Running the 'No Cure, Always Hope' Ultra for MS Society UK
When my trip to the Isle of Skye was called off due to poor weather, I started looking around for something to do with my week off. It didn't take me long of scouting around on the internet to remind myself of the 10in10 'No Cure, Always Hope' Ultra. Before I knew it, I'd signed up and started making the required preparations.
If you like BIG days out in the hills, read on...
Unlike any of the other challenges I've run this year, there was a request (not requirement however) that you endeavour to raise £50 for MS Society UK, the charity the '10 In 10' events raise money for. I set my target at £50 not wanting to be too ambitious at a time of economic turmoil, however this was soon surpassed. By the time I set off on the run on the morning of Wednesday 29th September, I'd raised £340.
The run starts and finishes at the Swinside Inn. The Swinside is set in the Newlands Valley, surrounded by a few cottages and plenty of mountains. It's a traditional Lakeland Inn with plenty of ales, a hearty menu and a banging beer garden. I was looking forward to getting back to enjoy 2/3 of these at the end of my run - providing I could get back.
At 5:37am under darkness I left the car park of the Swinside and took the roads across the valley to the base of Causey Pike. It was a stunning, starlit morning and the forecast winds were yet to rear their head. I climbed probably too fast to start, and upon reaching the top of Causey Pike after just 42 minutes I gave my head a wobble and told myself to calm down. I'm still yet to master the 'long game' with huge runs like this and as with my Lakes, Meres and Waters, feel somewhat overwhelmed until I've got some KM's out of the way. The Coledale Fells are some of my favorite, and ones I know so well. I trotted along the ridge over Scar Crags, Sail and Eel Crag, at top of which daylight was starting to break through. After Wandope the route now nosedives from Whiteless Pike into Buttermere.
I love the analogy 'You can't eat an Elephant all at once' and it has been a welcome mantra this year as I've taken on these challenges. I divided the NCAH Ultra into portions, and Buttermere would be the end of 'Leg 1'. I'd spied Green Gable as the end of Leg 2, Castle Crag as the end of Leg 3, and then Newlands Pass as the end of Leg 4. The Pass to Swinside was to be a short and sweet leg 5.
Within 2 hours I was heading through a silent Buttermere village. The climb up Red Pike was the next challenge, but also very familiar ground. The Buttermere valley is close to home for me, and with that I've spent many training runs in the valley. The Buttermere ridgeline, along with the aforementioned Coledale Fells feature in my favorite hills, and I think this is why this route appealed so much. The climb up Red Pike took about 50 minutes, and by this point I was down to a T-shirt. The forecast for the day had been for 17-18mph winds, with 28-30mph gusts, all from a northerly. I'd expected to be quite cool up on the tops, but from this point on I was in a t-shirt all day. Bliss.
I scooted along High Stile and High Crag and over Haystacks. The route now heads for Grey Knotts, and in a bid to keep my feet dry I took the slightly longer route past Great Round How rather than head cross country - I'm like a Diet version of a Fellrunner... I carved a route up the side of Grey Knotts and then took on the easy climbs up Brandreth and Green Gable. Green Gable, often overshadowed by it's bigger sister really is a superb little peak. That view into Ennerdale is immense.
The route turns down Aaron Slack and upon reaching the shores of Styhead Tarn, I pretty much made a direct ascent up the steep grassy slopes of Seathwaite Fell. Up until this point I had more or less been on 5-5.5kph, but this killed the average pace. I dug in and kept clambering on, digging the walking poles in as best I could for extra traction.
Because of the way the route wanders on the map, it's hard to tell where the half way point is, and in truth I was finding the KM's were racking up incredibly slowly. My head dropped a few times, but I soon remembered why I was out there, and how I'd (by this point) raised almost £400 for charity. Personal fundraising is something I've not done a whole lot of over the years, but there is definitely a motivational power to be had. At times throughout the day my mind turned to what the charity itself was working towards, and what the disease is. It doesn't take long to make feel fortunate that I'm able to just pop my shoes on and head around the hills. For some who have this disease, this was their life, and now it can't be. I kicked my own ass into gear and cracked on.
Allen Crags soon came, and then it was over the undulating bulk of Glaramara. This is about the half way mark.
I could see Castle Crag, one of the peaks on the route up the valley waiting. It was nice to have a longer spell of downhill running down Thorneythwaite Fell, and then the flat valley trails were very welcome. I called into the YHA at Rosthwaite and crabbed a Cheese & Onion Pasty which was so very welcomed at this point. I got Castle Crag out of the way and the magnitude of this run was hitting me, and how I felt I'd definitely underestimated it. I certainly wasn't giving up, I just had to tackle the almost pathless 500m climb up the side of Maiden Moor to get myself established on the last part of the challenge.
I managed to pick up a series of paths and sheep trods which took me most of the way to the top so there was less bracken to wade through than anticipated. As I rounded out onto the plateau of Maiden Moor I shouted 'Come on!'. I then realised there were some walkers nearby who were not only a bit shocked by the shout, but also perplexed at the direction I'd come from...
The climb up Dale Head was the next, and pretty much final crux of the route, as once up there you're cruising once more. I ticked off High Spy and got down to Dale Head tarn. The climb up Dale Head was pretty slow, and by this point my quads were quite spent. I don't think I'd done too well throughout the day with my fuelling, and this is something I certainly need to work on. Next year I hope to do some big solo runs, likely supported, but doing this run solo and unsupported was appealing to me to see how far I'd come physically and mentally. It certainly makes a difference when you're not with someone reminding you to eat and drink. One major point of reflection from the run was how I don't feel I'd have ever been able to complete the route solo earlier this year from a mindset point of view, I just don't think I'd have been strong enough to see it through.
After Dale Head I soon bagged Hindscarth and Robinson, shortly followed by the final high point, Snockrigg. It was now downhill all the way. The route from Newlands Pass is all round, but mercifully, mostly descending. To do 5-6km along the road at the end of an out and out fell day is interesting, but very welcomed as it meant I could stride out a bit. Despite being quite tired, I ran every step, even the hill back up to the Swinside.
I returned back to the pub having run 60.8km, 4254m ascent in a time of 12:08. I was very pleased with this effort, and also stoked to see by this point we'd gone over the £400 mark for MS Society UK. Ian, a friend and Chef at the Swinside appeared almost instantly with a beer which was simply incredible. Not long after I was in the pub getting stuck into an immense 'Swinside Burger', looking at the roll of honour board on the wall.
So, to summarise, that Ultra is pretty tough! An Abrahams Tea Round is 50km and has 3,600m ascent - I ran one of them when I'm sure I wasn't as fit in 8 Hours 45. This on the face of it isn't that make further, but what's involved makes a real difference. I think if there is anyone who is prepping themselves for something like a Bob Graham Round this would be an excellent day to add into the mix - it's essentially half a BG and even tickles a bit of the route (Leg 5).
If you wish to view my 'stories' from the day click here
A huge thanks to everyone who donated, at the time of writing we're now up to an incredible £460. Should you wish to donate, you can do so here
For more info on the route, the 10 in 10, and the amazing Yvonne and Duncan who are behind it all, head here