It has been a long time since I have been in the lake district, more than a year which is longer than I'd normally like to leave it after discovering it's magnificence a few years back. Usually I am not here for an event (unless you count the Anniversary Waltz which I managed to come last in last year). The excuse to nip up there this time was to run the 10 peaks challenge, climbing the 10 biggest peaks in the lake district. 24 hour cut off and I'd have to finish in 16 hours to make it back to Keswick for the famous Cow Pie dinner. 45miles and 5600 meters of elevation. How hard can it be?
We started at 4am at the base of Helvelyn, 951m, one of the bigger peaks. 200 odd runners plodded single file up a steep climb up some rock steps to the summit, it took nearly an hour and by the top by which time the sun had risen and the day looked glorious. one down, a nice down hill bit of running and we were well into this.
I was doing this as Ben Cope wanted to do something epic in his 30th year and what better than smashing your legs on some of Britains finest rock. It wasn't just rock though, there were bogs everywhere. It has pissed it down in England for a month and everywhere was soaked. Luckily the weather today was perfect, glorious sunshine and no rain. In the first running of this event no one finished due to the bad weather.
I was also with Mike Wilcox who was running like a dog who had never been out for a run before, jumping over and into things and generally being stupid. Two of his friends Tim and Oli were with us too, they knew the way along with Ben and so we were determined to stick with them.
We climbed another two significant peaks before being told that those don't count in the 10 peaks they are just smaller peaks that you have to climb to get up the the main peaks. So after 4 hours of climbing up and down and up and down we were still only on one peak. That Cow Pie might not happen now.
It was really hard even on the flat grassy bits as there was water everywhere and I made a very poor choice of shoe. Much as I love these shoes they were certainly not fell shoes and not good for kicking rocks which I was doing a lot. I lost my shoe once and spent much of the time on my arse, at some point sliding down a hill faster than I could ever hope to run down.
Finally we managed to get to the second peak Bowfell, 902m tall. It was frustrating that we had to climb up and down three others to get there.
The terrain here is brutal. It brought back wonderful memories of the Barkley race in April as to just how difficult it is to get any momentumn on here at all. There was some running down Helwelyn but from then on we were just hiking. Going down was hard, we were staggering around like Bambi. I don't think any of us were any good at it. I thought the Bob Graham Round might be doable by me but now I am certain it's not as I can't go down anything at any pace.
I thought about how this compares to Barkley. The climbs are as severe. The distance and total elevation is about a third of the Barkley so the time limit of 24 hours is quite tight. The only difference is that where there are rocks here in Tennesse there are dead trees. On the beautiful clear day you could see all around and it reminded me of Frozen Head Park. This is definitely good training.
We did the next few peaks in quick succession which was great. Great End, 910 m, Ill Crag, 935 m, Broad Crag, 934 m and Scafell Pike, 978 m all seemed to fall away quickly. I had never been up Englands highest mountain before and so getting up Scafell Pike was a novelty. There were a lot of tourists up there. We then headed straight off to climb Scarfel which was a bit lower but a harder climb and one with two options. One involved a rake and another a fox and a tarn. We took the foxes tarn and regretted it as it took a lot longer climbing up a waterfall and up a load of scree. It took ages to get up there. There was an option of not doing this climb and incuring a 1 hour penalty. We did this then had to go up scafell pike again to get back onto the course, taking about 2 and a half hours. At this point we lost Oli and Tim who had gone up the rake.
So, 7 peaks done in about 9 hours, seemed like we were doing well but we were hardly into it yet. The next peak was bloody miles away.
Great Gable, 899 m, was some climb. We could see it in the distance for ages before climbing it. It was here when the estimated finish time went from "guaranteed cow pie" to "no way are we going to get this done before midnight". That made me grumpy. I wanted a cow pie.
Going up Great Gable was hard enough, coming off it was stupid. There was a long line of us scrambling down the scree, trying to stay on our feet but slipping all over the place and kicking rocks down the hill. I though if enough people did this all the rocks would end up on the bottom which would make this a lot easier. I yelled at a rock and told it to fuck off, something I have not done since the Marathon Des Sables a few years back. I had a proper sense of humour failure coming down that hill, we were told at the top that the next checkpoint was only 1k away and it was downhill. Still took us half an hour and at the bottom we were told that after 8 peaks we were still only about half way through the race. Bugger.
The next stop was an epic journey to Pillar, I think the smallest of the peaks but by far the longest hike to get to. We could see it in the distance but it was still over a load of rocks. On the way here we saw Carla Denneny coming the other way who had already down Pillar. I thought she was just ahead but I was not quite prepared for just how far we had to go. We were warned about false peaks on this and we sure did get some of those.
After a load of walking on the flat but still tripping over rocks we headed for the peak in the distance. It drew near and up we went, I commented that at least we were half way up so didn't have to go up a whole peak. It did not seem to make it any easier though and later on their way down we saw Tim and Oli coming off the peak and they told us it's about another half an our to the top. I did not quite believe them as I was pretty sure we were near the top and sure enough about 5 minutes later we were at the top. Of a different peak.
Pillar was way ahead, which meant going down and then back up again. FFS. I was quite grumpy now and my feet were sore from kicking rocks. Itdid indeed take another half an hour to get to the top of the other peak and then back down, back up then back down into the swamp and rocks. They really should have tarmaced this place for some sort of ultra skateboarding event in the Olympics. I think at some point I was resigned to not having anything to eat whenever I crawled back into Keswick later so I texted Gemma to tell her to get me lots of milkshake for the finish. On coming back from Pillar we had a nice section heading to Honiston Pass where we'd get some hot food which we were all looking forward to. Mike had already deicded to drop and I was tempted but the promise of a "nice flat run to Keswick and then only Skidaw left" seemed to keep me in the race.
We got the checkpoint and had a jacket potato and chilli which went down very nice except that we too were getting eaten by the midges. Ben and I waited for about 20 minutes but did not see him come in. He got lost apparently in a dehydrated daze. Ben and I pushed on, and what better way to start the nice flat run into Keswick than with a bloody great big muddy hill.
I think it was a combination of slipping and kicking a rock, really hurting my foot and getting a bounceback from the text message about the milkshake that made me quit. I was done. I fell in love with the idea of getting back to the B&B before midnight and having a normal nights sleep. I felt sorry for Ben who wanted to keep going and I was going to bail on him but I just could not be arsed with this anymore and justified it to myself by saying that I might injure myself on those rocks in the dark and that would make Spartathlon training hard. I really quit because I have become a quitter of late.
So I urged Ben to catch up with a couple of guys in front while I took the road to Keswick. I got back around 11pm and had a cold cow pie waiting for me. I didn't really deserve it but I ate it anyway.
Ben finished in 23.30, half an hour inside the cut-off having had a miserable time descending Skiddaw with blistered feet. Tim, Oli and Carla finished sometime before. It truely was an apic and difficult event and with perfect weather still a challenge completing inside the cut off. I need to cure my quitters disease before going back but I certainly recommend it.