Turning 60! Sixty is old, right? But wait, I’m not old. I’m a fellrunner. So prove it then. But what to do in this my sixty first year?
Pooley Bridge: 05:57 a.m. all was quiet apart from a strangely clanking bridge. Three addicts went through the fell runners’ rituals of stretching, warming up, adjusting laces, checking watches, killing the minutes before the self-declared “official” starting time. My two pacers and navigators are both Winter BG graduates, so I knew I was in the best of company.
“Are you ok with this pace” said Paul, “it feels a bit quick”.
“Feels good to me” I replied, and thought privately, that’s a good sign.
However, we were still two minutes down on our “Vet 60 record” schedule at the first of our 30 peaks, Arthur’s Pike. This did not bother me as I knew from previous outings that the later peaks tended to fall below the scheduled times.
As we approached the slightly higher Loadpot Hill the weather was closing in, Mario said “and that’s it, into the cloud, it’s the last you will see for the next 12 hours”. How right he was! But it was a great adventure that still lay ahead. We were battered and “car washed” on our way to High Street. Somewhere around there I had a real face planting trip, leaving me flat out in a puddle. Mario scraped me up and, with only a broken watch and a bloody hand as damage, we were off again to Kirkstone Pass.
After a quick cup of home-made potato soup (millions of calories and previously patented for my BG challenge) we zipped up Red Screes and onto the long misty wander to Hart Crag. Except that Paul and Mario’s brilliant navigation and shepherding kept me from wandering too far. Several times I heard booming through the mist from behind me “Peter, a bit to the left – follow Mario”. Thank goodness for skilful navigators. Fairfield appeared through the clag quite quickly. The summit is confusing, I have previously gone astray up here in mist, so we quickly scanned the dripping, mist-shrouded cairns and turned left for Seat Sandal, the wind doing its best to knock us off our feet. This was the first climb that my legs had noticed and I reminded myself that there was still a very long way to go and that mental strength and a clear focus might be needed later.
A great time saving line down Seat Sandal could be shared with prospective BG and JNC contenders on payment to CFR or my “Just Giving” WaterAid account. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/petercrompton
/ This brought us to within earshot of welcoming car horns and happy, rainswept faces at Dunmail Raise, not to mention the calorie-dense rice pudding slurped straight from the can - looks disgusting but it’s quick. It really was good to see Kate, Rhiannon, Stu and Heather here. Heather quickly dispensing water bottles, flapjack and chocolate. After 4 minutes of taking the “combine harvester” approach to food I shouted into the rain “ready guys? We need to go”.
Hooray, it’s more steep climbing. Straight up Steel Fell in 20 minutes and off across the long wet trog to High Raise. Andy Beaty, tough rival of many races and Paul Jennings orienteer, fell runner and possessor of photographic memory for the shapes of trods and hillsides, joined me for this leg to Styhead. There is a myriad of streams and boggy bits up here but streams turn into life threatening torrents on days like this. We stopped and hesitated to judge one such flooded stream. Paul went first, slipped and was soon upended and soaked from head to toe. I honestly thought he was in danger of being swept away. I stood gawping whilst Andy hauled him out and with hardly a blink or a flip of the fins, we were on our way again. We were all soaked to the skin prior to this, so, as Paul said, his brief swim didn’t make that much difference. If you ever contemplate doing an event like this, in this kind of weather, make sure you have a good navigator, preferably one who can swim.
On the top of Bowfell we met some walkers who thought they were on Scafell Pike. I know the visibility was bad, but there are limits! Fortunately, Paul and Andy both managed to make polite offers of help, something I was not capable of by this time.
Eating was becoming more difficult, as is sometimes the case on these longer jaunts. The legs were saying “feed me” but the guts were saying “don’t you dare”. Boiled potatoes went down better than the infamous peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate bars provided short but fast sugar fixes.
The greasy boulder areas of these three peaks, Bowfell, Esk Pike and Great End slowed us down considerably as we did our best not to crack a shin or worse, take a tumble into a bone-breaking hole. I remember down-climbing on all fours over rough ground that I would normally have skipped over. The descent off Great End was both a navigational and an agility challenge, but with mutual support and concentration we made it to the stretcher box at Styhead. Here we said goodbye and thank you to Andy as he descended to Borrowdale as planned. Beside the stretcher box we found a cold wet Bill who was waiting to “take us home” to Greendale. Only 12 miles to go. Bill knows the Wasdale fells like the back of his hand and took us along this section in thick mist and increasing winds without ever looking at a map. How do these people do it?
I had in mind that there were only the 3 big climbs of Gable, Kirk and Pillar to go before getting to the three little ones at the end. At the top of Pillar it hit me like a wet blanket, a heavy wet blanket, that there were five to go not three. The mental strength alluded to before was needed here. “focus, focus, focus” I repeated. Positive images were drawn from the depths, teeth clenched and feelings of fatigue banished. Steeple was short and fun but Seatallan was a bloody long way.
Bill said, “Middle fell is easy”. He lied!
But I knew we were very close now. Having not thought much about the time all day, I now began, with the record in mind, to ask Paul for “clock time” as opposed to split time – and repeated the annoying question every 5 minutes.
At the top of Middle Fell we had 25 minutes to reach the end and hit our target.
“Can we do it in 25”? I asked Bill.
“Lets do it in 15” he said.
“Right, Go!” I replied, and we did.
Tearing down the hillside, soft turf a blessing underfoot. A few rocks, a trod here, a fast grassy bit there, Joss’ house was soon appearing through the mist. We dodged left on the track through the last of the bracken.
At last the wall, Joss’ house, the tarmac, the bridge.
We had done it! Great fun.
A hug from my wife Heather.
A handshake from Joss.
A handshake from David.
Big grins all round. What a day!
Paul, from the first half, had travelled all the way from Cockermouth to see us finish.
I gave him a celebratory punch on the arm and said “we did it, we took over half an hour off the old record”.
We were grinning like mad dogs. But then …
Joss said, “Aye, a lad last week, he did it in eleven hours”.
Is this a windup? I thought.
I stared into Joss’s blue eyes in vain hope of a mocking smile, but no!
Apparently not. Oh what the hell!
We had had a Grand Day Out. We had smashed our own ambitious target in appalling weather and for a few seconds at least, we believed we were the new record holders.
Isn’t fell running just wonderful?