EL-E-VA-TION. Who-ooo, whoo-uh-uh. For anyone struggling for pronunciation, your man Bono spells it out in tedious fashion on 2002’s contender for worst song of the year. Thankfully I’ve only come to think of this now, and so didn’t have it going up and down my brain all day.
I’d had this one pencilled in on the calendar and fancied it since last year. The great thing about an Entry on the Day (E.O.D) is you can decide commitment leading into the weekend, depending on your availability, perceived fitness and of course the all-important weather forecast. It was looking good, and a small trifactor WhatsApp of myself, Mark Burley and Jon Hopper formed plans.
7AM – Bollington Pub Car Park – car share is essential in my mind, you get to chat and catch up with a fellow runner and discuss your fears and upcoming traumas. It’s comforting and cathartic. Environmentally I have a little rule, that I won’t drive for longer than whatever event I’m doing, so by car sharing you can alleviate that, it is a six hour round trip, divide by two of us, just about fits my rationale! Jon was an excellent host, even allowing me to faff around two Ewok-looking dogs in and out of his boot on several occasions. Kudos. The morning sun burned behind a cloud of mist, we discussed how we should be up the tops already, enjoying cloud inversions. It was a beautiful day (don’t let it get away)… Yes, I’m going with it.
Arriving into the gorgeous spring soaked valley of Eskdale in good time we were ushered into the miniature railway carpark. The intended parking zone, a farmer’s field was waterlogged, boding well for wet feet! The sun in the valley was warm and we considered to base layer, or not to base layer. The concern was how cold it would feel higher up. We could see Scafell had some snow, up near the summit. A quick weather report and Mark confirming we wouldn’t be up high for long had us down to club vests.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Thorough kit check, show me those seams! You really do need to take kit, if not only for yourself, but to aid anyone in need of it you may come across. Despite it being very warm now, an accident can leave you still for a period of time, you will get very cold quickly, so much as it’s a pain to carry and show to the organisers, there is good reason behind this. The fact that safety is taken seriously should be encouraging, and we do need to look out for one another!
‘High, higher than the sun. You shoot me from a gun.’ – Race organiser Dave Jones (who you may remember from the Trans Pennine Relay) gathered us at 11am to gently ask we don’t plough through an out of bounds plantation of scientific interest. A few questions were raised about route options (as the race has three checkpoints, but route choice is up to the individual) and I took the opportunity to get a couple of photos of the field. Dave didn’t have a gun. He’s quite softly spoken, and I’m a bit deaf, so I stood closest to him. It was hot, I wished I had my cap and some suncream.
“Go on then, please don’t knock me over” – we were off, and for the briefest of moments, I was, by default winning!
‘I need you to elevate me here.’ – The best advice for a long run, is do not go too hard too soon. If you spike that lactate, it’s gonna let you know later. Think of the wally who sprints off the marathon start line for the cameras, to only be seen again crumbled and crying at mile 18. However, the immediate task was a steep rocky bridleway, and it’s hard to not move at the pace of the pack. I instantly felt very unfit and began to boil. Things levelled off into more runnable terrain and views down to the Irish Sea were glorious. A few hellos were exchanged as we picked lines, looking for trods across the tundra of White Moss.
Pre-race lines had been picked and there was a spicy looking left-hand version which would slice off some distance at the cost of some super steep ascending up Whin Rigg. I had decided I was going the long way round to take the gentler SW approach, but in the end, you follow the pack. So, down gullies and across rivers we went. I was over heating and took a moment to cool myself in the stream. Some drystone wall scaling felt exciting as we were still a decent sized group at this point. Less ‘exciting’ were some crotch scraping barbed wire fence crossings, double shorts saving future generations of fell runners. The accent up to the first check point was relentless, I was making involuntary noises far too soon into the day. Was it time to refuel yet? No, only 25 minutes gone!
CP1 – Jon and I reached the top together and I’d appreciated his company up the calf busting climb. Time for some running! I grabbed a gel and again without actually thinking which line I wanted, paced towards the pack.
‘At the corner of your lips, as the orbit of your hips, eclipse, you elevate my soul…’ – Now, I could have taken the extra 50m accent over the top of Illgill Head, but the gang were going around the side, I followed and there was a nasty camber to the hill. This was where I started to struggle. I’d chosen a pair of 60 th anniversary Walsh’s over my tried and trusted Innov8 Roclite. Nice nod to the heritage of our sport I’d thought, however, the soakings had them starting to rub and I was rocking and rolling around. It’s very hard to choose to stop, but I have a tendency to fall over, so I sat down and tugged at the laces. Several people passed and I looked up to see Jon disappearing. I couldn’t get the knot out so had to just yank at it to try to get them tighter. I am a competitive person, and I always want to do the best I can do. This for me is a tough moment of do I throw toys out of the pram, or accept the situation, try to enjoy it, take the learns and keep doing my best in the circumstance. Ultimately, there’s not much choice. I have terrible dexterity, so keep tugging and plugging on. My usual skill at downhills is now limited as I’m wearing loose sponges to run in, but better to take caution and not snap and ankle. Eat. Keep eating.
‘I’ve got no self-control, been living like a mole now, going down excavation.’ (nice one BoNO!) The views ahead were spectacular. I glanced across to Burnmoor Tarn, and ahead at a dotted pilgrimage of runners heading up the lower slopes of Scafell. Some pace was regained, and I reeled a few in. Turns out I’m quite good at walking up hills quickly. You have to pace this right to move the most efficiently you can without blowing up. Somehow, I got back on par with Jon and we took the zig-zag scree together, measuring our distance to summit in ‘White Nancy’s’ – “Two White Nancys to go, One White Nancy to go!” I was excited to summit and again looked forwards to some running. It’s all downhill from here.
‘I and I in the sky, you make me feel like I can fly, so high, elevation.’ (how did this record win a Grammy?) – It was not to be an easy decent, quite technical, snow hid what lay beneath and as we got lower we found craggy scrambles to cross, perhaps the path along Slight Side would have been better than the beeline. I saw Jon heading for higher ground, but couldn’t fight gravity anymore. We were headed for our final check point, the outlet of Eel Tarn. Occasional opportunities to scout out a glimpse of the water were taken, but by and large it was important to keep eyes on where feet were meant to be going. That became tougher. We were over two hours in now and this is where training and nutrition will have their say. I wasn’t lifting my feet well and took a tumble, which could have been worse. I was winded and scraped my arm, but felt lucky to have not headbutted a rock. Worth gathering yourself before continuing. Shaken but not deterred I caught a couple who had passed and had a friendly dog fight across the lumpy hills towards the tarn. This was actually quite fun as we took differing options around a landscape (which might have been mined in the past), popping out at different points and changing positions depending on how lucky we had been with our choices.
A walker cheered me on, “nice running” I did not think so, I was now running like a raggy doll, but the end was near. A couple more tumbles on grass were taken before CP3, then a rough track down revealed the white cube of the pub below us. Maybe a km to go… The bridleway became tarmac, and it felt good to let fly down the final hairpins.
So, a tough day out, no doubt. Harder than listing to U2 songs? Definitely not. Shoes in the bin? Maybe. I’ve written this not especially as a report of how much fun I had, because it wasn’t all laughs, but I do want to encourage you, dear reader, to give this a go. We must support these races and challenge ourselves in a sport which is all about pushing yourself and your limits.
Last year I stuck to the summer evening series and local trail runs as I built up my confidence, knowledge and contacts in the club. Sometimes a race may seem outside your comfort zone. This is exactly where you want to be, the challenge is not surely knowing you will finish, do yourself proud, get lost, or end up with an egg facial. Your kit may let you down, what better place to test and refine it? Having some confidence in using a map and compass (should you need to) opens up new territory. We got lucky this weekend with sunny skies and in the end, I followed the pack and didn’t need to find my way, it is worth knowing how to though! The weather may be against you, or you might find you are in exactly the right place, at the right time. Get out there.
Craig is a risk taking railways risk assessor and recently remembered he was taken to watch U2’s 2000 world tour at the M.E.N. arena, an evening he regrets.