I went into the Clif bar 10 Peaks with high hopes. I train on flat roads, so undulating terrain is always a challenge, let alone punishing ascents on rocks, boulders and scree. Yet, it is something I love, thrive on and sign up to race for those reasons.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” John Steinbeck
The next 23 hours and 47 seconds were some of the greatest of my life. From the highs you feel when everything comes together and just works, to the lows when your body seems to have a completely separate agenda and is inexorable to every action you take.
My expectations altered completely, however in doing so I learnt valuable lessons about myself both in my capabilities and what works for me.
The Clif Bar 10 Peaks course is 73km of Lakeland Fells, incorporating the 10 highest peaks (a total of 5300 meters of climbing);
- Helvellyn, 951 m (3,118 ft)
- Bowfell, 902 m (2,960 ft)
- Great End, 910 m (2,986 ft)
- Ill Crag, 935 m (3,068 ft)
- Broad Crag, 934 m (3,064)
- Scafell Pike, 978 m (3,210 ft)
- Scafell, 965 m (3,162 ft)
- Great Gable, 899 m (2,949 ft)*
- Pillar, 892 m (2,926 ft)*
- Skiddaw, 931 m (3,054 ft)
Along with the 10 summits, High Raise and Esk Pike were mandatory, as well as checkpoints.
From the start my energy seemed to be lacking. I had spent the last 3 weeks of exercise completely, after a two week excursion with work had left me fatigued. Every morning I woke up but found myself back asleep instantly, which is odd for me. I’d also picked up some sort of cold, which had then morphed into hay fever.
Not the best preparation, however having run a lot this year, I knew that the endurance side would be ok, as it takes more than 3 weeks to lose it all. I wasn’t going to run like a headless chicken, but it did concern me as to how well I could cope.
I ate a lot. I had a reasonable dinner the night before and managed to consume a bagel, banana and SIS Go Bar before the start. Unlike most races where I fail to eat throughout and manage on fat reserves, I actually started to eat early and continued this to the end. I should point out that I am in no way adapted for using fat as my primary source, but when you manage to eat a light breakfast and a few hundred calories during a long race, you have no other choice.
I ate the following during the race which totaled 3159 calories;
5 Clif bars
8 SiS Go Bars
2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks
1 High 5 Energy Gel
1 Mule bar Gel
1 Clif bar gel
Not included in the above calculation
3 snack size mars bars
10 jelly babies
A portion of pesto pasta
handful of honey nut roasted peanuts
Handful of almonds
2 slices of malt loaf
And probably something I have forgotten in since finishing.
I never felt hungry, never felt the need to eat more, rather thought was eating too much. In reality, no matter how much I put in, I never felt powerful on any climb or descent.
I also consumed 9 litres of water and 6 Nuun electrolyte tablets.
Whether or not this was the correct amount, too much or too little isn’t where my knowledge lies. What I do know, is that I was able to consume calories consistently over the whole course and didn’t wake starving the next day.
I’ve never used a GPS in my life. I’ve possessed watches with the capability for 5 years, but I’ve only ever used them to track training sessions to see where I have been. On this occasion, having been sent a Suunto Ambit 3 Run to test, I figured there wouldn’t be a better opportunity. Having not been in part of the Lakes for 7 years and not having the opportunity to recce the course, technology was going to be given its chance to shine.
Setting up the .GPX file in Movescount, I loaded the course onto both the Ambit Run and my own personal Ambit 3 Sport. However, on race day issues occurred. Two days prior to the race, Movescount was updated, which caused a few problems. Firstly, when I went to start the course on the Run version, the option for a route had completely disappeared. Shit! I had my Sport with me in the pack, so I pulled this out and started using it.
The accuracy of the navigation was incredible. All you are given is a simple line to follow, but provided the course has been sent correctly it will literally take you into meters of your intended trig point. I used this for the first 8 or so hours, until the battery died. I had set both watches up for 15 hours, taking a GPS reading every 10 seconds, but for some unknown reason both had reverted back to 1 second.
Of course you can externally charge the watch via a USB power bank, however in my haste in the morning (having woken late) I had forgotten the cable. So as I summited Scafell Pike for the second time, my watch died and I was back to map and compass.
At first my head struggled to orientate the world, as I stood deep in the clag. After a few minutes stood staring at the map and compass, it all started to click. Sometimes you need to put yourself in situations to engage your brain and access your seemingly misplaced skills. Other than going down two direct routes, battling gnarly scree and wasting time, navigation improved on the whole as the day went on.
Kit – Carried & Used
Salomon Nordic Headband
Compressport Trail top
Montane Allez Micro Hoodie
Montane Minimus Smock
Inov8 race gloves
Compressport trail under shorts
Inov8 Race Elite shorts
Pearl Izumi socks
Inov8 TerraClaw 250 shoes
Salomon 12l Slab Adv Skin2 with two 500ml soft flasks
Harvey special edition 10 Peaks map
Sony Z3 compact smart phone
Suunto Ambit3 Sport watch
Suunto Ambit 3 Run watch
Easton Mountain Products Ultralight Carbon 3 piece poles
GoPro Hero 3+ Black
SP POV pole
Silva TrailRunner II Headtorch
Kit – Carried & Not Used
Outdoor Tech Yowie (like a buff, but not a buff)
Outdoor Tech Kodiak power bank (forgot cable)
Lifesystems Nano First Aid Kit
Montane Featherlite Trail Vest
3 x SIS Energy powder sachets
Additional clothing – socks used
Adidas Terrex Boost shoes – used
Nutritional products – carried but not used
Did I take the right items?
The only items I wore for the entire 23 hours were the Compressport top and shorts. I had never worn them before, so it was a gamble. The top is not for compression, instead posture and heat management and this worked well. The undershorts offer compression precisely for the quads and hamstrings. I felt the benefits of the compression they offered.
The Montane Hoodie and Smock came into their own from Pillar onwards. Once I summited Pillar, I wore the Smock until I reached the finish in Keswick and put the hoodie on when ascending Skiddaw. I was glad I took the hoodie as with gale force winds and driving rain on Skiddaw, my body temperature dropped considerably. I had wished I had leg protection, as my legs were exposed entirely from the knee down, but that’s the risk you take on a hot day when planning much less time out on the mountain.
As I said before I had issues with the technology side, however this can be accredited to a software update and my forgetfulness leaving the charging cable in the B&B.
The new Inov8 Terraclaw 250’s were brilliant on all surfaces. They tackled mud, gripped onto rock and had enough cushion and give for road sections. As they had got soaked through several times, I switched them out for Adidas Terrex Boost at the Honistor checkpoint, as they were dry and provided greater cushioning.
30 miles wasn’t bad for a first outing in the claws!
Gaitors – I own them, considered taking them. With the amount of small stones they may have proved beneficial. At Honistor, I even found small pieces of glass in my shoes.
Longer socks – My preferred socks only come in ankle form, though with the terrain, longer socks will aid preventing foreign onbjects into the socks.
Drop bag – put something in for every relevant possibility. Windproof trousers for example could have been ready for me.
Tech – It is going to go wrong, so make sure you are clued up. A GPS or smart device is only ever an accessory and never your main source of intelligence. Remember your cables if taking chargers.
Nutrition – Little and often keeps your head and energy levels up, whilst keeping your body able to accept it.
Hill Work & Strength and Conditioning – I need to do more, having done much less I feel I have lost power in my legs and the ability to endure long climbs.
Walk – Even elites walk. You aren’t a lesser person for doing so, you are being sensible.
The plan – Your primary goal is only ever to finish.
The 10 Peaks were a beautiful and brutal day out in the Lakeland Fells. The course captured all of the best properties of the national park, allowing anyone who hadn’t experienced it before one hell of an experience. Indeed Adam, the gentleman in the picture below with me, had never climbed a mountain in the Lakes before, so what a first experience!
Marshalls were brilliant, even though many had been positioned on the hill since the early hours and had a day spent in that same location, they were all in high spirits and wanted to see you make your way round. Honistor was too good; toilets, showers, hot food, chairs, tables….. If anyone pulled out at this point, I can’t blame you! If only there had been pizza left at the finish, though the hot chocolate was very much appreciated.
The day had highs and lows like any ultra, and allowing yourself to come out of the lows is key to a successful day. My body felt weak on climbs, my breathing laboured and it was at these times that I broke down the climb mentally and knew that on reaching the summit my experience would rapidly change.
My time was good up to Scarfell Pike. 6-7 hours and around 1/3 of the course completed. Scarfell would take an additional 40-60 minutes and further to summitting Pillar, around 12 hours in total. This left a good chunk of time to get to Skiddaw. I walked the majority of this with Adam, with occasional run sections. We decided gettig to the finish was the priority, less so the manner in which we got there. Of course we played with hypothetical times which we may finish at, but this was all just hearsay and who knew when we would.
Skiddaw was a bitch. A real bitch. After we took a wrong turn and muscled up the walls of a gully (impaired cognition due to fatigue), the path was a real slog. The day had been cool in the clag and warm in the valleys, but now the winds were chilling and the rain ever stronger. When we summited, visisbility was a matter of meters, wind at gale force strength and rain horizontal. We ran to the summit, and made our way off the mountain after I dibbed my timing chip and yelled into the storm “Let’s get the £%*! out of here!”
The descent was like a motorway, a wide winding path which encouraged running and entering Keswick to the dawn chorus of birdings singing at 0355 was memorable.
So the 10 Peaks, it’s a challenge, but one which I fully intend to take again and keep finding myself looking back at the map with fond memories.