TEN TOPS HISTORY Like many, when approaching the age of 50 I had the urge to mark the passage of time with some memorable event. It seems around this age we often realise time is not linear and we’d better get on with life. I needed a challenge and settled on doing the national three peaks and cycling the 460 miles in between whilst raising money for WaterAid. Along with two friends, having set a target of 60 hours we completed in 65 hours somewhat battered by a northwesterly wind whilst cycling up through Scotland. Of course we then had the “just given birth” type response of “never again”, slowly giving way over the next few months to “not that bad really”.
So at age 53, along with my two partners in adventure, we find ourselves repeating the process but this time North to South and with a target time of 48 hours. The weather Gods were kinder [and planning a bit more shrewd, with and north or south starting option]. We finished in 46 hours 30 minutes [N Hudson, J McAvoy, G Widdup] obviously exhausted but aware of a prolonged satisfied smug afterglow that still hasn’t completely subsided. I was finding I enjoyed the dreaming about, planning, training and completion of these capers. Actually doing them, was in part genuinely enjoyable, in part perversely and masochistically enjoyable, but always very satisfying.
I was then thinking about another challenge that could be more compact and preferably in Cumbria. Although in exile for many years in Sheffield I hail from Workington and regard myself as a Cumbrian. Regarding duration, and given that one of us had been “lightly hallucinating” at the end of our last three peaks, I felt 24 hours might be a better duration than 48 hours. I was also not unaware of various joints ageing and was keen to do something as a “swansong” whilst still able to set a meaningful challenge. Loss of aerobic capacity with age is really quite slow. They state 1% per year past 40 but this rate of loss can be reduced with regular training. Endurance barely drops and motivation is not an age related problem as most of us still feel about 14 in our heads. However, the training required to get ready for longer events does take its toll on tendons and joints particularly if like me, you battered yourself playing rugby for 30 years.
I had done the Fred Whitton cycle ride previously and read about the “Lakeland three-thousands” and wondered about combining these in some way to be done in 24 hours. A few recce’s were duly done, and I thought it may be within my capability, to the chagrin of my training partners. Well I wasn’t going to do it on my own! So, at age 54 I completed a 101 mile circular cycle route round the six high passes [ from Keswick – Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott, Wrynose, Kirkstone and back to Keswick], followed by a clockwise 45 mile run route round Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, Scafell and back to Keswick] in 23 hours 35 minutes. I decided to name it the Lakeland Ten tops after its principle peaks as listed above. I thought others may wish to do it and that I should write it up, but then for reasons I still don’t understand, decided triathlons were increasingly popular and maybe I should attempt to convert it to a “tri”. This was problematic. Firstly I could only swim just over one length of front crawl – strangely the same distance I could swim whilst holding my breath. Clearly this would be a rather unbalanced ultra-triathlon with a 30 metre swim, 101 mile cycle and 45 miles run. It didn’t sound right! Secondly it hadn’t escaped my attention that I only appeared to have 25 min to spare out of my 24 hours to fit in a swim substantial enough to balance this proposed triathlon. Swimming lessons were hard. This was definitely a nasty case of “old dog and new tricks”’. I could not believe how bad I was at swimming. I used nuclear amounts of energy and made more splash than the Mississippi paddle steamer only for elderly ladies to glide stealthily past me like half submerged submarines. Skill I lacked, but dogged perseverance saw me gain a level of competence after a mere 2 years! I could now swim and breathe at the same time. This definitely improved the prospect of my completing the 2 mile swim now proposed.
The start and finish have now moved to Ashness Landing. The swim is to Low Brandelhow Landing and back – two miles if you manage a straight line. The bike and run remain as before. The only problem now of course, if I want to set a 24 hour challenge, is I have to do it in 24 hours. So, on Saturday June 30th 2012 Nick Hudson and I made a first attempt. We had a 12.30 start, a 15-20 mph westerly and the prospect of heavy showers with increasing wind and rain later. The swim was akin to being in a washing machine and took a lot of energy. The cycle was manageable. By the time we were starting the run it was very windy on Skiddaw with the cloud down to about 1600ft. I regretted choosing to go up via Carlside and the steep start up Doups. We were running separately and both got significantly lost on what we chose as the “safe fell” for night time. I had lost about 45 minutes wandering around the back of Skiddaw. Back down at Burns, with the weather deteriorating, I abandoned. I was about 1 hour behind schedule at 13 hours in. Nick did the same shortly after.
I was fairly convinced it was mainly the adverse weather conditions that had beaten me, but a little unsure there wasn’t a passing years effect. I knew even as I pulled out, that I was going to try again but not for another year. I was aware that this challenge, at my age, was pretty much on my limit and that I needed the “planets to align” somewhat to pull it off. I decided next time to copy the fell running style of having supporters with me for stages, rather than try and do the whole thing with someone else. I decided to start much earlier in the morning as the water is often flatter at that time. I would also switch to an anticlockwise run route so as not to be on the Scafells in the dark [as would pan out with that start time and a clockwise route].