A note, for my benefit, on my outing on the inaugural LAW75 event at the weekend.
The route is part of that which was travelled by the 17th century the noblewoman, Lady Anne Clifford as she visited the many lands, churches and castles on her estates between Skipton and Penrith. Lady Anne was the legitimate heir to the estates but on her father’s death was deprived of them illegally and spent many years fighting for her legacy. Once successful, she was conscientious in restoring and maintaining the buildings. A formidable and indefatigable woman and a worthy role model both in those times and indeed now for the 21st Century.
The LAW 75 route goes from Skipton to Appleby. At 10am we assembled in front of Skipton Castle for a quick photo and with the usual NAV4 low-key, no-faff, lack of fanfare were told to get on our way. The weather was kind generally, and after a few reasonably dry weeks the ground had dried out remarkably well. There had however been some heavy rain in the few preceding days but by the time I reached the wetter parts, the ground had a nice crispy frost crust which just held my weight as I moved quickly across it.
The plan was to walk/run so long as my deconditioned body would allow and rely, with fingers very much crossed, on the longer term low aerobic endurance that I believed I retained to get me through. I had just a few objectives for the event, the main one of which was to satisfy my curiosity as to how my known tendency to hypothermia would behave when out in prolonged low temperatures. My strategy was not to allow myself to feel cold at any point and the tactics for achieving this included what I wore from the start, which was somewhat more than I would have done if doing an event of less distance in those conditions. I was super careful about what I was eating and I also, for the first time ever, trialled the use of warm hydration throughout.
There was a change in the weather around 6pm when light rain started and as we climbed from Cray over to Addleborough, we met fog, strong winds and driving rain which was a bit unpleasant for a while. It didn’t last too long but I was feeling a bit chilly so added a warm midlayer once we reached the Addleborough checkpoint.
I was running with a friend until the 39 mile Askrigg checkpoint but, as sometimes happens, he was unable to carry on so I continued alone. It took a short time for me to transition my head to my onward solitude. I generally run events alone but had clearly adapted to a different dynamic running with a friend. Anyway, onwards and upwards and so it was. I disturbed a pair of owls who flew off and generally perturbed many sheep who were trying to sleep on my path. I ran-walked on to Appersett but slowed from that point finding the climb above the Mallerstang valley harder than it should have been for me given that the climbing is where I am stronger. Once up, it should have been easy running but I wasn’t feeling it, the wind was still strong and cold and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I was warm enough but not wanting to eat. The moon was full and I extinguished my head torch and just enjoyed walking along in the light of the moon – it was rather special and I felt privileged to be able to be up there to enjoy the experience.
The NAV4 crew excel looking after participants and this event was close crewed with three indoor checkpoints with a warm, caring welcome, access to our dropbags, hot and cold food and drinks and encouragement to get on our way. Between those indoor checkpoints were seven vehicle checkpoints where the crew were present for many hours at a time seeing the first to last competitors through. As I approached the Pendragon vehicle point to be greeted by my lovely friend, John Bamber, it would have been all too easy for me to drop out myself and sit in a warm vehicle with a hot drink and chat to John. He filled my flask with warm water and asked if I wanted a hot drink. I didn’t dare say yes. My head hadn’t been in the right place since dropping back down into the valley.
The route is punctuated with around 373 stiles and gates (I am not exaggerating – I counted 70 in the first 10 miles!) Many of them are highly perilous and unmaintained….the ice added a significant overhead in trying to cross them safely. Some of them had lost their lowest footing and my little legs could simple not reach to get over so I had to climb over gates which wouldn’t open or were covered in barbed wire. Many of the stone ones also have a little gate on the top which is kept in place by an extremely strong spring. Failure to hold this out of the way whilst getting safely down the other side risks the damn thing slapping you heavily on the back of the legs/derriere and catapulting you into the middle of the next field. Amusing in retrospect but not at the time. Negotiating ever more of these stiles after 56 miles into the event becomes tedious in the extreme. One of the main issues with them though is that you cannot get into a rhythm for stopping every few hundred yards.
I think my mental grit has gone soft since my last big event two years ago and I’m sure the intervening injury and illness has played a part but I had a real battle with my head. I was aware by this point that I probably had a significant blister on one of my toes but we get ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’ and really, physically, I was fine if a bit depleted through not eating quite so well by this point for some reason. It was also getting to that time of the night where the biorhythms really want you to shut your eyes and your resolve is hormonally challenged. I visualised the route to the next checkpoint and focused on putting one foot in front of the other until I arrived. I also used other mental tactics to think about getting through the last 15 miles. The lovely Ken and Karen Maynard were running Winton and I was envious of how lively they appeared to be. Nothing was too much trouble, they fed and watered me and even dressed a rather raw area on my back which I had failed to tape and protect as I’d simply forgotten it can be rubbed by the rucksack. Another competitor, Adrian, was there who had not been feeling well and was taking time to try and recover as he intended to complete it.
I stayed longer than I would have wanted but the time was needed to eat, hydrate and get some focus to go back out which I did. Shortly behind me came Adrian and we spent the remainder of the event not moving together but leap frogging each other in a sort of quiet companionship, each dealing with our own troubles. Daylight dispelled the sleepiness and focus was easier – it’s a pity the stiles weren’t, especially two which had thorny hawthorn right over them!
The ground was heavily frosted except for the many patches where the sheep had been lying during the night and for some reason I found these vaguely amusing. One lane was particularly iced up and I found myself sliding along but managed to keep my balance. A farmer out early in a humungous tractor and trailer occupying the whole of his muddy track gave me a cheery wave as I pinned myself against the hedge as he passed. An early morning dog walker assured me his two dalmations were absolutely fine as they bounded up and jumped on me which they were, just that I wasn’t in the mood – I found myself cross with myself for feeling grumpy, it’s not like me really. The last two miles include a very short steep descent to the river but some steps made long ago using timber to front the riser have long been scoured out by the weather and my short legs simply cannot descend them and nor can anyone else as the route of choice is essentially a muddy slide to the side. The path along the river has been eroded away in places and care needed to avoid a misstep which might see you slip in. Nevertheless soon through that short section and on to Appleby where I was met at the Appleby Cross by Joe and Paul. Climb three more steps to have photo taken with the cross and then escorted to the Hub for a much needed cup of coffee in my finisher’s LAW mug. 😊
Lots of learning doing this including a reminder or two of things that should have been on my prep list but I had omitted through lack of recent practice – that won’t happen again. Time to do some proper training, regain some decent fitness, set a few goals and go out and get them. Onwards and upwards.
Well done to everyone who took part in LAW75. Anyone looking for a first winter event or wanting to increase their distance I’d recommend considering this one. If you’re looking for something half the distance then NAV4’s Tour de Helvellyn in December might well tick that box.
Huge thank you again to the Nav4 crew: Joe, Hilary and Jim, Pyro, Paul T and Paul N, Jo Barrett, Zoe, Paul and Emma H, Ian, Ruth and Dave E, John, Ken and Karen, Gaynor, Louise, Siobhan, Justine, Sandra, Charlotte and James T with apologies to anyone I have failed to mention.
Photo: Carrick ‘Pyro’ Armer
Challenges make life interesting - overcoming them makes life meaningful