> 2009 race reports
16/05/09 Old County Tops - from John Duff


“We need to aim for just above some crags; I think the others have gone too high”, was my comment to Graham as we contoured around High Raise.  The traverse was proving tricky in the mist and rain.  But just at that vital moment the clag cleared and we saw the line to Stake Pass.  We were on course and had even managed to steal a march on the other teams who had opted for the higher line.  The Old County Tops Fell Race was proving to be enjoyable as ever.

The race had started 3.5 hours earlier at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Langdale.  62 pairs of runners lined up to do battle with this epic 37 miler.  I was back for my sixth attempt and was running with Graham Walton.  We set off at 8 am on Saturday 16th May in watery sunshine, but this soon gave way to cloud and rain as we ascended Helvellyn – Westmorland’s OCT.

After a greasy descent to the Wythburn checkpoint, we refuelled with jam sandwiches and malt loaf before trudging up the wet and boggy Wyth Burn to Greenup Edge.  Our lower line around High Raise served us well and we arrived at Angle Tarn in good time.  By now the clouds were clearing, and we joined the tourist hordes heading for Scafell Pike – Cumberland’s OCT.  All of the teams around us took a direct ascent off Scafell Pike with varying degrees of success – we spotted several teams scrambling down tricky-looking rock faces.

The wind and rain returned with a vengeance on the run down Mosedale, and we arrived at the Cockley Beck checkpoint feeling pretty bedraggled; Graham was struggling with cramp and I had banged my ribs on some rocks.  But after some tea and delicious banana cake, we were soon on our way ascending up the back of Grey Friar.  After 25 miles, this is a killer climb and so we took it steady while munching on egg sandwiches.

The run out to Lancashire’s OCT – Coniston Old Man – was into the wind and tough.  But it’s a great feeling when you turn for home and retrace your steps around Brim Fell, passing the teams who are still heading out to Coniston.  The marshals at Coniston were dispensing jelly babies.  Graham grabbed a handful and they seemed to do the trick – his cramp eased and we enjoyed a good run-in down Wet Side Edge and past Blea Tarn. 

We finished in 9 hours 5 minutes (a PB for me by the princely amount of one minute) in 19th place.  All that remained was to collect the T-shirt, tuck into the tea and soup, and bask in the reflected glory (which was probably more rightly claimed by Tom Brunt and Martin Beale who won the race for the third time running).  Charlie Stead was also running with his mountain marathon partner – they finished slightly behind us due to a rather circuitous route off Scafell Pike.  Many thanks are due to Arthur Daniels and the team at Achille Ratti who organise this excellent race.

John Duff

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