The Old County Tops is one of the UKs classic fell running races. It's 37 miles in length with 10,000 feet of climbing. It starts and finishes in Great Langdale and the route include the summits of Helvellyn, Scafell and Coniston Old Man. Rich has done it before, but it was so long ago, he forgot how much he suffered and roped in Dan to join him for another fun day out.
There is no such thing as a bad day in the Lakes, but there are plenty of tough ones. Dan and I should have competed in last year's Old County Tops race but we had to withdraw due to illness. Dan was clearly excited about this year as he arrived early to pick me up (he couldn't sleep as he was excited about it). Fortunately the M6 is fairly quiet at 5 in the morning and it wasn't long before we were in the Lakes.
There were quite a few familiar faces as we registered and then the rain started. Obviously this was not in the forecast, but this is the Lake District! I had made the amateurish mistake of packing my bag properly and then having to go through kit check. By the time I got all the stuff back into my bag it was time to set off. It was raining again so the waterproof was back on.
The route leaves Langdale and heads over to Grasmere, with plenty of climbing to warm you up. By the time we got to Grasmere the jacket was off but then by the time we got onto the climb towards Grisedale Tarn the jacket was on again. This continued for the next hour or so. From Grisedale Tarn, the route climbs up to Helvellyn and this part was enjoyable and we got to the first check point exactly on 2 hours, alongside fell running royalty, Nicky Spinks.
This was the last we saw of her as she disappeared away from us on the descent. The descent down towards Thirlmere is a killer, it’s very steep and your quads are screaming after having pretty much climbed for the previous 2 hours. The first feed station was quite busy and it was quite a social occasion as Guy Illingworth and Paul Swindles were there along with the mountain goat that is Mark Liptrot.
A cup of tea and some malt loaf we were off again. This next section is energy-sapping a lot of spongy grass and I spent a bit of time getting depressed talking football with Guy. We are both Sunderland supporters so we know a lot about suffering. Dan and I then picked up the pace as we started to climb again. This is where the lack of recceing the route started to hit us. On the drag up towards Angle Tarn, Guy and Paul were along side us again having opted to take the ‘correct route’.
The climb up to Scafell Pike was tough as the weather was getting pretty rough. It was wet, windy and cold. I needed to put my gloves on (and a warmer base layer) but didn't want to stop as I was feeling hypothermic. All I knew was that I needed to get to the top then descend quickly and get warm again.
We decided to follow Guy and Paul on the descent rather than make up our own route. With the steepness, roughness of the terrain and the fact that I was shivering this was quite a scary descent! Apart from watching Dan descending some of the lower slopes on his backside the run towards the final feed station was fairly uneventful.
The final, main climb seemed to drag on for hours. Once this was done, there were just a few undulations before we got to the check point at the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. Again I think our course wasn't the best as we dropped down onto the tarmac at the top of Wrynose Pass. Great!! Tarmac!! this thought lasted about 3 seconds as we hit the 25% descent. We dropped about 4 places on this section but the legs were protesting. It was a relief to get on the trail again. This last section is part of the Lakeland 50 route (but in reverse). Bearing in mind I know this part of the course really well there was a comedy moment as I disappeared into a bog up to my knees. Fortunately Dan hadn't abandoned me and helped pull me out of the bog.
It was at this point we heard a shout from behind and it was Matty Brennan and his partner. Matty caught us as we dropped down to the campsite but then we passed him again on the flat run back to Great Langdale. Dan and I crossed the line in 9:26 and 34th place. Well done to Guy and Paul who had broken 9 hours with 8:53. This was a tough day out. Most impressive was the winning time of 6:38 by Rob Jebb!
This is a brilliant race organised by Chris and the Achille Ratti climbing club. At the end I thought I would never do that again but then I have spent most of the week thinking about where we could save time and better lines. There aren't many race tee shirts that I wear and you only get the tee shirt if you finish! This one hasn’t been off my back since I finished! Next up for the Endurance Store Trail Race Team will be the Lakeland 100. The big question is, will Richard Smith sprint for the first 4 miles again? Will Dan turn up? Will my legs turn up? Find out in July.