Record Nearly Beaten on Joss Naylor Challenge

Site user Tom Phillips recently knocked off the Joss Naylor Challenge, missing the record for the sub-12-hour Lakeland fell running epic by a mere one minute. The roughly-48-mile route from Pooley Bridge in the east to Wasdale in the west takes in 30 separate summits and around 17,000 feet of ascent.

Tom with stage one support team Joshua Jardine, Rachel Hill and Andy Gibbons, 105 kb
Tom with stage one support team Joshua Jardine, Rachel Hill and Andy Gibbons
© Tom Phillips

While doing all of the High Street Range, Red Screes, Fairfield, Bowfell, Great End, Great Gable, Pillar, Steeple - and the rest - in a time of just 10 hours 48 minutes would be a feat for anyone, it is particularly worth noting that the challenge has a half-century age barrier. The route was invented by Lakeland legend Joss Naylor in 1990, and designed from the off as a charity fund-raising test for the over 50s. 

Lancaster-based Tom, 51, is no stranger to this sort of thing. Earlier this year he became the first runner ever to complete the UK's 'Big Three' hill rounds (Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay) in both summer and winter.

He knocked off the Joss Naylor Challenge on 16th May as a fundraiser for Community Action Nepal.

'Officially it's 48 miles and 17,000 feet, but my GPS told me 42 miles and 18,000 feet' he told us. 

Whatever the actual distance, it is clearly far from a pushover. In the build up to the attempt Tom was spending long training days out in the hills, averaging about 20 miles in recent months, with plenty of rest days in between.

'Most of the peaks were [already] very familiar to me' he said, 'but the peaks at either end I ha[d] only visited on my recces for the JNC, so it was good to cover some new ground. It was really important to get the perfect line between each summit; with 30 summits in total that can make a big difference. Many of those lines involve rough ground, scree and steep bouldery hillsides!'

'The schedule is very fast for 50-54 year olds. For starters you have just over 2.30 hours from Pooley Bridge to Kirkstone, and that takes in 3000 feet of climbing and 12 summits! When you recce it the pace feels ridiculous, and then you realise you have 15,000 feet of ascent, and around 30 miles still to do.'

Descending into Wasdale at the end of a very big day, 87 kb
Descending into Wasdale at the end of a very big day
© Tom Phillips

In the preceding week the weather forecast made for ominous reading, with 40 to 50 mph summit gusts, showers and poor visibility.

'I was prepared for that' said Tom, 'but in the end the bad weather moved away and there were only a few miles where I had to battle into strong headwinds.'

'The toughest part is from Steel Fell to Rosset Pike - that’s all just relentless tussocky rough and boggy ground. Once you are onto Bowfell though it's real mountain running all the way to the finish, and the direct descent from Great End to Sty Head and the scree running of Gable and Haycock were a real buzz.' 

'The late afternoon and early evening were superb weatherwise as well. Descending into Wasdale in early evening with the sunlight on the screes is something I will never forget.'

'I had great support [on the day]' he said.

'Fell runners are like that, it's a really friendly sport. I'd like to give a special mention to Joshua Jardine - only 18 but he carried my kit, poles and drink on the first 20 miles of the day. Also Rachel Hill, Steve Rhodes, Andy Gibbons, Dave Swift, and van suppport from Penny Attwood and Phil Whiting. It was a real treat to run without any kind of pack, far less fatiguing.'

Tom, who's legs are recovering, he says, 'much better then expected', only found out afterwards that his time of 10:48 was just one minute ouside the record.

'But I'm glad I didn't know' he says, 'as I ran it at my pace and once I started to gain the schedule felt really relaxed.'


  • Tom's fundraising page on Justgiving is still open to donations.

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