Penny Browell’s Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge 2022

Pooley Bridge to Greendale, Saturday, May 14, 2022

48 miles, 17,000' of ascent, 30 Lakeland peaks

Penny Browell

Between Scoat Fell and Steeple

The Challenge…

Turning 50 was not something I was looking forward to. I needed glasses, I was starting to find grey hairs and (most depressingly) my running was getting slower and slower. So I decided that instead of moping I should face it head on and make some plans to keep me busy. The Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge was the perfect choice. A challenge devised by the great fell runner for which you have to be 50 or above. However, not quite so perfect was the fact he gives the younger runners less time to do it than the older completers. It’s a long way with a lot of climbing and the female 50-54 cut off is 14 hours. Looking through the list of previous completers I noticed there were fewer in this category than any other and I knew why. But once I’d had the idea I couldn’t let it go. And it’s called a challenge so challenge myself I would…

The preparation that goes into these personal challenges is pretty huge. Not just the training in wind, rain, hail and everything else, but also finding a willing team to support on the day and working out the logistics to make it all work. It was hard work but brilliant fun. I loved seeing the lake district in all conditions and had some fabulous days out with various running friends. Many lists were created, many emails sent and on the morning of the big day I knew I’d done everything I could to make it work. And as an added bonus the weather forecast was (for once!) good.

Leg 1. Pooley Bridge to Kirkstone Pass

16 miles, 12 peaks, 3,000 feet
Support: Nick Latham, Stuart Scott, Tamsin Imber, Nina Mason

The Team at Pooley Bridge

It was a lovely morning at Pooley Bridge and Ullswater was perfectly still – after a few nervous minutes counting down we were excited to be off at 6 o’ clock sharp. The first leg is by far the most runnable and with the tight schedule I had to run the uphills as much as possible. My pacers commented we were moving fast but I kept assuring them I was on schedule. The first couple of hills take a while to tick off but before long we were getting through them. A bit of cloud descended around Kidsty Pike and I started to wonder if the weather forecast had been wrong. But despite the clag, the team effort to get the route right was impressive with Nick brilliantly shouting us back from a near error after Stony Cove. Then Nina took over to do a great job getting us to the annoying Pike How (a non-hill which Joss for some reason added to the list of peaks to pick off), despite the fact I went into trip mode and managed an impressive superman dive followed by a slide onto my bum within a couple of minutes. Before I knew it we were negotiating the rocky short cut to Kirkstone and were at the van and my support crew a surprising 14 minutes up on the schedule!

Leg 2. Kirkstone Pass to Dunmail Raise

8 miles, 4 peaks, 3,200 feet
Support: John Tollit, Stuart Scott, Dawn Hosking

Although I felt really good I struggled to eat much at Kirkstone and I’d heard my support team muttering to each other that I wasn’t drinking enough. So I made an effort to eat and drink more on this hillier and therefore slower second leg. For a short section after Red Screes we were joined by a pair of lambs who seemed to think they were part of the support group and baa’d in a disgruntled way when they realised they couldn’t stick with us all the way.

Between Red Screes and Hart Fell

It was still a bit cloudy on the tops but mainly we could see well enough and John did a superb job navigating over to Hart Crag (a section I’d failed to get right on recces!). Next was my least favourite hill in the Lake District – Fairfield. I have no idea why it is called Fair since it is ALWAYS in cloud and has a rubbish top with too many routes off. Today was no different and on reaching the top we went off slightly to the right but fortunately John was on it and realised in time to set us off the right way.

Coming down Fairfield

Seat Sandal followed quickly and soon we could see the van again welcoming us for changeover 2 – now 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Leg 3. Dunmail Raise to Styhead Tarn

11 miles, 6 peaks, 4,900 feet
Support: James Garland, Alex Banks, Elaine Bisson

Again I struggled with food at the changeover despite giving myself a bit longer than I’d scheduled and I could tell Tom was worried – he told my support not to let me go too fast and ordered me firmly not to bonk. I said I’d do my best… Just before we left he insisted Alex made me eat a banana on the way up Steel Fell. I obeyed. Leg 3 is where it gets more fun with some proper big rocky mountains. However before you get to them there is a long drag from Steel Fell to High Raise which is hard to navigate perfectly and seems to take forever. Fortunately with James the king of nav and everyone chatting happily the time seemed to fly by. The cloud had totally vanished since Fairfield and it was a perfect day. My support team were superb at making me drink and eat regularly and I was loving every minute. We were ticking minutes of the schedule at each peak and I started to believe completing this was a genuine possibility.

Rosset Pike

The leg finishes with a very steep rocky descent off Great End which I hadn’t been looking forward to. James again led us skillfully through the boulders and all was well until I jammed my foot between two rocks which brought on massive cramp in my calf and a stream of swear words as Elaine tried to remove my foot from the rocks’ clasp. Once released I felt a bit better but knew I needed to take it easy. The rising temperature was beginning to take its toll so I gave myself a bit of a talking to. Although I’d done well sipping and snacking on this leg I needed more to get me to the end. When we arrived at the stretcher box I was 22 minutes up so knew it was worth giving myself a bit longer than the scheduled 5 minute rest to prepare for the final (and hardest) section.

Leg 4. Styhead Tarn to Greendale

13 miles, 8 peaks, 5,000 feet
Support: Geoff Davis, Alex Banks, Mark Davinson

Great Gable

To get myself back on track I took some salt tablets, drank some salty soup and milkshake and was given a double calf massage by Susan and Tom (thank you both – I know my legs were not pleasant!). Once fully refreshed we were off again. This final leg starts with a big climb up Great Gable. For some reason I love this climb – parts are rocky and it’s steep but it’s not technical and you can just stomp up. Once at the top I knew we had a tricky descent to deal with and I worried that my calves would cramp again but Geoff got us down brilliantly and my legs behaved. We were making great time and knocked several minutes off on the way up Kirk Fell. Mark was a fabulous social secretary updating me regularly – “Tamsin says you’re on fire!”, “Stuart says you’re amazing” he informed me as he shared pictures with the rest of the support team all the way round. Coming off Kirk Fell I asked why Geoff was moving so quickly and he told me I was obviously not tired as I was still chatting… I considered going quiet just to slow the pace but it’s not really in my nature and I was enjoying myself too much.

Pillar

All was good other than a sudden nose bleed half way down Kirk Fell which slowed me down a bit. Eventually it stopped and on we went; it was such a perfect day – I genuinely was just loving every minute. After the little detour of Steeple we were onto the last 3 hills of the day. I’d loved these on my recces as they’re not ones I know well. Haycock did not disappoint but climbing Seatallan I suddenly felt the pain of all the climbing I’d done so far. It’s a horrible slog up there – I hadn’t noticed it on the recces but when you’re 28 peaks into a 30 peak challenge… yuck. I opted to not look up and just take one step at a time knowing eventually it would be over. Once at the top there was the slightly fiddly descent down and just one hill to go. I almost allowed my emotions to get to me knowing it was nearly over as we reached the top of Middle Fell but as the descent began my nose decided to bleed again which distracted me! The final run into Greendale is fabulous… I’d envisaged this run down for weeks and it didn’t disappoint. I was beaming as I was welcomed in by Tom, Susan, Nina and (as a lovely surprise) Sally and Adam. Having known 14 hours was a tough ask I was thrilled to clock 13 hours 16 minutes as my finishing time. I was amazed how well I felt, how much I’d enjoyed it and how much I wanted to do it all again!

Finish in Greendale

The End…

After I’d changed and we all chatted and snacked on Tom’s famous pie a car pulled up next to us and there was Joss Naylor himself. Although he’s always made a point of meeting people who complete his challenge I knew that this was unlikely now since he’d suffered a stroke at the end of last year. So it was a real joy to see him and to chat about the day – interestingly he seemed to agree with me about Seatallan and said he too opts for the head down, don’t look up approach. As the sun started to go down we said our good-byes and headed off, my mind full of everything I’d seen and experienced and already making plans for the next challenge…

The Team at Greendale

I have many people to thank who helped me complete the JNLC. Obviously my support on the day who were just the best – the nav was spot on, the nagging me to eat and drink was absolutely necessary and the chat was great so thank you Nick, Stuart, Tamsin, Nina, John, Dawn, James, Elaine, Alex, Geoff and Mark. There were also so many others who encouraged me and made me believe I could do it – special thanks to Susan for her support and to my kids who endured a lot of Joss talk and a lot of “I’m tired, I’ve been for a run” conversations. Biggest thanks of course to Tom who not only was a brilliant road support on the day but trained with me in all sorts of horrible conditions, made me believe I had it in me to do this and listened to me talk about it non-stop for months. I apologise in advance for the fact I may continue to bore you with my next potential challenge…

More Photos…

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