Friday, 16 December 2011

Rudolph-a-rompin', strong wind, and snow in the hills

The title is intended as a catchall to summarise goings on since my last entry.

Rudolph Romp

After my mid-November "seeya lata" to long runs - for a few months - at Rosedale the next step was to keep myself in order for Rudolph's Romp a fortnight later. The Romp is an LDWA challenge that welcomes runners and due to what most runners would consider is an overall runnable course there is usually a large and semi-competitive runner turn out. The field dwarfs that of the inaugural Rosedale ultra - over 400 entrants - and is definitely an event that ticks a lot of boxes: inexpensive, runnable, pretty, food-a-plenty and with enough distance and hills to give all a damn good workout. It's also the most local LDWA challenge to me and popular with my running club.

A relatively inactive week followed the Rosedale with a weekend off from running in London. Lots of walking, dodging through crowds and...... ok a short run along the north bank of the Thames and through Southwark offered a different, but not unpleasant backdrop on a Sunny Sunday morning.

The week that followed was little more than running for fun so that I'd hopefully arrive at the Romp in good shape and with the benefits of recent increasing training and a 40 miler in the legs. Knowing the course and having run the 24.5 mile route in 3:48 in 2009 I had a reasonably hard target to aim at.

Those who know the route will know its almost impossible not to run the second half slower. So after a few small hills I settled into a good sub-9 min/mile pace on the flat trails, paths and tracks to Sancton, which is roughly the halfway point and the major on-route food stop.

After leaving this checkpoint after 1:44 I struggled on the next few miles to maintain a similar pace even with plenty of downhills up to about 18 miles - but I was still steadily passing others. The next small climb really kicked a hole in my pace and hereafter the challenging short climbs of the miles beyond 20 was just a case of hanging on. I arrived back at Brantingham VH after being out 3hrs 46mins. Not quite the improvement on my 2009 time I'd hoped for, but an improvement nonetheless. And in 2009 I was coming off an almost injury free summer.

Blowy days

There came some really windy days in the middle of the next week. On a particularly windy Thursday when wind speeds in the Cairngorms hit 165mph it was a little more restrained in the east, but there was certainly a strong wind as the Thursday night club run set out. The schedule for tonight was Humber bridge reps and we decided to stick with it even though it was already closed to high-sided vehicles.

A strong cross and slight headwind was tiring on the way over as we were exposed 100 or so foot above the river with no wind break around barring the slightly elevated car deck. We hoped for a boost from it back, but just as we got up onto the elevated deck again the near horizontal rain kicked in and wind seemed to go up a notch, but mostly pushing us off the bridge rather than along it. Could feel the bridge subtly wobbling below by the middle and a roar as the wind bashed part of the structure on the, more exposed, east side of the deck.....

.... in summary, a great training run :¬) 

Snowy days

Having experienced a mostly mild autumn and winter I learnt a bit more about the winter effects of the Lake District when at about 8am the next morning Mark's car - which I was in - got stuck part-way up the Honister pass. The plan had been to meet Simon at the slate mine, all jump in one car and drive to Wasdale Head to run a leg of the Bob Graham back to Honister. Simon had got here 30mins earlier and attempted to contact us to warn us as he'd got stuck and had to back down the pass too.

We got off the pass after descending back on foot to get grit and back to Seatoller where we decided to run from the National Trust car park and hit a few peaks in a loop. Not far up the pass path and we were running on ice and snow. Beyond the slate mine we headed onto trail towards Grey Knotts and Brandreth. These two bagged we decided to seek lower ground as a wicked cold wind had started blowing snow horizontally. With any true path concealed under between a few inches and feet of snow we made a best attempt to descend alongside Tongue beck into Ennerdale.

We stopped briefly outside the - shut for the winter - Black Sail YHA to take on some food before a warming walk up to Scarth Gap. At the top we turned right to follow the ridge between Ennerdale and Buttermere, picking our way over snow-covered Haystacks and down to Blackbeck tarn. We then diverted north to take in a Final peak for the day at Fleetwith Pike, before heading down to Honister. At first through thick snow, which would support weight then give without warning making for a good few soft landing stumbles and falls... and a few laughs. Then as we found the proper track to the Slate Mine the snow was great, a few inches thick and crunchy so you could run down with confidence and great cushioning.

After getting back to the cars and over to Grasmere we had a very comfortable night in the annex of the very clean and smart YHA. The guy on reception was endlessly helpful and we took up the offer of a three course dinner, which is highly recommended and about the same price as a single course elsewhere in the village. A few beers ended the night.

On Sunday we were up early for a lovely breakfast and off out towards the fells again by 8:30. We ascended past falls along the Gill then a direct route east up to Heron Pike. It was a steep climb and certainly worked off breakfast! Once atop the pike we joined the track which follows the ridge top north. Passing earlier starting walkers we trudged through thickening snow patches and into cloud up to Great Rigg before a slight descent and tough pull up to Fairfield on a track - now completely snow-covered.

Fairfield to Grisedale Tarn was steeper than I anticipated, not helped by slightly melting snow on top of loose stones it was quite a steady descent. The plan was then to take in the small climb up and down Seat Sandal. But seeing snow drifted up as high as the wall top we decided it would be easier to bypass this peak on the way to the descent along Raise beck to Dunmail Raise. Just on the feint track bypassing Seat Sandal we actually encountered the deepest snow we had all weekend.

After crossing the A591 we stopped for lunch before the steep climb up to Steel Fell. This is on the Bob Graham Round route and I could understand from this ascent why winter rounds are so much harder to take on. At the bottom it felt safe enough, but further up on the steeper crags as we climbed across snow on top of scree it got the heart racing a bit! But we were up in about twenty minutes.

From here it was more undulating than hilly for the miles up until Sergeant Man - though plenty muddy and snowing. Coming off here we headed for the Easedale route back to Grasmere as the light was running short. A bit of slow downclimbing at first was followed by some great, speedy rockhopping beyond Easedale Tarn. This gave us a great finish to a fantastic snow-bashing weekend.

A great end to a fantastic trail running year.

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