Sunday, 26 October 2008

With the benefit of hindsight...

Now, I haven't got ill in months, but over the last week I seemed to have developed a interesting range of ailments culminating in an 'orrible cold. I think it might've been stress related - I have been quite busy in and out of work, and also contemplating the OMM this weekend. Did I have the right stuff? Would the weather be relatively ok? Would we manage to run 'B' class? Could I be bothered to get up at silly o'clock on Saturday morning to travel to the event?

The answer to the last question turned out to be 'yes', although, with the benefit of hindsight the answer may be should have been 'no', and, Joanne having turned up at 6am, we headed into the Lakes. Only to find signs saying that the A591 was closed round Thirlmere. We U turned at Troutbeck Bridge, and headed back through Kendal, up Shap Road, and to the A6, being grateful that we had already heard the start line was to be moved nearer to the event centre (it was originally to be 45mins walk!).

The roads in Borrowdale looked damp, and the lake and rivers a bit higher than normal, but nothing too out of the ordinary. We queued down the road to Seathwaite, while people found extra parking spaces on the grass verge (which I'm sure they wished they hadn't done, with hindsight!). We were directed into a spot on the already muddying field, and with 8 minutes to go til our start time of 8:14, grabbed our bags, ran to registration and then charged to the start line, just getting there as 8:15 starts were called! We punched, and then were away.

I was completely running on nervous energy at this point, amazed we'd made it past the start! I found it really hard to keep a steady pace up to the first checkpoint on the top of Seathwaite Fell. Up the top, we started to appreciate how strong the wind was. I love a bit of wind, though, and we ran down toward Sty Head whooping and singing.

As we traversed round to the flanks of Lingmell, the rain started, and at Piers Ghyll we pulled on waterproof trousers. Round, up, beep, down and then up and up and up the long ridge of Great Gable above Gable Beck, into the clag. Up high, the wind proved entertaining, with a some of the gusts providing 'crouch down and hang on' moments. To the next check point, situated at the confluence of two rapidly filling streams for extra interest. From here on, on to Grey Knotts, things did get a little grim - we both started to get really quite cold from the combined effects of wind and by now heavy, continuous rain. I was feeling quite odd.

At this point, I started to question whether this was all worth it, and really just wanted to get down and out of the wind - especially as we couldn't stop to work out exactly where we were. Joanne was determined, though and eventually managed to find the next check point in a ruin in an old slate mine. From here on, it was down all the way, but by no means plain sailing. Warnscale Beck was like nothing else I've ever seen before; in fact, the whole valley just seemed full of water. The paths had become fast moving streams, and the streams had become fully fledged waterfalls; crossing one or two of them proved quite hairy. The sound of the water was incredible and the sight of that much water crashing down to the valley truly impressive.

As we rounded the corner towards Gatescarth and the overnight camp, I wondered where we were going to camp. Buttermere seemed to have doubled in size, and there were a few portaloos sited only 10 metres from the now edge of the lake. I wasn't relishing spending 18 hours in a tent there (it was only 1:35pm), but we'd made it (although even though the weather was hard work, we didn't feel like we'd covered much distance).

However, as we ran the last few metres, we started to meet bedraggled competitors telling us 'its been cancelled'. Not sure whether to believe them, we were then met by one of the organising team confirming the news and telling us to check in with the team there and then make our own way over the Honister Pass back to Borrowdale.

Obediently, we checked in, then turned round and started the trudge over the pass. Water was sluicing down the road and the wind was still gusting strongly. We tried hitching, more for the hell of it than anything else, but then our luck was in! Two other women ahead of us attracted the attention of a passing farm landrover, and we jumped in after them. It turned out the landrover belonged to the owners of Gatescarth Farm in Buttermere, and they very kindly gave us a lift back over Honister to Stonethwaite. I have to admit to feeling somewhat guilty as we rattled along, passing scores of teams slogging their way up the road, wading through floods and being knocked about by squalls.

At Stonethwaite, we began the wade back to the event centre. The floods went from ankle-deep to knee-deep, and we realised we were not going to be driving out of the valley that day. Eventually we were pushing through waist-deep water, against the force of the river - scary and hard work. The road was lined with cars up to the top of the gear sticks in water, and feeling for the owners, I started to worry about whether my own car would be awash, especially as the weather seemed to dictate that sleeping in it that night was the most practical option. It was with much relief, then, that Seathwaite Farm appeared, on higher ground, with most of the event centre fields no worse than a bit soggy at that point. We handed in our dibbers, partook in tea and then the obligatory but earlier than planned Wilf's chili and flapjack (in a rather flooded, slightly scary marquee), then headed back to the car at about 3:30pm. And didn't leave the car until 7:30am (GMT) next morning. With the benefit of hindsight, I should probably have gone to the loo first...

So, we sat in the car until it got dark, refusing to leave, as the rain continued to lash down and the streams swell and the wind blow. I started to worry about the field we were parked in flooding, as water seemed to be making its way into the field. I predicted that, based on the weather forecast, it should stop raining at 6pm. 6pm came and went, and still it rained, and it got dark. 7pm, still raining. Got into sleeping bag in back of car (being glad I bought a car big enough for me to sleep in comfortably - not that that means much!). 2am (GMT) it started to stop raining. By 5am it had, amazingly, stopped raining. At 6:30 was getting light, and I emerged from the car.

The next hour or so was spent in an entertaining car-pushing session. By 7:30, I'd got fed up of waiting for the guys in front of us to move (we were boxed in) and with some unlikely maneuvering, given the amount of mud, managed to make a break for the road (covering some of my car-pushers in mud, for which I am sorry!). Joanne jumped in, and so did a couple of lads who needed a lift to Penrith.

We made our way down the now-miraculously dry Seathwaite road, and on to the main Borrowdale road, which was still only just passable in places. As we drove past the Lodore Falls hotel, they were shifting sandbags (possibly prematurely) and the whole valley was awash.

I was heartily glad to reach Keswick, and then Penrith, where we dropped our the hitchers and picked up Rob. We stopped for breakfast in the Tebay services, 75% of the clientele of which were wearing mud spattered thermal leggings, duvet jackets and making reassuring calls to anxious friends and relatives whilst eating bacon butties and drinking tea. All that remained was to sploosh back to Kendal (luckily managing to pick some of the few open, non-flooded roads to do so), and to start drying out and brewing up.

With the benefit of hindsight, I'd do it all again. But just maybe not next year!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

An obesity epidemic waiting to happen

Well, only 3 days til the OMM. So it must be time to have a look at the weather forecasts. Here's MWIS:

Wind: Southerly 50-65mph, gusts 70 to
Very difficult conditions even
at relatively low level, with any
mobility widely difficult on
higher areas. Significant wind

Widespread rain, later torrential
Prolonged rain, especially
western and southern fells.

Cloud on Hills: Very widespread
Typical cloud base 300-650m,
lowest south Lakes and
northwestern fells.

Pure poetry.

Nonetheless, I have just been to Asda and bought 3 packs of chewy bars, oaty bake bars, jelly babies, custart, cashew nuts, hot chocolate twixes... I felt somewhat self-conscious in the checkout queue unti I realised that my trolley didn't look any different to that of my fellow shoppers, except for the omission of a large slab of tins of lager.


Saturday, 18 October 2008

Like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer...

An early start, getting wet, cold, aching, eating nothing but jelly babies... and that's just the training. Next week it's the OMM and we've signed up to run in the B class. A perfect example of 'seemed like a good idea at the time'.

Drive to Keswick through the Lakes, hoping that it'll be less wet over the other side of Dunmail Raise that it was in Kendal. It's not. Now, I know we should see this as excellent practice for next week's misery-fest, but actually, starting the day piss wet through really doesn't appeal somehow, so we have a poke around Lakeland Pedlar and then a sneaky coffee, as we're sure it'll stop raining soon.

It doesn't, and running out of excuses, we head through rain sodden Portinscale and Braithwaite, passing lots of walkers cowering under their waterproof hoods, and finally find somewhere to park beneath Catbells.

Catbells is my favourite hill in the Lakes* but all I could think on the way up*** is that training is a bit like purposely hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, and hoping it'll hurt less the next time you do it. This thought runs back and forward through my head as we stagger up Catbells and Maiden Moor past streams of suprised and soggy walkers, and then get assaulted by horizontal rain as the wind picks up as we run through bogs up to High Spy. By Dale Head round to Robinson, I'm getting sick tacking through the wind and of random asides from walkers (one concernedly tells Joanne to be wary of the rocky steps coming down from Robinson. We mock him, but later we mutter down them with sketching fell shoes failing to grip the sodden slimy rock).

The clouds start to lift and break, though, and we stagger down to the valley, past tiny Newland's Church, through Littletown**** and up and over the nose of Catbells down and up and down the road to the car, dry clothes, Ambleside, gear shopping and home.

Of course, next Saturday should be the same but more so, with dried pasta, cold, wet and a very long night in an overly small tent to 'look forward' to. As much as hitting oneself on the head with a hammer.

*Primarily because it was one of the first I ever walked up, but also because Mrs Tiggywinkle lived there**

**I have shared this fascinating fact with a number of other people who have strangely not found it as exciting as I do and in fact seem quite annoyed that I mentioned it. People can be so prickly sometimes.

***Other than 'why the hell did I grab that bracken stem on our inital off route scramble up? And when is the resulting cut on my finger going to stop bleeding?'

****Where Lucy, implicated somehow in the Mrs Tiggywinkle tale lived. Fascinating, no?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Whatever you do, don't look back...

I seem to recall a story from Greek mythology and other assorted tales I heard in my childhood* which included the dire warning 'not to look back'.**

This occurred to me this morning as I unwillingly turned left at Plumgarths roundabout, away from the Lakes, and caught a glimpse of the fells around Kentmere washed in gorgeous golden autumn light.

I then proceeded to drive eastwards along the A591 stealling glances every few seconds in the rear view mirror at the hills. How I made it to work without ending up on someone else's back parcel-shelf I'll never know.

Such are the perils of living on the edge of the Lakes!

*You know, the sort of stories you hear/read when you're young and then they get confused into one in your head, but they were probably actually lumped into that scary Jason and the Argonauts film we used to watch every year at Christmas at Primary School, the one with the scary dancing skeletons which terrified me for years.

** A quick bit of googling would suggest it's Orpheus I'm thinking of...