Running (Old County Tops) 10:04:41  36.4 mi (16:37 / mi) +3030m 13:12 / mi
shoes: Blue Mudclaw 265s
A drunken agreement in Keswick's Es Bar after a night of rum, Abba and dancing in the rain meant that myself and Vic, after almost a year of denial, travels and sporadic recceing, lined up to start the Old County Tops race, on a wet morning in the Langdale Valley.
Between us we had reccied almost all of the route (the first bit over to Grasmere just the previous Monday), so, despite various injuries and lack of substantial training over the previous few months, we thought that if anyone was mad and stupid enough to just tough it out, it might just be us. We made sure to set off at a conservative pace (set by me of course, since Vic has a habit of setting off like a stabbed rat), punctuated by frequent jacket-on, jacket-off stops as showers passed over. The steady pace and the safe line up the wall to the Helvellyn ridge saw us get to the summit in 100th place, picking up a few more on the descent where, if I say so myself, I got my compass bearing pretty much spot on to save us dropping into the stream gully like a lot of other teams. Down the slippy steps of death to Wythburn, where we got some squash and maltloaf, and made friends with an old bloke in a deckchair. Now beginneth the slog.
Over to the farm, across the fields (with some more jacket faffing), and the long trudge up the valley and through The Bog begins. Although doing a lot of walking, we are steadily overtaking teams here, which feels quite positive at this point. I notice that there is a hole in the side of my shoe, and decide not to mention it unless it becomes a problem. Vic spots some very fluffy ducklings, leading to great excitement. The overtaking trend continues on the contour below High Raise, where we do a bit of running and somehow manage to drop everyone with us, and over to Stake Pass and across to Angle Tarn, where I deck it on the path and have to have a few minutes of limping and swearing until the stinging in my shin calms down a bit. Reached Angle Tarn way ahead of the cut off which was very pleasing, as we had been quite concerned about the cut-offs (we know we are both pig headed enough to drag ourselves round something like this, it's just a question of whether we can do it fast enough!). According to the splits we had muscled our way up to 84th place by now!
The weather, which so far had been wet and windy but not too wild, started to deteriorate badly from here. We both stopped to procure gloves and some non-sweet food to prepare us for the slog over the wet rocks of the Scafell plateau, but as we progressed upwards towards Esk Hause there were a lot of teams coming back the other way to drop out at Angle Tarn, including Nina Walkingshaw and Tom Fellbaum. Above the hause, the wind really picked up, and we stopped to get Vic's overtrousers on as she was wearing shorts and starting to get cold. Then it was hoods up and pushing into the wind, with the single-minded aim of getting to the top then getting off the hills and into the valley as fast as possible to get out of the wind. The final climb to the Pike was tricky as there were a lot of walkers around struggling in the wet, but we skipped around them and eventually made it, and the kindly summit marshal gave us some flapjack crumbs :). I'm assuming this included drop outs, but we had somehow made up a bunch more places to be 71st at the summit!
Due to the clag and general horribleness of the weather, we took the decision not to risk the rough descent, which I had only reccied once and which had a rather large drop on one side, and pushed back against the tide of other runners and walkers coming up to take the path down from the col (still rough as arse, but with the bonus that we couldn't wander off a cliff). It was somewhere round here we got told off for being "too happy", to which we responded by bursting into an Abba medley. Making it down into the valley was a big relief, as it was a lot drier and a lot warmer, so we could do some running and get properly warm again. Vic took the lead here as she had actually reccied it, and we squidged happily down towards Cockley Beck, safe in the knowledge that we had plenty of time to get there before the cut off (making it there with about an hour to spare). Spirits were certainly high as we allowed ourselves to think "You know, we could actually do this!".
Cockley Beck was like a mirage in the desert, with cheese butties and cups of tea waiting for us, lots of lovely marshals offering to fill up water bottles, a happy spaniel and our friend from Wythburn who said hi to us again. We also bumped into Chris Swanapoel, who seemed quite fresh, unlike his partner who looked far less happy. The climb to Grey Friar's col was probably my lowest point, I had a bit of an energy dip, and my stomach was a bit busy trying to digest the sandwich and cake I'd had at Cockley Beck. Fortunately Vic doesn't seem to get tired and forged ahead, so I hummed "Does your mother know?" under my breath and concentrated on matching her steps. Once we were on the ridge it felt like we were on the home straight, and I was also buoyed by the knowledge that I would get nowhere near as cold as I did when we reccied it as there was no longer snow on the ground. Reaching the Old Man of Coniston resulted in my doing a little happy dance, and we started to think about tshirts again. A quick game of Fellrunner Hot or Not also happened around here.
Ridge run back towards the 3 Shires stone, with Vic dropping onto the race trod perfectly, and at the road we both took our jackets off for the first time in about 8 hours. Horrible road run down Wrynose, picky path across the back of Bleatarn and the thought of a sit down powered us through to the end.