The challenge was inaugurated by Joss Naylor in 1990 as a fund-raising challenge for the over 50’s. In addition to completing the route, successful contenders must raise at least £100 for a charity of their choice. Joss’s challenge involves climbing 30 tops, crossing some 48 miles of mountain terrain and ascending nearly 17000 feet. To beat the record I had to complete the run in under 10 hours and 46 minutes, a record set by Leigh Warburton around ten years ago.
My life has been quite busy over the last year with work commitments and family illness so when you spot a window of opportunity you have to seize it. It was Thursday night when I spotted this one and so quickly formulated a plan, the Joss Naylor Challenge, but it was only a half plan because I didn’t know if I was fit enough to do a really long run. After Scoffer and Chris Hope agreed to help I just needed a couple more runners. Thankfully fell running legends, Gavin Bland and Morgan Donnelly called me on Friday morning to offer their support, right, game on.
Rupert Bonington from Mountain Fuel really kindly made me some high energy Mountain Fuel pancakes and flapjacks which I was really grateful for. I was completely unorganised and getting the right nutrition before and during the run is crucial. The problem I had though was throughout the day on Friday I was ill and never off the toilet so my energy reserves were not going to be where they should have been.
I stayed in my van at Pooley Bridge on Friday night and set my alarm for 5.30. I awoke to a beautiful clear morning looking down on Ullswater and started the day with a Mountain Fuel breakfast with a couple of Ruperts magic pancakes and a large cup of hot Blackcurrant Mountain Fuel Energy drink. Morgz rang me at about 6.15 to let me know he had slept in and might be late so I packed a bag of essential supplies for him to carry. As it was Morgz turned up at 6.40 so everything was fine and we set off as planned at 7am from Pooley Bridge. I was really conscious of not going too fast on this leg, I’d done it a couple of times in training and keeping to the schedule seemed quite hard. I was prepared to lose some time off the schedule and try to make it up later on, as it was we arrived at Kirkstone bang on 9.30 and sure enough there was Gavin waiting.
My stomach still felt a bit delicate from the day before so the only food I’d had on leg 1 was a nibble on the Mountain Fuel pancakes and more Blackcurrant Mountain Fuel Energy drink and as we climbed Red Screes I could feel cramp like twinges in both calves and knew I needed to get some more food down my neck. I had a banana and immediately felt the benefit. Leg 2 is pretty similar to the 3rd leg of the Ian Hodgson Relay and running down the tussocky grass off the back of Red Screes I mused at the difference in my speed today compared to the break neck speed you descend in the relay. But still we were still moving pretty well and there was a long way to go.
On the climb to Fairfield Gavin produced a white finger roll with a mixture of Philadelphia cheese and jam, “This is one of Joss’s favourite sarnies”, said Gav, “Only he has his with a bit of tomato to moisten it up a bit, it’s not too dry is it?”
“No its fine thanks”, I blurted. I still had half the sandwich stuffed in my cheek climbing Seat Sandel!
My wife Kerry met me on the top and we jogged down to Dunmail together. I felt in pretty high spirits and as Dunmail came into view I saw that it was looking very busy with cars and people, surely they haven’t all turned out to see me I thought. No they hadn’t, there seemed to be a series of events all crossing at this point and it all seemed pretty chaotic. I didn’t hang around; I had two spoonfuls of rice pudding and cracked on up Steel fell with a banana in one hand and another one of Gav’s speciality sandwiches in the other. Scoffer took over the support at this point and Dave Nuttall who happened to be at Dunmail and was going out for a run joined us too.
Things went a little bit pear shaped after Steel Fell, I felt hungry, empty and sick all at the same time and we got the line slightly wrong climbing up onto High Raise. I was tripping up in bogs and felt dizzy, disorientated and weak. I needed something to give me a boost but it materialised that we didn’t have too much food and all of the Mountain Fuel flapjack, pancakes and energy sachets for drinks had been left at Dunmail. Scoffer had some jelly beans but said that he didn’t really want to give me them as they were expensive and he wanted them for himself. Dave produced a gel and although it tasted disgusting it perked me up enough to keep me going and we were soon standing on Rossett Pike. From here to Styhead is all a bit of a blur and I was definitely just surviving on my reserves. Scoffer had reluctantly submitted to giving me some jelly beans, but apart from that we were pretty much out of food. We just hoped that Chris had brought plenty to Sty Head. I needn’t have worried as soon as I got there he handed me a drink that tasted like nectar and a ham sandwich. We did a quick calculation on time and progress and it was announced that I probably wouldn’t be breaking any records today but we should be ok for the 12 hour schedule. At that point I would be just pleased to complete the round so I was happy that we were still on schedule. About 10 minutes later there was another announcement,
“No I’ve got that wrong, we’ve got another hour, bloody hell you CAN still break the record, come on let’s get going.”
From this point Chris Hope, a veteran of many adventure races and long distance challenges and knowing the importance of nutrition, kept plying me with regular nibbles of chocolaty, oaty bars and fluids and I started to feel much stronger.
Each hill we summited we shaved time off the schedule and from Bowfell to Pillar we were 43 minutes faster. Scoffer starting shouting encouragement at me more often and part of me started to believe that I could do it. Scoffer waited on Scoat fell whilst Chris and I dipped in and out of Steeple and in the swirling mist I could hear Scoffer shouting.
“Get your finger out, don’t you want this record”.
It seemed a long way down and out to Haycock, the mist had completely descended now and the skies had darkened. From Haycock it was compasses out and a bearing down to the Pots of Ashness where we picked up the reverse route of the Wasdale Fell race line to Seatallan. The climb up Seatallan seemed to go on for ages. I calculated that if I could be at the summit in 10 minutes, descend to Greendale Tarn in 10 minutes and then climb Middlefell in 10 minutes I should be ok for the record, but in the mist it would be very easy to go wrong and that would be it. Perfect navigation from Chris and Scoffer took us to the tarn then it was just a case of digging in for one final climb of the day. I had never been up Middlefell before and it seemed bigger than I expected but even so we were on the summit at 5.19pm, a quick quad killer to finish the day on the descent to Greendale is just what was required and we arrived at Greendale Bridge at 5.35 feeling very pleased. I then did something that I have never done before and probably never will again; I put my arm around Scoffer!
So in total I did 10.35 for the challenge, the record was 10.47. In an amazing coincidence as Chris was waiting at Sty Head for me, a guy came over to ask what he was doing.
“Just waiting for Corny, he’s having a crack at breaking the record for the Joss Naylor Challenge”, said Chris. The guy was Leigh Warburton, the record holder!
Respect to Leigh for holding the record for so long, this was not an easy challenge. My support runners helped get me through in the end although it would have been a bit easier with my planned nutrition strategy… I’m afraid cheese and jam sandwiches didn’t make me feel as good as my planned strategy using Mountain Fuel for the whole challenge, just pleased I had it for the start and carried some pancakes and on the go fuel as a top up. My advice to anyone else doing this challenge is to make sure your support team don’t get too carried away in the running and take the time to check and make sure they have your planned hydration and energy foods for the route. You also need regular reminders to nibble and sip on your drinks, when you’re running you don’t think about this. Good luck to everyone who takes on the challenge, I donated £100 to the MS Society and £100 to #ClimbforCAN who raise money on behalf of Community Action Nepal.
A big thanks to my support runners and support team, Morgan Donnelly, Gavin Bland, Andrew Scoffer Schofield, Dave Nuttall, Chris Hope, Rupert Bonington, Mountain Fuel and of course my lovely wife Kerry.