Spine: stage 2, the long one

On the climb out of the CP I was surprised to find there were people still headed in (last year almost everybody had already left by now). There were a lot of speedy runners still in the CP when I left though, so I was expecting a stream of people to come past me during the morning. First up were ‘the Germans’ (Thomas, Michael and Guido, who’s actually Swiss) moving at high speed with Steve in hot pursuit. Just like last year it was a beautiful morning, and various fell runners were out and about. Their positive comments were a boost, but it was depressing how much faster they were moving than me. Ian caught me just before Top Withins and, after a brief stop there to remove layers and check feet, he pressed on aiming for a cafe just off route.

Another group, including Dave and Annie, came past on the flagstones across Icornshaw moor and I was a bit depressed by how fast they pulled away from me. I eventually caught one of them, Alan who was doing the Challenger, and spent a while with him. We had the usual ‘where exactly do you come from with that accent?’ conversation (I get a bit bumpkiny when I’m tired). To my surprise this was the only time someone asked the question. Does my accent get less broad again when I get really tired? Or does it deteriorate so much there’s no need to ask? (Hopefully I wasn’t greeting people with ‘ow be yon’ me lover’.) Alan stopped for a meal in Lothersdale, while I pressed on. My plan was to keep going while the Sun was up and stop later for dinner at Garsdale.

Just before Garsdale it started raining, which made me feel unreasonably miserable and I was glad to stop at a pub and get out of it. True to form ‘the Germans’ were there on (at least) their 2nd pub stop of the day. I ordered veg lasagne and chips. ‘Do you want the chips as well as or instead of the garlic bread?’ ‘As well as.’ I sat by the fire and phoned the OH while waiting for my food. A couple of other runners came in to eat. The locals seemed somewhat intrigued/perplexed by us. All told I was stopped for nearly an hour, but felt so much better for it. Despite sitting by the fire I got a bit cold and put an extra layer on.

Just up the road Annabel was manning another monitoring point. Apparently Dave and Andy had passed through a few minutes before and had been a bit concerned that I hadn’t been through before them. This time, with my pub food stop, I had a good excuse for what had taken me so long. I soon caught them and, thinking that 3 heads would be better than 1, we more or less stuck together for the tricky, boggy fields on the way to Malham. This turned out to be the case. A couple of times my route memory kept us on track. I stopped under a bridge to take off the extra layer I’d added in the pub and was surprised to see headtorches coming back along the route. It turned out they couldn’t find a small gate in the corner of the field and thought they’d gone off-route.  Dave’s GPS (a SatMap with a much better basemap than my Garmin) guided us back to a tiny wall crossing which we’d missed and at one point he called me back when I overshot a bridge across the river. I’d missed this on both my recce and last year’s race, and now had an explanation for why on both occasions I’d ended up floundering around in marshland.

Feeling perky, thanks to my pub meal, I pulled away on the last stretch into Malham. In retrospect Malham would have been a better place to stop & bivvy, but I wanted to keep going for a bit longer while I felt good and pressed on to CP 1.5 at Malham tarn. I did try and stop for the loo, but couldn’t get in as ‘the Germans’ were setting up camp. I was somewhat disgruntled at instead having to go al fresco in the rain (I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me go in the men’s loos instead).

I picked a better route across the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove than I’ve managed before. There was a bit of crawling on all fours and shuffling on my bum, but this time I wasn’t worried that I’d fall down a gap and break my leg. Up at Malham Tarn the weather was wet and windy but, looking on the brightside, nowhere near as bad as had been forecast. I was expecting to find a sea of tents and bivy bags at the CP, but in fact there was just one, and one person trying to sleep on chairs in the CP tent. I set my bivvy bag up and, after some jogging on the spot, crawled in. I’ve bivvied out in far worse conditions, but for some reason I struggled to sleep much. The intermittent noise as other people passed through the CP didn’t help.

At about 4.30am I gave up on sleeping, packed up and headed for Hawes. This was a couple of hours later than last year, so I hadn’t lost any more time since stage 1. On Fountains Fell I caught up with a pair, including Alan who I’d been with the afternoon before, and, just like the day before, ‘the Germans’ charged past me. Apart from this (and Joe Falkner in a car at the road-head before Pen-y-Ghent) I didn’t see anyone else until just before Hawes.

Perhaps thanks to my climbing lessons, Pen-y-Ghent didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as last year. The long climb up to Cam High Road was as tedious as ever, and this year Hawes was just another CP and not the finish. I was beginning to get tired, and stopped and sat down to eat several times. Usually I eat on the move, but these short breaks made me feel better and also allowed me to get more food down. Like last year I kept seeing things on the horizon and initially wondering if they were something else (last year it was clumps of snow-covered grass and sheep, this year gate-posts and people). There was a camper-van waiting at the top and I got confused about whether it was an official monitoring point (I didn’t want to miss another one and risk getting penalised).

Reminiscing about my Challenger finish last year, I was looking forward to jogging the descent into Hawes. However early on I came across someone stopped a bit off-route, rummaging in his bag. I shouted over to ask if he was OK. He said he wanted to drop and asked how far was it to Hawes. I pointed at Gayle in the valley, and said Hawes was just a mile after that. I told him that I knew the route and he should follow me down. I headed off and a couple of minutes later looked back, to see him still stood there rummaging in his bag. I then realised that he was in a worse state than I’d initially thought. 

I headed back up and asked if he wanted some food. He said yes, if I had some to spare, which I did. I asked if he wanted Hula Hoops or a Mule Bar. He seemed flummoxed by the choice, so I gave him a Mule Bar. It turned out he’d been trying to use his phone to call race HQ. I asked if he’d like me to phone them and ask them to pick him up from the road-head. He said yes. The food seemed to have perked him up a bit, so I set him off on the route down and got my phone out. Initially there was no signal, and then the first number I called went through to answer-phone, but finally I got through. Thanks to the trackers they could see where we were and said they’d send someone out. A photographer from Sport Sunday offered to take over walking him off the hill, and I continued my slow jog down to Hawes. In the midst of all this someone flew by wearing shorts and carrying a huge rucksack. I later discovered this was the super-speedy Charlie who (after being close to the front of the field on day 1) had had a long stop at CP1.5 due to hallucinations and trashed feet. A little bit later I encountered Scott and Stuart on their way to the rescue.

This incident shook me up a bit. The weather wasn’t that bad, and we were really close to civilisation. What if something similar happened in bad conditions, somewhere remote?

On arriving at Hawes I attempted to do some shopping. This didn’t go entirely smoothly. First I went to the two outdoor gear shops. Both of my pairs of waterproof gloves had leaked and I wanted to get some new ones, ideally (I somewhat over-ambitiously decided) Goretex with Primaloft insulation. Not the sort of thing small shops in a small town stock. Then I went to the Coop. Having run my food supplies down due to the sparse food at CP1 I’d been planning to buy a lot of food. But the supermarket was small, with narrow aisles which seemed to be full of small children. So I just grabbed a handful of Mars bars. When someone finally came to serve me at the checkout they made some comment about me having finished now. ‘No. I’m going on to Scotland.’ Judging by the look on their face I think they thought I was making this up.  And then a small boy told me off  for buying so many Mars bars.

The CP was really crowded, and somewhat confused I just stood in the doorway. Some people must have thought I was doing the Challenger and started clapping. Nici came over and sorted me out with a chair and my over-sized drop-bag. She also warned me that I needed to keep one eye on the cut-off for leaving CP3. But I (naively) already had a plan. It was now about 4pm. I’d eat, get four hours sleep and leave at about 10pm, with the goal of getting to CP3 by 2pm the next day, giving me another 6 hours to eat and sleep there before the cut-off.

The food was a bit sparse again, but this time I was sensible and also ate one of my Expedition meals. While it was cooking I phoned the OH. One of his friends, who’s a fast ultra-runner, was following the race online and had texted him excitedly, telling him that various decent runners were either behind me or had dropped out. He also (incorrectly I later discovered) thought I was 2nd placed woman at this point. I said that I was fairly sure that most of the people behind me would either drop-out or be timed-out (given that I was going to be pushing the mid-way cut-off), but I’d be happy to finish last. Because that would mean I’d finished.

I spread my damp gear all over the place before heading behind the curtain on the hall stage to sleep. I managed a couple of hours, but my ear-plugs couldn’t block out the noise from the hall, in particular the clapping as people doing the Challenger race finished.