Denis Wood

DENIS' 65 at 65 - but DIFFERENT

01.01.08 - Race Number 1 Giant's Tooth, Ogden Reservoir - Photo © 2008 Denis Wood

About a year ago, when I was sixty four and a bit, I sat and asked myself how was I to mark the start of my descent into decrepitude, senility and being a burden on society: in other words my sixty-fifth birthday.

The obvious stunts were a 65-at-65 summit-bagging-in-one-fell-swoop run, or a long-distance, point-to-point run, preferably not yet done by anyone else. I was pretty sure that the first was a non-starter (lack of ability, basically) and the second had certain attractions, but not enough to make me get up and organise it.

I was mulling over all this nonsense one evening, with a bottle of red stuff to hand, having a conversation with myself (as you do), when a voice came from behind the Sudoku book where Mrs Wood tends to hide in times of crisis. The voice said "races". I said "what?" It said "races: sixty-five races". I said "fell?" It said "stay upright: why not?"

Then the red wine took over, and the day after I went through the fixture list (2007), obviously - I can't be clairvoyant as well), really just to see what was available within a reasonable distance from home (at Burton in Kendal). This was important as we ("we" are now a team) knew that a lot of driving would be necessary, and it would take a fair amount of money to fund the project.

However, I knew that the Kendal Winter League was available to us for the first twelve Sundays of the year, organised by Helm Hill A.C. and then B.O.F.R.A., which also has its own fixture list of thirty- odd races, kicking off in April. Now, B.O.F.R.A. races had one huge attraction for us: they may be sharp (and in some cases down-right vicious - Great Dummacks at Cautley, anyone?) but they are SHORT and therefore ideal for our purpose. We knew as well that we wouldn't use all the B.O.F.R.A. races, so now we looked at F.R.A. races with a maximum distance of six/seven miles (spare me, I'm a Senior Runner!)

Then came the defining moment which would focus the entire gig: Mrs Wood came up with The Killer Proposal. She said, "you really should finish in style". I said, "Yes". She said "finish in style, real style, The Big Bang Finish!" I said "y-e-e-e-s?" She said, "The Lake District Mountain Trial". I said "that takes three and a half months off the year". She said, "Yes". I said, "that means two races a week, minimum". She said, "yes". I said, "right".

And so it came to pass: made a wall-chart, wrote in eighty-odd races (which gave us some leeway, just in case), told all our friends and family that we were off the radar 'till the middle of September 08, and on January 1st, 08, drove to Ogden Reservoir for the Giant's Tooth. We had talked about just getting round each course, no need to bust a gut, no point in risking damage, finishing is most important, and so on. But it doesn't work like that, does it? A quarter of a mile into the race and the competitive urge kicks in, and I'm contesting the tail (as it was put to me later). Didn't finish last: close, but no cigar. So that set the tone for the est of the programme: no holding back. It worked; had a few falls, painful at the time, but not serious, and some terrific and enjoyable races.

That's how it went: one race followed another, each one a training run for the next, working towards the second Sunday in September (to be frustrated, as it happened, by fate and the weather). There was a slow increase in strength, stamina, speed and tolerance of pain, and a corresponding decrease in common sense, particularly when the inevitable happened. The cold arrived, or the nasty little infection, or the niggling little pain somewhere, and you'd normally say "not today, no way José ", but Mrs Wood (bless her) would simply snarl, "No gain without pain", and other coaching clichés. What do you do? YOU.GO.AND.RUN!!

13.08.08 - Final Race - Great Westmorland Trial - Photo © 2008 Denis Wood

Anyway: January, February, March came and went, no real problems. Then April - a funny month, with only four races and three of them on the road (yes, alright, I did some road races). We had a little worry here, as it put us behind the schedule: on the other hand we had a break from both running (me) and driving (Mrs Wood), before May and June when we knew that there were lots of races to get through. There was a bit of a scare in July with chest pains, which turned out to be unrelated to what we were about, and was well sorted by one of my doctors, and then a slow tapering through August to get me to the L.D.M.T. In as good a state as possible (Though that was to go pear-shaped in a big way beyond anyone's control, except maybe Murphy.

So the last few races to get in: shows were called off, fields disappeared under water, cars couldn't be parked and then, the loss of the Big One - luckily (and I mean that) we found a race out at Crosby Garrett on the Saturday and we finished in style: a few behind me, the surprise appearance of my daughter and grandsons (aah) and a mention among the prize winners (a-a-a-h), and that was it. Eight and a bit months work and terrific support from a number of people who knew what was happening.

STAND-OUT POINTS? Lots, but particularly the following:

  • Most Outrageous: The Rydal Round at Ambleside Sports, where I took twenty minutes of last year's time (Honest)
  • Most Embarrassing: Helm Hill, in truly 'orrible weather, where I was last, and "escorted" home by a small boy who had come out to look for me (Honest)
  • Most Character Building: Coniston Gullies - only one mile and nine hundred feet of climbing, But . All fell runners should do this race - SENSATIONAL (honest)
  • Most Humiliating Moment: Crashing, in a heap, at the feet of the summit marshal on Fairfield in the Rydal Round and uttering a very rude word lots of times, for which I humbly crave her pardon; it wasn't personal (honest)

  • Most Knackering: Rydal, Beetham Sports and Farleton Knott - three in four days in hot weather (honest)
  • Most Mind Blowing: Beating Rob Jebb at the Reston Scar Scamper!! Sounds good, BUT he crashed out and didn't finish and went to Hospital (luckily nothing desperate). Hey, listen - at my age, I'll take anything I can get, thank you very much!
  • Biggest Drive: 185 miles for a 2.4 race at Latterbarrow
  • Biggest Surprise: Dentdale, where, because I was the oldest finisher I won a nights B & B in Scotland (honest)
  • Biggest Letdown: The cancellation of the Mountain Trial
  • Biggest Pick-me-up: Fraser Livesey's Great Westmorland Trial race, which gave us SIXTY-FIVE (may his tribe ever increase)
  • Biggest Moment of Incredible Stupidity by Somebody Else: Having the car backed into by a huge tractor when parked yards away from ANYWHERE in the MIDDLE of a field at a CERTAIN RACE at CONISTON HALL - to be fair, he was mortified and his Insurance Company (NFU) were absolutely brilliant.
  • Biggest Moment of Anti-Climax: The Day after finishing Number 65

View Denis's Race calendar here

So, it's over, and I have to give a huge thanks to everybody who made my success possible, particularly all the marshals and time-keepers who waited out in all weathers for me and who invariably smiled and said "well done", to my medical team (pretentious what!) of Stuart Allen ( a fell runner, bless him) for sorting out a foot problem, Sally Reeder ( a road runner, but I have hopes for her) for getting the chest pains investigated very quickly and for some very sound advice (which I took, I promise), to Kendal Winter League and B.O.F.R.A. Juniors (don't ask), all race organisers, George Arnold, a Preston Harrier V70, for some spectacular competition at the back end of the field, everybody in all races that I ran in, and above all to Mrs Wood (whose name is Alice, by the way, but I do like to observe the formalities), who uncomplainingly drove the car (look at the miles we travelled), made the butties (Cordon Bleu), picked me up when I was down (brutally, but very effectively), stood out at finishes in all weather (ask her about Clougha Pike), put her hectic social life on hold, and generally made my bit easy. She also kept the log up to date, typed this document, and took the photographs. What a talent! I'm glad I didn't have to do it myself.

What's next? Who knows: if I make seventy, then maybe a 70 at 70 pub-crawl? Anyone up for it?


Denis Wood - September 2008

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