Lakes in a Day seemed to have been a long time coming. Looking back now, from beneath an ice pack, I can’t believe it’s over.

Caldbeck to Cartmel, via High Pike, Blencathra, Clough Head, the Dodds, Helvellyn, Grisedale Tarn, Fairfield, Ambleside, Claife Heights, High Dam, Finsthwaite, Newby Bridge and Bigland Tarn. Variously described as anything between 48.6 and 53 miles, 13,000 and 16,000 feet of ascent (depending on whether your poison is Garmin, Suunto, Strava or Open Adventure tracker).

The Harrier LIADers and LIADettes – Debbie, Ruth, Pete, Helen, Loz, Simon, Dave, Mark, Mike and myself, plus Estelle and Ben, had put months of training into this one day and as October 7 approached, it started to look like the best laid plans were coming awry.

Debbie was suffering severe back pain – something she’d not experienced since giving birth to Mark. Loz was recovering from a particularly nasty virus, my glutes/knee/lower back were generally dropping off and Mike realised he had passed up a free bar to do LIAD!!! (Steph, sensible girl, chose the wedding with the free bar!) But it all unravelled big time on Friday night when Helen went down with a really horrid sickness bug/food poisoning which meant she had no choice but to pull out. We were all so gutted for her, it was a real blow. Happily she is now OK, but what bad luck. She had trained really hard for it and was surely heading for a great day (next year?).

And so it began. A big thank you to Ruth’s sister, Tanya, for taking us to Caldbeck where we all met up, faffed and generally queued for the loo til the off.

Pete reported he had picked up an injury at registration – poor footwear choice led to a blister developing just hours before the start… and the banter began !

What a journey! As the race organiser, James Thurlow, said, not many events truly deserve to be called ‘epic’ but this one did. He’s organised a lot of events, so he knows. I have honestly never been out running for so long in anything quite as wild as that – take a look at the various videos doing the rounds on Facebook for the proof. And in another first for me, at one point another runner grabbed me to stop me being blown away.

But after a while we just got used to the discomfort and relentlessness of it all. It stoked a determination to ‘crack on’ and the atrociousness made it quite appealing in a “Thank goodness I’m alive” kind of way. I discovered that actually, I quite like wild weather!

So apart from surviving Hurricane LIAD, how was it for us?

We settled into pairs fairly quickly. Loz and Debbie – Debbie: “At the foot of Helvellyn as a result of too many too strong painkillers I started feeling nauseous. From there to Ambleside I couldn’t eat anything. I kept stopping and retching but it didn’t help. Spent about an hour at Ambleside in a daze. Loz was amazing and got me sorted forcing pizza and pasta down me adding to the festering gloop in my stomach. Next 22 miles was spent running for five mins, retching for 2 then walking. So run/retch/walk repeat. Finally waahoo I threw up just before Finsthwaite!! I felt like the Very Hungry Caterpillar ‘ after that I felt much better.’ (I didn’t eat through one nice green leaf though) What I threw up (and there was a lot of it) resembled the rotting leaves from the muddy puddles we were wading through! Poor Loz had to stand there and listen to it all. Thankfully it was dark. Because I felt better I then ran off leaving Loz behind and got to F first and got soup a roll and a chair for him. It was the least I could do having literally pulled me up the hills. We then managed to run/walk the last 7.4 miles through all that mud. A quote from Pride and Prejudice came to mind: “Her petticoats Louisa! Knee deep in mud! What does she mean by scampering around the countryside??” I did ask myself that question when I fell into a quagmire up to my knickers and my elbows – my knickers are still dirty after 3 washes. If it hadn’t been for Loz I’d still be sat in a daze at Ambleside.”

Simon and I – Simon: (The only negative comment I heard him say all day): “We’re nearly at the YMCA which means That Bastard Hill.”
(On ‘TBH’ I played a particularly good game of ‘worst swear word top trumps’ in my head – it’s about eight miles from the end, is VERTICAL and you follow a previously washed out and unrepaired path full of slimy rocks.)
Me: “Can I have some more drugs yet?”
Simon: “We could roll up maps and snort paracetamol.”

Ruth and Pete – Pete (on the way to Caldbeck): “Fifty miles isn’t that far.” Ruth (at the end): “I could have done with the finish being at Finsthwaite, but overall I loved it. Halls Fell was really exhilarating!”

 

Dave and Mark – I have no quotes, but I have it on good authority that chaffage occurred; Debbie had fortunately packed Germolene and no more can be said in polite company… They had a fantastic time, though and will surely be back next year.

Mike – had an amazing run and was in Cartmel in plenty of time for last orders. Result!

Throughout the day I drank a number of ‘best cup of tea, evers’ wrung out a few pairs of gloves and marvelled at the number of people in shorts.

The checkpoints were amazing – plentiful food and drink that you actually wanted to consume after a battering on the fells (Tea! Crisps! Homemade soup!) and wonderful, smiley, helpful staff and volunteers. We could not have been better looked after.

The first section had all the big hills, the second section was undulating. The first bit had the rocks and bogs, the second had mud, mud, mud (and rocks and bogs). After Ambleside, I was significantly slowing down, but Simon still had plenty of running in him and will no doubt return to smash out a massive PB – a big thankyou to him for sticking with me til the end.

Very well done to all. It’s an event I can recommend very highly – crikey, it’s hard, but you get a lovely T shirt and a dizzy sense of disbelief and achievement which will probably last until Christmas.

Julia

Adidas Terrex Adventure Race (Forming part of the AR World Series) 26-30th Aug – English Lakes

How do I start my account for an event of this duration, before I present the gritty details, the headlines are: gutted not to have finished as a team, but I want to do another for sure!!!

 So imagine a 3 year old scribbling on a map of Cumbria – that would be the route that this race took, it just kept coming and coming – to me it was as much a team journey as an out and out race and it was brilliant all the way (almost)! The Haglofs team consisted of Mick Kenyon (a Settle Harrier) Karen MacDonald (seasoned racer bird) and Paul Vousden (the Haglofs guy and our captain) and myself.

 32 teams of 4 entered, so not a huge amount for a race forming part of a world series, the trouble is that not too many folk do this sort of stuff – especially girls (there had to be at least one female in each team). These races are ‘team’ events, so it is key for success to look after each other – especially the girl! our team (Haglofs) had perfect team dynamics, this was evident in the race as there were no quarrels or fall outs, maybe the odd bit of sarcasm now and then.

The Start across Morecambe Bay

So the race… basically it is a 400km linear route comprising (wait for it!) 265km Mtb, 100km running, 65km kayaking, with a whole host of other tasty little Special Stages chucked in, such as ghyll descents, abseils, scrambles and orienteering. The competitors do not need to visit every checkpoint, but for the ones they miss a time penalty added to the total time (penalties 60min – 210min depending on the location of the CP). The race started at 07:00 Fri and teams had to be back at the finish in Keswick, by 12:00 Mon, choosing to sleep as little or as much as they liked, wherever they could find – it was basically non-stop 77hrs of racing.

It started with a 25km run across Morecambe bay, so apart from Karen who does not do ‘flat’ running we all liked this, or at least the first half – with the views to the fells and lovely blue skies, (it seemed strange after 10km into the race, after about 1hr on the go, thinking only 76hrs to go). The novelty of the beach soon wore off with sand filled shoes and lots of gloopy mud around Humphrey Head where the first CP was, this was not the perfect way to try to protect yourselves from the dreaded chaff (the ultra runners nemesis!). There was a nice transition in the lovely grounds of Holker Hall, we had to sit a time penalty here (this came from the prologue race the previous evening – time difference to winner x3 = 36min for us). The next section was an epic 80km Mtb which took us to Ravenglass and then back to Coniston, in the middle of this where a couple of special stages – an orienteer in Eskdale and Ghyll descent at Coniston. We did the orienteer, but it was a little slow as Karen could not run – indigestion problems! we left Eskdale after a quick pint (Coke) and toilet stop at the George Inn, this was as the sun set, to start the first of the big ‘bike hikes’ crossing Harter Fell (this was cruel of the route planner making us go over these un-cyclable routes! – we even had to carry the bikes down the hills!) …and then it was onto the dreaded Walna Scar, not much better under wheel and yet twice the height – imagine Penyghent but from sea level almost. Cycling down Walna at night was a pretty exciting (aka scary) experience, after having already had one ‘over-the-handle’ bars experience earlier in the day, I was perhaps a little timid, the rough did not bother Karen as she rode virtually all the way, but did get a puncture. The transition nr Brantwood eventually arrived in the early hours, here we took on lots of tea, coffee and butties ready for the kayak around Lake Coniston. We were all looking forward to this as we had trained hard for the kayaking sections, and we had some nice fast boats. The moon was bright and the lake totally flat, the kayaks had glow sticks on each end and so did the paddlers, so seeing these lights move around the water was a surreal experience, we passed a number of teams here and wanted to keep going round the lake, but a trek over to Windermere loomed and had to be done.

The trek started over rough ground south of Grizedale, we and a half dozen other teams had a dreadful job trying to locate a checkpoint here, a lesson learnt – some times better to take a longer route on paths than go for the shorter b-line – especially at night on feature-less moor (Alex had nav failure here!) With dawn of the second day on its way we decided to take a short sleep under trees in a pine forest as Paul and Karen were walking sideways and just falling into bushes, Mick and I found it comical entertainment. It is amazing what a 10min rest can do – but is no means ideal, we had some life back in our muscles and brains and made short work to the next stage. Next transition was at YMCA centre on Windermere again more tea and food and a 45min sleep in a tepee, this was so nice!!! By now it was Lakeland weather at its best, but it didn’t matter as we were on the water anyway, the kayak was a long down leg to the bottom end of the lake with a checkpoint just above the wear at Newby Bridge, so some good boat control required here, after that it was up to the other end, to where the river came in. I was paddling with Karen and she was spotting hippos and things at the edges, being tired does do some pretty mind bending things to you, but sometimes a waterlogged log can look like a hippo, we did not see any crocodiles just as well. The Windermere experience was now getting tedious –  it was certainly not the Coniston experience of earlier, with steamers and skiers passing in all directions. Eventually after 4 long and wet hours we got out at the lovely Bowness, re-fuelled on some nice cheese-burgers and yet more coke, then we jumped on the ferry to cross the lake to start a short bike section to Langdale, nothing amazing to report here, but it was wet, we lost some time in Langdale as we had marked up an in-correct route on to the map.

Starting to show the strain – Day 2 – after almost 2 lengths of Windermere

The transition at Stickle Barn was done in steady style as we wanted to refuel for what was going to be a tough night stage. A lot of familiar ground here for me and others on the team, we had a small posse following us over the Langdale Race route from Pavey Ark to Angle Tarn, here we had a CP, the next one at Sprinkling Tarn, then the next at the base of Piers Ghyll, the rain came in thick here so it was time to done full body cover, night time had arrived also. Here we met the 2nd and 3rd placed teams who where still managing to do the full route, this was good for us as we where now on steep ground following a small climbers path up the edge of the Ghyll leading to the summit. The water below sounded deafening and there where some ‘badsteps’ to contend with, head torch beam just disappearing into the black! The next CP was 200m on the other side of the summit of Scafell Pike – it was wild up here by now. Still not being surprised at our own stupidity for being here, we where amazed to pass and help out a bunch of youths in shorts, trying to get to Wasdale Head (presumably the pub!) one was using a red bike light as his torch!  We reached the summit cairn and had to hide behind it as the wind was horrendous, breaking down communication and making nav harder still. To get to our a checkpoint a puddle sized tarn not far from Mickledore we decided to go on a bearing, this proved impossible due to the rough boulders, preventing ‘straight-line’ track. We got stretched out here as I was wanting to keep sight of a team up ahead, meanwhile Mick at the back was suddenly having to deal with blurred vision, causing loss of depth perception. After what seemed an age we re-grouped and beat a retreat back to the summit cairn. A firm decision was made by Paul here – Get Mick off this mountain – Quickly as possible! So with this in mind we planned our route out – Esk Hause – Langdale, should take a couple of hours… trying to locate the path off the summit was difficult enough and I had brain fade on using the compass, I wanted a nominal NE but seemed to think it was SW, Paul backed me up here and after a bit of faffing we found a path cairn, it is surprising how hard the path was to follow in the wind and rain and cloud. It was real slow progress coming off. Once at the col for Broad Crag, we had to don the rest of our kit, we where getting seriously cold due to the slow progress – Mick had to walk by feel. About 45 min later we where on better (smoother) paths that lead to Esk Hause, Angle Tarn, Rosset Gill then down into Langdale. The path from Rossett to Langdale seemed to take forever and it was coming down here that I started to experience the falling to sleep while walking thing. We eventually reached the transition back at Langdale at about 02.30, it had taken over 4hrs to get here.

The Mountain Stage – 2nd night – Wet n windy!

Once in Transition, the plan was to get drink, get warm, get sleep and get Mick’s eye checked. His eyes looked like they had been pocked, the medic washed them and said he needed to get a good rest. The transition was like a refugee camp, it was still raining hard and there was absolutely no dry floor-space anywhere, so Mick got put in the back of a van, we had to sleep outside in the bivvy. After 45min in the bivvy bag I woke up shivering, I tried to sleep again and got another 15min, but realised I puddle was forming beneath me. Slowly we all got out, Karen sneaked into the dry van with Mick, leaving Paul and I to sit in the transition, we where just milling around for 2-3hrs. I had to do stuff to stop me getting bored (and cold) so I oiled and checked the bikes and packed my rucksack ready for the next cycle stage, which was another biggy. Teams where still coming in off the mountain, reporting that they where almost hypothermic while waiting to do the abseil of Esk Buttress, the abseil was later stopped as the rope got frayed due to the lighter people getting blown around so much while descending. It looked like our slow retreat, was no slower and in most cases faster than a lot of the other teams, so a good decision! By 06:30 teams where waking ready to start the Mtb, by now I was sick to death of the transition and wanted to get the hell out – I needed some proper sleep  too. Paul and I got the other 2 up and Mick had his eye cleaned again, it had green stuff coming out and still could not focus properly, the medic suggested a few options, but it wasn’t until the organisers sister (who works in an eye hospital) said he needed proper medical attention – so game over for Mick – very sad and tearful.

 Paul, Karen and I set off a short time later or what seemed it and headed to Ambleside for coffee warmth and food. We found a café open (Apple Pie) and ordered plates of food. By this stage I had lost all my adrenaline and passion for the race, I told the other two I did not want to carry on. After eating breakfast (and spilling the first one on the floor- co-ordination problem!) we set off up the Struggle (the route proper went over Garburn and High Street), we decided to straight-line it as we where no longer competitive. The Struggle was a struggle!, it was also busy with bank holiday traffic. We cruised down into Patterdale and then cycled round the Lake to the next transition at Pooley Bridge. I pulled out here at the 53hr stage, we had 24hrs left and I just kept thinking no point in carrying on if we are going slowly and not in the race anyway, additionally I did no fancy another night mountain trek (although it would have been a lot easier than the previous nights). Paul also pulled out here. We had no passion to continue the race. In retrospect I am kicking myself for pulling out here. It was gutting for me the following day being at the finish line seeing all the other teams come in, we could have finished as a 3 albeit with a much reduced score. At the time pulling out seemed the right thing to do. No use deliberating it anymore.

Lots of things where learnt during this event, and I will write them down so I do not forget them. I certainly want to do another and have a lot more to give, we pooled our strengths and where possible I had Karen on the tow. The Haglof’s kit we had was excellent, especially my gilet and Oz jacket. I am now planning future events and hope to do well in the Rab MM, I aim to enter the Open 5 series and again, but essentially I want to do another expedition adventure race as soon as possible to settle the score! Also I blame Mick for getting me into this!!!!

 For more info/pictures:  www.sleepmonsters.com  or www.run247.com/articles/article-616-race-report%3A-the-adidas-terrex-adventure-race–www.adidas-ar.com.html

 Photo’s courtesy of John Allen / Open Adventure

It’s A Taper, Jim – But Not As You Know It

‘Well, Mr Mouncey, the good news is that it’s not broken.’ My entire being deflates about 3 sizes as every orifice that can exhales air. Except I already know the bad news: With 10 days to go to the start of the L100 I am sat in a wheel chair outside the X-ray department of Kendal A & E wearing a grimace and a with right ankle the size of a small football courtesy of badly sprained ligaments.

I’ve been out on my final big training run on the western part of the course when my foot just rolled from under me while coming off a rocky descent to send me crashing. I lay there stunned for a few seconds before the pain came – convinced something was broken. I was in the middle of nowhere and the only way I was getting back to my car was through my own efforts. So with much swearing and lurching I tried a few experimental steps, and to my amazement was eventually able to get moving again – as long as I kept the foot in a straight line everything seemed more or less OK. Reassured, I continued and put in the planned two hours intervals and sat in the river when I got back to the car feeling very righteous. Well, if it’s going to flare it’ll be after 1.5 hours on my arse in the car…

And so it proved. I drove straight to my physio folks at The Body Rehab in Staveley, but by the time I got there I was in serious pain and rapidly becoming a danger to myself and other road users. Tipping myself out of the car I dragged myself through the doorway and a short time later was sitting with my right foot strapped into a cryo-boot doing a very poor impression of a grown man in control. I could see 3 months dedicated prep going right down the tubes.

The gods however, had other ideas, and had sent me an angel called Roxy. ‘I’m 99% certain it’s an inversion sprain, she said. ‘But it’s so swollen I can’t be completely sure – it’s off for an X –ray for you, young man…’ So followed 48 hours of intensive R.I.C.E. rehab, then more work, then a half hour test jog with 4 days to go. ‘I can’t believe it,’ I reported to Roxy, ‘That all felt fine…what the heck did you do?’ The angel smiled. ‘We started treatment only 5 hours after the injury – early intervention makes such a difference – and you have been a very good boy with your homework…’ I get home and practically skip through the door. Charlotte my wife raises a quizzical eyebrow. ‘Well, am I packing my tent, or what?’ ‘Well, there is some more rehab to do…’ I’m grinning like an idiot, ‘but we’re on!

Making The Complex Simple

The day after the race Family Mouncey are relaxing at Coniston race HQ with my great friend Geoff who ran the ’50. We’re catching up for the first time and comparing notes. So how was the race, Andy – really? ‘Completely consistent – no low points at all. I’m mean, the legs got increasingly trashed to the point where I sat in the river just before the Chapel Stile check…but other than that, mentally and emotionally I felt fine the whole way.’

What went on in that head of yours then? ‘Ah, that’s easy – three words: Relax. Light. Smooth, and I thought about my family a lot – Charlotte and our two small boys – so lotsa happy faces there.’

So internal focus the whole way? ‘God, no. ‘Switched in and out. Really relaxed during the night section. Adam (Perry) and I who I was running with did the ‘torch off, have an ‘ooo’ moment at the moon above Briathwaite, for instance. Lots of moments like that.’

It looked like you held second pretty much the whole way round – that looked like a pretty consistent effort. ‘Not quite. There was some chopping and changing in the early stages, and Duncan (Harris) got away on the Braithwaite section – didn’t catch him again till halfway.

I ran this race completely differently to my other 100’s. At this race 2008 I walked the first mile, and at Western States in 2004 I walked the first two! This time I ran from the front ‘cos my primary goal for the race was getting answers to three questions:

What does it take to run at the front?

Do you have what it takes – and are you willing to make the commitment to find out?

So I was prepared to run hard to Wasdale – and I did: ‘Ran the whole way and go out on record pace to get time and distance – especially as the other advantage I have is that I know where I’m going. I was also prepared to blow up – ‘cos that would’ve still given me an answer. I didn’t think I would – but even if I did I also figured I could relax and regroup through the night. I looked at it like this: Everyone slows down over this distance – the issue is who slows down the least. Out of sight really is out of mind – I just figured my ‘slow’ might still be good enough.

Unfortunately for me, Stuart (Mills) had exactly this strategy and did it better than I did!’

So that, really, was my race. No drama, no screaming and crying or flaying of undercarriage like 2008. Solid, deliberate, thought-through. Remarkably, as I said to Charlotte a few days later, this time it didn’t even seem like such a long way. Now that is quite an adjustment.

I am however, all too well aware that a few short paragraphs don’t really cut it from a race report perspective. Y’all want ‘em coloured in don’t you? Alright then, here it is…

Off The Front

So exactly what pace do you run the first 200 yards of a 100 mile race? No-one except eventually winner Stuart Mills seems to know. The race is thirty seconds old and already Stuart is out of sight having shot of the front from the start. For those who know him it’s a tried and tested Mills tactic. Sometimes it works, and sometimes…

Well, he’s either going to come back or he’s not, I decide – no way am I following that! I am however, going to do my thing which is to get moving in these first 20 miles or so, and as I don’t especially want to run with anyone, I fix my gaze to the front and get on with it.

The first little descent gives me a clue – I’m faster than the two guys who have come past me on the climb out of Coniston – and once again I have my desired personal space and a periodic glimpse of Stuart as we head up the Walna Scar Road to the high point of the stage. I’m caught again before the top and this time joined by a new face. I recognise Duncan Harris (Fellsman winner) and we share a quick mutual appreciation of the glorious evening sunshine.

I redress the balance once again on the long descent down to the Seathwaite valley, but not before Duncan takes an almighty tumble infront of me – I mean, wipe out big style! I stop and check as he makes reassuring noises…but you really don’t need a fall of that magnitude this early into this race. No matter, gravity tugs and I follow her lead. It feels awful fast and part of me flashes a warning light or two, but I figure that’s just the girlie cautious part and key the manual over-ride.

Straight in and out of the first checkpoint stopping only to ‘dib’ and a bottle refill and into the woods around Wallbarrow at the head of the Dunnerdale valley. I’m dialled right in now and though I’m not wearing a watch, (and will not ask for time gaps till Ambleside) I know I’m on target pace which will mean 75 minutes to Boot. Relax. Light. Smooth. I relax into the steep climb running easily through the rocks keeping half an ear open to voices and gate noises behind. The action’s ahead of you, Mounce…

I dance through the bogs and the rocky sections round the base of Harter fell with a confidence which comes with multiple recces. A whispered ‘thankyou’ takes me successfully past the site of my fall 10 days ago and I belatedly realise that there’s been not a twinge from the ankle. Wow – maybe it really is gonna be OK…

Before long I’m cruising into Boot to the cheers of a handful of well-wishers outside the pubs. (I don’t know it at the time, but I’m only two minutes down on my estimation. What I do know is everything’s in the green and I’m grinning like an idiot. Having a good time? You betcha). Another fast pit-stop at checkpoint 2 and onto the gradual climb out heading NE to Burnmoor Tarn above Wasdale. Still running everything I clock voices behind me for the first time as we clear the tree-line and head onto the open fell. Ah, so there you are… I spot a figure ahead and assume it’s Stuart.

Fleeting delight turns sour as I close the distance and realise it’s a lone walker. Stuart has well and truly gone – already 8 minutes ahead by the Boot checkpoint. A couple of miles later Duncan and Adam Perry get their chance to move ahead as I pull over for a pit-stop with miles of open moor for cover. An apologetic ‘Sorry!’ greets them as they run past: At least I’ve remembered to squat in the ‘cheeks away’ position.

Once again I hook up with gravity and run fast to catch them before the final road section into Wasdale Head. Introductions all round. ‘Sorry about the full moon back there,’ I say. I find out later Duncan is surprised I’m back with ‘em so soon. ‘I thought that would give you much more problems,’ he admits as we compare notes afterwards. Nah, just a bowel movement. Sorry, fella.

We beat the checkpoint crew to the checkpoint. Biting down the spike of frustration we get on with the job of being in and out of there sharpish and turn our faces to the first big climb up Black Sail pass. Duncan forges ahead but by the time we’re down the other side at the youth hostel we’re back together. A jog and power-hike up Scarth Gap and we’re on the rocky drop to Buttermere. Dance, man…

Relaxing & Recharging

Before long Adam and I are running easily along the western shore of a tranquil lake with Duncan some yards behind. For the first time in 25 miles I can feel myself relaxing with the aggression-driven battle-grin being replaced with something much more serine. As Adam and I do the ‘commune with nature’ piece I realise I am almost blissfully happy with where I am right now: At the front end of the race, running easily in the twilight along a beautiful silent lakeside with only our footfalls for company.

Getting here before full darkness has been a real bonus, and while the next section has a couple of tricky nav sections in, I am 100% confident can nail ‘em first time. I still haven’t used my map or route notes – something I will continue throughout the race. So I spend a few self-indulgent minutes putting big ticks against a few boxes.

I dally a little too long at the checkpoint, breaking my rule about no food stops till 30, 55, and 70 miles, but the chicken soup proves a draw too much – or I’m still away with the cosmic fairies… This allows Duncan to catch us and be gone ahead of us into the darkness. I’ll see his headtorch twice more, but will only catch him again just before halfway.

I’m still not completely sure whether it’s because I relaxed or Stuart and Duncan pushed on, but I see later that over the next two sections Stuart puts close on 20 minutes into me. That’s for later. For now, I’m a very happy boy moving at my own pace through the darkened fellside as Adam and I thread our way through the bracken NE to Braithwaite.

I separate myself from Adam as we drop into the village, and one rushed bowl of pasta and rice pudding later he still hasn’t appeared at the checkpoint. I spot a headtorch circling as I head onto the Keswick road. ‘Adam! Over here!’ I can almost hear his sigh of relief. ‘See you on the next section, fella.

I spot his torchlight catching up as I climb through the switchbacks around Latrigg. Relax. Light. Smooth. It’s still coming easily and I’m still scoring 11 on the Happy Scale. Then on the dogleg around Lonscale fell and Blencathra something strange happens. I’m not looking but I swear I can feel Adam behind me. ‘Wont be long now, I think,’ he’s done well to catch up…’ Then nothing. I get a chance to check for torchlight as I double back on the run-in to Threkeld, but again, nothing.

Next time I see Adam it’s at Coniston on Saturday evening. ‘I just blew big style,’ he told me, ‘had to lie down on the track. ‘Managed to get to the checkpoint at Blencathra Centre, got some food down me, but had to go to sleep again. Then as there was nothing there I decided I had to get to Dalemain – so that’s what I did – walked the next two legs.’ He paused while we all took this in. ‘I’m a bit pissed off, ‘he said, ‘Cos now I really will have to race in two weeks time at Bradwell!’ That’s all later. For now all I know it’s back to me and my favoured personal space.

Making Ground

Something new happens over the next 28km as we head into daybreak and the ‘halfway’ point (actually 59 miles) at Dalemain on the north shore of Ullswater: I make time on Stuart. It’s not huge and I’m still oblivious to relative progress being ‘split-free’ but I learn later it’s enough to cause a few ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ among the watching community as the live feeds come into race HQ.

What I do know is that everything’s still working, and despite slowing over the final section I’m still moving along at a reasonable clip. Remember, your ‘slow’ will still good enough, man… I get a massive boost as I spot Duncan for the first time through the trees with about 3km to go to the checkpoint. I get another injection as I can see he’s looking behind him. So I close to a couple of hundred yards then I sit there. He solves the ‘how / when do I pass him?’ question by diving into the toilet just before the checkpoint proper. (He tells me later he was feeling so rough that when he got through the checkpoint he crashed out on a bench somewhere in Pooley Bridge and really struggled through the next section. But he picked up something strong in the later stages and had closed a sizeable gap at 60 miles down to 20 minutes at the finish).

The problem is that I’ve stopped way too long at Dalemain and it takes me an age to get going again. It’s real exercise in patience and belief, and I’m talking to myself almost constantly on the couple of miles between Dalemain and Pooley Bridge. I remember flying through this section in training imagining how revitalised I’d feel starting the final 40 miles. Well, while my faculties are all there and firing, my trusty legs are somewhere else. I do eventually get going again heading down the eastern shore of the lake, but someone somewhere has registered that I’ve lost what feels like oceans of time on what should be a simple section. Relax, man – your slow is still fast enough… Let’s hope so. I vaguely remember someone telling me Stuart was about half an hour ahead at Dalemain, but I really wasn’t listening so I’m not sure how accurate that was. I do know, however, that he’s not stopping for food – so whether it was half an hour or not, he’ll be a damn sight further ahead by now. Unless he’s blown.

A business-like stop at Howtown and I set my face to climb up Fusedale Beck to the high point of the entire route at 655m with High Street off to the right. This was where my world fell apart two years ago in driving rain, so I smile as I recognise that at least one thing will be different.

I climb strongly and get my lines nailed through thick bracken as I descend to the western shore of Haweswater. And while I don’t know it at the time, I make up my biggest chunk of time on Stuart and grab back all the time I lost between Dalemain and Howtown. By the check at Mardale Head at 75 miles the gap is the shortest it’s been since Braithwaite at 34 miles. Back at race HQ the bets are being frantically re-made: Is this the start of a charge for the lead? In a word: No. This is as close as I’ll get.

Reality Strikes

Stuart puts an hour into me over the final quarter as my legs become progressively less able to cash the cheques my brain is writing for them. I’m still able to power-hike up the steep stuff and hold it together on the flats, but to my dismay I’m getting less and less able to run the descents. My ankle is starting to give me the finger on the wobbly sections and a combination of recent heavy rain and footpath repair work has given us all big horrible loose small rocks and big stones to travel over. Throw in some wet stuff from the rain which has now set in and we’ve got one of the most user-unfriendly final 25 miles to cover. And it’s the same for everyone, Mounce, so shut the **** up and get moving. Remember, your ‘slow’ will still be fast enough…

Fast enough to hold second place, but I can feel my hoped-for 24 hours slip away. By the time I hit Ambleside with 16 miles to go I know I’ve got a near-impossible task on my hands to hang onto a ’24 time. ‘How far ahead?’ I ask. ‘About 45 minutes’, they tell me. ‘But he looked way worse and he walked out of here.’ That draws a snort: ‘Listen, I’LL be walking out of here!’ A sip of soup. ’45 minutes…someone’s gonna have to shoot him, then.’

Right then and there I consign all thoughts of a chase over this final section to the bin and turn back to paying attention to the internal indicators. ‘Daddy, you’re doing really great running just like me!’ The world is a delightfully simple place when you’re 3 years old, and my emotional turbo-charge has been to meet the other members of Family Mouncey.

So while Tom races round the shop, I have time for a final hug with Charlotte and baby Joe. ‘You look great, babe!’ Her eyes are shining. You just can’t bottle it – so after tackling our racing toddler for a goodbye, I head out for what I regard as the final section.

And while it all feels slow I also know it’s faster than two years ago, and that’ll do, thanks very much. I have a blissful beef stew moment at Chapel Stile and pause just to ‘dib’ at the last check. ‘Sorry, gotta get on with it, ‘ I apologise to the crew. There’s nearly 1000’ to climb over this last 4 miles or so and there’s no time like the present. I allow myself my first look behind as I drop through the mines above Coniston just to make sure…then it’s a very quiet jog through the rain back to where it all started one brief day earlier. ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy – you’re back!’ Tom cannons into me and I momentarily drop my composure all over the road. I scoop him – and it – up, registering that it’s my first real fumble in a day that has given me so much. And yeah, I’ll take it all, thanks.

Some Stats: Total race distance: 104 miles / 6971m climbing & descending.

Andy finished 2nd in 25 hours 37 minutes Total starters 123 / Total finishers 70

Results and photos www.lakeland100.com

More photos www.sportsunday.co.uk

More reports www.runfurther.com

By Andy Mouncey, August 2010

It’s not a good start. Halfway up Whernside the second mountain of the day – there are nine – I’m sitting on my backside with both shoes and socks off surrounded by bits of my first aid kit while concentrating firmly on the task of taping my heels. And I’d been worried enough, thank you, without this little addition.

I mean, you would be too, right, contemplating 62 miles of up hill and down Yorkshire dale on the back of little and sporadic specific training when the last race you did two weeks previously over a pathetic 24 miles had you hanging on like a dying dog over the final third? Still, sometimes the only way to really see where you’re at is to really see where you’re at. So I’d swallowed hard and made some mental adjustments.

Chief among these was to push Competitive Running Bloke right down into the bottom of my rucksack: Today would not be about him. Today would be about head up, enjoy the views and the company, relax and keep everything in the green. Get to know the route for next time – so there’ll be a next time? – and finish with plenty still in the tank. Got that?

My pre-start activity did set the tone: Chasing our very excited 3 year old round the start area who was intent on demonstrating his capacity for interval training with simultaneous commentary all at high volume: ‘Look at me, Daddy! I’m a really fast runner!’ This meant I chugged off quite happily way down the field of over 400 souls with a smile on my face mentally ticking off the ‘happy box’. Thanks, son. This continued up the first climb of Ingleborough as I threaded my way through the field pausing now and then to chat to folks I recognised and some I didn’t.

The hotspots on both heels started on the approach to Whernside, and while I am wearing brand new trainers this is not unusual for me: I’d used the same make, model and size straight out of the box for years with no problems. Except today. Today there will be screaming and crying and gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes later if I don’t STOP RIGHT NOW and sort this out. So I press ‘eject’ on the lovely, calm, happy world with gorgeous views and easy running I’d been enjoying and get decisive about Reality. Right, over this next stile then…

Rucksack off, sit down, shoes and socks off. Footcare kit out, examine the damage. Yep, blisters about the size of 50p starting on the backs of both heels, but no fluid build up yet and it looks clean. Good. Tape and strap. Make sure to get a good seal. On with the shoes and socks taking care to lace firmly – I suspect that was the problem: sloppy, Andy, very sloppy – repack the sack, stand and test. It’s as fast as I can make it, but Competitive Running Bloke escapes and whispers that many minutes and lots of people have gone past. I push him back down: Today is not your day… Now, where were we?

Whernside is the first chance to get a look at the leaders as there’s an out and back detour to the summit. Steve Birkinshaw thunders past looking like he’s doing 6 miles not 60 followed by Mr Fellsman himself 11-time winner Mark Hartell and a bunch of other faces I recognise. I have a little smile to myself and chug on upwards as the wind does it’s best to blow us all off the ridge, but the view really is to die for.

It takes me to Dent (about one third distance) to catch up with Pete again who I’d run with as we’d come off Ingleborough. It’s windy on the tops, sure, but the sun is out periodically and lack of recent rain has given lovely underfoot conditions. I’m running easy, climbing strongly and being Polite Sociable Chappie at checkpoints. Dent village is the first big food stop. I refuel to strict nutritional guidelines all at the cutting edge of endurance sport: Sausage roll (warm) and cheese sandwich washed down with a mug of tea. (Well, this race is staged by Keighley Scouts and when in Rome…)

SE on the long climb out of Dent on the Craven Way talking ‘stuff’ with Pete as we head to the next top of Blea Moor. This is the first real route choice piece across open ground which is a key feature of the second half of the Hike route. Decisions are therefore a combination of your own navigation certainty, local knowledge, and the lines any other runner is taking in front of – or immediately behind you. Sure, it’s so much easier to follow…as long as you’re cool with ceding control, (and all the implications in that) and comfortable with doing the freeloading bit.

We nail it and head into the checkpoint at Stone House for another big feed and a moment of levity: ‘Secret kit check, lads!’ We’re pounced on by a group of scouts armed with clipboards and armfuls of enthusiasm. Secret kit check? ‘Yeah, everyone’s getting it!’ So, erm, it’s not much of a secret then, is it? ‘Guess you had to be there…

The big climb up Great Knoutberry is the final one before halfway and also a second chance to check people in front on the out and back to the summit. Competitive Running Bloke clocks the faces, notes the gaps and presents his report. I grunt and file it away under ‘Pending’.

Halfway and Pete and I are drinking tea in the big checkpoint tent on the road between Hawes to the north and Ingleton to the south. I know we’ve been on the go for over 6 hours but I’ve no idea how much more. Closer to 7? Well, I’m not wearing a watch and I’m really not that interested. Of much more interest are the faces and postures of runners in the tent, the refreshments on offer, and the realisation that I’m still feeling Mr Perky. ‘Must be his lucky day.

Pete and I have been ‘biggin’ each other up’ (as young and cool people say these days) periodically over the last section which has helped keep the momentum going. He is however, vaguely disgusted at my seeming ability to put away solid food at a rapid rate – he complains his digestive juices have gone walkabout and his mastication capacity seems somewhat diminished. Well, there’s always those lovely gels…

And so the fun begins. The second half of the race is full of difficult going over open ground where navigation, route choice, and an ability to move efficiently over the rough stuff will pretty much dictate whether you are Fun To Be With – or not. And while Pete and I make good time on the approach to Dodd Fell, we lose it all on the final climb to the top and the descent line. It’s all grass tussocks, heather, and dry peat bogs – and you either know where to find the sheep trogs and quad bike tracks, or you don’t. We fall into the latter category, though still arrive at Fleet Moss in time to clock the Usual Suspects either in or just leaving the checkpoint. So, not lost that much then…or you lot are hanging about abit here.

It is tempting. I have reckoned getting across Fleet Moss with sanity intact is the crux of the whole route, and while it is unseasonally dry, the whole area is a mass of intricate up down peat bog beds that just sap the will and the legs. The route choice is to either just go for it straight across on a bearing or to take a longer and more runnable route round the southern edge – though this second option only opens up if you know it’s there in the first place. Once again, route knowledge is a huge advantage, and care with your nav absolutely essential.

I seriously consider getting straight through the checkpoint in order to hook up with one of the runners ahead of us who is just leaving and I know he knows the route. And while I’ve also done my homework, I’m looking for some additional security on the section that has concerned me most. It also means I jump a bunch of places and make a chunk of time, because I’m also clocking that many of these guys are starting to hang around longer at checkpoints. And are sitting down. Yep, Competitive Running Bloke makes a massive full frontal appearance and I am hugely, hugely tempted…but only briefly. Today is not that day. Time to change channels. Relax, feed, chat, feel good about progress and register a familiar face slumped in a corner. Charlie, bless him, looks on his chinstrap and as about as enthusiastic about this next bit as, well… Time for a pick-up, then.

We go south with Charlie tagging and a handful of runners strung out in front of us which we periodically catch sight of as the ground opens up. It’s compass-contour stuff over stop-start terrain and a relief to finally catch sight of the summit trig on the high point of Middle Tongue.

Two smiling faces emerge from the checkpoint tent on the wind-blasted summit in the middle of nowhere – the things some people do for fun – and then we’re off on the final leg-sapping tricky section. Charlie has rallied big-style as we all stumble-jog-walk towards to enticingly-named Hell Gap. A final piece of easy running on a good track brings us to Cray at the foot of the penultimate climb up Buckden Pike.

It’s now pretty much south to the finish and in my mind we’re on the last section. I’m still Mr Chipper, Pete’s chugging along happily, and Charlie is a completely different bloke from the one who scraped himself off the floor at Fleet Moss. We put Buckden Pike behind us and not long after find ourselves being grouped for safety at the checkpoint at the foot of the final climb up Great Whernside. We’re now a group of seven and will run together as darkness falls sometime after 9pm.

And that’s pretty much it. There’s no drama, the head-torches come out for about the final hour, and sometime around 10.30pm I find myself ambling down the final road descent into Grassington and the finish feeling like I’ve just been round the block. I’ve slowed so I can enjoy the quiet on my own, watch the stars come out, and wonder at a day that has allowed me to move beyond all my fears and worries. So it’s just running, is it? Yeah, right.

By Andy Mouncey, May 2010

Ruth’s account

It seemed like a good idea at the time, when Jill suggested it, sitting round the table in the New Inn one Monday evening in November. A bit of cycling, a bit of running, a bit of canoeing with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. Sharon quickly signed up and as I had recently bought a new bike, they persuaded me to give it a go. The canoeing sounded fun! My track record on a bike had not been good. A recent trip to Gisburn forest with the bike had left me black and blue. One fall resulted with me ending up in the river, beneath my bike after trying to negotiate the slippery duck boards of doom!

“The biking won’t be too technical, just fire tracks, nothing major” I’m sure I remember those words.

“Hmmm, well hopefully I’ll be a bit fitter by then…OK…I’ll do it…for a laugh…no pressure”.

We arrived at the Grizedale visitor centre on a calm but misty day and after hiring me a helmet and a quick repair to Jill’s brakes, we were given our team number and informed of the sequence of events – run, cycle, run, canoe, run. We were then directed to our allocated spot in the transition area. After attempting to stand our bikes upright in the transition fence, we decided to pile them up on top of each other.

Competitors were to start in 3 waves, each 2 minutes apart. We were to start in the first wave – the competitive wave, a minor detail that Jill and Sharon had conspired to keep from me.

So we were off on a 2 mile run and then back in to the transition and onto the bikes – the part I had been dreading! Straight off up the hill and I was in excruciating pain with cramp-like pains in my lower back and legs. Jill and Sharon were flying up the hill and I was thinking ‘I can’t do this – how can I tell them?’ Anyway, unbeknown to the other two, I decided to get off the bike and walk and stretch a bit and amazingly, I started to feel a bit better. The next 90 minutes are a bit of a hazy blur as all I remember is clinging onto the bike handles, grimacing and gritting my teeth, trying desperately to follow Sharon and Jill’s line down the rough tracks and over the boulders – they made it look so easy! I was grateful for the slower riders in front of them, holding them back on the single track sections! I remember thinking that the bike section must soon be over and was gutted when a spectator said that we were only halfway. Finally the transition area came into view but not before we had to negotiate a winding section of duck boards – needless to say, I got off and ran across.

The transition was frantic with Sharon and Jill changing shoes and me trying to stuff mars bars down all our necks. The girls who had just arrived in the next bay were told that they were 3rd ladies at that point, meaning that we could be in 4th position. The pressure was on for the run section! We set off up the hill with legs like lead, carrying far too much gear. Sharon was conscientiously keeping an eye on the returning runners (to check our position) as they were on their way back to the finish. There were not many women amongst them and those that were, were in mixed teams. We had a good descent to Lake Coniston, put on life jackets and jumped into the (very unstable) kayak. Sharon had an accidental dip in the lake at this point. A quick 10 minute circuit in the kayak and a top-up with energy gels brought us back to the shore where, not wanting to be outdone by Sharon, I managed to fall in up to my neck! No time to dwell on it – we had 3 ladies teams to catch. Now, feeling heavier than ever with a waterlogged backpack we made our way back up the hill for the final run section. We managed to creep past two teams. Towards the end, I think Jill’s gel must have kicked in and she was going like a rocket. I was starting to tire and I was so relieved when Sharon shouted that she could see the finish banner! We hurled ourselves down that final hill like our lives depended on it, to the finish and the final three obstacles – The planks, the cargo net and the wall.

It was finally over! A fantastic time and one I will not forget.

Jill’s account

Having entered some of the Trailquest and Open 5 events at the end of 2009, we noticed some adventure races and thought they looked fun so got entered which was lucky as the places went very quickly and a waiting list was set up. Over 975 people comprising 325 teams of 3 were also up for what turned out to be probably the best event I have ever done. Sharon and I used some of our gentle persuasion techniques and we soon had Ruth as 3rd team member on board (anxious as we were as to what we had actually signed up for!!)

A murky day with the start from the visitor centre at Grizedale into a short 2 mile run going off on the first wave. Back to transition and onto the mountain bikes for 14m on and off the North Face route which was busy in places. The last section was frustrating as we were trying to get past another ladies team so when one of their inner tubes popped out we were rather pleased to get past as they had been holding us up.

Back to transition and we heard from some supporters that we were 4th ladies team in. So it was off running 3.5m over to Coniston for the 1m kayak section. Which was not as advertised in fancy new inflatable canoes but sea kayaks that were rather basic and we shared the paddling. Sharon felt the need for a quick dip on entry to the lake and Ruth on the way out I only managed waist height which was choppy enough. Ruth was busy dishing out gels for us all (unfortunately hers was applied to her thigh due to the white horses on Coniston. We soon warmed up and dried out again as the climb back over to Grizedale was quite steep and thanks to Sharon who was still on fire I was able to cling onto her camel back especially at the mention that we may have a chance of getting on the podium. Being dragged up the hill we passed another ladies team and when the gel kicked in we nailed another on the decent. I was in front at this point (the first time in 3 hrs I must say!) Sharon was captain in the middle again making sure that Ruth had got a sniff of the finish line and as usual the queen of descents meant a fast return to the final 3 disciplines. 1st the planks that we all balanced on and did a short circuit to catch the first ladies team up upon the sprint to the cargo net. Ruth and I were help up until we dumped our camel backs. Next the 6ft slippery wall so we shoved Sharon up and she then pulled me up, head first down the other side but a soft landing in the mud was fine. I nipped back round to shove Ruth over and we were done.

I am sure after all this that you can appreciate why I looked as good as I did at the finish line?! We all received great T shirts and goody bags but no prize for 2nd ladies team back which was very disappointing (and I told the organizers’ so as it was a dear event to enter @ £120 per team) Our time was 3.08.55 and the first ladies just pipped us with a time of 3.06.32.

I can whole heartedly recommend this type of race, great for team building amongst other things.

Sharon’s account

No pressure, fun day out we kept telling each other as we got through a few pints of Guinness and the odd bottle of wine in Hawkshead the night before the Helly Hansen Challenge.

As the 1st wave of 120 teams set of like shopaholics at a Harrods sale, we were engulfed by a sea of mainly big strapping men, it was at this point that I realised this was a serious race and we were going to win, I just decided to keep it to myself.

The short but steep run was soon over and next, Ruth’s favourite the mountain bike, myself and Jill were in our element the more single track the better, the look of sheer enjoyment on Ruth’s face half way round the course just proved we had done the right thing by entering. The going got a bit slow and frustrating at times as it was impossible to get round other people, but not once did I wish that the person in front of me would fall of or get a puncture (honest) I could feel Jill’s presence right behind me as if we were on a tandem, chomping at the bit, Ruth however was praying she would be the one with the puncture before we came across any more duck boards. The shouts of others, “Attack it Chris” from one big strapping bloke to his rather puny team mate as we hit yet another steep uphill, I could only conclude that he had an army background, never mind attacking it just peddle up it, poor Chris had a rucksack the size of a house on his back, I would have loved to find out what the hell was in it. The ride was over and we were back at transition, as we stripped and crammed mars bars into our mouths I heard friends of another ladies team telling them they were 5th in, and as we had just come in before them, even in my adrenaline hyped state I new we must be 4th at that time, so leaving our small transition spot like a teenagers bedroom on a very bad day of we shot as if our life’s depended on it.

Eating a mars bar whilst running up a hill is a skill I’ve learnt over the past 2 years, Ruth is by far the most talented in that field. The race had just become more exciting, I kept an eye out on our way, running over yet another steep hill to the lake for other ladies teams, but there were none too far ahead of us that we could not scalp. The canoeing turned into a waist high paddle for myself before we even launched our boat, I spent the whole time on the lake rowing like a mad woman scared stiff we were going for a swim, knowing how cold the water was, LEFT < RIGHT< LEFT< RIGHT I was screaming , and there we were never having been in a canoe together before we did it and with some style until we rammed into some empty boats at the finish, and Ruth went in up to her neck, the whole scene was like a carry on film, hilarious. Weighed down by the lake water we started running back over the hill, Jill by this time was just starting to flag knowing just what to say to motivate my team mate I informed her if we pasted the ladies team ahead we could come 3rd , if you know Jill you could see the cogs working, place on the podium! is all it takes, well we got up that hill kicking and screaming past two ladies teams, 2nd place was in our reach. Ruth was on fire at this time and had reached the track at the top of the hill, then it all changed, Jill set of like a demented cat and Ruth was on her last legs, yet again I have learnt what motivates my friends, “RUTH I CAN SEE THE END” and that was all it took, like a horse to a stable, with shouts of I’m coming through and I’m on a mission, I felt sorry for all the other competitors in our way. A steep down hill and there was the end, if only, just a bit more effort, the assault course how could I forget. The crowds the noise it was fantastic I could not believe I was still smiling, we were neck and neck with the 1st ladies after the planks, Jill screaming down my ear to stride out, yeah Jill I’m 5 foot nothing, under the cargo net I flew, I was in luck, there was a rather bigger person in front so I could follow in his wake, Ruth and Jill were not so lucky but we emerged covered in mud only the wall to go, legs and arms everywhere, we were over eventually and over the finishing line just beaten into second place. The end photo said it all, a great day a great effort a fantastic team, roll on next year.

By Ruth Maxwell, Jill Eccleston and Sharon McDonald

La Petite Trotte à Léon part of the The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont- Blanc®

La Petite Trotte à Léon 25th-30th August 2009

La Petite Trotte à Léon is now in its second year although this year the course changed by over 80% from the previous year, with much of the course at higher altitude and along more technical paths. Mick Kenyon, Paul Vousden and Matt Hicks signed up to tackle this challenge.

  • Non-competitive event for teams of 3 people, of whom at least 2 UTMB finishers
  • Team of three inseparable from the start to the finish of the event.
  • Course of about 245 km for about 21,000 meters of positive altitude change.
  • Course following mapped paths, featured on a map made available to each but not signposted.
  • 100% Mountain and Nature course (less than 5km of tarmacked roads).
  • Start at 10pm on Tuesday 25th of August.
  • To be completed by Sunday 30th August at 4.30pm.
  • Event in complete autonomy with refreshments and rest the different refuges passed through.

    We arrived on Monday evening to temperatures in the 30’s. The registration wasn’t until Tuesday so we had a little time to explore Chamonix and have a good feed. At the chalet Whymper where we were stopping was another British team taking on the challenge Team Martlet Kayak club, in total there was 3 British Teams, the all female Midget Gems making up the 3rd Team. It was a broken night’s sleep with the nerves jangling and a massive Thunderstorm echoing down the valley adding to the apprehensiveness.

    Tuesday came and it was warm and humid which supported the predicted Thunderstorms for the first night of the race. At 4pm we went and registered and dropped off our 2nd bags (which we would collect at Morgex), there were no kit checks; the organizers said they trusted us and we would be foolish to skimp on any of the mandatory kit. We were given a GPS tracker and 5 sets of batteries adding to the weight of the usual mandatory kit including sleeping bag liners, fleeces, jackets etc. and food required to get us round from refuge to refuge. We had already realized that we were not to be passing through many villages or towns in this year’s event so needed to make

sure we had enough food. Following the kit check was a briefing; this was conducted in French with a very much briefer English translation! At 7pm a meal was provided by the organizers, we made our way to the canteen briefly getting lost, hoping this wasn’t a sign of things to come. The meal was a spag boll; this was to become a theme of the race! A few bottles of water were provided but these were all used up by the time we got to our turn, this left either beer or wine, with only 3 hours to the race we declined. We went back to the chalet for last minute faffing with bags and time to get changed into the running kit and visit the loo as many times as possible. The rain outside was getting heavier and we debated heavier waterproofs but decided to stick with our lightweight Haglofs Oz pullover jackets.

We headed to the start line at 9.30pm, the rain had subsided and it was to be a brief dry start to the race. By 10pm a large crowd had built up around the square and was lining the streets, it was certainly quite humbling that all these people had turned up to wish us “bon voyage”, something you just don’t get in Britain. The motivational theme music of the UTMB blasted out as we set off, aptly named Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis).

At 10pm prompt we set off on our journey. The first 10km was a nice warm up, pretty flat and on good tracks following the UTMB route but just before the first of the big climbs the rain started coming down and thunder and lightning started filling the skies, not a comforting thought when you are about to climb alongside a ski lift up to nearly 2000 meters. Matt “Stato” Hicks was counting between the flash and thunder and informing us that the storm had started some 20 miles away but was now less than 5 miles away. The rain was relentless for most of the night but fortunately reasonably warm.

We briefly left the UTMB route after reaching La Charme dropping into Saint Gervais before again rejoining it at Le Champel. We followed the UTMB route until shortly after La Balme refuge (which was closed in te middle of the night). We then split from the UTMB route for our first taste of what was to come heading off up a very rough steep climb with lots of loose rocks, at this point quite a few team were still grouped together and those above periodically set off small rock falls keeping us awake and alert as first light started to be seen. It was a relief to reach the Col d Enclave (2667m). At least the rain had passed by this point and the morning was bright and spirits lifted. We headed to Refuge Robert Blanc (2760m) along a rocky path down the mountain before it climbed steeply up and over a boulder field. Once at the refuge we took time for our first meal and brief rest, we had

covered 41km and a fair bit of climbing over some difficult terrain (this was nothing compared to what was about to come) The cans of coke soup and bread were welcome. After a short hour we set off again along the boulder fields and paths crossing the melting Glacier streams, we were to have our first taste of the many more tricky paths where chains were bolted to the rocks to help prevent falls (and presumably you damaging the rocks as you fall on them from great height). As we descended to one on the river crossing points a French team behind us dislodged a boulder. He shouted a warning in French (it might actually of been “take that”) but whatever it was we heard it just in time for Paul “The Joker” Vousden (explanation to come) to look up and duck below a crashing boulder that would have finished the race early and more to the point might have broken the GPS we had borrowed. We carried on to cross the UTMB route at the Italian Border at the Col de la Seigne. From here we made our way over to Petit St Bernard crossing more boulder field’s moonscapes and steep climbs. Once we reached the refuge we made the decision that we should re- fuel and rest, we had been on the move for 18 hours and awake for 30+ hours, we ate our Spag Boll and took an hour’s kip in the marquee tent provided, it was cold and noisy. We got up and made the most of the couple of hour’s daylight remaining. Along with nightfall the rainfall returned. We came across the ….Kayak clubs support crew bivying out at Col Louie Blanche with a bottle of wine, salami and cheese. Later that night there idyllic bivvy point turned into a river and they had to make a hasty retreat to dryer land. We descending a difficult boulder field with an indistinct path before improving. A couple of teams had missed a river crossing point and were too low down the valley, they spotted our head torches and we could imagine the relief they felt to get an indication of the true track. We continued through the darkness and made a decision to pre-book the refuge Deffeys (2494m), the race organizers had provided the refuge numbers to book ahead (we lost this piece of paper after this point!). We finally arrived there at about midnight and grabbed some more Spag Boll before retiring for a couple of hour’s kip. The dorm was a small one where a lady with her 2 children were sleeping, it must have been a shock for her to have 3 smelly guys turn up snore for an hour and then get up to their alarm clocks. A quick breakfast and off again into the beautiful early morning. After leaving the lodge we climbed another 400m to Haut Pass (2869m) again up steep and rocky path. Once reaching the top we descended a very long way into the town of Morgex (884m). As we approached Morgex we could hear the speakers announcing our arrival only to find it wasn’t for us but for the Giro Italia cycle race…. (not famous just yet). In the sports hall awaited our 2nd bags and we took the opportunity to grab a quick

shower and some food before one of the longest climbs of the route. We left the sports hall in the midday heat and it was uncomfortably hot. We each carried 1 litre of water and in the heat and with the severity of the climb this soon ran out, we were relieved to find a water trough half way up the ascent where we replenished our supplies but this water was not to last long. We carried on climbing with no shade and the water ran out well before the summit but we dug deep and carried on with the promise of water near the the col of Tete Licony (2914m) which seemed to be guarded by the huge avalanche prevention nets strung across the mountain top. Paul was suffering with chapped lips and took to the sudocreme, he smeared it across his lips and with his blue sunglasses on looked like “the joker” out of batman. This sight was to be seen many times before the end of the race and even a call was put into the finish line to make sure a supply of lipsolve was available. We weaved between the avalanche nets and finally reached the water supply which looked not much better than a stagnant pond, but we were desperate and so filled our bottles and added some water purification tablets and nuun to hide the taste. It still was not very pleasant but needs must. We continued on a tricky descent, I had de-hydrated and soon finished my pond water on the long and tricky descent where we lost 1000m in height. I was getting desperate for water and was so relieved to hear the sound of a stream. This turned out to be water many thousand of years old in the form of Glacier melt however I filled the bottles and drank without ill effect. We then regained some of the height lost before descending at midnight to the refuge we voted as the best refuge by a long way. We reached the five star refuge Bonatti (half way point on the route) where good quality soup and Spag Boll was consumed. We retired to the dorm for what we hoped would be 4 hours sleep, this turned out to be a lot less as more teams arrived and alarm clocks signaled to other teams it was time to leave. We got up and had our first healthy breakfast of fruit and juice which was so needed. Refreshed and refueled we got on our way in the darkness of the early morning along part of the UTMB route, the sun rose and we were treated to fantastic views of Mont Blanc massif in an orange glow, it was quite a sight and lifted our spirits. We continued on the UTMB route and started the climb of the Col Ferret before veering off to go over the Italian/ Swiss border at col du Ban Darray(2695m). Much to our amusement someone had done a big curly pooh on the knifedge ridge…don’t ask why we found it amusing or why the person had dropped it there!

We were joined by a French team for the descent down a lovely Swiss valley, every so often the path was blocked by an electric fence, one of the French team was vertically challenged and rather than stepping

over the wire lifted the stake out the ground. We crossed one of the fences and heard a commotion behind us, the cows had followed the French team over the electric fence and a stampede of friendly Swiss cows making there dash for freedom was on it way. To make things worse the farmer was observing this from some distance away, he started screaming instructions which we soon managed to work out he wanted us to heard the cows back up the valley…little to say we did our best waving our poles in the air and mooing! Onwards we continued and the next section was cruel loop that climbed up over a col down a valley and back over another col a couple of miles away from where we had started the loop. A warning was posted in the route book not to descend in bad weather; it was very steep and slippy with big vertical drops at the side of the path and continued to descend for 1000m, the weather was luckily good, the organizers were right, I would not like to have descended that in the rain or worse. We reached the village at the bottom and took advantage of little restaurant where they served us Spag Boll! After the brief rest we joined the UTMB route were the front end of the CCC race were passing. We even managed to see a friend who briefly wished us luck and gave us encouragement (well done Alex Pillkington on finishing about 90th…great run). We were heading towards Champex which was only a few miles down the valley but not the way our route was takuing us, instead we had another big climb up to Orny (2691m) and descent on the other side before we could rest. The climb up Orny was steep and again we were having water issues, descending were a group of climbers and we managed to beg some water from them (we owe them at least a beer or 2 if anyone knows who they are) Darkness fell as we reached the peak and although spectacular views were seen briefly the cloud came in. We were descending and at times used the chains attached to the rock face not knowing what was at the side. The next few Kms were tricky with visibility less than 3m, the headtorches light bounced back at us and we were very reliant on the accuracy of the GPS, luckily this was spot on. We were all feeling tired and thought we were getting sleepmonsters when the street lights below were seen as a giant glowing orange star….it turned out it was a giant glowing orange star and not street lights, it was standing above the ski lodge which on a clear night would be visible from Champex. We descended the black ski run twisting and turning all the way into Champex occasionally losing our footing and on number of occasions falling over. At Champex we re-joined the slower end of the CCC runners before turning off the route for the refuge for the night Auberge du Bon Abri, arriving in the early hours. Again we had a Spag Boll and 2 or 3 hours sleep before setting off in the early morning darkness. We had made it through this cut off with 15 hours or so to

spare. The next cut off was at Vallorcine at 16:00. This was only 25km away but with 2 major climbs and on the terrain we had been crossing could be quite tight. We started the day with a 1200m climb but made good steady progress, the tracks seemed to be improving and the descent on the other side was a lot better than we had come to expect. As we approached the bottom of the climb we had a call to say we were not moving on the GPS system, I had inadvertently dislodged the USB cable. Friends and family watching were getting twitchy and we received a few calls asking if we were okay? With the GPS back working we made good progress and soon climbed to Col de Balme (2204m) before another descent into Vallercine. As we descended the first of the UTMB runners passed us making it look so effortless, first there was last years winner followed by the Japanese runner. We could hear the cheers and support in Vallorcine and before long we were welcomed and encouraged by the gathered crowds. We had made the cut off with an hour to spare. We discussed why the cut off was so early as we only had 30km to go and 24 hours to complete, surely anyone could do that? Matt “Stato” then pointed out that in tiredness there had been a conversion failure between miles and Kms….we had 50km to go and the highest mountain of the race to navigate.

We set off after a rest and refuel with 30 mins spare before the cut off. Mid afternoon and we wanted to make the most of the daylight, the climb was steady but on good tracks and so we made good time planning what we should do to finish the course as we climbed. The plan was to reach Cabane du Vieux Emosson in good time get a bite to eat and then tackle the start of the big climb in darkness hopefully timing the tricky via ferrata section to be done at sun rise. We made the progress we needed and reached Emosson just as it got dark. We ate but the only place to sleep was a base tent erected round the back of the cabin. We climbed into the tent, we were the only ones there so took 2 blankets each. Just as we were dropping off to sleep another team joined us and then another, we had to relinquish the blankets. We agreed we were not going to sleep so it would be better to push on. The climb up Cheval Blanc was steep and rocky, we could see headtorches down below at Emmoson but know one was following us out into the darkness to tackle the mountains at night, we knew this was a tough section and this was to be made even worse by the lack of sleep. We made the top of Cheval Blanc (2816m) where the track disappeared only marked by the odd cairn, these too eventually disappeared. We crossed scree which was collapsing under us and for a while doubted whether we were on track but we eventually reached the foot of Le Buet. The last 200m of climbing was on via ferrata

cables, but we had no harnesses to protect us. Thank goodness for darkness which hid the steep drops into oblivion? We finally crossed the summit of Buet (3082m). The long descent ahead was tougher than the climb, without the adrenaline to keep us awake the sleepmonsters attacked. I tried to shut one eye at a time but this didn’t work as the other eye wanted to join in. I was getting desperate for sleep (I think we all were, there was no chat just the click of the poles on the ground) I was about to drop on the track. We finally turned a corner just as the sun rose to see refuge col d Anterne. It was the most welcome sight and almost like a mirage. Despite the daylight there was no skipping through here. Too tired to eat we set the alarm clock for in 1 hour’s time, despite being so tired I awoke before the alarm and felt totally refreshed; it’s amazing what your body can do if it has to. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and set off. We only had 2 descents and 1 climb left…we knew we had done it!

We broke out into a run on the 400m descent and climbed the 700m with ease reaching the col du Brevent (2366m). The final descent into Chamonix was down twisty but good tracks, as we descended past well wishers and paragliders the celebrations in Chamonix were getting louder and the familiar anthem of the UTMB could be heard. Once we hit the tarmac everyone was congratulating us on an epic adventure and crowds seemed to have great respect, we had won the tour de france or it seemed that way. We crossed the finish line (1035m) after 111hours, we had climbed 21,000 meters and descended 21,000 meters and covered 245km in true mountain wilderness….an epic never to be forgotten. 17 teams out of the 55 starters completed, we crossed the finish line in 9th place (not that it’s a race!!!)

Report by Mick Kenyon Petit Trotte Finisher 2009

Jess’ account

Well who could ever think that 10 minutes of exercises could be so exhausting? It took me about three days to recover from my Semer Water swim experience but weirdly, as with most races, it is one I’d like to repeat. Having never swum in open water or in a wetsuit before (I didn’t even own a swimming cap!) I thought I’d better have a practice, so on a rather windy day, with Pete in the kayak alongside me, I entered the murky waters. Naively I had thought ‘how hard can this be?’. I soon found out…ridiculously hard with either waves pushing me back, swallowing half the lake or swimming round and round in circles. After half an hour of splashing around and getting nowhere, and actually feeling quite freaked out about what could be underneath me, we called it a day, safe in the knowledge that conditions wouldn’t be as bad on race day…it would be like a millpond.

On race day the swim to bike transition was under water, there were white horses on the lake, it felt more like December than August and I had my swimming cap on the wrong way. Still, I was mildly put out that the swim had to be reduced to 400m due to the rise in the water and subsequent decrease in temp. Since my practice attempt I’d learnt to breathe on both sides and look up every so often so it would have been interesting to see if I could have made it to 800m…maybe next year. In the end it was 10mins of thrashing through the waves on the way out and almost surfing back in. I was completely disoriented when I got out of the water, and couldn’t feel my legs. Immensely glad that my part was over and I wasn’t handing over to Jill in last place, I passed on the chip and breathed a sigh of relief.

Jill’s account

Off and within 100m of flat up a 500m section of 1 in 4 so I wasn’t cold for much longer. Struggling not to pull wheelies and not being able to zig zag to reduce the gradient as cars were parked on this already narrow section of road, I was already wondering what I had let myself in for with only two front cogs on my black beauty (this is what comes from taking your big brother with you when you have your bike built!) As my cycling shoes are terrible to walk in on the flat I knew if a got off and tried to push I would end up kissing the tarmac that had now become a river in most places.

I was passed before the top of this hill by a BRATS tri club lady (who was doing complete half cheese all herself-respect) who I passed several minutes later on the downhill towards Bainbridge. We continued this game all the way back to the transition for the run where I was only a minute or so ahead. As it was still blowing a gale and raining hard the course organizers had placed several red arrows on sections of road that were now even more hairy than normal. On the descent just before Muker a guy came off just in front of me and I managed to stop myself running into him by going into the grass verge to stop. I noticed several cyclists on mountain bikes (with easier gears) with slick tyres on so think if I am not any fitter next year this would be the way forward or a new road bike with more gears!

All

Kirsten had a great 6 mile run and we managed a first in the team event (there were only 3 teams but we were the only all female bunch!) all getting a great SIS hamper and voucher for the Kudo bikes shop. Quite fancying doing the full cheese bike section next year (42 miles) but need to convince Jess to do the 1800m Semer water swim!! Maybe if conditions are as bad again she could hope for it to be reduced again! Kirsten are you up for the 12 mile run? Or have heard a vicious rumour that you may be doing the whole thing yourself! Murf says we should all bite the bullet and do it individually but I think our combo is a very strong one and we could win the full cheese team in 2009.

By Jess Cunliffe, Jill Eccleston and Kirsten (still) Hardiman

ete Smith

Gary & I had bit of an epic, we finished OK and made it over to Seatoller in spite of Fell Rescue & Police trying to turn everyone back against what the organisers were saying. Gary & I got to a bar in the Outdoor centre and then slept , correction laid down upstairs in a corridor.

My car was in one of the worst places and had to be left. It got flooded past the seats lost approx. £500 worth electronic type gear. The AA won’t pick it up unless there is someone there to sign for it. The river crossings near the finish were real scary, we went over as a group of 6 and nearly got swept away, it was so close. The 2-young girls in the group, were off their feet and the other 2-guys were too upright. Gary & I propped them up down stream and just managed to edge over. The girls were nearly crying and later elated at having made it. The finish went to rat shit, no dibbing and only a half heart attempt to collect race numbers, not that would be putting that info into the public domain.

Anyway, what an event that will be remembered for a few years to come. Lets pray no one croaked. I just hope this does not end up dumbing down events to come.

Gary’s version

We finished day one at the farm around 3.30 then got told like others to walk back, we start only to see all the others walking back having been told by the MR/Police to do so, Peter in his wisdom suggested we head up the hill out the way then carry on over Honistor pass.

The walk back over was a real battle we got back to the car only to find it flooded up to the windows, we then ended up in a private hostel with around 60 others including Kirsten, I guess we were very lucky, the hostel had a bar and served Guiness, and provided soup/tea plus a warm (hard) floor to sleep on, Luxury!!

We had to abandon the car and hitch a ride to Penrith to collect mine on the Sunday, could not believe how quick the water went down in the morning, I understand from Pete his new BMW is possible a right off!

Martin Holroyd

Had a great adventure, Great end to Broad crag at 45 degrees, blown off feet on haystacks, 4 mile detour to cross Black Beck, then slept like a flock of sheep in the barn. Great time, shame it was cancelled. Is the OMM 08 sticker a badge of honour? And what will it bring on ebay?

Kirsten Hardiman

What a one to pick for my first mountain marathon. I’ve got to say it was enjoyable and quite an experience. The walk over Honister pass to try and get back to the cars on Saturday evening was way worse than any weather on the fells, I have a nice egg on the back of my head where the wind picked me off my feet and threw me against a wall. Hannah and I had a very cosy night at Glaramara Activity Centre, and were very fortunate that the car wasn’t in the flood line, started and got off the field. I’ve suggested we tackle our next MM in the summer months. Great fun.

Ed Robinson

We were the last out on the long score, had a good nights sleep on Friday in the camper and were away at 9.48.

Up onto Glaramara and not too bad, although I missed the navigational expertise that Oz gave me last year as we missed a checkpoint!

 Down to Esk Hause and things really started to deteriorate, winds were howling, a lady walker nearby blew, she was Ok though. Then down to Styhead and then huddling behind the rescue box it was decision time, pack in or continue. We decided to carry on, god knows why and started heading down to Wasdale, after 5 minutes I had taken the executive decision to turn around and then back behind the rescue box we decided to go for a checkpoint up towards Base Brown.

Running down the valley, I saw the same lady walker go flying, literally! Went to her and she was OK again, so we battled on and up Base Brown. At this point, the thoughts of further points was a long way away, my hands had given up operating, I couldn’t open food bags of operate my compass so we opted to get back towards the camp, up towards the top of Green Gable and then pick up the Borrowdale Route to Brandreth. Nearly lost my partner here as he was taken by the wind 3 times!

Picked up another 20 points between Brandreth and Grey Knotts then thought thats it, and followed Dubbs Beck( torrent) to the quarry workings in the valley and then down the path (river) to overnight camp.

So, we managed to complete day 1 which was an achievement, just what to do next.

Decided to try and get back to Seathwaite and battled with the winds and rain up Honister to within 5 minutes of the top, only to get told to go back by mountain rescue.

Back down to camp, cold and wet by now and were revived with a cup a soup prepared by Mandy Goth and Sue Roberts. Then heard we had to stay the night and heard Phil Hodgson say that he was off to put his tent up as the barn would not be a pleasant place to spend the night and I thought if its good enough for him, its good enough for me!

So we were in our tent from 5.30pm, along with about 20 other tents, god only knows how it survived the onslaught that followed, for about 4 hours we were sat upright keeping hold of what we could, pushing against the wind as the tent buckled under the strain. Kept getting out to check the pegs were secure as they were in what could only be described as blamange by now. When I went out at about 10.30pm, I was surprised to see the remnants of Phil’s tent nearby so i went and nicked the pegs and double pegged mine to try to secure it.

By 11.30 the winds were abating, so out came the whisky as I was sure by now we would not have to pack up our gear and run for the barn, the next thing I remember is waking up about 6.00am.

Phil’s tent was not the only one that gave up the ghost that night, there were bits of about half a dozen around the field. Mine survived, apart from a couple of severely bent poles which are replaceable. The only reason I bought that tent was that I spent a bad night in one last year with Oz on last years OMM and it held up brilliantly. If in doubt, buy a Vaude Ferret Ultralight!

What a day!

Sunday was a better day, just walked over Honister and back to Seathwaite, thought we would be there for a while stuck in mud but got the camper out of the field without any issues and home by 12.00pm.

Photos by Alex Pilkington