Mapped out in front of me on arrival is the 38 mile route I took through snow last year, this year promised to be run in rain and high winds which would be a different challenge entirely.
A good drive up this year from home sees me arrive at half past six as planned, sign in, visit the toilets while there is no queue and the air is still breathable, just, and try not to set off too early.
I reckon 7:15 should be about right to hit the first checkpoint at 9:30 when it opens. I would dearly like to beat last years time and finish earlier in the day this year but there is a long day ahead.
A schoolboy error sees me take the wrong line once on to Askham moor while chatting to another runner. Trust your compass. A lesson I have learnt before and now had confirmed again. I'm frustrated at the mistake but in truth I have lost only about 5 minutes time, it feels like more but then when you lose your bearings it can seem like a long time before you re orient yourself and take stock of your surroundings. The picture above is of Ullswater in the dark with the light just lifting slightly to provide a few more clues but the early start has been wasted by taking the wrong line.
Last year I went over the hill to Martindale, this year I favour the road. The runner I have joined took the other route last year and is keen for a change so we part at the gate and I put in a quick spurt to catch another runner ahead. It turns out we have both completed Bob Graham Rounds this year and swap stories about our trials and tribulations. It's about this point that I get the first signs that I'm not as fit as I was! As we are running together it is clear he is at a comfortable pace and I am struggling to keep up, the pace isn't particularly fast and as soon as the path kicks up he is away and others also pass. I drop a glove on the way up Boardale and have to go back for it, not far but enough for me to know it's early to be losing concentration. This is looking back down Boardale from the top of the climb.
On the way down to Patterdale I get passed by 3 runners wearing matching blue and yellow tops and decide to use them to follow. They are going at quite a pace and I am pleased when I catch them and then stay with them until the checkpoint, although I am concentrating too much to speak to any of them as the decent is slippery and the rocks treacherous in places. One of them slips in front and ends up face down but just picks himself up and carries on, the others shout "wrists and ankles ok?" without breaking stride and I guess he must be because although he drops to the back of their group he hasn't slowed at all. That's them in the photo just ahead.
At the checkpoint I grab some peanuts, adjust my food to replace the sandwich I've eaten already, refill my water and set off. The marscapone and ginger sandwich fillings are working well, supplemented by dried apricots and mango and washed down with water and Hi5 sports drink. I arrive in Glenridding and decide for a civilised toilet break at the public conveniences before starting to climb up towards Sticks Pass. It looks grim ahead and my wet hands are starting to feel the cold already, in my head it should be warmer than last year but I've a feeling it's going to be just as hard going over the tops.
There's not much to say about over the top of Sticks pass. It was pretty awful with a strong wind chilling me, it was hard to get any rhythm going whether up or down hill and I wanted to be warmer. The ground was a mixture of puddles, snow, ice and grass and it was often hard to tell which it was going to be until you put your foot on it so I was quite tentative which meant I struggled to raise my temperature to a comfortable level. I resolved that once down I would put on my extra layer, I am usually over dressed so it was a bit of a surprise to me that I felt so cold so quickly. Especially because I was getting passed by people who seemed to be wearing what I would consider too little for a summers day!
At this point I was cheering myself up with the fact that I wasn't in tears! Last year through the woods I had to have a serious word with myself about what I was doing and how I was going to finish but this year I seemed to be okay, slower than last year but in better shape.
The climb up to Grisedale tarn was like climbing a stream and the long descent to Patterdale was like running down streams. Slippery rocks made it hard going and again I struggled to find a rhythm, I could see a group ahead and one of them had a bright yellow hat on which I used as a marker and a carrot to stay in touch with them as long as possible. This is the start of the long descent and I also kept myself busy wondering what the event would be like if the loop was reversed and this was the way up.
I grabbed a coffee at Patterdale checkpoint and then started the slog up to Boardale again. Last year this had flown by but this time it was definitely more of a slog. On the way down I overtook and then got caught up by Jill and her family who very kindly let me tag along with them for the last leg. It was good to have company and to listen to them talking about various events and walks they had been on and without that lift it would have been a very long way home indeed. There's a saying that eludes me but the gist of it is for long distances it's good to have company and coming up to Martindale church with the light fading I couldn't agree more. Last year I had taken a bearing from the cockpit and headed for home on my own, this year there was an actual path going the right way and the nicest surface I'd been on all day. I had long since resigned myself to walking at a fast but comfortable pace and it was good to know that this really was the home stretch.
On arrival back I had taken 11 hours and 2 minutes, over half an hour slower than last year. I felt in better shape having finished though and the conditions this year were less suitable for me going faster it seems. Too slippery for me to be confident going up or down and I think an extra layer on from the first checkpoint may have made a difference. I also think I'm going to investigate the spare inner glove and outer waterproof mitt combinations for future winter runs as my hands did get cold and I spent a lot of time flexing my fingers to keep them warm while running which is only a small thing to do but another thing to concentrate on.
All in all a great day out, in the company of some lovely like minded people and run in a friendly and respectful manner. It's a race for some but for me it's my winter meditation and this Saturday is firmly reserved every year for the event. Next year I plan to break 10 hours - a big ask but it will be fun training for it and come what may at the end of the day I will have learnt something new about myself, my capacity to endure and the majesty of the Lake District.
Thank you Joe Faulkner and Nav4.