Sunday, 8 June 2014

Lake District LSD running: Ennerdale

This weekend was the English Championships fell race (a long one) in Ennerdale. I took the opportunity to join Tim who was racing, plus the small gathering of Glossopdale Harriers on the trip, but to do my own long run separate to the race. Our bunkhouse was great, plenty of room, decent facilities and a superb wood burning stove (which proved vital to drying kit after the deluge we all ran in yesterday). If you're visiting the area and need a decent place for the night check it out, Low Cock How Farm. It's either a decent walk or a short drive to Ennerdale Bridge and the pub, but worth it.

Low Cock How Farm Bunkhouse - yes, there was sunshine both mornings
Horse and foal at the farm - they have 40+ horses and a riding school
I had all sorts of plans for my long run, but essentially I would set off before the race, run for 3-4 hours (approx 30km) and be back before the racers got to the finish. Because the forecast was for horrible weather (heavy rain, lightening and thunder) I'd initially planned to run down the valley by the lake, all the way to Black Sail YHA and back on the other side of the valley. Not the most adventurous fell running given that most of it's on forest tracks, but having run there early May (read this for a write up of that trip) I knew the valley is beautiful, and I'd be sheltered if the weather turned as expected.

Forest track....minus the forest
Tormentil flowers
The day dawned beautiful and sunny, and with hindsight I should have just grabbed my gear and headed off at 6am to enjoy the dry part of the day more. As it was I pottered about, had a lazy breakfast and studied the map for a while. I decided to run from the farm, heading through Heckbarley forest track to Grike (488m). The forest track rose steadily, just enough to think it was runnable but too steep to allow me to find a comfortable pace, so it was a run/walk/run/walk strategy - the mental game - made all the more pleasant by having a buzzard up above me for quite a while. On the ascent up to Grike there was loads of little yellow flowers out, tormentil, which I know Tim will be familiar with.

Grike summit looking eastwards up the Ennerdale Valley - the sky was starting to look 'interesting'
Grike summit view to Crag Fell 
From the top of Grike I descended the gentle slope, passing a local fell runner on his Saturday run before the rain, and then across a saddle and up Crag Fell (523m). Crag Fell was to be the final check point on the fell race, so it would be good to see where the runners would start their final descent. From Crag Fell I made the decision to drop down to Ennerdale Water in the valley bottom.

Before the descent I had to put on my waterproof for a very large rain shower fell upon me, plus the wind was fairly buffety up on the top. Once down in the valley it was almost too warm for the jacket, but too much rain to take it off. That dilemma held true for most of the run.

Part-way down the non-existent path, looking back to Ennerdale Bridge
It should have been a nice descent but either I missed the path completely or it just isn't used and is so overgrown with bracken (old and new), moss covered rocks and trees that it was a bit of a mare! I got slightly sidetracked on a decent trod but realised before I'd lost too much height that it was taking me towards Anglers Crag and the wrong way in the valley. So, after bashing across the hill side I found what should have been the path and made my way slowly down the hillside, keeping the stream and wall to my right.

Along the valley bottom the path runs right beside the lake, it's a horrible rocky-tree-root path to attempt to run on, one which all the racers will have discovered a few hours after me. I followed the path listening to a cuckoo, and soon left the lake behind, picking up a forest track on the opposite side to Ennerdale YHA.

Lake shore looking east
A good bit of the bad-for-running-path
It was lovely and peaceful running along the track, but my rucksack which was well packed for a long run (so heavier than usual) was drenched from several heavy downpours and looking back I reckon this slowed me somewhat on the run. I really don't think there was anything in my bag I could have left out. So what if I didn't need it on the day, should there have been a reason to stop all the spare kit would have been used and all the food eaten.

Looking towards Black Sail, at the point I turned back west
I ummed and arrrghed about where to turn to return to Ennerdale Bridge....for it was going to be a long run whatever. I calculated distance on the map. I worked out what I'd be happy with. It was going to feel long running along the track with it's undulations, twists and corners that never end, each rise feeling that bit harder on the legs. In the end I turned at the footbridge, about 2km short of Blacksail YHA. I really did want to get all the way there, but with the extra few kilometres at the start, plus ascent I'd done, I figured the sensible thing was to turn while I knew I could get back. 2km one way is 4km, which at the pace I was going would have easily been another 30-40mins. My calculations should have given me a total run of about 25km, which I'd have been happy with in the torrential downpours I was getting hit with. Good thing was it was warm, so much so that I didn't wear gloves at all for the whole run.

A cuckoo and Pillar somewhere in there!
I heard another cuckoo somewhere between my far point and Ennerdale YHA. Good to hear them - I will have to check out the online mapping thingy to see if they're tagged ones. For what seemed like an age I kept coming across walkers just where I wanted to stop, or walk. But pride keeps you running even when it hurts, so I reverted to counting paces and when I really needed to stop I'd take a photo (I took lots!). The valley really is beautiful, very distracting even in such bad weather. My mind was distracted too with thoughts of the racers out on the ridges above me. The views of the crags and hills above me came and went as the rain clouds did, and I ran with the constant pitter-patter of rain on my hood.

The long and undulating forest track
It wasn't until I bumped into three lady runners (one of whom I'd tentatively planned to potentially run with) that I learnt the race route had changed. Damn good job I talked myself out of charging (at a somewhat sedentary pace) up to Red Pike on the northern side of the valley. I'd seriously considered going up, even in the rain, and cheering the runners on, then going against the flow along the ridge to Starling Dodd, Great Borne, and then down to the valley from Herdus - down their first ascent. Flipping good job I didn't!!

After a brief pause to chat to the ladies I continued along the track, and soon I was beside Ennerdale Water again. The final 3km or so to go, and I really wanted to walk. Two runners came past, carrying no kit, so it was a bit of pride that urged me on running, though they soon left me behind. I pushed on knowing that its a mental game when you're tired, eating more, sipping constantly, moving forwards faster than a walk is running, right?

Crag Fell now on the opposite side of Ennerdale Water
I got to the final flagged part of the race route and having seen the race car park from a way off I knew I needed to carry on towards Crag House Farm to find Carl's car. After a search around the parked cars I couldn't see it, so resigned myself to finding the race finish in the hope of a few more cars being there. Thankfully his car was, along with my bag of dry gear, food, a towel so I could shower, and importantly a warm coffee which Tim had made me earlier, most welcomed.

On the lake shore near the end of my run
With the extra 1km finding the car I'd clocked up a decent long run. Definitely a Long Steady Distance run. Sufficient kit faffage disguised as photo stops, and enough rain to sink a battleship. I'd been out about 4 hours, with 3:24:40 moving time and 27.4km in the legs bank. Happy girl. I shall be back to Ennerdale sometime as I'd like to get up and do a bit more of the ridges around there. Perhaps not when lightening is forecast!

After the race we headed back to the bunkhouse and the very much appreciated wood burning stove was lit and kicking out heat to dry our clothes and shoes.

Tim's race report has been written and is on his blog, TestedToDestruction. A massive thanks to Carl for driving, much appreciated. We had a lovely saunter around Keswick on the way home today - if you're visiting there get yourself into Java for a panini, coffee and cake - it's delicious.
Keswick coffee shop

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