Everyone’s world has changed in some way since March this year, some have fared better than others but few have escaped unscathed in one way or another. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics reported this week that the incidence of depression has doubled since lockdown and that around 85% of the population have suffered some anxiety and stress. Illness or fear of becoming ill with Covid, loss of loved ones, job insecurity, unknown educational future, loneliness and loss of ‘normal’ life have contributed to this.
On a lighter and more optimistic note, from early in the lockdown period, the media were asking people to let them know what they were most looking forward to doing once lockdown was over. One survey I read reported that hairdressers and shopping were high on people’s agenda but sporting events were viewed with extreme caution. Not so for me…..
Last weekend was the postponed LM40, a 40 mile mountain running event which starts in the pretty and quiet village of Askham in the Lake District and follows a route which takes in High Street, Patterdale, Grisedale Tarn, Helvellyn, Glenridding, Place Fell and via Martindale back to Askham…..and I was really excited to be doing it and equally excited to be seeing the friends I’ve missed so much these last months.
Carrying a long standing injury and having no idea whether I might be fit enough, I debated with myself the wisdom of attempting this distance. Confirmation the event would be able to take place was announced five weeks beforehand and I was definitely not hill fit nor had trained for it.
However, with every event this year having been cancelled or postponed I needed the opportunity to do something ‘normal’ for me. I had no goals other than to get around if I could and planned initially to walk.
Normally the event would be in March and was only possible now thanks to the hard work of NAV4 Adventure ensuring COVID compliance by changing a number of aspects of the event. All credit to Joe Faulkner and his team as all went very smoothly. Changes included reducing the event distance from 42 to 40 miles, registration and all checkpoints being outside, staggered starts for participants, we supplied our own food in dropbags, and water and squash was available at the checkpoints – along with hand sanitiser, much-needed suncream and lots of smiley, helpful marshals – but what else would you expect on a NAV4 event?
Leaving Askham we were treated all the way to High Street with cloud inversions in every valley. It was a stunning sight and you almost feel you could step out and walk on the soft white fluffiness. Early on I found myself jogging along a little on the level and downhills, stopping frequently to capture some magnificent views. I had set off just after 6:30 but the heat could already be felt as I climbed past Loadpot Hill and on towards the High Street checkpoint. Most of these checkpoints were unmanned and so to prove we had visited each one NAV4 had tagged them with questions we needed to answer.
In those early miles my hamstring injury started to make itself heard but this is no different from what had become its usual behaviour. I can only describe it as like having toothache in the backside. Resting makes it worse and all movement helps so long as I don’t run uphill. It was going to be a long day and I decided to quell it’s squeaking with some paracetamol and this seemed to work.
From High Street the route backtracks and heads down to the next checkpoint at Angle Tarn where I spent a few moments chatting to marshal and photographer John Bamber who was there on his usual pitch capturing the smiles of happy runners.
I was slowing and acutely aware that I was dehydrating in the heat. I’d also been getting cramp in both feet which is unusual for me so I was pleased the next stop was Patterdale where we had access to our dropbags. I took the time to drink an extra litre or so of fluid before refilling my bottles for the next stage which was a loop including Helvellyn. The sun was now really strong and the day was turning out to be a scorcher. In fact, my Garmin showed an average of 30 degrees Celsius during the event. I normally keep fully covered as I burn easily even with sunscreen. I left the checkpoint with my sandwiches and other goodies, eating as I went then shuffled my way along the Grisedale valley until it started to climb when my pace slowed considerably.
Anticipating this, a Voom bar provided a welcome burst of energy after the Grisedale Tarn checkpoint and I managed a steady climb up to Dollywagon, surprisingly, passing two runners on the way, then I started jogging again. There were plenty of people about and I exchanged a few pleasantries here and there.
Helvellyn was a busy place and I had to wait my turn at the trig point while people took their photos before I could take a photo of the trig point question to prove I’d been there.
The heat of the day on top was asked by a slightly cooling breeze but descending towards Glenridding from via Lower Man and Whiteside there came a point where it felt as if someone had opened the oven door – heat enveloped me and it was difficult to breathe for a few moments. I picked my way carefully down the stony zigzag path carefully metering my remaining fluid as there were still three or four miles to the checkpoint. I caught up with another runner, Angela, who unfortunately, wasn’t feeling awfully well. We had a bit of a chat and, satisfied she was going to be ok to get back to Patterdale and I was moving more quickly, I ran on.
Glenridding was absolutely full of visitors and I was relieved to get through there and back to Patterdale checkpoint to another dropbag and more fluid.
I was very good about eating everything I took and drinking far more than expected and I was pleased to hear there was going to be an extra water station at Martindale church on the return journey given the unexpected heat of the day.
I walked on eating my sandwiches while anticipating a long slow climb up to Boredale Hause and Place Fell. Despite eating and drinking well, I really bonked climbing to Place Fell: I didn’t actually stop but it was my slowest mile all day. My watch informed me just as I reached the summit that I had clocked up 31 miles which is the furthest I have run for eleven months. My feet were telling me the same and I knew I had blisters developing but oddly enough they weren’t too troubling.
I descended carefully from Place Fell as my legs were stiffening up after that long climb and I move like a wooden top when that happens, with little coordination. I was able to move more quickly on the descent and my legs eased up. A little way on, a turn takes you through bracken some of which was taller than me. It obscures the narrow path and wraps its fronds around your legs to try and trip you up. A machete would have been useful! Eventually I made the lane that took me on to Martindale and the final water stop where I had a quick chat to marshal Paul, topped up my bottles and cooled my hands. I’d been stopping to cool my hands and wrists in available water throughout the day. I calculated that if I drank the content of these bottles, which I did, I would have consumed eight litres of fluid during the event.
I’d now been out for 11 hours and anticipated the final 6 miles or so would take me another two as I didn’t expect to do any more running. But, I surprised myself and ran a lot more of that section feeling quite strong. I caught up with runner Carol on the Ullswater Way and walked a short way chatting. She was done running for the day so I pressed on alone. As I passed the Cockpit stone circle I could see another couple of runners ahead although we took different routes across the fell towards Askham and the finish now less than two miles hence. Finding myself running through a squelchy patch, I reflected that, contrary to my expectations, the ground had not been wet considering the huge volume of rainwater in the recent storms. Before I knew it, I was running into the finish funnel and being welcomed with offers of delicious soup, coffee and cake, but not before I was quizzed by Joe for the answers to the checkpoint questions.
I made a quick change of clothes in the van, inspected the damage to my feet and then enjoyed my soup whilst relaxing and chatting to the team.
What a great day out! I am absolutely over the moon to have finished 40 miles with 9000 feet ascent a wee bit faster than I anticipated it would take meand not totally exhausted. I’m a bit broken after it but mentally and emotionally it’s great to have done something ‘normal’.
A very big ‘thank you’ to Joe Faulkner for the efforts he went to in being able to hold this event: negotiations with local committees about using halls and parking arrangements, check point organisation and making sure all and sundry knew exactly what to expect. Well done to every one of the marshals – it was so very nice to see you all again and well done to all participants – it was no mean feat doing the route in that heat. See you all again next time 😊
A river cuts through rock, not because of its power but because of its persistence