After the Round Rotherham race, I took six weeks off from training as I just felt I needed a regroup after the season. For three weeks of this I did not run at all (due to a cracked rib) and for the other three weeks I just did 3 easy jogs of about 5 miles each. I started training again at the start of December with a lovely run round Derwentwater which helped get the mojo back. How can you not enjoy running round here?
Last weekend, Tracey and I went up to Scotland to stay with John and Katrina, giving me the opportunity to have a run on the West Highland Way, from Milngavie to Rowardennan. I had a lovely day out and really felt like I was already back in some kind of training mode and John and I spent a happy few hours reliving this past year, especially the Lakeland 100 race and thinking about next year's plans.
During the last week, a friend of mine contacted me to say he too was running the Tour de Helvellyn so we could share transport and probably much of the race. Adam and I first joined forces on a Bob Graham round back in 2007 and he has more recently shifted his focus towards some ultra races. The TdeH has quickly gained the reputation of a tough beast with the guaranteed combination of tough course and bad weather and this year again, it would not disappoint.
Adam picked me up at 7am and we drove to Askham with the plan being to start just before 8am and get round the course in daylight, not having to use headtorches. After a speedy registration and a quick chat to a few friends, we were ready to go, the only problem being that it was still pitch black outside so we waited another 10 minutes and eventually ventured out.
The rain held off for the first half an hour but the wind made it's intentions clear from the start. I tried to keep looking back to get a picture of the terrain for the return journey as Adam had warned me how difficult the bleak more over Askham Fell can be. I passed Andy Cole, looking as comfortable as ever, on the long drop to Howtown, though I felt that I was getting pulled along by Adam in these early stages, going at a slightly faster pace than I normally would. With nothing major riding on this race I thought I would just go with it and see what happens. Just before the first checkpoint at Martindale Church, we were joined by John Osborne and would run together up over the long slog to Boredale Hawes and down into Patterdale.
This is where the wind and rain really started to kick in! You could not carry out a conversation if you were not side-by-side on the track and as we approached to col, no kind of socialising possible. The real problems came with trying to eat and drink as this meant taking gloves off. The drop down into Patterdale came as a relief, to get out of the wind was great, however, the vista did reveal the next part of the course and the long climb up to Sticks pass.
Adam pulled away from me on the drop but I did not chase after him as I was more concerned about my quads for later in the race. It was really nice to get down into the valley and, as ever, the marshals at the checkpoint were fantastic and I was away quickly, getting psyched for the next long climb.
This is where things really started to get spicy. As we climbed, the wind got stronger and the rain got heavier. It became a real battle to take the gloves off, sort out some food and eat, but you have to make that effort or you will regret the apathy later. By this time my gloves were soaking wet and not really making much of a contribution to keeping my hands warm, so I made the decision to change them for my second pair once we were down in the next valley.
Once again, Adam zoomed past me on the long descent, this time I could not respond as my feet were so cold I don't think they were actually attached to my legs, I certainly did not feel that I was in full control of them. Once down to the tree line, I quickly warmed up and scooted along to Swirls Car Park, which feels like the half-way point. Here we were met by Adam's wife, Kate (a work colleague of mine) who had the bottles of Coke I had asked her to bring and, more importantly, a campervan with space to do some kit sorting and glove swopping.
I was away from here slightly quicker than Adam and, in fact wouldn't see him again until the finish, but I always felt him metaphorically breathing down my neck. It was now time try and find one of those strong second half performances - game face on!
After a drag through the forest towards Dunmail Raise, you start the long climb to Grisedale Tarn with a bit of route choice thrown in for good measure. Those in front of me started to take a more direct line up the fell but, once I had realised my error in not dibbing the footbridge checkpoint and retraced my steps, I took Adam's advice and stayed on the low path and made my climb up Raise Beck.
Again, as you climbed the weather deteriorated, but the change of gloves had given me a new lease of life and I managed to keep pace (just) with Alex Pilkington, a previous winner. Alex picked a great line round Grisedale Tarn and down towards Patterdale again and I just did all I could to hang on for as long as I could, which would actually be for the best part of two hours, though for the whole of that time, Alex was imperceptibly moving away from me, looking very smooth.
The drop to Patterdale seemed to go on forever and took a toll on my quads, but I felt OK once I started the climb back up to Boredale Hawse and without seeming to notice, the weather had taken a swing for the better, enough to be able to drop my hood for the first time in the day. I was still trying to keep Alex in view and this dragged me up and over the col with a minimum for fuss and, in fact I coped well with the rough part of the drop into Boredale; the problems started as I hit the road where holding Alex in view just became too difficult. Strangely, I found myself looking forward to the climbs as I was coping better with the ups, still running most of them, it was the flat road sections I was finding difficult.
Once on the climb back out of Howtown, I felt good again, and ran most of the way up to the Cockpit circle, catching Lee Knight just before the top. I had a slight waver (even after being warned by Adam) trying to pick the correct path back to Askham, but got myself sorted and, in fact, ended running into the finish with Lee.
Just under 7:05 hours for the 38 miles route, and that felt like a pretty good run. Again, I was pleased with my strong second half and finished in fairly good shape. It was now a case of waiting for the final timings as the runners drifted in, all looking very wet and cold. In the end, I was more than a little pleased (read "well chuffed") to get 5th place which brought 2012 to a very satisfactory conclusion. Other notable performances came from Tim Collison (1st, 6 hours!!!), Lee knight (6th, 7:07 hours), Adam (16th, 7:32 hours), John Osborne (51st, 8:32 hours) and the evergreen Andy Cole (87th, 9:32 hours).
Congratulations to all those that took on the challenge and a special thanks to the organisers, marshals and refreshment providers who put on a great event. If you fancy zipping up your mansuit (or even wetsuit?) give this one a go!!