Kas somehow got it into her mind that it would be a good-fun idea to run an ultra-marathon in Cumbria to finish off the summer holidays. The Grand Tour of Skiddaw, no less. 46 miles of “lumpy” terrain, with one rather massive “lump” in the middle. She must be mad.
Anyway, enough of that. What actually happened over the weekend then?
Kas and the girls had been away at Kas’s mum’s house in Whitburn all week and I travelled up on a very nice Pendolino from Milton Keynes to Carlisle on Friday afternoon to meet them. Technically, I’d been working all week. However I was in final throws of working out my notice with my employer, so both productivity and enthusiasm had been on the low side all week. Nana and Grandad were also driving over and were going to look after the kids on Saturday while Kas was racing. My plan was to follow Kas around a bit, essentially being alternately worried and bored, depending on how long I’d being sitting at each location.
On Friday night we had to go over to the event village at Lime House School, and this proved to be a highlight of the weekend, in a near-total-disaster sort of way. Google Maps thought it knew the way there, so we followed it. We ended up going down a road that was getting increasingly dodgy, and looked less and less like the correct direction. So at one point we stopped and turned the car around on someone’s drive. We’d been followed down there by a couple of other cars and it was a bit tight getting everyone around, so Kas tried to pull off the edge of the road to allow a descending car to get past us (there was no other way), but at this point we had a horrendous crunching noise as the car went over the top of a rock buried in the grass. Fair enough, further up the slope there was a line of rocks delineating a “don’t drive on my grass” zone, but where we were at the time there were no visible rocks. Should’ve got out to check, I suppose. The car essentially got beached on the top of it, and it took us a good half hour, and the help of a local resident (thankfully not the one who’s grass verge we’d just trashed) with a car jack to get us out. We had to lift the car wheel up off the ground far enough to dislodge the rock from underneath the skid-plate on the bottom of the car. Thankfully though, the rock was under the skid-plate and we hadn’t gone far enough through to get it trapped under any of the more delicate bits like the exhaust system. It wasn’t the best half-hour I’d ever had though.
Once we’d been through that, actually getting Kas’s running number and getting registered for the race was a piece of proverbial. We returned apparently none the worse to our hotel near Carlisle and met up with Nana and Grandad, and then quickly headed off towards central Carlisle to get dinner. Our first proposed port of call wasn’t open (and, in fact, didn’t open all night) so we continued right into the centre to walk around looking for a restaurant serving Italian food that wasn’t already fully booked for the whole night. It took us about 4 attempts, and we ended up in a nice little place called Gianni’s Pizzeria, right next to where we’d parked. It didn’t look inspiring from the outside, which is why we didn’t go in it straight away, but first impressions can be deceptive. It was pretty good.
Saturday morning saw me and Kas out of bed in darkness. It’s the first time I’d done that since last winter. Kas has been doing it every other day for months as part of her training schedule, but it was a bit out of order from my perspective. We were also far too early for breakfast at the hotel. Just as well we hadn’t paid for it. Kas had bought porridge and some cereal bars.
The drive round to Lime House School was uneventful (now we know the way) and we arrived bright and early for the event. Kas had forgotten to pick up her satellite stalk-a-racer gizmo the previous night but the event was small enough that the organisers could guess that she was one of three lady competitors who hadn’t done so, and she was therefore up and running before we really even got bedded into the place.
There were only 96 registered competitors and they were only expecting 88 of them to turn up, apparently, so it wasn’t exactly busy at the start area. We grabbed a coffee from the mobile pizza van and waited around, chatting to fellow competitors. Kas’s running buddy for the day, Paul, had also arrived. He wanted to “not go too fast” so had asked Kas if they could run together. Turned out to be a wise plan.
Anyway, by 8 am they were off. And by 8:15, so was I.
First stop for the runners was at Caldbeck, and I had an hour and a half or so to get there. That gave me plenty of time to grab three or four geocaches on the way. Kas and Paul came in somewhere in the back half of the field, had a quick drink and a photo stop and then disappeared off again.
From Caldbeck, I had decided not to try to meet them again at the car park at Latrigg, because we’d been up there a couple of times in May and I didn’t fancy trying to get Kas’s car up there, nor did I expect to be able to park there anyway. Kas’s car had already had enough adventure and excitement for one weekend. As well as it being a checkpoint for the GTOS there was a station for a different fell racing series in the same place on the same day. It was going to be busy.
So I decided to pick my way rather slowly round to Peter House Farm, which is all the way around at the access road going up to Whitewater Dash. This gave me an estimated 6 hours before Kas would pass me again, because from Caldbeck she’d got to run a further 8 miles into the fells, then up and down Skiddaw and then another 2 miles over the fields. I spent the first of those hours driving from Caldbeck and doing a handful more geocaches. I then got to Peter House Farm and waited 5 minutes in the middle of the road whilst waiting for someone else to vacate a parking space – it was one of the race organisers doing a tour round making sure the marshalls were ready. After I parked up the weather turned pretty foul, but it wasn’t predicted to get any better. It was windy and showery and quite cold. I decided to take the walk up to Whitewater Dash with my raincoat on, because I’d got plenty of time and there were a couple of geocaches up there. It was wet and windy all the way there, as I was walking into the weather. It was a little further than I thought too, but the views were great. The walk back was downhill and the wind was behind me too, so the world was much better. I also found a geocache that the previous three searchers had missed, so I felt a bit smug.
This still left me with a projected 3 hours of waiting before Kas might pass me. I’d rather shabbily not taken anything to eat or drink with me but I also didn’t want to leave just in case I couldn’t get back into the car park when I returned, so I decided to just wait and do some reading, whilst occasionally sponging use of a phone from one of the marshalls. Why? Because I had no signal, so the satellite stalk-a-runner device Kas had with her was no use at all to me. At third use of the marshall’s phone the painful truth had become apparent – I was going to be there for a couple of hours longer than Kas had predicted. She later told me this was because the weather up top was absolutely foul, and they were down to crawling pace, especially on the descent. Fair do’s. She does have a bit of previous where running down mountains is concerned.
Thankfully I had a big, fat book with me, and had also remembered to take my glasses. The book was Surface Detail, by my favourite science fiction author Iain M. Banks. I’d started reading it on the train up to Carlisle on Friday and was less than a quarter of the way through when I sat in the car to read it on Saturday. I was well past halfway when I stopped.
Kas and Paul eventually got to where I was at around 4:30 pm, looking somewhat dishevelled but in good heart. They stayed for a very short while and then scooted off again, leaving me to pick my way back round to Caldbeck for their next stop. This time I decided to go round slowly, and to stop for food. I’d spotted a cafe come art gallery in Uldale on the way in so decided to try it. The place was in an old school and I was a bit suspect as I walked in. It turned out to be really good, despite having no other customers at the time. Maybe it was good because they didn’t have any other customers. Anyway, I got soup, bread, a drink, and then a cream & jam scone and large coffee for not very much. I can live with loneliness for nice food at those prices.
My exit was delayed for a couple of minutes by some local bovine traffic passing by on the road, but I was still in plenty of time to meet Paul and Kas at Caldbeck again, this time looking somewhat more knackered than when they’d been there earlier. They arrived there between 6:30 and 7 pm, which gave them about 8 miles out of 46 left to do, with about 90 minutes of usable light at the most. They were going to finish in the dark. It’s a good job the kit list had head torches on. They didn’t stay long at Caldbeck this time – just long enough for a couple of biscuits and half a hot drink.
So off they plodded again. I watched them off and headed back to Lime House School to wait. During the course of the day the field they were using as a car park had transitioned from grassy to muddy, but there wasn’t really anywhere else to go given that Kas might be struggling to walk, so into the mud I went. I then spent another nervous hour and a half waiting for them, mooching about, trying to estimate where they were based on who else was finishing (not a reliable process over a 46 mile run) and reading a bit more of my book. Eventually it was too dark to read in the car so I went and sat in the sports hall amongst people who’d finished already.
After 8:30 I decided they couldn’t be much longer so I decided to just stand outside and wait, to make sure I was there when Kas actually finished. It didn’t take much longer and I was reassured by meeting a guy who’d been at Peter House Farm earlier, who told me he’d passed Paul and Kas just off the school site and they were probably under 10 minutes away. They were quite easy to spot coming down the hill into the finish, despite the total darkness, mainly because Kas’s headlight is about a foot lower than Paul’s.
They both looked surprisingly well for people who’d just run, walked and staggered 46 miles over rough terrain in less than pleasant weather, over a period of 13 hours. Fantastic effort, well done.
All that exertion required a bit of calming down, re-energising and refuelling though. Kas grabbed a massage, which also included a free lower leg clean, and then grabbed her free beer. We both needed to eat so we went and grabbed pizzas from the van outside. They were surprisingly good. And during the boring bits I did even more reading.
By the time Kas was ready to leave it was well after 11 pm, and we had to get out of the car park by taking a loop across the field to avoid the worst of the mud. We actually drove right around and crossed the start/finish line of the race. It was pretty much midnight when we got back to the hotel.
When we got up in the morning we were both in the mood to get full value out of a Premier Inn breakfast. We woke up a bit earlier than we thought we might and were ready early, so we dived into the restaurant and started on some eating whilst waiting for Grandad, Nana and the kids to come over. Actually, Grandad bought the girls over before him and Nana were really ready. We spent ages there and ate quite a lot.
Before driving home we made one more trip over to Lime House School to attend the awards ceremony. It was one of those “everyone who turns up gets a prize” jobs, but in a good way. Kas got a special award as a glamorous finisher.
The drive home looked initially looked like it was going to be a disaster. Someone at the event site told us that the M6 was closed near Preston. We toyed with the idea of crossing the Pennines and driving down the east coast, but as we travelled south we started noticing the overhead signs didn’t indicate much of a problem. Apparently they’d cleared it, and we were through the crash site after only 5 minutes or so of delay, so we were glad we chose not to divert. As it was a Sunday then we did hit some traffic further down, but it was on the section of the M6 south of Warrington where there’s always a queue. The always-a-queue was enhanced by the presence of some roadworks where they are “upgrading” the road to managed motorway (otherwise known as variable speed limit and speed cameras every 100 yards). It eventually took us the best part of 7 hours to get back, with me driving all the way, so by the time I got home I’d had enough of driving. I wasn’t finished though, because I had to drive the car back round to the Co-Op to buy wine.
Geocaches found over the course of the weekend were:
- Dash Falls
- Warnell Fell (Cumbria)
- View of the Solway Firth
- Calling Bassetts Snow Hill
- Whitewater Dash Falls
- View of Saint Kentigern’s
- Church Micro 7835 … Welton