Judgement Day

Great Lakes Run 2012

Through misfortune, misjudgement or misplaced enthusiasm I’ve had my fair share of tough weather days running in the mountains. Saturday 15th June 2012 will go down as another days running in what, at times, felt like biblical weather conditions.

Driving under the canopy of grey skies on Saturday morning, it was just another wet morning in Cumbria, nothing especially unusual. Sat in the field contemplating the likelihood of having no hope of staying dry as the rain thundered down on the roof of my van, the weather was showing signs of getting worse not better. An hour and a half later as I ascended the torrent of water streaming down Foxes Tarn Gully it was clear this was turning out to be one of the wettest and toughest mountain days I had in while.

The race started with a rallying call from Ian Barnes, who was to be applauded for not choosing to cnovel or shorten the race but who instead took a much harder and braver decision, to remind the competitors about personal responsibility, sound route judgements and keeping an eye out for fellow runners. He admitted that the Great Moss was more likely to resemble a Great Lake and that his main concern was for his band of marshalls.

With the firing gun muffled by the incessant rain, I settled into an uneasy pace heading up the band. 25 minutes later I found myself veering off on the direct ascent of the ridge, whilst another group forged directly towards Three Tarns. My view for what it’s worth, it’s a lot faster directly up the ridge. I stuck to my recced line dead on, was alone in coming round onto the south side of Bowfells rocky summit and hit the summit in  a shade under 43 minutes. I could have been, should have been, faster I thought.

Dropping north I veered onto the grassy trod, the faster racing line that skirts below the main path, seconds later I was striking across dead ground, I’d lost the sheep trod in the limited visibility and for 30 seconds that felt like a lifetime, followed my nose as I tried to regain the racing line. Muddy stud-marks allowed me to breathe easily once again and it was a quick descent down to Ore Gap. A gradual rise skirting up through the scree brought me to Esk Pike, 55 minutes gone. Steady away I thought.

The next section to Great End was not ground I was super familiar with, but struck out alone, ahead of a group of four or five other runners and towed them all the way to the false summit, the second time I’ve done this, quickly realising my error I struck across the flat grassy top until the welcoming site of fell-running friend, Mike Vogler came into view. I paused only to mutter a few words of encouragement (it was the sort of day when marshalling seemed more difficult than running) and paced out towards a series of gradually diminishing cairns that stretched out into the mist.

Running across the roof of the Lake District I was alone. No other runners, no walkers and for a few seconds I questioned whether my sense of direction had failed me and I was in actual fact going the wrong way. Thankfully I wasn’t and with renewed confidence I danced across the damp rocky ground and without realising at the time, began to claw in some of the runners in front. I was in my preferred element, an environment where the athletic runner and mountain specialist come closer together; technical, rockyground and horrendous weather.

I passed the summit of Scafell Pike with 1 hour 27 minutes gone, I was now ahead of my training / Recce schedule for the first time. By now torrential rain was beingaccompanied by a bruising head-wind. I used its countering force to full effect as I attacked des rock and scree descent, passing one, the two, then six runners on my way down to Foxes Tarn gully. Less than twenty minutes since leaving Scafell Pike I was approaching the summit of Scafell. The psychological back had been broken, the himountainous trains were now behind me, all that was left was some of the most featureless and remote terrain to be found in the Lakes.

I had found company for the descent to Slight Side and it was welcome, mentally I was feeling a little drained of running alone in the mist. At the two hour mark I found myself clattering down the loose scree on the southern slopes of Slight Side. Now, out of the mist, the whole of the Great Moss opened up and the full snaking torrent of the Esk could be seen. I and others ahead had opted to join the main path on the far side of the river higher up stream, hopefully making the river crossing easier and allowing a faster run once on the other side rather than getting bogged down quite literally in the soft marshy but more direct line on the southern side of the river.

For a few moments, competitive edge gave way to mutual self preservation as we joined forces to cross the raging torrent of the Esk. It was only knee deep but flowing fast and strong. I lost my footing, plunged forward, and only the presence of a submerged rock and a grasping hand from another runner prevented me from going fully under. I straightened up and staggered to the bank, a bulging swell of river water now contained within my waterproof shell. It would have been harder to have been much wetter than I was at that moment.

Now the next hard stage could begin, soft, trackless ground without the aid of gravity. Again I left the safety blanket of the runners around me and headed off alone along a faint sheep trod into the mist. I should have taken my map out, but memory had got me this far and I was feeling overly confident. 15 minutes later, high on the featureless slopes below Crinkle Crags I had become ‘temporarily misplaced’. The obvious gully I was expecting to see hadn’t come into view and the lower points of reference were now out of sight. Thinking I had already traversed long enough I had no choice but to head straight up in search of the col.

Minutes later some of the runners I had left earlier came into view, traversing straight across my rising path. It was another moment to feel immense relief. I kept forging upwards and then, as my legs were finally beginning to tire, the ground flattened out and the path descending from Crinkle Crags came into view. I had bottled it too early,ascended padded to the higher of the two cols between Crinkle Crags and Cold Pike.

There was little time to critique my route choice, the clock was now ticking loudly, I was well under 3 hours, and I was ahead of schedule. Gravity pulled me down towards Red Tarn and then struck back with a vengeance as, hands on thighs, I clawed my way upto the summit of Pike O Blisco. The last checkpoint was a very welcome sight.

I dispensed with running on the brutally steep and wet descent off Blisco, sitting on my backside was proving to be a lot faster, at least a hundred feet went by, without pain or injury as I slid down with ever gathering speed.

Practically tripping back onto my feet I raced towards the final river crossing. Ahead two people could be seen pointing up stream, you need to go to the bridge came the cry. It seemed a little unbelievable but I wasn’t willing to risk places by getting any closer to discuss the decision and so I and two others turned away from the short sprint to the finish line and headed upstream to the bridge.

I was exhausted and my runNing pace was faltering as I negotiated the tussocky ground on the river bank, constantly pausing to see if there was an alternative crossing. And so I almost stopped with total dejection, as, finally crossing the footbridge, I looked back to see the five or  six runners who had been well behind our group of 3 on the descent taking the direct line across the river. I was furious, in an instant my finishing time had grown by some 3 minutes and I had lost several spaces. I’m sorry to the finishing spectators who witnessed a fuming and vocally annoyed fell runner come running past them but I felt like I’d just been robbed.

And so I finished with mixed emotions. Elated at having finished, elated at having beat a previous time by nearly 20 minutes but absolutely furious that the decisions or actions of  two people, however well intentioned had cost me a place and time I had fought hard for. *

Distance: 21km Ascent: 2200m Time: 3 hours 28 minutes Position: 37th

* there appeared post race to be considerable uncertainty as to whether the two people who had directed us up stream were official marshalls or not. Had they been official, I would have had no issue with their instructions, provided they were issued and enforced to all further runners. If they were official marshalls then their actions could not have been defended on the grounds of safety since they were not enforced to runners following. If they were and runners ignored those warnings then they should have been disqualified. What is most likely is that they were well intentioned but misguided spectators ( we were not in a position either due to line of sight or the pressure of racing to make that decision) whose actions, however well intentioned cost 3 runners dearly in terms of places and time.

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About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
This entry was posted in Fell Race Reports, Fell Running Diaries. Bookmark the permalink.

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