I started this little blogging journey to report my preperation for the Atlantic Coast Challenge nearly a year ago. Back then three trail marathons in three days seemed a massive challenge. Since the ACC I've surfed a wave of momentum which has brought me through a 50miler and the Fellsman and deposited me at the mercy of another awesome challenge. All in much less than 12 months, which seems fast, but maybe it was just the kick up the arse I needed after about ten years of running incorporating lots of road racing from 5k to marathons which was starting to feel a bit "same old....".
Moving along, following the reality check at the Wasdale race I basically spent the next 2 weeks trying to be as innactive as possible barring a short run every few days to keep the legs turning over. I also ate well, but not irresponsibly and drank plenty of non-dehydrating fluids and a reduction in the dehyrdrating kind.
I perhaps had my least stressful organisation, packing and journey. I'd done a trial run with my backpack fully-loaded the week before and was happy with the weight and comfort. So the rest got packed fairly stress-lessly the day before. I had a good sleep the night before but still woke at 7:30 and took a leisurely breakfast and drive to Coniston. Arriving at just after midday I could now take a leisurely 5 hours to kit check, eat and prepare for the start.
Mark was already in the field of Coniston school and I was just in time to help complete putting up the tent. We were soon able to head up to the school and get our "weigh in" and kit check out of the way before the possibility of queues. I left the hall after a succesful kit check. Now with two tyvex strips on my right wrist, one with my weight printed on, another to strap the dibber on. I also had my Montane Lakeland 100 running top, waterproof map and roadbook. It all felt very organised and thought out. Exactly the reassurance you need before such a long event.
There was now plenty of time to take a leisurely lunch in Coniston with mark and Claire. Claire taunted me and Mark having a beer, as her event started tomorrow. But I was happy not to and enjoyed a healthy but filling jacket potato with cheese. I pointed out that we might look rather odd to others sat outside the pub. The three of us sat here with tags around our wrists with the dibber device may look like we were out on day release from the asylum.
The next few hours consisted of a few toilet visits, a bit more hydration and some last minute snacking to try and get as comfortable as possible before the start. There was also the compulsary briefing with a guest appearence by no less than Joss Naylor, fell-running legend.
Fast forward to just a few minutes to go before the start and the sun comes out for about the first time today and the heat is raised just a notch. I could do without this. but at least I know its now early evening and it won't last.
Coniston to Seathwaite - 6.4m, 2106ft asc, 1949 desc, 1h30m
5:30 and we were off, up the slight hill to the main road into Coniston. No question of walking this small slope. We then disturbed the traffic on the main road for a moment and gave the people outside the pubs something to talk about - "Thats the slowest race I've ever seen", "Whats with the backpacks?". We were soon off the main road and heading up the first real hill. I was sweating and walking halfway up this one due to the recently reappeared sun and the need to get rid of some excess heat via sweat quickly. It was then off roads altogether onto a trail and a half loop around the grand Old Man of Coniston with great views up on the right and down to the lake left.
The good path then steadily undulated for a few miles before the big climb of the stage over Walna Scar pass. It was a walker, but didn't last long and we soon topped out for a long descent. The descent was tricky as for most of the way down it was sufficiently steep to let go and not try and hold back, but on the other hand it was so early in a such a long event. We then hit a road to run down to the first CP in the village hall what seemed like no time at all.
Seathwaite to Boot - 6.7m, 1165ft asc, 1345 desc, 1h47m
On paper this could have been another 1:30 section. Little further than the last and a lot less climb. In reality, after some woodland trail running on a slightly boggy path we were running valley bottom trails, farmland and plantations - all of which were pretty boggy going with the recent rains.The plantation section took quite a while on very liquid footpaths and a slight upward gradient. A descent followed and a shock as I nearly ran over the body of a recently deceased sheep! My mind was telling me we were near the section end.
In reality the section dragged on quite a bit longer. Through a stream valley, around a farm on permissive paths before another woodland trail. The run into Boot was downhill on a track and then road. Its a shame the name of this place is likely to be blighted forever by recent events as it looks a cracking small village. A scattering of pubs with atmospheric beer gardens, the pleasent low, green valley backdrop. The unusual CP location at the corn mill on the north flank of Eskdale was like a trip back in time inside with dim lighting and bygone era decoration and tools scattered around. It was cooling a bit now as the light dimmed, but the end of day weather was a sign of the night to come.
Boot to Wasdale Head - 5.4m, 906ft asc, 817 desc, 1h24m
In planning I'd regarded this section and the previous as "money in the bank", not much climb and quite short. The last section hadn't quite panned out that way, at first this one didn't seem to be either. An initial uphil trudge led us onto Eskdale Moor, whish saw a low gradient climb on sometimes wet and technical path/trail so we didn't run much here. Onto the moor and it flattened out a bit. Quite a green grass, good going sort of moor comapaired to some of the tussocky swamps I've run. In the failing light mountains loomed in the distance. Despite the clear skies one or two were even shrowded in cloud..... yep, that would be Wasdale then.
A slight descent to the tarn and then some wet foot crossings stream crossings and boggy grass near the tarn head. We undulated slighty uphill before appearing in the gap between Illgill head and the foot-slopes of Scafell. Navigation suddenly became very easy as we descended the rocky path towards the NT campsite in the opposite direction of the start of the Wasdale race. Even in the near darkness the views of Wasdale's menacing peaks were as good as any we'd seen on the race day two weeks ago. The lack of wind and rain also saw the lake millpond-esque.
We had a good jog down the road through Wasdale head where the pub was seeing good trade from its captive audience of campers and the odd local (there can't be many). In a barn behind the pub the busy CP saw numerous people pulling out headtorches - myself included, filling water carriers and enjoying the extra-bonus of soup on offer from this CP. I was already appreciating any change I could get from sugary carbs that were making me nauseous.
Wasdale Head to Buttermere - 6.8m, 2437ft asc, 2306 desc, 2h43m
After the challenging climb of section 1 we'd had a comparitive lack of climb. This was our escalation. Two stages I hadn't recce'd that on paper looked to be the toughest back-to-back, it was also now dark. I felt quite good on the lower slope paths heading towards Black Sail pass, a bit of a buzz to have got to at least Wasdale without headtorch and in good time against my rough plan of 4mph Friday PM daytime sections. The same rough plan just required 3mph overnight. My only slight irritation was my headtorch pressing against my forehead giving me slight discomfort. I'd never noticed this previously as I'd only worn it in in more wintry conditions over a hat.
As we rounded Kirk Fell the only way was up and it was time for hard walking again. Ahead we could see lights gradually climbing the blackened hillside in a spread out pattern. So no issues with directions around here? But then after crossing the rampaging Gatherstone Beck the path seemed to disappear. The GPS track and slight recollection from descending here during our aborted Wasdale Fell race meant we headed up the steep grass bank, tempting as it was to follow a few people just ahead who kept low to the the beck assuming a steep climb later. Just as the calves started to moan the path crossed me and I shouted down to Mark. The aforementioned people just in front would rejoin the path near us 5-minutes or so later after a much longer ascent up the steep bank.
Much climbing later we found the reassuring broken metal gate at the top of Black Sail pass and moved onto the stoney zig-zag down the slope. The lights up ahead had now disappeared from view, probably somewhere on this descent obscurred from our view my ridges and undulations. After a brief detour we got our navigational heads on and tracked back to stick close to the on-off trail alongside the fast-falling waters of Sail beck. Though only about twenty miles in this kind of descent was feeling hard on the quads and knees as they were forced to break momentum skipping over large rocks that halted the flow of the trail.
Across the River Liza, passed the remote Black Sail hut YHA and it was up again. Seemingly our first double whammy of big climbs in a single stage. Through Scarth Gap at the top and we emerged onto whatbvthe raod book describes as "very rocky, rocky, cairned path". Any doubling of a word like rocky - or steep - in this book means not to be taken lightly. The descent went on for what felt like miles of picking our way through jagged, loose, large rocks contouring around High Crag down towards Buttermere. Again we navigated better than some as we saw lights well down below who had dropped too far too early and had to run a path along a river bank. We joined this large group at the true bottom of the descent. The relief was not exaggerated as we finally got to Buttermere Village hall CP via a forested lakeside path. I reckon this section would have been stunning in daylight and must revisit the past two valleys north of Wasdale.