I arrived at the YHA, Helvellyn late Friday night. Initially, I thought I had totally misread the directions as getting there involved a fair drive along a slightly broken track into the middle of nowhere… Luckily I didn’t fail the first nav test it was correct! Too late for dinner at the hostel, I dumped my bags and headed into Glenridding to see if anywhere would serve me food – here I came across my second stroke of luck quickly finding a nice enough pub for a spot of grub (hanger was creeping in)! It was at this point, sitting down for tea, I had time to consider what was in store – I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as I felt like I had a huge amount to learn.
The next morning I was up bright and early, ready with map and compass, to meet Andrew and Charlie (from Lakes Sky Ultra and Mountain Run) alongside fellow runners, Alex and Zoe. Within minutes of meeting this friendly bunch, my nerves about the weekend dissipated!
First off was a navigation theory session covering everything from handling a compass and setting the map, to reading contours and relocating across a whole range of scales and types of maps. I found this really valuable as despite knowing how to do the basics I often shied away from practising and was not only a bit rusty but also a bit muddled on some areas. One particularly memorable tip for me had to be Charlie’s phrase “you are never lost simply misplaced” – I’ll certainly be using that to justify dubious location choices in the future!
The next step was to put our newly learnt theory into practice… So we set off, map in hand (initially upside down – oops!), to navigate to some specific points we had plotted earlier. Another pointer for me was to make sure I gathered enough ‘collecting features’ on the route. Funnily enough, I am pretty good at either going into my own little world or talking the hind legs off a donkey to the person next to me (sorry guys!). However further handy pointers from Andrew and Charlie quickly remedied this – mainly breaking down the route into smaller sections, so the arrival at a certain feature or area reminded me to check the map again.
Our route also incorporated the second aim for the day – scrambling key parts of the LSU route, Swirral and Striding Edge. As a climber, I was looking forward to this bit as I enjoy the height and the feeling of looking down to see a bit of a drop next to you! It was also handy to re-familiarise myself with climbing in my trainers as oppose to my climbing shoes. Trainers are certainly comfier but do require more care when it comes to foot placement. Our route also provided a cracking spot overlooking Red Tarn to eat some lunch and catch our breath.
In the afternoon we covered moving quickly over steep ground and uphill/downhill techniques. To put it bluntly my current ‘style’ could certainly do with some refining, so it was useful to have some tutoring on this. Uphill, Andrew pointed out I needed to shorten my gait. At first, this seemed a bit unnatural as my attitude has always been getting to the top asap in as little strides as possible (no theory behind this!) – however, with a bit of practice, I have found shortening the steps saved considerably more energy and meant I could keep going longer. Downhill, one of the key tips I took away was to relax my shoulders, without realising I was pretty much holding my breath on the descents my shoulders and back were so tight!
After this, as I am sure you can imagine, we were all a bit peckish – this called for the most important nav test of them all – to the pub! Before tucking into dinner, we were greeted by Robin Higgins from Team Nutrition for a talk on race nutrition. So far my race diet has been total trial and error, some things have been a winner others I wish never to repeat!! So having the opportunity to hear the science behind this first hand was great. It turns out there is certainly a lot more I could be doing to help myself – mainly a much better hydration strategy and breakfast!
Hydration wise I have always drunk a lot of water but have found myself sloshing around like a hot water bottle when I ran. Solution – don’t just drink plain water, electolites are essential as they cause the body to draw the water through a lot faster. Another interesting fact – protein is digested quicker when eaten alongside something sweet. Not something I had thought about before but I guess this is why most protein shakes are sweet flavours. Final winning pointer – steak and ale pie is a great recovery meal..! So as an aspiring athlete I did, of course, take this very seriously, putting my new strategy straight into action with a pie and pint before bed!
Day two gave Zoe, Alex and I the chance to demonstrate our new found map skills! Heading out nice and early we navigated our way towards Pinnacle Ridge via various checkpoints. This was interspersed with some great facts about the Lakes, and it’s plant and wildlife – this course has everything – even tips for soothing chapped lips hillside! For some reason this day I was struggling to stay upright, I just kept falling over – arguably, however, I was just taking a closer look at all these plants and insects! I arrived at the bottom of the climb to Pinnacle Ridge a bit wet, very muddy and also feeling a little dubious about the gradient of the ascent up… it looked steep, to say the least.
For me this was one of the most beneficial points of the weekend, had I come to the bottom of this race day, I think I would have felt slightly over-faced. However having been up it once, and knowing that not only is it achievable (you are not expected to run it) but there is also an awesome scramble over the ridge at the top, will make me feel so much better on the day.
Our run ended with a fun descent down St Sunday Crag back to the YHA in time to make the drive back home before I ran out of steam. All in all, it was an excellent weekend, lots of learning and laughs – my brain is certainly full. Thanks to both Andrew and Charlie for all the help, I know I still have a long way to go, but feel I have got one step closer to being ready for this race – bring it on!
P.S: For those of you on the course – I spent the whole drive back noticing re-entrants and collecting features – think I had gone a bit map mad!!