Tuesday, 17 August 2010
As expected, for some days after the BG, walking wasn't easy! Getting up from my sleeping position on the ground the next day was comical...I could get onto all fours, but hadn't the strength to lever myself into a standing position!
That didn't last too long though, and the only physical legacies I appeared to have were a very sore arch on the left foot (I suspect it's "collapsed" a little) and toenails on both big toes that have turned black. The left foot in particular looked pretty horrible, with the nail having been driven into the skin causing inflammation and swelling across the whole foot, which meant a quick trip to A&E to check I hadn't broken a bone somewhere under there.
But all that's behind me now. The foot's still a little niggly, but not too bad. Lethargy still remains though. We've been out walking on the hills since, including a trip up a couple of small Wainwrights, a day on Ilkley Moor and dragging my son and his girlfriend up Snowdon :-) But running isn't really on the agenda.
Last weekend, I did feel about ready to start again. Running leg 1 with Andy would have been great, alternatively a Paddy recce would have been nice, but fate conspired against me, and I'm now struggling with a trapped nerve in my neck. Is this a BG legacy? Who knows. The osteo reckons it's nowt serious and won't take too long to be better, but running's a no-no for another week :-/
Mentally, the first couple of days were a massive high. The grin didn't leave my face. To be fair, it rarely has since. I am really pleased to have done the BG. But, of course, me being me, it's not good enough and it's not the "end" which I always said it might be.
For a start, you can't help looking back and wondering, wishing you'd done a better time. So daft really...I always said that IF I could do the BG, it would be somewhere between 23.30 and 24 hours. Instead, it was 23.20. But, on the day, I was more than capable of easily doing sub-23 and, if I'd known I was going to feel so good all day, I know I could have done nearer 22.30.
The positive side of not seeing it as the "end", though, is that almost immediately, I started to think "what's next?". The obvious thing to look at is the Paddy Buckley. North Wales is where I got my early experience on the mountains, my Dad taking me up Snowdon when I was 5 years old, and then up plenty more of the Welsh summits during my childhood. I much prefer Wales to the Lakes, it has a much "wilder" feel to it, and I'm really looking forward to reacquainting myself with the area.
Obviously, what I've really taken from the BG is the fact that I CAN do these long distances. My eating strategy worked well, my legs and body held up, mentally I got into the right frame of mind....this augers well for the future. And, I guess, the other thing I've taken from it is that I finally feel qualified to call myself a "fellrunner"!
In the short to medium term, several people told me that I'd hit a bit of a low at some point in the weeks after the big day. To be fair, it hasn't been too low, but I'm certainly feeling a bit irritable, a restlessness with life and impatient to move forward again.
But there is SO much to look forward to! 2 weeks on Tuesday, I'm getting married to the most wonderful lass on top of a Scottish mountain!! What could be better, or more fitting after all the support she's given me. Kirsten received a text from someone (who shall remain nameless) after the BG saying that this person thought I was so much stronger mentally these days, that it had been a major factor in my getting round, and that the person felt Kirsten should take a lot of credit for that. What a wonderful text to send, and so much truth in it.
And there's our future to plan and look forward to. We can do anything we want to together. That will inevitably mean us living up in Scotland in the near future. Definite plans aren't yet made, and other things may crop up which open up new and different possibilities, but we'll end up in Scotland sooner rather than later!
It's been a long year, but ultimately, it's been full of positives. It's been (quite literally) an up and down rollercoaster of a ride, but I wouldn't change a moment of it. Anything worth achieving has to be worked at, and there's nothing more satisfying than seeing your hard work pay off.
Come next Spring, I hope to be able to offer support to more people who want to have a go at the BG, and help them to make their dream become reality. The fells, the solitude, the effort, the camaradarie, the tradition, the generosity of people, the chance to be out on the fells for a whole day...these are what makes the BG unique and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Thursday, 12 August 2010
Thanks to Dave A and Emma for some great photos :-)
But I needn't have worried. Once I got back into a rhythm going up Dale Head, I was fine. The pace was good, the rain was starting to ease off and I could sense the end drawing near. Dale Head was done up on schedule, the trot along to Hindscarth was wonderful and done well under schedule.
From there, Morgan wanted to take the safe option in poor visibility and so we headed up the fence line on the main path. As we neared the top of the climb, it really hit home that this was the last ascent of the day and the legs found new strength. Soon we were on the top of number 42, Robinson and Dave A took a great photo of me, one that I will always treasure. It summed up the day perfectly, with me smiling through the rain and gloom!
The last tough bit is to get yourself down off Robinson. I've read so many horror stories of people who can hardly walk at this stage and have staggered down. I felt so lucky to be feeling so much better than that. Yes, the legs were tired now, but I still managed a trot. As we neared the rock steps, a headtorch appeared. It was Ian Roberts, who'd popped up to guide us on trods through the heather rather than down the rock! Fantastic! It is humbling and wonderful that people are prepared to do this kind of thing for you. Thanks so much Ian.
As we traversed below the rock steps, the clouds started to part and we got wonderful views down. Finally, after all these hours, the weather was brightening and it was a pleasure to see our surroundings again. We got to the "col" and Ian showed the route down. Soon enough we were heading along the track and approaching the tarmac.
As we trotted along the road, the legs started to complain for the first time...I don't like tarmac! But we kept a decent pace, although we appeared to have lost Morgan somewhere behind us. In no time at all, I could see the lights at Little Town and there's everyone waiting for us. Ian was suggesting he take me off-road for the last few miles, and with the tarmac burning my feet, this sounded like a great idea.
No need for a change of shoes then. Just time to pick up Kirsten to run in with me and we were off, walking up the initial steep hill. Then we were off across the fields, on an improving evening, the rain down to a slight drizzle. It was wonderful to have Kirsten running next to me. SO much of this success was down to her. And she was clearly enjoying it, rushing ahead to open gates for me and Ian.
At one point, we headed across a field...to where a herd of cows barred the way through to the next gate! Now I'm a wee bit nervous about running through cows..and Kirsten's terrified of them! But nowt was going to stop us now, and we both plucked up the courage, running right through the middle of them.
I was enjoying the off-road route...but unfortunately, as we got to the road, we took a wrong turn and missed the off-road continuation :-/ This added some extra distance on, and meant we had to head back uphill to take the road from here to Portinscale. After a long day, I was a wee bit grumpy about this...sorry Ian and Kirsten! It was the first time all day that my head had dropped.
Soon enough though, we headed into Portinscale and the lights of Keswick looked very close. Over the suspension bridge, across the fields and a few tears came into my eyes as the prospect of finishing neared.
Ian moved aside and asked Kirsten to see me home. It was perfect, side by side heading up through the streets of Keswick, Kirsten supporting me as she has done through every twist and turn of the last year.
The Moot Hall came into view, I saw everyone waiting for me and, from somwhere, I managed to spring up the street at a good pace, to touch the doors in 23.20 and complete a wonderful day out.
It was all a bit of a blur...lots of congratulations and hugs, some photos, I was buzzing. No way did I want to sit down, my legs were twitching, raring to go. Kirsten produced a bottle of champagne, which she had to open for me! Plastic cups of champagne all round, and mine went down a treat! I was aware that I was sporting a huge grin on my face, one that was unlikely to disappear for a long, long time. Kirsten disappeared, the reappeared with chips! Perfect! And another glass of champagne was downed very quickly to wash them down....at which point, the alcohol and the tiredness from the day suddenly hit home and I was unable to keep my eyes open!
Kirsten managed to bundle me into the car and get me back up to the campsite, undress me enough to remove the wet clothing, and get me into my sleeping bag. I slept for a while, but it was a restless sleep. My head was filled with excitement from the day, my legs had not got the message that their work was done and they were alert and twitching.
What a wonderful day, one of the best of my life. I enjoyed just about every minute. I felt and still feel privileged, humbled, grateful and so, so lucky to have had the fantastic support I received from my supporters on the fells. The best bunch of folk I know, people I'm really proud to call my friends. The BG really IS about having a special day out on the fells and enjoying the company of like-minded people. Thank you so much to each and every one of you....fancy doing it again next year, in Wales perhaps? :-)
The roadside support was top class as well. Huge thanks to my sister for taking on the long journey to Wasdale and setting up support there, and thanks to Gill for support at Threlkeld and Dunmail. And not forgetting all the wonderful support I received at those road stops from people who were also helping me on the fells. It is such a boost to come down off a leg and see friendly, familiar faces.
And, most importantly, a huge, HUGE thanks to Kirsten. I could not have come close to doing this without her. Such great support on the day, both physical and moral support. The food was laid out perfectly, my every need was met without fuss. And not just me, she also made sure my supporters were fed and watered properly, which is so important when they're doing more than one leg. I think I'm going to hire her out to future BGers!
But what has been even more important is the support she's given me through all the training...when my head's dropped she's been there to pick me up and believe in me, when life's got in the way she's done her very best to smooth away my troubles. Nothing has been too much trouble for her and she's dealt with everything without complaint and always with a smile. And through it all, she's had such total belief in me, and that has given me new-found confidence.
Originally, the plan had been for her to join me on leg 4 and 5, and I know how disappointed she was that a knee injury prevented her from doing so. But having her run with me from Newlands was perfect, sharing those really special moments as you head back towards Keswick and completion. It was fitting that it was just her and me trotting up the street towards the Moot Hall,with 68 miles and 28,000ft behind me - she was the strength behind every step I took.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
The legs were a bit stiff after a 15 minute stop, and we walked along the road, Yiannis and Morgan carrying on over another leg and Dave A joining us. Emma had a few choice words for me, and then I noticed her giving some kind of instructions to Dave...I found out later what they were!
The cloud was right down now, and it wouldn't be long before we entered it. The rain was incessant, and climbing through the bracken on the lower slopes ensured we were wet through quite quickly. This was the point at which the supporting I'd done through May and June really helped me. I'd watched Mark Jackson and Simon Daws struggle up this climb at, what felt like at the time, a really slow pace...and yet emerge onto the top of Yewbarrow pretty much on schedule.
And so, as I toiled up following Yiannis, I knew that despite feeling a wee bit tired and thinking I was going slowly, I was actually fine. And so it proved, Yewbarrow topped in 49 minutes. It was a bit chilly up there though, and the wind really caught us for the first time, driving the rain into our faces. We speculated that it would be behind us as we tackled the tops later on the leg....but it never proved to be!
From Yewbarrow, the climb back up to Red Pike is, I think, more the key to this leg. You think you've done the hard work getting up Yewbarrow but Red Pike is actually another 50 minutes away. Again, I felt sluggish, but hit the top of Red Pike in 49 minutes, no pausing on the edge of the drop in blustery conditions!
From then on, the leg was quite hard work, constant rain being driven into us by a fresh wind, little visibility and slippy rocks. But, with absolute belief that this was my day, nowt was going to throw me off course. Yiannis and Morgan were doing a magnificent job, striding out ahead to show the way. Dave A was following Emma's advice to the letter...always alongside me, offering food and drink, keeping a bit of chat going to brighten up the gloom. For someone who'd never been on a BG before, he sure learns fast...absolutely perfect support.
The climb out to Steeple was fun, with Yiannis stopping below the summit and saying "shout me when you get there". A chance for a moment to be alone, and take it all in...I was going to complete my BG!
Pillar was climbed quickly, although I slipped on rock at one point and landed, doubled up, with the rock just resting against my ribs. It took a couple of seconds lying there to get myself together, during which I heard alarm in Morgan's voice as he turned to see me prostrate amongst the rocks!
The descent to Black Sail pass was a bit slow because of the slippy rocks, the climb up Joss's Gully was interesting, as we used the grass on the left. Note to self: if you don't like heights, DON'T look down the drop just to your left! :-)
Soon enough we were down to Beck Head, with the rain relentless and all of us having gone quiet in the miserable conditions. The upside of this was that I couldn't see the imposing face of Gable rising ahead of me! So, I just had to get my head down and follow Yiannis and Morgan up an excellent line, Dave sticking right by me and keeping me going. It's a tough climb, and you feel like it goes on forever. But the reality is it's soon over.
Karl had said to me on Friday night "get to Gable by 8pm and you can be back in under 24 hours". As I touched the top, I looked at my watch...it wasn't even 7pm! I couldn't have imagined it going this well when I was talking to Karl on the campsite.
In the conditions, we decided to go down via the path...it wasn't an afternoon for trying to be clever. Again, Yiannis and Morgan took a great line which saw us down below Green Gable quickly enough, and from here the terrain changes back to grassy fells and you're able to run again. Which is what we did, trotting across to Brandreth then Grey Knotts, Yiannis navigating perfectly although visibility was really poor.
And soon enough, we were heading off Grey Knotts on the grassy trod down to Honister. The legs were tired, no doubt about it, but I still managed a run down. As soon as I saw the cars in the car park below, I got an extra spring in my step and it was wonderful to arrive to clapping and cheers and the surprised looks at a few...it wasn't even 8pm!
"Camp" had been set up under the roof, to shelter us from the rain. I got some food down, and had a moment with Kirsten, telling her that I was now feeling tired. She helped me to get changed...and I noticed my patience was now wearing a bit thin, my "favourite" fleecy running top was nowhere to be seen, and I was a wee bit of a spoilt child, saying THAT was the one I wanted! :-)
There seemed to be so much activity and so many smiling faces, I was enjoying myself a bit too much here, chatting to everyone, taking it all in, having a big bowl of stew to warm myself up. I seem to remember someone saying we needed to wait while Morgan (who, let's face it, had already done 2 tough legs and needed some looking after himself) changed into dry clothes. Somehow, I ended up staying at Honister for 21 minutes, which wasn't in the plan!! But I guess it was a sign of how well the day had gone. I'd had visions of not being able to stop here, of having to go straight through if I was to stand any chance. And now here I was, taking my time, enjoying myself!
A kiss from Kirsten, lots of cheers and Morgan, Dave and myself headed up Dale Head....the last leg!
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Leg 3 was the one that worried me most. Not just because it comes at a time when you’re starting to feel that first bit of tiredness and there’s a long way to go. And not just because you know you’re heading over the highest fells in England and the going gets rocky. But also because this was where it all went wrong last year. Seven hours this leg had taken! Seven hours! It sounds ridiculous now, and I’m not quite sure how it happened. But the doubt was still in my head…
Which is why I was determined to get together a team of supporters on this leg who would ensure that wouldn’t happen again – people I trusted and respected and would know exactly how to deal with the low points, how to keep me on schedule.
So I was thrilled when Karl agreed to navigate, and listened when he told me that Lords Rake was a much better option than dropping all the way down to Foxes Tarn gully. Add to that the fact that Yiannis had agreed to do legs 4 and 5 and I already had the best with me. Then Morgan said he wanted to do 3 legs with me…and I liked the idea of having the BG Sec with me all the way from Dunmail!
And, of course, there was Emma. I always wanted her on this leg. We’ve swapped plenty of e-mails during BG training, one day worrying that we couldn’t do this BG thing, the next feeling confident after a good training run. I was so thrilled when she completed in under 24 hours in May, and was also inspired by the huge resilience and mental strength she showed, having had an horrendous 2nd leg. I knew that she now knew what it took to get round and her recent experience would be invaluable. Plus she’s great company! And that’s what I wanted out on this leg.
If that wasn’t good enough, in the week leading up to the BG, we got a text from Darren saying he could make it for leg 3. I was so pleased by that. Having had chats with him in various places over the last couple of years, and having seen his BG support style first-hand during May when he was leading a Pennine runner across the Langdales, I knew he was exactly the sort of person I needed – encouraging when it’s deserved, he also tells it as it is and gives you a verbal kick up the arse if it’s needed!
So off we headed up the steep climb onto Steel Fell, with me feeling rather full and wondering if the sickness would start here. Although I felt sluggish, the climb was made on time and the run out to Calf Crag in thick clag was done under schedule. From there to Sergeant Man, there was the bizarre spectacle of Emma trying to force feed me rice pudding from a spoon!! Not easy when she’s 5ft nothing and I’m over 6ft! :-)
The visibility was poor but Karl and Yiannis were doing a tremendous job, navigating perfectly, taking shortcuts off path. I was feeling good, my feeding routine now settled into sour worms and Kendal mint cake, together with lucozade sport drink.
I was still feeling a bit anxious and this wasn’t helped when we took a completely new line (to me) over to Harrison Stickle, and I could hear Darren asking Yiannis to check if he was going the right line. But, as it turns out, it was spot on and I hit Harrison Stickle on schedule.
I enjoyed the climb up Pike O Stickle but then we went “off-trod” across Martcrag Moor and, for the first time, my spirits dipped at having to negotiate rough ground. But soon we were down to the low point and climbing up towards Rossett Pike. A quick stop was made for Darren to undo my shoes and get a stone out….bless him, he didn’t complain about the smelly socks!
Rossett Pike was reached a minute over schedule and, again, I had a slight thought that this might be the “beginning of the end”. But I’m made of sterner stuff than that plus I’ve come to love that climb up to Bowfell. And sure enough, the climb up was done 6 minutes under schedule and we embarked upon my best spell of the day, with Yianni’s great lines knocking minutes off across to Esk Pike and up Great End.
Conversations were going on around me, rather than involving me, but that’s fine. I really enjoyed them. Morgan and Darren spent an hour talking about the BG, its tradition and its future…and one of these days, I’ll add my thoughts as well! Emma and Karl joked about setting a record for carrying a rice pudding over the most tops on a BG round and, to my request for sweets at one point, the immortal line was uttered, “Emma’s got worms”!
The next section is the bit I struggle with. Great End to Scafell is a challenge. But I was feeling good, going well and the weather seemed to improve slightly on Great End. That didn’t last! As we headed across to Ill Crag, the rain started and, pretty soon, we were down to poor visibility and soaking rain. The rocks across to Broad Crag and then the Pike were slippy, but we stayed on schedule.
And so down to Mickledore and Lords Rake. Little did I know that Yiannis and Darren had been discussing whether it was advisable in deteriorating conditions! Best I didn’t know that! In fact, I take my hat off to Karl, it was absolutely fine and I’d even say enjoyable. A couple of moments on the West Wall Traverse where you realise there’s a big drop off to the left, but otherwise I enjoyed using the arms and hands instead of just legs.
And straight up onto the top of Scafell…excellent! Yiannis had already asked which way I’d like to head down and I said grass all the way, believing it to be quicker. He agreed, and said it was shorter…so off we went. But, of course, this being Yiannis, we didn’t stay on the path, but cut the corner on longer grass. It was quick, but I did curse a wee bit at the time! :-)
And then we came out of the cloud and I saw my sister standing at the gate. We trotted down and into the car park having done the leg in 14 minutes under my schedule, despite the weather. I was elated! In my mind, I’d done it. This sounds daft with over 20 miles and over 8,000ft still to go, but I knew leg 4 well and knew that even at slow pace, I now had time. I was 1 hour up on a 23.45 schedule. The leg 3 crew had done exactly what I knew they would and more! They’d kept me on schedule, they’d kept my spirits up and I’d loved their company.
Time to get some food down me. More Corned Beef stew, some rice pudding with bread and butter pudding, Dave A bouncing around impatient to go, Kirsten and Carolyn all smiles, me feeling on top of the world. This was how the BG should be!
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
As we headed towards Newsham House, we were joined by some other runners, who turned out to be doing the Lakeland 100...I'm pleased to say they couldn't keep up! We started the climb up the steep grass, maintaining a steady pace and, as we neared the top, we were aware of the first light in the east.
The effect of dawn on overnight runs can never be over-estimated. It gives such a lift to see the first light and feel its energy flowing through you. The long night is over and a new day beckons. A day to be savoured, enjoyed, remembered.
We bagged Great Dodd, Watsons Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd in good time, marvelling at the beautiful red sky to the east, and the first glimpses of the fireball sun. Whilst this was wonderful, it was not lost on any of us that a red sky at this stage meant that the weather wouldn't be holding and I resolved to get my head down and put a bit of extra time in the bank.
Indeed, as we got to the top of Raise, we entered the cloud for the first time and we were pretty much in cloud thereafter until Dunmail. As it turned a bit chilly, conversation revolved around who had my waterproofs....it turned out nobody did! Ooops! As it was, they weren't needed with the morning being quite warm enough.
Bill was navigating us perfectly through the mist and I was aware that minutes were being knocked off the schedule consistently. The conversation was going on around me and, though I wasn't partaking, I was greatful for it. I particularly remember hearing Bill ask Rod how he knew me.....I didn't hear the full answer but, having already explained to Bill why myself and Kirsten ended up as Calder Valley members, I suspect he thinks I lead a very complicated life! :-)
Mark was feeling a little less than 100% and so dropped off towards the road from Helvellyn. We continued to make reasonable time, dropped down from the fence post to Grisedale Hause and then toiled up the screes to a misty, cold Fairfield. I then descended this well and climbed up to Seat Sandal knocking 3 minutes off my split time, better than I'd ever managed in training. Bill talk a perfect line to the "nose" and before we knew it, we were dropping down to Dunmail. Just enough time for me to nip ahead of Bill and Rod by taking a shortcut through the bracken(!) before we crossed the road and it was time to sink into the chair and eat a breakfast consisting of mushroom soup, corned beef stew and flat coke!
There were lots of people around, I was thoroughly enjoying my day and feeling great. Anne Johnson was filming me as I sat scoffing food, Kirsten was fussing around me superbly, there was a new support team ready for the off ..... all was right with the world!
Mind you, the weather was looking a bit lousy, and Leg 3 was always going to be make or break for me. It was wonderful to be 30 minutes up at this stage, plenty of time in the bag....but it would all count for nothing if I didn't get this next section right.
Perhaps I should have been a little concerned when they all headed down one alleyway and I headed down another? :-) An inauspicious start indeed! Soon enough though, we were leaving behind the lights of Keswick and heading up on a clear, calm evening. The pace was comfortable but, by Latrigg car park, Mark was telling me I was well up on schedule. It felt fine though, and I wasn't concerned.
The stiff climb up Jenkin Hill was good, the fence was reached, according to Mark, on 22hr schedule. As we crested the top ridge, a cool breeze hit us for the first time and it was a relief to touch my 1st top, scoot down the path then head on a perfect line over the fence and down on the trod to Calva.
The going was boggy near the bottom and across to the main path. Again, the lower parts of Calva were wet and feet were sinking in....what a contrast to May and June, when the ground was solid. Calva was topped along, with the others cutting straight over the fence, then down the fence and across to the Caldew which was less than knee-high and quite refreshing!
The climb up Blencathra is not one of my favourites. Up to now, I was well up on time, but I never seem to make up any on this. I had my first food of the day and Mark entertained us with "mountain facts", some of which I knew, some of which I didn't (what's the most easterly mountain (ie over 2000ft) in the UK?).
Soon enough we were heading up across the scree and the lights of Threlkeld came into view as we touched the top. From there, I've come to enjoy the descent of Doddick Fell ridge. For those who know me, the concept of enjoying a 2500ft descent in a short distance is not usually my style! But, having done it a few times now, I've got to know those little short cuts and easier paths which make it a joy, and having got to the bottom, I enjoyed the chance to stretch out the legs and run down into the first road stop some 14 minutes up.
And what a road stop! Blue balloons lighting up the darkness, lots of folks clapping and a welcome sit down with some food. And, of course, Kirsten's smiling, happy face...although she was in "organisation" mode!
So far, everything had gone better than I could have expected. The navigation was superb, the company was spot on, I was feeling good and I'd put time in the bank at a stage when I didn't expect to.