Report from Derek Fuller:
Standing at Moot Hall with Sarah counting down the seconds for a 3am start the heavens opened causing a panic search for coats from the bags, after putting arms into over trousers and wondering where the rest of the coat was, I regained composure and set off at 3:01am. The plan was a 22hr round but I wanted get a few minutes spare in the bank in case I made a navigation error or was in pain later. Summit number 1 (Skiddaw) arrived 72 minutes later, with 60mph winds running was difficult but it was only affecting the tops and I would soon be in the valley again, and I now already had 8 minutes up on schedule.
On leg 1 I was joined by Shane (Pudsey & Bramley) and James (Lakes runner). Head torches were off soon after Skiddaw and the assent of Great Calva and Blencathra went to plan. I had decided to take Halls fell off Blencathra, the clag had set in and in poor viz we set off down the knife edge ridge which was a bit slippery in the conditions. I wasn’t long before I’d lost my pacers, but was soon called back by a high pitched whistle and a shouts of where do I go, I retraced my steps and although I could not see my pacers due to the clag directed them onto the faint trod before legging it to the van at the end of leg 1 in 3 hrs 17mins, 19 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sarah told me I was going too fast, but in the excitement of finally doing the BG it was hard to hold back the energy. 2 cups of tea and a cake later I set off with Andrew Robertshaw on leg 2, just as the thunder and lightning started. I heard later that some other BG attempts further ahead on the Helvelin ridge dropped out due to the storm, myself and Andrew were relieved the lightning had passed as we reached the summit of Clough Head. The summits passed by easily on the ridge and we were soon trudging up the Seat Sandal the final peak of the leg. I had intentionally taken it easier on this leg to save energy for later but amazingly found myself 44 minutes up on schedule after a 3hr 51 minute leg.
It was great to have such a crowd waiting at Dunmail Raise; unfortunately the crowd was missing one of my pacers for the next leg due to traffic and my being ahead of plan. After a good ascent of Steel fell I started to feel a bit weaker. The breakfast I had eaten at 2am was long gone and the food at Dunmail didn’t seem to make any difference, I tried to eat some more but my stomach said no. Sergeant Man arrived with each jelly baby being chewed for 5 minutes then a mouthful of water needed to get it down. What should have been a speedy run to High Raise turned into a speedy walk, maybe the wheels were falling off, maybe I had gone out too fast. I desperately tried to eat more and hold a steady running pace. The Langdale pikes became my low point with no visibility and no energy, I’d only been going 9 hours and was worried what the next 13 would reveal in terms of my real ultra-running abilities! Children often try to make sweets last as long as they can on walks in the hills, I was trying to eat a Snickers as quick as I could but that still took 2 hours. Rich Allen my pacer on the leg kept offering me food only to be shown my part eaten bar…. A stitch and stomach cramps greeted me off Ill crag, how fitting I thought, although I was not moving as fast as I wanted I was holding a steady pace. As we scrambled up Broad Stand (Thanks to whoever left the nut and carabiner there as it made a great handhold on the steep wet corner) I started to feel a bit better, The cloud lifted as we reached the top of Scafell offering stunning views down into Wasdale. The leg took 5hrs 34 minutes. I had stopped gaining time but had held time against a 22 hr schedule and in total was 49 minutes up on schedule.
At Wasdale I unleashed my secret weapon – innocent smoothie, instead of eating food and drinking isotonic water I filled the water bottles with smoothie which would do both jobs. The schedule recommended a reasonable stop at this point but as I was feeling better I was off after 8 minutes. Having dreaded how I would feel going up Yewbarrow’s steep slopes I found the top with ease, the smoothie trick was working. At this point I knew it was done, it was now only a matter of how fast, suppose I’d better speed up! This boost in confidence increased my speed, the steep hills seemed easy, and I felt like I was running effortlessly uphill. My pacers Heather (Ilkley) and Kate (Pudsey & Bramley) had been selected as likely to shout at me if I was slowing down. Instead they joined me on what must be one of the best running experiences I have ever had. As I ran down into Honister I started to work out what my final time might be. Leg 4 was 3 hrs 58 minutes, including my short stop at Wasdale this had gained me nearly 1 hour on my schedule putting me 1:47 ahead of plan. If I can gain 13 minutes on leg 5 I will get under 20 hours OMG.
Sarah and Hugh (Otley AC) were my pacers for this leg and set of up Dalehead when I arrived as my uphill pace on the previous hills had tested my pacers. James from leg 1 had cycled to see me in Wasdale and now cycled to Honister would also join this leg. With a chance of less than 20 hrs I told him to catch me up when he was ready and legged it up Dalehead.
Sarah and Hugh were waiting at the top of Dalehead and we ran as a group into the setting sun. The inability to eat was setting in again but nothing was going to get in the way now. As I stood on Robinson in the sunset not only was a BG in the bag but a sub 20 hour looking likely with 96 minutes to get back to Keswick.
The mountains turned to grassy slopes, then to grassy tracks, gravel tracks to roads. The 6 miles on the road went by quickly, but just enough time left for a quick panic as we passed the road sign saying Keswick 3 miles I checked my watch, 30 minutes left to be inside 20 hrs (I later found out it is 3 miles by road but only 2 on foot due to the foot bridge?). This was tighter than I thought, I’d better crank up the pace again, knowing it was nearly over I found the strength to make one last push and was enjoying still being able to run with speed. Soon it was all over I was running into Keswick high street, then the final few feet to Moot Hall to the cheers of waiting crew. Time check, it was 22:46 giving a total time of 19 hours 45 minutes.
Many thanks to all my pacers who gave up their sleep and their weekend to help me round. Thanks to Caron who relocated runners to and from road crossings and Hugh for bringing a campervan with a shower. It was an amazing experience which I will never forget, if you don’t feel like doing the whole thing then do a leg or two, or make a 3 day trip using hostels at Dunmail, Wasdale and Honister. Once you’ve done this you’ll be back one day to string them all together. Won’t you?