Wednesday 27/08/14Old John3.4km / 115m
Quick 6 day taper involving one quick run up and down Old John in the dark, and nothing else.Saturday 30/08/143x3 Ultra recce60.5km / 3019m
Long day out in the hill checking out most of the 3x3 course before race day. Up at 5am, out the door by 6, in Keswick at 8, change shoes, sort out gear, then a leisurely walk to the lake to be on the way for 9. We had a few aims for the day: obviously there's the training benefits of a long day in the hills, but we also wanted to make sure we had the navigation sorted at a few key points, to test out full race kit over a substantial time period, and also to see what the terrain was like in those areas we hadn't visited before.Leg 1: Keswick to Seathwaite
An easy start to the route, beginning with some nice lakeshore forest trails followed by a short minor road section up to Ashness Bridge before picking up the trail to Watendlath. We took this section very easy, and walked the short uphill road section (no point rushing at this stage). The trail to Watendlath is a nice runnable track along the edge of the valley with trees to the right and a beck to the left. Upon reaching the tarn and tiny hamlet of Watendlath we pulled out the poles for the first proper climb of the day. Once at the top of the climb it was a really nice runnable descent through ferns towards Rosthwaite (we made a brief navigational error here, but only by a few hundred metres and we knew exactly where we went wrong so no big deal). Another short road section through the village (good to note some public toilets here, although I suspect they will be locked up when we arrive on race day given the 5am start), before picking up the track behind Longthwaite YHA and then the non-descript track to Seathwaite (more toilets here, but again will probably be locked on race day). We'll probably be running most (if not all) of this leg in the dark on race day, so it was good to get a feel for it.Leg 2: Seathwaite to Esk Hause
My favourite leg of the route, in part because it ends at my favourite place in the entire Lakes, but also because it's a long, winding climb on rocky but not too technical ground, surrounded by some of the most rugged peaks in England. Along Grains Gill to Stockley bridge before crossing over and starting the long climb to Styhead. Our approach for the day was to hike any climbs and jog the downs and flats, and it was here we really began to notice how much easier the climbs were with poles even if we pushed hard. Definitely going to be a big leg saver on race day, and for Transvulcania next year. A couple of short stops on the way up to attend to some chafing issues (don't forget to apply anti-chafing cream and then go on a 60km outing in shorts you bought a few hours ago) and to restock our water supplies (the collapsible cup I picked up proving very handy). From Styhead the trail branches off in several directions (on to Scafell Pike, up Great Gable, up the nasty rubble filled gully of Aaron Slack that we climbed last October), and on towards Sprinkling Tarn. The latter was to be our choice, with a brief stop to make sure we knew where the turnoff for the Corridor Route to Scafell Pike was as this would be where we'd turn off on race day. One of the few photos I took: Looking back down to Styhead from just below Sprinkling Tarn
From Sprinkling Tarn it's a fantastic winding and undulating rocky trail round the imposing bulk of Great End before finally reaching Esk Hause where numerous paths from the surrounding peaks all diverge. It was pretty cold up here as the wind was blowing at around 35-40mph, but I was still OK in a base layer vest, T shirt and windproof. Leg 3: Esk Hause to Wythburn
From Esk Hause the route descends down to Angle Tarn (pretty steep and rocky, and probably a menace in the wet) before crossing some wet and boggy ground on the way to Stake Pass. If the cloud comes down on race day this section will be tricky as the path is not well defined and the terrain largely featureless. At Stake Pass we stopped to try and work out our route to High Raise, as the map clearly didn't match what was on the ground, but we located the path a few hundred metres north of where it was on the map. There then followed a stiff climb up the west flank of High Raise (poles much appreciated), punctuated by another water stop, before topping out on the broad and featureless summit plateau. The last time I was up here it was in thick fog and we wandered round in circles for about 45 minutes trying to get off the summit before finally emerging from the fog a hundred metres or so from Sergeant Man. This time it was clear but very cold and windy, so we hunkered down in the summit shelter for a few minutes to eat before heading into the unknown down to Wythburn.
On the map the descent to Wythburn looks like a nice, pleasant runnable descent apart from the one area ominously labelled "The Bog", and with a clear path almost throughout. In reality it's a 5km long slippery quagmire of marshland and bogs with no path to be seen whatsoever. So a very slow descent in part also due to the endless stopping and trying to locate the path that appeared so clearly on the map (turns out we were pretty much on it the whole time, and bang on the race route). On race day, with this knowledge in hand, we should be a lot quicker through here. Eventually the swampfest petered out and we had a km or so of decent running down to the road at Wythburn.Leg 4: Wythburn to Keswick
Upon reaching Wythburn we were both feeling pretty good, although conscious of the time taken so far and starting to reassess our projected finish time for the day. From here was the last big ascent of the day, the climb up to Helvellyn with a beastly 740m to gain in the space of 3.8km (on race day we will still have the big final climb up Skiddaw to do with 60km in our legs). Another water stop on the way up the pretty relentless climb, but it's good underfoot and at least you can see the summit even if it does seem to never get any closer. By the time we hit the top it was 6pm and we still had just under 20km to cover, so it was clear we'd be finishing in the dark. After a short stop to take in food, a couple of gels and some caffeine, and chat to a couple of guys who were also checking out the course, we headed off on the final stretch.
The wind had really picked up by now, making it very cold but surprisingly it didn't affect movement at all. From Helvellyn it was some really fantastic running on broad rocky tracks along a long, rolling grassy ridge, hitting 8 summits along the way before dropping down the nasty and steep north face of Clough Head (45% gradient, no path...). At the bottom of Clough Head we stopped to assess our route for the final section and to get out our headlamps and we had about 10 mins of twilight left before it was completely dark. The start of this final section took way longer than it should thanks to taking a lower route than we should have done and having to climb fences to get back on track. Eventually we located the old railway line through the woods for a nice flat 8km final stretch through old tunnels and over lots of bridges before finally returning to Keswick. 14 hours since we left the car, 60km and 3000m in our legs, but surprisingly not ruined.Route profile of the dayRoute profile of the entire course. Ouch.
So a very successful outing. Kit choice worked out perfectly, route successfully navigated (after comparing our route to the official route we actually made all the correct choices), legs not completely ruined afterwards (hardly any soreness in the following days and I'd have been training again on Monday were it not for feeling like I was going to barf all day and crapping my guts out). We also decided on a possible training day prior to Transvulcania next year, involving repeats of the climb from Wythburn to Helvellyn which would get us 4400m ascent in the space of 45km. Gnarly.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end. Then stop.”