Thursday 27th July. After a day packing and working, I drove 92 miles to Coniston and slept in my car as the campsite was closed by the time I arrived.
Friday 28th July. I registered early at race HQ, the race started at 6 pm, I would be travelling further on foot than I had driven to get here unless disaster struck.
Registration and kitcheck was the usual well oiled machine. I didn’t weigh as much as I thought I might but I was still overweight. After lunch there was an hour or so of more kit faff, then a truly deep sleep in my tent, thanks to ear plugs, until it was time for the race briefing, followed by another 45 minutes faffing before I set off to be dibbed into the start pen. Halfway there I turned and ran back to the tent and ditched the OMM waist pack. Good move.
Nessun Dorma resounded as we stood in silence, courtesy of Chris Lafferty, then finally, just 3 days short of 11 months since clicking “submit”, and paying my entry fee, the race began. Relieved and overwhelmed in equal measure I set off on the journey, through Coniston and up the miner's track.
I had reccied most of the route, of the 105 miles there was only one 10 mile section I had never been to and that looked straightforward on the map.
Out of Coniston, over the miner’s bridge and up the Walna Scar Road, it started spitting then raining. I hoped that this wasn’t the backdrop for the next 105 miles. Once we reached Brown Pike the rain stopped and ahead it was clear, check point 1 at Seathwaite came fairly quickly.
Seathwaite behind us, the route to Boot along Grassguards Gill and Harter Fell was straightforward, a few midges could not dampen my spirit.
At checkpoint 2 (Boot) I put my head torch on to be ready when darkness came; I felt excited to be heading out towards Burnmoor Tarn as the sky darkened, Raven Crag was invisible but I knew it was there.
Although there were people around we moved mostly in silence. The tarn was still and quiet and from there it was a deep and wet path to Wasdale Head where the Sunderland Strollers roller disco checkpoint was a welcome break, the dolphin basking in the river made me smile.
Again, leaving the checkpoint all I could feel was excitement. Contouring round Kirk Fell and then up Black Sail Pass, I kept an eye on the path, to be sure I didn't take the one that went to the bottom of the valley, then I was following a train of head torches up to Black Sail Pass and over the top and down and across the River Liza; past the YHA Black Sail, and up Scarth Gap Pass.
Saturday 29 July
On the descent towards Buttermere, I left the rocky path and found myself scrambling across until I found the path again, by chance. The check point at Buttermere was the first time I sat down, mainly to get stones out of my shoes; the soup and hot dog were delicious and I set off towards Braithwaite feeling good.
The long climb up to Sail Pass I found myself on another silent train; I was on familiar territory due to a recent reccie. I liked the silence, there was a common acceptance we had to get our heads down and get on with making our way.
Descending from Sail Pass to Braithwaite dark blue bruises appeared in the black sky which became larger as they lightened and before I reached Braithwaite I turned my head torch off. I was in good spirits at the check pint and enjoyed pasta and snacks, I ran back to take a handful of nuts and raisins for my journey from there. The next section was easy; I set out along the A66 then found the hidden footpath towards Keswick. The path round Latrigg was straightforward, on to the self clip checkpoint then down to and across Glenderaterra Beck, Blencathra Visitor Centre soon came along, where the welcome and chocolate cake provided a boost after a cold and windy few hours.
From there it was a trot down through Wescoe, underneath the A66 and along the Old Coach Road where instead of putting on a waterproof and layers when the wind and the rain came I decided I would manage until I reached Dockray, by which time I was cold, miserable and about to throw in the towel. Other runners around me were smiling and I had no idea why or how they were so happy.
From Dockray I was guessing the way; a mix of using the map and road book and sneaky peeks at others. Sometimes just blank which way? at gates, then I found myself in the middle of a band of runners, we trudged up the side of a hill, around muddy tracks and along then through fields and eventually reached Dalemain where Amanda and Andreas are smiling and taking my picture and talking to me while I work out what to ditch, and what to take from my drop bag.
Antiseptic wipes were great to clean my macerated feet, which I then dried out for 25 minutes. Foot cream applied and clean socks on, even in my wet but dried out a little trainers I felt like I had put my fur boots on, I set off happier and warmer across the green fields in sunshine. My earlier thoughts of pulling the plug on this, were dashed here. I felt much better having seen Andreas and Amanda - how would I tell people I ditched this race because I couldn't be bothered?
I know the route from here and apart from struggling to find the way from Dalemain to Pooley Bridge I enjoy chatting to Michelle then Jon as we make our way towards Howtown.
Howtown Bobbin Mill checkpoint is always a rowdy affair, I load up with snacks and set off on the long slow climb up Fusedale. I was surprised how easy the ascent was and was pleased at my newfound levels of fitness; until I turned a corner and realised I was only half way up and had entirely forgotten about this next stretch. Up towards High Kop, a lovely run across soft bouncy bogs, down to Low Kop, and then down to Haweswater. The trap trap trap along the nasty little lakeside path went on, but there’s nothing you can do but peer through the fern and hope the path below is not a big bog or puddle or rock which will snap your ankle.
Finally we are at Mardale check point and if I can make the climb from there up Gatescarth Pass I know I will make it to the end. That much is certain. Luckily for me I am eating a sandwich from the checkpoint and a bag of crisps whilst chatting to Michelle and being hugged by a turtle in orange Crocs. The top of the pass arrives in no time and I know the end is in sight.
The descent is messy and never good to run; once near the bottom I jog along to Sadgill and up the hen across some fields, along a little track and down to Kentmere Village Hall. My disappointment at finding no smoothies here however was softened, as I was spoiled by the kindness of someone in sheep’s clothing who helped me by emptying my rucksack which was full of Red Bull. My brilliant idea to carry a can of Red Bull [acknowledging my main fear, that I would be too tired to finish the race] backfired as my can exploded as my rucksack caught on a wall. The lady sheep was very kind and told me we were Facebook friends. Someone else came to check I knew my name and what I was doing before they let me loose - I must have looked like I was unhappy but I was.
I climbed up out of Kentmere and my wet sticky clothes bothered me less; I was jogging along the track when it became less stony, down to the road and up to Troutbeck, along Robin Lane to Ambleside.
Sunday 30 July 2017
Me and the two others I am with agreed to dib and go, and off we went, up across the stepping stones, round Loughrigg Fell, down to Skelwith Bridge then over to Chapel Stile via Elterwater. Our group became bigger, I was tired and the route I knew looked different. Annette kindly offered to lead our rag tag and bobtail group out of Chapel Stile and she nimbly led us along the paths through fields of fluffy white fluorescent sheep which looked like they were brand new and full of kapok to me.
When we reached the top of Side Pike Annette checked we’d be ok if she disappeared, we would and then we just saw her head torch from time to time bouncing around in the distance. We made it without ending up in the bogs, to the self clip at Wrynose as dawn broke and we strolled past the Highland cattle who sat at the side of the path, looking ultra cool, till we reached Tilberthwaite.
I had expected to hear Led Zeppelin playing when I arrived at the Tilberthwaite Check Point, and had to compensate by playing Stairway to Heaven in my head. Here I sent Amanda and Izabella messages to say I would be back at 7.30 am and we strolled up the stairway to heaven in glorious sunshine. The darkness and the rain were behind us; looking round a cloud inversion bathed the valley in luminous mist and I could have sat down and gazed at that sight all day.
By this point, around 6.30 am on Sunday morning it felt normal to be ascending, the difference being this final ascent gilded with bright sunlight, sleep deprivation and a little hunger just intensifying the feeling… I had been moving now for just over 36 hours. Climbing up, the first time I had been here in daylight in a few years, was pretty surreal.
Reaching the top I paused before the descent and was in no hurry to start the descent on the tricky rocky path. I made my way down and upon reaching the track John shook my hand and hugged me, then disappeared off sprinting back to Coniston with me close behind.
I ran to the finish and any pain I had felt in my feet disappeared - the end was in sight, it's not finished until it's done. This was such an unforeseen finish for me, I had not dared to dream I could manage this. You never do know what you are capable of.
I had been to some amazing places and met some incredible people. And now to be welcomed home by my friends who had come to greet me was almost overwhelming.
The support of the race organisers, marshalls and all involved in this event, throughout the year and most of all on the race weekend, means that these journeys are possible. I felt proud to be on the start and at the finish.
First male: Michael Jones 20h 22m 19s
First female Sabrina Verjee 23h 15m 22s [6th overall]
First female Sabrina Verjee 23h 15m 22s [6th overall]
155th Sarah Smith 37h 23m 10s
223 finished of 360 starters