Scafell Skyrace 2018 Report – Dancing With The Stars

sky runner national seriesPart of the Sky Running Series Scafell Skyrace 2018 would be a team GB qualifier. The top performers would be selected to represent Great Britain in the Ring Of Steall Sky race come September.

The team GB title draws a talented pool of runners. Tom Evans, Jon Albon, Marcus Scotney, Steve Birkinshan and Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn were among the favourites in the mens field. Sally Fawcett, Henriette Albon, Sarah Sheridan, Catherine Slater and Georgia Tindley were fancied in the Women’s Scafell Sky Race.

And then there was me, looking for a chance to measure myself against the best in Britain. I also fancied a different type of race, till now I’d raced on trails, not technical mountain terrain.

For 2018 the Scafell Skyrace course measured 25.9 miles including 9400ft ascent. Race officials extended the course from 24 miles the previous year, joy! The route summits Green Gable, Scafell Pike, Great End, Bowfell (almost), Harrison Stickle, Silver Howe and Loughrigg. The word technical doesn’t do it justice.

Scafell Skyrace 2018 – Race Report

Huddled in the Borrowdale Valley surrounded by mountains I would soon ascend, it was hard to stay cool. The sun was baking, the competition simmering. Just 5 meters away stood Tom Owens, Jon Albon and Casper Sijpesteijn, mountains in themselves. For those unfamiliar with the Sport, those are some serious names and only a handful of what quality surrounded me.

The countdown grew into a chorus of 3, 2, 1…and we were off. The first mile is a mad dash to ascend Sour Milk Gill (actual race footage below.) This is one hell of a climb before levelling onto easy, undulating trail, I was focused purely on technique and conserving energy at this point.

Familiar Faces & A Sign Of Things To Come

No sooner had I ascended Green Gable we were descending. I Side stepped two female runners, one of which caught my eye, I thought I recognised her uniquely short haircut but couldn’t place the face.

After an hour we reached the first technical section, a traverse of Great Gable. Towering above the valley below balanced on pointy boulders, the word sketchy comes to mind. A slip saw my calf slam into sharp rock. Bruised but fine I continued to the Corridor route (pictured below.) My ascent of Scafell Pike had officially begun as the short haired Lady I couldn’t place powered past and disappeared behind a screen of mist.

the corridor route Scafell Pike

Leaving the summit of England I tried to remain sensible and avoid injury. One wrong foot on that terrain could be costly. I tried but didn’t succeed stumbling knee first into a rock, hobbling for a five minutes I eventually ran it off. The next 3 miles were a mixture of runnable trail and s**t boulder fields. Quite frustrating but I was focused on my ‘dance with the mountains.’ Light and breezy! Thanks to my Physio, Ian Mulrooney for the analogy.

Mad Dash To Langdale

Reaching Bowfell I descended ‘the slab’, a massive piece of rock, smooth to touch, positioned at a hair raising angle (picture bottom right.) What the hell, lets go for it! I flew down passing two competitors (including my old foe, the short hair lady) before coming to an abrupt halt! The slab went off into…nothing. Hard on the breaks and turning left I skidded onto the climbers traverse (pictured left.)

climbers traverse BowfellThe Slab Bowfell

A note on the weather, it was very warm, too warm but the higher fells remained covered in mist, hence running into the abyss. The red flags were a godsend but at times hard to spot and quite distracting when I should have been focussed on my feet. The lower mountains were bathed in sunshine and this began to take its tole.

Back to the race and a long descent into Langdale – one mile of runnable single track – I skipped past two or three competitors here then danced onto the water station. Reaching The Old Dungeon Ghyll I saw no station, only spectators. Turns out we had another half mile to go due to a change. May not sound like much but when you’re out of water and overheating its a long way.

My stomach was pissy and food became hard to get down. Reaching the aid station around mile 15 I refilled with water and grabbed a banana. Upon leaving a Marshall shouted, ‘don’t look up’…so I did, and felt a wave of dread.

The Terminator Returns, Again and Again

Feeling sick and tired, the towering climb up Harrison Stickle was almost mocking me. Most would say the first half of Scafell Skyrace is the toughest, in that moment, I whole heartedly disagreed. Starting up the ascent which seemed to extend with every turn guess who came powering past? Thats right, the short haired…lets call her Terminator. The Terminator returned on yet another ascent! I wonder if she thought the same of me on the descents. More like clumsy fool I suppose.

Scafell Skyrace 2018 photo

My legs were growing weary but stomach stronger. I took advantage and downed a gel, which proved to be my last. Descending I felt good and certainly looked stronger than those around me. I danced past one, then another and another. As the ground levelled it reminded me of a battle field. So many hurting bodies, one lass was limping, another bloke barely running. This gave me confidence, my stomach was gone but my legs were OK with only 5 miles remaining.

Over the next two miles I went from picking people off to picking myself off the floor. I felt dizzy, sick and light headed. I made a wrong turn despite an arrow showing me the way, I was losing it.

The Long Road Home

I pulled past the short haired lady one last time but it wasn’t long before the next climb. With cramp setting in I bowed to her superior climbing skills, there was no return for this red headed Sarah Connor. I tried to down Jelly Babies but nothing worked, without water I was done.

The next 40 minutes seemed an eternity as two more runners passed by. I resolved to not drop another place and forced one more mile out of my legs. Approaching the University I stammered up the steps and crossed the line. Instantly my legs went as I crumbled in a heap. A Marshall hosed me down, recognising my state. I couldn’t feel relief, just pain.

Who Is The Terminator?

It was two hours before I could even look at food and a whole night to feel even remotely human. But I did it and in 30th place to boot. My time 6 hours 36 minutes over 25.9 miles would have resulted in a top ten finish for 2017’s race. Testament to the exceptional field of talent.

I had to know the Terminators true identity, I knew her face from somewhere. Scanning the results was a surprise. 2nd Lady, Sally Fawcett of Team GB, ah that makes sense. Such a savvy, professional performance playing to her strengths.

For those interested you can download the official Scafell Skyrace route GPX by clicking the link.

Scafell Skyrace Kit List

  • Scotts Supertrac RC trail running shoes
  • Hilly cushion anklet socks
  • SKINS Activewear Standby 2 inch shorts
  • SKINS Essential Compression arm sleeves
  • Salomon Trail Runner Tee (AW16)
  • Salomon XA Cap
  • Montane VIA Razor 15 hydration pack
  • Montane 500ml soft flasks

I can’t finish any report without saying thank you. To my Mrs’ for letting me do such crazy things, my coach Jayson Cavill and Physio Ian Mulrooney for enabling me and of course Phil for taking care of me. Also the Scafell Skyrace organisers and Marshalls, everyone involved were brilliant, such a well run, professional race.

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Darren Smith

Training with purpose since October 2016 Darren has gone from trailing the pack to winning local races and the times keep on falling. A true believer in hard work over natural talent he writes to help others realise their true potential. Darren's race schedule for 2018 includes the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon (1st place), Keswick Mountain Festival (10th place), Scafell Skyrace and Salomon Ring Of Steall (World Championship race.)

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