Our social media followers and newsletter subscribers will be aware that we’ve both been training for endurance events over the Winter and Spring. In May 2023, Matt took part in ‘the Fred’ bike ride and Joanna ran a ’round’ on the fells. Read on to find out more! Don’t forget to let us know if this blog inspires you to sign up to an event…
FRED WHITTON CYCLE SPORTIVE
(written by Joanna)
Having thoroughly enjoyed the Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle ride not long ago, Matt and his friend Nick had been looking forward (okay, maybe with a little trepidation!) to taking part in the illustrious 113-mile Fred Whitton Challenge. This race takes in many of the Lake District’s highest passes, bringing the total ascent and descent to 3169 metres. New to such a huge event, he was mainly concerned about achieving the cut-off times (and not being sent home).
The boys and I were given rough ETAs at two points where we were to bring provisions of food and drink. On the day of the race the conditions were perfect: neither too hot nor cold, mainly dry and, critically, not too windy. At the first support point, about 28 miles in, he and his friend Nick were well ahead of schedule! We drove west to their second designated support layby, at roughly the half-way point, meeting Nick’s family there. Within minutes Matt and Nick rode up, by now an hour ahead of expectations! 0They were hungry and tired already, but after filling their pockets with snacks and loading fresh drinks onto their bikes, they were keen not to stop for too long. Off they went, leaving us to wonder whether they were about to smash it, or if having gone off so fast they might run out of steam… As we pondered this, subsequent riders happily scoffed the excess chocolate we’d taken!
It transpires that cheering is hungry work and lunch was required before we travelled to meet them at the finish line in Grasmere. Lack of mobile phone reception meant we hadn’t been able to track either Matt or Nick for a couple of hours, so we didn’t know how long we’d be waiting for them. Not that this mattered, as the event arena at Grasmere had such an enthusiastic and friendly atmosphere, with cowbells being rung along the finish line, food tents and bands playing, all contributing towards the festival ambience. Those riders who had already finished were celebrating with a refreshing non-alcoholic beer and swapping stories with friends.
Before too long Matt and Nick’s location showed up on our phones and we were able to cheer them over the finish line, in just 9 hours and 25 minutes. The non-alcoholic beer was, apparently, the perfect recovery drink, sipped in the sunshine before returning to Fornside for a well-earned dinner.
Although the expression, “Never again!” was definitely heard near the finish line, Matt and Nick are already planning their next big cycle event!
ABRAHAM’S / GEORGE FISHER TEA ROUND
The Tea Round, just shy of 50km, takes taking in a whopping 3100m of uphill (and downhill!) to touch the top of the ten fells that can be seen from George Fisher‘s Tea Room in Keswick. (The Tea Room used used to be known as Abraham’s and sometimes the Tea Round is still referred to as such). Rather than being an organised event, this challenge is a ‘round’ which can be done at any time and so knowing the route in advance helps to minimise navigational errors. To this end, I had deliberately run along sections of the route as part of my training. This also fared well for my mental preparation; my approach for the Round was to stay in the present moment rather than thinking about how much more there was to come at any point. One hill at a time. Doing most of the hills on fresh legs in training also meant that I had enjoyable associations with each of them. It transpired that a friend had the Tea Round on his bucket list, and I felt that offering navigational responsibility was a fair trade for slowing Phil down quite significantly! This time it was Matt’s turn to support, with our boys and Phil’s family.
We set off from George Fisher early, heading for Catbells whilst the support crews enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and meandered across to Buttermere. After the dreamy descent from Catbells through Newlands, it wasn’t long before Phil and I were taking the grassy route up Robinson. I was a bit surprised at how little I felt like eating, which was most unlike me. In my training runs I had successfully achieved the objective of eating ‘real food’ every half hour, so that my stomach would be used to eating on the run – a pre-requisite for any ultra event. I decided there was no room for ‘what ifs’ and put my lack of appetite and slight nausea down to nerves, making myself take regular tiny bites and washing these down with my drink, as this would be better than no food. One hill at a time.
After touching the top of Robinson we briefly admired the distant sea view, but soon had to focus on watching our footing for the descent. This was very steep and whilst we avoided the gorse, we hit a lot of heather, which had the effect of extreme leg exfoliation! At last, we rounded the private field and stepping-stoned the small river crossing to excitedly meet our support crew. Next, we tackled High Stile, during which time our families pottered in the lake and sampled the delights of the café. We chose an exhilarating ascent route, often scrambling up rocks and boulders. It felt fast and fun. At the top, this drama was suddenly contrasted by the large flat, stone-strewn summit, with an incredibly still and peaceful atmosphere.
Thanks to the dry weather it was quite safe to descend by the most direct (and fun) route, with a bit of scree sliding thrown in, before meeting a proper path and running down its uneven, rocky ‘steps’. Concentration was required so talking was kept to a minimum until we reached the lake shore and jogged into Buttermere. Our families had found a shady spot under a tree for the re-application of suncream, clean socks and whatever food we could eat (a little chopped banana in yoghurt for me). With our packs refilled with electrolyte drinks and snacks, we set off once more.
On tired legs by this point, the longest climb was next, past Whiteless Pike and through a grassy col before taking the stony ridge to Hobgarton Crag and continuing to the top of Grisedale Pike. Back down this ridge, which felt relatively easy – talking resumed briefly! – before we faced another hands-on climb up the side of Eel Crag. Then, down the zig-zag path and up to Sail, which seemed such an achievement, seven down and three to go! This thought was momentarily wonderful. But by then I was pretty tired, and I don’t think either of us had eaten or drunk as much as we should have in the heat. I was rather low on energy. The sun was burning the backs of my legs and neck. Causey Pike behaved like a mirage, always seeming to be just another few hundred metres away. I reminded myself that I was lucky enough to have chosen to do this and that I couldn’t really expect a 30-mile run to be all easy and fun. We discussed taking salt tabs to stimulate our thirst and appetite, but having only tested these in training once, doing something new seemed like too big a risk when we were still making acceptable progress. The main thing was to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly, and to make myself eat tiny bites of food.
At last, we reached Causey Pike, after which there is a steep scramble down, and once again I felt grateful to be doing this over dry ground now that my legs so tired that my foot placement was becoming unreliable. We pushed on (and on and on!) along the ridge to Rowling End and back (and back!) along the ridge to just under Causey Pike again. Here, we needed to drop 200m of elevation to cross a gill and the path didn’t go the way we wanted it to. Once again, we picked our way through heather and bracken in a relatively straight line to the crossing point, helpfully signposted by a lone tree. I crossed the stream and climbed to a rock, turning to check Phil had also crossed without mishap. He, sensibly, dunked his head in the water as he crossed. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I was so tired that the prospect of repeating the few metres I had gone since the stream stopped me taking this opportunity to cool off. I regretted this five minutes later as we worked hard to regain those 200m of lost elevation. But at least we were now on a path – and the final summit was in sight!
Eventually, we completed our last climb of the day, Barrow, before running down its lovely grassy slopes. We wondered if we were going to be physically able to run along the road having been on such uneven terrain for hours, but it was surprisingly nice to be on flat ground and after a couple of walking breaks, we jogged the last few kilometres back to Keswick. I had run out of water by now and was really feeling it – Phil was dreaming out loud of a plunge into a cool fresh alpine water trough; I just had it in mind that I HAD to carry on going and would allow myself to lie down on the ground once we reached the doors of George Fisher! Running through bustling Keswick provided a morale boost and, passing the Moot Hall, Phil said something about our time and I surprised myself by putting in what felt like a ‘sprint finish’!
We reached George Fisher some 10 hours 29 minutes after setting out. It was a real achievement as well as a lot of fun – even if some of it was very much Type 2 Fun. These hills can also be seen from various points locally, and so when I have been out and about it has been a treat to look back with joy (especially now that I have forgiven Causey Pike) at the memory of this big adventure.
Thanks to Phil for many of these lovely photos. I was too focussed on maintaining momentum to take very many!
Like Matt, I hesitated for, let’s see now, all of a few days before signing up for another event! Keep an eye on our social media for updates…
What will your next adventure be?