The official description says the Anniversary Waltz contains some of the best and worst elements of fell racing. After 15 minutes of pounding along Tarmac and undulating farm track, the worst was over, the best apparently yet to come.
But I was knackered. The grassy track winding its way along Scope Beck is not particularly arduous but today, it was doing its best to sap any strength from my legs. This wasn’t the sort of tiredness that came from mis judging pace, I was fatigued, had been all week and I was having to dig deep just to keep going, having covered little more than 3 km. Putting one foot in front of another felt like a mission. Maybe I should just pull out. I thought that only once, but thought it seriously, I wasn’t enjoying myself and the thought of sustaining this, let alone trying to faster was proving a tough pill to swallow. I kept going.
The forecast for today’s race had suggested the potential for biblical weather, thunder, hail and snow above 600 metres. But as we headed into the heart of the Newlands valley, all was clear. Occasionally the sun would burst through the tangled web of clouds, and when it did, all of its heat could be felt. Despite the cool temperature it felt warm.
Veering off up the steep climb towards high Snab ridge, my legs felt progressively worse, hands on thighs I willed myself upwards, clinging on to the few runners immediately ahead. One thing was clear, the race today, whatever my finishing position was not going to come easy. Breaking out onto the main spine of the ridge, I stuttered to break into a run. My legs felt like jelly, I ran for a few metres before all too easily accepting the option to walk as the ground steepened up once more. I looked at my watch, 34 minutes has past.
I was passed by one, then two, then three competitors on the climb up to Robinson, on one level I had partially given up caring, on another level I was kicking myself. Not out of disrespect, they were clearly very capable guys, but I knew this was not how I should be feeling on such ground.
It was a drawn out slog onto Robinson, the easier ground of its summit plateau could not come soon enough. No sooner had I managed to acknowledge the astounding view and I was on my way down, weakly and haphazardly teetering down through the grassy tussocks, trying to find a balance of speed, yet go slowly enough that the descent would give precious seconds of extra recovery.
That and the fact we were approaching the hour marker did the trick. The climb up to Hindscarth felt easier, far from great but not as tortuous as earlier inclines had, scampering along the loose gravel trod, I was back to overtaking again, looking at my watch 57 minutes had passed as I neared the summit and next checkpoint.
By now, despite the swelled ranks of runners ( as runners from the anniversary waltz and the teenager with altitude) merged, the field was spreading out, and for the first time, it felt like I wasn’t being hounded by runners immediately on my tail. I grabbed the offer of a cupful of water from one the marshals, and scurried along the trod, finally with a feeling that the run was a little more in control.
I had no-one to follow as I struck out east from the summit of Dale Head. Sticking to my earlier recce’d route I headed straight down the steep slope, clattering through a mix of undulating tussocks and scree heading straight for Dalehead Tarn before bounding across we bog and veering off left to make up crucial seconds in rejoining the main walkers path. 1hour 13 minutes gone, a record beating time would be finishing in 15 minutes I thought to myself, oh god.
Was it Joss Naylor I saw sat at the col? I’m pretty certain it was, he and his dog watching the world and fell runners go by, he gave me a cursory nod as I ran by.
The meandering climb to High Spy kicked in with a vengeance. If my body had momentarily thought itself capable of ejecting the fatigue it was battling, it was now firmly under its influence again. I gasped a few hellos at passing walkers, it seemed the least I could do in return for their heartfelt claps, but i was back in the red, only one thing was on my mind, this was the second from last climb, mixing fast hands on thighs walking and jaded running as I approached the penultimate checkpoint. My legs felt like they were burning.
Coming over Maiden Moor, I passed the last competitor I would catch that day, it felt good, he had overtaken me many kilometres earlier and I was now determined he wouldn’t catch me again. I skirted along the network of trods that linked the fastest line along the main walking route over Catbells. By now there were plenty of spectators, a raft of ‘well dones’ faded into the air as I clattered heavily down the scree path. Ahead lay only the summit of Catbells, another glance of the watch saw 1hour 40 minutes pass by.
The final climb up and onto Catbells was agony and I was only too glad to find myself charging down upon a stream of unsuspecting walkers as I bounced down the rocky north promentary from where I hit the steep grassy slope that would take me back to the village of Stair.
Rejoining the tarmac lane I looked at my watch one last time, one hour and 52 minutes had passed. Finally my legs felt like they could summon some strength, as I raced across the field towards the finishing tape.
Distance: 18.5km Ascent: 1097m ascent Time: 1:54:20 Position: 18th