Scafell Pike race report

I entered this race on a whim. I was aware of how challenging it was likely to be as a running CV was required for entry to check you were capable of it. This was my third marathon. My first was Windermere, a hilly road race and my second was the St. Oswald’s ultra, a flat trail race. I put these down hoping it would be enough to get me a place. It did. 
 
In hindsight had I known exactly what it would entail I am not sure I would have entered. 
 
My training, I thought, was good. I managed a few long training runs on hilly trails, I also spent a lot of time walking up my stairs to try and get my climbing muscles strengthened. One day I climbed 3000 feet just going up and down stairs. On reflection, post race, I think it was the best it could be considering my need to stay local (I don’t drive), injury free and fit it around family and work life.
 
Race day came, It was a 4am start and I had no sleep the night before. I woke up at 2am and plotted the route on my ordinance survey app on my phone as a back up just in case Adrian (my running buddy) had a problem with his gpx file. This was a Godsend as his watch conked out at mile 5 and we had no navigation. 
 
There was a 3-mile walk to the start, a beautiful cafe on the edge of the lake. Seeing the other runners made me realise I was perhaps a little out of my depth. For most races, you get a mixture of people in varying shapes, sizes and kit. This lot all looked built for fell running and extremely experienced. There was maybe 200 of us. 
 
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The race started with an easy bit of flat running along the shores of the lake. I actually found this extremely hard. I couldn’t get my pace right and my backpack had about 7kg of stuff in it. I hadn’t anticipated how hard running my usual pace would be carrying the mandatory kit, a kilo of food and 2.5L of fluid. (The fluid may seem excessive but it saved me later on) Naz my fellow Harrier quickly found his own stride and ploughed on ahead. 
 
The scenery was absolutely stunning, it felt like running through Jurassic Park. I was still struggling, my heart rate wouldn’t drop below peak and I was finding it difficult to run at a 9-10 minute mile. I think had I been on my own at this point I would have slowed to regroup but I was also conscious that the many experienced runners around us seemed to be belting along and we were amongst the slowest. 
 
I was saved by our first climb about 5 miles in, it was only 500ft but was steep and I could walk it. This brought my heart rate down and I felt better for it. Though it did make me chuckle in hindsight that the first ‘bump’ was the same elevation as running from the Team Valley to Tanfield Railway (my longest hill in training). For members of the club who might not have ran that, the same elevation is running the Team Valley to the top of Sheriff hill. 
 
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Once at the top the views were stunning, Naz was with us for a while but ran on ahead as I had decided to walk some of the more technical uphill sections after seeing some runners go over on their ankles. The downhill back into the valley was fun but steep and my Saltwell Harriers downhill running training really helped here until the road section where I let loose and felt my familiar left glute/IT band niggle that always appears around mile 8 and psyches me out. 
 
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We picked up the pace on the road section and caught up with Naz again at the feed station at Seathwaite. I started drinking at this point and had my first bit of food for the day. 
 
The ground from then on was not what I would class as ‘trail’ it was littered with boulders, loose rocks, tree roots, streams. It was hard to run on and we were uphill into the wind. I decided to walk bits of it as the extra effort running wouldn’t have gained us much time and I was conscious of what was to come. We stumbled along the valley at the tail end of the pack until we reached the little bridge and the beginning of our ascent. 
 
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We met up with a lovely woman who was really struggling with cramp and Adrian gave her some electrolytes. She was contemplating dropping out. Adrian had brought along a single cheat stick with his two (its partner had been lost at the top of Scafell Pike the year before) which he got out for me at this point. It took about half an hour to get my head around how to use it but it was very very welcome to take some pressure off my glute which was very sore. 
 
The ascent of Scafell Pike was relentless. I have never found anything so tough. I struggled with being really small as my decreased stride length meant I had more steps to take and couldn’t get up the steeper crags in one stride having to go on all fours. The wind was in our faces and being able to see how far up we still had to travel was demoralising. I am pretty much the fittest and strongest I have ever been but this was something else in terms of the relentless physical slog. 
 
Halfway up Ade lost his footing and fell into a waterfall. He badly hurt both knees and fractured his fingers. Any other time it would have been a trip to the hospital but halfway up Scafell you just have to suck it up. This set us back a few minutes whilst we regrouped but we ploughed on. 
 
The ascent continued, making slow progress and scrambling up sharp vertical cliffs in places. I can honestly say I was genuinely frightened for my life on a few occasions. The approach to the summit was awash with annoying tourists in bobble hats eating Hula Hoops and playing on their mobile phones. At this point, I wanted to murder someone as I couldn’t handle the Instagram fest going on at the top or how any of them were physically capable of getting up there after the horror I had just endured. 
 
We reached the summit where a medic saw to Adrian’s hand and told us if we didn’t get a move on we were woefully close to not meeting the cut off time at the Seathwaite check in. 
 
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I went into panic mode and pegged it. My foot got stuck in a boulder and I almost broke my ankle. I was absolutely exhausted, my nutrition had screwed up as I had forgotten to eat and drink on the ascent and I honestly thought I couldn’t carry on. The path came down an almost vertical drop of loose muddy gravel peppered with large boulders which were difficult to get traction on and made slow progress. We then had to climb a few hundred feet over another ridge and across a huge boulder field to start our descent. 
 
This bit was mint! I just let go, the trail was uneven but manageable and not too steep. I just legged it down the side of the mountain. I realised this path had been the one the Hula Hoop eaters had climbed the mountain on as it was a gentle climb up. I ran down mentally pulling Adrian along behind me. I realised at this point that what had hindered me climbing was my advantage when descending. Being little with short strides and a low centre of gravity meant I could skip between boulders and run fast downhill on technical terrain. 
 
We reached the stretcher box halfway down and checked in, then continued into the valley. Here electrolyte lady caught up with us and thanked us for getting her up the mountain. Because of Ade’s electrolytes, she got past her cramp and made it up. She was clearly a strong runner and left us behind here. 
 
We carried on along the valley back to Seathwaite for 3pm, well within cut off. I was so relieved, I stuffed my face and drank everything they had. I had a water bottle with me I refilled with juice and we set back off in good spirits. 
 
I found the last third the hardest I think. I was a whirlwind of emotions. The path was uneven and hard to run on and I was really tired. We started running and slogged along through beautiful countryside and hundreds of gated fields. It became a bit of a running joke that I had shut down my cognitive skills as lost the ability to work out how to open gates. I literally couldn’t do it. 
 
Then we had a couple of miles talking about how much we hated it and that we were never doing it again and what were we thinking? Then at mile 21, there was a hill that was pretty much a half mile vertical climb. I just lost it here. I was fighting back tears, my legs were on fire and I was unable to cope emotionally or physically. Adrian was way ahead of me as he is much stronger at climbing than I am and I remember him reaching the top and fist bumping the sky to say we were there. I followed and rounded the corner shouting the worst swear words you can imagine only to find myself face to face wth a shocked family of walkers, I hope I apologised, I can’t remember if I did or not.
 
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The next section was also hard as the downhills were too technical to run well on, they were very steep and rocky. My lack of experience showed on all these stretches as I couldn’t let loose. I knew how far we had come and how close we were to the finish to risk injury. Once the path levelled out I started running again and began overtaking other runners. I saw the final aid station ahead and SPRINTED to it so I could eat maximum rocky road and cookies before Adrian appeared. The marshal then told us we had 6k left.
  
“THATS JUST A RACE FOR LIFE OR A PARK RUN!” I screamed manically at Adrian. “Let’s imagine we are in pink tutus and just get this done!”
  
I was like a woman possessed. I was running an 8-minute mile in places as we had a brief road section. I was pelting past other runners, with Adrian pegging it along behind. We caught electrolytes lady who fell in with us. There was a long stretch along the edge of a cliff face but the terrain was ok so I ran most of it. The final mile was along the edge of the lake and I just sprinted. I knew Jon was at the end and I needed a cuddle so I just went as fast as I could. I sprinted over the finish and collapsed. I found Naz in a similar state who had come in 15 minutes ahead of me. There is something special about sharing an experience like that. 
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I have never found anything so tough in my whole life and this includes a 72-hour labour with twins. It was a truly humbling experience and made me realise what a close relationship both the mental and physical side of running have to each other. It is mentally exhausting running on uneven terrain as you have to anticipate every footfall before it happens and concentrate completely. I urge everyone to get off road once in a while to run… but perhaps don’t run up Kibblesworth / Tanfield bank and then decide you can run up Scafell Pike.
 
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Laura Gledhill – 9th of July 2017
 


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