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MLV's 24 Hours

It’s been a couple of weeks since my 24-hour jaunt around the fells of the Lakes, and finally I’ve found some time and motivation to document what was a pretty wild time out.

Somewhere wet, dark and minging


The concept of ‘MLV’s 24 Hours’ came up at the start of the year as I looked at what challenges I could fit in ahead of my 8000m peak expedition departure. I loved my Bob Graham Round in 2022, but it was totally relentless. It’s not possible to relax when you’re constantly chasing a schedule, and even though I only stopped for less than 30 minutes throughout the whole thing, I still only ‘scraped’ sub-24 with a time of 23:23. My 105 mile Lake, Meres and Waters experience in the August of the same year was massive and daunting, but I did manage to prove to myself that I was possible of keeping on for more than 32 hours. I appreciate these times, and even the modality of which I was doing the challenges, isn’t directly transferable to the rigor of Extreme Altitude mountaineering, but there have been two rationales behind it all. Firstly, if you can run 105 miles or climb 42 peaks in 24 hours, there’s no denying you’re fit. Secondly, is if you can train for and execute something of that magnitude, then there’s no denying you have mental strength. I finished 2022 on a massive high, and I felt pretty unstoppable.


2023 was due to be the year I ‘stepped it up’ with multiple running-based challenges lined up, but my Achillies disagreed with me, and just days before my Lakeland 100 race was due to start, I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture. I sensibly dropped out and instead did a solo ride of the Fred Whitton from home. This was a tough day out, one I thought I’d perform better on, but I got my ass kicked. Alas, it was still a great challenge and served as a reminder that I could dig deep when the time comes. And so, heading into 2024, my final year of training before Manaslu, I thought back to my Bob Graham and wanted to do something similar again, but more on my terms. Above all, I needed a reminder that I was mentally resilient, and being out on the hill for 24 hours, bagging as many Wainwrights as I could in that time felt like a good way to do it.

The plan was born, I did my usual tactics to commit myself to it by telling the world on social media, and then it was time to train. My training over the winter was dominated by gym sessions, and any running was usually shorter efforts of 60-90 minutes. I was a bit nervous as I approached the date that I hadn’t done enough long runs, especially when compared to the number of miles I’d put in ahead of my BG. My longest run of the year was actually just a week before when I ran a 40km leg of the 13V Ultra as part of a Charity Challenge.


As the day drew nearer, I started looking at the forecast. It had been blisteringly hot the weekend and part of the week before, and when I saw that there was actually a bit of drizzle forecast for the run day, I was relieved. If my 2019 attempt at the BG proved anything, it’s that I’m not great in hot conditions. Two days out and the yellow triangles started appearing on the forecast. ‘Yellow Warning of Rain’. The hours went by, I’d keep refreshing the forecast in hope that something would change, and it just didn’t. I was set to get wet….very wet.


On the morning of the challenge, I woke up and felt this wave of satisfaction. I realised that I’d already come so far. 3 years or so ago I would have been seeking any excuse to not head out into what was forecast to be awful weather for even 12 hours, let alone 24. Things were off to a good start. I had a lazy morning, waiting for the forecast rain to hit. For some reason I’d scheduled an 11am start, and subconsciously this may have been a bid to again ‘do things on my terms’. BG attempts are often begun in the evening if going clockwise, or early morning if going anti-clockwise. I’d tried both, and I think I quite liked the idea of waking up, having a lazy mooch around the house, sort my final bits, and then crack on once the body is ready to go. At 10:30am, after a pretty dry and clear morning, the rain started.


Sara, my seasoned support car driver, turned up and soon we were off to Wythop Church which was to be my starting point. Sale Fell is my local training ground, so it felt so very fitting to have it as one of my Wainwrights. Sarah and Luke had come to support me on this leg, which was to take in a number of small and mid-level peaks as we made our way to Whinlatter Pass. It took just 15 minutes and we got peak 1 (Sale Fell in the bag). We moved onto Ling Fell, which even at just over 300m, was being battered by winds and shrouded in mist.  We linked Ling Fell to Graystones via the boggy mess that sits between them, and then swiftly moved across Broom Fell, Lord’s Seat, Barf and then finally Whinlatter. We arrived at the car park, pretty soaked through, about 10 minutes ahead of my estimated time, but the schedule really was more of an indication for support than for me to stick to.


Sarah and Luke tagged out and Howard was now in support for a couple of legs. I didn’t stop long at the van, I just changed my waterproof jacket and grabbed a few snacks. Soon enough we were off on our way up Grisedale Pike. By the time we got to the top of it we were back into the full force of the wind, but we were still braving it out in our shorts. Hopegill Head was next, and then it was off to Grasmoor. Grasmoor was horrible, with a really strong wind and the rain being whipped like needles. It was here I had my first negative thought about the challenge – merely 4 hours or so in. With 20 hours to go, I just didn’t think I could be up in weather like that for such a long time. I managed to supress the thought, and even if it was shit, standing there moaning about it wasn’t going to make any difference.


Onwards we jogged, ticking off Wandope, Eel Crag, Sail, Scar Crags Causey Pike, Ard Crags and the Knott Rigg. We dropped to Newlands Hause where we met the van again, and Matt had come along for a trot out. Again, I just grabbed some snacks and replaced my waterproof. I knew this next leg was short (about 8km) and I would utilise the stop at Honister much better. We started up Robinson and bizarrely my legs started to cramp! I couldn’t believe it. They were just minor little niggles, but was this a lack of running training rearing its head? I smashed some gels and just kept plodding on through yet another boggy mess. The summit of Robinson was grim (there’s a theme here), but we’d done the hard work of the leg now and we just had to traverse two more peaks and I could get myself properly warmed and dry. We bagged Hindscarth which was swiftly followed by Dale Head and descended down to Honister Pass. By now it was about 8pm or so. Howard had been a brilliant companion for the two legs, despite his knee giving him plenty of grief as we went. It had also been great to have Matt along again. He’d played such a big role on my Bob Graham and my LMW, it only felt right to have him along supporting me once more.



Dropping into Newlands Hause


As planned I used the support at Honister wisely. I completely changed my clothes, took on lots of food and ‘reset’ myself in preparation for the longest planned leg of the challenge. I was to now run for about 5 hours into the night, making way for Dunmail Raise. This leg held many similarities to that of a reverse leg 3 of the BG, but when there are so many easy peaks to grab around the Langdale Pikes it made sense to replicate that. Luke, a guy I’d only met a handful of times with work, but spoken to loads on social media, had offered to come and support the night legs. It always blows me away that people not only wish to support, but will do so at an ungodly hour. What’s more is the weather was absolute filth, and even as I changed in the van it was bouncing off the floor outside.


After about 30 mins we were off, heading for Grey Knotts. I was in my dry cocoon of waterproofs and warm layers, once again on my way up a hill. The food I’d just eaten wasn’t digesting and it sat in my tummy like a brick. This killed the pace for a bit, but progress was still being made. From Grey Knotts we then quickly got Brandreth and then Green Gable. The wind was kicking across Green Gable and I told Luke I wanted to drop Great Gable. The boulder strewn summit was going to be a pain in those winds, and I felt we could use the time we’d save on easier to grab peaks later down the line. I predicted we saved about 40 minutes by not doing Great Gable. Luke did turn to me and say ‘Yeah, OK, as long as you don’t drop every other peak!’.

We dropped to Styhead and ascended up towards Esk Hause. A quick side excursion brought us the summit of Allen Crags. The plan now was Esk Pike (and originally Bowfell after that but we’d actually already decided at Honister that we were going to skip that thanks to the boulders) but I turned to Luke as we reached Esk Hause once more and said ‘I want to turn left! Let’s head straight for Rossett’. He looked at me and probably felt a bit perplexed, especially as I was indeed dropping ‘every other peak’ all of a sudden. But I was feeling low, a bit cold, needed to fuel up a bit, and heading up onto one of the tallest peaks of the challenge in that weather, feeling like that, was not appealing. Very quickly we got out of the winds as we ran towards Angle Tarn, and we both felt like some very good decisions had been made. This was the joy of making my own challenge. If I’d been on a BG I’d have either had to hit the peak or it was curtains for the challenge.


By now it was getting dark and it seemed like the weather was finding a new level. I remained in my cocoon, but I was thoroughly soaked through to the bone. Dunmail Raise was still a while off, and I followed Luke like a loyal dog along paths that were now streams, and across streams that were now raging rivers. We bagged Rossett Pike, Pike ‘O Stickle, Harrison’s Stickle, Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, High Raise and Sergeant Man, all without any great pace as the weather had us well pinned and visibility was shocking. Luke navved us down to Calf Crag, and re-invigored by the thought of being so close to Dunmail Raise where the van was with fresh clothes and warm food, we got a shift on and soon had Steel Fell bagged. As we dropped steeply down off the side of Steel Fell I cold feel my knees had had enough, but with about 8 hours left on the clock it was just a case of sucking it up.




 

I quickly got in the van and got about changing. I needed to reset myself again as we were about to head onto the highest portion of the challenge. I don’t seem to remember having had much in terms of negative thoughts through the first night leg. I obviously found it hard, but I’d just kept moving. Even now, knowing I was about to head back up into the washing machine, I wasn’t dreading it.

Mark, a non-runner, had wanted to come and support, and he was keen to be on a leg where he could offer help in the low moments. He was happy to jog along as we did, and was outpacing me easily on the uphills. We left Dunmail Raise and instead of taking the direct line up Seat Sandal we re-routed to head up by Raise Beck. The beck was bursting at the seams, and the power of the water was at times frightening. I couldn’t but think that one mis-step and a tumble into the water would be the end of me. We did an ‘out and back’ on Seat Sandal and then tackled the steep direct line onto Dollywagon Pike. In theory, we’d now done the hardest bit of the leg, as all the hills on the Helvellyn range are linked by relatively minor undulations. We took in Nethermost Pike and then Helvellyn. We dropped down Swirral Edge and on to Catstycam. We then ventured back up Swirral Edge into the madness of the plateau. It was about this time our phones were sirening as the ‘National Emergency’ thing took over warning of severe flooding – and there we were stood on the 3rd tallest mountain in England.

We continued northward, over Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson’s Dodd and then Great Dodd. By this point I think Mark’s knees had decided to exit the challenge and Luke was now doing hill repeats between me and heading back to make sure Mark was OK. As I got to the gate coming off Great Dodd I thought I’d take a moment to sit – something I’d envisaged I’d do a lot more of on ‘my challenge’. I laid back and felt the rain on my face and shut my eyes. The wind faded and the sensation of the rain eased. I was dozing off. What would have just been a few minutes later I heard footsteps and opened my eyes to Luke standing over me with his camera out. I pulled myself up and marched onward to Clough Head. I hobbled down the steep descent on its northern end and left Luke and Mark behind, knowing I needed to keep moving. I kept checking back to make sure they were ok but also felt the draw of the van, for what was probably going to be the last time.

As I neared the road there was a familiar face stood at the gate. Bernie, who had come to support leg 1 of my BG had come out to join me, and as we reached the car park my friend Dava was also there. They’d been musing over my next steps, as I had about 75 minutes or so left on the clock. They thought I’d maybe want to go for Blencathra, or head for distance instead. At this point I was on about 92km and going into the challenge I’d said I’d love to do 100km. The decision was then easy, we’d head for Latrigg along the trainline. I dumped my pack, changed my top and then we were off. The end was in sight and I enjoyed moving on some easy flat ground. Bernie and Dava couldn’t believe how well I was moving, and in truth, neither could I. About 10 minutes in, Luke appeared. Having helped Mark down to the easy terrain he pegged it to catch us up. Once a few KM’s had been chewed up, we were back on the up and heading up the long eastern slopes of Latrigg, my final, and 46th peak of the challenge.



Snoozin'


We pondered the ability to get another peak in, but my knees whimpered at the thought of it. Instead we opted to cruise around a little, but this was soon halted when I realised my watch was on 0% and was very much on borrowed time until it died! I knew I could have got my tracker gpx so all would not have been totally lost, but I made the decision to pull the end a few minutes sooner. The idea had been floated to finish at Moot Hall. Moot Hall is such an iconic place, and the start / finish of the Bob Graham. It had no relevance to my challenge, but it certainly did to me. I thought it was a great idea for this to herald the finish of the challenge, and suited much better than a random layby somewhere. We blasted into Keswick and for the second time in my life, I finished an epic adventure at the steps of Moot Hall. In ran 101.5km with almost 6400m ascent over 46 Wainwright peaks.


Just like that, 24 hours had come and gone. About an hour after we finished it also stopped raining….


Everyone I spoke to in the subsequent days said ‘How did you survive that, the weather was atrocious!’. In truth, at the time, I didn’t really think it was that bad. Yes, I was aware of it, but I think I was just so focused on moving, eating and staying in my cocoon I manage to recede into myself. Realising this puts a big smile on my face, as I’m sure when I’m high up on Manaslu and the weather is doing its best to ruin my day, I’ll once again be able to dig in and block it out.

The run was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. I never thought it’d be a given I could run / hike for 24 hours, but I’ve proven in the past I can do that and more. I was expecting to get to the 20 hour mark and then start suffering, whereas the weather on this challenge brought that on at just hour 4. The ‘level of suck’ was cranked up high for hours on end, and I pulled through. The experience taught me more about myself then I think any of my other challenges have done to date, and it’s given me such a confidence boost that I’m both physically and mentally on the right track to give Manaslu my best shot in September.



There was also an irony buried within this challenge. 2022 was the year of 23’s. I did the BG in 23:23, and became the 23rd person to run the LMW. I then went and ran 46 peaks on MLV’s 24 Hours…

 




 

As always, these things simply cannot happen without the support of my friends and family. Big thanks to:

Naomi – for putting up with my seemingly, never-ending desire to exercise and do silly things

Izzy and Finn – for making me want to be the best version of myself in order to offer up a role model to you both

Sara – for always being up for an adventure without hesitation, taking time off work, and sitting in dark laybys in the middle of the night

Matt – for always being keen to support and inspire

Luke – For going out of your way on a super shitty night to motivate and accompany me through something I’d have almost certainly have failed at Solo

Mark – For enduring (in your words) ‘the worst night of your life’ in a bid to support me

Howard – for putting your body on the line to help me out

Sarah & Luke – for helping me off the start line

Bernie and Dava – For being there at the bitter end with supportive words and friendly faces.

Finally, Colin and Louisa for coming through and seeing me finish.





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