TEN TOPS BECOMES A REALITY... Saturday 29th June 2013 at 7.30 sees me wading into the water at Ashness Landing. The forecast is a 10-15 mph westerly with possible showers. Temperature range is 13 to 20C. As good as I dare hope!
There was a slight chop on the water but no white horses in the middle this time. The objective with the swim was to use it as a warm up, get out fresh, change, eat my porridge and get on the bike by 90 mins in. It was amazing having the whole lake to myself, enjoying the intermittent glimpses of the surrounding fells and of Catbells ahead, the muffled slopping of Nicks paddles in the canoe and my steady bubbling into the water. It was almost tempting to succumb to the tranquillity of wild swimming as beautiful as this, but I pressed on with a steady comfortable rhythm. The return swim seemed to pass quickly and I exited the water in just under 1 hour 12 min and duly set off towards Honister on the bike at 1 hour 30.
I was allowing 7hours 30 mins for the bike leg which included two 10 mins stops. You could certainly devise an easier 101 mile bike ride but I doubt you could get one as stunning as this anywhere else in the country. It was good to ride with Joe who, new to this route, marvelled from the beginning at how beautiful it all was. The legs felt good and with Joe fresh from a week riding in the Pyrenees, we were comfortable over Honister and enjoyed the blast down into Buttermere. Newlands messes a little with you with the false summit effect but gives the most amazing run off virtually all the way to Braithwaite. Of course one of the great advantages of cycling over running is the free wheel, especially with a steep climb and long roll out – fantastic. Whinlatter is the easiest of the ten tops, then on past Loweswater and up Fangs whose “bark is worse than its bite”. We rolled into our first stop at Ennerdale Bridge [36 mile] bang on time. As ever a 10 minute stop flashes past and were soon back to finishing the Fell road and the descent to Calder Bridge. The sun was out for a while and sailing along the flats towards Irton Pike I suddenly noticed we were doing 25 mile an hour and suggested to Joe we back off a little, as I had a tad further to go than him!
Approaching Hardknott always carries a little apprehension, or even a lot, if biking isn’t your strongest discipline. It was my intention to “ride out” all the climbs but at the same time save my legs for the run. Clearly on Harknott with its 30% incline this can be challenging but with a canny slow ride along the flat bit half way up we did this and then had a wind assist over Wrynose. Again we rolled into our next stop at Ambleside on schedule. Nick joined us for the leg over Kirkstone Pass [via Holbeck Lane and Troutbeck]. The climb up to Matterdale End is just one of the many significant “lumpy bits” on this challenge that wear you down but don’t figure in the “titles”. Back down the A66 to Keswick was straight into the wind so I put both of them on the front and felt like Bradley Wiggins suggesting they “pick it up a bit”! We arrived back at Ashness 5mins ahead of schedule. The bike leg had been positively pleasurable. The target average speed for the bike had been 14.3mph but we finished on 14.7mph. This may seem a modest pace from the comfort of your armchair but is certainly didn’t feel as if we had hung around at any stage.
Disaster then loomed with no support car waiting for us back at Ashness Landing car park. I had scheduled a 25 mins transition here to allow time to change, tape my weak ankles and have a decent feed. Jonathon, my first run support had arrived so I ate his sandwiches whilst a few phone calls were made. I didn’t fancy legging it off down the road in my cycling shoes! Fortunately the car and my kit arrived after about 18 mins having been stuck for ages behind two coaches on Kirstone pass. Disaster averted, we ran off towards Seathwaite just 5mins over schedule but picked it up on that short road leg.
I must admit to being amazed at how fresh I look on the photo taken at Seathwaite. I felt reasonable at that point but not quite as chipper as I appeared. Off up the Corridor route, we were soon into wind, cloud and rain and I was soaked to the skin. We went up Lords Rake and the West Wall Traverse to Scafell. Visibility on the top was all of 10 metres. We were then back down the Rake and over to Scafell Pike. We were 5 min late at the Pike and after a slight 200 meter detour at Esk Hause, 15 min down by the time we reached Angle Tarn. I had hit a bad patch at this point and was feeling sick. Darkness approached as we made our way to the foot of High Raise. I slowed and managed to force a sandwich down although it took me about 25 minutes. Experience told me such bad patches pass but at the same time you are aware if you don’t take energy on board at some stage soon you will grind to a halt. It was a slog up High Raise and I got ahead of Jonathon and Nick [both had had significant injuries this year]. At the top their headlights looked to be about 300- 400 metres back and I was now over my 20 min contingency by 10 mins. I decided to push on alone and jogged off to Greenup Edge and the dreaded Wythburn.
Wythburn in the dark, when tired, is the stuff of nightmares. Intermittently up to the knees in bog trying to keep my shoes attached, falling frequently, I was soon so odorous that I had to keep moving just to try and get away from my own smell! I’ve heard a rumour that there is a path in the top section of Wythburn but to date have never found it. I staggered into Wythburn Church car park 40 mins late.[20 min contingency used plus 20 min over 24 hour schedule] At this point I was thinking 24 hours was beyond me and I would just aim to finish. Graeme had the bacon sandwiches ready and the full sugar de-gassed coke - this combination is my version of rocket fuel. This is almost as effective as a defibrillator in raising the half dead. We abandoned the car, keys and remaining sandwiches [not planned] for Nick and Jonathon to collect and headed off up Helvellyn. The rocket fuel duly worked its miracle and I slowly came round. We made good time up and off back down to Swirls car park. I had perhaps overestimated the time for Helvellyn and my spirits rose as I found myself back on schedule.
Jonathon joined me to run down the road and through St Johns in the Vale to Burns. Dawn came, I was back on track and life seemed brighter. I was getting some adductor cramp [inner thigh] and needed a quick massage then off with Graeme again, across the A66 and to Skiddaw via the back of Latrigg. The cramping was worse and I needed a bit more massage and coke before heading up from the car park on the final leg. I was flagging now and Jenkin Hill seemed steeper than ever before. There was a howling gale on the top of Skiddaw but I now suspected I could do this as long as my cramping didn’t get worse. I was pleased I could still run after a fashion when I turned round and staggered down off Skiddaw. Amazingly I even passed a group of youngsters heading back into Keswick who looked in a worse state than me. We passed through Fitz Park into a just waking Keswick to hit the Borrowdale road. By this point I had to walk up anything more than a 1% incline but managed to be still running on reaching Ashness Landing in 23 hours 36 mins. Relief was my overwhelming sensation mixed with satisfaction and gratitude to my supporters, without whom I could never have done this. I therefore would like to thank Nick Hudson [canoe escort, bike leg, and run leg], Graeme Widdup [ support car, run legs x2], Joe Garcia [ whole cycle route], Jonathon Trezise [ run legs x3], and finally my wife’s longsuffering support of the numerous daft things I do.
This event had been 3years in gestation and completing it did feel like I had created something. What had been a dream, then a plan, was now a reality and an entity in its own right.
Clearly given my age  I am aware others will go much faster over this course but I would like to think it offers a significant challenge to most people of any age as a 24 hour challenge. If it is too much for you to take on non-stop at the moment you could do it as a 2 day challenge with the swim and bike one day [or just the bike] and the run section the next day. Be warned however, if you have obsessional tendencies this challenge could take over your life for a while!