Monday, 31 March 2008

The Shipping Forecast

As a lone seagull pipes a single, repeated note in the distance, the rain putters heavily onto a rucked and velvet sea. The cracked bones of trees on Eilean Munde shelter the jet black graves of those massacred at Glencoe.

It's been a wild few days.

There are warnings of gales in Viking North Utsire South Utsire Forties Cromarty Forth Tyne Dogger Irish Sea Shannon Rockall Malin Hebrides Bailey Fair Isle Faeroes and Southeast Iceland.

From bright blue seas casting sun-ripples on the sea bed, to sheltering behind gun-metal grey islets from downdraughts. Four seasons in a matter of days.

Rockall Malin:
Southerly veering westerly 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9. rough becoming very rough or high. Rain or showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

For the first time, we sighted otters. Not one, but two. The first traced a graceful arc around the seaweed shorelines of Loch Moidart, lying on his back in the water to pick at a small fish with his paws, then coming up to land a larger catch. The second was close enough to come up snorting from the water to peer at us.

As Scotland enjoys a renaissance of spacious seafood restaurant developments with panoramic, lochside views, Castle Tioram is at the centre of a very modern form of battle. Sold for a song by a Californian descendent of the clan Macdonald to an Ayrshire businessman (ironically named Lex, for all those fans of the film 'Local Hero'), the Scottish parliament are wrangling over its use as great chunks of it slide down into the loch.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Snow Waltz

It was the day after Causey Pike, and there'd been a huge dump of snow overnight. I got wind that a friend wanted to recce the Anniversary Waltz fell race today, but had decided that I was too tired from the previous day's race.

Trouble was, the sun was shining, and the hills were covered in snow...a snap decision saw me grabbing two chocolate bars out of an Easter egg, excavating the car from a snowball and driving off for an extraordinary run.

Gill and Mark on the snowy descent off Robinson

The Anniversary Waltz race has a kind of cult following. It's the first real medium-length fell race of the year at nearly 12 miles, and the route it takes is so logical, following a ridge line of breathtaking beauty. Robinson, Hindsgarth, Dalehead, Maiden Moor, Catbells, and cake. Lots of cake. It's not just a fell race either. Somehow, all 400 of the runners also take part in the wedding anniversary celebrations of the organisers, Wynn and Steve Cliff.

The descent from Maiden Moor

Taking more than four hours in heavy snow, the run was breathtaking. From the start, we had entered a monochrome world of the snows. Rarely do the Lakes look more stunning. Moving through this landscape over such a stunning array of peaks was a privilege.

Subtleties of route choice were largely lost on us, knee deep in snow. The route off Dalehead? Still a mystery. The line off Catbells? Uh uh...But the scenery more than made up for the obscuring of race routes.

An incredible day.

Causey Pike Fell Race

Causey Pike the day after the race

With some trepidation, a small band of Eden Runners let themselves in for a brute of a fell race in weather that promised to be somewhat brisk, to say the least. Causey Pike is a steep little rib that points directly into the head of any storm. But there it was, in the calendar, so we did it.

The hail storm didn't hit us until the first saddle, and it was soft, blown in on drifts. It lent a quality to the race that couldn't have been found in any less brutish conditions.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Elterwater Common Fell Race

So that, as they say, is that. The last of the point-scoring races of the Kendal Winter League came and went on Sunday. It's hard not to feel a sense of nostalgia that this small, but perfectly formed series is over for another year.

Over the two years that I have run them, they've somehow provided a reassuring consistency at an otherwise indifferent time of year. Something to aim for when the couch is a far more enticing bet than layering up and lacing on some soggy fell shoes. But it's also way more than this. It's having a nod and a laugh with other fell runners that you know will be back next week for more, just like you.

From where I stand (generally somewhere near the back of the pack), the cameraderie is in a league of its own. There's a bond that just 'is'...and it's robust and layered with a wadge of humour borne out of the weirdness of doing this nutty sport. Some friends I'll meet at other fell races in the coming season. But it won't be quite the same. Some I won't see again until next year. In any case, with luck and a following wind, we'll pick it up just where we left off last time...

Monday, 10 March 2008

Running over Wobbleboards

As spring makes its appearance in fits and starts, the Kendal Winter League will fade and the fell racing season proper will take over. In the meantime, the League went to Austwick in the Dales for a spot of boulder hopping. This might not have been the best debut for a pair of new orthotics that I'm learning to clamber about on at the moment, but even though the terrain was much like running over miles of wobbleboards, things all seemed to run their course...

It's often a salutory lesson to watch the end of the Junior races at these events, and this one was typical. A lad staggered in, in something like third place. He crumpled into a gangly heap next to me and tried to throw up. He then tried to stand up but failed twice before finally succeeding...nobody around him batted an eyelid. This was, after all, Yorkshire..."You'll be right, lad..."

Monday, 3 March 2008

A Haweswater Blast

The Lead Runners at the Haweswater Half Marathon

One of the peculiar querks of my career to date has been the experience of organising a p***-up in a brewery. In fact, I did it twice to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke. However, playing a bit-part in organizing the Haweswater Half Marathon over the last few months has taught me that there's a lot more to such things than finding a lot of beer, and people who might be willing to drink it...

The level of detail, meticulous planning and time that this has taken has been a bit of a surprise. But the really strange thing is, on the day, it just seemed to happen of its own accord… It was as if each volunteer was acting on the call of a dog whistle inaudible to the human ear, because it just seemed to happen without hint of a fuss.

But of course, the effortlessness was an illusory artifact of the long hours spent poring over digestives and green tea, discussing the feng shui of the portaloos, polishing of trophies and the vagaries of parking a lot of cars in a muddy field. I could go on. The landslide on the course, tractors to pull cars out of mud, bags of grit in case the entire 13.2 miles were frozen to sheet ice. You name it, we thought about it.

There have been honourable mentions elsewhere, but the race felt like a real success. Ian Crampton (Durham City Harriers) seen in the photo above won the race in 1:13;17, and first lady was ultra-running megastar Lizzy Hawker in 1:20:52.

Wind Over Water

In the calm before the storm of the race, we took off to the dramatic scooped skyline at the back of Haweswater. Watching the squalls move over the water was a strangely captivating sight.

Another striking aspect of this area is the presence of wild, torrential streams that tumble into glacial lakes and on into the flooded valley now occupied by Haweswater. These relentless watercourses are fascinating, and abstracts like these, looking like frozen sinusoidal waves, were everywhere.