Old County Tops May 19th 2018
The 30th running of this classic pairs race starting and finishing in the Langdale valley at the fabulously named Dungeon Ghyll. Some would describe this event as a nightmare 37 miles, over 10,000 feet of climbing and running with a partner for the whole race. The general idea of the race is to take in the highest peaks in the old counties of Cumberland (Helvellyn), Westmoorland (Scafell Pike) and Lancashire (Coniston Old Man)before returning to Dungeon Ghyll.
The race was a sell out a week in advance with 160 entries sold. As I arrived at 7am the car park was filling up fast. A queue for the mandatory kit check and number collection was twenty metres long. I enjoyed a half hour relaxing in the sunny morning knowing my partner Dawn Metcalfe has a reputation of turning up at the last minute. When Dawn arrived the queue had disappeared. We were able to quickly go through the traditional ritual of tipping a bag full of kit onto a table and showing the marshall hat, gloves, compass, emergency food, whistle, map and waterproof body cover.
At the start we had the usual mix of advice and warning from the race organiser especially in relation to staying hydrated and using the mountain becks for water. We shuffled away along a short road section and immediately began to climb and descend. Four miles later we arrived a the A591 and began the serious climbing up Helvellyn via Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. By now the sun was already hot and a few competitors were feeling the heat. After a steady hour climbing we reached the summit and began the descent toward the checkpoint near Thirlmere which was providing water and snacks for breakfast.
Cockley Beck was our next stop with the prospect of more support keeping me going as we traversed heather and bashed through bogs continuing on our way. The checkpoint was another food station and had much needed water.
D.A.C. support crew
By now every injury I have ever had was starting to flare up and I saw sure at least half of my toe nails were falling off but there was still one big climb to go. Coniston Old Man was unchartered territory for me as I had never climbed it before. Instead of steep and rocky it was long and grassy with some runnable tracks in places. I was focused throughout this leg on the decreasing distance to the finish with only a half marathon to go at Cockley Beck. Dawn was pushing me forward and we began to overtake other pairs on both the uphill and downhill sections. It was a relief when we finally reached Coniston Old Man as the major climbs were over.
After the descent back to road level we were 4 miles away from the end of the race. Dawn strongly suggested we should be able to run the 4 miles in less than 27 minutes so we set off at our quickest pace of the day. Despite our good intentions we finished in 10h05m03s. At the finish we found out fell running royalty Rob Jebb and Ricky Lightfoot had beaten the course record which had stood since 1989.
Overall a magic day out on the fells despite the difficulty of the terrain and the length of the course. Will we be back next year to get under the ten hours? Watch this space.
Bob Graham Support May 5th 2018
Job description of a Bob Graham (BG) support pacer:
I was allocated leg one with an early start to make the most of the daylight throughout the day. Leg 1 is like August and September in the football season, with legs 3 and 4 being the hard winter months when injuries and suspensions hamper the team’s performance. The same as you would never give a team which is top of the league in September the championship a BG runner who successfully completes leg 1 on time still has up to 20 hours hard work left to complete the round. Leg one starts at the Moot Hall in Keswick and takes in Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra before finishing in Threlkeld at the cricket club.
Teenager with Altitude Fell Race April 21st 2018
Most endurance runners look forward to April as an exciting month in the calendar. Light nights for more training, the start of the track and field season and the London Marathon. For me it is time to start getting back onto the Lake District fells. Highlight of the month for the last few years has been the Anniversary Waltz (11.5 miles and 3,600 feet of climbing) and its rather twisted older sibling the Teenager with Altitude (15.4 miles and 7,600 feet of climbing). Both were coming to an end this year after the death of co-organiser Steve Cliff. Steve raised over £750,000 to fight Motor Neurone Disease which took his life in January.
Only three weeks before the race there had been snow on the ground in Stanley. Now the weather was expected to be over 20 degrees throughout the race and only one checkpoint along the route with water. As I filled my bag the night before I was nervous about acclimatising to the heat and studied my map to ensure I knew where the streams where my water bottle could be refilled were located.
We arrived in the beautiful Newlands Valley on a bright sunny morning. Race kit on, sun cream rubbed in and final bag check over I jogged to the race HQ. After the ritual of number collection, kit check and safety briefing the run was underway. After a long walk up Causey Pike in the first mile it was a relief to reach the check point at the top, only to veer from the ridge line down the side of the mountain. Two checkpoints later and an undulating detour we reached Grasmoor the highest peak on the race at 852 feet. After just over two hours I reached the Newlands Hause checkpoint about half an hour before the cut off time and greedily filled my bottle with fresh water.
The second half of the race was more familiar to me, but I began to struggle in the heat and found it much more difficult than other times I have run similar routes. As always, the big climb to Robinson was energy sapping and I needed more water supplies from a slow stream near Dalehead Tarn. I was slowing down and there was nothing I could do about it. I overtook a few of the slower runners completing the Anniversary Waltz on the way to Catbells.