to wipe it off and I seem only to make it worse.

17miles, I showed Nicky the way for 17m until that bog unnerved me and slowed my progress. Then she’s past. Max gestures for me to jump on board the ’Nicky train’. I just about keep them in sight until I stop at Blindburn and the Marshalls help me to wash the bog from my eyes and clean up a bit!
5miles of road, I’m loving it,I can actually see again and the smell of tea is keeping me going. I hated this section last year but after my battle with the bog I’m pleased to land on safe hard ground. Its not long when I reach the little stone building. A Marshall giddy as can be says ‘you’re second lady, not far behind Nicky Spinks, you’re doing amazingly, miles in front of everyone’. Now that’s why it’s quieter, I’m doing better than last year, far better. I turn another bend and my eyes lock on Nicky’s, I sense the dread as she spots me. I have to say, that look was the best part of the day. I may not have had a chance of beating her, but I made her wonder whether I could!

I quickly sort my bag. I’m impressed with my own organisation skills , my drop bag is efficient and I spend minutes refuelling. I carry a soup and bread up the hill , not willing to lose any time. Max assures me he’ll catch me up, which he does, very quickly. From here on in the weather worsens and worsens. We form a group of three, Max, Al and I. Perhaps I could have gone faster but I’m not convinced I remember the way and I know there is a huge area of bog not far off. I HATE bogs. What idforgotten was just how much bog. Its never ending, the wind is now shooting rain at us horizontally, the fog has descended again. The ground is treacherous, threatening to swallow us up if we take a wrong step. It seems to go on forever and when I stupidly think we’re nearing the track,I spot a runner in front missing what I thought was the trail and heading straight up over more bog infested land. It’s a place you wouldn’t venture out of choice, there is nothing beautiful about it. Miles of Bogland, like its been a war zone…the front line of a war zone with craters and human traps everywhere.

I cheer myself up with a now frozen Snickers. It’s a pleasant surprise how tasty and easy to swallow a frozen Snickers is!

Reaching the track I virtually jump for joy, then Max does a funny dance and shouts at Al to hurry up. We see him shrink to half his height as he plummits into bog, metres from safety.
A three again we’re heartened by the solid ground. 10miles left, seems like loose change. Its relatively more ‘pleasant’ down in the valley, I can actually feel my fingers again and hear.

Darkness falls, I like it. It obscures what is coming and somehow because of the need to concentrate, the miles pass quicker. We’re enjoying ourselves too much that we miss a turn, I quickly notice  our mistake and its not too long to backtrack.
Only now am I bothered about maintaining my position. I push on, unwilling to allow another female to skip past. At some point I no longer hear their voices or see their torches. I can’t see well or move fast enough, everything is cloaked in a veil of fog. I’m desperate to reach the finish, counting down the miles on my watch, they seem to take forever. Then through a gate I recognise, another, then lights ahead…not of a headtorch but of a building. I pick up speed, I’m so excited, I have a grin from ear to ear. I round the bend up the path and that’s it. Its done.

I’m back into safety, into warmth and comfort and company. My adventure is over, and yet now, I wish it wasn’t….

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