I had an opportunity to enter the race this year, so I was pleased to get a place in the race which falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December)
I drove up on the Friday night before the race to register. This was to be a challenge in its own right! Once I had joined onto the M6 conditions just got worse and worse and while driving through the Howgills I was doing just 30mph with horrendous side winds and driving rain. Leaving the M6, the back roads between Shap and Askham made driving conditions even more challenging. Most of the roads had deep water which, when it comes over the bonnet of a Landrover Defender you know the water is deep! I didn't hang about in the village hall after registering. Luckily I had a a few miles to drive down the road to Bampton to stay at Paul's house for the night.
Once comfy in front of the stove, drinking plenty of warm tea we checked the MWIS mountain forecast. It wasn't looking great, heavy rain towards dawn with high winds with gust up to 95mph at 750 meters, chance of thunder and hail with a returning band of heavy rain at around 16:00. Thats should make the race interesting.
I was surprised to find it had stopped raining when I left Paul's just before 07:30. My plan was to start the race before 08:00. Parking was at a premium in Askham, so I took advantage of a patch of grass perfect for my Landrover. Walking down the village there were runners passing and quick shake of hands with Owen Mills has he past on his way with other runners. Light of the day was arriving and I entered into the village hall to go and get my kit checked before setting off. Kit check went quickly with no problems. I decided to leave my car keys at the village hall before I set off. I dibbed and set off up through the village. Bugger! as I past my car I noticed I had left the inside light on, I turned back to the start and grabbed my keys to return back up to my car to finally get going in the race. Well that was about 10 minutes race time wasted. At last leaving the tarmac and on route to Askham Fell. The wind was strong and to make things worse it was a head wind, the only plus was it had stopped raining. Conditions under foot were wet but not too slippery. This part of the route had plenty of paths and it was the only part of the course I didn't know, so I was making mental notes for the return journey, which would hopefully be in the light. Once I passed The Cockpit I was on familiar territory.
Good flowing pace on the descending bridleway to Howtown. I caught up with Owen and after a toilet stop and a quick exchange of words I left him on my way round Howtown and to the first checkpoint at Martindale church. The next section was on tarmac and was good running with the odd flooded section to wade through. This was just over 3km of tarmac bashing before turning into a Bridleway over Boredale Hause, and a great fast descent down to Side Farm, checkpoint 2. This was the first manned checkpoint with food and water. Once dibbed I didn't hang around, I topped up with fluid and grabbed a few bits of cake and peanuts. Eating on the move, I glanced to my right and noticed a caravan on its roof, casualty from the savaging winds, I bet they got a rude awakening! The river had risen to give us about 100 meters of knee deep water to wade through on route to Patterdale. The storm started bringing with it thunder - yikes, with heavy rain, hail and a bit more thunder and lightening thrown in for the fun of it. It was looking like this was going to be our weather for a fair while, lucky us. Once on the Greenside road I decided to stop to put my waterproof trousers on, got to keep warm. Passing the Youth Hostel it was time to start the climb up the side of Swart Beck on route to checkpoint 3, the small foot bridge crossing Swart Beck. The storm and rain had finally passed and it was good going on route to Sticks Pass. Pushing on through the continual strong wind it was time to take advantage of the great descent down to the foot bridge at Stanah Gill. The next (unmanned) checkpoint (4) was on the finger post just up from the foot bridge. A small climb and it was time to follow the path running parallel with the A591 to checkpoint 5 at The Swirls car park. I went over on my ankle on this section, which hurt a little, but I continued onwards.
This was another manned checkpoint complete with food and drink. Once again I didn't hang around, a quick top up of fluid, I grabbed some nibbles and was on route through the forest tracks. The trees provided a good break from the head winds and good solid tracks up the forest to checkpoint 6 at Birkside Gill Foot bridge. On the path there was a few runners who had turned directly up the steep fell side of Willie Wife Moor (missing the paths as directed in the instructions,tut tut). I had been running with a chap from Scotland (can't remember his name!) including the climb up Raise Beck. I found this a much friendlier climb especially when I turned around remembering the nice climb on the opposite side of Dunmail Raise from my Bob Graham Round. Anyways, enough of reminiscing, once at Grisedale Tarn it felt good as the wind was now behind me and the biggest of the climbs was behind me too. The lower path round the tarn is runnable all the way to start of the descent into Patterdale. This came quicker than expected but the wind here was exceptional strong, proving itself when it blew me off my feet. I was glad to be descending into the valley passing the Ruthwaite Climbing Hut and on to the valley of Grisedale. A good steady descent, I managed to pass a few runners on the way even though my legs were feeling tired and my ankle was now aching from its earlier slight sprain.
On the tarmac I caught up Jonathan Melia, who looked to be hobbling. He said he was struggling with his knee and was going to bin it at the next checkpoint at Side Farm. I was now on the last Tarmac section before the wet wading section up to Side Farm (checkpoint 7). I quickly topped up my fluid for the last time and grabbed a good handful of crisps, it was so nice to get some salty crisps in side me and grabbed a couple bits of cake before I set off up the climb to Boredale Hause. Eating on route I noticed a few runners in front taking the lower path round as I turned left and took the direct path to the top. Those runners who were ahead were now behind me, I descended the good path in to Boredale, and just before Boredale Head I noticed the familiar face of Paul Aitken who joined me in running the road section. The rain had returned but fortunately the wind was still behind me. The long tarmac section quickly passed, taking in the last checkpoint (8) at Martindale church. On the return I decided to keep on the road towards Howtown and heading towards the lake to take the small path up through the field back on to the bridleway back towards the Cockpit.
I managed a good pace up to the top and was glad to pass the Cockpit making my way back to Askham. It was still light which made navigation a lot easier, which I never found an issue but I was soon making good ground towards Askham. Back onto the tarmac it was great to be running down through the village and passing the Pub once more to the wonderful sign of the finish and my last dib.
The table that greeted me in the main hall was full of the finest selection of cakes, but first i had to try Joe's soup. It was great, just what I needed but mostly what i was wanting, followed by several brews and a couple of cakes. I was disappointed in the fact that I was now full and needed to get back to Paul's house, out of this wet kit and into a hot shower. I was glad to be finished when I was as the weather had worsened and once again the drive to Bampton was horrendous.
I was happy with my run, apart from going over on my ankle, my kit was perfect for the event. Choosing the excellent Inov8 315 shoes. I put my Hope R4 in as my head torch which was an over kill as i didn't need a head torch, so if i did it again I could go minimalistic on the head torch front.
I came in at 8 hours 26 minutes (54th overall) and 24th Vet 40. To complete this in the bad weather, hurting my ankle and making it back in day light. A good way to end this years events.
All in all I have had a most enjoyable year completing -
Dark Mountains Mountain marathon ( 2nd in A class)
Dalesway (Ilkley to Bowness) ( 82 miles under 22 hours)
Montane 26 Howgills ( 10th overall - 2nd Vet 40)
Montane Lakeland 50
Tour - de - Helvellyn
this list obviously doesn't include all the other long days out this year.
Bring on 2014 :)
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