By Rick Ansell
I wasn’t somehow in the mood. The rain drummed on the car roof as I sat in the car park in Loweswater. I turned on the radio to drown it out. I had specifically requested an extension to the event as I had been about to do it when Lockdown II started. I couldn’t really duck out now and anyway, I had just driven 300 miles for it.
Eventually the radio became so annoying I turned it off. The drumming on the roof seemed less. People were getting out of cars and testing the day with their hoods, mostly deciding on down. I opened my packet of jelly babies (top tip: open it before you start otherwise it will inevitably explode all over the hillside if you try and open it while you are running).
I fiffed and faffed and eventually could find nothing else to straighten or tie or zip, so I got out. The cloud was low but the day was mild as I walked up to the bridge over the lake outlet. My phone buzzed to register the start and I was away: “Come on, you’ll get going in a bit, just let your body warm up”.
The first leg should have been easy; just follow the path. But I managed to get onto the wrong path, one that definitely isn’t on the map. (I’ve checked.) A stint along the road and then I ducked down a field to a wall corner. The right one? No buzz from the event app. I checked the phone. The control had turned green so it must be right. Next up a climb to a path junction. I laboured up the hill; there seemed to be no strength in the legs, just a leaden sluggishness. “Come on, it’s good to be out”.
I started to overheat and took off my jacket. Again the phone didn’t vibrate but the spot had turned green, so back down again, almost on the wrong path but the valley was clear and I corrected before too much damage was done.
Rannerdale Knotts looked huge. “It can’t be as big as it looks, not quite 200m to climb”. I heaved myself up the steep grass and weaved a line around the crags. I used to have a recurring dream. I would be running, leading a race, when suddenly my legs would lose all their strength and I would have to drag myself along using my hands. I don’t have that dream any more but I often experience the feeling of complete powerlessness.
There were fine views back down over Buttermere. “Don’t think I’ve ever been up here”. I passed a couple of walkers on the path. “Come on, at least look like you are a runner”. I got a good traversing line down to the sheepfold. “That’s good, some sort of progress now. It’s all up hill now, get stuck into it”.
As I climbed to Whiteless Pike, I got into the cloud. The wind picked up and drove the murk wetly at me. Back on with the jacket. There’s a lovely ridge that leads up from Whiteless that we run down in the Buttermere Race. Nothing to see today, though. Could be anywhere.
Onto the central plateau of the Buttermere fells. These are my favourite hills, quieter than other areas, big hills with steep sides, long, winding valleys cutting up to the heart. One day I want to camp up here. “You’ve been saying that for 40 years.”
With a little bit of plastic, a sliver of iron and the earth’s magnetic field, I find my way to a small pile of stones and my phone vibrates. I love that feeling: travelling through a cloud feeling totally alone and finding just what you were looking for.
There were little patches of snow now, wet and melting. Last weekend in Wales I was knee deep in it on a two day yomp across the hills. Maybe that’s why I’m tired today. It was decision time but really I had already made the decision: Grassmoor, down to Coledale Hause than down the valley to a sheepfold. Maybe I could do some of the four valley controls. Really I should have been early enough for the controls on Force Crag, Hopegill Head and Whiteside, three controls instead of just the one at the sheepfold.
In places the path had been badly washed out, probably in those big floods three years ago, but in places the going was good and down hill I got some sort of pace going. As I ran I mulled the options. There were two controls north of the bridge I was heading for, at the mouth of the valley, and one to the west on an obvious run in.
At the bridge I had 40 minutes. I reckoned it was no more than 2km to the further control, I’d have to back track from here, down the road, onto that track and in. 4km tops in 40 minutes. “Come on, even in this state you can do that. It’ll make a up for not doing the ridge to Whiteside. A bit, anyway. Should have been able to do that and this.”
It’s what makes these score vents so addictive, pushing the boat out just a little bit, trying to squeeze in an extra control inside the time limit. The margins don’t allow for any navigational error towards the end. Would I find the paths across the farmland? Yes. Four minutes to spare. 16 of the 21 controls. 18 would have been competitive.
To (slightly) misquote the Prime Minister: ‘A bad run is better than no run’. He would be absolutely right on that.