Wednesday 4 May 2022

The 58th Fellsman - Third Time Lucky!

 I haven't really mentioned it much as I didn't want to tempt fate and have it all go horribly wrong again. But I was up on the last two attempts as not only was I healthy and un-injured (mostly) I had also had time for breakfast and a poo before setting off!!

Ok, back up a bit. Get a cup of tea/coffee/GnT this is a long one...

Alan, Trudy and I set off after work on Friday to drive over to Threshfield ahead of the 58th Fellsman event. We got there in plenty of time and got our tents set up in a little strip of grass that had been made available (no indoor sleeping this year). We took our stuff to the school and got through kit check with no problems. I saw a couple of friends and exchanged hugs and nerves.
That very stressful thing down, we went back to the tents, it wasn't overly warm, but it was a fine evening and we sat around having tea and snacks before it was time for supper at the school after which we snuggled down in our tents for a very cold night. I didn't sleep very well at all, sharing a tent with Trudy. I was awake by 4am listening to the curlews whooping and gave up about 4:40am as I needed the loo. Other folk were starting to stir, so we got up and made brews etc. There was frost on our tents but it was lining up to be a glorious day.

We caught the bus at half 6 as planned, got our trackers, numbers and tallies all sorted, then it was a matter of the nervous wait for the start. I saw a couple more people I knew and we all wished each other luck.

Part of the Fellsman rules are long-leggings and long sleeves, it was by now already quite warm. Very soon after the start the route was littered with disrobing runners!

The three of us had set off together, our fourth friend, Gavin had got called away and never made it. However, before we had reached the summit of Ingleborough, Trudy was pulling away. Alan and I had suspected this would happen as she is faster and stronger than us, well, me at least. I did say to Alan he was to run on if I was too slow but he seemed happy to stay.

I have blogged about the route before, not a lot has changed! This year though, with the recent lack of rain, the course so far was very dry underfoot. Even the double stream/river crossing before Kingsdale was bone dry. It is normally at least half way up your shins!

We were a little disappointed to be presented with Tesco flapjack instead of the normal homemade stuff, but oh well.

On the vertical climb up Gargareth, I felt a bit queasy. I had tried to do the climb all in one go, but didn't quite make it. I decided to walk to the check point at the top to get my breath back before even thinking about running on. I caught Alan once more and we trotted along to Great Combe, keeping our feet completely dry the whole way - unheard of.

I took a poor line off Great Combe and lost sight of Alan for a while, he is much better at descending than I am but he waited for me at Dent as he was busy stuffing his face. I still felt queasy, but having a sit down for a little while with a cup of tea and a cheese and onion pasty helped a bit. We set off again on the long climb towards Blea Moor. We mostly walked this section as it was all uphill, not very steep, but enough of a climb to warrant walking. I was happy to spot the crucial turning point off the good track onto a little trod which took us to an enclosed area which leads up to Blea Moor itself. My good mood had been short lived after Dent and Alan was grumpy too. We declared the track shit, this bog was shit and Blea Moor in particular was shit as we trudged our way up rocky tussocks, over at least 3 false summits etc. We did see a couple of runners heading in completely the wrong direction, then realised it was Trudy plus one other! We shouted them back and pointed them in the right general direction.
Again, we took a poor line off Blea Moor but found our way down to the better path and wound our way down to the road which took us to Stonehouses.

It was clouding up now with the odd spot of rain. At Stonehouses, I forced some pasta into my reeling tummy. We put our rain coats on. I declared that while I wasn't giving up, I didn't have much running left in me and would probably walk most of the rest. Alan agreed this was fine with him and we stuck together. My feet were sore (the plantar fasciitis is still there) my legs were knackered and I still felt sick and was struggling to eat.

Anyway, pointless climb up to Great Knoutberry and back complete, followed by a relativly easy moor crossing to drop down to Redshaw. I only managed some soup here while Alan had a hotdog!
Up until now, I had been navigating from memory, but this is as far as I had got previously so I got my map out ready for the next section.

As soon as we left the checkpoint, I regretted not putting on another layer. The wind was getting up and the spots of rain were more persistent. It was easy going from though from here to the next checkpoint and then on to the Cam Road. After this though, the fog started to drop and it was getting cold. We turned on to the Pennine Way for a short while, another runner joined us for a little bit here. We counted wall ends, and at the fourth wall we needed to take a bearing across open ground to the next checkpoint. The runner in green said we had gone too far, another lady appeared out of the gloom and said we hadn't gone far enough. I stuck to my guns and we took a bearing straight up the boggy hillside into the fog and pouring rain. After only a short while, but intense climb, a shape loomed out of the clag - checkpoint! I was so chuffed as it's been ages since I worked off a bearing like that, especially in those conditions. Then it got suddenly got properly dark.
We attempted another bearing, but the ground was getting dangerously steep and we realised we had to contour around to find a better descent. While contouring, the lady from earlier emerged from above, moving in a very confident fashion so we followed her, having to move quite quickly over very rough terrain to keep up. Eventually, we reached a wall and then at last the road. We picked up another disorientated runner and 5 of us trotted into the big tent checkpoint at Fleetmoss.

It was now freezing cold, windy, thick fog and raining. I was shivering so much I had to hide it from the marshalls. Lots of people were dropping out. We had tea, biscuits and bean stew. I put on two more layers and a proper hat on top of my buff and fresh gloves. Re-arranged my maps. Alan was busy eating everything in sight, I still felt sick. He didn't look too chipper really, I asked if was ok to go on and I just got a little nod. I think if either of us had mentioned pulling out, the other would have followed suit without hesitation. It wasn't until I looked at the splits later did I realise how long we had spent here.

After saying 'Right' in an enthusiastic fashion several dozen times, we finally got ourselves organised to leave. At this point, the disorientated runner, Alan#2, asked if he could tag along with us as his running buddy had dropped out and he didn't fancy his chances on his own. We said that was fine.

The next section was a long descent on road to avoid the now out of bounds area of Fleetmoss. It was a bit dull, but we made good progress on tarmac and we warmed up a little as we lost elevation. Onto a very pleasant path along the Dales Way to Yockenthwaite at midnight. We got to a selfclip-checkpoint only to find the clipper not working. FFS. We spent far too long messing about with that, trying to make enough of a mark on our tally to prove we had been there. Eventually, I had a brain wave and just took some photo's of the dam thing! Brain fail. We carried on up a steep climb, back onto the boggy, foggy, cold windy, wet moor to try and find the checkpoint at Middle Tongue. We came across some runners coming from a random direction, who declared the check point was gone. This seemed highly unlikely and we continued hunting round in circles in the mire until we saw a red beacon flashing away in the dark. We yelled to the other runners we'd found the CP (probably saving them from a DQ) and got checked in. The marshal knew about the broken clipper and double clipped our tallies. Now for the bit I was dreading, crossing the wide open featureless area between this CP and the next at Hells Gap. My bearing didn't work so well here, and the ground was just awful. I wanted to go lower, both Alan's said higher. A combination of the GPX on Alan#1 phone and my compass got us (eventually) to the northern fence boundary and we then followed that for what felt like weeks up and down hags, jumping bogs, falling over etc until at last we reached the moor boundary itself and tipped out onto a nice wide track. Thank goodness. There was a CP a little way down and we got clipped in. Easy fast hike down to the road and another, bigger checkpoint. It was actually warm in here! There were people asleep on the floor wrapped in blankets. I forced down some soup, could have quite happily thrown it up, but managed not too. My final layer, my down jacket went on. Gloves had been toasted on the heater, so although they weren't dry they were warm for a little while. We just had two climbs left. We knew that the first Buckden Pike was very familiar and this was a big mental thing, back on familiar ground. Also, it meant we had broken the back of the thing and were looking towards the finish. Still, the short section from the CP to the main path was an unknown area and again, we didn't take the best route. It was a slow trudge on rough grass (I am sick of fucking tussocks!) before we reached the gravel path. Even though I have been here a dozen times, it looked strange in the dark. I led the way, my still churning stomach dictating the pace, until at about 5:30am with a tiny bit of light in the sky, we reached the wind swept summit of Buckden Pike. We gave the marshal a hearty "Good Morning!" and he clipped us in.

This is the first time I have run right through the night, we didn't get a sunrise as such, it just got a little less shit, but it still lifted our spirits no end! Now on familiar territory, heading towards home and soon we could turn our headtorches off, I took off at a speedy shuffle across the flags and onto the boggy path above Starbotton. We almost missed the turning in our haste, but didn't go too far, and contoured along a section we had recently reccied. It was still cold, wet and windy and foggy all at once but it was good knowing where we were. A good track; a pleasant run on fresh legs; took us down from the moor to the last 'big' CP. Alan#1 had a 20 second micro snooze while we had hot chocolate with bread and jam. Pretty much the first thing not to make me feel sick. My tummy now had woken up and I was worried about needing the bathroom. Bad, urgent, cramps came and went.

The final climb now stood before us. Alan#2 watch and phone had both died, I said it was ok as I had been this way loads and knew the route. Then promptly lead us to a dead end path. FFS. Cut across country and found the path. A stiff climb into the gloom ensued, I was worried I had gone wrong again as it just looked so different in the fog, until at last a large outcrop of rocks loomed out of the clag and I knew we were in the right place. The top was very wet underfoot and we pressed on until we could see the dark shape of a small tent right near the trig point on Great Whernside.

It is literally all downhill from here.

Another fast shuffle ensued, I knew there was a feint trod here and we found it. The downhill portion wasn't so clear and in the still thick fog we decided to stick to the fence line rather than cut the corner (on the day I reccied this section, it was bright and clear and quite dry underfoot so you could see your destination over in the distance making it fairly safe to cut across the open bog. Today, we cold barely see our own feet.) We over took two slower runners, carefully picking their way down, and in turn a solo runner bounded past us at speed. at last though, we reached the wall marking the boundary between moor and pasture and turned left along a good path. Another little tent in the gloom appeared and we got clipped in although the marshalls had obviously had a long night and were struggling to count to three...

We followed the wall still on another feint trod, down down onto a hard-packed track. Again, it looked so different to when I reccied it, we had to stop and check Alan#1 GPX a couple of times, but it all went ok. We wound our way to a green lane with the aid of some beacons and flags.

The green lane went on FOREVER. Legs completely mushed. Still slightly queasy with the occasional wave of gut cramps thrown in for good measure. We kept a slow but steady pace going.

Eventually, we reached the road and the very last CP. We decided to turn down the offer of tea and biscuits and press on for home. Just two miles to go.

As I have been streaking and most of the day's pace was very slow indeed, I had decided to try and run a mile here to make sure it counted for the streak. Both Alan's were up for this and we forced our legs into a slightly faster shuffle. It was possibly the longest mile of my life, besides the ones I did while ill with Covid-19.

Slightly annoying, but not all together surprising, Alan#2 carried on running after the mile was done and ended up beating us by several minutes. To be honest, he would have been faster without us, but completely lost as he lacked the navigational skills and seemed inexperienced in bog-crossings. I could get annoyed about it, but were the situation reversed, I hope someone would look after me.

After 26 hours and 38 minutes, Alan#1 and I crossed the threshold into the school and could finally call it done. Trudy was waiting for us along with her husband and Alan's wife who had come to take us home.

We had some food, finally I could eat! Yeah, thanks body, would have been more helpful 24 hours ago. Got showered and into clean dry warm clothes. Trudy's husband kindly dismantled our tents and gear while we did that and at last we could go home, job done.

Trudy had a good run to come in 80th in 20 hours 48 mins.

Alan and I were joint 126th in 26 hours 38 mins.

All my friends, including Flanker, that I had seen at the start had finished which I am really happy about. One even coming away with third Lady.

I had hoped for closer (even sub) 24 hours. While out on the course as I looked at my watch and saw that finish time slip away, I felt disappointed, but actually, I'm very pleased with what we achieved on a very rough night. Out of 204 on the start line, only 135 finished.

And, most importantly, I never ever have to do this again.