My 50th Birthday Celebration -  the Joss Naylor Challenge

I first supported a Joss Naylor  in 2006 (Roy Small and Dave Holmes) while recovering from breast cancer operations. I did Dunmail to Styhead and thought the pace was incredibly fast but then I wasn't as fast as I am now. I was also struck though by how great the route was. Starting in Pooley Bridge with a distance of 50 miles and 30 tops it traverses the Lake District and finishes at Greendale where Joss lives. It is also only open to the Over 50's with different time allowances for Men and Women which increase as you get older (in 5 year increments). Since 2006 I have supported three more attempts and have always looked forward to the day that I could myself attempt. 

I have always supported from Dunmail doings both Legs 3 and 4 to Wasdale. On each occassion the runner seemed to arrive at Dunmail on schedule but quite exhausted and so across to Bowfell they were in doubt of finishing. But with cajoling from their support each one rallied round and then pulled back loads of time on the schedule to finish in 11.30 hours or thereabouts. So I decided that for my attempt I would do my own schedule as the 1st two legs have always been known as fast and I personally hoped that if I could do them a bit slower I would then continue a bit fast through Legs 3 and 4.

Approaching my 50th year as soon as I looked at the 2017 diary and realised that my birthday 22nd April fell on a Saturday I knew how I wanted to spend my birthday - by doing the Joss Naylor Challenge !! So the plan was formed. I invited a few select supporters as I didn't want a busy birthday and lots of logistics and I booked a couple of caravans at my favourite Wasdale area site - Parkgate Farm with my brother and his family so in the evening we would be able to have some drinks and stay. I reccied the route concentrating on Legs 1 and 2 because on paper they look simple but on the ground they are more complicated. I also needed to get a feel for the pace and the terrain. The weather hindered reccying a lot; there was always clag and usually rain, wind and or snow but I persevered and thank everyone that came out with me in all weathers to help. Even with adding time onto Legs 1 and 2 I was terrified of all the gradual runnable sections on these legs so changed my speedwork sessions to incorporate slight uphill repetitions throughout the winter.

With reccying done, my last long race- the Calderdale Hike on 1st April finished, it's then a waiting game to see if the weather will play ball. Easter weekend was very changeable but I was pleased when Jon Whilock found the best day and went for it achieving a time of 11.20 hours. I was less pleased when he emailed me and said how tough it was. The weather for my weekend seemed settled and unchangeable early on so I was able to say I was going for it and finalise support. I had two supporters drop from Leg 3 which because I had only enough support was very stressful and a massive thanks to Kirsty Hewitson for stepping in and doing Legs 1 and 3.

With being very busy on the farm the week before I was more rushed than I liked packing and Friday night I didn't sleep at all as I was nervous I had forgotten something and hadn't checked and rechecked everything. Saturday morning dawned a lovely day. At 5am it was cold 2C with a northerly wind that was bitter at times. I chose to wear a Inov-8 Tri Blend Tee under my Merino Long Sleeved top as layering is always tricky but the Tri blend material is silky and so I thought the combination would work well. I also started off in an Inov-8 windshell and wore hat and gloves too. On my legs I also layered up wearing my new Enso skirt under a pair of  Inov-8 3 quarter tights I have tried wearing shorts before and found they rubbed so was hopeful that because also the Enso skirt is very silky that it would work well. For shoes I must confess that after Lee offered me a new pair of Mudclaws which arrived on Thursday I went for a very short run in them, found some mud to make them less bright and to avoid embarrassment if I got loads of blisters (I packed a second pair in case) - and then because they felt so comfy I just set off in them from Pooley Bridge on Saturday morning to do a Joss Naylor .. Heyho!!

I had always wanted Wisp my dog to run the whole way with me but this is a big ask of her as she wouldn't know that that was her "day out" and would probably expect two legs and 8/10 hours as per a usual day out. I'd tried to take her out for long runs and was confident she could do the distance and time if her paws stood up to it too. I made her up drop bags with cheddars, sliced roast beef and pork pie in them hoping that she would wolf that down at the crossings.

Setting off with Kirsty Hewitson, Helen Elmore and Tim Rippon I tried to hold back but was desperate to see if I could stay on the schedule so ran through the campsite. I heard all the supporters puffing and asked whether I was going too fast "This is very fast" they all replied so I backed off a little. Watching Wisp bouncing round was a joy but I hoped she would be ok later. We joked that maybe she should carry the tracker! The first top done exactly on schedule and that was pleasing. Off we trotted to the next; again bang on schedule and now without running when I didn't want to. We chatted a little but I concentrated on the pace and navigation. Also I started eating hoping that if the pace became too fast I would still have energy. It was a glorious morning with slight hoar frost. The weather was great with the ground being dry too. I had to loosen my laces once but apart from that my clothes combination was working perfectly. I began to enjoy my birthday and although worried that obviously I still had a long way to go the day seemed to be trotting along nicely.

We made excellent time to Kirkstone Pass and arrived a few minutes up on my schedule so I had a nice sit down and some spicy pasta. Charmian had done a great job of laying it all out but Wisp wouldn't eat her food until I showed her where it was. Setting off with Simon Rippon and Jean Brown I was looking forward to some walking climbs at last. Red Screes was warm in the sun but the wind was back when we reached the top. Eating well I was favouring fruit salads and rice puddings. We found the direct line down but wobbled on navigation across to Hart Crag; nothing major and still making good time. From Hart Crag to Fairfield I know from the Hodgson Brothers leg 4 Relay and since the passing of Darren Holloway on Fairfield I always give him a few moments of remembrance on the summit. A careful bearing off to Seat Sandal to avoid the horrid scree I hit on my Double BG and trotting down to the col I was feeling happy. Wisp was right behind me as she doesn't like the loose rocky stuff but she soon set off up Seat Sandal in front again; I was glad to see she had bounce still. Running down to Dunmail I was 10 minutes up and very pleased with that. At the stop there was an elderly gentleman who introduced himself as the "Joss Naylor Meet and Greet Representative". He had driven all the way from Warwickshire to see me through Dunmail and gave me a badge. I promptly pinned it to my Tee-shirt which he was very pleased at.

Leaving Dunmail with Laurence Piercy, Justin Bramhall and Kirsty Hewitson Wisp was surprised and overjoyed to be allowed to come along; this was where she had stopped on the Double BG. She bounced around a little but then I think she got to thinking about the leg ahead which she knows well from Joss and BG reccies as she visibly slowed and became more conservative with her energy. I was trying to make sure she drank enough by stopping by the streams; sometimes she remembered little pools and ran ahead to dive in them and cool down. I pushed hard up High Raise trying to make the split which I thought was 40 minutes only to confirm it with Laurence and find it was actually 50; so 5 minutes made up there! We had discussions about the tops and route to Rosset Pike with Justin showing he had done his homework knowing both tops and route! With the visibility and conditions though we trotted along and I was starting to feel that sub 12 hours was definitely a possibility. I had a mini celebration at the passing of 6 hours being my halfway time point and thought "Now when can I start pushing a little? !! Off Great End to Styhead the direct way I had reccied many times but only once (two years ago) in perfect conditions. The other times me and Wisp (and various friends) had been benighted, rocknighted, snownighted and clagnighted - and usually all together!! So in fact we had started to hate the place but with great conditions and time in the bag I decided I would give it a go. It was fun and I remembered enough to weave our way down to Styhead to meet Steve Wathall but also my friends Rachael Edgar and Jon which was a lovely surprise.

Again more baked beans went down well but they had no water which was a slight problem. Never mind coke and energy drink would do. I looked at my time and decided with only 3/4 hours to go I could start to up the pace a little. However Great Gable went on and on, Wisp looked tired and I felt it; we were all glad to get to the top! Now I was 30 minutes up on my 11.59 hour schedule but the extra pace and lack of water was causing stomach pains and I hoped that Nick Whittingham had made it to Pillar with some coffee as I felt that would help. I was able to run some uphill sections of the contouring paths which was a good feeling - for me - but for my support I think less so. Approaching Pillar I saw a figure running up to the top and knew it was Nick. He had coffee ready to hand at the summit and it tasted delicious but wanting to avoid a "Honister Projectile Vomiting" moment (see BG Record film) I just drank half a cup, thanked him and carried on my way. Wisp found a pool to dive in so I stopped letting her have her last cool down as I knew across from Scoat Fell there would be little water. Now I was really enjoying it; I was able to drink coke and have gels and knew that would be enough. We flew across to Steeple with Wisp too; I did wonder what she now thought. She was getting tired as we crossed a stile to Haycock and she couldn't control her legs to jump down and so fell onto the ground rather. I hoped the soft grass would revive her over the last three hills.

I wanted to find Joss's trod off Haycock and just as we were heading off we saw Helen and Simon approaching; great stuff guys! So with everyone route finding we found the best way up Seatallon and across to Middle Fell. Seatallon was hard but now I was aiming for sub 11; not knowing anything really though. I ran a lot up Middle Fell with Laurence at my side but we agreed that sub 11 would be nice but 11.01 or 02 would be just as nice as we'd had such a great day. On Middle Fell summit there was a welcome party of Chris Cripps and his friends. Watching me descend Chris came flying passed and I hung onto him knowing that if anyone knows the good line it would be Chris. Wisp had certainly perked up too running round in her usual bouncy self; I'm sure from reccies she knew there couldn't be more hills now and that cars awaited us at the bottom! We finished by flying down to the bridge in a time of 11.02.24 hours. 

I absolutely love the video of the finish; Wisp bouncing round, me sprinting (sort of), then touching the bridge and catching sight of Joss, then us hugging! You can watch it here -  Carol's video of me Finishing - You Tube 

What a way to celebrate your birthday; just the best! I always maintain that these rounds are a Team Effort and without my support my Joss Naylor wouldn't have been possible. Thank you all plus my brother Charlie, his wife Carol, my lovely niece Lottie and my husband Steve Burgess

Road Support: Charmian Heaton, Ian Fitzpatrick

Leg 1 Tim Rippon, Helen Elmore, Kirsty Hewitson

Leg 2: Simon Rippon, Jean Brown

Leg 3: Kirsty Hewitson, Justin Bramhall and Laurence Piercy

Leg 4 Steve Wathall, Laurence Piercy, Kirsty Hewitson and Nick Whittingham on Pillar, Chris Cripps off Middle Fell.

Then to top it all we went back to the caravans, ate huge amounts of curry then went to the Bower House Inn to wash it all down with real ale! Wisp was suitably tired and slept most of Saturday night and Sunday. She soon regained energy and was mithering for a run on Monday as usual!

Part of the Joss Naylor Challenge is to raise money for charity and so obviously mine is Odyssey; I'm still hoping to reach my target of 15,000! Justgiving.com/fundraising/Nicola-SPINKS1 

And for more reading here is my Inov-8 Blog - taken from before and then after the attempt https://www.inov-8.com/blog/nicky-spinks-50th-joss-naylor-challenge/