Old Counties Tops Race

After a long hiatus from doing anything interesting I finally have something worthy of putting on this Blog. I do have an excuse for this total lack of adventure though….

At the end of last year I entered and was preparing for the Tour of Helvelyn race. Unfortunately in the lead up to this race last December I got ill with some sort of virus that refused to relinquish its grip on me until early February. Needless to say I had to give up on the Tour of Helvelyn, and any sort of running as well for about 2 months. During this time I became very unfit, and ever since I have been battling back to some sort of endurance fitness. In recent months I have been recceing the Old Counties tops, to not only to learn the route, but to get fit for the race. My final preparation’s the Friday before the race weren’t ideal but my partners (the OCT race is run in pairs), Bill’s was far worse.
To explain; Bill had decided to help out on a BG on the Friday before the race. A crazy idea but I was well aware of it and semi roped in too. To cut a long story short. I drove most of the day; Bill met Paul Tierney and guided him over the Wasdale to Honister section. I joined them at Beck head and ran to Honister with them. Then we drove to Keswick to see him finish in a superb time of 17h 59 mins.

So on Saturday I, mildly jaded, lined up with a fairly fatigued Bill Williamson to have a go at this classic long fell race. It is 38 miles and 10,000 feet and visits each of the Old Counties summits, which are Helvelyn– Cumberland, Sca Fell Pike Westmorland and The Old Man of Coniston –Lancashire. It was a dank drizzly cold morning so waterproof top, hat and gloves were donned ready for the start. After a short briefing we were off and heading for the short up and over into Grasmere. Bill and I were too near the back and ended up queuing at the stiles. Never mind it kept us sensible after the previous days exploits. Despite a head wind we made good progress up the valley to the start of the steep ascent of Dollywagon. We decided on a direct line up the fence posts to get on the good running track sooner. The only issue with this is it makes the ascent very steep and probably the toughest on the entire route. Half way up Bill started to regret the BG support the previous day, and slowed a little. At the top we made good progress along to Helvelyn summit, which surprisingly had a light dusting of wet snow on it. We then set off following other runners on a low line which led us into a forest, neither of us new this route and we lost time fighting our way through. We both decided not to do it again next year; yes we had already committed to a more serious effort next year.
A quick stop at the car park then we headed up Wythburn. I warned Bill it was a tough valley, and so it proved to be. More sodden than my reccies, so it was even boggier than I was used to. I was going to use a higher line on the right, which is further around but on better ground. But as I headed for it I noticed everyone else was going directly across the bog. So I ended up in no man’s land and continued directly to the col of Green up Edge. So our line was 100 meters to the right of everyone else but still in the bog. After a while Bill shouted “are you doing this on purpose”. There isn’t a magic path across there it is all boggy. Honestly Bill. By the top of Green up edge I caught Yiannis up and had a quick chat whilst we both waited for our respective partners. We would then play cat and mouse with Yiannis and his co-runner for the next hour or so.
During the contour around High Raise Bill let out a shriek. He had twisted his knee and was on the ground. I along with other passing runners asked if he was o.k. He wasn’t sure but after a few minutes began to run again. Luckily it was just a nasty twist and no serious damage was done. We then made good steady progress to Angle Tarn, all the time keeping the pace to within Bills comfort zone. Despite our issues with pace and knee twists we were still 36 minutes inside the 5 hour cut of at Angle tarn.
A quick fill up of the water bottles at the checkpoint and we headed for Sca Fell Pike. Bill showed me some nice ascent line out to the right cutting out the large boulders and we had a good ascent onto a blustery Sca Fell Pike summit. A 90 degree turn to the left and we headed down the steep south face of Sca Fell Pike, then along the lengthy Moasdale valley towards cockley beck CP. On our reccie we went wrong here, but with distant figures to line up with we made fine progress to Cockley Beck CP. I had taken on the role of a sort of support, I was filling bottles up for us both and letting Bill carry on, as I knew I could catch him up with relative ease. A quick count of food left told us we had 3 jels left between us. So we vowed to have a good feed at this checkpoint ready for the final push. However compared to the small but often rule I had followed during the race, three quarters of a large tuna sandwich proved too much for me.
On the ascent up to the col between Great carrs and Grey Friar I started to feel a little stomach ache, and not long after I started to struggle. I had led all the way up but now I was struggling to keep up with Bill. On the final steep part I said “Bill 2 minutes”. I think he was surprised, and maybe glad that finally I was sharing some of the suffering. After 40 seconds I decided to get up and push to the top. I knew once my legs got moving again I would be o.k. And I was, Bill led the traverse of Swirl How at a strong pace and we made good progress onto The Old Man of Coniston. By now the sun was out and it was getting quite warm. We descended to 3 shires catching up with 2 women that had been with us on several occasions during the race. But after the last CP at three shires stone we lost them again, as Bill slowed on the steep downhill road. As we cut off the road Bill over took me at great speed, and from ambling along I was now working hard along the track to Blea Tarn. We later realised that we have very different strengths, rocky runnable tracks is one of Bills, not mine.
On the descent from Blea tarn we were now in sight of the 2 ladies again and decided to try and chase them down. Just at this moment I slipped and slid into a rock, hitting it with my knee square on and hard. It hurt a lot and I let out a screech. Bill heard this and stopped asking if I was o.k. It hurt so much that I couldn’t talk at first. Finally the initial pain subsided and after about a minute I finally started hobbling again then running whilst explaining my mistake to Bill. Like a footballer running off a knock we continued to the finish cheered on by Andy W and Gill. We had finished In a better than expected time of 9 hours 20 mins, mainly thanks to Bills rallying effort.
It felt good to finish. I felt a bit queasy so missed out on an amazing spread of sandwiches, Cakes and soups. Bill made up for it though by asking me to carry some of his food to the car. We nearly forgot the t-shirt but got one before leaving for Baysbrown campsite. A meal a few beers and a chat with Andy W and Gill rounded off a great couple of days. 


Anonymous said...

Great write up Alan and a brilliant effort over those 2 days,
Richard Davies


Thanks Richard, it is a great race and worthy of another go. Are you tempted? It is a unique experience running a long race with a partner.