Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Scafell Pike marathon 2014

I honestly can't remember exactly why I entered this. The most likely answer is that I was enticed by the tag line of "Englands highest trail marathon" after drinking wine.
After running my first marathon in July 2012 (Coniston), I ran another (Keilder) and an ultra (Ennerdale). 2013 saw me run the Northumberland coastal ultra (after which I said my ultra box had been ticked), Edinburgh marathon (road mara ticked - it was awful) and Coniston again.
So to 2014. The lure of the marathon started to bite. There is definitely something about these things that gets under your skin. In January I ran the Hebden 22 (not a mara but a proper hill job) and in March the Grindleford Gallop (21 I think, again a proper job). In between I ran the Osmotherley marathon in the North Yorks moors. I had trained with that in mind and it paid dividends in that I ran a good race and quite surprised myself. I began to realise that I could really do this stuff.
In March I also ran the first leg of the Lakeland 100 from Coniston to Buttermere which is mara distance. This tought me more about the really high, tough fells. The ability to keep driving upwards and forwards is essential.
May saw me run the Howgills marathon in the Yorkshire Dales. This was very different in that the start was basically 2.5 mile walk up to the tops, then long gentle but very technical descent. A road section followed and the last few miles incorporated many many stiles and kissing gates. Good experience, but not my thing really.
All of which leads me to this event which would be my 4th mara of the year and 10th overall. I spent a bit of time in the days before trying to decide on the best kit. There is a mandatory kit list so trying to carry that, be comfortable, right shoes etc all takes some guesswork. The weather forecast looked pretty warm and so it proved to be.
I left home at 5am for the 2.5 hour drive to Keswick, a bit tired, a bit hungry (I find it hard to eat early). I was thinking about kit, about food. Eventually I thought about the race ahead and this delighted me when I realised that I wasn't scared at all by the fact that I was about to run a marathon. Not any marathon either. Maybe I was moving to a new level.
This is not a race report as such so in short:
1) I registered
2) I got dressed
3)I walked to the start
4)I listened to the race briefing standing next to Ricky Lightfoot and the eventual winner. Not because I chose to but because thats where I was standing and I didn't know anybody.
And we're to say thats the last I saw of Ricky !
5 miles along the shores of Derwent water. It was hot. I was trying to be cautious but its hard. I was running just over 9 min miles. Was that too fast or not? I don't know but I do know lots of people passed me and I was pleased that I had no intention of running their race. I have learned enough to know that the marathon is a personal battle.
We started to go up as was always part of the deal. I don't remember details but it was all good. I was feeling good, not pushing too hard, eating a bit, drinking from every stream I saw (I have a foldable cup that lives in my buff when Im running - best piece of kit I've bought).
After the checkpoint at Styhead things got real. This was the climb to the summit of Scafell Pike. No amount of studying website graphs can tell you about the underfoot conditions. Thinks rocks. The climb seemed relentless. We passed through some cloud which then gave us spectacular views (I never took my camera as I knew I would need all my concentration for the job in hand) but then moved back into cloud. I reached the summit in 3 hours and 25 seconds according to the print out I got at the finish. It was a slight disappointment in that I couldn't see anything and so kept going.
I had formed the opinion, from looking at the graphs and profiles, that at least most of the hard work would be done in the first half of this race. Oops!
As I started to descend, I seriously wondered if this was the race route. Fellow runners were around and some said they knew where they were and this was right. It looked like a quarry explosion to me. Rocks of every size, everywhere. No running, little walking at times. I was both hating and loving the absurdity of my situation.
My next memory is of trying to descend as fast as possible on a fairly steep technical section. I tripped. I can see all these rocks leaping out at me. I'm thinking "rocks, my face, my knees, don't want this". I managed to dive enough to the side to hit the grass. Wrecked my shoulder but no blood !
Around 20 miles I was shot. I wanted to stop, to walk, to sleep, to be injured to give me an excuse to stop. A few runners were in the same place at this time and one said to me something like this is where it becomes a mental thing. I knew that I'm sure, but it was enough to give me the kick up the bum to screw the nut.
He pulled me along, I pulled someone else along and we kept going forward. The 22nd mile is up, as in up. That was so tough. I think I remember seeing a 23 minute mile on my watch. Somewhere going up that section I realised that I was putting one foot in front of the other and I had never stopped doing that. That gave me a huge boost. Once at the top I began to run again (quickly in my mind, slowly in reality) and I started to do some calculations. I reckoned if I worked hard I could sneak under 6 hours. A sub 10 min mile had me right on course. Then the trail got tougher again, twisty, narrow, up, down, round. I reached 26.2 mles on my watch 1 minute over the 6 hours......but I wasn't at the finish !
No option but to keep running. I could see a guy ahead and put him in my sights. You run dude and I'll follow. He slowed right down and stopped. I put my arm round his shoulder and told him that it couldn't be far now. He was shot but responded and we ran the last bit together, finished together, arms raised. 27.5 miles. We'd won nothing but our own victory.
All of a sudden, thats it. Its all over. What had been my whole day, the many lows and very few highs, was gone.
So whats it all about? If I find the answer to that question, I'll retire I think. I walked away from the finish of that race a bit sore but very dazed. I was relieved that the immediate pain had stopped, but at the same time I felt a little sad. The camaraderie I'd experienced in those last few miles, and indeed on the climb up to the top with a lovely lady, was all gone. I felt quite alone.
After getting back to my van, getting changed I headed up the road and had a chance to try to think things through. Immediately I found myself smiling.
The pain had gone, the euphoria hadn't. I realised I had done something pretty cool, and the most satisfying race ever.
Try it, after all whats the worst that can happen? It'll hurt? You'll get over it :-)
Many words, only two photos. One on the way up, one on the way down.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post Johnny, glad you managed to fall slightly less badly !