Putting this weekend of running into words is quite hard. We ran in the shadows of Helvellyn, we ran in the shadows – full stop – there was almost no sun to be seen, we ran in our own personal shadows, fighting our own personal demons…
Let’s start at the beginning. We drove up to Glenridding on Friday afternoon. We stayed at the Glenridding Hotel which is a little odd but absolutely fine. We had our tea in the hotel bar and both opted for Cumberland sausage and mash – I wasn’t entirely sure about that for running fuel but we weren’t running until 1pm so it was going to be fine. We got an early night and I slept quite well. After breakfast (full veggie version) we walked across to the field where the Lakeland Trails marquee was. It was actually just next to the hotel. We couldn’t yet register for our race as they’re busy giving out numbers for the 5km and 10km runs that went earlier. We walked round the little village (didn’t take long) and along the first few hundred metres of the race route. I was beginning to really feel like I shouldn’t be there.
Everyone I’d seen so far was skinnier, looked stronger, looked like runners. It seemed ridiculous for me to be there. We went back to the hotel and just rested and watched the 10k race and 5k race leave and then, after not very long at all, we watched them come back in. That didn’t settle my doubts. I knew that this run was likely to be the hardest I’ve ever done. I’m not confident on tricky terrain and the terrain was going to be tricky. I got changed into my running gear and at about 12.40 we headed over for our 1pm start. We joined the queue for the loos, had a pee and then it was only another minute or two before we were on our way. We jogged slowly along at the back of the pack and for a short period of time it was all ok. It was going to be awesome and I was going to love it. We turned left towards the hills and quite quickly hot a bottleneck as everyone slowed to make our way down a narrow path alongside a little river. Then things opened up and started sloping upwards.
I started finding it so hard so quickly and had to walk much sooner than I wanted to. I’d only done a mile and I was struggling. My head spiralled and I started to wonder what on earth I’d been thinking – I didn’t belong there. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and eventually the second mile was done. I don’t really remember what came where on the run but I remember the relentlessness of the early ‘up’ and then the section that I disliked most which was a muddy slippy path where a woman behind me fell (not seriously hurt) and I may have whimpered a few times as I lost my footing and just about stayed on my feet. Once through the muddy bit the paths turned to streams for much of the way and it was actually nice to run in the water. We settled into a little running rhythm and eventually passed half way.
The scenery was stunning. I kept reminding myself to look and try and take it in. There was a huge amount of water around with waterfalls coming off the fells all over the place. You could tell when you were running through a stream coming down from up high – it got marginally deeper and significantly colder. I didn’t take any pictures on the run so these are from the day before of the first bit of the route.
Not long after half way we were passed by the first runners doing the race rather than the challenge – they were doing the same route but had set off an hour later. The next bit was horrendous. We kept having to stand in to let people past so it was stop start and I was struggling. I was also a little upset. Kath had been talking me through all the sections, pointing out the easiest path and encouraging me on. At around 3 miles (I think) we’d come down a steep set of stones which basically formed steps and I was doing my best but going quite slow and at that point it sort of felt like Kath was just fed up of me and really annoyed at me. I snapped at her and we continued in silence from there. We said almost nothing to each other until we were back at the hotel. As it turns out, Kath was struggling with anxiety and I just made it worse by not realising, snapping at her and not being able to go faster. If we had been a little faster we would have been off the narrow stretch by the time people started coming passed and that would have helped loads. Kath just withdrew into her own little bubble to get herself through it and I didn’t know that so felt a little abandoned – because, you know, obviously everything is always about me.
At about 6 miles we crossed a little bridge and had a really boggy bit to navigate. As my right leg disappeared thigh deep into the bog and I vaguely wondered if my trainer was going to stay on my foot I sort of giggled. This whole thing was totally ridiculous. I pulled myself out, pushed on, got stuck with my left leg, pushed off again and felt my left calf muscle protest – protest but hold, then I was through. From there the rest of the run was along a wider path and it was easier for people to pass. I managed more running, not enough really but more. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and just over 2 and half hours after we’d set off, we crossed the finish.
We went straight back to the hotel rooms, stretched, and had a bath (I had a proper mud tan). We were both a bit upset and started to talk things through. We went for some food and were grateful when the brilliant little cafe/restaurant Fellbites agreed to serve us from their cafe menu when they’d normally have a break while they set up for dinner. Over food and a little walk we agreed that we would pull out of the Ullswater Challenge we were due to run today. If either of us had picked up a hamstring niggle we wouldn’t even be having the conversation about whether to run and really, an anxiety niggle is no different. Once the decision had been made we stopped at the bar, had a couple of pints and reflected on the run.
Today we went to Ambleside before heading home, had a lovely couple of hours spending money on running gear, books, cards… and then we came home and went for a run. I thought it was important for Kath to have a proper run so we agreed the route and I sent her on her way and followed more slowly. My legs were a little heavy and I could feel my knees and ankles questioning my sanity. Nothing actually hurt though so I toddled on. For some idiotic reason I had agreed to do our trail route through the wood – who needs comfort zones anyway?! I hesitated briefly as I got to the top of the wood and had to navigate down the hill. I was tentative but I never kept moving. There were a few more sections along that path that defeated me – mainly because the path was covered in fallen leaves and I kept tripping because I hadn’t seen tree roots and stones and of course I wasn’t actually picking my feet up enough. I finished that section and went on to make my way onto the canal – I was determined to keep running which I managed until I saw Kath at just under 3 miles. I stopped as she was talking to someone we know so I had a little breather and then we went on and completed our loop together. With that run I have hit 405.5 miles for the year.
So what I have learned?
- I am a really selfish runner. It’s all about me and it never occurs to me that Kath might actually be struggling. It just didn’t enter my head. She likes running, she’s good at running, why would she struggle
- I am not fit enough to deal with the uphill and too much of a wimp to go downhill – bit of an issue on the Lakeland Trails
- I may have looked totally miserable but I actually really enjoyed much of it and certainly loved the experience overall
- In spite of 2 above – I am so much fitter and so much bolder than I was. Not that long ago I would really have struggled to walk that route very steadily in the dry and would simply not have done it in the wet!
- Even when we get things wrong and our wires crossed, we’re a solid team. We needed different things from this run so neither of us really got the best out of it but we finished and we learned a lot.
- Helvellyn and Ullswater are stunning and I want to go back
- Lakeland Trails events are great events and I want to do more
- Walt Disney was right, it is kind of fun to do the impossible
- Champagne bought by a wonderful friend to celebrate another achievement is really rather yummy after a weekend of running (thanks Chris!). Cheers!