It’s been a couple of years since I’ve written a detailed account of a long race, or indeed had a big scary running goal, so here we are, and I swear it’s taken longer to write than running the damn thing. I didn’t want to forget anything; there’s so much detail you could probably use it as a navigational aid, so get a cuppa!
I’d intended on doing Wainwright’s Coast to Coast as part of a single stage (non-stop) race and trained and reccied as such. Multiple cancellations meant I was getting antsy having the same goal for nearly three years, so we decided to do a DIY multi-stage-more-comfortable version with overnight accommodation, road support and friends joining me as pacers. I still wanted a challenge though, so went for six days which meant an average of 50k/31miles a day. I was really glad I decided on that in the end: a running holiday based around travel and socialising, two things which have been sorely lacking lately!
Being my first multi-stage thing, I didn’t really know what I’d need, so tried to prepare for every eventuality, going faiiiirly light on the kit but very heavy on the food (thanks Mum and Dad!!). I was fairly apprehensive about what state I’d be in after running six ultramarathons in six days…
Day 1: mizzle and joy with Pip
46km, 1370m climb
Bird of the run: cormorant or shag, unsure
Pacers: Pip, Finn, Andy, Mum and Dad
Got up at 4am (sorry Dad) so we could start before 9. No way was I sleeping in the car, especially not when we drove under the Shap bridge (“aagh that’s the beginning of day 3”…) Meeting Pip it was all feeling quite real and I was itching to get started. Dipped my pebble (from a recce) in the sea and Pip selected a “Pacer Pebble”.
Saw loads of C2Cers, so excited and relieved to be finally starting on the coast to coast “for real”! It was pretty warm out of the mizzle and we made good progress chatting away around the headland (first nervous wee), trying to work out what the seabirds were (not geese apparently). Soon I was reminiscing about February 2020’s recce with Dom (“To Moor Row!”, “Dom fits under that tree”, “aha we struggled to find this massive obvious track”) and before we knew it we found ourselves on our first proper hill, Dent. Lovely hill, highly recommended, but it was more like Damp as we descended, got a little bit chilly, so waterproof tops were pulled on and our knees were grumbling. We were soon distracted from those worries by Mum and Dad running towards us with a first refuel (“we’ll meet you in Ennerdale Bridge, I’m not running down that road”) and it was all very exciting.
We saw Andy in Ennerdale Bridge, who’d managed to do his Black Coombe recce backwards but was happy enough (“I’ve got coffee!”), and Finn (Pip’s brother) and my parents joined us for a leg. Ennerdale Water was the first striking contrast to all the winter recces – the water was clear! We were in t-shirts again! The heather was blooming! Mum paced us nicely and the long section went by really quickly…until we said goodbye to M&D and began the trudge along the forest track.
Our February recce had ended for the night at Low Gillerthwaite (by Ennerdale YHA) and the flattish undulating runnable track to Black Sail had seemed long on fresh legs the next morning… After 30km it was tortuous and there were some bouts of silence (!!!). Got the gel out and kept reminding us that the more we ran, the quicker it would be over. Andy met us on his bike with poles and gave us a target (walkers ahead! We’d only seen a couple since the morning).
We caught up with them at the knolls by Loft Beck (“Fielding! Edmonds! Can’t think of any more”) and I think inadvertently led them to a worse stream crossing place (our feet were already wet, we didn’t care). The poles were great on the climb and soon we could see Buttermere just underneath the cloud, where I had flashbacks to this year’s Saunders. The path contours around Grey Knotts for waaaay longer than I remembered, but there was no hail this time and we were definitely on the home straight. Said goodbye to Finn at Honister and headed down to Borrowdale YHA, where there was a picnic, tents, delicious chilli and a nice cold river waiting for us.
Day 2: not a diva (yet)
Borrowdale – Shap
51.5km, 2230m climb
Bird: house martins
Pacers: Pip, Kate, Mum, Dad, Steph and Mike
Pip and I both managed to sleep really well despite white feet (they dried quickly) and an inordinate amount of faffing on my part (I’d spread my stuff between two vehicles and a tent) and we were up at 5 to tackle what felt like the scariest day due to the elevation. I tried a new lifehack of swallowing a hayfever tablet whilst brushing my teeth (not recommended). Mum said I had “the Spine look”, which I took to mean “steely determination faced with a lot of miles”, but she may have just meant I looked a bit out of it already! We both felt really strong (“our legs warmed up after 45km!”) and were soon pootling our way down to Grasmere from Greenup Edge (completely alone! We saw no one!). It felt nice to have a reason to take this steady (don’t break yourself too early, Kim) as it’s an annoying combination of rocks and bog, and it looked somewhat different to the recce (not knee-deep in snow). Spirits were high when we realised that the Grasmere Gingerbread shop would be open after all – we arrived in town one minute after it opened, and fortuitously Andy was also there so we didn’t have to detour to the centre. We picked up lovely Kate who was in coral and brought snacks (as I’d hoped!), and we all had a wonderful chat about her current project and put the world to rights going up the steeeep drag to Grisedale Tarn. It was so special to share part of this journey with Kate, as we’d had such a special/emotional/mildly traumatising time together on Lakeland 100, and we had plenty of time to reminisce again! On the descent I had a near miss (slipped and landed in a squat, narrowly avoiding sitting in a big puddle) and the first application of chafe cream…
My parents ran up to meet us from Patterdale which made the last couple (?) of km to the van go even quicker (it’s 10 whole km down from the tarn!). Time for some foot taping, stuffing of food into mouth and trading Kate for Steph and Mike. Dad insisted on taking a photo of all the pacers touching the pacer pebble so I got going while I was feeling good and let them catch me up (small payback for when I paced Steph…!). Anyone who knows me or Steph won’t be surprised there wasn’t a second of silence on the next leg, apart from when I was asking “what are all those mountains?”! Views were amazing by this point and it was getting warmer. I was absolutely thrilled to reach Kidsty Pike (a blizzard prevented me from finishing the recce in December 2019), more so when some walkers looked quite impressed at my challenge and I half believed I’d manage it!
Sunglasses on (“who’d wear those sunglasses we got on that race…oh, Kim would”), Steph a little disappointed I wasn’t being more demanding (“errr you could carry the map if you like?”) filling me in on all the gossip and a lovely descent down to Haweswater, where I dunked my head in the now traditional spot and warned everyone of the “technical bit” from Lakeland 50. That too went quickly with my expert guidance (they barely noticed it) and more chats (more chafe cream, cue Steph’s horror stories from cave expeditions) and larks (can’t believe Mike put sticky weed on Steph, so rude*) and it was exciting to get to another new bit, some lovely woodland (made it safely past the treacherous speedbump where I stacked it in June!).
Just over a week later and I’m already forgetting what was aching when, but I do remember that by now Pip was taking care of me, checking I’d drunk and eaten enough, though we’d done the same distance. I returned the favour by telling scary stories about Lakes in a Day and making occasional silly puns (she’s super strong, she’s going to smash it). Having two professional wildflower experts with us seemed somewhat a waste as our brains didn’t want to retain much, apart from meadowsweet and sneezewort? And we had some lovely house martin displays as we neared “civilisation” again (M6/Shap). Shap wasn’t quite as close to Haweswater as I would have liked but the Abbey and more friends waiting for us more than made up for it (shortly after I’d subjected my running pals to a traditional rendition of Frank Turner’s The Ballad of Me and My Friends).
Louise, Faye, Fran and Andy met us and took us to the Air BnB in amusingly unsuitable sporting attire (lol sandals), where things started to get a teeny bit emotional as I parted ways with the rest of the Lake District crew (making sure we plied them with plenty of snacks). Legs were feeling good, I demanded Faye apply my customary nail varnish (hard as nails) and we had a lovely meal.
The Lake District is stunning. No doubt about it. I’ve run north to south, done a big loop and now I’ve traversed it in two days. (Maybe I should start going up some of the hills now!) It’s the noisy showy older sibling of the Coast to Coast, chewing you up and spitting you out. Onto the quieter members of the family…
Day 3: pizza, birbs and gossip:
Trigpoint Tuesday XIV
50km, 1330m climb
ny owl, guinea fowl,
Pacers: Fran, Faye, Mum and Dad
Let the faffing begin! Mornings from this point became more faffy as I applied increasing amounts of tape to my collarbones/neck, but this one was easy because we just put tape on the red marks. Two days of Pip was followed by two days of Fran, so I knew it was going to be a long day* and we’d have nothing to talk about*. It was another early start because I wanted to make the most of the Keld accommodation.
Nice flattish limestoney bits were a welcome change from the pointy Lake District, and it was nice to revisit the sites of my very first C2C recce with one of my very dearest friends*. The sights were delicate and subtle rather than spectacular (Crosby Gill, Sunbiggin, Smardale Bridge, spicy pizza) until we came to a murmuration above Kirkby Stephen which contained LAPWINGS AND (later googled) STARLINGS TOGETHER!
Mum, Dad and Faye met us and we headed to the van, parked in a particularly stinky/noisy car park so we didn’t stop for long. Faye joined Fran and me for the next section, making quick work of the long steady road climb, keeping us entertained and up to date on news (this is also where I turned on my internet and my phone was flooded by excellent memes from Annie). Mum and Dad joined us when road turned to trail (leaving the van halfway up a big hill for Andy on his bike, soz) and soon we were on the top of Nine Standards. Sadly not much time for a photo shoot as the weather crapped out; we got our waterproofs and gloves on with a certain sense of urgency (felt a bit adventurous, that). Ooh a trigpoint for Trigpoint Tuesday, photo! Selfie! Oh no this is the real one, photo! Selfie!
Felt good to get a jog on and get out of the mizzle, taking the August route off the top (ooh new route), attempting to lose Dad in a bog (near where I actually lost my phone on the recce and had to go back 2km to find it) and before we knew it we were in the sun (?!) in a beautiful quiet valley heading towards Ravenseat.
This was where Mum issued her warning: pacers should be notified that my judgement shouldn’t always be trusted from now on! Keld wasn’t far off (Faye’s longest run!), and it was perfect: bunkhouse, potatoes, our own waterfall in the sun, Fraser and another Faye. Halfway already!! I was starting to get a little spacey in the evenings…
Day 4: The Long One (A run of four halves)
Keld-Lovesome Hill (Vale of Mowbray)
62km, 1300m climb (all at the beginning)
Bird: little owl, sandpiper, grouse
Fran, Andy, Fraser, Faye (her longest run yet) and Mum.
Fran and I started off steady – not steady enough, went up an extra bit of road hill and had to retrace our steps – then a small bit of Pennine Way and onto my favourite part of the whole route: the gills above Swaledale. What a difference to November 2019 – Swinner and Gunnerside were soooo colourful, more heather, bracken and grass, compared to the bleak dramatic grey (“path or stream?”) they were when I reccied this section. Andy and Fraser intercepted us just after a wee stop and I had my first taste of bagless running, with them dropping it off a few hundred metres up. Luxury. We saw some sort of sandpiper creature and it was just all glorious (I think this is where Fran told me off for skipping?). Possibly took a slightly wrong turn coming out of Gunnerside Gill but I wasn’t bothered, it was all very lovely, and we still had more to come.
I couldn’t believe I was still running, and feeling so good! The run down to Old Gang lead workings was excellent, we had such a good rhythm going. Fran got some arty pictures of me in the heather heading towards Reeth (“pretend you’re Jen Scotney!”). The quiet secluded little valley I was raving about has got a massive industrial wooden bridge in it now though! Break in stride in Reeth to use the toilets and do a bit of footcare, scoffed quite a lot of food and onwards!
The fields of Swaledale (after that long bloody road out of Reeth) were a welcome change of pace, apart from poor Fran’s knee was being a bastard. Heading into Applethwaite my feet were getting sore so I sat with them in a stream for a bit, just catching my shoe before it floated away! Eating was starting to get harder now, Mum and Faye met us coming into Richmond and we put more tape on my neck, Faye joined us for the next section.
Poor Faye’s bag was so full of pastries we had to eat them to make it stop rattling; my first taste of the new Greggs vegan bean/sausage/cheeze slice was very good! Way past halfway and still running well, Fran telling me I was still looking strong, I started to let my guard down (bit teary) and believe I could actually finish this. Of course part of me thought it all along, but I tend to protect myself against disappointment until it actually seems plausible – and anything can happen when running across the country! Leaving Fran and Faye behind was another necessary step in the journey but goodbyes were getting harder.
Nice quick faff in the car park ready for the next section, which I’d been dreading – 15km of flat mainly road, parents had refused to do this bit so poor Andy was on. Obviously pride comes before a fall, and I felt so great for the first 8km ish, with Andy carrying my bag (excluding being sad that I didn’t want to eat – suppressed appetite is my least favourite side effect of very long stuff) and it had all been going so well… something had to go wrong.