Luckily I had booked last weekend in for some mountain adventures for a long time. I definitely needed to blow off some steam after the EU referendum results were announced on Friday.
So I left work early on Friday afternoon, hopped on a train to Windermere in the Lake District and was lucky enough to bump into a Canadian at the train station and share a taxi into Ambleside. The next morning I packed up the things I’d need for the weekend into my new minimal running backpack and off I went. I was up in the Lakes to scout and train on the course of the Lakes Sky Ultra, which I am signed up to. The race is now less than a month away, and it packs a punch. With around 55km and about 4300m of ascent and descent on technical terrain it’s the kinda race that’s difficult to train for in London.
On Saturday I started in Ambleside, making my way up towards Fairfield via High Pike, Dove Crag and Hart Crag. From there it was downhill for the first time of the day, nice and steep on scree slopes and switchbacks. The slope up to Dollywaggon Pike is relentlessly steep. It’s then a fairly relaxed jog up to Helvellyn. After a short lunch break I scrambled down Swirral Edge before going back up Helvellyn via Striding Edge. It was pretty busy on Striding Edge. The weather was way better than forecast and plenty of hikers made their way up this awesome scramble. The race route then drops down steep from Nethermost Pike to Grisedale Valley. This part of the course was the most difficult to navigate because there’s not really a well-trodden path and the ridge drops off steep in places, so I had to do some backtracking before I found a way I could safely navigate. Pinnacle Ridge, which follows after an incredibly steep grassy slope up from the valley, is definitely the highlight of the day. It’s steep, it’s exposed, it’s technical and a hell of a lot of fun. It was also the last ascent for me that day. I was pretty knackered by the time I got to Patterdale. The Lakes Sky Ultra is going to be a very very hard race.
I treated myself to a sandwich and a drink in one of the cafes by the lake towards Glenridding before picking up the key to the bunk house I had booked myself into. I was the only one staying in the bunk house that night, so I was able to use some of the bed sheets of the other beds as additional covers. I had packed rather light. Light and fast.
The second day was overall a lot more runnable. There’s a couple of very steep ascents and descents, but a lot more ground is covered on moderate gradients. The route follows up some trails to the east of Patterdale towards Satura Crag and The Knott. The race directors have decided to add another exciting little extra loop to the course, and so the route drops down to Mardale Waters from High Street Racecourse Hill and back up via Piot Crag. There’s a relatively steep drop after Thornthwaite Crag and a steep ascent up to Stony Cove Pike. From there it’s a very runnable long descent to Kirk Stone before the last ascent of the race. The steep trail up to Red Screes is going to be a killer at the end of the race. It’s hundreds of stone steps for 336m of ascent. The last descent of the day, and the race, is mostly runnable back down into Ambleside.
On the train back to London I was very tired. Tired but happy. I am now confident that, barring any disasters, I will be able to finish the Lakes Sky Ultra within the cut-off time. This type of mountain running is exactly my style: move fast on difficult terrain that includes scrambling sections. I now have two more weeks of hard training ahead of me before I will start tapering before race day on the 23rd of July.
My moving time on Saturday on the first half of the course was 4h 45min. Including breaks I was on the go for 6h 30min. On Sunday on the second half of the course I was moving for 3h 49min and on the go for 4h 30min.
In total I was therefore moving for just over 8.5h and on the go for 11h. The race cut-off time is 14h.
In the actual race I think I’ll be:
- Faster because:
- I won’t have to navigate, as the course is meant to be very well marked
- I won’t have a sit down lunch and generally shorter breaks
- My backpack will be lighter
- I won’t carry a camera and stop to take pictures
- Slower because:
- I’ll have to do both halves on the same day, which is going to be harder
So we’ll see. I’m definitely very excited!