As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scafell Pike Trail Marathon

I prefer NOT to get up before 7am ideally, so 6am felt rather early on Sunday. The marathon started at 0830 and there was a 2 mile walk from Keswick to the start at Nichol End Marina.

I thought I had loads of time in hand but forgetting my number and then a last minute visit to the loos in town, I found myself having to jog through Keswick and Portinscale when I would have preferred a leisurely walk.

I arrived at the start one minute after the start time. Luckily the race started about 5 minutes later than scheduled, and anyway, I wouldnt have worried if id started a minute after everyone else - this wasnt exactly Red Start at VLM with a 20 minute slow shuffle through the park gates to cross the timing mat on the start line.

I set off very sedately indeed. I'm guessing there may have been 30 odd lads (& lass) in front of me.  I ran at a pace that felt rather easy. sub 8 minute miling was showing on my GPS as an average, which settled out to more or less 8 pace bang on prior to the first of the climbs.

As we left Grange behind the climb of Castle Crag loomed ahead. I had no intention of walking up the stepped climb, but most of the runners ahead who I could see, were. I passed at least half a dozen  then was running alongside some different people as we continued toward Seatoller.

One of my new companions was Vicky Mousley who I'd met when we both won the Ennerdale Trail 50k Ultra last year. I reckoned that there was unlikely to be any more girls ahead and chatted a while before easing ahead again on the final climb prior to th drop into Seatoller.

At Seatoller and through toward Seathwaite my belongings started to come adrift  from my bumbag. I'd worn my waterproof to jog from Keswick to the start then found I didnt have sufficient room to properly put it away. I jogged even slower on the tarmac section toward Seathwaite as I fiddled on trying to tie my waterproof pants around the waistband of my bumbag, and the same with the arms of my coat. This allowed one or two to pass me back.

At the farm there was a feed station - I shouted out my number and rushed past - leaving behind Vicky and one other who had passed me. Onto Stockley Bridge and the proper climbing began up the steps toward Styhead. I ran (though obviously not particularly fast) up most of the way to Styhead stretcher box and thus passed  several more lads in doing so.

copyright Stuart Holmes

Just before the stretcher box a lad who was running with me said he remembered me from the Lakes 50 last year. Apparently we had chatted during that event so I suggested he must have been well placed. Turns out he'd got 7th place - he didnt ask me how I had finished so, in an extraordinarily unfamiliar fashion for me, I let the subject drop. (for new readers - I won the Lakes 50 last year).

At the stretcher box we dibbed in and I headed off for what I thought was the line to pick up the diagonal path to the corridor route. Unlike the last two recces I'd done recently, despite the thick clag I found the path perfectly and was soon climbing up the other side toward the main corridor path/route.

From where they came I've no idea but I was suddenly joined by about 5 lads running right behind me.
One asked if I was confident of my current heading. I was very confident but said 'yeah more or less, I think'. Very soon after we got to the steep part that is unusually red rock. I knew (from making the error with Sparky a few months ago) that immediately above this you need to go 90 degrees left/up and NOT continue ahead (which is also a quite well defined path). I ensured they all went the right way (as I'd fell to the rear of the group when I stopped for a pee so wasn't leading)

These lads were doing a lot of walking - I was keen to run unless it felt impossible to do so, so I edged past them one by one and by the time I got to the big steppy thing with the arrow scraped into the rock, I was alone again. Don't know exactly how or why but just prior to reaching the intersection with path up from Wasdale I was joined by a couple more again. This is the last pull onto the summit and is well marked with cairns. I prefer to walk up the slabbed section as even on this damp day they seemed to give better traction (or less slippage) than the loose stuff.

By the top there was just me and one other lad from Bath AC. We'd been chatting a bit and he was concerned about the distance having only ran for 2 hrs in recent training. I was pleased to hear this as I felt confident i'd be fine for 5 or more if need be. We also got told off Joe (summit marshal) that we were 7th and 8th in the event. I was well chuffed to learn this - I thought I was still in perhaps 10-15th. I must have passed more than I realised and of course some may have taken less than optimal lines. I later learned that Howard Seal set off up Gt Gable, and Carl Bell was way below the corridor route and heard voices from above him which told him he needed to get higher. Also, much later, when I was running back from Esk Hause toward Styhead there was one fella running TOWARD me.

The terrain from Scafell Pike to Esk Hause is piggin awful underfoot until the final downhill which has nice grassy lines just off to the side of the stoney path. The Bath lad had moved ahead of me on the section over the huge boulders but then I caught him again on the good descent - I think he was possibly running with compass and map to check he was correct whereas I was blasting along knowing very well I was going the right way. We chatted again briefly at Esk Hause shelter then made a left for Styhead.

This mainly downhill path past Sprinkling Tarn is again quite stoney, but often with grassy banks to its side which help you run a little smoother (just need to watch out for the narrow but deep channels). Styhead again and then down along the river back toward Stockley Bridge. The Bath lad was just behind me but said he was going to stop at the WC in Seathwaite.

So at the feed/checkpoint I took a quick swig of water and headed into the fields toward the main road. Near the road I was briefly confused when a sign saying footpath pointed Right, and tape stuck on posts appeared to be directing Left. I followed the tape but soon realised it wasnt race tape at all but electricity warning tape.

As I neared a farm the dogs were going crazy barking at my approach. Farm workers could just be heard above the din but I couldnt tell what they were shouting. Either 'get orrfff my larrnd" or "no lad, back the other way" Later I learned they would have been offering their help and not the former as the farm belonged to Billy Blands cousin.

 I only lost about a minute or so here. Stupid of me to mistake the yellow tape for the red Salomon race tape, but you dont always think straight when you're racing along.

a few fields ticked by and I was in Rosthwaite with the decent climb up towards Watendlath to follow. At this point I started to catch the 21k runners who were almost all walking up the big steps. I had dreaded this section and reckoned Id be too tired to run any of it. My average  pace had improved over the previous few miles from approx 10:50 min/mile at Esk Hause, to 10:32 now at Rosthwaite. I reckoned that if I could lose it to just 11 pace by the top then I would pick up sufficient on the downhill to Ashness Bridge to come home within 11s and therefore beat the 5 hours I originally thought I might take for the 26.2 miles.

I was able to run most of the way up out of Rosthwaite however, and by the time I dropped into Watendlath the pace was still in the eleven thirties. Off the trail and a few hundred metres of tarmac downhill also helped the average before I headed up onto the final section of trail that would take me up  the fell then to the woods in front of Walla Crag.

I'd been passing the half marathoners steadily, often asking if they'd move aside to let me past on singletrack sections , or if I could get through a gate in front of them. Everybody obliged OK, though I wondered if some were unaware I was in the marathon and NOT their race and were thinking me a bit cheeky.  The further up the field I progressed, the harder it was to catch and pass the fitter runners. In the final section on the Lake edge woods I took an age to catch one lady runner and felt I had to pick up my pace again to stay ahead as we both sensed the finish looming.

Prior to  the finish I noted my GPS said Id already done a marathon in about 4hr 30mins - well inside my pre-race prediction.

At 27.2 miles I crossed the line  and dibbed in for 7th place. I had caught no more marathoners but nor had I been caught myself. I think I ran well - a very easy start followed by steady running/walking only when really absolutely necessary, and a real decent effort in the last 8-10 miles of  flatter & smoother terrain.

You perhaps cant help but think that a marathon that goes up Scafell Pike must be the toughest race you could ever do. It's not though. Nothing like it. Proper fellraces are MUCH harder with their elevation per mile and pathless routes to be navigated. But IT IS an iconic event - racing to the top of England, over marathon distance (plus a mile) and I'm very pleased to have ran the inaugural race. I'm also really pleased to have ran ANOTHER marathon in Cumbria (along with Langdale, Karrimor and Windermere).

Thanks are due to Ian at HiTerrain Events and his team of helpers for putting on a superb race. And congrats to young @RickyLightfoot for his win in 3hrs 43 mins.

Rickys 56 minutes beating of me sounds a lot - indeed if I took 56 minutes longer than him in a road marathon I'd be a bit disappointed (presuming he could do 2:15-2:20 and I would expect to beat 3hours if not 2:50) but as a percentage its probably about right.

So now for a bit of an easier time of things while this next 2 weeks passes and my BGR comes around. Waiting for the presentation I was chatting to Billy Bland who had some great little pearls of wisdom and tips for the BGR. (for anyone reading this who doesn't know much about fell running - Billy Bland completed the Bob Graham Round in 1982 in a record time of 13hours 53 minutes (most people who attempt the round FAIL to complete it within the 24 hours allowed))


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