I feel a week or so is a reasonable time to let the dust settle and try to get my thoughts down about Ennerdale. The good: I trained properly, or I did the training I had planned to do: 30 miles and 7500 ft ascent a week for a good few weeks before the race. I recce’d the whole thing as I’d planned. I got round the course. The weather was OK. A week before, I was probably in the best shape I could have hoped to be in. The less good (excuses?): I had a stag do the weekend before and promptly picked up a cold. I felt pretty shit the week running up to the race. I should have taken the extra 500ml water I was considering taking.

So, the actual race. Arrive at the start with plenty time for registration. Feel good and relaxed (if a little concerned about the cold). Race starts with a mile or so on flat track, I have a reasonable pace of 8 minute miles and I can feel this doesn’t feel as easy as it should. The steep climb to CP1 at Great Borne is similar: OK but not straightforward. But it’s the first big climb. “You’ll settle in,” I tell myself. “Stay comfortable” is the mantra repeating itself in my mind. Next on the list is Red Pike. The path rides up into the clag, and I’m very much hoping I’m not going to get lost or spend the day staring at a map and compass. But there are always people to follow and I do know the route (to an extent). Regardless, the terrain is very runnable until the loose rock nearer the summit, but again, despite my very comfortable pace, I feel a little bit strained. “Stay comfortable” becomes “stay comfortable and slow down a bit just in case”. Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag all go by reasonably well and I get to enjoy the rockier sections where I’m a bit faster generally.

Now to error number one. I’d planned to keep to the simplest navigational line to make life easier but I hadn’t realised that the route follows the fence ROUND Haystacks, rather than the path OVER Haystacks. F*ck it, keep it simple, the damage is done. At this point I’m about 7-8 miles in, and I feel bollocksed. The same way I felt at mile 17 on my recce. And from here on in, the day become long. I don’t really have any will for pace other than maintaining a trundle. There’s just no horsepower, I’m not running on fumes but I’m definitely in a speed restricted vehicle. Anyway, onto Blackbeck Tarn where you can refill your water bottles. I take one look at the rather stagnant tarn and decide against it. I’m not sure exactly, but I think I’m about 20 mins ahead of cutoff at this point and vaguely concerned about it. The waddle up to Green Gable begins. What should be runnable is trundled up. They have some cups of water at the CP which I am very grateful for. I’ve gained about 10-15 minutes on the cut-off time here which is a good morale booster. I’m feeling pretty broken. I’ve mostly been running on my own and the internal mental dialogue has been one of doom and gloom, my body echoing the sentiment. But a simple “you’re doing great” from the CP marshal genuinely gets me back on track. Great Gable in front of us looms grey and sinister, its vertical walls of rock disappearing into the clouds. I feel glad to be sneaking below it rather than over it. The loose rocky descent is hard on my body, I feel it in my core and my legs aren’t over the moon either. The lad in front running with poles seems less daft now he can descend with support. He spots a small stream and I follow, not enough flow to fill a bottle but worth a good few gulps. The refreshment feels good but Kirk Fell looms. Another slog, but at least I’m going as fast as everyone around me (i.e., slowly). At the Kirk Fell CP I’ve gained plenty time on the cut-off and I’m no longer worried about timing out. A small relief. The funny thing is that even if you’d want to quit (which a large part of me does), you’re still just as far from the start anyway. The descent from Kirk Fell takes a very loose gully that has taken an absolute pounding due to its featuring on the Bob Graham route. An alternative route is suggested but no one wants to route-find at this stage, so we precariously wind down the steep, loose gully. Again, I can feel myself going slower than hoped, the impact of descent more punishing than usual. If I was bollocksed before, I’m beyond it now. My legs hurt. They properly hurt: they are throbbing and aching but there’s too long left to go to bother thinking about it. On we go. There’s only one direction home anyway. But, a stroke of luck – a familiar face catches me up on the way up to Pillar – the last big climb of the route. Being able to chat rather than being stuck with your own thoughts makes a massive difference. Something I confess and we laugh about. Suffering together seems a lot more fun than suffering alone. The climb up to Pillar is long, and slow. I was quite happy that despite my slowness, I did manage to keep a consistent pace. Slow AND inefficient was something I didn’t have the capacity for.

Importantly though, once you’re over Pillar, you’re on a downward trend until the finish. Six or 7 miles of grinding it out. However, I miss a contour at Scoat Fell, falling behind my companions and the solo trudge home is set. From here, there isn’t much to mention. The terrain is straightforward, the navigation simple (you follow a wall for miles), a bit of a climb to Haycock, over to Caw Fell, dip down, then up to Iron Crag, and along to the final climb that is Crag Fell. What is straightforward by description is actually a tortuously long slog but there’s little satisfaction in writing or reading about it. Alas, the final climb: Crag Fell, which wouldn’t get a mention if it was anywhere else on the route, but at this point it definitely feels significant. A guy in his 60s catches me up and offers me the last of his water. He says he’s been watching me wilt over the last few miles and he’s not mistaken. It’s a token gesture as we’re over the worst of it, and about half a mile from a flowing stream. I’m not turning it down either way. He passes me and I manage to maintain a run on the windy path through the trees, and onto the track leading to the finish. I’m amused to see a group of friends have turned up to cheer me in, with a sign and everything. Finish line. Done. Definitely, definitely done.

I don’t much go for gushing tales of hardship or suffering, but I do feel that it’s hard to convey how unpleasant the race was. I got it done, that’s all that matters I guess. Numbers: Ennerdale, 23 miles, 7500ft ascent, Time: 6:45, 105/135. I was 15 minutes quicker than my recce (even though I spent an hour not moving on said recce), so I’m not overjoyed at my time, but I’m also very happy to have completed the race, despite not feeling 100%. It’s frustrating to train properly and then to fall off, just as race day arrives, but thems the breaks. Two days before the race at Ennerdale, I marshalled at the Kettlewell Anniversary Fell Race,  a race which was my first ever fell race the year before. So while the result was a touch disappointing, going from a 5 mile, 1500ft race, to a 23 mile, 7500ft race, in a year, definitely seems like good progress.

Andrew Sandercock