Ran this lil’puppy the other day. Felt like flailing about inside a washing machine for 8 hours. Wildest weather I’ve run in for a long time but, every cloud and all that jazz, at least that meant the ridges were uncongested. You proff, you dip.
Lakes Sky Ultra AL 33.1m 14,610ft climb
So as you can see, that’s a fairly large amount of climbing packed into a relatively short amount of time and space. Right old bastard this one. In a good way. I’d not been able to train for 8 weeks previous to the day due to having shit achilles’ though I was certainly what you would call ‘well rested’. We were lucky in that there was finally some proper weather due after nearly two weeks of sunshine and blue skies. The forecast didn’t disappoint and Saturday belched onto the scene with classic Lakeland rain and wind a.k.a. ideal fell-running conditions. Lovely.
Only about 60 odd folk decided to run in the end, which was a right shame cos they missed out on both an awesome event and the chance to support some local heroes organising the inaugural running of this ‘soon-to-be-classic’ race. What’s also a shame (and I have no idea of the ‘ins and outs’ of it so I’m on a wing and a prayer here – but that’s not mattered in the past) is the lack of support from a certain, now global, very much local, shoe/apparel company. Yes, inov-8 I’m looking at YOU. Not that there’s anything wrong whatsoever with the support the LSU did get, in the form of True Mountain et al who were mega, but you gotta ask yourself why a company barely 15 miles down the road, who were ‘born’ in the fell running community, wouldn’t put their considerable clout behind such an ambitious and, effectively, grassroots project?! If I was Charlie and the team I’d be the first to tell them where to go when they come knocking next year to try and jump on the bandwagon. Bollocks to them.
Rant over; how about the race?
The wind, rain and slightly chilly temps made it a bit more of a nause than it already was going to be – some of our foreign friends were perhaps a bit caught out by it. The route itself was ambitious and, on paper, a bit loop-de-loop; what you might describe in writing circles as ‘wordy’ (a bit like this post has become). It runs magnificently though and is actually very logical. It’s also, in the words of the great Gary Megson, “a game of two halves”, technical and airy in the first half til you get down to Patterdale, then fast (not for me) and runnable all the way in to Ambleside. I guess then that it could feel a bit disjointed but you have got the techy scrambley bits going up Red Screes that will satisfy the lost rock climbers. I like the inclusion of the King of the Mountains ‘stage’ between Kirkstone Pass and the finish down in Ambleside…..you’ve really got to go a bloc.
The initial toddle up the Fairfield was alright to be fair, having previously completed one race over 30 miles I was a bit of a dab-hand at the whole pacing malarky and so settled into what was effectively a crawl for the first few miles. I only really lifted my head out of my hood to make sure that I was actually still moving and that the stuff travelling back past me in the opposite direction was the result of this inexorable drag of forward momentum rather than the increasingly visceral effects of the gusting ‘hoolie’. I’ve been up Fairfield a few times now but I still managed to get temporarily challenged in the navigation department and had to rely on the (thankfully) abundant route markers to save the embarrassment of a DNF just 5 miles from the start!
The drop down to the first CP at Grisedale Tarn was pleasant enough; the drag back up Dollywagon Pike was always gonna be shit. Some wise-ass at the start told me that was his favourite bit – fuck off mate, you can’t polish a turd. I washed down the taste of a 20min knee-chewing going up this beast with a nice bit of coconut energy stuff and settled in to the trot over towards the first of the technical sections. Bit blowy like but all-in-all nothing to get in a twist about as we headed down Swirl Edge towards Catsty Cam and finally, oh finally, Birkhouse Moor. Luckily by the time we reached Striding Edge for the jog back up to Nethermost Pike the wind had picked up a bit and we were treated to the life of an ocean-going fisherman. I’m gonna wean myself off fish to save those poor bastards the bother of going out to catch them cos if they’re in winds like that all their lives that ain’t no way to party, let’s put it that way. No bones about it though, having to run both those edges in a race is cool – a definite highlight.
Going down off Nethermost Pike is all good but having to slog up St Sunday Crag is a bit sadistic. It fully sucks. I dug up as few worms on that ascent, needling my fingers into the sodden earth to drag the lump of my body up the slope – to the casual observer it probably looked like that YouTube video of the dog with crap back legs pulling itself along on a skateboard (a quick search on the aforementioned site would suggest that this is purely a figment of my imagination). Luckily our blushes were spared as the crux of the race – the Grade III scramble of Pinnacle Ridge – was deemed too unsafe given the greasy conditions and maelstrom giving it big licks on the tops. Right call. We skirted under St Sunday Crag from about three-quarters of the way up before traversing round to join the remainder of the route. A detour that lost us maybe half a kilometre overall.
Given the theme of visiting everything with a ‘peak’ we added in a quick scoot up Arnison Crag and descended to the first of two feed stations; this one at Patterdale. Coffee and soup (is there a better combination?!) and a quick chat and we were off again. The second of ‘two halves’. Not much to say about this one. Beast of a drag up over the back to Blea Water, dipping our toes into the Coast-to-Coast path along the way, then doubling back onto Mardale Ill Bell (thought I recognised it!), crossing south of High Street – tres emotional – and dropping off Caudale Moor to the next feed station. A good half the route done in a little under 6 lines of text. Awesomely runnable if you were that way inclined but age was catching up with me and the old legs weren’t having any of it. Persistent cramping from about the top of Nethermost Pike had put paid to any efforts at racing by this point but luckily I had moved fairly well in the first half to put enough of a gap between myself and 9th place.
Esther met me at the Kirkstone Pass feed station and we shared the view going up Red Screes. She’s alright her! By now the wind had died down and the clag was beginning to lift off quite nicely, which made the lurch down the hill to the finish nice and pleasant. Neggers cheggers on the King of the Mountains prize for me. I think I might have recorded the slowest descent or not far off it. Pretty embarrassing really and I’ve not really got any excuses. I’ll try and better it next time. Happy with my place but not my time….nice to dip under 9hrs though I guess.
So yeah to sum up the race I’d have to say the pain in my legs (I’m gonna put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the lack of training) was roughly greater than or equal to the pain of a thousand childbirths. I definitely got a visit from the ‘man with the hammer’ and he royally had my pants down. Inov-8 shame on you. True Mountain et al mega support – ta very much. To Andy Burton and Charlie Sproson nice one! Awesome vision for the race and great energy to pull it off. Deserves all the acclaim it gets.
All photos and that from Ian Corless and Andy Jackson (Ian’s have a big clue as to the ones that are his….see if you can spot it). Hope they don’t mind cos I’m a bit skint right now and can’t afford a lawsuit.