The last task performed after the Event is finished, all have gone home and the Hall is closed is to visit the hall custodian, pay the bill and book a provisional date for the following year. This sets in train the never-ending treadmill which is the lot of the modern Challenge Event organiser!
In the immediate aftermath the course has to be cleared of any detritus left such as the occasional taped area and dead or dying glow lights overlooked by the sweepers. Any disgruntled farmers or home owners along the route have to be pacified and those who have been especially helpful and co-operative in loaning barns for Checkpoints or tolerating walkers through the small hours are specifically thanked with appropriate small tokens.
The multitudinous time sheets from each Checkpoint are painstakingly collated and transferred onto the master computer programme and final timings and results for each of the seven possible routes emerge. This is always something of a surprise and completely different to the initial aspirations of those entered. For instance this year of some 80+ entering the full 100K, 59 started with that intention but only 29 succeeded. Conversely the figures for Ring 1 and Rings 1 & 2 were amplified by those who found a lesser distance sufficient. This has been a recurrent theme throughout the seven year history of the Event. The results and a suitable report are then placed on the Cumbria Group website together with a selection of photos if available.
Once the decision has been made to go again the date, usually three weeks after the LDWA 100, is soon set in stone with entries in Strider and the LDWA website and the re-ordering of a new supply of Entry forms and tallies. The use of online entries using SiEntries has grown exponentially over the last four years and is now the preferred entry method. Although Microsoft Access is used as a database as well to manipulate and produce start lists, online entry avoids fiddling with cheques and allows easy electronic contact to all entrants with an email address either individually or in bulk.
The next few months tend to be relaxed with entries few and far between in the second half of the year and coming only from the most organized and obsessive of participants. Advertising seems less important now as the Event becomes better known and the need to increase numbers beyond 150 entries unnecessary and increasingly difficult to cope with given our limited resources.
Come early spring thoughts return to the Event and panic levels rise in anticipation of the task in store. For the last two years a couple of us have reccied the whole route in late March using it as both a training exercise and also to look for any changes or problems along the way. This year they were minor only involving such items as new fences and stiles and a recently felled wood with the path dangerously obscured by the resulting brash. The latter resulted in a diversion along a minor road and appropriate changes were made to the Route Descriptions which are then re-uploaded to the website.
Entries now start to pick up reaching a peak in May and early June. Each one is confirmed by email, entered on the database and also on SiEntries if necessary. Once the 100 is out of the way decks are cleared and the preparatory work starts in earnest. Of prime importance is obtaining promises of help on the day – often like herding cats! The main tasks involve staffing the three outside Checkpoints, running the kitchen for more than 24 hours, ditto on the Check in/out desk and ‘sweeping’ each Ring behind the last walkers. Man and woman power is also needed for overseeing car parking, registration, making early morning tea, selling raffle tickets etc etc. In all some 20-25 volunteers give up varying amounts of their time to make the Event viable.
In the week or two leading up to D-day numerous visits are required to finalise arrangements and remind people of the impending Event. The usual response is – ‘Oh, is it that time of year again already’. Checkpoint venues are confirmed, parking permission re-obtained, sponsors reminded and shower facilities arranged. Thankfully the Event usually generates a small surplus each year allowing some reimbursement of expenses incurred.
The caterers (aka Barbara and Barrie) now start to come into their own producing vast quantities of delicious home made food which is stored and frozen in advance of the day. Checkpoint food is purchased or provided by a small army of volunteers and eventually sorted into three destination trays.
Outside jobs are needed in the last day or two – nettle strimming, path clearing and marking, self clip placing on Branstree (highest point at 713 metres), marquee erection at Asby to name but a few. Equipment has been gathered together, tallies prepared, old lists consulted and everything from toilet rolls to tally clips, computers to clip boards, blutac to biros made ready for transfer to the Hall.
All too soon Friday arrives and everything moves to Shap by early afternoon as the Hall is opened in anticipation of those who have booked overnight floor accommodation. There is usually a short window when the Hall is quiet and can be prepared for the onslaught. Furniture removal is required to provide registration, display and check in/out desks, areas for eating and sleeping, food storage etc.
The Shap Memorial Hall is ideally suited for our purposes with an adequate kitchen, large communal room, quiet room for sleeping and most importantly a Control room where Control can retreat to in times of stress to play with the computer! Eventually all is in place and the pub opposite can be visited briefly. On returning it is time to welcome the overnighters, do some early registration and practice selling raffle tickets before settling down for an early night.
Event day starts at 5am and this year we were welcomed by leaden skies and heavy rain – the first really wet ‘Shap’ so far. Only ten or so braved the hard floor so providing breakfasts proved an easy job especially with the welcome help of new member, Ian, who had also stayed overnight.
Registration formally opens at 7am but for a while the only arrivals seemed to be ‘staff’ leaving us wondering if the weather would be a major disincentive. Thankfully worries proved groundless and a steady stream of cars were directed onto the field by umbrella wielding parking attendants and their occupants gradually filled the Hall providing welcome work for those on registration and tea making duties. The usual anticipatory buzz ensued as friendships were made or renewed, maps studied and weather forecasts and fitness levels discussed.
The mass start time of 8am arrived and with it a slight easing in the precipitation levels as the majority departed on their various routes presumably with high hopes and expectations. Although the Hall was now relatively quiet there was still a trickle of late starters and entries on the day to process which this year seemed to drag on well after the publicised deadline. This is the time when final start lists have to be prepared ready to go out with the marshals as they travel to open their Checkpoints for a 10.30 am start suitably equipped with food, drink, paperwork, table & chairs etc.
Figures were eventually finalised, as usual with moments to spare, and a total of 120 starters was obtained including a local man who wanted to run round Ring 2 after work at lunchtime and a few who joined in with friends or partners on their second Ring! Amazingly the lists proved accurate and up to the task of tracking everyone round their chosen or modified routes.
Checkpoint 1 at Mosedale is the most scenic and busiest as its clientele buzz round the fells closely followed by their sweepers. This year the small but perfectly formed team processed 90-odd walkers and runners in 3½ hours with only one casualty – thankfully just a minor sprained ankle. Checkpoint 2 at the ‘White Stuff’ is more relaxed with 70 passing through between lunchtime and ten at night when it eventually closes allowing the marshals to stand down at last.
Perhaps the most atmospheric is Barrie’s Checkpoint 3 tent near Great Asby which sees custom for nearly 20 hours finally closing at 5.30 on Sunday morning as the stragglers limp through! The 46 who experienced both the warmth of the gas heater and the friendly welcome especially through the long night were lucky indeed.
Meantime back at base Paul was organising the raffle, the ladies were preparing sandwiches and pasta salad and further lists required preparation for all courses as all eventually returned to Shap…returned to Shap…returned to Shap! This year we also had the luxury of volunteer Matt who was dispatched to perform gate duty above Wet Sleddale thus forestalling the perils of sheep walkabout which bedevilled us two years ago. Finally Derek embarked on a Cook’s tour of Westmorland setting up the drinks and biscuit stations at High Whitber and Knipe on Ring 2. Not an easy task when he discovered that United Utilities had kindly closed the road near Maulds Meaburn.
With all in place at last and the weather improving Control could briefly relax, even if the ladies were still on full throttle, until the front runners started to return. The leader, Ian Hodge, appeared briefly around 11.30 before continuing on his trot around the course in 13 hours 26 minutes nearly twice as fast as the slowest walkers! The dribble soon became a flood as the Hall filled with hungry and thirsty folk happy that overhead and underfoot going had been acceptable. The consensus was that conditions had been bearable…the rain warm and the paths not too soggy!
Paul and Derek commenced a marathon stint on the Check in desk maintaining records from start to finish – a mind boggling effort almost twice round the clock keeping tabs on all and issuing badges and certificates with gay abandon. At least someone appeared to know where everyone was! By evening the coast was clear for Control to escape and lay the traditional trail of glow lights around Rosgill on Ring 2 and after Oddendale on Ring 3 to assist navigation on the tricky night sections. A diversion to pick up the water containers from High Whitber lead to an unplanned visit to the River Lyvennet as slick stepping stones were unsuccessfully negotiated. On returning to the Hall a minor emergency lead to the rescue of a foot sore young lady deep into Ring 2 and also incurred the displeasure of the residents whose farmyard was invaded in the dark.
As the long night wore on it became obvious that a few of the back markers on Ring 2 were slower than usual making the decision when to send out the Ring 3 sweepers more difficult than usual. In the end Ring 2 was finally closed around 4.30 am as the sweepers brought in the final few who then called it a day (or night)! As the field was by then extremely strung out it was eventually decided just to sweep the second half from Asby to the finish. Roger and Frank, now recovered from their long stint at the White Stuff were transported to Checkpoint 3 to await the final contender and escort him the last 10 miles to finish conveniently just inside the 26 hour time limit.
Now on the last lap the clearing up and cleaning could begin, taking care not to dispose of any sleeping walkers at the same time! Eventually around 11 am it is full circle and another eventful and busy Three Rings weekend finishes with the closing of the Hall door.
The LDWA organises many challenge and local group walks, as well as listing many more organised by other organisations. Challenge events are normally between 20 and 100 miles and must generally be completed within a defined time limit. Group walks are normally led walks of around 20 miles. Click here to go to the LDWA website.