Thursday, 20 October 2016

Off-roading For The Weekend

Having survived the York marathon a lot better than I'd imagined, I didn't want to risk flaring my knee up any more by pounding out some road miles, so I decided that an offroad weekend was in order.

I've previously done an LDWA (Long Distance Walkers' Association) event, and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. The LDWA put on scenic circular routes that cater for walkers and runners (the runners usually starting an hour after the walkers) and aren't races as such, as there are no timing chips and no prizes, and there is plentiful catering en route provided by volunteers (usually from the local WIs).

I'd done the "That's Lyth" event in Kendal with my clubmates a couple of times several years ago, but unfortunately the "Lakeland Four Passes" event had been abandoned before I took up running (though clubmates have done it in the past). It was being resurrected this year, albeit for a much higher price than the previous £7 LDWA entry fee, and several friends were taking part so I had my arm twisted into going down and joining in.

An interesting elevation map!
I read the event description - "It is an absolutely classic 19(ish) miles route taking in four of the Lake Districts most scenic valleys and their adjoining passes. It is a circular route which starts and finishes at Rosthwaite Village Hall in Borrowdale, at the southern end of Derwent Water. The first pass takes you to Sty Head Tarn situated between the Scafell Massif and Great Gable before dropping to the beautiful but always dramatic Wasdale with Cumbria's deepest lake. Onto the second which is Black Sail Pass & the third Scarth Gap, which happens to be the easiest ascent of the day & gives views of Haystacks, Wainwrights resting place to the right. The fourth and final pass is an old miners path and is probably the hardest of the day but you will take in an old miners building on your way to the top of Honisters Pass before returning down to the village hall." - which sounded great, so I entered, downloaded the route description, got out my maps and mandatory kit and headed down to Rosthwaite.

View from the start
Having chatted to Dave, James and Martin in their red polka dot tops ("team KOM" - King of the Mountains) before the start about it being a fun day out, I was surprised to see them all shoot off from the start as if it were a 100m race....then, as I watched them all leap into the air in front of a photographer, I realised why...and it did make a great shot! My friend Simon Franklin (the arm twister extra-ordinaire) and I headed off much more sedately, nearer the back of then field, having a good catch-up chat and generally chewing the fat.

My individual style of "walking the plank"
A good solid path to start
the climb up to Sty Head
It was a gentle run along the Borrowdale Valley up towards Seathwaite, with a mini "via ferrata" section of rock early on (you really didn't need the chain to help you cross it) and a "plank walk" where a bridge was being rebuilt. As we started to climb up towards Sty Head Pass, we soon caught up with the others, first Martin, and then Dave and James. Simon got into a conversation with Martin but just as I caught up to Dave and James, someone else was just commenting "Did you see that girl that was drug tested before the Ring of Steall race?" so I had to confess that it was me, prompting some funny TUE (therapeutic use exemption) discussions, which meant we reached the summit almost before we knew it.

Descending into Wasdale
The guys stopped for a couple of silly photos, but I headed off down into Wasdale, knowing that I would be the slowest descender of us all, and not wanting to hold them up as we dropped down. A couple of guys did pass me on the rocky section of trail, but surprisingly I also passed a couple, and a few more when it became the more runnable grass underfoot. Oddly enough, the boys never appeared on my shoulder...and in fact, I didn't see them again until after the finish.

Up to Balck Sail
The first "feed station" was in the carpark of the Wasdale pub. I downed a couple of cups of juice, along with a couple of slices of swiss roll and some brownies, and took some pieces of marsbar with me for the next section (well, I wasn't sure how well the grated cheese would stay in the sandwiches and I know where I am with brownies and mars bars!!). The initial run out was just undulating (which aided digestion) but as the path wound around the back of Kirk Fell, it started climbing and I resorted to run-walking. I passed several walkers in my event, but there were other peple out enjoying the Lakes and so I had to keep my brain switched on in order to head up to the right to Black Sail Pass, rather than following some hikers heading off left towards Pillar.

2 Passes down, and it looked like a shorter steeper descent down into Ennerdale and up out the other side towards Scarth Gap. From the top of Black Sail Pass, there was not a single person visible in the valley ahead of me. I had to keep checking my map as I ran down, as I really thought that I might have been seriously off route. My map was seriously old, and so marked forests no longer existed, but at least the hills hadn't changed!! I have never been so pleased to be passed by someone, as it reassured me as to my navigation, though it did mean that I could see I'd be getting soaking wet feet in the boggy muddy valley bottom.

The runnable descent to Buttermere
Climbing up to Scarth Gap
There seemed to be an unplanned water point at the Black Sail YHA Hut, but it turned out that was for a different event - a trail run round the bottom of the Ennerdale Valley - as I passed a couple of runners wearing different coloured numbers going the opposite way along the path to me. I caught up my overtaking descender as we climbed up to Scarth Gap, and after a breath chat, I bid him farewell at the summit, wanting to just take my time picking my way down into Buttermere. I even found myself heading off the trails to run on grassy slopes instead - what is the world coming to?

Honister Pass over to the right of the photo
The second feedstation was laid out on a wagon top near Gatesgarth Farm. Determined to get my entry fee's worth of food, I went to town.....and later regretted it slightly as I was rather nauseated on the final climb up to Honister (the entry fee was £27 so I'll leave you to imagine my intake.....). It had been cloudy for the first climb, spitting with rain for the second, cloudy again for the third, but the climb up to Honister was definitely the hottest and hardest! I'm not sure if it was steeper, or just that it was later on in the event, or due to the amount that I'd eaten...but there seemed to be more false summits on this one. That being said, I still really enjoyed going up to the mines, but was slightly confused on reaching the top.

The route description had said to ignore most of the paths and follow an old tram line, but before the "race" they had said that the correct path would be flagged. Again I wondered if I was in the wrong place as I saw no flags, but it turned out that it just hadn't been marked yet. As I tried not to slip heading down the wet rocky steps into Honister, I passed a man just setting off to put the flags in place (when I say "flags", they were actually Booths carrier bags attached to poles).

The event medal
At Honister a marshal reminded me that the road was not to be used on the descent, and so I did as told - on 2 occasions even running along a short narrow trail less than 50cm away from the tarmac! The run down into the valley was lovely - some on wide trail, small sections on single track, and several bits on nice soft grass. I counted down the 4 gates in the route description, but although they were meant to be "open so you do not need to climb them", I was a bit of a weakling and ended up climbing the last one after an unsuccessful struggle (lasting several minutes) trying to open it.

Celebrating with the boys afterwards!!!
A sharp cut down a steep grassy slope off the trail took me down to the valley floor and the route then retraced the initial outward section back to the village hall, where I filled up on lovely veggie chilli and tea while waiting for the lads to make it (whereupon we all decamped to the pub for a "debrief" on a great day out)!


James actually running uphill

Simon "loving" the race
Doing the run was definitely a good choice for the Saturday...but I'm not sure I made the right choice on the Sunday. A couple of the guys decided to run an uphill only race, whereas I (along with one of the others) opted for marshalling duties. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the worse - and so although it might have seemed madness to take part in the race, I think it was much crazier to marshal - stanbding still in the wind and rain seemed a recipe for hypothermia! Still, we all made it safely back down again afterwards - another successful fun weekend in the bag :-)

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