Fell Fun

Four weeks since my last blog. A lot to talk about (main reason for the delay) and most of it good news. I seem to be back to good health. In the last three weeks my Resting Heart Rate (RHR) has dropped back to its original/normal level of 41-44bpm from the 50-52bpm throughout the summer months, alongside the other issues mentioned. Following further tests (standard ECG, 24hr ECG, Echogram) I had an appointment with a specialist to discuss all the results. The findings were ‘abnormal’ with one large heart ventricle, thick wall muscle and leaks. If he had seen the ECG graph alone he’d have “presumed I was a heart attack case”. But these are all common conditions for an ‘athlete’ apparently. I was told everything is ok, which was a huge relief. As to the cause of my elevated HR, palpitations, tight chest etc during the last 4 months, he believed it could well have been post-viral, stemming back to my illness off the back of the Malvern Hills Ultra. Anyway, I’m now putting a line through all of this and moving on. It’s a pity it ruined my triathlon season but I have plenty of running races and challenges coming up. I’m entered into an olympic-distance triathlon on Sunday but will just try to enjoy the experience and back-off from being competitive. It’ll be my first healthy triathlon of the year and I’d like to finish the tri-season on a positive note.

Last week I did a 5km track race at the Civil Service Games, Loughborough Uni. It’s been a while since I’ve raced hard over a ‘shorter’ distance, or even any distance fully fit. I was keen, but at the same time it had only been a week since a training break in the Lake District (below) so wasn’t sure what I had in the legs. When you’re running long distances off-road it’s generally more core fatigue rather than muscle damage. My 5km PB (17:06 – Bushy ParkRun) is soft based on what I can do over other distances. I really wanted to pace myself to a 16:30 time. That meant starting the first two 400m laps on 1:20s, and then holding 1:19s. At the gun two guys went off the front and I tried to stay with them. 200m in 37secs suggested I’d gone far too quickly, so I settled back and let someone else take the lead. I stayed with him until 4km on 1:20s but I was struggling and he took the opportunity to pull away. Once the elastic broke I was lucky to hold on to 4th, coming home in 6:58(PB). Disappointing considering the original target but realistically I knew my muscles were compensated from previous week. Speaking of which:

BOB GRAHAM RECCE

The Bob Graham Round – 72mile loop of the major Lakeland Fells, including 42 peaks and 29000ft ascent (equiv height of Mount Everest), in under 24hrs   http://www.bobgrahamclub.co.uk/bobgrahamround.co.uk/

I’d prepared myself well for this and had received some great advice from a couple (Paul and Joc Dodd) who live and work in the Cumbrian Fells. I was warned about the bad weather and told not to bother if it was bad. Well just my luck there were strong winds and rain predicted. But rather than cop out, I decided to make the most of my time up there and see what I could fit in.
On Monday 5 September I headed to the Lakes to set up my base camp (well, a small Vango tent in Castlerigg Farm). The first night was a monster and I didn’t sleep at all, even with eye mask and ear plugs. The gales they’d warned of were in full force and I thought my plucky tent would be lifted from the ground and deposited in the Derwent.

TUESDAY
I’d arranged a taxi to pick me up from outside the farm at 6:30am. The wind and rain were in full force and if it wasn’t for the fact I’d booked a taxi I may have pulled-out. He drove me to the disused quarry SE Threlkeld – section2 of the BGR. Pleasant bloke and we had a nice chat, but when he asked me “will you be alright?” when climbing out of the taxi to the onslaught of howling winds and driving rain I started to doubt what I was doing. “Yep. Don’t worry I’ll be fine”, I said through gritted teeth. As soon as he started to turn around I was tempted to jump back in with him, but instead I headed straight for the nearest phone box to check the map and prepare myself. For the next 45mins I tried to find my way on to the BGR but with great difficulty. Clough Head was right in front of me, but couldn’t find a way on to the route itself without taking my chances with what looked like a couple wolf guard dogs with backpacks on, followed by a very protective cow on a tight, disused railway line. Mind you, what harm can an angry cow do(?). I didn’t want to find out. I decided to jump over a couple of fields following a river and on to the BGR route. We’re off.

Clough Head (726m) was tougher than I was expecting. When I first heard about the BGR I didn’t expect the climbs to be so demanding and take so much time. The wind and rain had died though thanks in part to the prevailing being SW. But once I’d reached the top of Clough Head I could feel the full force and was keen to keep moving. For the next three hours I really enjoyed myself running along the Dodds (Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd) and Raise, taking pictures (not great as I had to keep clear of ridges, and misty) and occasionally glancing at the map, snacking and drinking. However, on the run down White Side (863m) the wind had really picked up to the extent that I was struggling to move.

As I began the climb up Helvellyn Lower Man I was forced to get on all fours as the wind was pitching me over. After a few looks at the map and plenty of deliberation I decided it would have been too risky to continue. There was no-one else around and the next 2-3miles were along a ridge on the east side (Helvellyn, Nevermost Pike and Dolywaggon Pike). Even if I managed to get through these peaks I’d have to scramble up Fairfield and back. A tough but wise decision and I now had to pick a route down the west side of the mountain, negotiating the becks and Helvellyn Gill before finding my way on to Browncove Crag and a stony staircase from the A591 to Helvellyn. I finally spotted some people – one lad followed by a couple of old men making their way up from the bottom.  I warned them of the winds and they all had the same reaction – a thanks, a smile, and on they went…!

View from White Side of Helvellyn Lower Man and Helvellyn

My original plan was to cover sections 2 and 3 of the BGR on this day and stay at a B&B in Wasdale Head. I was already running at the limit of my available time thanks to the late start and windy conditions. Now I’d experienced what it was like on the peaks I started to doubt my chances for the tougher section 3 which would include Scafell Pike and Scafell. I’d already cached a bag (water and food) between sections 2 and 3 by a stream off the A591 the day before when I drove up. So I thought I’d run to this, take a break and do a time-check. The following few miles along a forest trail were pleasant (if wet) but I’d lost a fair bit of time negotiating my way off Helvellyn so I reached the end section 2 in no quicker time than if I had continued the proper route. I had a look at Steel Fell across the A591 at the start of section 3, but couldn’t spot a suitable route to scramble up. Again, it was too windy to be mindlessly scrambling around so I doubled back and spent the rest of the afternoon running along forest trails, fields and road to get back to the campsite. I’d run close to 30miles in total (inc ascents) for the day and although I had achieved what I’d set to do I’d had dam good fun in the process!

WEDNESDAY
Another night of strong gales and rain but I managed to get around 3-4hrs in the early hrs during the wake. My back-up plan for today was to take a bus from Keswick up to Honister Slate Mine, where I’d start (the final) section 5 of BGR. If I was back in Keswick before 3pm and feeling fit enough, then I’d start section 1 .

Pleasant (if expensive) bus trip up to Honister. I’d had to rush the morning preparations and run into town so I was keen to take a break at the Honister Cafe. Thought I’d try my new Salomon Acti-Lite shorts today, great kit. The first summit today was Dale Head (753m). I was a little stiff and sore from the off but surprised at how fresh I felt considering what I’d done the previous day. Of course I had to break into a hike for most of the climb but didn’t feel too bad. It became misty at the top and the wind started picking up again. It was just about bearable and I managed to make my way along Hindscarth Edge. I kept to the right (east) side of the ridge to reduce the impact of the (westerly) wind. Hindscarth (727m) was a breeze…a very strong breeze…from behind! So quite enjoyable. I tried to film myself running back down from Hindscarth towards Littledale Edge. There was a nice plateau at Robinson (737m) and despite the thick mist I was really enjoying myself. I knew the rest of the section would be downhill back to Keswick with some awesome views.

I finally passed someone, coming off Robinson and seriously kitted out using poles. The run down Robinson Crags and High Snab Bank was speedy, but I had to mind my step on some of the steeper scrambly sections particularly with the side winds shooting up the Derwent Fells. I chose to run the more ‘picturesque’ route towards Pontinscale rather than the road sections (useful in the BGR if chasing a deadline). I ran alongside Catbells, down to Stub Hill and took a time-out in a Cafe at Portinscale. I was running very close to 3pm at this point so after consulting the map I decided to head up to Skiddaw on section1 and do a time-check there. If I could get around section1 to Blencathra by 7pm then I would have enough light to get down safely.

View from Robinson. Derwent Water and Keswick in the distance

The start of section1 from Keswick runs uphill with the Cumbria Way for a couple of miles before breaking off with a really steep knee crunching 2-3miles on ascent to Skiddaw at 931m. At around 600-700m the mist rolled in and the wind started to pick up again. After encircling the east side of Skiddaw Little Man (865m) the gales hit hard. I passed a foreign couple coming the other way warning me about the summit but I ‘thanked them, smiled, and on I went…’. Accordingly to my Garmin I was just approaching the southern plateau of Skiddaw around 875-900m when again I got into a battle with the wind. At first I struggled to walk against it and because it was also blustery I was getting knocked around. I stood my ground and composed myself before the knock-out punch which pitched me to the ground. I’ve never been taken off balance by the wind before and that was enough to make me turn around. I can’t imagine what it would have been like at the the other side of the summit where I would have been even more exposed. It made me realise just how important it is to pick a BGR with the right weather conditions. I ran back into Keswick and that concluded my ‘recce’, if you call it that.

I had a great time overall and will revisit the lakes again at least two more times before making a BGR attempt next year. I still have no idea on my pacing but would like to think I could get under 18hrs all being well (with pacers carrying my gear!).

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