Monday, 28 March 2011

A surprise weekend playing in the Lake District

I was too late applying for the Lakeland 100 lecture and reconnoitre weekend; it was fully booked. However, Marc Laithwaite emailed me on Friday to say a few places had become available and did I still want to go? Well, yes, but I didn't have any accommodation for Saturday night. Google searches returned the expected responses - either no vacancies or a minimum of two nights. Then I found Late Rooms. The Glen Rothay Hotel in Rydal, two miles up the road towards Grasmere, had a vacancy, and they were happy to offer Saturday night only. I applied and waited for the email confirmation on Friday evening. It came, so I went. To make the weekend really worthwhile I had searched the FRA races calendar for something to keep me out of mischief before the 4pm lecture on nutrition for ultra runners at the Mountain Rescue Team base in Ambleside.

Sat 26/03/2011. Causey Pike fell race. 4.2 miles + 1,793 feet of ascent (according to Tracklogs)

I set off early for some retail therapy at Lakes Runner in Ambleside before continuing on to Keswick then round the other side of Derwent Water to Stair in the Newlands Valley. Causey Pike, whose summit knob we would soon be clawing our way up, loomed and intimidated.

Check-in at village hall, £3 entry fee paid, check the required kit (cagoule and whistle) and I was ready. I exchanged 'How dos' with Wendy Dodds, fellow Hardmoors 55 finisher from last weekend. (Wendy must be another one who needs her weekly fix.) A few comments were received about me being a rare sight on these short, sharp, steep outings. Perhaps so, but I do indulge myself sometimes when the opportunity presents itself and I always have a blast.

As I waited for the 2pm start I wandered up the lane a short way for a gander. I elected as usual not to wear myself out unnecessarily by running like others more keen and fit than I were doing. My energy is too precious; I have to save it for the real thing and not squander it frivolously.

I lurked towards the back of the pack in the field for the start. I did not hear the start command when the throng started to move forward. (The starter gun must have had a silencer on it.) I managed to overtake a few on the uphill lane but as soon as we hit the fell it was single file with everybody walking, since it was far too steep to do anything else. Our first target was Rowling End. It soon became a hands-and-feet job, so steep was the terrain. It was more efficient to climb on all fours. For a change I did not need to carry water bottles, so my hands were free for quadruped perambulation. I was held back to about 90% of max effort, so I had a few seconds of energy burst in reserve for an overtake or two whenever the terrain eased and an overtaking place appeared.

A minor descent via a col (Sleet Hause) took us to the final climb and scramble up the rocky knob of Causey Pike. I had managed to overtake quite a few on the climb to the summit. I very nearly stopped at the summit to admire the view and take pictures, but the urgency of this 'little 4.5-miler' convinced me otherwise and I launched myself forwards down the rocky ridge before veering right down the STEEP, flagged, grassy descent. Now I was left wanting. Someone I had chased and caught at the summit was suddenly disappearing down the hillside as I 'minced' my way down, not wanting to lose control and accelerate to oblivion. A couple more descenders overtook me. Then we hit the rocky track that would take us most of the way back down to Stair. I was red-lining and could not let myself go as I wanted. My jellifying legs were at risk of losing control over the rocks and my strong sense of self preservation held me back. A few more runners overetook me, one of them tripping and sliding to a halt on his belly in a cloud of dust. He jumped back up and carried on.

We veered right off the track, steeply down the fell to a stream crossing. I ran down, on the verge of losing control, crossed, climbed the other bank, getting overtaken a bit more on the final descent to the road and left turn back to the finishing field in 50:48, a panting wreck for the next 30 seconds. That effort earned me 95th out of 148. I probably lost more places on the descent than I gained on the climb. What a blast, though. I should do more of these. We enjoyed perfect conditions - dry, mild and sunny.

Before and after pictures are here. Stuart Stoddart ('Stu Stod') also happened to be there, having just finished his own extended outing on the fells as he builds back up from injury. He took an excellent crop of pictures, seen here. The ones that show the front-of-pack runners on the return leg with Causey Pike in the background really capture the ascent we experienced.

I drove back to Rydal to check in to the Glen Rothay. The decor may be decidedly 'Rigsby' (call it quaint, charming and charged with historic intrigue) but the welcome and hospitality cannot be faulted. I was late for the 4pm lecture in Ambleside, so I wasted no time in setting off on the 2-mile walk along the coffin route to Ambleside. The lecture was interesting (confirming what I have found out for myself), well attended and finished late. A plate of chips and gravy in the local chippy saw me right for the torchlit walk back to the hotel, where I enjoyed a half of locally produced Mothbag. It went down a treat.

Sun 27/03/2011. Ambleside to Coniston L100 reconnoitre. 15 miles.

I drove to Coniston to catch the organised bus back to 'Checkpoint 12' at Lakes Runner. Compared to the last L100 reconnoitres I did 2 years ago, the care and attention to detail of the organisers was impressive. There was a roll call and everyone would be monitored to the end. Furthermore there would be checkpoints offering refreshments (CP13 at Chapel Stile and CP14 at Tilberthwaite). This is in contrast to the 'fend-for-yourself led walks' of two years ago. Informal chats with the organisers put me in high hopes for the best Lakeland 50 and 100 ever in 2011, with best ever support. I'm almost looking forward to it now ;-)

We set off if warm March sunshine. I found myself running with Tom (another fellow Hardmoors 55 finisher from last week) in the no-pressure walk/jog of the final 15 miles of the Lakeland 100. I wanted to get this final stage (which took me 7 hours to complete in the event last year) fixed in my mind to give me every possible mental advantage in my final hours of torture in July 2011. Our easy pace took us 3.5 hours. That says a lot for the suffer fest of the real event. I took a few pictures along the way.

I returned home via Ambleside for another bout of retail therapy at Lakes Runner and refuelling in Bilbo's Cafe. I may have spent a mint of money over the weekend but I needed some decent lightweight kit for serious events like L100 and UTMB to replace the heavyweight clobber I've been using for years. "All the gear but no idea"? I hope not.

What a weekend that was. I compare the Lake District to California in that it's an outdoor playground filled with sports enthusiasts and shops and cafes that cater to them. The big difference is that the Lake District is more serious, needing more care and responsibility for survival. The weekend's exertions have left my leg muscles feeling satisfyingly traumatised. It's that 'good' pain that you know is making you stronger.


  1. Sounds like a great weekend! Can't say the same here in Kansas, it is cold and windy, but mostly flat and boring running. Wish I was in California for job training instead.

    Every time I read about the lake district, I say I need to get up there more often....I'll have to make good on that this summer.

  2. well nick..great time. i stayed at the glen rothay as a boy..did you frequent the badger bar? and causey pike is a favourite peak of mine..a challenge but mostly away from the madding crowds. im up there the weekend after next cant wait!

  3. Only "almost looking forward to it" I'm getting quite scared about the reality of this event.

  4. Dawn, you get yourself back over here and up these 'ere mountains at the earliest opportunity. You know it makes sense.

    Dave, I bet that hotel is unchanged from when you stayed. I did frequent a small bar to consume the Mothbag. Don't know if it was the Badger Bar but it was cosy. Enjoy your trek north in 2 weeks. The draw of the Lake District increases every time I visit.

    Roger, respect it, have the right kit, prepare well and you should survive relatively unscathed ;-)

  5. Well done Nick at Causey pike, I was out earlier on the higher tops but got back to take a few photos at the start. I have found you and added it on my flickr, link on my last post.

  6. Stu, our posts crossed. I had found the pics. I thought it was a bit of a coincidence my appearing at the front of a blow-up. I suspected some intelligence must have been at work but couldn't imagine how or why me. Much appreciated though :-) I hope you don't mind me downloading them. They provide a great memento.

  7. Feel free Nick..... I've promoted you to the top of my post now!!!!

  8. Good going Nick,

    I couldn't make the reece at the weekend but managed to get up on the Monday and run from Ambleside to Keswick. Beautiful day, bloody hot though! Very happy the becks and ghylls were flowing well.

    I always pop into Lakes Runner and Bilbo's when I'm up there. Fantastic veggie chilli and cakes!

  9. Terry, have you tried the lemon and ginger flapjack? It's amazing with a pint of tea after a decent workout. The chocolate tiffin is good for the same too.

  10. I went for the choc tiffin and coffee :-)

    Chocolate is an amazing recovery food!