Wednesday 21 July 2010

D. N. F.

After plucking my waterproof smock and gloves from my backpack and packing away the now out-of-its-depth thin windstopper at the top of Scafell pike I danced awkwardly over the rocks and boulders that litter this summit. I got my bearings in the whiteout of the all-consuming cloud and left the throng of hikers "milling" around the top intending to get down the hill and away from the strong cold wind as soon as I could. Starting the final descent of the Wasdale Fell race route I skipped down the rocky summit approach as quickly as I could on overworked legs. Passing the conveyor belt of those about to summit and those that had and now seeked the same lower-level more clement conditions that I did. I stopped for a quick chat with the one group of passers-by - who I genuinely believed didn't think I was insane - and was asked with curiousity how long it had took me to get up here as they'd seen me pushing hard up.

As I set off again the cloud around seemed to lift by a few hundred feet and all of a sudden I had stunning views around from 2500ft+ Something I thought I was destined to be without today. neighouring valleys and lakes were visible and down beyond Wastwater the flatter coastal land, the sea and at the limits of sight the outline of large mountains. Could this be Snowdonia!? I'd heard it was visible from up here. Whatever it was it was big and a long way off - I don't think I've ever gazed so far. I descended steadily and then steadily ventured off the rocky "tourist" path navigating from map and GPS to get over to the route of the Fell run descent.

On a much more pleasant, grassy and often springy, damp, little trod I bounced down the hill with a gaining momentum, checking left around the south of Lingmell Fell, beneath the rocks to join the ridge down to Wasdale Head. The ridge rose high above the tourist path up Brown Tongue on my left and a deep drop to my right. It rose perfectly up and was crowned by the path I was now on which dropped down with the ridge. I stopped briefly after Lingmell fell to take the pictures below. Then I was off, initially steady as the the slightly sunken dust path twisted around a few ruts and stones. But then it was brakes off time, the path pretty much dropping straight and at fairly consist angle down the crown of the ridge all the way back down to lake-level.

It was that most marvellous of things, over 2000ft of totally runnable descent. As I sped down, leaning forward as much as I dared to make use of gravity, I had to wonder if my legs could actually handle such a long descent at speed. As I gained momentum I warmed up as my leg turnover rate hit maximum trying to keep up with my fall to earth. I was working hard, but it was the most increadible thing, I was totally alive, endorphin overload and being worked out on every level. My eyes and brain having to work at a fast pace and in harmony to make sure my footfalls kept me upright and away from danger.

Towards the bottom I could see a couple of walkers up ahead joining the path from Brown Tongue. They scoped me and made sure they were well out of my way on the wide path, obviously sensing I wasn't going to stop or slow down. I managed a hello between breaths as I stampeded past.

Then, in almost no time it was over, it felt like less than five minutes since I started the last hair-raising descent, but I suspect it had been longer. Either way, it had been a truly excellent five minutes or more. Getting up Scafell pike is a decent achievement, but this descent was the real highlight. As I rejoined the main tourist path and crossed the bridge the end of the fell race was in sight I entered the field, but was not cheered by race finishers and spectators. I didn't cross a marked finishing line, get my number checked or "dib" to register my completion. Why you ask? Well because the race had finished yesterday. Today was Sunday and due to yesterdays unusual turn of events I'd decided to climb and descend Scafell Pike in isolation a day late.

rewind..... to Saturday - race day

I was up with the larks to begin my long drive to Wasdale. Less than six hours sleep meant a caffiene stop at the A1 services was both desired and necessary. Otherwise though, I felt fine and ready to take on what I'd built up in my mind as the toughest race..... ney challenge, I'd ever taken on. The pleasent sunny 21c of 7am in East Yorkshire, degraded back into the teens as I approached greyer skies near to Manchester. As I headed up the M6 the windscreen wipers came on. As I turned off and navigated around the south of the Lakes and onto the narrow roads into Wasdale, todays conditions were very apparent. The cloud hung low over the lake, and rain showers and wind turned the air cool. As I got to the race I saw Mark was already there and making good use of the full body waterproof cover the race regs required. His lad Lucas was making it know he was less than thrilled with the weather.

I was glad to have my OMM Kamelieka smock on as I queud to collect my number and was buffeted with rain coming in from the clouds hanging close above. Safety was obviously a major consideration as I was given not just a number, but a dibber and a plastic ring with numbered bread tags on to give in at CP. I kept the smock on for the race start as the rain blew into the assemled racers faces. At the off I assumed a position near the back of the field with Mark. We were quite content just to get around, no heroics today. However, I soon realised being near the back would have been a reality either way as the field ran or walked hard up the first hill.

This first climb was to the two lowest peaks on route, but from lake level it certainly wasn't childsplay. Robbed of any views by the whiteout of the cloud we were enveloped in, we just pushed up and up for at least a couple of miles. This first peak was Illgill head - 609m - (pictured left) and I honestly couldn't tell you the route over, I had no idea how close we were to the steep drop down to the southern edge of Wast Water.

Descending off here I was having to push quite hard just to keep the runner ahead in view. Sorry to say, but I wasn't really navigating up here in the unfamiliar lanscape and whiteout. So keeping in touch with a few others gave me some comfort that somebody else may know exactly where they were going. I did recall from the studying the map that I should be going downhill here, so that also offered reassurance. We climbed again and passed the first CP, number check, dib, bread tag in bucket and off - no LDWA challenge-style foodpoints today!

The descent from Whin Rigg wasn't exactly fun, steep, and the grass and rocks were slippy from the downpour. I'd opted to run in Roclites, the competition being my Mudclaws. Comfort had won over grip, due to the length of the event and what I'd heard about hard ground. But it was so wet, the ground had plenty of give and Mudclaws would have been ideal - first lesson learned for next time. Mark and I were down safely though and on the rare flat section as we crossed Greendale my thoughts turned to regaining a few positions we'd lost through our tentative descent. The rain had now stopped and at lower level and current effort rate it was plenty warm enough for the Somck to come off. Below it I was soaked, not from the rain, but from my own perspiration. It seems no matter how good a sports waterproof you always sacrifice breathability at high exertion.

There was an unexpected drinks stop at a road crossing. Then somebody caught my eye.... is it?..... could it be? Star-struck I didn't ask the identity of the man I believed to be Joss Naylor. A lovely and very much down-to-earth guy I'm sure, but what would I say to a true legend, where is composure when you need it.

We were soon returning to the hills. Competitive fell run style we ate on the ascent. Or maybe it isn't fell run style as I'm sure most of the runners had far too small a pack to be carrying food surely! The GPS also came out here as I suspected we'd end up alone in the murk at some point very soon. We climbed past the raging torrent of a Gill on our left, how long had it been raining here? Though I suspect this may not be abnormal. Back into clouds, the trudge up Seatallan was pretty much all walked. I tried to keep other competitors in sight ahead with limited success. Slightly worrying was that Mark had almost disappeared from sight behind me. Something must be up as this was a role reversal on the usual state of things. I found out at the top that Mark was struggling a bit and had been ever since the first climb. No particular reason for it, perhaps he was suffering a bit with the effects of heavy training like I had been a fortnight ago when we'd had to shorten our 3rd Lakeland 100 recce.

We checked in at the wind blasted 693m summit and were off again, a few runners who had been ahead came past us the other way having missed the peak CP. I think we'd only found it through following the route line on GPS, there weren't many features to navigate from in the white-grey murk and it was mostly unpathed up here. I was soon to learn that even GPS didn't help much if the "plank" using it wasn't constantly vigilant.

Down steeply to the Pots of Ashness and then it was the hard slog up and up to a few intermediate higher peaks and CP3 at Pillar (892m). We weren't far along the way before we were too far down a slope and had to eventually scramble up a loose rocky scree. On higher ground we found quite a substantial boulder field in our path. We pushed though it for awhile but then tried to seek ways around as many of the rocks were sharp edged and some quite slippy in our trail shoes. We found a wall and a path, bliss, after stopping for a quick bite we pushed on along this path which followed the GPS route nicely. After around a mile of good, if windblown, progress the route took us off down the hill and we soon lost any semblence of path as we came to a fast-flowing gill. We found a path close to route and pushed onwards, contouring around a muddy hillside.

Looking at the GPS mileage left to go, I was starting to feel something wasn't right. Not long after this I zoomed the GPS route out figuring we must be somewhere near Pillar by now. My route had CP's named along the bread-trail line we were trying to follow. A named CP came onto the route screen about 1m ahead, but it wasn't Pillar......

"Damn, bugger, I don't believe it........ were going the wrong way!!"

....or something to that effect was what I uttered. We'd somehow started heading back the wrong way along the route - the CP up ahead was Seatallan. It took me the entire backtrack to the boulder field... probably 2.5 to 3m to figure out my error. We'd approached the boulder-field after being a few hundred yards off-route, disorientated by trying to pick through rocks and the blasting wind. When we stopped in the shelter of the wall to eat we'd set off again after following the path in the wrong direction. As we were now on route - which we hadn't been the other way - I hadn't noticed the error. It wasn't obvious how to get across the boulder field either, we picked a route down the ridge off this peak which eventually became an obvious path leading us to the rocky scramble up the last few hundred feet of Pillar.

There was nobody manning a CP up there and a hiker who must have been up there a while - probably seeking solitude in such a wild and desolate place as it was today - said he'd seen no other people up there barring runners as recently as about 20 mins ago. This suprised us a bit as we were well over an hour - maybe two - over the cut-off after our detour and we'd figured everybody would have been through a long time ago. We'd already decided to call it a day before Pillar as Mark had his family waiting back at the finish for the tent to be put up. We were also a bit concerned that we didn't want to worry the organisers too much and would feel bad if Mountain Rescue were to be called out for us. Without these concerns I was feeling good enough to complete the course, if a bit miffed by the idiocy of my navving error, even with the benefit of a map and GPS technology.

We peeled off the hills at a path that joined the main path from Black Sail pass (the way back into Wasdale pictured right). No Great Gable or Scafell Pike for us. I felt a bit gutted about this, but to balance this I felt I'd learned an important lesson. Maybe one that could assist me in the upcoming Lakeland 100 (UTLD). The recce days for UTLD had been in such glorious weather that I'd probably established an irrational belief that navigation wouldn't be an issue. Now I was all too aware I needed to be more careful, for all its obvious tourist paths, UTLD does have a few high-level moorland crossings which could be tricky in conditions like these.

Coming out of the cloud down the hill was awesome, my vision filled with greens and browns and other non-grey shades I'd not set eye's upon in hours! We got back to the start via Wasdale Head village about six and a half hours after the race had started. There was no fuss about our withdrawal, we just dibbed in and placed our bread tags in a "withdrawals" bucket. We learned later that there had been over 40 in our gang of non-completers. 121 had finished, a few way after our arrival back. This race really was living up to its credentials. Other statistics that bouyed me a bit were that the winners time was well down on last year (45mins, a lot, even though 2009 had been a championship year) and we had still managed nearly the same distance as the 21m race during our outing. We'd missed the two biggest peaks but still recorded well over 7000" ascent and descent.

The rest of the weekend was far more relaxed and enjoyable (in a deifferent, less challenging way).... I didn't wake during the night screaming so it can't have bothered me that much. After getting the tents up on Saturday I enjoyed Pasta, tomato sauce and parmesan with Mark, Joanne and Lucas. Then a few beers and relaxing in to the evening. It rained all night.....

Back to Sunday..... and the bit before the start

Conveniently the rain had pretty much stopped by time I awoke. A walk after breakfast to look around the hills and mountains of the valley presented the prospect of a better day, if still a little windy. Once the breakfast had digested I put to action my plan I'd hatched for the evening before. I was in Wasdale so just had to do take on the biggest beast in view... well partially at least. So I put the backpack back on, donned the mudclaws I wish I'd used yesterday and I was off.

Up the stoney path behind the campsite and I joined the rocky step path which lead me up into the gloom where England's tallest peak lurked. I passed a steady stream of peiople as I headed up. Not exactly running up, but I put in a hard effort whether walking or clambering. Things got interesting at a plateau about 2000ft up where the path splits. There was the popular walk up route - longer, but easier - and "route 1", up into a cloud-shrowded approach to a notch in the skyline between Scafell and Scafell Pike. The picture - left - of the "notch" in the skyline was taken on the way down when the cloud had lifted just a bitThe two peaks are off-picture and still in cloud.

I took route 1 up jagged, wet and often loose rocks. Much closer to climbing due to the steepness and pace. At the top of this intimidating rock-face was Mickeldore, a pass between Eskdale and Wasdale and also a narrow ridge between Scafell Pike and Scafell. I turned left to head up to Scafell Pike, following the crowd I suppose, but it had to be done. After tramping over rocks and boulders littering the summit trying to find the peak in whiteout I soon heard hikers from the main path up and headed the way they were going. I soon summited. Though to be honest I felt a little unfulfilled. So many people were up here, even in todays wind and murk, that I couldn't even find good shelter from the wind to sit a minute. Thankfully, as you read at the start, I soon found the joy was in the descent from this one. The day finished with good grub and micro-brewery beer in a pub in Nether Wasdale. Overall, another great lakes weekend.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Less than 3 days to go

Nothing to see here, just a quick post to say all seems to be going well in preperation for the Lakeland 100. My thoughts dive between, "what am I doing, I can't do this, I can't be ready, something will go wrong" to "I can do this, I've done plenty of preperation, I'll be ready, I'll get around one way or another, afterall people do harder things than this". But I guess this is all normal. A bit of fear beats overconfidence and underpreperation, which are far more dangerous in my book.

I packed the bag up tonight with all the required kit for the event. Following an adress rehearsal run with it last Saturday for 15 fairly easy undulating miles I've made a few tweaks and I'm happy with that. On that Saturday run I also ran the mathematics in my head and figured out my rough calorific requirements per CP, which I could digest, on an ideal day, with no gastro distress. Afterwards, I also wrote down a plan of how I hope it will all go. Just hours, mileages per hour (based on day night and stage of race) and cumulative mileage. Its all rounded up or down to the nearest mile per hour so i doubt it will be accurate, but it is somewhat reassuring. It all helps me feel like I won't be panicing, rushing things last minute and forget something really important. 100m is a long way to go with the nagging mental demons telling you you've mucked up your prep, forgot this, should have brought that, etc.....

In the meantime I'll post my Wasdale report up in the next few days. I know it was over a week ago now, my writing is even slower than my running. Some of you who may be reading already know what happened, but for those who don't.. This race brought about an interesting first for me.

Monday 12 July 2010

The Phoenix performance from the Ashes

The Osmotherley Phoenix is an excellent beginner off-road ultra. Its sufficiently longer than a marathon at 33 miles to be considered by far from the easiest step-up and the various hills on-route also reinforce the "bragging rights" of the first time ultra-ist. Not to mention excellent value, organisers with true passion and and a great atmosphere on amongst both the competitors and those at the attached village show at the end. 3 pubs in a 100-yard square at the end - need I say more???

I was back for my third stab. 2007 I entered as my first ultra and found it very challenging. The hills being nothing like what I'd run before in East yorkshire or in road races, or shorter trail, fell and XC runs. For a long time I thought I was last back that day, a mid afternoon darkening of the sky confused my tired mind and I was convinced I may be out into the night. As it was, after a painfully slow run up the Drovers Road and Cleveland way back to Osmotherley, the sun reemerged as I descended to the finish late afternoon. I also got my first "spot prize" :¬) By 2009 I was much more experienced having done at least 3 ultra-length runs. I started hard, running with Mark, but wilted in the sun on the moor before Wheat Beck. Cramp then kicked in on both calves and occasionally other leg muscles. My walk, run, cramp!, repeat; plod along the aforementioned Drovers Road and moortop path from Hawnby to the finish took a neverending 1hr 56minutes. That was slower than for the same section two years ago. Thankfully I still PB'd by one-and-a-half hours. Room for improvement.

So 2010 could be better. With another dozen or so marathon or longer distance runs in the bag and a slightly cooler day than 2009, things looked good. The only worry was that last weekends sore throat had developed to a complete loss of voice the previous week and then some pain swallowing. I'd also started feeling a bit rough and tired physically so I went to the docs. Thankfully, the antibiotics I was prescribed seemed to be helping by the day before the event.

I ran with Mark again from the off. I was feeling better for longer this year, the climbs seemingly smaller and not so ominous after the bigger beasts I'd been tackling int the Dales and Lakes. But again, the faster pace of this event over the Fellsman and recent lakes recces and perhaps being a bit less than 100% saw me running low on energy before Wheat Beck. Just when I wanted to capitalise on the long moorland descent and push for a sub-6, my stomach tightened and breathing became that bit more difficult as my glycogen supplies seemingly hit a "warning" level. I couldn't keep with Mark and I limped in at slower pace to the CP. A belt of weak orange juice really helped - not sure why I'd been eating drinking quite well before so I don't think I'd got my hydration or eating wrong - and I was now running with a vigour somewhere between where I had been pre- and post- crash and was able to run at Marks pace for awhile longer.

I was at Hawnby 11 minutes quicker than the previous year and then marched up the Drovers road and banished my demons by running most the way on the moor paths to Osmotherley and hard down the final long descent. A new PB awaited, 6:22, and that last section took me just 1:35 this year, a saving of 21 minutes from 2009. I was pretty happy with all this and didn't feel so wiped out to give me negative thoughts about the upcoming 100! (a 33 "gone bad" could really have ambushed my mental preperation at this stage).

The other thing I love about Osmotherley is the apr├Ęs-run. Even before I got to the campsite for a shower and some proper food I'd had three pints at the village show chatting with fellow runners Mark, David, Steve (great PB!), Claire (first Phoenix) and Nick (great round after recent injury lay-offs). I was thankful of a lift back to the campsite. After some good pub grub and further pintage later I was a bit wobbily and merry, both in mood and level of intoxication.

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.

Monday 5 July 2010

Ruddy good recceing

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?