Friday 18th - Prologue
The day had finally come that I would make my long overdue first visit to the Lake District for the purposes of trail/hill/fell running. I'd once been here for a memorable Windermere marathon and I'd also done the brilliant Sedbergh Hills race just across the M6 in that cumbrian corner of the Yorkshire Dales. But, folllowing my usual rushed exit from work later than I'd planned and a methodical if slightly stressed pack I'd lumbered everything but the kitchen sink in my car and headed off to my overnight stop at Marks in North Yorkhire. Following a much appreciated feed-up on curry I enjoyed a beer watching the match - that was, I enjoyed the beer but not the lethargic quality of Englands performance (a sign of things to come).
Saturday 19th - Why have I not done this sooner?
We were up early and took a very enjoyable drive through Wensleydale, Hawes, Sedbergh to Kendal, wtaching the hills get bigger by the minute. We arrived at the lakeside car park at Ambleside with enough time to check kit and empty bladder before the one hour long bus ride to Dalemain near Ullswater. After seeing some impressive peaks from the bus the A66 section out to the start at the end of the ride quite suprised me as the earth around leveled out something more akin to East Yorkshire! I wasn't complaining at the start though as we initially walked and plodded over fields, undulations and along a riverbank; a gentle introduction is no bad thing and there was plentiful hills to come.
It was a bit hazy and not too warm at first so I'd started in my windjacket. Humidity soon made this seem unnecessary. Passing through a the village of Pooley Bridge to the start of a road hill everybody simultaneously seemed to stop and remove a layer, so I did too and would never need that layer again throughout the next two days as things warmed up nicely. Then things started to shape up as we ascended on road and then track to follow a good track which tracked a hillside eventually giving us our first views of Ullswater. Following the lake we complete the first section and loaded up on the sweet goodies and liquid from the organisers 4x4.
Could the stats be lieing, could this be what we could expect throughout?.........
No, next came a brief trail run along the bottom of Fusedale before the start of the first significantly long and slow climb of the day began. We angled up the green dale-side on a soily/grassy track which I suspect could be a very muddy one on wetter days. We plateau'd for a short while before angling right again for a due east ascent between Wether Hill (673m) and Red Crag (711m). This took us to the highest point of the course, High Kop at 665m, not bad for an event that doesn't intentionally climb peaks. I prefer to work in feet and we'd climbed some 1500 of those since this stage started not so long ago. There was now a moorland crossing on a slightly downward tilt. Off here was the first technical descent of the day and a chance to pick footfalls, surge where safe, then brake and twist, using momentum to get down safe, and fast but without wasting energy.
Some made odd navigational errors at Haweswater. A guy in front of us seemingly disappeared from site on the way down. I'd presumed he'd run had down the slope and pushed on along the undulating and rocky reservoid-side path to follow. He actually got there minutes after us, not sure where he'd gone! It gets weirder - my mate Claire who was doing her own run, coincidentally, in the area ran into a guy running the wrong way around the lake. Not quite sure how, but he'd somehow misentrepreted the instruction to turn right at the bottom of the descent to the waterside path. I'll reserve judgement, but apparently he was from London, maybe out of his depth as he was expecting to be back to make a 4pm train from Windermere to London for a social engagement ;¬. I'm not saying this isn't possible, but he was well behind me and Mark who finished well after 4. I heard later he pulled out and got a lift back to the start from the CP at the end of Haweswater.
Anyway, I digress, running on the lakeside path, sheltered from wind I was definately warming up and knowing I'd run some distance and covered some hilly ground. This long path was tiring but couldn't detract from the almost undisturbed beauty of this high altitude lake/reservoir. Sandwich time at the end of the lake and then we were off for another steep ascent. For those reading hoping to gain some clues, this was the toughest section in the two days of this weekends recce's. The pass away from the shores was how I imagine a mountain pass should be - Gatesgarth path between two tall and steep gateway peaks. A rocky path, up steep ground where even with switchbacks you had to walk. Off the other side was no easier. Switchbacks here didn't help as the large stones of the path jarred the legs in a section I'll always remember. On the way down we passed a cyclist with a black eye pushing his bike up the hill - braver than me to attempt the descent off here - severeal more tired looking cyclists and one with a bike broken by the path, which typified this section for me!
The descent shallowed and we soon hit our last intermediate CP of the day. More cola was guzzled (became quite addicted to the stuff) and we started the final climb of the day over to Windermere. Like the previous two sections this saw a steep initial climb and then a substantial descent on this overall downhill section to Windermere. Another "boneshaking" path descending to Ambleside in the mid-afternoon heat and we were soon wobbling through the back streets in search of Lakesrunner and todays finishing point. Claire was there to meet me and Mark and she had homemade flapjack..... yeh!!!! Just what we needed after a near 31 mile run - every section haviong been longer than the otherwise excellent road book had stated.
A relaxing night of refuelling and recovery included our "hidden gem" campsite in the shadows of Blencathra and the Helvellyn range, the surprising hyrdation qualities of warm San Miguel after getting the tents up and a few beers and substantial food in the local.
Sunday 20th - Surely can't be as good as yesterday?
The warm clear conditions of the Saturday delivered us an almost cold night. I didn't sleep well, but a twisty and undulating drive to Coniston woke me up and on Sunday the mercury was well up the glass from the start. Claire was with us today, just a week from her completion of the Mourneway ultra and yesterdays saving of navigationally challenged recce'rs. A steadier pace today was definately a good thing as we'd been more than comfortably faster than we'd need to be on the day, in yesterdays 31 miles. We were again given an easy breaking-in with initial rolling moorland giving way to parkland by a gently babbling river.
After the first CP cam the big treat of the day, we entered and rounded the curling Langdale valley looking upon the majestic, intimidatingly sharp, rocky-peaked Langdale Pikes on a brilliantly clear and Sunny day. As we followed the valley the going wasn't tough, but, as with yesterday we soon had a climb up Side Pike pass eventually running alongside and crossing the 1:3 road littered with more sedantly-satisfied tourists. We dropped over a nice valley descent passed a tarn and joined a valley road to our destination of CP, more cola, sweet treats, sandwiches and the final and most challenging section of the day.
Up, up, up in the familiar pattern of grind and then eventual reward by massive descent. A climb through a winding ravine up onto fell-land path and the respite breezes only offered at height on this steamy day. The path shallowed out and led us through a notch in the hillside to an awesome "rough path" which I could really let fly on, finding footfalls, dancing down at a speed that felt exciting on the rutted path, with the energy reserves left following an easier and shorter days hill run. Todays reward was a beer outside a pub stocking the local, quite excellent brew, Bluebird (I'm sure you can understand the relevence of that name at Coniston).
A great weekend.. not only the scenery and soroundings and atmosphere amongst friends and fellow ultra-entusiasts, but the realisation that I could do this. Lakeland is awesome, but I was nearly ready for that big day in late July. Could the next - unnoficial - recce weekend live up to this one?