It all started around Christmas time, when Aaron suggested that we do a variation of the Three Peaks Challenge: doing each as a trail marathon, instead of the usual 24 hours for all three peaks. This seemed like a stupid idea, so naturally I said yes.
Suddenly it’s the Saturday before the first race, the Scafell Pike Trail Marathon! I feel totally unprepared, with my longest run at around 12 miles around Butser – not exactly Mountain terrain and not exactly marathon distance either, but I’m not going to get any fitter in the next 24 hours. So at 7am Aaron, Dave, Sally, Sarah and I meet at Fareham Leisure Centre and head north…
As we get to the Lake District, all we can see are the bases of mountains, covered in cloud. Beautiful, but full of mystery (and probably rain). We arrive at Keswick mid-afternoon, heading straight to the tea rooms before registering to get our numbers and checking in at our accommodation. Sally, Sarah and Dave chose the Hotel option, while Aaron and I decided to stay at the YHA. As I opened the door to our dorm, there was an elderly man in his pants who said hello and apologised for us having to share the room. We thought nothing of it, until we came back after a hearty meal of pie and a handful of pints (for hydration), ready for bed. The snoring started at around 11pm. Aaron gave the gentleman a couple of nudges, but in the middle of the night, decided that the sofa in the common room was more suitable for a couple of hours of sleep. Not the best preparation for a long race.
So after not enough sleep, the 5 of us met up and headed for the start line, at which point Aaron realised he’d left his coat in the YHA. To get to the start line, we had a 30 minute walk from Keswick around the top of the lake – which at least gave us a chance to discuss the mountain weather forecast for the day: Rare glimpses of sunlight, scattered rain, and 30 mph winds. At least the freezing point was above the summit level! After a quick briefing, we were off!!
The first 6 miles were along the western shoreline of Derwent Water, through woodland trails, over roots and little streams. An absolutely gorgeous way to start a race. At the south end of Derwent Water, we shoot along the valley for a bit, with a little hill before arriving at the first checkpoint. Aaron commented that these first 6 miles took about 1 hour, only another 6 miles to the top! A quick stop to fill up the bottles, grab some cheese pasty, and off we start for the BIG HILL…
1 hour later, and only halfway up the hill we arrive at the next checkpoint. Aaron and I have been having a great time with the technical terrain and slowly reeling people in. We’re now at the cloud line – running through bogs, around large boulders, and we can see the beginning of ‘Corridor Route’. We race towards it with massive grins, being buffetted by the wind and splashing through the wet ground.
Corridor Route is a great technical rocky trail along the side of the mountain, around some streams and waterfalls, with some amazing views if the weather is nice. There’s a little scrambling up and down, and some scary drops if you veer too much off the path. There’s one particular hairy bit which is a 4 metre climb down, with a small ledge to land on – when the other three got to this part, one runner lost his footing and rolled twice before coming to a stop just before the edge…
After some more climbing, we arrive at the next route marker at the base of the pile of stones that is the summit of Scafell Pike. It really does look like someone has just dropped a massive bag of big rocks and dropped it on the top, and it’s as hard as you’d expect to walk up it. Everyone is slowly trudging up, it’s all downhill when we get to the top.
At the top we dib in at the checkpoint, grab a quick photo, eat a pork pie, and check the time. It’s taken 2 hours to do the last 6 miles. We head off along the ridge, all we can see is rocks and cloud, visibility at around 20 metres. We can see people going in all directions. A group of us decide we’re not in the right place, so with a little help from GPS we get back on track, our group becoming larger as we pick up more runners. This is a really tricky section along the ridge, with large, sharp, slippery rocks, no path, essentially a walk/crawl. Aaron starts to disappear further down into the cloud with a few other faster guys, as he starts to really get into the downhill running. It takes him 1 hour to get to the bottom. Unfortunately for me, my hip starts aching with every landing, and I’m forced to a hobble down as fast as I can manage, but with lots of runners re-overtaking me again.
Finally I’m back at the bottom of the BIG HILL, and I can almost run on the flat. I get to the next feed station and no, they don’t have hip replacements, so another bit of cheese pasty and peanuts will have to do. The next handful of miles are back along the valley through fields, streams and bracken-covered singletrack hiding ankle twisting stones. Across the road and up the last climb, another 400m of elevation. If you hadn’t had enough climbing by this point, you would have by the top! As we started climbing, the sun even started to come out.
Getting started running at the top again was a real chore, lots of walk breaks whenever the path was flat or steeper. Finally I made it to the last aid station, shoving orange slices and more peanuts into my mouth to keep me going.
The last section started with a downhill road segment (very painful on the legs), then back to trails, crested a small rise and I could see Keswick – not long now!! At this moment I got a big wave of emotion: really wanting it all to stop, really enjoying the amazing scenery, not wanting to quit, just keep going, just keep going, just keep going…
Finally a sign for Keswick, only a few more miles. Hobble across the road, I can see another runner in front of me, I start reeling him in slower than you can imagine, then I can see we’re close at the finish point, just another kilometre, I’ve almost caught the guy now, round the corner, up the ramp, we share a joke that after all that pain and distance we’re in a sprint finish (ok, ok, it’s only for position 143rd), I can see Aaron now, he’s cheering me on, I turn the corner through the gate, past the finish line, and it’s over, phew! 28 miles done in just over 7 and a half hours.
After a quick dip into the lake (recommended to avoid cramps!) and refuelling with warm soup and cold beer, we wait to see the others come in, triumphant in completing such a tough race.
Well done Aaron, who absolutely stormed it.
Well done Dave, who is doing a marathon every month for a year for a significant birthday.
Well done Sarah, who faced her fear of getting lost.
And finally, well done Sally, who only did her first marathon 3 weeks ago!