One of the nice things about orienteering is that it can take you to places that you wouldn’t usually go, and one of the nice things about the Border Liners orienteering club is that they run regular “come and try it” events. So yesterday found me and Roberta driving down a long cul-de-sac on the east side of Ullswater to Hallin Fell. We thought we knew the Lakes quite well but we didn’t know this bit. Around a hairpin, up a hill, and into the sun. We drove off the road and about 6 feet up Hallin Fell itself before the car decided that was enough of that and stopped. We were parked.
We registered and I asked to do the ‘green’ course – the longest one available that day. That was fine, it’s just that they had no green course maps left. This is not unheard of when an event proves popular and there have been only so many course maps printed, and in these situations you just wait until the next green gadgie finishes and you nick their second hand map. We headed for the Start which was a bit of a climb up the fell itself. The Start was about as informal as it gets. There was no one there. When you were ready to go you just dibbed your doodah into the doubrey and doddled off. Roberta strode away on the Orange course, me on the Green.
It had turned out into a fantastic sunny day and this had to be one of the more dramatic locations I’ve orienteered in. Hallin Fell is set above Ullswater with views right down the lake, and despite not being particularly high it has a real sense of drama. Despite never threatening the podium I still tend to hammer it as best I can round an orienteering course but today I did pause for a few seconds just to stop and stare. It really was quite a place.
I did ok, as I often do, until I made mistakes. Two biggies today. The rock beside the path on the bend that I thought I was at, was remarkably similar to another rock beside another path on another bend that I should have been at. So when I pounced on my control, it wasn’t mine at all. It was someone else’s. Jings, I said (I’m paraphrasing), and soon realised my mistake. A few minutes lost, and a few more some time later when I decided that a cairn that I passed was too small to be marked on the map and that my cairn was the big one ahead. It wasn’t.
On a short course like this there isn’t much opportunity to recover time from errors such as those, and I may have actually got a half-decent position if I hadn’t messed up. Roberta found the navigation ok but wished she hadn’t left her Leki’s in the car as the steep slopes were a bit tricksy. We left this gorgeous tiny corner of England to head for Southport, and to check our schedule for tomorrow’s trip to Burnley.
So there I was, on the start line, chatting to my boss about email problems we were having at work, as you do, when I noticed the starting gadgie was talking. Probably saying important stuff that I should be listening to. I looked around and saw David Catterick a few yards away who, like me, was about to embark on his first Allendale Challenge. Old-hands Geoff and Susan had disappeared in the sizeable field of runners for this 25th anniversary of the event, but Florance Nisbet was expected.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done any race of this distance and I’m not remotely race-fit so I set of nice and steady. As way of preparation my literature search had indicated that mud and peat were key features of the adventure ahead.
Specific route information was sketchy but everything you need to know is on Shaun’s map from 2012. Forget any other maps you see – this is the one you need. The definitive guide. It is accurate in all the crucial details, except the dragons were not to be seen on Killhope Law this year. That may have been because the mist was down, or, more likely, they were scared away by the man with the trombone and the marshall with the spiky hat.
After several hours of sucky squashiness it was a blessed relief to be descending from Killhope Law and running again. I was overtaken by a runner who struck up a conversation and it turned out he worked and was living in Dundee, but didn’t know Colin Blackburn, or my brother, and was a graduate from Napier College in Edinburgh, just like me. We were just marvelling at the small-worldness of it all when I heard someone shouting my name from behind and I swirled round to see my workmate Emma and her walking partner Michael. This was a fantastic opportunity to walk for a bit and blame it on someone else. Later I could put it down as a magnanimous supporting gesture on my part but in truth it was great to take the foot of the gas, chill out, and simply enjoy the view.
We drank and walked and chatted for a while, but here’s a top tip. You won’t find this simple weird tip on any other running websites. Here it is: when you take a drink from your drink bottle, always remember to open your gob first. Or you will, as I discovered, smash your drinks bottle into your front teeth, with hilarious results.
My walking buddies didn’t seem to find this quite as fascinating or traumatic as I did, but we were all in pretty broad agreement that it was a decent sized chip. I’m not sure what other walkers thought of my impromptu gurning as I sought confirmation of my fears, or indeed, what my dentist is going to think of my explanation.
Soup came at the next checkpoint, and then I started getting chilly, so bade farewell to Michael and Emma and started running again. I’d hoped it would be easier on the last few miles as the surfaces improved and the weather brightened. But I was pretty spent by now and just concentrated on staring at the few yards of the ground in front of me and forced myself to jog steadily as much as possible. Into the Finish and, initially mistaken for a walker, they added two hours onto my already sluggish time, but then noticing the horrified expression on my face, they noted, “oh, you’re a runner?”. I looked down at my fetching mud-splatted Lycra shorts and Sportivas and thought, Do I look like a walker? (sorry if that sounds ‘walkerist’).
I hung around for a cup of tea and collected my beer and t-shirt. One of the classiest race t-shirts I’ve received – black, like the grouse, and just the name of the race and the year. No fuss. No adverts. Like it.
I always take my running kit on holiday. Doesn’t matter where. There’s always the chance of a run, or even better, a race. I nurture fond fantasies of running a race in some far away exotic place in my Striders vest and writing an ever so nonchalant, do this sort of thing all the time, race report. However, given some of the parkrun tourist reports we’ve had lately you’d have to go intergalactic nowadays if you wanted to win the accolade of Strider who has raced the furthest away from Durham.
This holiday was no different. I packed my kit. But this holiday was a biggie – we were going to a game reserve in South Africa for a fortnight, so, realistically, I should’ve realised that the chances of a training run would be limited. Or at least, quite literally, short-lived. Sure enough it became immediately clear that a jog round the local bushes would probably result in meeting some scary wild animals. And I’m really not very fast. I think a Cheetah would have the edge.
Nonetheless, despite a series of lacklustre parkruns and a two week hiatus in my running I turned up in Southport for my 4th Maddog 10k, optimistic that I would, despite all the evidence, pull something amazing out the bag. I had also, cunningly, decided to avoid the whole park and park-and-ride shuttle-bus stuff by cycling from my parents-in-law’s flat to the race start. I arrived nicely warmed up and stress-free. The race started right on schedule and I settled in the shelter of the congestion, satisfied in the knowledge that there’d be plenty of time to put the foot down later when I got into my stride. A sharp left onto the seafront and straight into the wind. I tried to remember what Allan and Ian said about cutting into the wind on the track, but whatever I did just seemed to be met with a squally blast. Plus my nose was running and I was paranoid about how to address that particular issue without causing a major incident.
The 3km marker appeared and I took a glance at my watch and got a nasty surprise. I’d been prepared for a slowish time but assumed I’d still be comfortably sub-50. But now for the first time in 5 years it was looking like I was heading for a 10k time where the first digit was a 5. This was really most disagreeable. I tried to lift my pace a bit, but my pace was not for lifting. Still, when we hit the 5km marker we would turn round and the wind would hit us in the back. Sure enough, it was like cresting a summit on the bike and free-wheeling. I slipped into the big ring and increased the pace. There were lots of bands and music this year and I began to feel a bit more upbeat as I hoofed it back to the finish, confident that even if I didn’t PB, I would at least be sub-50.
Across the finish line and a glance at the watch. No, that couldn’t be right. That couldn’t be right at all. There had to be some mistake. I checked again: 52:29. I did a bit of that rueful-headshaking routine that you see top sportsmen doing, as if to suggest that there was some other sinister shadowy reason why my time was what it was. But it didn’t change anything. It was still there, beautifully pixellated. Nearly 5 minutes slower than last year, and a 5-year PW.
I sat in the hotel bar in Peebles drinking my Broughton Ale and reminiscing about the Two Breweries Hill race. But that was a long way away, the immediate question was what to do on Sunday? There were lots of choices: Stockton 5K, Old Monks 6, Clay Bank East, and something interesting involving bicycles and maps at Hamsterley. Hmmm, four options, all good. What’s a man to do? Just at that moment there was a humorous bleep from my trouser pocket so I fished out my phone and checked my email.
Interesting. So now there was an option 5. The Northern Navigators were short of a cook/runner for a team orienteering event and was I interested? Well, I wasn’t so sure I was with all the other options available. But then I read it again and noticed the bit about it being fancy dress and it immediately became a no-brainer. Well that was settled then – any excuse to wear a wig.
It was a fine but cold morning at Cowpen Bewley. A one hour team score orienteering event was a new one to me, as was the interesting bit about a transition in the middle. That sounded a bit duathlony. I registered and asked how it all worked but was advised that it would all be explained when we started, so on past experience I reckon I’d probably work it all out by the time I finished. I knew where I was with wigs though, and handed out my spare wigs to my bemused team-mates.
A mass start in an orienteering event is always a bit of a hoot and not dissimilar to the start of our own Durham 3 peaks race. Runners sprint of in all directions and you can’t help wondering if they know something you don’t. My team had agreed to rendezvous at the transition point after 35 minutes and have a go at the other map. They were already waiting for me when I got there exactly on 35 minutes, and we grabbed our second map and headed out again. Score events are stressful beasts as you try and weigh up grabbing extra controls and points against the penalty points you get if you happen to be late at the finish. It does, however, lend itself to a neat race. You’ve got an hour to get as many controls as you can. So the race is pretty much done and dusted an hour and a few minutes after it starts.
I was miffed but unsurprised (my standard response) at the results. We’d been beaten by two other Northern Navigators teams. I thought we were the ‘B’ team – but alas, the Cooks with Colds had been beaten by the Northern Navvies. Not even a few extra points for fancy dress could get us out of fifth place.
It was a good event and despite fancy dress being encouraged there was clearly a good mixture of abilities and tactics and a strong competitive spirit. It was also an hour of hard running interspersed by occasional moments of stationary bafflement. Or rest periods as I prefer to call them. There were 15 teams in total and not a splash in purple to be seen. Not surprising with so many other good events also on today, but perhaps it’s an option for next year. It’s a good event for a runner. All orienteering events are.
I was torn between various parkruns and fell races but in the end it was the promise of a quirky orienteering event at Pickering that got my attention. And diesel. Pickering is a bit of a trek on a damp New Year’s day and we arrived in town having not found the event where we expected it to be. Not a promising start. But we found something far more useful, nice public toilets that were open at 11AM on the 1st January. And next door was a co-op, also open. Things were looking up.
Before long we found the event itself and investigated the options. Roberta opted for one of the Beginner Courses but I had my eye on something that called itself the SUPERSTARS course. It’s a normal orienteering course, but printed on a map where, just for a laugh, they’ve removed all the paths. Handy things paths.
There was, as is typical at orienteering events, a huge variety of competitors, from large families going round in loose groups as well as the usual super-keenos. I started at the same time as Roberta but our different courses immediately took us of in different directions. It took me a while to get the hang of it – a map without paths is a strange thing. It’s strange to be running along a fast path that the map claims doesn’t exist, and just sort of hoping that the path will be going your way. I bumped into Roberta about half-way round and we briefly compared our pathed and pathless maps. By the time I got to the last few controls I was beginning to get the hang of a life without paths and quite liking it.
No sooner had we finished than the rain well and truly started and I felt sorry for the organisers who would soon have to go out and collect all the controls. We headed back into Pickering and investigated the railway station. That was also open, trains were running, and joy of joys, the tea room was open. Now I’m not normally one to get excited about chips but we both had the most amazing Ham Eggs and Chips that I’ve ever had. A quick look at the trains and them time to head home. A long way to travel for a 2.2km race but worth it for the chips alone.
I opened my eyes and spoke to my cat. “So what do you reckon Mr Mittens,” (yes, really), “Clay Bank West, or seek redemption on Dale Town Moor?”. Mr Mittens yawned luxuriously as if to suggest there was a Third Way that involved staying in bed and going back to sleep. I compromised. Orienteering gave me a bit more time in bed, plus, I had demons to banish.
It was a gorgeous frosty morning in Boltby Forest and I hung my car keys on the dartboard, and filled in the ‘Lone Traveller form’, which always sounds gloriously ominous. I got onto the starting blocks, was given the nod, and off I sped. And for once, surprisingly, sped is what I did. One by one I ticked off the controls, usually finding they were where I expected them to be. My confidence increased and soon it was time to leave the forest and step out onto the moor.
Well what a difference a day makes. As opposed to a night. You can actually see stuff. You can see for ever. The daylight was remarkably forgiving in as much that, when you arrived at the control and found it wasn’t there because it was a Gnat’s whisker to one side, the daylight smiled on you and pointed you in the right direction rather than letting you plough blindly on into the abyss.
A couple of minor errors and a bucketful of over-cautiousness later and I was finished. Not Bad. It felt like a good run. I checked my printout. Eighteenth our of Eighteen so far (why don’t they just put LAST). But by the end of the day I was 32nd out of 36. There’s hope for me yet.
It’s a constant source of bafflement to me just quite how rubbish I am at Orienteering. It’s certainly not, as the phrase goes, through want of trying. I could talk to you endlessley and, yes, knowledgeably, of handrails, pacing, relocating, attack points and what have you, and yet, and yet …
So there we were, trundling down the A19, me and 3 fellow Northern Navigators towards Thirsk for the North East Night Orienteering Championships. I had weeks of night orienteering practice under my belt from our regular Thursday night training sessions at Low Burnhall and I’ve orienteered in the dark before, and knew what enormous fun it could be. Oh yes. I asked my fellow faster orienteering travellers what tips they might have for the evening ahead. The answers came quick, fast, and concise. Pacing, Accurate Compass Bearings, and there’d be lots of negative features. Ah yes, negative features. I nodded in what I hoped was an intelligent manner but as it was already dark, my self-conscious nodding was totally wasted on all present. “So, what’s a negative feature, then?”. Well, apparently it’s a hole in the ground. Or a ditch, or a depression, or a pit. Or, a hole.
Soon we were parked, registered, and carrying a large jug of soup and some buns along a track towards the start. 15 minutes later, at the Start, we transferred the soup jug to the Starters and one by one, we made our way into the pitch blackness. I went first, but it wasn’t long before I was being passed by later starters. Sometimes I knew who they were, but only because I recognised their Petzls.
It was really really hard. I tried to tell myself that I was enjoying myself but there was far too much luck and not enough judgement, skill or confidence in my finding of the controls. Out of the forest and onto the moor. What were the choices here? Solid compass bearings and pacing. And when you got to where the control should be, and it wasn’t there, what could you do? Re-locate, identify a new attack point, take a fresh bearing, calculate pacing, and try again. But in the middle of a moor, with the mist down, and no features, where did you relocate to?
I checked the map for control 9. It was in oh guess what, a bloody pit. Who knew? I took a bearing, checked, worked out my pacing, and thought, let’s go for it. I went for it, but it had gone. I stood where Control 9 should be, but it defied me by being somewhere else. In the right place probably. I looked at my watch and realised that there was no way I was going to get round the remainder of course before it closed in an hour’s time. In a sudden flash I realised how I could solve this dilemma.
Once the decision was made it was a simple matter to find a path that took me all the way to the finish. I shrugged off the “Well Done’s” and admitted that I bailed. They said “Well done anyway!”. They were very kind! In orienteering one missed control is an automatic disqualification, so why miss one when you can miss 8, that’s what I say. It was first time I’ve ever given up in an orienteering competition.
Back to the registration area, where hot soup with a swirl of cream was on offer and I was slightly reassured to discover that even the good guys had struggled. Big time. Orienteers far faster and more skilled than me had overshot, relocated and got quite lost. Not as lost as me though. They’d completed the course and finished, including David Aspin who is usually on the other side of a camera taking so many of the great photos that often appear on our website. I heard the organiser ask one competitor whether he’d be back tomorrow to which he replied that he’d be at one of Dave Parry’s races. Clay Bank West. I’d fully intended to be back on Sunday for more orienteering but right now a nice uncomplicated fell race sounded quite attractive.
I’ve not written of my orienteering adventures of late. You’d be forgiven for thinking that for someone who orienteers as much as I do that I spend all my spare time polishing my trophies and admiring my medals. But I seem to have had ever such a run of bad luck. It seems to have started about the time I got back into orienteering a few years ago and unfortunately has continued right up to and including the October Odyssey.
When the satnav chucked me off the A1 early because of a road closure I found myself looking out the window at a lot of muddy runners being jettisoned out of Newcastle Racecourse, which I realised later was the Stampede in full flow. Some time later I’d arrived at Druridge Bay, found the Start, and was being asked if I had a whistle. Indeed I had a whistle, and a compass, and stuff. And then I started.
I’m an old hand. I know the temptation to sprint away with a determined and knowledgeable expression on one’s face is always a mistake, and consulting the map and finding out where you are is usually a good pre-requisite. I held my nerve, walked slowly from the Start, looked at the map, and worked out where I was. I seemed to be next to a sand dune. Good, good. Now, if I went over this sand dune, I’d get to a flattish bit, then there’d be another sand dune. A bit bigger than the first one. Then there’d be a Clearly Visible Path, with a junction, ah yes, it was all fitting into place. Up over this bit, and the control would be just, over, there. Nope, that wasn’t my control. So where was my control? Behind that sand dune? Or maybe next to this sand dune. Or perhaps in this bunker, beside, well, sand dunes certainly seemed to be involved. The wonderful thing about the sand dunes, was there were so many to choose from. Well this was fun. Sixteen Minutes and 39 seconds later, and almost a phenomenal 200 metres from the Start, I found CONTROL ONE.
This was impressive. Even by my own exacting standards I had excelled myself this time. I wasn’t even out of earshot of the Start and could still hear occasional shouts and cheers as competitors launched themselves into the dunes.
I dibbed and dazedly wandered on. A quick calculation that involved multiplying the number of controls by sixteen and a bit minutes made me think that if I didn’t get my act together it’d be dark by the time I finished. The main features seemed to involve dunes; big dunes, small dunes, weird shaped dunes, and pretty dunes. I was becoming weary of dunes. I looked for some nice linear feature that I could handrail along. Nothing but dunes.
But, hang on, there was a nice handrail. I couldn’t be sure, but I think it was called the North Sea. I jogged along the beach for a bit only to be met by a big dug bounding the other way, followed close behind my Mike and Dawn Metcalfe from Durham Fell Runners. Despite realising that I was losing valuable seconds that could make all the difference on the podium between first and last, I stopped for a chat and posed for some photos that demonstrated the remarkable propagation properties of Arctium sp. I mean, your really have got to admire those burdock bad-boys. They’d survive a nuclear blast I’m sure. When they want to get their seed dispersed, they’ll stick to anything. I’m sure there are new plants now growing in my washing machine.
Some time later I crossed the finish line and accepted my printout without a glance. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I was hacked off and demoralised, because that was exactly what I was. Last again. Quite generously last. And I never wanted to see another sand dune in my life.
I’m not normally nervous for races. But there are a few that cause me a few flutters. Top of the list is the Lake District Mountain Trial, which I did for the first time last year. The LDMT is an intriguing event. They don’t tell you where the start is until two weeks before the event. And then you don’t know where you’re going until you cross the start line and they hand you a map. Wherever you’re going it’s probably going to involve about 15-20 miles and 8000-10000 feet of climb. Roughly.
Last year I finished. Just inside the checkpoint cutoff times. I’d vowed to be fitter and brighter this year for the 60th running of the event, but I felt neither fit, nor bright. Or confident. And the weather was foul. Last night it was lovely, but this morning it was manky.
Roberta dropped me off at the start and I went to registration. Kit Check, which was thorough, had been moved indoors, seeing as how it was tipping down outside. My bum bag and rucksack were pretty light, mainly because I had all my wet weather gear on. The rain looked as if it was in no mood to stop anytime soon. My number was ticked, and I got registered. I collected my dibber, which they prefer to attach to your wrist themselves, and I pinned my number to my vest. I checked and rechecked my kit and waited. My Start Time was 0853. Then an announcement was made that the Start would be deferred for 30 minutes. Great. Another 30 minutes to be nervous.
I wandered around and bumped into the runner who was in front of me at last week’s Grisedale Horseshoe. He was doing the medium course, as he felt the long ‘classic’ course was too much. This wasn’t helping my confidence, although we would in fact be running on shortened courses due to the weather. So the Classic dropped from 18 miles and 9500 feet of climb to 14 miles and 4800 feet off climb. Sounds quite easy when put like that. I went back into the youth hostel and sat in the dining room. Andy Blacket and Duncan Archer from DFR showed up and I chatted to them for a bit, but mostly I just sat, nervously, waiting for my start.
Just after 9AM a lady walked into the room. She spread her hands and without preamble announced, “It’s off, it’s off. Spread the message.”. And that was it.
This was a whole new experience for me. Not only was I nervous, I was also ready to go. Kit checked, dibber on, number on, mentally and psychologically ready to. I looked around the room and most people were pretty subdued. A bit of nervous laughter and relief here and there, but I think most of us were mentally ready for whatever was out there. I was still feeling nervy, even though the race was cancelled. Very strange sensation.
You can read the organisers’ explanation for the last minute cancellation on the LDMT website. They really had a thankless task and that must have been a tough decision to make, but I don’t think they had any choice. I’m massively disappointed not to have competed but it’s clear that the decision to cancel was the right one. I still haven’t opened the special edition bottle of beer brewed for this year. It just doesn’t seem right. It’s such a shame that the 60th anniversary of this great event should end like this, but that’s racing.
“we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, then”, said the sweeper. “we’ll see”, I replied, sounding more smug than I intended.
I’d started badly. Arriving late, leaving kit in the car, running back to the car to get kit, running back to kit-check and registration and not much time to spare. Sitting in the car with 10 minutes to go I noticed that in my kit-check confusion I’d managed to pick up someone else’s maps as well as my own. Didn’t think much of his planned descent of St Sunday mind. I’d better find this runner. He’s probably looking for these maps. With 1 minute to go at the start I tried to find someone to make an announcement about the maps. Oh sod this. I jumped up on the steps and bellowed to the assembled and slightly startled runners that I had someone’s maps. I waved them around a bit, as you do, just to make the point. A runner stepped forward, I handed them over and my conscience became a little clearer.
Almost immediately afterwards we were running up the lane with me still trying to fasten up my overfull bumbag and sort out my straps and stuff. It was when I stopped to tie my laces that the sweeper made his introductions. This would be my fifth running of this race and I’d never known it to have a sweeper and I was perfectly confident on getting round comfortably within cut-offs without the need of a sweeper looking after me thank you very much. I was 20 minutes inside the cut-off time for the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint last year. For me, that’s an eternity.
Up the familiar Mires Beck and pretty much at the back of the field. The sweeper had fallen back and was running with a big bloke with a headband. I wouldn’t be seeing them again. Over the top of the beck and the challenge of the adventure ahead became apparent. Visibility faded as I climbed to the first checkpoint at the summit of Catstye Cam, reaching it in 65 minutes – same as last year, and there were now three runners behind me. Could be worse.
Turning to tackle Swirral Edge the wind whacked me in the back. There was a vest ahead – one I recognised from last year, and I was scrambling over rock after glassy rock trying to keep him in sight. The path along here is indistinct at the best of times and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t recognise the pointy rocks I was sliding over from previous years. Up onto Helvellyn ridge and a scary wind now slammed into my face. I’d been running comfortably hot but now the sweat chilled rapidly on my forehead and I felt suddenly chilled and alarmed. I ducked into the shelter and huddled up with about a dozen rucksacks (it was a busy day on Helvellyn) and put on my hat.
Immediately feeling better I put on a burst and headed south. Along the path to the fork where one way goes to Wythburn, and the other onto Dollywaggon Pike. Or did it? Perhaps this was the fork where left takes you unnecessarily up Dollywaggon Pike rather than around the shoulder. Even as I veered right I knew it had to be wrong. Four times I’d done this race but today I was running it like a fool. In a bizarre mindset of denial I continued veering right and down until I had to accept the obvious – I was going the wrong way. I cut left and angled back over to the proper path. Finally around the corner and time to pick a line for the descent to the checkpoint at Grisedale Tarn.
And what a line I picked. A messy indecisive muddle that was neither path or fell. It wasn’t clean and it wasn’t efficient. I hit the checkpoint with just four minutes to spare before being timed out. A familiar figure emerged smiling from the gloom and I recognised the sweeper (Dave) and his dog (Todd). So I’d got myself behind the sweeper. And I was now last. Oh well, I do have form. Ahead I could see the big guy with the headband who I would find out was Steve. I caught him as he stood looking puzzled and surveying the paths through the mist. We didn’t seem to be gaining height. Last year I’d stayed too low too long and I felt strongly we should now be climbing to pick up the path along the ridge. Steve was looking dubious but bowed to my four years experience and with a shrug he followed me as we cut right and headed very up. I wasn’t wrong; we did pick up the path along the ridge, but this year, I was too early and too high. So we now wasted time and energy descending a little as we headed towards St Sunday Crag. Feeling a bit of a twit I apologised to Steve for the duff route choice. Steve was philosophical and told me not to worry about it. Then Dave and Todd caught us up and we pretty much all agreed with my assessment that I had, indeed, been a bit rubbish.
The back-of-the-pack now comprised 4, plus one sweeper and his dog, and we checked through the St Sunday Crag checkpoint. It’s not good for the ego when the marshalls pick up their gear and follow you as you’ve checked in as the final runners. But who can blame them. The weather was rough, and another squally rainstorm had just started. We hit the scree descent and Todd, a rescue dog from sheepdog descent, would run ahead, then stop and stare at us intently as we slid inelegantly down the fell. Quite funny but ever so slightly touching too. Dave the sweeper was certainly doing the shepherding job of sweeping seriously, probably running an extra couple of miles simply running back and forward amongst the back-markers checking we were all ok. I was listening to him intently now, and followed his descent tips of St Sunday to the letter. I dug my Walshes into the final climb up Grisedale Brow and they didn’t let me down, but the best shoes in the world aren’t much use if there’s no power in the legs. Over the top and the final checkpoint and I followed Dave’s tip for finding the best final descent back down Mires Beck. It was gold, and for the first time of the race I felt settled and comfortable.
I crossed the line to find Roberta waiting patiently for me. She’d done a low level walk but looked just as wet as I did, having loyally hung around at the bottom of the St Sunday for as long as she could before deciding I was obviously going to be out for a while. Finishing pretty much where I started, third from last, I waited for the other runners to get home. Steve arrived next, glad to be back on his long recovery from injury. Not just any old injury, but a snapped ankle in the Three Shires several years ago. His blog makes inspiring reading about what’s possible if you’re determined enough. Next week he runs the Three Shires race again, his 50th race since the accident.
With all the back-markers home and handshakes all-round and congratulations from the sweeper we headed back to the car park. I spotted the runner I’d been chasing and we had a chat. Then a bit of a site down and quiet reflection on my experience of this fiendish fell race, and how, five years on, and over 30 minutes slower than last year, I ran it like a novice.