It was another glorious weekend in the UK. Defra warned the asthmatics to stay indoors with the windows closed at the same time Playstation announced that their network had been hacked and that those 30 year old virgins who planned on following Defra’s advice and playing dragon games wouldn’t be able to do so. Perhaps is was part of a plan to get people outside? It would have been a crime to stay indoors for any reason this weekend, the first of our 2 long weekends in the UK this month.
Like last Easter about 2 dozen Serpies travelled up to the Lake District. A stunning series of lakes and hills in the North East of England where you are only ever minutes away from a hug ascent on slippery scree and about an hour away from the top of something where you can see the whole lot. We stayed in Keswick again, in the same B&B as last time only this year was vastly different. Similar crowd but amazingly better weather.
On Friday we drove up just in time to get a few hours of running in the hills before heading off to the pub. I have no idea where we went as we were following Claire Shelley, I swear that girl will do the Bob Graham Round one day; accidentally.
On Saturday about 12 Serpies pitched up at the start of the Anniversary Waltz, a 11.3 mile fell race starting in Chair and going up and over some of the hills. We were told at the beginning to “add around an hour to your half marathon time” for an estimated finish.
We were in amongst proper fell runners. This is a race reviewed in depth by Richard Askwith in Feet in the Clouds as being huge on the fell racing calendar. We collected out numbers that were given out in alphabetical order and I was keen to parade my number 1 around (In your face Tim). I guessed that the field here was going to be incredibly strong and although there were some quick Serpies here there were dozens of fell running specialists who could make us all look like a southern softy London road running club.
Gemma was not feeling too great so I agreed to “plod along near the back” with her which was fine by me. What I didn’t realise was that we actually would be right at the back. The first 3 miles were nothing too strenuous, a little up hill (think Parliament hill times 6) and then off into the mountains, the first one being Robinson.
Gemma and I were almost at the back despite not feeling like we were going that slow. If this were an ultra then we’d be in the middle somewhere, it seems that only proper hardcore fell runners even enter this one.
This race involves one really big climb into the mountains then a succession of ridges where you go up and down a bit but not as much as in the first instance. The climb up Robinson was immense. There was a choice of 2 paths, one indirect (very steep) and one direct (very very steep). I took the latter and am not sure whether it was the better choice. There we 5 checkpoints to go through and in fell races any route is fair game. There are paths you can take between points but if you feel you can get from A to B faster by running over rocks, through trees, off cliffs or whatever then you are welcome to go for it.
The ascent was lung busting and needed use of my arms. The conditions were perfect but the dew on the grass still made slipping a frequent event. If it were pissing it down like last year I can’t imagine being able to propel my body up this one. Near the top it got misty, visibility reduced to about 10 meters and that stuck with us for most of the remainder of the race.
With only 10 meters to see and being at the back it was hard to figure out where we were going. We laughed near the start about the compulsory need for maps, compasses and water proofs but seeing how quickly we ascended into the clouds I can understand their concern. We had to get out the maps quite a lot and every now and then a runner would just come towards us from a random direction having gone the wrong way.
The downhill sections were steep and uneven. This is a very different race to anything I’ve done in the Alps where the paths are just as steep but the footing is generally good. Fell running in the lakes is a very specialist form of running which is why to do the Bob Graham Round you really need to have been up here lots of times before.
On one of the downhill sections we were overtaken by a man walking his dog. That’s never happened to me in a race before. The dog was much more sure footed than either of us. There were a few opportunities for us to take the direct (suicidal) route to the next checkpoint but decided on the path instead.
We fought through the mist and over through the remaining checkpoints and towards the end we were overtaken by the guys in the longer run of around 19 miles, I can’t believe I had not heard of that one but given that this took the best part of 4 hours it’s probably just as well. At the end there was free beer which I had a couple of and would have stayed for more but the others who had finished who were bored of waiting for me to finish wanted to head back.
There were some great efforts from the Serpies. Wes ran an impressive 2.03, Gavin, Rob and James Edgar were not far behind. Jen and Fiona ranked well amongst the girls and hopefully between them demonstrated that we are not a completely lame bunch of road runners. However when I entered the field at the end of the race I was met with a comment from a sympathetic looking kid who sagely said “I think you may actually be last”.
James will have to come back here next year and do something like that 7 times in 24 hours. Some of the hills we went up don’t even feature on the round as they are not high enough.
I felt like I had done enough for the day and had fish and chips shortly followed by burger and chips and a lot of beer.
Sunday due to an unexplained internal head injury I did not get up till noon but had a fantastic day walking with Gemma up the steep side of Skiddaw and back down the other side. I later managed a half portion of Keswicks famous Cow Pie. I had half of one last year and finishing it drained all the life out of me. This year was not quite so bad but I wonder how hungry you’d have to be to manage a whole one? Perhaps after doing the whole Bob Graham? If you can stay awake that long.