> 2012 race reports
16/06/12 Great Lakes Race - from Dave Johnson

Saturday 16 June Great Lakes Race 13 miles 7000 feet

The atrocious forecast did not disappoint and it was pouring down when we arrived in Langdale. This weather was no doubt a major reason why only 300 of the 500 entrants turned up but I am happy to report all four NFR pre entrants, Chris Sanderson, Marie Drozdowicz, Trevor Wakenshaw and David Johnson were all present and correct. After we had registered there was a rumour going round that the race might be cancelled due to the swollen becks in upper Eskdale and it has to be admitted that at least Marie and I were secretly hoping it would be, although Trevor was weirdly keen to get stuck into it.

The organiser Ian Barnes gave a perfect pre race briefing in which he impressed on us the need to help others out when required especially at the stream crossings and advised us to "go upstream and cross over at Esk Hause if you have to"!

Trevor and Marie and I started together right at the back but I left them behind early on the climb up the band. I spotted Denise Tunstall of DFR up ahead and tried to make up ground on her. I had almost caught her by the summit of Bowfell but got stuck for a short while behind two very nervous descenders coming off the summit and lost sight of her in the clag. I was annoyed at missing the grassiest line on the way towards Esk Pike. I started to feel cold going up Esk Pike as the rain beat down and it didn't help that also quite windy but not overly so. Great End came and went in a blur and although I felt fine fitness wise on the approach to Scafell Pike I more or less decided to stop trying to race it and just picked my way carefully over the greasy rocks up the final pull up to the top where I passed a few people. On the summit, I have to say I just wasn't enjoying the experience one bit and I seriously thought about packing it in and it was only the cheerfulness of the marshals here that persuaded me keep going on. I'm glad they did because I actually started to enjoy the descent to the Foxes Tarn checkpoint which I reached 45 minutes before the three hour cut off.

I was amazed at what I saw here when I looked up! The dry gully of the week before had been replaced by a torrent of crystal clear water. It was wonderful and muttering “bloody hell” to myself several times I set off up it. It very much reminded me of the day I did Raven Crag Gully in Borrowdale in similar weather! I soon caught up with the group of runners I had lost touch with on the descent from Mickledore and tagged along at the back of them, not that there was any option to do otherwise! The climb up was great fun. Apparently when Trevor and Marie reached it, I am told Marie's first words were the rather unlady like “I'm not F****ing going up there” and when Trevor said to the marshal, “That wasn't there last week, she replied that it wasn't there an hour ago!

The flagged route took us up quite directly to Scafell's summit and for the first time in a long time there was some decent running to be had on the grass below the ridge to Slight Side. It was noticeable that as we approached Slight Side which marked the start of where accurate navigation became an issue, people were clumping together into little convoys and I was no exception joining a group of about a dozen. Between us we found what seemed a pretty good descent from Slight Side avoiding any rocks or scree and without going too far south. As descended and emerged from the clag I was amazed for the second time that day.

Last week the River Esk had been a cheerful happy little beck, gurgling cheerfully down numerous little cascades through upper Eskdale. Today it was a foaming maelstrom, crashing thunderously down through the valley at express train speed. Everyone stopped to look and you could tell what everyone was thinking and it wasn't “Ooh how nice is that?”. We trotted down to the banks in a rather worried frame of mind and looked for somewhere we could cross without the aid of a detachment of Royal Engineers. We split into two groups, one opting for a faster flowing but narrower part, whilst the group I was with went downstream to a wider and more sluggish looking bit of the river. We formed a chain and after gathering in a couple of late arriving recruits, started to inch our way across. The force of the water was just a touch frightening and my heart leapt each time a foot slipped on the river bed below. The water was up to my waist and I felt for any vertically challenged runners like Marie who would possibly need snorkels. We made it across safely but any relief was tempered by the knowledge that Lingcove Beck lay ahead of us. A runner with local knowledge led us successfully around a little boggy section, although Marie and Trevor weren't so lucky. Marie's exceptional ability, she could find a marsh on a concrete car park and fall into it, led them both into a waist deep bog hereabouts.

Lingcove Beck proved to be not as wide as the River Esk but it looked faster flowing and again there were two schools of thought about where to cross. Again I opted for what looked like a slower flowing but wider section. Another chain was duly formed and off we went again. We were about two thirds of the way across when disaster nearly struck. Both me and the runner next in line lost our footing at the same time but she managed to keep hold of the person ahead for long enough so that we were propelled in the direction of the bank. Two chaps showing great presence of mind, jumped into the river and managed to grab us to make sure we hit the bank just a few yards further downstream instead of at Ravenglass. Thanks lads, it's a shame that I'll probably never know who you were.

From here on we settled into the long gently inclined trudge up to the col west of Little Stand. I was surprised at how fit I felt but I had no inclination to push on and just stayed in my convoy as we struck off towards the Pike O' Blisco path. Tiredness struck though when it came to go uphill once more and the climb to Blisco felt twice as hard as it did during the Langdale race. From the summit the group split up and when the valley became visible, (and what a relief that was I can tell you), I realised I had turned North and started to descend too early. Teaming up with a woman from Keswick I traversed around the fellside to the more usual grassy descent route. A man shouted at us to team up for the crossing of Langdale Beck or go up to the bridge. We headed straight down to cross the beck where it turned out the farmer was on the far bank with a rope which I caught when he threw it across the beck. We linked up and with the aid of the rope got safely across this final obstacle. We walked along chatting, had some photos taken by a friend who had come to watch and then broke into a jog for the final few yards to the finish. It had taken about five and a quarter hours, at least half an hour longer than I had expected.

I met Denise Tunstall at the Race HQ, who said she had retired after a bad fall shortly after Bowfell. Then a friend, Ed Sherstone of Southport, came in and told me of his unaccountable nav. error of turning right instead of left coming off Slight Side and almost ending up in Wasdale. This was the first of many such tales that I was to hear whilst I waited for Marie and Trevor to come in, which they did together after six and a bit hours. Marie was sporting some impressively nasty cuts and grazes on her hands and legs after two falls on Scafell. They had been led slightly astray by a runner who insisted he knew a better route than they did near Little Stand. Chris Sanderson finished safe and sound but the group he was with made a major error near Pike O' Blisco which added another four miles to their day out. Ouch!

Personally speaking, I have never raced and had to contend with conditions and obstacles as bad as this. Would I do the race again? Well, yes I would, but not if it is raining!

Dave Johnson

> top