Penny and I at the start of the Rab (photo courtesy of Jon Brooke, www.rightplacerighttime.co.uk)
It's been a crazy but fun month of doing big things. Thanks to a slip of the mouse on one or two online entry forms, I had been looking sidelong at September with a slight sense of trepidation. Most of that was down to one thing: the Helvellyn Triathlon. Not an event for the faint-hearted, it is a mile long swim in a cold lake, a 38 mile bike ride over Lakeland passes at their lung-busting best, then a 9 mile fell run to the Helvellyn ridge and back.
The other things were really just sharpeners, diversions from the main event. A sprint distance triathlon in Penrith and a club-organised tri in Appleby. And of course, there was the Rab Mountain Marathon.
Organised chaos in the transition area
But anyway. Back to The Helvellyn. The swim went like a breeze. The course was shortened a little as the water temperature was a bit low- any cooler and it would have had to be cancelled. And then from the drunken shadow-boxing out of the wetsuit, it was the long bike ride. If anything, this was the thing that drained the tanks, left the legs aching and crampy. But still, fascinating way to get that exhausted feeling without spending hours and hours on the hills...
By the time I'd got rid of the bike, everything from the waist down was in some kind of pain or cramp. It was an incredible feeling to know that 9 miles of mountain lay between me and a rest. As I hobbled those first few hundred metres while the legs adjusted to the run, Gill Douglas ran along side, as she had done for all the Arragons Cumbrian Triathlon Club folk. Before dropping back at the end of our one-sided conversation, she said '...just believe...'
These four events were a bag of chalk and cheese, as different from each other as they could get. The triathlon is a fun thing but it is, deep down, a contrivance, a fun thing to do with some fitness and a lot of equipment, but certainly a man-made game. The mountain marathon is different. It's about being absorbed into the mountains, going, as they say, where few men (or women) have gone before...
Penny on the Rab Mountain Marathon, the Howgills
The Rab was in the Howgills, those resting elephant-backs covered in a soft grass like the scruffy fur on a Border Terrier. They are, on any day of the week, some of my favourite hills to run in. It was a fantastic experience to spend two days running through them, slogging along sloping contours and into remote valleys where the situations were as grandiose as I'd seen on the LAMM in Scotland.
Perhaps the joy of mountain marathons is the sheer simplicity of knowing all you have to survive for two days is on your back. It's the kind of event where the mental and physical sides meet up, and if either one is not up to it, the game is over. To maintain the level of concentration needed while the tides of your mental state ebb and flow over two days is to slowly understand what you're capable of, what can or can't break you, and underneath it all, to perform a simple test of the spirit.
6.30 am, Cautley Spout
A glimpse of the English Schools Fell Racing Champs at Sedbergh
It's been a rewarding month of stepping onto the plate, and asking some big questions of myself. Give or take the odd moment of doubt in exhaustion, the answers have been positive. Chalk and cheese they all might be, but somewhere underneath it all, Gill was right. It just boils down to what you believe.
Around Knock Murton - 23 April
1 day ago