> 2010 race reports
07/08/10 Borrowdale Fell Race - from Dave Johnson

At most races I simply turn up, start when I’m told to and at some indeterminate time later in the day, I stop. My only aim is to arrange it so that this temporal finish coincides with the geographical finish of the race. But for this year’s Borrowdale race I'd decided it would be different, for I had “a plan”. Previously I had always ran out of steam shortly after getting up Great Gable and had to endure an awful last few miles of desperate and seemingly never ending struggle to get to the finish. The reasoning behind the plan was straightforward enough. Because I always reached Honister with about 40 minutes to spare before being timed out there was surely scope to take it easy and still comfortably make the cut off. If I did this surely I could get maybe as far as Dalehead before I died. Furthermore, even if I was 20-30 minutes later on Gable, I would make it all up by being able to run strongly to Dalehead and perhaps beyond and so finish in the same time as last year. In fact I confidently expected a new PB.

On the day the weather and conditions promised an exact replica of last year with a cloudy drizzly morning improving to give a pleasant afternoon. When I arrived at registration the first NFR person I saw was Trevor Wakenshaw. “That’s a bit of luck” thought I to myself. I could put my bags in his car and then the friend who’d driven me over could leave when he’d finished his walk and not have to wait for me to finish. It turned out to be a decision that was to have a minor but nevertheless annoying repercussion later in the day.

Soon NFRs were appearing from all directions. There was John Duff, Paul Appleby and Paul Hainsworth, Bernard Kivlehan, Joe Faulkner and Louise Wilkinson, Graham Bingham, Chris Little, Billy Fraser from our Scottish Section and Dave Coxon who I managed to introduce myself to twice in the space of 10 minutes. Perhaps this was just as well as we were to spend much of the race in each other’s company.

One of the nice things about the Borrowdale, or rather the only nice thing about it, is the genteel start it provides for the less athletic of us by funnelling everyone into a bottleneck behind the Scafell. This fitted in admirably with my plan as I jogged along to the start of the first climb up to Bessyboot. On the way up I passed Louise, Trevor and Joe and on the summit caught up with Dave C and tucked in behind him. He seemed to be going at just the right sort of pace for me and I stuck with him although I was less enamoured of his habit of taking photos of me unawares. (Rob I demand the right to censor any he may send to you).

We were well in the clag by now but as we were with a group that included a couple of Keswick vests I was pretty relaxed about our navigation. Even when, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of runners drop off down and to the right of us. I wasn’t too worried although a nagging voice told me that was probably where we should go. Unfortunately my conviction decidedly lacked enough courage and I kept quiet and assumed our leader knew what he was about. Sorry Dave C, that probably cost us 10 minutes and 200 feet of unnecessary climbing! It soon became clear that they were definitely right and we were definitely wrong. Still it wasn’t a big wrong and we only went part of the way up Allen Crags. In fact the subsequent stop to consult maps and compasses gave us a rest that fitted in well with my slowly but surely plan. After just a bit of faffing around we soon found the trod again and reached Esk Hause maybe fifteen minutes down on my previous time.

Dave and I now stuck onto the tail of a St Helen’s runner who seemed to know a few good wrinkles on the way up to Scafell Pike. Last year I remembered jogging a lot of this and it was pleasant to take much of it at a fast walk this time. I was twenty five minutes down at the summit but I felt strong and all seemed well. Hitting the scree/soil run wasn’t a problem and we were soon haring down the corridor route and out of the clouds for the first time that day. Twenty minutes slower than last year at Styhead was OK but I didn’t want to lose any more time. Anyway didn't the “Plan” dictate that from now on I would be making up time?

It took 35 minutes to get up to the top of Gable, exactly the same as last time but even before I reached the top warning bells were beginning to sound the death knell of my strategy. For the first time I was feeling tired and as soon as I started to descend to Windy Gap, exhaustion hit me just as it did last year. I was totally bemused how could this be? Trying in vain to figure it all out took away some of the pain of descending and trying to keep up with Dave. I managed to draw level on the traverse around Green Gable when we entered the clouds again and the group he was tailing stopped for a consultation. They headed off down and leftwards. Yet again I had a feeling this was wrong but yet again although I had suspicions I said nothing and blindly followed. Sorry again Dave but to be honest I was already past caring!

As we emerged from the clouds again it was clear we were heading towards Moses Trod and needed to regain a little height. We should have gone right of Brandreth and then swung left around Grey Knotts but I think we more or less went over both of them and in reality I was so knackered I was already on auto pilot. I was actually hoping I would miss the cut off at Honister!

As we started the descent to the pass the sun came out and I realised, with mixed emotions that short of hiding somewhere for a few minutes, I was going to make the cut off with about 5 minutes to spare.

When we reached it, Honister was bathed in hot sunshine which was something I could have done without at that stage. At the checkpoint we saw Bernard which was a surprise. Judging by the way he powered up Dalehead, I can only assume we’d caught him because he’d been having 40 winks or maybe doing a spot of sunbathing.

This climb was really awful and was made more so by my condition and by being passed by so many I’d passed earlier in the day. Try as I might I couldn't keep up with Dave and I have to shamefacedly admit that from here on I gave up on the race and just thought about finishing as painlessly as possible. Even so on the track down through the mines I did pass two people who seemed to be suffering more than me. Once on the valley floor one of them passed me in turn. This lifted my spirits a bit because for some reason I thought there might be a spot prize for the second last finisher and that could well be me now!

I managed to break into a run for forms sake when I reached the village and finished in a time of…. Well let’s just say it was a long time and one I’d rather forget. All I will say is I only just managed to get a sandwich and a cup of tea before they shut up shop at the village hall. I picked up an extra sandwich for Trevor who would surely be arriving soon. I sat down for a few minutes in the pleasant afternoon sunshine.

All I really wanted to do now was to get to my guest house, have a bath and get a beer or preferably several, but there was one problem. My kit was in Trevor’s car and there was still no sign of him! I saw John and he confirmed he wasn’t down yet. I knew I was ahead of him and could only think something had gone wrong and he’d missed the cut off. Even so if he had he should be back by now and even if he hadn't he should still have been back.

I waited and waited, walked to registration and back to the car again to see if he was there. No sign. I was walking back to registration for the third time when an organiser, ( I still had my vest and number on), said with smile of relief, “Ah! You must be one of the missing runners”. I had to disappoint him on that score but when I said I was looking for one Mr T Wakenshaw, he confirmed he was one of those listed as “Missing In Action”. He was last seen on Great Gable at 3pm-ish but it was now 5.30pm. I assured them he was experienced and he had the hotel number to ring if necessary and would never do off before reporting in. I went back to the car promising to come and tell them in the unlikely event he showed up there first.

One by one I ran out of fellow NFRs to talk to as they all left for home. It had been a sunny late afternoon but now it began to cloud over and at 6pm it started to drizzle. At 6.15pm I was feeling a bit put out at how the day had gone so I ate his sandwich. I was just about to go and see if Scoffer had heard anything more when at 6.30pm he finally appeared. He’d checked in and told his sorry story which surely gave Scoffer a laugh, it certainly made me laugh. I won't bore you with the details but first of all it serves him right for believing a runner from a London club who said he knew where he was going;-) Secondly, I can't believe anyone else has ever included Kirkfell in their Borrowdale run!

After a few minutes of well deserved mickey taking we left for Keswick, checked in at the guest house, got cleaned up and settled into an evening of food and too many beers at The Packhorse

As for any future race plans, sod them. From now on I'm just running as quickly as I can until I die and resign myself to always finishing looking and feeling like one of the living dead.

Dave Johnson

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