Lake District Eastern Fells. 26/27 Jan 2019.
Having done numerous mountain marathons and a lot of night running, when I was asked if I wanted to join my MM buddy Toby on this adventure I thought it seemed a great opportunity to combine the two. The fact that I hadn’t done any long distance stuff for over a year and would have only four months to prepare for it didn’t seem a problem at the time. The problem is four months goes very quickly and I definitely hadn’t covered enough miles or hills but hey ho let’s give it a go.
There are various routes, Linear where you follow a fixed series of checkpoints (46k 38k, 34k and 28k) and Open Score over 8,10 or 12 hours where you choose which check points you visit where the aim is collecting points. We were doing the Short Open Score at 8 hours. Registration started at 5pm, our start time was 10:24pm so we didn’t arrive til nearly 8pm by which time the elites and Long Score (12 hour ) had already set off. As we arrived, it started raining!
The registration tent was filled with lots of runners clad in a wide range of very technical gear, all of it designed to cope with some very serious weather. We were clearly in for a treat! We all had to carry full kit — including tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, spare clothes, cooker, pot — so rucksacks all looked pretty full. The weather forecast was for more rain (snow on the tops) which would clear up at around 2am with plummeting temperatures and rising winds. This was pretty accurate as it turned out.
Tea was provided and consumed then we got ourselves ready and presented ourselves to registration and kit check. This done, it was a matter of waiting for the off. We met Cat and Alison, who doing the C course, who arrived later as their start time was about 10.45pm.
At the appointed time we dibbed at the start, collected our maps and set off. The aim on an Open Score is to have an idea of how the whole round will look from the start. You have to have an eye on getting back in time but be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities you find on the way. Coming in late costs points, and if you are more than 30 minutes late you generally lose them all so planning a fast route back picking up easy checkpoints happens at the start.
Nav in the dark is all a matter of practice, good map reading and trusting your compass. We found only on our third checkpoint that depressions lined with gorse make quite good positions, not necessarily to ‘hide’ a control but to make it difficult to see unless you are almost on top of it so our route trace is a bit circular at this point. From then on it was pretty good and bar one, easy enough to find all the controls we visited. It was all about pace and running where we could and choosing the routes with least climbing and most running. Unfortunately hills are part of the event and unavoidable. The rain stopped for longer and longer periods. Our waterproofs did as much to keep the sweat in as keep the rain out so we were just as wet and began to get cold in the increasing exposure as we climbed.
I found at about 2:30am I was beginning to flag. This was now into overtime as far as my training had gone. I tried to eat but found it increasingly difficult. A half pork pie from Toby and drinks from steams helped but I was getting slower. Going up steep hills became a serious effort. The top of Loadpot hill in snow and high winds is not the place to decide you’ve had enough and want a rest. The water in our water bottles was freezing even with electrolyte tabs in so we had no choice but to press on. Toby was very accommodating and did most of the navigating from this point with a few comments and suggestions from me. However a handful of jelly babies, water and a caffeine tablet boosted me and being on familiar ground made it easier. We sped up and picked up several more checkpoints finishing much more strongly than might have been anticipated 3 hours earlier. The skies had cleared, the stars were sharp and the moon bright but waning. It turned out that 5am was a wonderful time to be out in the hills.
Tired but satisfied. We had tried our best given my lack of preparation, and we came in with 13 minutes to spare, with 380 points and having covered 21-22 miles. We ended up winning the Vet competition and coming 4th overall. We bypassed one checkpoint by about 100m but Toby thought that more climbing probably wasn’t the best for me at the time we pushed on downhill. Had we got that we would have come 2nd. The winners though were much further ahead and we wouldn’t have caught them. Fourth is a good place and winning the Vets was great.
Then: breakfast, a damp kip in the car for an hour, prize-giving and the long drive home to a hot bath and the blessings of sleep! As for Cat and Allison, we didn’t see them at the end. We later discovered that half way round Allison had a simple fall but managed to dislocate her patella and rupture her tendon and had to be rescued by the events team. Cat spent the morning in hospital with her where they are likely to operate tomorrow. [Update: surgery went well]. Well done to Cat for her first aid and helping rescue Alison and we all hope that Alison makes a speedy recovery. This is a great event and well organised and if anyone is up for some adventure I would heartily recommend this.