'You never have enough time', someone said this to me once but i didn't take the time to lodge these sage words into my grey matter and here i am rushing to make the 11am start and i have made Jeff suffer the same fate. This is a bad habit of mine, but I do always make the start on time, this time i was cutting it close even for me, having to go back to the car to get gloves and hat, which I'd forgot, for the mandatory kit check didn't help. So the result is we are not well positioned for the start with 400+ people already crammed into a narrow lane. Top tip from a report I'd read before was 'make sure you get a good start otherwise you will find it really hard to find a way around other runners for the first section'.
Good tip that, shame i failed to take note of it. The first section goes along a rough track for a short while before heading up the main path that takes you from Dungeon Ghyll to Stickle Tarn. The whole of this section is just one long line of wheezing and grunting fell runners all trying to gain what little advantage they can where the path splits, but 90% of the time you seem to end up exactly where you were when they join back together again. I bump into Jeff half way up, us both taking similar, yet congested lines I'm guessing?
So the first bit is more or less 2,000ft up and mostly rocky. The next bit is flattish then gradual descent through a lovely bog, if bogs can be described as such. I wasn't thinking these things as i fell over a couple of times, once spectacularly which involved sliding down the slope on my back. It goes on for a while and is reminiscent of the 3 Peaks Fell Race, but boggier, yes boggier. Eventually bog is replaced by rock and then more bog again as you undulate over the fells before you make your way up to the turning point of Esk Hause.
In my mind this is where i knew the route would step it up a notch. I have walked and run most of this section several times and knew what lay ahead. First though was a bit i didn't know, a rough, rocky, wet and boggy traverse under Esk Pike, described (accurately) by many as the worst bit of the route. You can kind of run some of it and i opted to employ an ineffective combination of running badly, scrambling and falling over. It was a relief to actually get on the razor sharp lethal rocks leading up to the high point of the race, the summit of Bow Fell. A heavy fall here would be serious and worryingly i have several stumbles but keep on my feet. In the run up to this race i have been having trouble with a sciatic nerve which has left me with a slightly dead feel in my right leg. Not a major issue but it does mean that i have been struggling to stretch and lift my knee as high as i would like, not great among rocks, i feel like a stumbling buffoon and i am not much better on the descents, normally my strong point.
This is great terrain though and a clear day to boot and from time to time i can't resist looking back towards the Scafell range, not for too long though. After the Bowfell descent you need to make your way to the next checkpoint the summit of Long Top on Crinkle Crags. There's people all over the place here as you can go whichever way you like. I opt for a fairly direct route and am quite confident with my decision. The next decision though is a little more tricky. The most direct way off Long Top is down something called 'Bad Step' a short vertical wall requiring rudimentary rock climbing skills. I've done it many times but today i opt for the slightly longer 'coward's' way taking into account my lack of flexibility.
From here it is mostly downhill, including a nice bit of bog if you take the direct route, to the foot of the last obstacle, Pike O Blisco. I go up this well and catch the runner up ahead, we summit together and then struggle to find the path down, looking desperately for tracks or other runners we enter a mild panic. Instinct tells you to keep moving to just go down, but experience tells you to stay calm and make sure you get the right route. Before you ask, yes i had a map but i have very rarely seen a fell runner get a map out. There were about 10 runners in a pack just 30 seconds ahead, where are they!? There is 2 hrs 45 on the clock and i want to get under 3 hrs, panic sets in and i run across rough ground trying to find a path with a stud mark in, nothing. Then the guy i am with spots a line of about 10 runners moving purposefully, but they must be 2 minutes away, all that time lost. I take a chance a cut across some rocks to join the path that they must have taken, it seems so obvious now. I'm just about on it when i slip and fall and manage to scrape my shin down a blade of rock. Wow got away with that i thought, then i notice the blood, see the flap of skin and the glimpse of shin bone. Bizarrely it doesn't hurt much so i carry on down, through more boggy ground, over a few rocks, the finishing area is visible in the valley below and looks hours away but i know that this is deceptive and it may only be 10 minutes, 2 hrs 50 now on the clock.
I cross the road leading up to Blea Tarn and enter a small wood, 4 minutes to do it. Finally i hit the little road, the tent is up ahead, my watch says 2 hrs 59 and 30 seconds. 150 metres maybe? I'm on flat terrain surely? But i hit 3 hrs as i enter the funnel. The clock stops at 3 hrs and 6 seconds, official time 3 hrs 0 seconds! Couldn't i have run a second faster? No. So i suppose I'll have to do it again!
So how does a Lakeland Classic differ from a local race? In essence the same skills are needed; an ability to go up and down and keep going. However the ascents and descents are longer and rougher, the bogs boggier the routes less distinct, tarmac a rarirty. The fields are stronger, people travel for these races and there are time cut offs for a longer race like this, but they are not beyond the scope of a solid club runner.