Thursday, 20 November 2014

June Challenge: 10 Peaks: The Lakes (short course)

"Oh no, not more of you stupid runners trampling my grass!"
The 10 Peaks - the Lakes (short course) with its mere 30m+ distance, but over 10000ft of Ascent AND Descent on route was always going to be one of the "odd fit" challenges of the year. Afterall, previous to this all year long I've been mostly doing trail runs in my native East Yorkshire, which even when you incorporate some of the paths in the Wolds into training could never be considered mountainous. So this would be a shift from speed and mostly running to preservation over tough climbs and muscle-mauling descents. Without a massive focus on this event and the time to train on rocky Lakeland climbs it was always going to be best endeavours. 

So with last months massive 21 hour run giving me the time on feet endurance I'd need I just tried my best to incorporate more climbs into training runs. This meant knitting together routes in the Wolds with lots of little hills to add up to big overall climb. The thing I couldn't even attempt to replicate though is the rocky nature of the ground I'd find on route in the lakes. The Wolds are comparatively soft-grounded, trail-lite. But by the time I set of to the Lake District the Thursday evening prior to the event I felt I'd given the hill training a good shot in a year where my challenges came thick and fast.

Clare and Isaac were with me for a mini-break in the Lakes, neither had been here before so I thought they really needed to see what its all about. So we stayed in the Kendal Premier Inn, which was a good enough base for family activities over a long weekend. The day before we headed up to Bassenthwaite lake area to the wildlife park. On the way back I registered in Keswick and got my dibber (which Isaac had a few good goes at trying to wrench off my wrist that evening).

"midge food" waiting for the start

The day of the race

I didn't do too bad for sleep the night before. After we settled the excited toddler down for the second time in two nights I disappeared off into the bathroom to get my kit ready where I could have the light on and wouldn't disturb anyone. Up before 4, on the way out walking to my car with bags I saw a few people still returning home from their Friday night out.

The early morning drive along a quiet - comparatively to the previous day - A591 was a joy to start the day with. Winding past Windermere, Thirlmere lakes and many quiet mountains, oblivious to the presence of those below, who would be trekking up them in numbers later today, for now. I arrived at a pretty quiet race HQ at about 5am. Although quite a number of people would be doing the 3 event distances, the 'long' eventers (73km) had already been bussed off for their 5am start and the 'Xtreme' eventers (100km) had set off from here at 4am! So it was just a few dozen nervous looking people here at this point.

I was pretty well prepared so was killing time before the bus transport to the start. We arrived at the Swirls Car Park (off A591 at base of Helvellyn) and were immediately and for the next 20 minutes set-upon by midges. After a short race brief I think we were all happy to get away from the ravenous flying-pests.

To Hel(vellyn) and back

The Start and Peak 1 - Views

So the first and longest continual climb of the day came right from the off, which is no bad thing really. And going from Lake level to the top of Helvellyn (3118ft) is a test best approached with fresh legs. The switchback path up isn't for the most part that steep, or difficult to walk, but it is a long way up. After the first 10 minutes or so climbing I'd warmed sufficiently for the jacket to come off. Somewhere after 2000ft we were into cloud and I soon cooled again as slight wind was present too bringing temperatures well down into singl-figures. I half thought I should stop again to jacket up, but instead concentrated on working hard to generate heat up the mountainside path.

Onto the ridge path and the route levelled off a bit before the final kick up to the cloud enclosed peak-top - in just over 50 minutes. At the top of each piece is a chip-reader, or 'dib point' which we had to insert the chip-containing, plastic nobble of the wrist band we'd been given - or 'dibber' - into, to record we'd been here. There was one of these atop each peak and at each Checkpoint to stop people missing bits of the route. The dibber would then be downloaded at the end to give us a receipt of our 'splits' (times) between peaks and checkpoints and help generate the results. They are also there for safety reasons in case a lost competitor needs to be tracked back to where last definitely recorded as being on route.

I chatted with a few others on the final part of the way up and for the initial paths down. Including a forces member from Scotland (Steven?), who was under some pressure to get back at a reasonable hour as his car had been playing up on the way down south, so he wanted to see if he could find a garage in Keswick still open once finished. The paths were pretty good running, occasionally steeper and technical, but nothing too taxing ion fresh legs. The views as we emerged from white-out down the winding, stoney-path to lakeside woodlands were fantastic.

I went pretty hard down, as did my Scottish compatriot. We made up a few positions and only lost one to somebody who must have been part-man, part-gazelle, who past us like we almost weren't moving. As we hit woodland above the lake a few of use stopped to decide, "which path?". The path that took a longish and relatively flat out-and-back track 'official' and mapped route to hit the south lake road junction, or the downhill path which the navigator in me thought might be quicker to go down and then follow the road briefly to the junction. I went with the former, but in hindsight I could have been braver here as I think people made up time and places on our small group.

After a good-jog on the long, but-known, route to the road we followed it around south of the lake to the first Checkpoint at Steel End. I grabbed a small mars bar, snickers, gel, some sweets and a water top up to supplement my own packed food and drink that I was drinking/grazing on at half hour intervals.


Peaks 2 and 3 - Soggy ground and lost paths

The route to the next peak was either a long one, or just seemed to take a long time to get there. Probably something of both. I walk/jogged over damp fields following Wyth Burn back towards its beginnings, keeping reasonably close to those in front and behind and feeling the effects of that first descent a bit, coupled with the warmth of the valley as I worked hard though boggy sections. This was also the section where we started to pass many tail-enders tackling the long route - who started from where we did 1 hour before. These guys and girls had a very long day and maybe night still to go as they picked up about 50% extra distance and some tougher peaks on route than we would. The ground improved up towards Green up edge to become more solid grass track running for awhile and to High Raise (2500ft).

What now followed was a descent to cross where Stake Pass climbs between Borrowdale and Langdale and a climb up to peak 3. It was far from straightforward going in reality and the first place on-route today where a recce would have been really useful. A few others and myself lost track of the path, which was feint in places and had confusing off-shoots, in the end I cut a fairly direct path down a grassy hillside towards what I thought was Stake Pass in the distance, but without losing unnecessary height. I lost track of various others around who went on a wider arc losing less height or maybe straighter but lower.

Nevertheless as I climbed a bit back up over to the more obvious path which had appeared towards Stake Pass I'd made ground on others so was pretty happy with the result. I now countoured around a peak before being joined by a southern bloke (I forget the name of now), on the ascent of Bowfell, who I'd made some ground on with my lucky route choice. We chatted for awhile on the way up about the event and long stuff we'd done, he was a southerner who spent quite a bit of time in the lakes and seemingly knew his routes and was a brave descender.

Bowfell (2960ft) is quite an impressive and towering beast "scowling" down into Langdale. From Stake pass it didn't look too scary, but as you get closer you get to appreciate how steep its rocky East face is. The path actually took us almost 180-degrees around the peak before the first of many boulder scrambles today. [Southerner] escaped me on the way up as I slowed to take on some food and then pulled distance on me as we descended.

Wasdale, from Scafell Pike

Ennerdale, from Scafell Pike

Peaks 4 to 8 - Rocks and Blisters

From here on the peaks came relatively thick and fast for awhile. All close together, the challenge being the generally rocky and steep terrain at points between the peaks. Esk Pike (2904ft) was a brief up-and-down away without too much height lost. But despite this I was finding it harder going now with much ascent and descent in the legs already.

The route got busy again now as the short course and long course competitors intermingled. Especially as the last few hundred metres of Bowfell saw an out and back route so you saw all those within about 20 minutes ahead and behind. I passed a few raucous forces lads - discussing something we'd probably all be too tiored to do after do after completing this event - quick-marching the long atop Esk Pike, making up the colourful mix of competitors attracted to the route.

I passed through the high-level Esk hause CP not feeling great, I'd slowed down, was feeling the cold and I'd just grazed my ankle bone stumbling on a rock. These things aside were relative inconvenience and could be sorted - but worse was that I had a huge blister on the heel of both feet. Not something I usually suffer, but the hard, uneven, ground I was up and down on and maybe slightly ill-fitting trainers and perhaps slightly past-their-best socks had conspired against me. This meant that an rocky ground and an descending was at best uncomfortable and at worst painful. I also didn't much fancy eating anything from mny bag or at the CP so I stopped to put my jacket back on to keep some warmth-in/cold-out and grabbed an unusual citrus flavoured gel.

As I climbed away from the CPI briefly cheered up with the zingy-taste and energy hit of the gel and my body warming as I worked uphill. My good mood was soon put in check though as I realised I'd missed a turn to go up Great End (2986ft) and on my current course would end up at the next peak and I'd have to come back. I kicked myself a few times, but then worked hard taking a steep, but thankfully not dangerous, calve-burning direct route from Calf Cove to the rocky peak top.

I was starting to see at this point that any thought I'd have at being close to 8 hours for this event were ambitious and would be undone by my slow progress on these more technical and rocky sections. Peaks 6 and 7 - Ill Crag (3068ft) Broad Crag (3064ft) - were little higher than Great End, but between each one was primarily a walk-up and down the boulder-piled tops from the path a few hundred feet each time. It's not all bad though, the views from these tops over to nearby Scafell Pike (3210ft) were worth it all!

Approaching the climb - scree-ish at first then boulder hop - to the top of the highest peak in England I got to see [Southerners] descending skills as he had double-backed on route from Scafell Pike to pick up the 'corridor route' to the next peak and was coming fast down the loose path. He must have been moving well as he'd picked up a good bit of time on me since Bowfell, no doubt aided by gutsy scree-descents like this.

I hauled myself up Scafell pike and amongst the throngs of other event runners and day-mountain walkers alike I stopped for a snack and to take advantage of a clear view from the top to take picture. As I got going again, myself and an [American] competitor tried to find a good way to the 'corridor route', I wasn't aided by the blisters on quite steep descent and not knowing quite where I was going (another point where a recce would have come in handy). Still, at least I wasn't on the Long or Xtreme routes who had to head the opposite direction from Scafell Pike and take potentially tricky terrain options to its near neighbour Scafell.

Peak 9 - "....ya big evil bugger"

I found the corridor path and as it undulated through, clinging to the stunning mountain-scape I found I once again had some energy to run a few bits where terrain allowed. probably down to the amount of walking I'd done in the last ten miles.

Soon at Sty Head pass and the only way was up again, for what was probably the second biggest and probably most tiring climb of the day for my route. Due to the size of this climb a number of runners who hadn't appeared to be anywhere near ahead and behind all of a sudden seemed quite close on the tough path of switch-backs and then later (more) rock and boulder 'clambering' up the big rock. I got a bit of a head of steam on going up here, catching [American] and passing from the short event and passing several from the 'long' event too. Nevertheless, I was definitely muttering "Great Gable ya big evil bugger" or something like that at regular intervals at my calves and quads moaned and groaned at me.

Great Gable (2949ft) - I topped out and my recent good mood soon changed to one of confusion. Amongst the rocks of the top I couldn't see the right way down to get to the next Checkpoint. And having not been up this peak for some time and only once in my life this was one place a recce would definitely have benefitted me! I aborted on seriously steep and scree-ish route off the south-west and moved across to the western face, seeing eventers and day-hikers going that way.

But sometimes, following others isn't better than trusting own judgement. And these guys led me onto a rocky gulley descent that wasn't much less scary than my initial choice. At least in my near-panic and complete inability to descend here gracefully I was in good company though as nobody else was doing better. Towards the bottom the descent turned to scree and was less steep so I was able to descend a bit more freely as I could slide on the moving carpet of small rocks.

Buttermere from Moses Trod

Peak 10 to the finish

In hindsight I should have gone off slightly further north-west, but I don't think any of the descents of this "big bugger" are much less hair-raising. At the Beck Head CP I had a quick snack and determined myself to try and enjoy the more runnable path over towards Honistor CP - where I could sit down inside the Youth Hostel and try and do a repair job on my feet.

On familiar ground with Moses Trod and on runnable ground my energy seemed to be quite good as I nearly reeled in another runner who was about half a mile ahead. I was also confused as another guy who left the CP just ahead of me seemed to take a high line further west on more difficult ground. Maybe he knew something I didn't, but it was a fairly fast an direct route to Honistor from here and I knew cutting a corner brings in some more gnarly ground.

At Honistor I sat down was asked about hot food and tool  the offer of some hot pasta and I also got a full can of coke (bliss on a summer trail run!). I also did my best to patch up my feet, the problem being that although I had plenty of blister plasters I only had one big enough for the big blister on one foot so had to stick a big plaster over the other. Once done I made a resonable dent in the generous helping of spag bol I'd been provided and got off after a refreshingly long stop.

Despite not eating all the pasta I was definately struggling to digest the meal as I trudged up peak 10 - Dalehead (2470ft). A steep but easy going underfoot climb was followed by an initially steep, with switchbacks, but similar going underfoot descent where I started to move better again. Great views down Newlands valley helped

Back down to near "lake" level again and there was now a long and mostly flat run in along Newlands valley. I maintained a good pace, passing at least one competitor as I commited to run most of the way. One last checkpoint near Derwent water and it was on into Keswick.

I had a slight blip in town as my marked map route stopped short of the actual finish, but with some quick routefinding I put in a strong finish passing one more fellow competitor before the line. I had some GPS issues with signal loss in the last few miles but a pretty close estaimation of my covered distance would be 33 miles, time was 11:03, which was good for 14th poistion from the 64 finishers on the short route.

A good event, low-key but well organised as is appreciated by the not over-familiar with all the route such as myself. But definately not an easy event, even the short course has potential for navigation mishap and serious injury (or worse) if you fell at the wrong time.
After getting myself right and having a bit of drink and food I got off back to Kendal and I'd got showered and dressed. Fresh socks really helping with foot comfort. Then Clare, Isaac and I ventured out - at slow hobble pace - to the pub attached to the Premier Inn to finish off the day.

p.s. Following a redressing of the blisters back at the hotel I was able to walk well enough if stiffly and enjoy the rest of our long weekend away. The blisters took awhile to completly sort, but dressed in compeeds I was running again by Tuesday the next week. Although I also suffered some stomach issues Monday onwards - unsure of the cause, which weren't pleasent for a few days and ended in illness and fever on Thursday.

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