Skiddaw is a mountain in the Lake District. It stands at almost a kilometre high, way over 3000ft, looming over the sleepy town of Keswick with Derwent Water at its foot. It is the first summit of a Bob Graham Round when undertaken in anti-clockwise direction. A Bob Graham is made up of 42 fell peaks, this being the first. In partnership with inov-8, we came up with the idea of climbing Skiddaw with a team of enthusiastic trail runners that had been invited from all around the world to experience a traditional fell race.
Fell running is hard work for hard men and women. We spent the weekend with inov-8 in Staveley and Keswick, learning about the history of fell running from the team and regaled by stories from fell running legend Kenny Stuart. Kenny holds the record for the Skiddaw Fell Race. In 1984, Kenny managed to get up and down Skiddaw in record time, covering nearly 10 miles of trail, loose rock, scree and summit in a little over an hour (1:02). My personal goal for the weekend was to try to master the basics, navigate my way up and down the mountain and to not come last.
We were fortunate enough to have the help of several inov-8 ambassadors over the weekend. These were hardened runners from Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire; legs of steel, fearless in the face of downhill and uphill struggle. Ben Mounsey and Mary Wilkinson were with us for the weekend and were joined by local phenomenon Ben Abdelnoor to teach us how to run up and down a fell without burning out or taking a tumble. Thanks to their guidance and reassurance, our seven globe-trotters felt ready for whatever the mountain (and the weather) had to throw at us.
Race day upon us, it was time to gear up. inov-8 very kindly kitted us out with a choice of shoe – the newly incarnated TRAILROC (available in August), or the traditional fell running shoe of choice the X-TALON – and of course with all the gear we would need on the day including some awesome light-weight apparel. Disconcertingly there was also a mandatory kit list – emergency food, full waterproof gear, compass, map… Would we really need all that stash for an hour or so run? At the summit of Skiddaw it would become apparent as to why all this outdoor paraphernalia is a must.
A jovial and warm reception from the local Lakeland folk welcomed us at the start of the race in Fitz Park. They gave us a few pointers and knowing nods, before a ‘ready, steady, go’ set off a bolting group of men in short shorts, off the front through the woods to the foot of the ascent of Jenkin Hill. It was at this point I realised what I’d gotten myself into with the start of the steep zig-zag paths and then round the back of Little Man. Straight up. I hiked most of it, feebly transitioning to a momentary shuffle when encountering a spectator or a fellow runner to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to move my feet at any sort of cadence without coughing up a lung. But before I knew it I’d blindly, agonisingly reached the summit plateau, a rough, rocky, cold, unwelcoming place, shrouded in cloud and threateningly exposed. Ahhh, it dawned, this is why all the kit is necessary! And this is why the Keswick local I was following left the path about a mile before me into the cloud to skirt the mountain along the scree, thereby sheltering himself from the wind before rounding the cairn from a different angle. Clever fell runner…
What wasn’t so clever was my descent back down to more temperate climes. Descent is perhaps too technical a term, more like a blind panic with the sole aim of keeping my shoulders above my knees and not plunging to a rocky demise. Somehow I made it. Somehow we all made it. A couple of the magnificent seven took a tumble, but then apparently this is not uncommon. A couple of hardy local club runners had done the same, and were even sporting a splash of claret, although not enough to stop them washing down cups of tea and kendal mint cake at the end of the day!
I can’t thank inov-8 enough for their hospitality over the weekend. You can see from the video above (and the gallery below by James Carnegie) how much we all enjoyed the weekend and how much our guests from around the world threw themselves into it. I personally can’t wait for my next fell. Maybe if I bag a few more peaks by way of reconnaissance, that Bob Graham mightn’t be a pipe-dream? Meet you at Moot Hall?