#78peaks was the aim, unfortunately ‘it just wasn’t my day’
As a runner it’s one of the hardest things to accept. You do all the training and meticulous preparation; you take to the start line of a race or challenge feeling fitter than ever; you run as hard as you possibly can, but by the end you find yourself muttering those dreaded words… ‘it just wasn’t my day’.
Rewind to Saturday just gone, and that was me doing the muttering. Exhausted and frustrated in equal measure, I sat on the top of Yewbarrow (mountain summit number 51 of what I had hoped would be a total of #78peaks) and tried to evaluate what had gone so badly wrong in my attempt to break The Lake District 24-Hour Record. Yes I had excuses, but none felt truly valid enough to account for the way my body had failed to deliver the performance I knew it was capable of. Even now, three days on, I’m finding it hard to accept. I guess, and here it comes, ‘it just wasn’t my day.’ How frustrating.
I expected it to be fast. I didn’t expect it to be so humid
To beat Mark Hartell’s long-standing record of running 77 peaks in under 24 hours was always going to be tough but having tried and narrowly failed last year, I went into this attempt feeling fitter, stronger and more confident (see my pre-challenge blog). Setting out from Braithwaite at 5am with a potential 110 miles and 40,000ft of ascent ahead of me, I was both focused and determined. I was also relieved to free myself from the shackles of anticipation and finally get down to business.
Running to a schedule that allowed no margin for error, the first section to Threlkeld, which includes 11 summits, was, as expected, fast. What I’d not expected, however, was such heat and humidity, especially so early in the morning. Ascending to the first summit (Lonscale Fell), the sweat poured from my face and body. It wasn’t even 6am. Despite the difficult conditions I felt good and, together with my leg 1 pacers, began the peak-bagging in earnest.
It’s very easy to lose minutes and fall behind on the schedule but extremely difficult to make those minutes back up
Things were going really well, so well in fact that we reached the top of Bowscale Fell (summit number 9) a full five minutes up on schedule. Had I gone too fast too soon? I didn’t think so. I actually felt like I’d been holding back and reserving energy. Why then, between there and Bannerdale Crags (summit number 10) did I suddenly begin to feel so drained and light-headed? I slowed the pace and drank some more fluid. Had I really over-heated after just three hours of running? Quite possibly so. The unexpected early morning humidity had taken its toll. I recovered, yes, but never fully.
Up onto Blencathra and then down the notoriously steep ‘parachute drop,’ I ran at a decent pace, arriving at the first road crossing bang on schedule. It was great to see so many friends and family members there to support me. I stopped momentarily to stuff my mouth full of food and drank some water before a stern voice yelled, ‘Come on Adam, get running!’ That’s the thing with this record; it’s so good that anyone attempting to beat it can’t afford to waste time, not least at the roadside pit-stops. As I’ve found out, twice now, it’s very easy to lose minutes and fall behind on the schedule but extremely difficult to make those minutes back up.
Running alongside fresh-legged pacers Steve Birkinshaw and Ben Abdelnoor on leg 2, I made my way up and over another eight peaks before reaching Helvellyn’s expansive plateau (summit number 20). There was no reserving of energy or holding back now; I was behind schedule and feeling tired. Just 12 months earlier I’d skipped over the top of Helvellyn. This was different. My legs felt heavy and my body ached. Six more peaks followed before the long descent off Seat Sandal down to meet my roadside support team once again, this time at Dunmail Pass. I was now six minutes behind schedule and feeling weary.
The joys of scree surfing
Doused in a large bucket of cold water and feeling slightly refreshed, I started the brutally steep ascent of Steel Fell. Using my poles to help against the gradient, I walked as fast as my legs would allow. I continued to push and push but still I remained six minutes behind schedule. That was until we reached the scree chute beside Pike O’Stickle (summit number 34), which falls all the way down to the valley bottom in Langdale. Surfing the scree rock underneath my X-TALON 212 shoes, I was able to descend at speed and upon reaching my support team in the valley discovered I’d clawed back three minutes.
My spirits lifted, I attacked the next big climb up Pike O’Blisco and by the summit was back on schedule. Game on… or so I thought until I looked across the ridgeline and saw mist beginning to shroud the mountains ahead. Why now!? How frustrating. To be fair, our navigation through the mist was actually pretty good. Okay, so we lost the odd minute here and there and took a slightly dodgy line off the summit of Great End, but I was still feeling positive -albeit very tired -as we topped out the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike (summit number 48).
Making the decision runners dread the most
However, from here to the next road crossing at Wasdale, via the summits of Scafell and Lingmell, I lost further time. My quad muscles felt like rocks and I really struggled on the long descent. Upon reaching the car park at Wasdale I was gutted to learn I was 12 minutes down on schedule. With 50 summits in the bag and potentially another 28 to go, I was determined to carry on and attempt to gain back the minutes I’d lost. Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow I made a purposeful effort to claw back time, just like I had done on the earlier ascent of Pike O’Blisco. I reached the summit to discover I’d actually lost another three minutes. I’d given that climb absolutely everything but I just had nothing in the tank and no power whatsoever. It was like I was stuck in third gear. It was then I made the difficult decision, the one we as runners all dread, to end my attempt and head back down to Wasdale. Yes, it gets slammed in the DNF pile. I could have carried on and completed the full circuit but there was no way I was going to do so in under 24 hours. My day was over.
I’d run 61 miles, including 27,000ft of elevation gain, and summited 51 peaks in just over 15 hours (see map). Good, but nowhere near good enough. Mark’s record is so outstanding that to even get close you not only have to push your body to the limit but also have everything go your way. Ultimately, things didn’t go my way. Or, if you prefer, ‘it just wasn’t my day.’
Taking the positives out of #78peaks record attempt
As frustrated as I am, I’ll take the positives out of Saturday’s experience. For a start, I was running at around 15-hour Bob Graham pace (the Bob Graham Round is a sub-24 hour challenge around a 66-mile circuit over 42 Lake District mountain summits which many runners attempt each year). If I can do that when I’m not feeling good, then surely I’m fit enough to achieve something big, maybe later in the year. As for the Lake District 24-Hour Record, well that remains unfinished business. I will have a third go at it, but I’m not sure when. Mark had three goes at it before he set a new record in 1997, so maybe it’s always a case of third time lucky?!
For now I’d just really like to thank everyone for their unbelievable support. I feel humbled that so many people took time out to support me in person, follow my progress online (using the hashtag #78peaks) and write such wonderful messages, especially on the inov-8 Facebook page. It was a great day out running in England’s biggest mountains, I’m just sorry I couldn’t turn all the amazing goodwill into success.