Monday, 17 May 2010

w/e 16/5 - And the Only Thing Misplaced Was Direction.....

And I found direction
There is no childhood's end
There is no childhood's end
Won't you lead me on.................

A couple of weeks since I last blogged, and a lot has happened in that time. Mostly to do with my mental state in terms of doing the BG this year.

The continuing niggles in the legs have really undermined my confidence. Firstly, the Achilles keeps flaring up despite doing all the exercises and despite reassurances from people who’ve had the same problem that it just disappears at some point. The fact is it hasn’t and it’s been almost a year now.

And then, no doubt because I favour that leg now and push everything onto my right side, that right knee which I thought had ended my summer aspirations continues to haunt me. I’m waiting for the pain to reappear. With every footfall, I think I can feel the weakness returning. And that’s no way to be feeling as you wind up your training for a 24 hour round.

And I think all those thoughts and feelings accumulated over the last 14 days to the point where I decided in my head that it would be better to back off running for a few months and see if I can sort all these physical problems out, problems which were causing me to feel mentally drained and physically weak. Because one thing is for sure…..your head has to be 100% right to do a BG and, if it’s not, you’re wasting everyone’s time by starting.

So I’ve kept some training going these last couple of weeks, but it’s been sporadic.

And then this last weekend really sorted me out, for two reasons;

Firstly, another of those conversations where you realize that life is just too short to be thinking about ifs and maybes and putting off things until tomorrow. As we drove around the Lakes at the weekend, we chatted in the car about the fact that so many people these days seem to stop living their lives by the time they’re in their mid-twenties. It was characterized by an article in the Saturday paper where a twenty-something said the topic of conversation on a night out had been about “all the mad things we used to get up to when we were young”! What!?!!! Get up to mad things NOW. Whatever age you are, you don’t have to stop (as was typified by a certain V60 gentleman this weekend, who led a perilous route off Blencathra at a speed faster than all the “youngsters” with him!).

If ever I give up doing mad things, shoot me! So many people sitting around watching TV, eating crap food, talking about what they USED to do and, seemingly, just counting down the days and filling in their time until they die, wrapped up in this consumer-society that’s been created to allow just that. Well, no way will I be doing that. Of course, as we get older, we have to set our sights differently….but god help me, I will always be looking to push my boundaries, even as they tighten around me.

And all that nicely led into the main reason we were in the Lakes for the weekend. I’ve known Emma a wee while now and she’s a remarkable lass. Her infectious enthusiasm for being out on the fells, coupled with a beaming smile at all times, makes her great company for running and a fellow free spirit out on the hills. What’s particularly amazing about her is that her life off the fells is not an easy one, and if most of us had to manage with the circumstances she does, we’d be wanting a rest when we had free time rather than be zooming off to do hill reps.

And she’s really pushed herself in training for the BG. I’ve really noticed that this person who, just a year ago, would have struggled to keep with me on a steep climb, has trained so hard that she now leaves me behind. And most of all, she’s had incredible mental strength, maintaining a quiet confidence throughout that she would do it.

And so it was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to help out on her round, me and Kirsten providing roadside support and a couple of trips onto the fells to assist.

Friday afternoon saw us arrive in Keswick, all pacers sorted and arrangements made following a flurry of e-mails during the week. We picked up food boxes from Emma (along with several hundred cakes!) and got ready for a long 24 hours.

A crowd gathered at the Moot Hall at 7pm to see her off with a handful of pacers. The weather was looking perfect, the forecast good and it was all down to Emma now. We headed off for an 11pm rendezvous at Threlkeld and stood chatting with leg 2 pacers and scanning the hillside. We got one hell of a surprise when lights appeared on the top some 35 minutes up on schedule….what WAS she up to?!?! Far too fast!!

The route down Middle Tongue in near-darkness looked precarious, led by the legend that is Yiannis. But, it was a quick route, and she was into Threlkeld some 40 minutes up, an incredible achievement….we just hoped she wouldn’t pay for it.

Off up Clough Head she went, on what looked like a starlit night. We drove down to Threlkeld and settled down in the car for a couple of hours sleep. The alarm woke us at 1.45am and, with the knowledge that Emma was so far up on time, we quickly jumped out and set up everything ready for her.

With Kirsten starting to cook, I headed up Seat Sandal, having promised to shine a light to show the line down the nose above Dunmail. It was cold up there, very frosty. A beautiful starry night, although cloud clung like a carpet over the Dodds and Helvellyn ridge. I had no watch on, but was aware that time was slipping by, I was feeling very cold, and there was no sign of them. I worried that they’d nipped underneath me somewhere and trotted back (torch off to avoid confusing road support) to check. But they hadn’t, and eventually they emerged, having had some navigational issues In the clag, and with Emma now 30 minutes down on schedule.
Dunmail was understandably a bit tense. A wee bit of food, a quick calf massage and they were off up Steel Fell, dawn now upon us, looking to make up time. After a long and tense night, we headed off back to the tent for a few hours sleep.

Once up (on a glorious day), we packed up again and headed to Honister. Linda had sent a text informing us that Emma was now around 50 minutes down….I wondered if it was slipping away.

We got to Honister, and I left Kirsten to set up and headed off with what felt like a heavy pack (full of water) to intercept them at Black Sail pass. There’s no water sources on leg 4 and it can be a long way on a warm day. I was joined for a trot by Dave from Tod, who limped along on the twisted ankle he’d suffered coming off Blencathra. We got to Black Sail and waited….and waited. There was no sign that Emma had made up much time as yet but, with she would still be under 24 hours although it would be tight. It all depended how she was feeling.

Soon enough, the unmistakable figure of Yiannis came trotting down, grateful for the water and jelly babies I think, and Emma soon followed, looking tired and pale but still going well. She had made up some time, and there was plenty in each split time now. And sure enough, as we intercepted them again at Beck Head,a good chunk of time had been clawed back and there was just the one last climb of Gable to do.

We headed back to warn Kirsten that they would be coming soon but she may not be stopping. I went back up towards Grey Knotts to watch for them, and was amazed and so pleased to see them coming down much sooner than expected, and with plenty of time for Emma to have a 10 minute stop and get some food down her. She left Honister with 3hr 40mins to spare for a leg which would take a maximum of 3hrs. She had no idea that she’d effectively done it and, when I explained, the emotion really showed on her face…bless her.

But one last climb to do, and she set off with an army of pacers to coax her along. We zoomed over to Little Town with road shoes and met her coming down the road, looking shattered but having plenty of time in hand.

Back to the Moot Hall to join the gathering crown amidst a bizarre scene, with both a market and the Keswick Jazz festival taking place. There as a buzz of excitement amongst us and, soon enough, the group came trotting up the street and Emma touched that door in 23.08, an incredible achievement.

It was a wonderful day, so pleasing to see someone who’s worked so hard actually achieve their goal. And it’s really inspired me. YOU have really inspired me Emma. It’s time to put aside these doubts and worries about niggles etc and just get on with it, believe I can do it, and make sure I get a good team around me in the way that Emma did.

To be honest, I’m shattered from the weekend. Both physically in terms of the hours we put in, driving around, putting stuff out, packing stuff up etc. But also mentally. It was a really nerve-racking day. The highs and lows of supporting are hard work you know!!!

And Kirsten could hardly get out of bed this morning. What an amazing job she did. She was there with everything ready, food cooled just nicely, everything under control. Future BGers – she’s available to hire at a price!!

Despite tiredness (or perhaps because of), we headed towards home on Sunday afternoon after a lazy morning, but stopped to nip up Great and Little Mell Fell, both of us putting some effort into running the ups, and me trying to correct my downhill running style to take the pressure off the Achilles (but that’s another story for another day!).

Totals for week; w/e 16/5 - 17mls & 5,500ft, w/e 9/5 - 23mls & 6,400ft

The plan is being put in place today – 8 weeks to build up the training, get 100% ready and make sure I get this BG done at the end of July.

Lead me on……………….

Thursday, 6 May 2010

w/e 2/5 - We Felt The Sensations Drift Inside Our Frames

We felt the sensations drift inside our frames
Finding complete contentment there
And all the tensions that hurt us in the past
Just seemed to vanish in thin air

I think we all sometimes forget what’s important in life, what really matters. And we get sucked into the melodrama of modern day life which, in my opinion at least, is all just a made-up game we play to wile away the hours which are no longer filled with the essentials and necessities of living.

It’s certainly easy to get like that with all the election stuff that’s been going on in the news. Self-important people trying to make out that they really matter, when it’s all just a passing moment and, long after they’re gone and no-one even remembers their name, the mountains will still be there, the tides will still ebb and flow, the wind will still whistle through the trees.

And it’s easy to get wrapped up in “work”, as though it really matters. There are very few worthwhile jobs out there. Certainly, all those of us who work in “non-essential” areas would do well to remember that. The planet existed before we invented nuts and bolts and fridges and TVs and cars and playstations and all that shit.

Life is really at its essence only when we are engaged in providing the necessities – warmth, shelter, food, drink – and when we are immersed in the landscape that surrounds us.

So the weekend was a timely one, another weekend away in the Lakes, both of us leaving home feeling a little stressed about things that DON’T matter. Both of us wound up by people who will never know the freedom and exhilaration to be had out on the fells, and whose lives stretch only to the nearest retail parks and fast food joints, and whose Sundays are probably spent sitting reading papers!

Whereas we both had weekends that invigorated us and, in Kirsten’s case in particular, very much focused in on when life is REALLY being lived “on the edge”!

We headed up after a leisurely breakfast on Friday, set up camp at a beautiful site (Birch Bank Farm near Grizebeck), then decided to have a plod up Coniston Old Man, via its south face. A faint trod was found initially from the Walna Scar road, but we ended up going direct, on steepish slopes, to emerge at the summit cairn.

The cloud was down and there was a chill breeze, but the swirling mists gave us delicious glimpses across to the ramparts of Dow Crag and down into the valley. We carried on over Swirl How and then decided to take the path down from Levers Hause. Downhill on the major path from Levers Water, then across the mine workings and back up by “the Bell” to get to the car. A gentle, chatty, lovely afternoon out.

Saturday was Championship race day, and although I wasn’t running, I decided to trot around the route and watch the race. Kirsten on the other hand, met up with the group in Coniston for her first day of scrambling, in Levers Water Ghyll and on the Bell.

I parked at the race HQ, caught up with a couple of familiar faces, then set off for Wetherlam. Just as I reached the turn off to head uphill, there was Chrispy with her 2 dogs and we walked uphill together, chatting and enjoying the warm sunshine. She’s a remarkable lady, who’s been there and done it all, someone who really inspires through her infectious enthusiasm, and it was lovely to catch up with her.

After Wetherlam, we headed up the Prison Band then stopped to watch the leaders come through. Some amazing running considering how steep it was. After a while, I decided to trot on, running along with the competitors to the top of Levers Hause, where I saw Jo, Louise and Mandy go through, before dropping down to Levers Water to try and get back before them.

As I headed down by the ghyll, I made a detour when I saw Kirsten scrambling her way up a rocky face. I stopped to watch for a moment, until she saw me and, not wanting to intrude upon her day or feel self-conscious, I trotted away down the hillside, to get back in time to see Mandy finishing.

After that, the rain started and I retreated to the car to wait for Kirsten, who appeared some hours later looking cold and wet. She got in the car, said “take me to a pub, I want to get warm and I want a pint. No stopping”!

Once she’d stopped shivering, it transpired that she’d had a great day but the last couple of hours were deathly slow for someone used to fellrunning, and she was freezing. We soon thawed her out in the Greyhound at Grizebeck though!

And so Sunday dawned, a beautiful morning with the sun lighting up the surrounding countryside. We headed off early to Langdale, where Kirsten was meeting up with the group for her big day! It was glorious when we got there and, having established that they were heading up Stickle Ghyll before doing Jack’s Rake, I decided to head up that way as well once I’d got my stuff together.

And what a beautiful morning. I nipped up the path, in time to see Kirsten scrambling up the lower falls, then made my way to Stickle Tarn. Intrigued, and having never looked closely at Jack’s Rake, I made my way around the tarn and to the bottom of it. The lower slopes were ok and, with nobody else around, I had a quick scramble up. But fairly quickly, I could see it was going to turn into something “challenging” for someone like me, who has no head for heights….so I retreated and headed up “Easy Gully”, which had its moments near the top as well!!

Wanting to see Kirsten in the rake, I headed around and back down to Stickle Tarn but, having dropped down to the ghyll again, I saw them still scrambling in there so decided it was time for the off.

And what a cracking day. Up Harrison Stickle, across to Pike O’ Stickle under schedule, (where I chatted with Yvonne from Leicestershire who’s contemplating a BG in June but needs helpers….if you’re reading this, put that message on FRA forum!!!), across Martcrag Moor on a decent high line to the crags and then out to Rossett Pike. A nice chat with 3 other BG recciers, then up the traverse to Bowfell, back to Esk Pike, out to Great End, then Ill Crag and Broad Crag easily on schedule in the dry conditions.

Originally I’d thought of doing the Scafells, but with the crowds accumulating on the summit of the Pike, I baulked at the idea and headed back to Angle Tarn and the top of Rossett Ghyll. Having got here, I decided I’d get that climb to Bowfell into my head by doing it again, before heading down the Band and back into Langdale.

And I trotted into the garden of the pub, to be greeted by a smiling Kirsten who had survived a “challenging” (!) day and who had great tales to tell. A quick pint there, the decision to stay another night, then off to Ulverston for a smashing curry, before heading back to the campsite and crowding 8 of us into Thirza’s campervan for a drink and a natter – the perfect way to end a perfect day.

And a confidence-boosting day at that. Around 18 miles and 7,500ft and I never felt too uncomfortable. I could easily have carried on. With the decision now made to postpone my attempt until 24th July, to be feeling like that at this stage of my training is a bonus. Fingers crossed I can keep it like that.

And what a cracking weekend for Kirsten as well. Not so much physically, but mentally. In a few weeks’ time, she’ll face a huge mental challenge to keep going when her body is screaming to stop. The fact that she was able to confront her fears and push on when a single wrong step would have meant fairly certain death will stand her in good stead. And of course provide a timely reminder that the lives we live when we’re not on the fells are really so insignificant when compared to those exhilarating, vital times when we place our bodies on the line and feel at one with our natural surroundings. Well done lass!

Just for completeness, the week included 2 other runs – a Tuesday club run which was taken at slow pace, on the route of the Shepherds Skyline race, and a Thursday recce of Coiners with Kirsten and Jo, a smashing evening splashing through the rain and mud J

Total for the week – 44.25mls and 15,250ft

Some photos of the weekend to follow………