Word of warning- contains some horrendous language 😉
I stood on top of Seat Sandal, disorientated, drained of energy and feeling slumped. I felt wrong. I forced some Tailwind down my throat and looked up…
“Where the hell did my support runners vanish to?”
Brain switched on slightly and memory took over. I headed in the general direction of the road crossing, searching for the trod I needed. Step after step I analysed my movement. It was all wrong. I was slapping the ground with my feet like I was wearing a set of flippers. Ok, so I was wearing some daft looking ninja sock (AKA Luna Tabu) and a pair of Luna Sandals, but I felt uncoordinated and slightly confused.
Eventually the trod appeared in the light of my head torch, I made my way down over the crest of the descent and spotted my two support runners. Up over the style I went and ran to my road support. I headed to a corner and just lay down on the floor, feet up and hands covering my face!
“He just expects to feel better than he does is all” I heard, but this was the end of leg 2. I know I have more in me than just two legs. What the hell had happened to get me to this point, around 23 miles and 3,400m of clim in?
I arrived at Keswick, got out and in an excited and rushed way sorted my kit. I’m used to being self sufficient so I stuffed a set of waterproofs and survival bag into my pack, along with some Tailwind and nuts for the journey. I handed over spare gloves and extra layers to some of my support. It was awesome to see so many people there to run the first leg. We stood at the door, joked about going to the pub, exchanged pleasantries about the ridiculous choice of footwear and waited for 8pm.
7:56pm arrived, I touched the door and said “come one then lets go” but no. Apparently we had to wait for 8pm!
Then 8 pm arrived and we were off. I walked some of the uphills, finding that conformable uphill pace that I perfected over summer. Keeping pace with the runners until we hit the flat and headed to the start of the climb to Skiddaw.
The weather was incredible. Clear skies, a gentle breeze and no rain or snow. The snow was frozen solid, which made running on it straight forwards and keeping to schedule on leg one was no problem. We reached the top of Skiddaw. The wind had picked up and it was bitterly cold. Up until that point I was roasting, wanting to take off my gloves, bobble hat and down coat but I was glad I hadn’t. The trig came along and passed as we began the descent towards Great Calva. I relaxed and ran down the hill on the frozen snow, which eventually turned into frozen grass. Its an odd thing to hear the sound of frozen grass beneath your feet. It’s as though someone has covered the fells with plastic bags!
The support crew were fantastic, chatting away, talking about running barefoot or sandalled and generally being supportive of the effort. The summit of Great Calva suddenly appeared! “How the hell did we get up here so quickly?”
I quick photo stop then we turned toward the final peak of leg 1, Blencathra. But that wasn’t what caught my attention… The moon had risen and was a huge glowing blood orange disc. It looked incredible and I wished I could see the views around me.
A quick descent and it was time for the river crossing. I stopped, looked at some boulders in the river and bounced along them. “Ha! I managed to keep my feet dry!”
Except the next section was bog! “So much for dry feet.” I thought as we began the climb up to the peak of Blencathra.
It arrived soon enough but I was starting to feel the effects of not enough food. I had eaten too much before the start so stuffing food or liquid into my stomach was a chore. I felt fine, so we carried on and descended the icy zig zags of Doddick.
Despite the fresh batteries, my head torch began to give up the ghost and this slowed me down. Until that point, the pacing was nye on perfect. Josh handed me my spare, which was no better, so a slow and steady descent and some careful stepping go time on to the road in Threlkeld and to the end of leg 1. I could feel the excitement build in me and I focused on one thing. I needed my batteries for my head torch. I didn’t feel like I could eat, still feeling stuffed! Maybe I should have forced myself to eat, but I didn’t and instead started the run towards the first climb of leg 2.
We started the leg 2 climb and the lack of fuel was starting to hit me. Two of my support sped up the climb and I felt the need to chase! I was relying on my nav and support to give me an idea of time so I could judge my pace, but this is hard to do at times and I felt like I was falling behind. We continued and before long I over heard the word “don’t want to jeopardise” and I know that one of the support was going to have to bow out at some point soon and after the first peak of leg two, he apologised and made his way back to Threlkeld. And then there was 2…
I began to find the climbs difficult. I could feel my legs becoming leaden and heavy and all I could do was push on to try and catch up with my support. They seemed to get further and further away, waiting for me at the peaks and then shooting off.
I tried to explain that I didn’t feel quite right but I don’t think my support understood. I asked about the pace…
“This isn’t the right pace is it? It’s too slow. How am I doing pace wise?”
“Hmmm… Fair to middeling” was the reply I got
“Well, that’s not exactly helpful” I thought followed by “You’re just tired. You’ve been up since 6am the previous morning. Keep moving. You’ve been in far worse shape and you know you can keep this up”
I have to say that amongst this, I kept telling myself you are tired and need fuel. Your anger is frustration at yourself for not managing your needs as well I you should be and that these guys aren’t to blame. I actually think that the navigating and pacing was spot on. I was too engrossed in my own little bubble of grump to think clearly at the front of my consciousness but it was always there.
“Stop fighting and just go with it. It’s your own fault you’re in this state. You’ve been through worse you great big fat git! Stop blaming others for what is your decision and actions.” This was my talk to myself (internal conversations are sometimes great) but the tiredness and frustration did taint the entire leg 2, through no fault of the leg 2 crew.
I kept pushing but it got harder. I took less and less fuel on, concerned that I hadn’t had a pee since leg 1, that I was falling behind, that I was fighting with myself and the fell. I could feel an anger that I couldn’t place. What the hell was I getting angry at?
“You just need to man up” This is a snippet of a story of someone telling one of my support to man up in a race, but this wasn’t my problem. If I hadn’t “manned up” I would have said I’m done, lets go home earlier.
“I really don’t feel right! Nothing seems to be moving the way it should. My hand feel tight. I really behind on time now aren’t I”
I found out that actually, I wasn’t that far behind and that it was likely I would be half an hour or twenty minutes behind as we came down Fairfield. The Dodds and Helvellyn range were just trudge after trudge, and so early on in the round that I felt like someone was trying to beat me into submission. The Fell Gods were taking their ounce of blood and they were being slow about it.
Then it was time to push up Seat Sandal. I pushed. My support seemed to float up like there the climb was flat and eventually I reached the top and stopped to take a drink.
“Mate, you need to eat. I’m gonna make you up some strawberry rice pudding. Will you eat it?” Tom asks. Tom wasn’t even meant to be there as support! It was great to see that he’d joined in. I said something, but I’m not sure what. My answer to most things was I don’t know.
I started to sort out my wet feet. The socks needed to be changed and Clive stepped in to help, Lucy was told to force feed me rice pudding and Tom began to angrily empty y pack of the things I was carrying at the same time as telling off my leg two support!!
Now, I’m not sure he did tell them off but it sure sounded like it.
I ate some rice pudding, necked some coke and got back up with some help. My leg 3 support join me and leg three started.
“I’m sorry guys. I’m just too slow on the ups! I;m not sure what’s going on!?”
“You’re doing fine. This pace is fine for your schedule. Just keep taking one step at a time”
So I did and we moved up towards the peak of the steep climb. The support of the runners on leg 3 was phenomenal. Constantly handing me food to eat in small amounts. Handing me my bottles of Tailwind, and by the end of the first climb and the start of some more runnable terrain I felt like I could run!
A little later and I felt more coordinated and life returned to the odd sense of humour I carry. The sunrise just added to my mirth and I unleashed the most ridiculous thing ever done on a Bob Graham… An episode of #OperaticLandscapes!
Then the pace picked up, I would have the odd few minutes of low as the fuel levels dropped, but the more I moved the better I felt as I trickled fuel in and my body responded to its presence. Time was being made up as we headed to Bowfell and I began to refocus on keeping my pace high enough to make up even more time.
Then we hit the ice sheet that was the ascent onto Bowfell.
“Stop fucking around Ode!” Ode shouted as he heard my poor imitation operatic shout “SUNRIIIIIIIIIISE” at the top of my voice.
“I’m not. Just having a laugh”
The banter and conversations were hilarious. Not one did we talk about this race or that race. It was just a stream of amusing comments, piss taking and insults that were obviously not true. I ran up to the peak of Sergeant Man, bouncing off the boulders and the stopped. What an incredible thing to be doing in such an incredible place. I fell in love with the fells all over again! It didn’t matter that I was on a schedule. It was all about being out with these 4 (2 who I barely knew) and enjoying the act of moving.
“Woo hoo! A trig! Can someone take my pic with that trig please? #TrigAWeekChallenge2016 dont you know!”
Now at this point, others must have been thinking “He is dead! A Walking zombie” but the actual truth was I was prancing around as I always do (with a smidgen of being sensible) and I bounced on to the trig at High Rise for a pic.
Then we made the meandering route to Bowfell and the insanity started.
Ahead was an ice sheet that just got steeper and steeper, so we picked a direct line up, hoping for a rocky scramble, but soon were faced by a rocky ice scramble. That’s the point were a certain change in mood came about. Everyone stepped their act up a gear and the team kicked into action, literally. Ice steps were kicked and chipped out of the icy slope, and we made slow progress on to Bowfell, but once we did. I felt like someone had supercharged me! Huge grins covered our faces and we commented on the stupidity of what we just did. No crampons, one ice axe, no rope and a tit in a pari of sandals.
Esc Pike came and went, Great End came and went, Ill Crag and Broad Crag passed with out any issues. I even managed my fasted ever run from Board Crag to Scafell Pike! I was at the peak before I realised what was going on, so it was time for another picture. I though we’d lost lots of time heading up Bowfell, but turns out we were still ok for time at that point. We looked across to Fox’s Tarn as our safe option up Scafell and it looked like a shiny sheet of icy death, and in the distance were two people moving up Lord’s Rake with ease.
That’s were we went and with the layer of frozen snow, the pre made foot steps up Lord’s Rake, the climb was both easy and fast. The decision was made to check Cantilever rock and the route beyond it, but after a nerve racking traverse on the icy slope that seemed to go on forever, we turned around and decided to rise West wall traverse. It was slow going and we had to patiently take one axed step at a time. still we laughed and joked about the leg, the ridiculously dangerous situation we were in and even worked out strategies for a future winter Bob.
After what seemed like an age (about an hour and 45 minutes) we poked out of West Wall traverse and headed to the peak of Scafell. All of us were laughing. There was an amazing atmosphere to our band of adventurers and I’d already decided that continuing would just make me unsafe through lack of sleep.
“Guys, there was a point up here that I held on to the rock and started to go to sleep! Carrying on would make me a liability for my support team and I don’t want them to be responsible for someone who hadn’t slept for 36+ hours”
The trip down to Wasdale was great, we trundled out way along to the scree descent, chatting constantly about the amazing team work and the incredible adventure of the last few hours. Then it was time for the scree! I’d been looking forward to this section since leg 1.
We launched down, laughing and whooping all the way, heckling the two that opted for the grass to the side and ambled our way to the main path that led to the carpark. I stopped and washed my sandals of the mud the screes had dumped on them.
Once they were back on, it was time to run. So I did. The technical parts of the path were just amazing and I just relaxed into the run, we continued chatting and the word of wisdom were spoken by Ode…
“If you did carry on Ode, it would be like a slap in the face of what we just did. It would be pain rude to carry on after Leg 3”
We all laughed and agreed, and I sprinted to the support guys…
“That was fucking EPIC! Leg 3 is fucking amazing!”
I vaulted the small fence and then stood upright..
“You guys are bloody amazing… Let go to the pub. I’m buying you all dinner”
Turns out they were more shocked by this than happy. They were expecting a zombie and some near death support crew but they to some overly excited runners who had had the most incredible day o the fells in their entire lives!
We chatted and described what we had done as best we could, but how can you put into words the immense sense of camaraderie, the sense of being scared but full yin control and the sense that everyone was working together and taking care of everyone else on the leg?
I’m hoping the pictures explain the adventure better than my clumsily strung together words.
I have to say a massive thanks for the support of all the runners and the road crew and the people on social media. I know I didn’t finish the round but I’m in no way ashamed of this. I actually feel like I achieved more in the latter leg I completed that I would in a successful round. There was an intense sense that we belonged out on the fell. That no matter what was thrown at us we would work our way around it, not fighting the fell or trying to beat the terrain into submission, but making the most of what was to hand to make the safest and best progress we could. I am now left with a desire to go back, I seem to recall moments with pride, love and joy. It’s an odd thing to fall in love with mountains, but it’s inevitable if you spend enough time on them.