It was hot when I arrived at Keswick football club on Sunday morning – the type of heat you expect when you step off the plane upon arriving at your summer holiday destination. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car made it feel even more intense.
I’d arrived with the family in tow so they set off for a wander around Keswick while I made my way over to register for the race. The usual fell club vests were on display, hanging loosely from the skinny bodies of those whose playground the high fells of Cumbria belong.
I paid my £7 and went back to the car to get changed. I’d last run this race in 2015, in cooler conditions and had had a blast. For the unknowing, this is a fast out and back race up to the summit of Skiddaw, starting and finishing on the field between the football and cricket club of Keswick’s Fitz Park.
The race was due to start at 12:30 pm with around 100 runners gathered awaiting entry to the start pen following a very thorough kit check. It may have been hot with no chance of conditions changing but the organisers were fastidious in ensuring everyone was carrying the required kit set out in FRA rules.
Once everyone was checked in the start area and following a quick brief from the race organiser, we were off.
The pack spread quickly as the route snaked its way out of the park and up the lane towards the bridge crossing the A66. From here the gradient begins to steepen up through the woods. It was also nicely shaded here.
The path winds its way up out of the tree line to a car park at the foot of Skiddaw. From here the route hits the wide path that leads directly to the summit. A few little ups and downs the bang – straight on to the slope. The path steepens sharply as it zigzags its way up and mine, and everyone else’s pace drops dramatically.
It’s now hands on knees for the long slog to the top. There is no air; it’s hard to catch a breath. Sweat begins to pour off my head, into my eyes and off the end of my nose. I look up; I’ve not gone very far. Ahead of me, there are just headless bodies, everyone is doubled over marching their way up the hill with hands on their knees.
My breathing is swallowing, my legs are trembling and I’m having negative thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can’t make it to the top. The last time I was here was with Stuart Scott in November training for his BGR. It was cold, windy and covered in snow that time. What I’d have given for those conditions right now.
I pass two walkers (turns out it was Steph Piper) who shout encouragement and it gives me a temporary boost. Onward I march until eventually the gradient levels out enough to stand upright, catch a breath and break out into some kind of run once again.
Just as I’m approaching the gate at the foot of Skiddaw Little Man, the lead runner comes hurtling past on his way back down. He’s got a huge lead on the second place runner who also beats me to the gate.
Eventually, more runners come past on their way back down as I make my way to the final short sharp climb towards the summit plateau. It’s still hot but there’s a mild breeze blowing behind me, which helps a little as I make my way over the rocky path to the summit and turnaround point.
I’m greeted by two marshals, directed around the summit cairn and then it’s back the way I came off the mountain. The views are stunning and it’s hard not to gaze, but full concentration is needed to get back off quickly and safely – those rocks ready top trip you over at any time.
Slap, slap, slap go my feet as I try to make my way down the steep slopes quickly and efficiently. There’s a skill to downhill fell running, one that I think I’m fairly good at, but it takes a lot of concentration and nerves of steel to trust yourself and your foot placements. If only I could get up these hills quicker I’d have a fighting chance of being competitive.
The heat and my breathless assault to the top have left me exhausted so coming down is not done with my usual vigour. My thighs are burning and I’m struggling for breath. I pass some of the more cautious downhillers whilst those with more energy fly past me.
Eventually, I reach the bottom of the slope and have the run back through the car park and into the woods. This should be a relatively straightforward run back but I just haven’t got any energy left and the heat has taken its toll so my pace is slow as I make my way back to Fitz Park.
Finally, the finish field is in site and I cross the line and slump to the floor under the shade of the trees.
I check my watch for the first time during the whole race – 1hr59mins – 19 minutes slower than my previous effort. I knew this was going to be slow, given the heat, but I was disappointed at just how much slower it was. And so my struggles continue as I try and find some kind of form but I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can take in a race with some real effort.