Tag Archives: slmm

Scenes from SLMM 2014

The Saunders Lakeland Marathon 2014 took place in Deepdale (near Patterdale) in the Lake District, on 12-13 July. Team Kingfisher (=Marj and I) was there, and I wrote up these short scenes to give you some idea of what happened and what goes through my mind while we're out there. For the basics of Mountain Marathoning UK style, please look here. Click on the pictures for a bigger view, in my Flickr account (doesn't work for the bits of map).

Getting there

I'm running, with a big backpack. I'm not yet even anywhere near the Lake District where the race will take place. I am running through Brussels, on my way to the railway station to catch the Eurostar. The best laid plans of mice and men... I checked carefully which tram would get me there on time, but unfortunately two trams did not show up at all. Traffic congestion further up the line, I hear later. I see multiple trams going the other way, and I wonder if all these trams ride down some dark hole, never to be seen again... That might explain why none of them ever come back up the line again.

I am running with quite a bit of additional weight, this is everything I need for four days away and not my light race pack with minimal kit. The breathing is fine, it's comforting to know the training pays off. The knee, however, isn't fine after about 10 minutes of this unexpected extra training. I slow down to a walk, and curse the Brussels public transport authority under my breath. If this race turns into a DNS (did not start), because I bugger up my knee, they'll hear about it.

I make it into the Eurostar terminal, and just as I am looking around to find a place to sit down and have a breather, boarding begins. I am glowing profusely (horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow, apparently) but I caught the train. On the train from London to Cambridge I text my teammate Marj with a request for a bag of frozen peas to ice my knee, just to be on the safe side. I also get a tweet from Brussels transport with an apology for the delay, after I called them out on Twitter. Kind, but as useful as a chocolate ashtray on the back of a motorbike... Team Kingfisher is reunited at basecamp Cambridge before driving out to the Lake District. We're a bit apprehensive, but excited none the less, when the "lumpy bits" come into view.


Base camp at Deepdale, the evening before the race.

Victory no. 1: the start line

If you're training for a long race, like a marathon or a multiple day event, getting fit to the starting line is a victory in itself. The year has been hard for both of us. Training this winter for me felt more like I was preparing for the winter Olympics, with all the snow and temperatures that made my freezer seem comfy warm, but things improved when spring finally came. Marj had more serious setbacks, which left us hesitating to sign up for the race until March. But now we are at the start line, and we are over the moon. We're feeling ready, my knee is fine. We know it won't be easy (though we don't know yet how bad it might be), but as we line up for our start, we lift our eyes unto the hills and feel the thrill of the race. Bring it on!


Ups and downs


wall of stone-map view

We're sliding down a hill side, and dropping height quickly. This is good, because I managed to waste time and energy by going past the 1st control, and we had to turn back. In my defence, it was located east of the boulder, and not west as indicated on the directions. We saw many other teams struggling to find the darn thing but I should do better as chief navigator and keep my eyes peeled. The 2nd control took us up a steep hillside, but was easy enough to find. But it came with the realisation that we have to get over this sheer wall of stone in front of us, and then immediately back down again to number 3, and there is no path down... Fortunately, there is soft grass, and so we just slide down and lose about 250 meters in no time.

IMG_0032Google Earth view of the wall of stone, we have to get to the other side...

IMG_0034Google Earth view of the descent from the top of the wall of stone to control 3. This looks more reasonable than in real life...

We then have a long way to go to control 4 (Look! Picture!), but there is a path and the views are rewarding: Ullswater in the distance, as we are going around Grisedale Brow. I can't quite see the way to control 5 yet, but the contour lines on the map are ominously close together. There is a path, but with many switchbacks (i.e. zigzags), which suggests the same: it's going to be seriously uphill, baby.

switchback and ski tow-map view

The list of should-haves

With every race, there is a list of should-haves. A sample of my past races: I should have trained harder/differently; I should have put on different socks; I should not have had that fish and chips yesterday for dinner. Today's should-haves include: I should have checked the map and seen that we need to take on water at Mires Beck, where everybody else was doing this. As it is, we're working our way up the steep path to control 5, and there is no good source of water until we're heading off the mountain towards the end of the day. I am fine, but Marj is starting to have trouble as we make our way to the top of the ski-tow where control 6 awaits us. The climb is a good 225m higher up from control 5, although not vertical, but the long day is getting to her. There's another one: I should have made sure my teammate is "grazing" on snacks throughout the day, like me, but it's hard to force food into somebody who claims not to be hungry. But hauling yourself and a pack up the hills consumes a crazy amount of calories and they need to be replenished, even if your health situation means appetite is suppressed when you're nearing exhaustion. We have a brief rest, ration the water, and prepare for the big one: the top of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England at 950m. We will just follow the path south to Whiteside (868m), then onto Helvellyn Lower Man (925) and Helvellyn itself a bit further with control 7. We have to go this way to get off the hills anyway, to the midway camp, and we're not giving up. Not yet.

Stairway to Heaven

I am walking on the saddle between White Side and Lower Man. To my left in the distance the blue Ullswater. On my right I see Thirlmere, another lake. I have done this route on Google Maps as part of my orientation preparation, but that pales in comparison with the real thing. At the far end, where the path climbs to Lower Man, the sheer cliff face from Swirral Edge bumps into the top of Browncove Crag. I am walking on the spine of the world, and I am suddenly overcome by intense emotion: utter bliss, feeling part of the universe, and a deep sense of gratitude that I am allowed to be here. I am exhausted, thirsty, hungry and could lie down for a nap here and now, yet I feel more alive, in every cell of my body, than ever before. This moment of pure joy is worth every step of the long and hard way we took to get here. I am on the stairway to Heaven.

Google Earth view of my stairway to Heaven. It doesn't do it justice at all. Go up there and experience it for yourself. Worth every step of the way. Go on. You know you want to.

Who moved my sheepfold?

I am walking back up the hillside in search of a blimmin' sheepfold that contains control 8. I saw it as we were walking down from Helvellyn and started our descent on the path to the north of Birk Side. It's freaking big, you can't just tuck it away. Yet that is exactly what happened, because as we were going down the path it did not just pop up on our left side as it should have.

Now we have come down too far. Marj is completely exhausted, but we found water. While we wait for the purification tablet to work its wonders, I decide to trot back up and find the control. I look back regularly to make sure I know where to find her again. You're not supposed to leave your teammate, but asking her to go back up there is just mean at this point. There is no danger of hill fog, so we should be fine. I am annoyed with myself for missing a second control in one day. Chief-navigator and Master of the Map, my a***. The sheepfold is as big as a house, literally- how can you miss it? Some kind competitors confirm my suspicion that it is just a bit further to the north, and my determination (stubornness?) pays off. I stick the dibber into the control and I have rarely been this relieved to hear the *beep beep* as it radioes our time to race HQ.

I go back down to pick up Marj, who's significantly more chipper now we have water, a rest, and some food. We study the map, and head out in search of control 9, which is all the way at the bottom of the hill, some 350m lower.

sheepfold to finish-map view

Lessons learned from last year

I don't like the look of those contour lines. One of the should-haves from last year pops into my head, and I remind Marj of the longest twenty minutes of our lives. I can't quite see how we- completely at the end of our reserves by now- will make it safely down between the cordonned-off area and the stream, on a hillside at a 45º angle or worse. We're not even worrying anymore about being done before the cut-off time, that is pie in the sky by now.

"You see those runners there? That's where I'd like to be." I say to Marj. She's good at finding paths and making tracks, and is usually out in front doing exactly that. Much to my relief, she complies with my request, even if it means going back up 100m or more, so we can safely cross the stream. I see my old friend the sheepfold again, from a distance. It feels like we're going round in circles this last hour, but at last we get on the other side of the stream, and onto the grassy hillside. This one is also at a silly steep angle, but there is space. And we can slide down, because there is simply no point in standing up. As soon as we take two steps, we're back on our bum, so we lose a good 300m height in very good time. We are both very happy with the decision to take this route, even if it looked like a detour. No gorse or bracken to pick out of our underwear (and worse places) for the next three days, like last year.

To the finish, and victory again!

We get to control 9, and our quick descent means we do actually stand a chance of making it to the final control on time. It is just a few hundred meters along an easy, even path. We clock off with ten minutes or so to spare. The course was much harder than last year- with 18km and 1310m of height in the ideal case, and my navigation mistakes added probably another 2-3km and maybe 150m. We'll worry about tomorrow after we have had some food and a rest. Today is a major victory, and we'll cherish it.

They’re at it. Again | Daar zijn ze weer…

On the right side list of widgets of the blog you'll notice a countdown timer has appeared. Four months from now, my friend Stickless and I will be running the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon again! We did it last year and we're crazy enough to do it again this year. Crazy, not stupid, so we're in training.

Road running is quite a different game, but it does not hurt to build up endurance and some speed or strength that way. My plan this time round is to focus more on the "double long" sessions: two days back to back of longer runs, building up during the training block. That means this week 7 miles on Saturday, and 6 on Sunday.

There will of course be the required "running with pack, full weight", "stairs" or if I can get to them "hills". Cross training, in particular swimming and some strength training for upper and lower body will help to keep me injury free, so that may be a smarter move than cramming more miles into my weekly schedule. I'm ready!

Aan de rechterkant van mijn blog vind je nu een datum, en een tellertje (een "afteller" is geen woord, maar kom). Over vier maanden zijn Stickless en ik weer op pad in de Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon! We haalden de eindstreep vorig jaar, en we zijn gek genoeg om het dit jaar opnieuw te proberen. Gek, maar niet dom, dus zijn we aan het trainen.

Hardlopen op de weg is een heel ander beestje dan dit soort wedstrijden, maar wel nuttig om uithoudingsvermogen, snelheid en kracht op te bouwen. De focus van mijn trainingsplan heb ik dit keer meer gelegd op de "dubbele lange" loop: twee dagen na elkaar met langere afstanden, die geleidelijk aan opbouwen. Dit weekend betekent dat 7 mijl (11km) op zaterdag en 6 mijl (net geen 10km) op zondag.

En dan moet je in het schema ook nog de vereiste "loop met rugzak, vol gewicht", "trappen" of beter nog "heuvels" bijvoegen. Zwemmen en krachttraining voor de armpjes en beentjes zullen me hopelijk blessure-vrij houden, en dat is dan misschien een betere tijdsbesteding dan zoeken naar tijd om meer kilometers in mijn schema te wringen. Ik heb er zin in!

The last of the stairs

Friday afternoon. I close the door behind me as I head out for my training and suddenly realise: That was the last time I left the house with three liters of water and five kilos of rice in the pack. The packs of rice stacks easily, the water can be poured away if it all gets too heavy. That was the last time I headed out to the stairs. The stairs...



(LUMC car park seen from Leiden-Centraal railway station)

These are the only stairs that matter to me right now. I am at the parking of the LUMC. I eye up the first two flights. I will go all the way to level 13 (104 steps), fifteen times in total (1300+ steps). That is the plan. I did it last week, and nearly bailed out at the thirteenth ascent, but resumed after a short break. I hope today will be easier. I don't have any reason to assume so. Earlier I felt so tired in the office that the bed was a much more inviting option than the stairs. But I cannot let my team mate down, and the moral obligation to be the other half of a well-trained team is why I am here at the bottom of the stairs, convincing myself that I need to get up there, and that this will make all the difference when we're climbing the hills in the Lake District.

By now I should now every inch of every step. Over the past months I spent most Friday afternoons walking up and down these steps, at first just with a water bottle for hydration, later with a pack and gradually increasing the weight from four to five to finally eight or nine kilos. I should know that there is chewing gum on the third step on the way to level 3, and that a tiny piece has been chipped off on the second step on the way down from level 2. I should know these things, but I don't. The grey staircase is brightened only slightly by the colourful doors of the lifts. Only about a month ago I finally figured out the correct sequence of colours: yellow, orange, red, pink, blue, green, white, black. Oblivious to my surroundings I start the climb, one step at a time. Two times to the top, then will follow three ascents going two steps at a time. That is one "set", I will repeat this two more times. I have worked it all out in my head.



(You can just about make out the colours on the doors of the lifts in this picture)

People don't take much notice, most of the time. Only the ones who stand in the staircase talking to their friends long enough to see me go past at least twice turn their head to have a better look. "Didn't she just go down a minute ago?" About once per month somebody will ask: "You're just going up and down? Why?" I will explain that this is the only way to train for hills, let alone a mountain marathon, if you live in pan-cake flat Holland. And I invite them to join me the next week, as I can be found here most Fridays at 4pm.

The only one who ever did come along was Christa. At the Wednesday knit night she once mentioned something about "needing to do some exercise".  "Oh well," I quipped, "why not join me for stairs? I have just found the perfect place for some training." A pact was made then and there: next Friday, 4pm, LUMC car park. And she showed up, week after week on Fridays at 4pm. We each went at our own speed, but every now and then we'd wait for each other at the top, catching our breath and exchanging observations about our efforts. "Calves really hurt today"; "Better than last week"; "Remember the first time? We never thought we'd make it more than twice to the top!" Consistency paid off, and having company made it much easier to show up. Today I am alone, but the pressure of the race is close enough to keep me going.

After reaching the top of the staircase for the sixth time today, I take a short break. A sip of water, a pat on the back. It's quiet up here. If I had the phone number of Netty with me, another friend from Wednesday knit-nights, I could ring her, and tell her to look through the back window of her house, so she could see me waving at her. We had been joking about that, almost every week. From the edge of the car park's top level you can just see the back of her house. I pick up the pack, and tell myself I am one third of the way through. It feels easier than last week. But it always feels easier when you're not yet halfway through.

Two steps at a time taxes the quads and the breathing. One step at a time kills the calves and the hamstrings. The hospital staff who finish at 5pm are now coming to the car park, more people wondering why I have a face like a tomato, and don't take the lift instead. How quickly will you get to A&E if anything goes wrong here, I wonder? I look where I put my feet, last thing I need is to fall down the hard concrete steps and get an answer to that question. I look up at the top of this flight. Level 6. I had hoped to see level 8. I soldier on and tell myself I can have a break at the top.

By the penultimate descent, the "down hill" bit is no longer the rest break I thought it was: it doesn't last long enough and my muscles are tiring. This time when I get to the bottom there is nobody there. Nobody to think I must be funny in the head, when I come down the stairs, click the "lap" button on my watch (3'07", could be worse, but slowing down), turn around and head up there again. After the fifteenth descent, I leave the car park without looking back, and the staircase is empty again.

More views on stairs training ? Go here!