25th ~ 31st May: Weekly Stats: 75km /15,029ft
Last week of ‘normal’ training before I start tapering. That said, I won’t be doing as much this week and will ease it down a bit.
Saturday. Duddon Long Fell Race. 18 miles. This was my first proper fell race of the year and last hard run before my Bob Graham. I’d agreed to do it as it was an English Championship race but it was also going to be a gauge of whether my Bob Graham Round training was having any effect either positively or negatively on my race speed. It was also a chance to rectify some past demons, at this same race in 2013 I lost the plot entirely and managed to miss out the last checkpoint on Caw Fell and got disqualified. Not my finest hour.
And so there was a degree of nervousness and trepidation as I made my way to the start line. It was a nice morning in Seathwaite, sunny with fluffy clouds floating about but still on the cool side. The starting field was busier than normal, the championship status drawing a bigger field of 300 or so. At 1105 we were off.
The start is a relatively fast run-out along the track past Wallabarrow Farm and on towards Harter Fell. I hate these starts, running hard to get near the front to avoid getting stuck in gate or stile squeezes means pace goes out of the window. Trying not to trip up on rocks and boulders whilst you can’t see in front of you and all around the sound of heavy breathing distracts you from breathing yourself. It could not be any different to 95% of the training I had done over the past 8 months. By the time we began the climb to Harter Fell proper, things had calmed down a bit. On the ups my legs felt strong and it was a steady walk / run to the summit. First checkpoint in 40 minutes, a minute or so up on my previous best.
I pulled away from one group of runners and joined another on the descent to Hardknott, again the ascent to checkpoint two was a welcome relief and I locked onto the chase group in front. Checkpoint two on Hardknott fell summit was reached in an hour and two minutes, still up on my previous best.
Descending to Mosedale I deliberately went a slightly different way, amazingly I could hear people following me from behind, always amusing, but the important thing was I could still the front runners ascending Little Stand in front. I knew I wasn’t completely out of the top tier. Little Stand is neither little nor easy. Over 400 metres of steep fell side rearing up out of Mosedale. It’s a leg killer. But today I was enjoying the up hills more than the flat running, they felt less pressured and I just drove my way up, a consistent speed all the way. Caught another chase group and settled in to the top. One hour 30 at checkpoint 3.
By the time I arrived at the Three Shires Stone and checkpoint 4 I knew I was going well, I was 5 minutes up on my previous best time in 1 hour 46. I ran through and hit the ascent to Swirl How hard. Catching another 2 or 3 other runners. By now I didn’t want to look behind, the pressure of other chasing groups behind too much to contemplate, the thought of throwing it all away utmost in my mind. I tried to stuff a Snickers bar down my throat as I climbed. The upper reaches traversing around Great Carrs we hard, one runners whom I had just past caught me and pulled ahead. I dug in and ran onto Swirl How reaching checkpoint 5 in 2 hours and 12 minutes, 7 minutes up on my previous best.
Running around to Dow was my only slightly low point on the whole race. I began to finally feel tired. That said, no-one past me, and so as I beg and the short climb upto Dow, I took the opportunity to stuff more food inside me. Checkpoint 6 in 2 hours 32 and on the long home straight now. With my club mate, Todd now alongside it was a hard and fast descent towards White Pike, passing the Walna Scar road we ran past others like they were standing still, it felt fast and it took just 12 minutes to reach White Pike. It was painful, I just wasn’t used to this pace. Across to Caw and another chase group were caught, another few places snatched and it was with relief and slight bewilderment that I pulled up onto the summit of Caw, knowing this was the last checkpoint and that all that was left was the fast descent down to Seathwaite.
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 11 minutes. 36th. I could live with that for a Championship race. Clearly all that Bob Graham Round training hasn’t made me too slow!
Friday. Headed upto Blencathra for a short afternoon run and take another look at the Parachute descent. I am rapidly beginning to think this route is jinxed. As I pulled into Threlkeld the heavens opened, I stayed in my car as the rain thundered down. It was 8c -hardly what the end of Spring should feel like. Eventually it eased off and I headed off up the road towards the open fell. I’d got maybe 100 metres above the fell gate when it started to hail, light at first but as I headed higher, the hail got heavier, more squally and more painful. A few more minutes later and I had been reduced to a snail, crouched on the open fell, cowering from the relentless hail. It was truly miserable.
Eventually it passed. I continued upward, the path running with cold water and melting hail. By the time I reached Halls Fell Ridge, the sun had come out and other than the fact my hands were numb, it felt relatively pleasant. Albeit more like early March than late May. As I pulled onto the summit it started to snow.
I paused for a few moments, pulled on my over-trousers and turned south-west to descend the steep grassy face, the start of the Parachute descent. Within a hundred or so metres I was off-line, on broken ground that by anyone’s standards was neither fast nor particularly safe. As I descended further through tussocky heather, I strayed too far left and found myself on steep and awkward ground near the base of middle tongue. Moments later, I lost concentration, slipped and found myself staring head first down a ravine. By any standards this was pretty stupid and very nearly was very painful.
It apparently took Billy Bland 14 minutes to descend all the way to Threlkeld via this route, it had taken me 14 to reach the beck and I’d nearly broken myself. Reached the A66 in 25 steady minutes with some more food for thought.
Tuesday. Headed over to Dunmail Raise this afternoon again. I wanted to run directly to Sergeant Man to finally decide whether I am going to head to Sergeant man first, or go to High Raise first. There isn’t a lot of time in it. However, having ‘walked’ both options now I think heading via Birks Gill to High Raise is the better option.Why? We’ll firstly the path upto Sergeant Man just isn’t as good as everyone makes out. Yes it has a few runnable sections, but you will be 8 hours in (10 hours on a 24hr schedule) and you won’t be running much. Apart from that it is rough and boggy in sections and surprisingly intermittent. There are a few more direct lines but these are on rough tussocky ground and not on the path. Finally in low visibility, it is easy to stray off route especially in the final few hundred metres to Sergeant Man itself. Going directly via Birks Gill is steep, but directly adjacent to the Gill is pretty firm underfoot, you gain height quickly and this will suit my body at this stage. It is also direct and easy to nav in poor weather. The upper section when it begins to flatten out is rough and a bit miserable but at least your in sight of High Raise. Once there you have the advantage of running downhill to Sergeant Man. Decision made.
After that 2 hour outing I headed to Loughrigg Fell for an evening’s orienteering with Ambleside AC. Totally different, gunned it for an hour in attempt to win, but my high risk strategy didn’t quite pay off. Missed a couple of easy checkpoints and accrued 3 minutes worth of penalty points for being over the hour cut-off time. Finished 3rd but at least had a good work-out!
Monday. After a fairly full-on weekend of running in the Scottish Highlands I’ve had an easy day today. A short 6km ‘trail’ run around Kentmere which gave the opportunity to up the tempo a little bit and run the legs a little more.
18th ~ 24th: Weekly Stats: 100km+ / 26, 246 ft / 8000m
Just back from 2 days running in the Scottish Highlands. I was up there helping Mike Vogler to recce the Ramsay Round (the Scottish equivalent of the Bob) as well as getting in some more big mountain training – he will be supporting me on my Bob Graham, and is himself preparing to complete the Big 3, having already ran both the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley (the welsh equivalent) rounds. So we spent two days running mountain marathon style over two thirds of the Ramsay Round.
It’s big, rough, remote and serious running terrain – to be honest it’s nothing like the Bob Graham, apart from the stats, it feels light years apart. I quite like it. Even now at the end of May, there was full snow-cover on the summit of Ben Nevis and some gargantuan snow-fields and choked gullies which resembled more of the Alps and the Himalaya than Scotland.
So Saturday saw us running over Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor / Beag and the Grey Corries before dropping down to overnight at Meanach Bothy. Some 20 miles or so running over the roof of Britain, across scree and boulder fields, narrow ridges and deep Bealachs, and racking up some 3000 metres of vertical ascent. The weather was good, clear and sunny to begin before a sheet of threatening cloud encroached from the Atlantic. But it stayed dry until early evening, by which point we were long since down.
After a night spent sleeping on the floor of the bothy (the bank holiday meant we weren’t alone) we headed out for our return leg over the Mamores. The overnight rain had cleared to leave a colder and brooding atmosphere above Glen Nevis. Cloud obscured much of where we had ran on Saturday and was glancing the tops of the Mamores. It felt very different to the last time I had ran on the Mamores under a blue sky and searing sun. By the time we reached the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor it was snowing.
And that set the tone for the next 3 or 4 hours, a cold wind and frequent snow showers accompanied us across the Mamores, passing only a handful of other folk out hill-walking before we finally dropped down to the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis some 6hrs and 20 minutes after we had started.
All that was left was to grab a bite to eat, jump in the car and head south back the Lakes.
Thursday. Another day-off work, another training run. But crucially, the best I’ve felt in weeks. I was keen to re-look at the direct line up onto Fairfield, as well as treble-check that my times coming off Seat Sandal are as consistent as I think they are.
So I parked up at Dunmail Raise again, and ran down to the car park at Wythburn before beginning the long climb up the Western slopes of Helvellyn. My intention was to run all the way to the summit of Helvellyn, after which I would drop down to BG pace for my route over Dollywagon, Fairfield and Seat Sandal before returning back to Dunmail Raise.
It was brighter and consequently warmer than forecast, a steady breeze blowing above 600 metres, with the sound of Skylarks all around. The head felt good, the legs felt ok, the lungs were ticking over. I reached the summit in an hour. There was a cold wind blowing on the tops and after a brief stop for some food and to chuck on an extra layer I turned back south and headed over Nethermost Pike before sticking to the left hand skyline as I picked my way onto the summit of Dollywagon.
From Dollywagon there are two accepted descents, the most popular is to take a line down to the western side of Grizedale Tarn following a line of old fence posts. The other is to pick your way (or follow the path) down to the Eastern side of Grizedale. I favour the latter, its more direct, with the right line, more runnable and the only issue is you’re then left with a steep climb up on Fairfield.
The trick with this line is to not head too far left and end up on Cofa Pike, I don’t think going this way is very quick. Where you choose to strike upwards is therefore critical. I was wanting to check a slight variation on the line I’ve taken before. It seemed fairly quick, although there was some loose scree sections which were not very good. Despite that I reached the top of Fairfield in 29 minutes (from Dollywagon).
Wednesday. With a day-off work today, I headed around to Dunmail Raise this afternoon. Want to hard-wire the trods into my memory that skirt around all the lumps and bumps around Steel Fell and was also keen to try the ‘High Raise first’ option instead of automatically heading for Sergeant Man.
With a fresh out of the box pair of Mudclaw 300’s on my feet, I began the never gets any easier slog up Steel Fell. 14 minutes to the end of the Steep Ground, 18 minutes to the summit. A bit fast but its training so no worries. From here it was a pleasant if slightly breezy run across Calf Crag and onto towards Brownrigg Moss.
From here I headed straight for Birks Gill. The ground is lumpy, a bit boggy in places but once your adjacent to the stream, its up, on ok ground. You cant or wouldn’t want to really run, but that doesn’t really matter. The easier ground above Birks Gill is a bit of a damp slog in places but I was consciously trying not to try to hard, and still made it High Raise in 26 minutes (from Calf Crag). From here it was a slightly faster 6 minutes to Sergeant Man and the run around to Thunacar Knott is little different to that of coming directly off High Raise. So I’m not sure now, may need one more foray back to the ‘Sergeant Man First’ option before I finally make up my mind.
After Thunacar Knott, I made a beeline for High Raise, before heading north and retracing my steps after a slight detour via Greenup Edge.
Monday. Feeling some of my energy and motivation trickle back so in an effort to do something without over-doing it, I headed around to Hartsop, back to my winter training grounds for the ‘short’ run upto Hayeswater and around High Street and Thornthwaite. It was bloody cold on the tops again, with fleeting hail and sleet showers. Glad to have opted for my hooded Squall Jacket today.
11th ~ 17th: Weekly Stats: 70km / 12,132ft
This has been a tough week. My body has felt so drained and ‘not right’ that I’ve struggled to run whilst the pain in my lower leg has been reluctant to leave, despite my attempts to ‘stretch it away’. Needless to say my head has been full of self-doubt this week. Apart from the Old Counties Tops, it’s been a quiet week.
Saturday. Old Counties Tops Fell Race / 37 miles (59km) / 10,000ft (3,200m)
So it was with a degree of nervousness that I drove to Langdale this morning for the start of this years Old Counties Tops. I was still feeling far from 100% and if it wasn’t for not wanting to disappoint my running partner Wil, I am not convinced I would have got out of bed. At 37 miles it’s as long as Lakeland fell races get, visiting the summits of Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man – the highest points of the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire which are now consumed by the county of Cumbria.
Racing with Will Spain we started steadily, but after a few hours it was clear that Will was faring worse than I. At the pace we were going I was feeling ok, Helvellyn was easily reached in 2 hours, Angle Tarn 4 hrs or so but from Wythburn it was clear that Wil was struggling to eat and struggling to go uphill. It suited me, the pace meant I could try and just get my body back into running and being out on my feet, I stayed ahead, tried to conserve energy and treated it as a training run.
We finished in 8hrs 48 minutes, 28th place I think. No dramas, no low points, no where near feeling 100% but happy to have got out running again.
Tuesday. Exhausted and feeling under the weather. Managed a short run up Wansfell from the Low Wood Hotel, but even that felt like hard work.
4th ~ 10th: Weekly Stats: 78km / 16,496ft
Sunday. Legs better today but still with some lower leg pain, but unfortunately work has got in the way so I went for a short run before heading home to do some more stretching and crunch some presentations I need to prepare.
Saturday. Broken Record. Struggling a bit these past few days, partly with a lower leg strain / pain which I think is my peroneal muscle having taken a bit of a beating. I’ve been trying to stretch the pain away but its not quite working. Either way it seems to be directly connected to my head, and is causing that to develop an acute form of cant-be-bothered-itus. So it took me until 1430 today to summon up the will to don my running shoes again. Should I run, should I not run, if I do run – how far should I go? Can I afford to not run far or climb lots? Having given a thought for the guy running the Bob Graham Round last night in horrendous weather, I decided I needed to get on with it. So I headed over to the Howgills for a change of scenery and ran the 14 miles of the Sedbergh Hills race route, bagging an extra 1800 metres or so of ascent over a steady if somewhat laboured 3 hours.
Tuesday. Tonight was grim. A run around Kentmere after work. There were few Skylarks singing this evening, I saw one, struggling to stay in level flight in the gusting cross wind. Hood down with plenty of time for thoughts since apart from hide from the torrential rain and gale force wind there was little else to do.
I’ve doubted my commitment to this cause lately, perhaps I’m just tired and my mind cannot help wonder about the level of commitment it takes to complete a challenge like the Bob Graham and whether I’ve got it in a similar vein to those who may wonder what it takes to excel as a runner or indeed any other sport or activity as opposed to merely take advantage of a natural ability, stay within a known comfort zone knowing they will never do badly but never reach their theoretical potential. My frequent questioning as to how great my motivation is nothing new, despite others views and the proof (if that’s what it is) of nights like tonight when no other soul was to be seen running around the Kentmere Horseshoe in pretty foul weather.
And so as I ran around this evening, my thoughts unable to escape the hood wrapped tightly around my head I also wandered onto question the statement of being ‘lucky to live in the lakes’. A strange question you may think, of course you’re lucky. You live in a National Park, you have mountains on your doorstep, you can train and head into the mountains at will. And in that sense I couldn’t disagree – being able to access mountainous terrain living where I do is a massive plus.
I can be home in minutes not hours after a day on the fells, I can head out at the drop of a hat and not to have to plan my outings in advance. I can run in the morning or late in the evening. My decision to move to the Lakes is one I’ve never ever regretted. Despite that I know of people who’ve tried it and moved away again, who’ve decided that there is a price worth paying or a price worth being paid and been tempted away. I know those who will never make it here, but say they would like to, because they have too much to give up.
Which brings me back to my question of commitment. Is it running a hundred kilometres or more a week? Climbing 20,000ft or more a week? Or is it simply having the motivation to try, to get by with the bare minimum, to dream simply about getting round, to live hundreds of miles away from the Lakes, have no choice but to train on roads or canal tow paths, doing lap after lap on the biggest bump you can find? Or is it the person who gets up at 5 or 6am to train because that is the only time they can fit their training in before they have to get their kids ready for school and have no choice but to fit training around the demands of having a family? The latter I have no experience of, have no need to understand, but those I know who do that meet my definition of being committed and in that sense do something I don’t think I could.
Living and always training on the Lakeland fells comes with its own unique challenges of course, challenges which get few votes of sympathy. Training in all weathers. This is hardly news but it really does rain a lot, the wind really can blow a lot and especially during the depths of winter, conditions can often be pretty grim and at times arduous – ground saturated with icy water, chilling winds which gradually erode every vestige of strength from your body. Live here and you don’t have much choice. Equally the temptation to bale, when things don’t go to plan is that much greater – the realisation that I won’t have squandered a rare chance to be in the lakes, I won’t be wasting a long journey that going home is quick and easy.
So commitment I guess is as much about wanting it as anything else. Even when you live here, you’ve got to want it. Unless you are very lucky things are never handed to you on a plate. Take today. I left home at 730 and drove 1 and half hours to Manchester, where I often spend my mid-week time working. I then drove home again, getting home at 630 having left the office a little early, gulped down a cup of tea and then jumped back in the car and drove around to Kentmere. 2 and half hours later I was back at home, soaked to the skin and freezing cold. Having eaten dinner, cooked by my suffering other half (Bob Graham Rounds rarely affect just yourself) it’s now 11pm and I’m drying out in front of the fire. I’m tired.
Monday. Today I ran the 28km / 17-18 miles around the ‘Skyline’ of the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay. Someone should organise this as a race in itself. A great route taking in quite a few Lakeland tops and bagging around 2000 metres of climbing. Luckily the bank holiday traffic never seems to result in the car park at the top of Kirkstone Pass being full and being only a 20 minute drive from my front door ticked the box for a hassle-free day. A steady pace saw us round in around 5 hours.