Date: Sunday 15th June 9:00am
Description: So, here we are. The Biggie. England’s Highest. Breakfast. Registration. We get a cool t-shirt and socks. OMG socks! We then walk back to the start with a few minutes to spare. We’re off. A steady pace at the back, no use burning out too fast. The sun is shining and running along the shore of the lake, it all looks stunning. Across a wooden track above a field of ferns leading towards the first hill. 8k in and we get to the first ascent. There’s a guy who’s completed it before who says he’s ahead of schedule, and a couple, one who’s run this before and her partners who’s only done a couple of 5ks. Jees, we’ve probably got a better chance.
We walk up the steps and the view behind is amazing. Then we get over the ridge and can see in to the next set of valleys, in front and to the left. I run again through the ferns listening to the LotR soundtrack, watching the ragged cloud base obscuring the mountain tops. Senses are synchronized, what I’m listening to, what I’m seeing all around me, what I feel inside as I run. This moment is EPIC beyond description! Arguably one of the best moments of my life. I am so fortunate to have found this and to be doing this with my life now. Like it all makes sense.
Then it’s back down, which unfortunately means losing altitude. Along the river to the first feed station at Seathwaite. My running buddy is struggling a bit now with injury, but she wants to push on and see how far she can get.
Now it gets tough. We run further along the elevated river bank and cross over a stone bridge with a photographer ready to take our picture. I’m glad I brought the walking poles. It’s slow going. Even the “5k” couple over take us. We are officially last. I’m frustrated as hell because I want to be running these relatively flat parts again. The view coming up to Styhead is unreal, there are clouds lifting up out of the valley behind. After 3 hours, half an hour before the cutoff, we dib our tags. The marshal shows me the Corridor Route up the side and suggests that we don’t hang around for long. The “run” is now a hike up 500m. We can still do this if we make it in an hour. We crawl up. I’m loving sections where I get a chance to run close to the edge again and scramble up and down sections. I discover that I LOVE the exposure, while my running buddy slowly learns to cope with it. The last 100m up to the summit I find the hardest, it’s steep, it’s just mist all around and the rocks are an awkward size, larger than gravel, but still small enough to move and lose energy when you step on them. I take my buddies bag to try to make it easier for her.
But we finally make it to the summit. 5 hours down, 4 to go. We may still be able to do this so long as we are faster going down.
We’re slower. Much slower. Unfortunately, her muscle injury gets much worse as soon as we start coming down from the summit. I realise it’s pretty hopeless at that point, and the key is just to get back. The scenery is still amazing, despite the heavy cloud. This place contains some strange echoes. And even I’m surprised about how technical this bit is, you have to walk across these large stones like stepping stones. I’m extremely glad of the cairns and the other hikers to help find our way. Back on to a normal track we can get back to some very slow jogging. We find, what we think, is the turning back to Sty Head. The next junction is a little less sharp than I was expecting, but we’re going in the right direction, map and GPS says we’re good.
We emerge from under the cloud base as we get close to Styhead, a marshal is coming to meet us. I know it’s all over only 25k in. The marshal says that we missed the last checkpoint and must have slightly cut the corner. Maybe those were the voices I heard through the mist. But we’re safe. They bring up our rear and we chat as we slowly make it back to Seathwait. 7 hours now. 15k to go. I start to think that if my buddy gets a taxi or a lift back from there, I may still be able to complete this, even though my feet are killing me. Maybe not within the time limits, but fuck that now. I can feel the fire in my blood, burning to be let loose on these mountains like they have been calling me to do all weekend. A proper race to finish. Man versus mountain! I’m frustrated but driven as hell.
I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I could do this. But it’s not to be. I have a quiet word with one of the marshals, who’s a great guy. He says he’s seen this situation before with teams. He acknowledges that I probably could do it, but suggests that I go back with my buddy and carry on supporting her. I know he’s right. I feel very emotional, a real mix. I’m disappointed by my selfishness at the end, but I’ve done well to stick by her throughout. I’m encouraged by my desire to finish. I never thought that I had that raw, almost overwhelming drive to complete something within me. I’m furious and vow that I’m going to return here as soon as I can and run, yes RUN it again, to show myself and the world that I can run a marathon up the highest mountain in England in under 9 hours. Just gutted that it won’t be an official time.
Doing Mount Olympus next year seems a little less likely after today. 1,000m in 9 hours is currently borderline for me, so 3,000m in a years’ time doesn’t seem realistic. And with this DNF on our record, I doubt we’d get in anyways.
Perhaps selfishly, I promise myself that is the last time I race with someone for a long while. It’s not fair on myself and almost a complete waste if I can’t push myself to my limits. I’ve got to run this now on my own and find my own way. I feel very close to the mountains now. Just me and the universe, as I guess it always is meant to be.
I leave the Lake District with unfinished business. I watch the mountains grow smaller in the distance, as my heart breaks that I’m leaving. The mountains really do feel like home. I’ll be back.