Friday, June 22, 2012

Chasing the flame

The Olympic torch passed my way yesterday but I was too slow on a training run for the Lakeland 100 to catch it. By the time I got back to Ambleside, where I’m staying for a few days (thanks Jane and Andy!), the crowds were heading back townwards from Lake Windermere, where they’d just seen the flame onto a ferry steamer to Bowness. Judging by the flags and the bunting, not only here but in Keswick and Grasmere earlier on along the route, the torch has caught the public imagination, regardless of the commercial circus surrounding it.

I’d hoped to catch the torch in Keswick at the end of a 35-mile run covering the first five stages of the Lakeland 100. But I slept in after doing the Hawkshead 10k (and pub barbecue) the previous evening, so I started far too late (8.30am instead of my intended 6am) at Coniston. The first 14 miles to Boot, which I’ve now run three times altogether and can manage without a map, went well, taking a little under three and a half hours. The next stage, past Burnmoor Tarn to Wasdale Head, is one of the easiest on the 100 but I was already beginning to tire. By the time I was slogging up Black Sail Pass, which I’ll have to do in the dark on the 100 itself, all my doubts about whether I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with this one were coming to the surface.

The climb over Scarth Gap, next to Haystacks where Alfred Wainwright’s ashes are scattered, is followed by a frustratingly difficult rocky descent, with the odd scramble in places, before an easy lakeside run into Buttermere. But by now, with ten miles and another big climb over Sail Pass still to go to Keswick, I was checking the timetable for the last bus back to Ambleside rather the progress of the Olympic flame.

I found going up Sail Pass so hard, stopping every 20 paces or so on one stretch of steep scree that if I could have pulled out of the 100 there and then I might well have done so. Once I was over the top, and with the rain preparing itself for a forecast 72-hour session, I put my head down and forced tired, tired legs to keep on going without respite down the at first rough path, then the grassy flank, stone track and finally tarmac road into Braithwaite; and then, with just 27 minutes left to catch the 6.30pm Stagecoach 555 bus back to Ambleside, the two and a half mile grind along the A66 and B5289 into Keswick. 

The passengers were embarking as I turned the corner and ran up to the bus stand. Soaked with rain and sweat and caked with what mud hadn’t been washed off, I struggled to find the £7.50 fare (yes £7.50, it seems only the rich can afford public transport in these parts), panted out my destination and staggered up the stairs to collapse on the top deck. Having already drawn too much attention myself for my liking, I decided not to change into drier clothes there and then but huddled tightly into a set of waterproofs to keep my body heat in, and spent the rest of the journey wondering how on earth I’ll find it possible to do the same thing again next month – and getting on for 70 more miles from where I finished this time.

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