Wasdale, 12 July. 34km / 2,743m (or 21m / 9,000’ old money)
“Are you alright?” a passing runner asked me. “Yeah fine. Just tired. Juusst tiirreedd”. I sat down. I needed a rest. I got up, ran a few paces. Sat down. [repeat two or three times]. Sat down. Lay down. Foetal. “This isn’t good, I’ve got a few miles left”. It was brutally hot and I was at Sprinkling Tarn, about five miles from the end of the Wasdale race. I subsequently found out that a third of the field dropped out. But it didn’t make me feel any better. And then who pops up but Charlie McIntosh. Fresh as a daisy (it seems to me) and he thinks its time to call it a day. So he gives up his race and helps me down, back to Styhead Pass and Wasdale Head. I was completely and utterly spent. So tired I have never come close to that sense of exhaustion before or since. Needless to say, I was – and am – very grateful to Charlie for doing what he did.
Fast forward twelve months and its time to get the monkey off my back. Charlie is also here, probably hoping for the same and no numpty runners like me who don’t take on enough salt. The weather is great – a bit too warm, but cloud cover and good visibility with a breeze. A hundred or so runners assemble at the start, waiting for the off and wondering what the next 3 ½ (if you’re Billy Bland) to 7 hours (if you’re the final finisher) will bring.
We set off up towards Whin Rigg, starting slow and steady, apart from Charlie who disappeared like a shot. After a steep descent into Greendale, Seatallan loomed. Luckily there was water all over the place, not that I needed it, because after last year’s experience I was carrying most of Wast Water. The going was good, for the time being… Between Scoat Fell and Pillar there is the kind of view that even the most hardened city dweller has to appreciate. Wasdale Head lies far below, with Scafell beyond and above it, all framed by Kirk Fell and Yewbarrow. If you’ve run 12 miles around Wast Water to see it, its even better. But the hills kept coming, and as any gnarled Wasdale vet says (or half the people on the fellrunner forum at least), the race doesn’t start till Pillar.
A flash of silver foil caught my eye between Pillar and Great Gable. Gel wrapper, I thought, and stooped to pick it up (lets be honest here – I wasn’t exactly breaking much of a stride). Hopefully dropped accidentally, I thought. It turned out it must have been – it was a full gel which somebody would be missing on the slog up Gable. Some brand I’d never heard of. The strapline was “Enjoy your life!”(TM). A mile or so later as I scrambled up the scree of Great Gable, that strapline seemed like a sarcastic taunt. There is no easy way up, and by this time I was slowing, gradually losing places. But even then, the views down into Wasdale were enough to give anyone a boost.
Meanwhile, Charlie was powering on towards Esk Hause and the right turn to Scafell Pike. Its all rocks here, and even Charlie was getting worn down by the time he reached the top. It was getting hot and we’d been going nearly five hours. The long descent off Lingmell is better than some, but by that stage everything hurts. Still, one last checkpoint and with the finish in sight all the way down, Charlie came in just outside 5 hours.
My next landmark was Styhead Pass. The col was crowded with spectators. Kids handing out jelly babies, shouts of support and slaps on the back. “Yer looking better than this time last year…” somebody – I don’t know who – shouted. I’d heard this a few times already around the course, usually from random strangers who must have seen me last year. I raised a hand and weakly mumbled my thanks, pushing on up to the scene of my nemesis last year. Sprinkling Tarn came and went, and I mentally punched the air as I knew I was going to get round now.
Round the back of Great End…trip and fall…careful now, don’t blow it…up to Scafell…start the descent…remember to bear right somewhere here or you’ll miss the last checkpoint…Lingmell not Brown Tongue. Lingmell not Brown Tongue. Clouds coming in, getting darker. Lingmell not Brown Tongue . Its going to rain – be quick or the final grassy slope’ll be a nightmare…I can see the finish….
I finally came in 15 minutes behind Charlie, who in the meantime had set himself up unnoticed in a corner of the refreshments tent. By then it was chucking it down. The rain felt great.
After the race, in the Wasdale Head Inn, runners were tucking into vast steak and ale pies and hub cap sized burgers. An impressive array of local beers were on offer, a welcome sight for any finisher. A group of us tucked into delightful local tipples, choosing from about a dozen. Charlie however, managed to pull out of the hat the most disgusting brew any of us had ever seen. It looked something like this:
Even after 21 thirsty miles he still couldn’t sink it. As we sipped our beers down in delight and the next round approached, Charlie asked if we’d help him finish it off. I thought of that long, hot day last year. About the clubmate who picked me up at Sprinkling Tarn and helped me down, exhausted, off the mountain. About the friend who sacrificed his race to help me out. And so I answered. “Nah mate, you’re on your own there!”
Simon Harding(Macclesfield) 1st 4.09.38
Charlie McIntosh 18th 5.00.46
Alex Jones 31st 5.15.54