Thursday, 16 July 2015


With Arrochar Alps under our belts, it was time to focus on the main running event of our summer, the Wasdale Horsehoe: 21 miles with approx 2750 metres of ascent, including Scafell. I reckoned I would find it easier than Arrochar, as it's not much more climb but over a longer distance. Applying Lye-reasoning to these stats, I decided that the ups and downs must be less ferociously steep, and as it was in Englandshire rather than the darkest depths of Caledonia, would probably be hoaching with well-trodden paths. Fast-running, thought I. I set myself a public target of 6 hours, and a private one of 5.30. Ahahahaha!! AHahahaHAHAhahaha! <wipes tears of mirth>

We drove down to the Premier Inn at Kendal on Friday to rendezvous with my peerless in-laws who had treated the kids to a week at Centre Parcs. We settled into our room, and tried to have a quick nap before the rellies arrived. The room pulsated with a deep, throbbing hum. I wondered if there was some sort of juggernaut parked outside. Nope. It sounded/felt just like the engine on a ferry. Perhaps it was the air-conditioning. We turned it off and opened the windows, flooding the room with the vomitty/cheesy stench of nearby muck-spreading. The rumbling continued.

Fretting that there was no way I was going to sleep through the noise, I complained at reception (which was suffused with an even denser odour of pig-poo). They were fully booked, and although they acknowledged the noise apologetically, were unable to move us. They reckoned it was probably the kitchen extractor fans directly below us, and that they would probably be turned off by 11pm. They were right! Unfortunately, due to a night of musical beds caused by the kids wanting to consolidate our reunion by sleeping on top of us, followed by the fans re-starting at 5.30am, I had a lousy night's sleep.

We stoked up on a hearty cooked breakfast, double checked the journey time to Wasdale (1.5 hours) and waddled to the car. Google Maps failed us horribly. The most direct route from Kendal to Wasdale goes via Wrynose and Harknott passes, "Britain's most outrageous roads". Words simply can't do justice to the experience. All I can say is that as well as the route options of "avoid tolls" and "avoid motorways", Google Maps should add "avoid abject terror", sparing unsuspecting drivers of 1 in 3 gradients and preposterous hairpin bends. Astonishingly, we managed to reach the start of the race with a minute or two to spare, albeit wild-eyed, dishevelled, and strung-out on adrenaline. Jasmin wandered past the car and I waved and shouted at her like a deranged groupie, but she was totally "in the zone" gazing out towards them thar hills. My God they were big. I had something like the opposite of vertigo, where the sheer scale of their up-ness seemed to loom and extend above me.

Now, I had been feeling totally eye-of-the-tiger for the last week, tiptoe jogging in my dressing-gown, throwing the occasional mock-punch at myself in the mirror. Despite all recent evidence to the contrary, I reckoned I might possibly be faster than Matt over 21 miles (he occasionally goes a bit, well, limp after four hours or so on the go). I was in some sort of denial about my infrequent training and, more worryingly, my dodgy hip/back which has consistently packed in at 10 miles of running for the last few months. So, should I run with M, enjoying his company and taking advantage of his nav skills or should I go it alone, galloping freely over the last few miles when Matt might be flagging? Feeling I'd had enough adventure for one day already, I resoundingly opted for spousal company. It was a good choice (for me...Matt may feel quite differently about it).

The climb up Whin Rigg is a great start to the race: a gently inclining track to warm up with, leading onto a well-trodden, grassy climb. The hill forms a spectacular ridge on the East side of Wast Water, its scree slopes plunging dramatically into the lake. The top was beautifully runnable, but I was perturbed to find myself going slightly over on my ankle several times within a few minutes. I've never had ankle problems before, and felt alarmed that this was happening so early on when my legs weren't even tired. I wondered if it was due to my sock choice: I'd opted for Injinji ankle socks, figuring that they might minimise toe blisters over a longer distance, rather than my usual knee-high compression socks. As I reflected on the situation, I realised that the knee socks probably act as a supportive tubi-grip, and my poor ankle muscles have probably been wasting away. I had been foresighted enough to bring my usual socks in my rucksack, but felt reluctant to take the time out for a pit-stop as everyone hurtled by, so I hoped for the best, descending even more gingerly than usual.
Heading towards Seatallan

The two-ish miles across Nether Wasdale were flat, in both senses of the word. Distracted by my flip-flopping ankle, I felt downcast and tired. Matt was romping along looking very fresh and I struggled to keep up with him. I looked forward to the climb up Seatallan offering some respite from the hideous business of running. The route up was hard work, but if you took time out for a breather or two, the views back down to Wast Water were stunning.

The descent off Seatallan was Tellytubby-land smooth, but I was too hesitant about my ankle to really enjoy it. I stopped for a minute to give some Paracetamol to a guy who was having worse problems than me, and hoofed it over "Pots of Ashes" to catch up with Matt. My hip/back started complaining with clockwork predictability at ten miles, and as we traversed around Haycock I surrendered to the inevitability of a sock change. It was no mean feat cramming my damp trotters into the snug confines of Decathlon's finest hosiery, and the straining and writhing caused some raised eyebrows in the passers-by. It was worth it though, as my ankle felt noticeably more stable. I downed a can of Scheckter's Organic Energy drink (like caffeinated, fizzy Ribena...big thumbs up!), bosched some painkillers, and regained a glimmer of optimism.

Pots of Ashes

Eyeballing Scoat Tarn on the right, we started heading up towards Pillar, and were making good progress until a herd of runners approached us from the opposite direction. They reckoned they'd gone the wrong way, heading round to Red Pike. There was some confusion as to whether we were on the right route, or would have to backtrack. The visibility wasn't great, but Matt managed to make sense of the situation, and we had to head back a few hundred metres to continue skirting around Scoat Fell to Pillar. I think quite a few folk had gone awry at this point, including Ricky Lightfoot (the winner), which was interesting as the low visibility meant that people were independently misnavigating rather than mindlessly following the people in front.

View down to Ennerdale

View down to Mosedale

The approach to Pillar was rocky and (perhaps due to sub-optimal route choice) a bit scrambly in places. We had only just made the cut-off, and I was feeling increasingly sheepish about holding Matt back. I seriously considered bailing out at the next opportunity down to Wasdale Head, but Matt wasn't having any of it. It was a long nobbly descent off Pillar, and at this point we started oscillating with a Lostock runner, who we dubbed the Mountain Goat. The pattern from this point on was for us to get slightly ahead of him, take the wrong path, get back on track and find him ahead of us again.
Grim Great Gable

Mountain Goat.
 Great Gable looked seriously ominous as we traversed Kirk Fell. The clouds were thick around its summit, casting deep shadows onto its craggy North face. At the race briefing, we'd been told that the route avoided anything too tricky or sheer, apart maybe from Great Gable. Yikes. The climb was very steep, very rocky, and very long. I'm totally paranoid about climbing over huge piles of rocks, as it seems all too likely that I'll dislodge something and end up squished to a pulp under a car-sized boulder. I don't remember much of it, apart from tremulously asking Matt "Are you sure this is the right way?" every few minutes.

Are you sure this is the right way?

I was sorely disappointed to find that we hadn't been timed out at the top, and resigned myself to tackling Scafell. It's a bit of a psychological bummer knowing you have to finish with England's highest hill. So, we headed off Great Gable, pausing to choose between the path (which led apparently in the wrong direction) or the rubble-strewn correct bearing. Mountain Goat passed by along the path, so we followed (and overtook) him.

Heading down to that path all the bloody way over there.

Pebble removal
A long schlepp between Seathwaite Fell and Great End, took us past some particularly adorable lambs. Their tightly curled black fleece looked irresistibly cuddly and warm. My Garmin was showing 17 miles by this point, which was demoralising, as we'd earmarked the next check point, Esk Hause, to be at 16 miles. Eventually we hit the Esk Hause junction. There was no sign of a check point. We scratched our heads. There was a tent with a marshally-looking guy further up the path so we jogged to him only to be told he was part of another even (the 24 Peaks Challenge), but he pointed us back down to our check-point. We'd been on the go for about 5 hours 45 by this point, and had completely lost all racing impetus. We trudged down, passing Mountain Goat. And back up again, passing Mountain Goat.


Up in the clouds, the top of Scafell was rocky, bleak, and uninspiring. The rain had set in and we paused to get jackets out before continuing our stumble over endless boulders, finding "paths" only for them to peter into a confusion of rubble. Eventually we hit the top, and I felt immensely grateful to the marshals who had been waiting around for us for hours in the dismal clag. The clock was now at 6 hours 30, which meant we were unlikely to get to the finish in under 7 hours. I had reached the outer limits of my running/walking enthusiasm and just felt bored. If there had been a shorter route back for a DNF I'd have jumped at it.

Sheep hanging out on top of Scafell, probably just to prove some sort of point. Pricks.

Lovely marshal.
Not being able to see more than a few metres ahead made navigating off Scafell hellish. There were more false-promising paths that dwindled into nothing. Matt carefully checked our bearings again and again, and we were sure that there must be a well-trodden route very near by, if only we could see it. A couple of walkers appeared out of the murk. They were also trying to get down, but were retracing their steps having found themselves by some dangerously steep crags. Matt was studying the map and the compass, and although it didn't make sense to our internal sense of direction, it was saying that we should be heading back up and towards the way the walkers had come from. I felt quite overwhelmed with despair, and was beginning to feel cold from hanging about.

I just want to be at home.

Suddenly Mountain Goat appeared. Hooray! He must know the way. We had a quick chat and he seemed confident that we should be heading down. Matt stood his ground. I swithered. Mountain Goat had run down a bit, but was now hesitating, looking doubtfully out into the clag. Matt checked my compass, just to make sure his hadn't become polarised in the wrong direction. We definitely needed to head back up and round. "The compass doesn't lie," said Matt. Fair enough. The walkers and MG started following us back up, but were soon out of visibility. We hit upon a proper path at last. Matt put up a bit of resistance saying that it wasn't quite the right route, but I refused to budge. It was a path. It headed down. We could even see Wasdale Head. It was a stepped rock path, slick with rain, which made for slow-going. I realised we probably wouldn't make it back in under 7.5 hours.
Path down to Wasdale with the final checkpoint, unfortunately, at the top of that wall on the ridge.

We were on the look out for the final check-point on Lingmell Nose. It must be near by. My heart sank as Matt pointed out a couple of runners heading off the track, bearing up and right towards a wall. I toyed with the idea of foregoing this final checkpoint, but Matt zoomed off, and zombie-like I followed him. Again, I felt hugely thankful to the marshals who surely must have expected to be back at home with a nice cup of tea by this point. At long bloody last we ran down to the finish, only to find Mountain Goat warming his hands with a cuppa. He was surprised to see us coming in after him, as he'd assumed we'd have found the fast grassy descent down Lingmell Nose. Sigh.

Our finishing time was 7:44ish, which is possibly a course record for slowness. I think I was the last finisher, if the one person behind us ended up withdrawing. (NB Matt with superfluous gallantry asked the race organiser to time him in after me, even though he'd have been waaaay quicker if he'd raced alone). Jasmin was the winning bookend of the ladies' race, coming in 7th overall - can't wait to see the results and boggle over our comparative times!

E.T.A.: apparently four people actually finished after us! Results here, and my Strava trace here.

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