Apart from a half marathon PB and the odd marathon run I didn't break down new barriers and move forward and that for me is why I wanted to run ultras in the first place to see what my limits are.
The main reason I didn't move forward last year was because:
"I was scared and feared of failing to complete what I set out to do"
2014 for me is all about challenging this all consuming thought and once again see where my limits are. Over the Christmas period I reflected on my short time since I started to run (all of 5 minutes) and found something that I had forgotten about almost.
The following post below was written by a friend of mine (Matt Beardshall) back in 2011. At that time I was up for any running challenge and both hastily and irrationally believed that I could tackle the Bob Graham Round (Matt had set this as his goal for 2011). I had zero experience of the mountains / hills and it was a baptism of fire for sure so after speaking to Matt for some time about this I agreed to join him.
I am Rich_S if it wasn't obvious!! Daft_B (Mal Gibb) is our crazy friend who mountain bikes up / down in the mountains :)
This is part one in the series so please look out for part two coming soon after. It's a brilliant account of that amazing day in the mountains and of a mindset I want to get back.
“Do one thing every day that scares you”. Eleanor Roosevelt
‘Slightly scared’ isn’t a bad state to be in. It sharpens the senses, focuses the mind and gets the adrenaline pumping. Or rather it isn’t a bad state to have been in, once you have escaped with life and limb intact. For several reasons, ‘slightly scared’ sums up the emotions felt both during and after our first recce run checking out one of the tougher sections of the Bob Graham Round.
Daft B and I picked up Rich S from his relative’s house in Lancaster on our way up to the Lake District. The plan that day was for Rich and I to try and get around and learn as much of the third BG leg as possible. Daft B would drop us off at the roadside at Dunmail Raise before driving to Langdale to do a similar thing with his biking route. He would leave the car at The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Langdale. The car would be our lifeline should we need to abandon the mountains, which wasn’t an unlikely outcome.
The weather wasn’t ideal; far from it, in fact. Persistent hill fog was forecast, which appeared stuck above a height of 300 metres. We would be spending nearly all day well above that height. Temperatures didn’t initially seem too bad, however, and we were all wearing shorts, although carrying leggings in our backpacks.
The summit of the first mountain was shrouded in mist, the top half totally unseen as we stepped from the car and trotted our first tentative steps over the softened boggy ground. Steel Fell towered above us; a massive wall 553 metres high and ridiculously steep. Running up it wasn’t an option – we hiked, but fast. After a hundred metres of climbing we plunged into the mist, and the valley below us evaporated away as if it had been a dream.
The pace was good, and we ‘collected’ our first summit after little more than 20 minutes. With maps, compass and guide notes constantly in hand we curved to the West and broke into a steady jog, heading towards Calf Crag. Things felt good. Ok, so we couldn’t see much, but it was a joy to be running free, feeling the soft earth beneath our studs, hearing the wind whistle past our ears as we danced down grassy banks, bounded across rocky outcrops and splashed through soft, peaty bogs. Our feet were wet and our legs dirty. To Rich and me this is freedom, this is running.
A sudden gap in the clouds drifted overhead as we approached the boggy plateau beneath Calf Crag. The mountains, newly exposed via the heavenly fissure, revealed themselves all around. We stopped and stared in awe as they peered down, towering over us from all directions. It was a joyous moment, but with hindsight I know what the mountains were saying to us, “Prove your worth, boys. We are in charge. You run in the palms of our hands, and we can close our fists at any time. We can crush you.”
Respect for the mountains is something I have learned, and something I hope never to forget.
Calf Crag didn’t go without a hitch, but after a brief wander in slightly the wrong direction we hit the summit and dropped off towards Sergeant Man, peak number three. Visibility lessened but remained sufficient for us to make the 250 metre high climb up the rough side of a beck and reach the conical summit of Sergeant Man without problem.
Then things changed. Having dispensed their warning, the mountains cloaked themselves once again, this time for good. A thick, impenetrable mist rapidly and persistently descended. This added immensely to our challenge. Not being able to see the mountain you are supposed to be running towards and up is a major handicap.
We took a compass bearing aiming for High Raise, and started running…..straight into a bog that ripped Rich’s shoe clean off his foot (maybe clean’ isn’t the right word). But High Raise turned out to be an easy summit, the only menace being a curious and hungry sheep that approached and threatened to mug us for our snacks.
Thick mist meant the map was useless without the compass. We could see no further than 30 yards. There were no visible reference points on which to focus. Another compass bearing had us running quickly back down High Raise and towards Thurnacar Knott, which again proved an easy climb. Our confidence was high. We were moving well, navigating well despite worsening weather, and feeling good. Legs were strong and spirits high; just the conditions the mountains were looking for. They bided their time to teach us a lesson.
Neither of us is blessed with a good head for heights, Rich worse than I. So the lack of visibility was a blessing as we scrambled (physically) the final metres onto the pointy, rocky, sky-stabbing summit of Harrison Stickle, 736 metres high. Sight of the dizzy-making near vertical plummet down into Langdale would have given both of us head-spin.
We bounded down the steep north-western edge of this mountain before climbing its equally steep and pointy neighbour, Pike of Stickle, peak number seven. There we sat among the rocks, eating flapjack and energy bars whilst the mist swirled around, shrouding us. We could have been six feet up, or six miles up. We really couldn’t tell.
Snack over; the next target was Rossett Pike, which stood a good running distance away from Pike of Stickle, with a splendid downhill in between. So splendid in fact, that our over-exuberant running across the soft, springy ground resulted in a slight detour and lengthening of our route. But this was no concern. We knew where we were, and we knew where we were going.
And that was the problem. We ‘knew’ too much. But as far as the mountains were concerned, we knew nothing. The descent from Rossett Pike dropped us at the foot of a crag beneath the massive Bow Fell, towering some 903 metres high. Or so we believed. We couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see more than 20 yards. The compass showed us the direction of our ascent and off we went.
But Bow Fell wasn’t there.
Barely ten minutes later we were floundering around on undulating, rocky, unrecognisable, confusing mountainside. The compass lied to us. The map lied to us.
But maps and compasses don’t lie. Bow Fell wasn’t where it should have been. Which could only mean one thing – we weren’t where we should have been. But no need to panic, just find out where we were and get back on track.
My phone beeped in my backpack. I pulled it out and read the text message from Mal. It read, “Can’t see a thing. Very cold. I’m out of here”. Wherever he was, he was getting off the mountain. Wise move, we thought.
Several minutes of blind wandering around proved nothing other than the close presence, seemingly all around, of many crags we really didn’t want to fall down. We reversed our compass bearings and retraced our steps. Several more minutes passed before we were back below the previous climb, still lost but now a bit colder.
Time for Plan B! To try to establish our position we took a bearing towards a tarn that was 200 metres away, and ran obliquely down the mountainside towards it. After 300 metres we had not reached a tarn. Damn! So again we reversed our bearing and headed back up to our previous position, wherever that was. That meant a few more minutes wasted and a few more concerned thoughts.
Now we were cold and lost and the rain began to hit us, driven by the persistent chilling wind. We had wasted forty-five minutes dithering aimlessly, getting more confused and colder. We had been on the fells for several hours and energy levels were dropping. Bodily warmth was rapidly evaporating into the sodden gloominess, and in its place crept a little fear. Not panic, not yet anyway, but certainly a little fear. We were lost, chilled, blinded by fog, and high up a mountain surrounded by crags.
We decided we had to get off the hill, and began to work on an emergency escape plan………………………………..