Friday, October 24, 2008

Battle with the elements

From our intelligence gained the night before we knew the elements were going to fight dirty and where planning to use some of their most fearsome fighting units Wind, Rain, cold and an elite unit called mud. Our small unit was made up of three Highly trained athletes ,a seasoned veteran and team leader (codename Karen), recently recognised as most improved by his platoon (codename john) and a late recruit code name Anne .Early on Thursday morning Karen and myself( John) set off under the cover of darkness to our first secret rondavue just outside Carlisle to pick up Anne at 0900 hrs. Our unit now complete we headed for the secret RAF base in the middle of nowhere called Spadeadem for our briefing (most of which is classified) at 10.00hrs.We meet other hand picked men and women from all over the country who were prepared to join forces and take on this challenge .We studied our maps and instructions carefully as we didn’t want to take any wrong turns along the way .At 10.55hrs the officer in charge gave the order to proceed outside . We gathered at the edge of the base and no sooner after the commander had finished his words of encouragement the battle began ,a single shot whistled over our heads, it was time to go.

We all set off as a tight unit at first heading up a gentle hill on a tarmac road. I settle in behind Karen, my usual position. We passed the first two check points in good time and before long our path change direction and we where on forest track and in the cover of the trees. We passed several abandoned rocket launcher and rusting tanks scattered along the track and it was at this point that we thought we were all gonners as a loud explosion shook the ground around us and we all ducked for cover we where definitely in a war zone. After regaining our composure we pushed on. We had good cover for most of the way and the elements weren’t affecting our progress but that wouldn’t last for much longer, after a long steady climb I could see that the cover was about to end and we where heading for open Moor land. We had no choice but to make a run for it. No sooner had we broke cover we where attacked form all sides. Some of the rain and cold had combined and form a splinter group called hail stones, and they were using needle-sharp skin piercing ammunition. And being fully exposed we were easy targets .Our specially design lycra and thermal clothing gave use some protection but our faces took the full force from the hail stones which where being supported by the wind. We kept our heads low and pushed on .The constant barrage seamed to go on for ages and it was at this point our unit began to break up, it was every man (and women for themselves). I made it back into the safety of the trees and it was then I realised Iwas on my own I soldier on.I soon passed two more check points 9+10 and things starts to go down hill, Karen was way in front now and I could only just see her in my sights I turned round to check on Anne but there was no sign. Had she succumbed to the elements ? I know she wouldn’t go down without a fight.

With the wind and rain gathering in force the elements knew we would be tiring at this point and laid an ambush on the track, yes the mud was lying in wait, ready to take us down. Karen was the first to take on the mud and like a knife through butter she ploughed through, mud splattered everywhere she made it look easy but she had been in this situation many times before. As I approached the mud my legs were getting heavy and wasn’t sure I was going to make it . The mud was doing its best to trip me up using hidden booby traps and water filled pot holes .I battled on and came throught the conflict relatively unscathed.
I was soon back on the road and passed the 12th checkpoint I could see in the distance the safety of the base. As I got closer I could see the waiting crowd ,and with admiration and relief that another one had made it back they cheered and applauded. The commanding officer was there to congratulate us and award us with a medal for bravery and endeavour. But relief soon turned to anguish as we realised that Anne was still out there.

We waited and waited looking into the distance for Anne but there was no sign, had we lost one of our comrades to the elements, our hearts began to sink. Then we spotted the green and blue camouflage vest and with fight and determination that we have come to expect from Anne she fought all they way to the finish
It had been a successful mission and in the officers mess afterwards we drank cheap beer at a pound a pint and ate free pie and chips (these where RAF pies the lids were securely fastened-Andy) and laugh and joked about our victory. Was that the best that the elements could throw at us!

The commanding office awarded those who showed outstanding performances in the field and Karen was given the Victrix Ludorum the highest honour .Karen said it’s the best thing she had ever won but her jubilations soon turned to disappointment as she realized that she couldn’t take it home to show the rest of the troops. As it had to stay on the base, permanently on display for others to remember the men and women who turned out that day .

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Twenty Falls But No Submission

An account of the Langdale Horseshoe as seen from the rear of the field.

Well, I had run badly on the previous Sunday, staggered around Coombe Woods at Armathwaite on the Thursday; I was definitely coming down with something. I was viewing snotty children at work with suspicion… it was inevitable, I was obviously going to BE ILL – I had found an excuse not to run the Langdale Horseshoe on Saturday.

Unfortunately, the unrelentingly cheerful Andy Ramsay rang me on Friday night to see if I was running. ‘Well…’ I muttered about my declining health, the bad weather and then fobbed him off with a ‘I’ll watch the weather forecast and then think about it again’. Second bad moment of the evening arrived in the form of a cracking weather forecast and smiling weather presenter. Really, I couldn’t be malingering at home whilst there was a race to be run… I rang Andy back ‘I’ve changed my mind’ He sounded mildly surprised – doesn’t he know about the female prerogative?

In the way that these things happen, I next found myself slogging up to Stickle Tarn at the rear of a very large field of keen looking runners. ‘Ha!’ I thought ‘They’ll not be looking so fit by the time they get to Pike O’Blisco’. So, working on the principle that it may well be a long day, I made no attempt to overtake anyone, settling instead for keeping Andy in view and relishing the fact that the man with the bad leg I had managed to pass hadn’t yet caught me up.

And so time passed.

As the morning wore on it became apparent that the main feature of the route was going to be bog. Having had our compulsory Cumbrian pre-race 24 hour deluge the back of Thunacar Knott now resembled the Everglades (but with no trees or crocodiles). It was when the chap ahead of us fetchingly attired in bright orange vest and shorts vanished up to his waist that we paused slightly in our downhill trajectory. This gave Andy enough time to leap onto a quaking raft of moss. As it shivered gently, threatening to cast him adrift across the fathomless boggy depths his army survival training kicked in and he leapt manfully from the watery trap. His Ron Hills greedily sucked up the moisture, threatening to drag him back in, as he staggered knee deep at the waters edge. Luckily, Andy’s foresight in carrying an empty bottle up the hill to save weight in his bumbag meant that he did not complain one jot about the extra two kilos of water he was now carrying in each leg of his trakky bottoms. In the meantime day glow man had successfully extricated himself from his sphagnum grave (presumably employing some useful Ray Mears techniques) and was valiantly struggling on although his ability to fluoresce had taken a spattering.

More time passed.

We reached Esk Hause, we passed Esk Hause, we gained on the orange man struggling in the mud on the way to Bowfell. Andy kept falling over.

We reached Bowfell and passed a few more people. Then the Crinkles. Considering our position at the rear of the field I was impressed to find a bottle neck of half a dozen people skittering about at the top of the ‘Bad Step’. Who cared if you might break your neck – just get down tha’ bloody thing. I found myself slipping into dialect as Andy and I skipped stylishly past the small crowd, effortlessly downclimbing into the gully below, the whole seamless performance I felt, reflecting well on our Eden Runners vests. Then Andy fell over again. Having survived the short rock climb he chose to plummet face down with some force onto the rocks in the gully below, startling a number of other runners (however failing to trip or injure any of them). With nobbut a commando roll and a curse he was up again and off.

More time passed.

It was at this point that I started to get really bad period pain. I began pathetically asking random runners we caught up with ‘Hast tha’ any painkillers?’ they shook their heads blankly – either they had no paracetomol or they couldn’t understand my accent. This was getting really bad. Normally I would be in bed with a hot water bottle and some very strong drugs – instead I was three hours into a long run and I wasn’t near the finish, worse still, Andy was still smiling, even though he kept falling over. It was downhill but I felt like walking; I wanted to go home, but sadly Pike O’Blisco was in the way.

I was temporarily heartened by the sight of a young man bent double in the stream. ‘Are you okay?’ I courteously enquired. ‘Cramp’ was the agonised reply. Thus encouraged by the poor chap’s inability to move at all I continued with my slow progress to the final evil ascent of the race. Trying to ignore the fact that the Prize Giving was probably already underway I valiantly sucked the last remnants of Go-gel from my supply and staggered on. Another man with cramp ground to a halt – if only they had periods, then they’d know what real pain was! Heartened by the demise of another competitor I pushed on flicking Andy the V’s in return for his cheerful encouragement.

Time passed and then that moment in every fell race you’re waiting for… the sweet call of the final descent. Nothing now lay between me and a long lie down except a quick romp off the hill to the valley. I perked up. I could run through my pain. My pace picked up. I could smell the valley. I was strong. I was invincible. I was nearly taken out by Mr Ramsay going down yet again, this time in a stylish sliding tackle, embracing the quagmire full on. All credit to him – he just kept on getting up again even though it quickly became obvious he was not going to make it to the finish without fully engaging with all aspects of the slope. Time spent practicing aquaplaning is seldom wasted and it was here that the young Ramsay’s weakness in the standing glissade was revealed. For me though, it was full steam ahead. Looking over my shoulder Andy somersaulted neatly, performing a full forward roll over a particularly slippery bit – the man was developing real style.

Finally we hit the tarmac of the valley road and Andy was, at last, able to remain upright. We pounded into the taped funnel with only slight confusion as I was resisting a strong urge to run directly into the bar. There at the finish my mildly bemused parents (from Lincolnshire – no hills) were waiting to carry me off to the prospect of a hot bath, clean clothes and civilization (okay at this point I admit I’m exaggerating). I slipped back into dialect ‘Hast tha’ any painkillers mam?’

Disclaimer – the fact that Mr Ramsay was not able to remain on his feet was due largely to the footwear he was wearing and not to any naturally inherent inability he may or may not possess.

Blog post by Penny Clay