This was to be the grand finale and loads of friends would be there. I was really looking forward to the event and even a rather grim weather forecast didn't quite dampen my enthusiasm. The school term finished and we said bye to departing staff and then it was home, check gear, swift coffee and a drive up to the Lakes. I am glad we set off early as the motorway was busy and the weather was foul with strong winds and rain. Askham though is a beautiful little village, even in the rain. Once we were safely parked at the community centre the weather just got worse and worse. By the time we had finished tea the van was rocking as if we were adrift in a very stormy ocean. I escaped to the hall to register and found Joe F sweeping away flood water from the covered walkway outside. Nick was registering too and I had a long chat with the guys from Uclan who were undertaking a sports science study of ultra runners. We promised they could prick our fingers for blood and ask some simple questions.
At least the van was cosy as we read listening to the weather outside and the weather did not stop me having a good nights sleep. I had planned on a bit of a lie in but excitement and the need for the toilet had me up around 6.30. Bob had the luxury of coffee and ipad in bed as he kept out of my way. I kissed him goodbye, wished him a good walk and set off for the hall.
The blood samples and questionnaire took seconds so I had time to chat with Tony, Josie and their friends and then with Jon, Mark and Dave. We all planned to start around the same time and made our way to the kit check queue. Sadly Dave got held up by his lack of map and when I emerged onto the lane I spotted Tony et al and set off out of the village with them. We barely needed head torches (in fact I had decided to leave mine in my sack) and were soon on the open moor. Already the wind was strong and the sky looked stormy.Tony led us to a good path that saved a climb and then his group plus Chris BH disappeared into the distance. I had set off too fast and my whole right thigh was agony. I should have backed off the pace sooner but kept trying to catch them again. After the cockpit the path drops and this gave me some respite and a chance to claw back some of the distance.
The road at Howton was flooded as Ullswater had burst its banks and the hillside were pouring water. The road to Bouthwaite had puddles but the water was still flowing under the bridge. I tried to up the pace along the lanes and paid for it dearly.
I had to walk most of the way to Boredale Hause and knew I was losing lots of time on a section I had hoped to run well. Just before the col I saw Andy and Sarah, this lifted me and we chatted before being blown around. The drop down to Side Farm went quickly and there was Charmian and others with the dib box. A quick diversion indoors for the Uclan team also meant I had the chance to grab some food and a kind lady poured a cup of tea into my water bottle.
Then it was out into the paddy fields of Patterdale. By the time I hit the road at the primary school I was soaked from the thighs down and just so glad it wasn't all that cold.
Then the rain came, and with a vengeance. I put it off but by Greenside knew I ought to stop and put over trousers on before I went up to Sticks Pass. The farmer whose garage I sheltered by was bemused and announced he wouldn't go up there today if you paid him. Oh well, all in the name of fun and challenge. Typically the rain stopped after 10 minutes but the rest seemed to have revived me and my legs were feeling better. I kept them on as I didn't want to lose anymore time and it was still blowing a hooly. I caught up with Tony and Josie which further boosted my spirits and enjoyed the path through the mine workings and up to the pass.
Here I passed Nick who was surprised to be in front. The grassy run off down to the CP on the finger post was good fun and I was glad I had work my Fellraisers for their grip when the guy in front took a huge slide. The path along the valley side to Swirls car park was boggy and rocky but I was starting to feel happy now my legs were working and set about picking people off. This was easier than usual as some people had started 40 minutes ahead of me and were going slower. The winning men had come flying past as we came off Sticks pass.
By Swirls car park I was happy and on a mission. I met Gaynor on CP duty but had no real time for a chat. As I set off along the forest track I ate my first tuna wrap, delicious. Just a shame I was stuffing my face when the cameraman clicked me!
Even here we were still running into the wind although the trees did give us some shelter. At Beside Gill I almost forgot to dib as I avoided some tourists and was lucky when another runner shouted me back. The next section to Grisedale Gill saw me knee deep in a bog and with gritty mud in my shoes. I hoped this was not going to rub. I needn't have worried. I missed the next bridge and by the time I had found a safe place to cross the beck all grit had been washed out and I was soaked to the top of my legs.
The climb to Grisedale was tough but we now had blue sky! It was a shock to see some runners appear over the horizon to my left but they had been to the last CP so I guess that's OK. It did make me determined to catch some of them and I ran fast past the tarn.
The wind was now on our backs but pushing me faster than I really wanted on the rocky descent from the col. I played safe and took my time over the rocky bits but once we hit the good path and grass I gave it all and caught up with the runners in front. In fact I ran with Andy on and off from there to the end.The track to Side Farm was still under feet of water and a caravan was upside down in the field.
I popped in to see the Uclan men and grab another bottle of tea. Heading up the fell I decided the metal seat looked too good to miss and stopped to admire the view and remove my over trousers. I ate my tuna wrap and used the extra energy to power up to the hause. Picking my way over the first rocks was slow but then the path improved and was good running. Tracey came flying past Andy and I which spurred me to run with a bit more effort even if we couldn't possibly keep at her pace. The bridge at Boredale was now under the water and it was pouring off the fell sides. After the church I stuck to the road with just a couple of short cuts on the zig zags. The pier at Howton was no better and nor was the path back to Askham Common. It was good to have Andy running with me and we took turns to put in some effort and raise the pace. I'm sure it made us both faster. We got shot blasted with hail along this section but by the time we reached to open moor it had just about stopped. I could now smell the finish and was keen to get back before any worse weather or the dark made life harder. The gradient eased and I shot off. I was hoping I would spot the grassy/ boogy path we had come out on and so save the climb up to the trees. I spotted it, jumped the ditch and set off. Yep, there was the pond, then the two massive depressions. his has to be the right way. About 10 minutes later I had an anxiety attack and stopped, got my map out and checked. I could not face going wrong at this stage. I looked behind but there was no sign of Andy. I had expected him to be just behind me. Having confirmed I really was right I set off again telling myself that the big valley dropping away into the dark had to be heading to Askham. I soon had the confirmation of another runner next to me. It was enough to make me sprint to the finish, well it felt like that to me. We stormed into the hall and the finish having beaten the dark and the rain. I was chuffed to bits to find my time was 8 hours 11.
When the Uclan guys had asked what I hoped for I thought 8 hours 30 would be good and 9 OK in bad weather. It meant I was 4th lady and first W vet 50, not bad at all after such a shaky start that morning. I grabbed soup and bread, then tea and cake. After a quick chat with the winner and a final check in with Uclan I realised I was chilling fast and went out to the van. Bob had not been back long. Dry, warm and changed we went back to the hall to cheer others in. We cracked the bottle of bubbly to celebrate the end of my ultras. Tony and Josie joined us and it was good to be in the company of friends. Martin D came to say Hi and many others gave their congratulations. Nick finished and once he was fed and warm he came to join us. Mark and Dave appeared, but no Jon. Andy and Sarah arrived looking cold and wet but happy to be back.
Jon had been in front of all four of these so where had he gone? We expressed our concern to Joe and waited. It was a big relief to see Jon come through the door but nothing to the relief he felt. He threw his arms around me and for a moment I thought he would collapse and squash me on the floor. He was wet, cold and grey. A team of us soon had him stripped, dry and changed. I force fed him soup and he slowly gained colour and warmth. It had been a shock for him and we left him with Mark and Dave to recover. It was getting late and we were hungry. We moved next door to the Queen's Head and bagged a table for six. I had a great evening with excellent food and brilliant company. I was pleased Bob had managed to get out for a decent walk and that he was with me to celebrate.
Nick returned from a bath in his B+B and then Mark, Dave, John and Jon arrived too. After much food, alcohol and banter we wandered back to the van and fell into bed. Great end to an amazing year. It rained again in the night!