One of my aims this year is to improve my endurance over longer events, so I decided to step into the ultra/trail world with the Nav4 Lakes 42 event. Starting in Askham and going onto the High Street Ridge, then over to Helvellyn and back via Patterdale, before a final slog up Place Fell and then long run back in, it would be a real test for me and my longest ‘race’ by far. Luckily Ian and Caroline, ultra-specialists, were also running so I had a good source of advice.
The whole fell versus trail debate is, in my view, fairly pointless and boring, but I have to admit I did notice a few differences from fell races. 1) a surprising amount of walking poles involved (both Ian and Caroline also sported these) which I had never really thought about before. 2) hardly any club shirts – I was wearing ‘the famous green vest’ but almost no-one else was in club gear. 3) footwear- at fell races is probably 80%+ ino-v8, here Salomon was the shoe of choice. A better choice than my x-talons as it turned out, due to the rocky paths where a bit of cushioning would have been appreciated. 4) almost no long socks or sunglasses.
We set off at 6am in glorious sunshine – coming onto Loadpot Hill with the sun shining, and seeing the Helvellyn range in the distance poking through the mist was one of the greatest running moments I have had, the sort that supports the cliché of making it all worth it. One guy, sweating profusely in his jacket, grunted that it was a lot warmer than he expected, and I don’t think he was particularly impressed with my enthusiastic reply of how great it was (why didn’t he just take his jacket off?). By mid-morning he was probably happier as the weather settled into an overcast high-cloud dull pattern that was perfect for running without causing any real navigation problems.
Not sure how I would react to the distance and time on my feet, I took it really easy and walked anything up. I got a bit carried away with some of the descents, but overall feel I got the balance right. The atmosphere throughout was amazing, really low key and sociable. A group near me going up to High Street were having an absolute ball, and you could hear their chattering and laughing for quite a distance. Whether this relaxed manner was because of the long distance or the fact I was mid-pack, I don’t know (maybe the front runners were a bit more focused) but I chatted with a variety of people through the race, really enjoyed the ‘festival’ atmosphere of the food stops and even had time to stop in Glenridding for a can of coke with Ian and another runner. Having said that, the competitive spirit re-emerged about 8 miles from the end when the dodgy calculations of myself and another runner worked out we had a chance of finishing under 10 hours if we got a move on and so we picked up the pace – I’m not sure whether this was the right decision or not. It was very satisfying to (just) hit our target, but I had really enjoyed not really bothering about times and paces until that point. By happy coincidence I ended up running most of the second half with Ian, who was great company and this was another really nice aspect of the day – I do most of my running alone but am beginning to appreciate the different aspects that having company brings.
I was also really conscious of eating and staying energised, so this relaxed manner may have helped with that too. I had taken a whole picnic out with me, and combined with all the food I munched in the food stops (cherry tomatoes turned out to particularly refreshing) I think I may have actually put on weight. I tried to eat something every half an hour, which became quite tiresome in some ways, but the fact I was able to keep strong until the end suggests it was successful.
Another aspect I was looking ‘forward’ to was how I coped with the inevitable low moments. These duly arrived, particularly climbing up from Wythburn to Helvellyn (something like 750m I think) which went on and on and on in an airless sweating atmosphere. A guy near me kept counting down the altitude gained on his watch, which I think helped him but certainly didn’t help me. I felt awful, but an energy gel really sorted me out here. This pattern was repeated on the slog up to Place Fell. Overall though I was pleased with how I coped, although am conscious that was only two big steep climbs (there was a lot of climb overall but much of it was gradual).
As you can probably tell I really enjoyed the day out, and whilst I will be mainly sticking to fell races I would definitely do something similar in the future, particularly Nav4 events which impressed me with their relaxed and sociable atmosphere.