Monday, 27 May 2013

Summer says hello, briefly

It seems strange, sitting here, looking out of the window as the rain lashes against the glass, thinking back on the last two days, with my shoulders plastered in Sudocrem to heal the sunburn. Like most folk running the West Highland Way Race, this is now my last week of hard training before a taper, so I thought I'd better make it a good one.

Since the Highland Fling Race, I have struggled through the week to get out and do anything meaningful, basically just ticking over, though I have still done the weekend workouts that I planned. I'm not overly worried that I might have missed some important training, I just thought that I would have more oomph for some training after work in these last few weeks of build-up.

Last year, in my final few weeks of preparation for the Lakeland 100, I spent one weekend supporting my stepfather as he completed the Two Saints Way. This gave me lots of hours on my feet without trashing my legs and I felt that it was a weekend well spent, so I wanted to replicate that same kind of weekend this year. When talking to my brother-in-law, Rob, he was keen to have a walk up Scafell Pike as a recce for an attempt at the Three Peaks Challenge so I suggested we should have a yomp up together, hoping I would get that same kind of benefit as last year.

We had a great day out in the mountains, even managing to see a fair proportion of the field doing the Old County Tops fell race on Scafell Pike. Still, it was a bit strange to be walking up through snow almost at the end of May!

Just below Esk Hause

Great views on the summit #fail
This weekend could not have been more different. Two times West Highland Way Race winner and all round legend, Richie Cunningham came down to stay with us in Keswick. I think the unspoken deal was that I would show him round part of the Lakeland 100 route and he would allow me to pick his brains for training and racing tips - we both got exactly what we wanted from the weekend, though I also got sunburnt shoulders into the bargain.

Richie arrived on Saturday morning and we immediately headed out, running the 4 miles to the Braithwaite checkpoint and then continuing on the route through Keswick, Glenderaterra valley, Blencathra Centre, the Old Coach Road, Dockray, glorious Gowbarrow and through to the dropbag station at Dalemain. What a day we had! The miles flowed, the conversation flowed and, boy, the sweat flowed!

Looking back towards Derwent Water (middle right) from Lonscale Fell

Richie on Glenderaterra terrace
Like the following day too, it was one of those occasions where you are just so pleased that you do the sport we do; what better way is there to enjoy the mountains?

Refuelling on The Old Coach Road

Shoulders don't look too red there! Wait until later!
There was the usual highlight of running round Gowbarrow Fell and the stunning views over Ullswater, by which point Richie was already hooked on the course.

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell

We finally trundled into Dalemain just under 6 hours after setting off from home with 30 miles under our belts; two very happy bunnies. We had just missed one bus so had to take refuge in a pub for 40 minutes and this was the first time I really noticed how sore my shoulders and arms were. As a PE teacher, I normally build up a reasonable colour over the summer term (even in Keswick) and have never been sunburnt, but this time I have to hold my (red) arms up and say "school boy error", it looks pretty comical but is actually really sore and I'm using Sudocrem like it's going out of fashion - still, you live and learn!

After a great refuel that night (how on earth did we eat that much?) and a sound kip, it was time for another 30 miles the next day. Normally, after 30 miles in the mountains, I would expect to be stiff as a board the following day, but I had no problems and, in fact, we both commented early on that we felt stronger than the previous day. I know that Stuart Mills has commented on this phenomenon, and I agree with him that the mind somehow accounts for the fact that you are doing back to back days and prevents you going into recovery mode, keeping inflammation at bay, allowing you to go again. I hope this works for the Ring O Fire Race later in the year!

This time we covered the sections from Dalemain to Ambleside, taking in Howtown, over the high point of the route at High Cop, Haweswater, Mardale, Gatescarth Pass, Sadgill, Kentmere, Garburn Pass and Troutbeck.

Richie on the banks of Haweswater

I was taking no chances this time and ran in a long sleeved top and we both plastered ourselves in factor 30, though I did spend most of the day with the image of an open stable door and a horse bolting off into the distance!

Once again we saw the fells in their full beauty and it was yet another 6 odd hours of big smiles.

Near the high point on High Cop

Refuelling with some Twiglets at Kentmere

Once again, we just missed a bus back to Keswick so were forced to sit in the park in Ambleside and eat you do!

So that completed my biggest back to back weekend ever which, if you ignore the sunburn, I came through totally unscathed and full of confidence. Both Richie and I had a fantastic time together, chewing the cud over important things (and irrelevant things), Richie is totally sold on the route, I've learnt a few tricks of the trade  from a proven race winner and we are already planning his next visit to continue the journey round The Lakes. The final dot on an i (or maybe it is a cross on a t) before the West Highland Way Race is a gentle jaunt from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William at the end of this week, just to reacquaint myself with the top part of the course which I've not been on since 2010, then it's taper time.

Getting excited now!