"Feet in the clouds" wasn't it? Fell running is not a spectator sport for good reason: the stupendous skill, bravery, speed and stamina of its elite competitors are more often than not lost in the mists. The number of names for the mist tells you how important an actor it is; clag, pea-soup, fog, murk, clouds. Even on sunshine bathed days clouds wander across the tops of the tallest peaks trying to disorientate unwary tourists and there’s a specialist mountain weather service (MWIS) for just that reason. I didn’t think that “visibility virtually unlimited” were words the mountain weather forecasters had in their vocabulary, let alone words I would see on the forecast for the 5th May 2012, but there they were.
Oh shit! As I read those words the panic started to rise. The threat of bad weather had been the thing keeping the nerves under control. We needed perfect weather to have a hope of doing the Bob Graham and you never get perfect weather in the Lakes. That was my pre-emptive excuse, "we gave it a darned good go and the winds or heat or hail or clag just dragged it out of our reach." I no longer had a get-out clause, the BG had just become towering reality. And there really was no hiding place left because I've chosen to do this challenge in full view of those who know me; visibility virtually unlimited in the internet sense as well. After lunch we contacted our supporters with the confirmed start time of 11pm Friday. The stage was set, the support crew and 'audience' in place and the day awaited its two central actors – Alan Hall and me.
I felt sick, couldn't eat, sleep, pack, rest, talk. I panicked and contacted three of my best ultra running mates. Texts came flying back with words of pure experience and belief in me. I started to feel the confidence I had in the weeks before begin to kindle. Words from my lead support driver, Alex, came back to me "embrace and confront the nerves my friend, it is energy to feed off of as much as gels and flapjacks". I managed to begin to prepare and then got into the swing preparing everything I needed carefully; perhaps rather obsessively. But that’s using my strengths. I wasn’t born with talent; I didn’t get selected for my secondary school cross-country running team when I first joined the school. My dad had taught me the value of homework though as we watched sport together and saw those who had worked hard rewarded and those who didn’t squander natural talent. The more complicated the endeavour, the more talent becomes just one small part of any success. By playing to your strengths you can make huge inroads to the more talented and perhaps overtake them. By the end of my school days I was cross-country captain.
Hard work, intelligence, openness to support and preparation were a few of our strengths and now, in the last hours before the start they could serve to calm the nerves.
Into the mouth of the wolf
Nerves just about under control I headed out to dinner with the early arrivals of our huge, wonderful support crew. I told them to talk about anything but what was about to happen – Jany encountered a grumpy me for the first time since we’ve known each other. By the end of dinner she got me laughing hysterically when I could have been breaking down in tears; and that wasn't going to be the last time she'd do that in this journey.
I went to see if I could get forty winks but just ended up reading my facebook messages. Facebook and my phone had been going crazy since the night before with messages of good luck. I was very touched by all the messages, feeling the love and support of absent friends across the ether. From Florence came Claudio with: "in bocca al lupo!" and the response came from Teresa with “crepi al lupo”. This is an Italian idiomatic phrase along the lines of break a leg, but at this moment I loved what I believe is the literal translation.
Claudio: “Into the mouth of the wolf”
Teresa: “May the wolf die”
The BG had a snarling, ferocious reputation which it had only served to confirm over our recces. Now I put my drink bottles in my rucksack, double and triple-knotted my fell shoes, tightened the headtorch on, fired up the Garmin and took the short walk into the night to face the wolf head on.
I wasn’t alone though, Alan and I had teams of the best supporters in the world waiting to be by our side the whole way round.