This was my second time running in this race, and I recommended it to the rest of the committee for inclusion in the Championship this year. It didn’t disappoint – this was a tremendous event. The race results are up on the SI website here, and I’ve updated the Runfurther leaderboard. Runfurther committee member Dick Scroop had a nasty fall on the climb up Great Gable, and had to be carried off the mountain to Whitehaven General. He’s got a fractured pelvis and various lacerations, but seems cheerful enough under the circumstances. He’s now well on the mend (updated 24 July). Many thanks from all of us to John Vernon, who was with him, and looked after him until the Mountain Rescue team arrived.
So, about the race. There are three races of differing lengths, all of which take you round the high Lakes mountain tops:
- Short: 48km, 3200 metres of ascent
- Long: 73km, 5600 metres of ascent
- Extreme: 100km, 7600 metres of ascent
The Runfurther counter this year was the “Long” course, taking in the 10 highest tops in the Lake District. The “Extreme” course is pretty close to being a Bob Graham round – a similar route, with slightly fewer tops.
The weather wasn’t far off perfect: not much breeze, no rain at all, just a bit of cloud on the higher tops, and even that lifted by teatime. Those who were still out overnight got some rain though. It was warm, but not too hot for most. I wore t-shirt and shorts all day, just putting on gloves for the cold wind on Pillar, and a thin fleece for Skiddaw as the evening drew on. Despite these conditions, of over 100 starters on the Long route, only 65 finished. 8 out of 21 finished the Extreme route. Of those 8, two are Runfurther members, who deserve special mention, as they won’t get any Runfurther points for their run: Tom Hollins, who set a new record of 18:08:26, and Allan McKeown, who was 4th in 21:37:33.
As for the Runfurther “Long” race, that was won in what I think was a new record time of 10:46:17 by Ross Litherland (Pennine Fell Runners). Second was Stewart Bellamy in 11:32:10. Third to finish was Nicky Spinks, in a new women’s record time of 11:34:40, which I suspect only she is currently capable of beating – a great run. Fourth was Mary Gillie in 12:39:48, again a very impressive run. Alex van Tuyl was fifth in 12:54:59, and the rest of us took over 14 hours. Stewart Bellamy and all three of the first three women to finish are Runfurther members (Karen Nash was third woman), and we had 13 Runfurther finishers of the 65. I’m sure John Vernon would have made a 14th had he not abandoned his run to assist Dick after his fall. Both David Wilson and Karen Nash finished well up the list, and their Runfurther Slam bids are going well.
I’m now able to stare into my crystal ball and start predicting who might be the winners of the Championship this year. Looking at the women, if Nicky Spinks were to run two more counters, she would surely win. If she doesn’t, Karen Nash is going to be difficult to overtake. Although Mary Gillie has beaten Karen in all three of her Runfurther races this year, Karen took maximum points in two other races. To overhaul Karen, Mary will have to be first woman to finish, or very close to first woman, in two more races – one won’t be enough. It almost goes without saying that Karen will be first FV50 once more, and Janet Hill will be first FV60.
On the men’s side, the question is whether anyone can overhaul Stewart Bellamy. It’s really down to whether any of Ian Symington, Jez Bragg and Kevin Hoult are going to run two more counters. If Ian or Jez did, they’d probably overtake Stewart. Kevin could do it too: his current points per race are the same as Stewart’s. Martin Terry looks set for first MV50, assuming he runs Bradwell or the Isle of Man. Chris Davies will be first MV60, and Bob Nash our first ever MV70.
Karen Nash has written up her race, and that’s now on Karen’s blog, with a few photos. Our main photographer Nick was running in the USA, so we’ve only got the few photos Karen took before the race started, but SportSunday were there, and you can find their pictures on the SportSunday website. Nicky Spinks has written her blog up here.
I’ll skip over the bit about getting up at 3:20, and fast forward to being dropped off by the coach at 4:50 in the morning at Swirls car park by Thirlmere. Those already there had their coats over their heads and it soon became clear why – the midges were out in force and wanted runners for breakfast. Luckily we only had 10 minute to wait, including RO Paul’s pep talk, and we were off, dibbing our SI dibbers and heading off over the footbridge and out of the woods. This is a brutal start for an ultra, but what else can you expect when the whole day is all about getting to the top of as many high peaks as you can? It was straight up the tourist path to the top of Helvellyn, with much shuffling of positions on the way. Shorts and t-shirts were all we needed, even in the cloud covering the top couple of hundred feet. There was a colder wind on top, but unlike later in the day, no sooner were we up than we were heading down again – the cloud covering me leaving the main path for a quicker more direct route down. As usual I went off much too fast to be sensible, and was one of the earlier runners down to the first manned checkpoint at the southern end of Thirlmere. One day maybe I’ll find out what happens if I take it a bit easier early on in an ultra.
The next bit climbs the boggy Wythburn valley and out of the end of it to the summit of High Raise, which isn;t one of the top 10 peaks, but is still compulsory. The valley was drier than last time I was there, and is a pretty place really, although there were still plenty of boggy bits. High Raise was out of the cloud and I reached it without feeling the climb too much, whihc cheered me up a bit. I knew my legs hadn’t really had time to recover from the 62-miles of the Three Rings of Shap a fortnight earlier, and the three hill races in between the two probably hadn’t helped either. What cheered me up even more was seeing all the runners who’d passed me on the climb running away off the summit on the main path heading for the Langdale Pikes. I casually snaked off onto the little trod that heads down to Stake Pass, and didn’t see them again for some time.
At Stake Pass four other runners following the trod caught up with me, including two South Africans, and I ended up leading a party round Rossett Pike and up the Bob Graham route to Bowfell. We picked the line OK, which doesn’t happen every time, to me anyway, but I always find that as long as I keep slanting gradually up leftwards I always seem to hit the ridge at the right place. Bowfell to Esk Pike and on to the second manned checkpoint at Esk Hause is familiar ground, and we followed bits of Bob Graham racing line trod in places. The bottom edge of the cloud was swirling around Esk Hause as we got there, and we were in cloud for much of the time from here until we were well down Scafell. It was clear on the top of Great End though, so finding the top was easy. Spotting the trod to Ill Crag was hard in the mist though, and we must have gone a few metres past it, even though I was looking out for it. No matter though, as I knew where I was, and we found Ill Crag and Broad Crag without any problems. We got to the Broad Crag col and I looked at my watch. It was 9:52. So what? Well this year the National Trust had told Paul he had to let only the faster runners climb Scafell via Lords Rake (and Pillar via Wind Gap too) to keep the erosion down. There was a cutoff, and only runners dibbing on Scafell Pike before 10:00 were allowed to go that way – everyone else had to flog down to the Foxes Tarn route, which means more descent. So, we had 8 minutes to get to the top of Scafell Pike. Decision time: I put my head down and went for it, and the others followed. It took me 6 minutes and 21 seconds to get to the trig point and dib. Result!
It would be nice to say we capitalised on this, and pulled away further from the next group of runners behind us, but no, as instead I made a couple of mistakes in the mist. First I descended from Mickledore too early, and we lost a few minutes cutting back across to Rake’s Progress, and then after we’d emerged from the West Wall Traverse I misremembered the topography on the top of Scafell and headed right instead of straight on, and we lost a few more minutes there. We got back on track and were near the summit when we met up with Karen Nash, David Wilson and a couple of others, who’d arrived at the Pike at 10:05, climbed via Foxes Tarn, and still caught up with us. We all headed off down to Wasdale on the Bob Graham route, splitting up on the way, some heading for Brackenclose, and others of us taking a shorter route on the path contouring the lower slopes of Lingmell. I ran past the pub with some regret.
And that was where my run started to fall to bits. Two years ago the same thing happened: then I really struggled on the climb up Pillar via the very steep scree to Wind Gap. This year we went via Black Sail Pass, or rather the variant path that branches left before the final climb to the pass. Again I struggled, and everyone else dwindled into the distance ahead of me. The climb up Pillar was grim. Once on the ridge my hands got cold, and for the only part of the day I pulled my gloves on. Even after reaching the top and I started running back down I didn’t feel good. It wasn’t until I was on the steep climb up from Beck Head to the top of Great Gable that I started feeling a bit happier. It’s a steep climb, but it’s rocky and fun (unless you fall as Dick did), and it’s the last climb for a long time. The top always seems to appear sooner that I expect too, which is always good (Pillar being the exact opposite of course). And after the top I ran slowly down the long path to Honister via Green Gable and the Drum House. I got to the checkpoint in the youth hostel 9 minutes earlier than my time two years ago, which was good. I had doubts about being able to keep that pace up though, as I knew I’d slowed up a lot in the past couple of hours.
A change of shoes and socks and I was off. Not on the recommended route over Dale Head – I needed another mountain to climb like I needed a hole in the head. Instead I followed the old toll road and then the bridleway down over the back of Castle Crag down to Grange, and took the back road along the valley to join the recommended route at the north end of Catbells. I was still running, just about, but I had to walk anything that was slightly uphill, and I’d had to stop eating, as my stomach was rejecting anything that hit it. By the time I got to the checkpoint at Nichol End Marina I was having trouble keeping water down too, and I couldn’t drink much. I was still moving OK as far as the start of the steep climb out of Millbeck heading for Carl Side, and from here on it was a truly horrible trek. I was pretty much out of it, feeling weak, light in the head, nauseous, and having to stop every few steps to rest. It’s a long steep climb, and I was in no state to get up it. Every now and then someone else would pass me as if I was standing still – and often I was. After what seemed for ever, I dragged myself onto the summit ridge in disbelief. Unfortunately there was still no relief as there was the usual Skiddaw wind blowing. I trudged along to the trig point, dibbed, and trudged my way back until the path dropped off the ridge and out of the wind. Nothing left for it but to shamble down the tourist path, with Nick Harper and Stuart Allen scampering past me as I wended my weary way back to Keswick Football Club.
I staggered into the finish, dibbed, and collapsed onto a chair. I sat there, semi-comatose, for about an hour, occasionally sipping water, occasionally retching into an empty jug provided for the purpose. I tried to chat to the other finishers, but without much meaning or coherence. I heard someone was being rescued off Great Gable, but I didn’t know it was Dick Scroop until the following day. I couldn’t eat anything until the following morning. I was 18th of 65 finishers, in 15:14:35, 20 minutes slower than in 2013. I was first MV60. In fact I was the only MV60 to finish. Remind me again, why do I do these things?