Family News Observations

The Four Passes Event

In which I spend over seven hours running 19 miles and slogging up and down far too many hills and enjoyed every minutes.

At eight thirty on Saturday morning, Sue and I turned up at Rosthwaite village hall in the heart of the Lake District for the Four Passes Event. Sue, immediately set to and joined the team providing tea and toast for the runners and walkers. After I’d signed in, I grabbed a mug of tea, sat down and started to check out the other participants. The fit runners were eyeing up the competition, while I was desperately hoping that there was someone that I might be able to keep up with – it wasn’t looking good!

robhay_2016-oct-17The four passes involves a 19 mile circular route around the centre of the Lake District, crossing (you guessed it) four mountain passes. There were two groups of people taking part; walkers wearing boots and carrying big packs who set off at 8.30 and runners, wearing trail shoes and carrying lightweight gear, who set off an hour later. I was one of the runners and cherished a fond hope that I would catch up to some of the walkers before the end of the day.

At 9.30, under cloudy skies, we set off. I soon settled into a comfortable jog at the back of the group. The younger, fitter runners vanished from sight pretty quickly while I hung on at the back. I knew that I could keep going at the same pace for 19 miles – in fact I ran the last mile at the same pace as I ran the first one. I vaguely hoped that I would catch up to some runners who had started too quickly – but I hadn’t reckoned with how hard the hills would be. I was very slow climbing and there was lots of climbing.

We jogged down Borrowdale, past Seathwaite and on to Stockley Bridge, where we turned right and headed up the slope for the first of the passes; Sty Head. At this point, even the slower runners vanished from my view. Hey Ho. What is worse, when I got to the top of the pass, I realised that Christine, the sweeper, had caught me up. In long races, there is always a sweeper, someone who goes along at the back of the race picking up any stragglers who are struggling. I’d suddenly become a straggler! Over the next six or seven miles, Christine caught me up three times. It’s a bit embarrassing to be caught by the sweeper, but it was nice to have someone to chat to.. As we headed along the pass, we saw a runner moving at high speed in the other direction; I was gobsmacked when Christine told me that this guy had a heart transplant!

Looking down from Styhead Pass (#1) to Wasdale.
Looking down from Styhead Pass (#1) to Wasdale.

We got to the first checkpoint at Sty Head and started to make our way down to Wasdale. My general technique of “walking the ups, jogging the flats and running the downs” let me down a little here. Some of the descents were what runners call technical. What this means is that your average mountain goat would think twice about how to follow the path. Hill walkers with boots and poles struggle on technical descents and there is little chance of an old bloke in running shoes skipping down with gay abandon. Thankfully, the path eventually got easier and I settled into an easy jog to the feed point at Wasdale Head. Christine, who had caught up with me again seemed surprised that I was actually able to run pretty well on the easy downhill and flat sections.

Seven miles in, I arrived in glorious last place at the Wasdale checkpoint. At this point, it was obvious that the organisers had done a great job because there was still plenty to eat and drink – it’s not unusual for feed stations to run out of grub for the last few runners.

After a few minutes pause and still ahead of my projected time, I set off at an easy run up Mosedale. I’ve walked up Black Sail pass a few times and I knew that after a mile or so it would get really steep. As the slope began to pick up, I finally overtook a couple of other runners who seemed to be struggling – I was no longer last. However, ten minutes later, one of this pair came past me, running up the steep slope. Apparently his companion had been struggling and had decided to retire from the event and go back to the checkpoint. I was last again. Not only that, but the sweepers (there were two of them now) were catching me again.

Finally, I struggled to the top of Black Sail pass and headed off down into Ennerdale. The descent was fairly technical, but I made a good pace and had the encouragement of putting a distance between me and the sweepers.

As I started the slog up the third pass; Scarth Gap, I saw that there were a group of walkers just ahead of me. I pressed on, but didn’t catch up to them as we climbed, while the sweepers caught up with me again. However, as we dropped down into Buttermere, I was able to get a move on and zoomed (relatively speaking) past the group. You could tell they were part of our event by the big numbers on the back of their backpacks.

Looking down into the Buttermere valley from Scarth Gap pass (#3).

The second feed station was at Gatesgarth, 13 miles in. By now I was getting on from an hour behind where I had hoped to be – the climbs of Black Sail and Scarth Gap had really slowed me down. I inhaled a sausage roll or two and drank some flat Coke. I realise that flat Coke is an abomination in most circumstances, but when you are running long distances, there is something wonderful about it.

Leaving the checkpoint, I jogged towards the head of the Buttermere valley, the wonderfully named Warnscale Bottom; all of the time looking at the steep path that climbed up to Honister Pass. As I got to the foot of the slope, I saw a couple of backpacks with big numbers on about half a mile ahead of me. It was a long drag up to Honister; this slope was what the word relentless was invented for. What’s worse, the walkers ahead of me didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Thankfully there was a great view at one point which gave me an excuse to stop and take a photo.

The Buttermere Valley from the slopes of Honister Pass (#4)
The Buttermere Valley from the slopes of Honister Pass (#4)

img_2442At the top of the pass, at Drum House, the sun came out, so I stopped to take a couple of selfies, before getting into the last three miles. I was now on very familiar ground, I’ve walked this more times than I can count. The initial drop down to the Honister Mines is definitely technical, but from then on there is an easy bridle path down the slope. I caught up to the two walkers I’d seen going up the pass, exchanged a cheery greeting, and charged off down the hill, along the valley and back to the start point.

The last lap; jogging along into Rosthwaite.
The last lap; jogging along into Rosthwaite.

I’ve never been quite so pleased to see Rosthwaite village hall. The team running the event greeted me and gave me a medal (even though I was the last runner). Sue, who had spent the day making tea for the participants, gave me a hug and then poured me mug of much-needed tea. There was a good chilli laid on for the finishers, which was a very good thing.

Some thoughts:

  • I am fit enough to run 19 miles, but I’m really not fit enough for the amount of climbing this event involved. Partly this is because of the disruptive last few months, but it is also because it is hard to train for really high hills in the South of England. I can run up the hills where I live, but jogging up 2-300 hundred foot in the Chilterns doesn’t quite prepare you for slopes four of five times longer than this. I’m going to have to work on hills a bit more.
  • This is a wonderful event (note, it is an event, not a race – no prizes for finishing first).  route is stunningly beautiful and the whole thing was brilliantly organised. Well done to Ascend Events for getting this going.
  • That being said, this is a tough day out; it’s shorter than the London Marathon, but much harder.
  • People like me, who enjoy running in these events, can only have our fun thanks to an army of marshals, check-point staff, sweepers and tea-makers; thank you to everyone involved.
  • Somewhere around Black Sail pass, I declared that I would never do this again – I’m now wondering what the date is for next year.
  • I do these runs for fun; but this time I was also looking for sponsorship to help provide suitable living space for Mim Langley, a young girl who suffers from a rare genetic condition which has a big impact on her development. If you would like to know more, please click here (and get your credit card out).
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