Monday, 12 July 2010

To recce and ruin...... to new heights!

The enthusiasm from the previous weekend had not worn thin. The logistic challenges of an out and back, unofficial recce (e.g. no organised bus to bring us back from end to start and no food drink on-route) had stopped Mark and I putting a plan together. The tougher sections incorporating Buttermere and Wasdale were a no-no as there was no convenient, cheap or relatively quick method of public transport between such areas and the Keswick area. So we settled on Braithwaite (near Keswick) to Dalemain, where we commenced our first recce last week. A course of some 26-28m we figured. From here there were buses every few hours back to Braithwaite until about 5:30pm.

With this deadline and no England Worl Cup last-16 match to rush back for - what with England being 2nd in group giving us an akward (for us) mid afternoon Sunday kick off - I opted to drive up to Mark's and lakes on the day. However a chain of events were set in motion from midweek that forced our best-made plans to fail slightly. I ran Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week, racking up over 20 miles and quite a tough speed session on the Thursday. This isn't usually a problem with only a long slow run at the weekend. I hadn't allowed for the effects of this mileage off the back of several 50+m weeks including long hill runs and 70+ last week culminating in the long lakes recces. I had a few beers on Thursday night, but still felt fine Friday morning. Then Friday afternoon I started to get the bitter taste in my throat that often proceeds a cold or sore throat. I still felt physically ok, but during the unneeded, warm night I slept terribly. Seemingly feverish, my mind racing with stress dreams and I kept waking up to find I was sweating profusely. I eventually got an hour or two of reasonable sleep with the aid of a strepsil and soluble paracetamol+codeine.

I still woke earlier than needed and ate and drank as per normal. On the road I felt tired despite having just got up. I stopped at the M62/A1 services for what probably ranks as my earliest strong coffee ever. After picking Mark up I was on the road again, not quite energetic still, but the company took my mind off it. As well as the coffee I drank a good half litre of water. When I had to stop for a pee near Hawes I assumed I was about hydrated.

On arrival in Braithwaite it was already very warm. The strong sun just thinly sheltered by stretched cloud and morning haze. The section out of Braithwaite was uninspiring down a busy A-road. From the start I realised I wasn't right. I had a real thirst and felt like I'd done 26m already!! I ploughed on figuring I could see out this distance steadily on my good fitness base and that I may yet perk up. I started to enjoy myself more as we started to ascend up towards Skiddaw, back to challenging off-road climbs away from the roads and civilisation to what the Lakes peaks are famous for.

We turned to round the higher peaks on a rocky trail which led us along an undulating mountain path into a valley, across which was Blencathra. As the track got tougher the day-walkers thinned out and it was mostly just us and the crazy mountain bikers whom I was discovering were quite common to the lakes. One guy fixing his bike told me a "lovely" story of some yanks who'd ventured up this rutted and rocky track, with the intention of "showing us brits how mountains should be ridden". Apparently one fell off, which was recorded on his helmet cam. I didn't ask if he survived - this trail was narrow and in many places a sheer drop to our right.

The route horseshoed us around this valley bringing us back along a sidepath around Blencathra (picture to right is a view of Blencathra or "Saddleback" from our campsite on the plain below). This section was back to last weeks sheer, muchly untamed, landscapes and this perked me up a bit. We arrived at the Blencathra centre and I hunted for indoor "facilities" and a source of water. I struck out in both endeavours and nibbled a sandwich slowly. When I'm struggling to eat and already over hlfaway through my liquid supply at 8m I know thats not good. We headed off downhill and on to a nice easy section along a track that was formerly a railway line. At Threlkeld I persuaded Mark to divert off route into the village so I could seek fluids. The local pub obliged with a small fresh orange and a glass of water to top up my bottle. In hindsight I should have paid for an extra fresh orange and been cheeky enough to ask for a pint of water with that.

We found our way back on route. This section was very much valley bottom and mildly undulating. Soon we were back to business ascending over rough moorland to find join a path over higher moorland. This path was very stoney, completley sun exposed and went on for about 4 miles in a meandering and mildly undulating fashion. It was somewhere along here, as we struggled to run for long periods without a walk break, that we decided our pace was sufficiently slow that we might not make Dalemain for that 5:30 bus. We decided we'd cut short when we got to a road and head to Troutbeck on the A66. With the pressure off we slowed and slowed some more over the next miles, mostly dictated by my non-existant energy levels. Even mark was struggling a bit and he said he was feeling pretty fresh at the start, the exposed moorland section on a very warm day had been the straw that broke the camels back for us. On days like this I wish I were a camel! Due to the dryness and lack of hills here there was no chance of a freshwater mountain stream when I really needed one.

After a brief stop on a carpark grass verge to eat and drink after the moor road we headed down the hill to Dockray. I again saught the only source of liquid, the pub (none of the tiny villages in this area have a shop, though many have several pubs). Getting some odd looks from a smartly dressed wedding party I downed a glass ok coke and deposited the ice from it in my water bottle in an attempt to make good use of any liquid I could. The route from here would have taken us to Ullswater, Dalemain and a bus stop somewhere beyond there - about 8-10 miles. Our cuts short meant 4 miles of road to Troutbeck, which we hoped would have a bus stop, being on the A66. This also meant we had plenty of time, which was a good job. With the sun still beating down, 4m of tarmac and a flatter and less scenic landscape than much of the route - I could barely raise  a jog form more than a few minutes. This was not fully due to my hydration and energy issues, now my motivation was bottomed out too.

Thankfully the end came within about an hour and I was appreciative of a pub where I could indulge in a pint of ice cold cola to kickstart hydration so I could be running in some way or form tomorrow. After bussing back to the car we sorted the camping and headed to Keswick for "medicine" in the form of not curry. A hot curry an be a risky affair with a ru planned the next day, but I mostly abstained from alcohol that night and the carbs, hydration and a good nights sleep made me feel a whole lot rosier the next morning.

With the England match mid-afternoon we decided to abstain from a recce and planned a few hours up into the hills... or I think I can justifiably say mountains as this was the Helvellyn range. We parked up near the bottom of Clough Head and after half circumnavigating the base on the moor road we saw a path up. This culminated in a sometimes buttock-clenching ascent up what is marked on the map as "Red Screes". At one point the path was just loosen shingle and was sliding away beneath our feet. In trail shoes with worn down grip I had a moment of panic and had to take a moment to get hold of myself, "Its not too bad, you'll only slide down about 50-100ft from here, be a man!", I told myself. Soon we were on top and were rewarded with miles of grassy, runnable, undulating, high-level trails over numerous near 3000ft peaks - Great Dodd, Watsons Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd.... On top of Raise - where there is a ski tow! - I persuaded Mark that the high peak two cairns away would be makeable inj time for us to get back for the football. That was Helvellyn Lower man, satisfied to have broken 3000ft - highest I've been in UK - but lacking the time to hit Helvellyn we ran back the way we came to the car. The picture above is from Lower man looking down towards Ullswater and capturing on the right some of vertigo-enducing "Swirral Edge" path over to the steep-sided Catstye Cam. Even finding a quicker way down after the nerve-racking Red Screes which avoided the half loop of Clough Head.

This "peak bagging" session saved the weekend from the memory of yesterdays hard run. And..... If I'd known the footie result I would have kept running over Helvellyn and on to Grasmere or Ambleside I think.

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