Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Skiddaw Fell (Mountain) Race 2009 - A Gruelling Walk

Location: Skiddaw, The Lake District, UK
Date: 5th June, 2009

I have run this race in previous years, and it has been a pretty gruelling affair: 90 minutes of sometimes relentless plodding ascent, followed by bone shattering free-wheeling back down the hard slate paths. Yet what superb views, clean air and an all round great experience.

So this year I resolved to take part but walk. This does not always put you at quite the disadvantage you think, given that beyond a certain steepness, trying to run is self-defeating and walking is the more efficient mode.

I wanted to keep my heart rate in the 55-75 range, as suggested my Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint (full review coming soon on Pay Now Live Later). The idea is to reap the benefits of low level cardio without the damage of higher level, 'steady state' cardio.

So here is a brief account of the race in pictures and my battle with a septuagenarian for not quite last place.

An hour before the race I ate this. Stewed pieces of offcuts from a set of lamb organs I chopped up the day before and cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Basically just protein and fat. Looks gross, but tasted great, even though it was cold.

This is the start. This shot gives you an idea of the number of people participating. About 150 total. Only the real enthusiasts do this race. At this point I was beginning to realise that whilst on other races walking vigorously might keep you two thirds of the way down the field, it was not going to happen here.

Some great views on the way up...

This was the 70+ guy I was following, or who was following me. Before the start we chatted briefly when he spotted I was carrying a camera. He told me that on his last race a young man had kept stopping to take photos, allowing him to overtake - only to then catch him up again immediately afterwards. You have to take your hat off to someone who can run up and down a 3000 foot mountain at that age.

...and sure enough, the same happened with me. In this photo he can't be seen because he is now behind me. This was the start of the worst ascent, Jenkin Hill. It takes 20 - 30 minutes to get up. There is simply no relief from the gradient during that time. Some run, some walk, some alternate between the two. Either way, by the time you get to the top, you have invariably used a chunk of reserve. I was deliberately trying to keep my heart rate low by throttling effort, but at times I think it well exceeded 75. I just wanted to get to the top so it would be over.

Looking back at the valley from near the top of Jenkin Hill.

After a while, you start to see the front runners careening back down. It's a good idea to get out of their way - a head-on at that speed would cause some damage. I couldn't help scrutinising their faces with a sense of fascination - I can remember what it felt like to be running the race at that intensity. Most had their own distinct pattern of dried saliva on their face, some were grunting from the impact of the descent and most had an expression of grim determination.

There's a flat section between Jenkin Hill and the final ascent - in the distance is Skiddaw. I had underestimated the length of this and other previous flat sections, and lost a lot of ground to the runners here.

This was the view as I approached the top...

...and the view at the start of the descent. I allowed gravity to take me down. This meant I was walking some sections and running pretty fast on certain sections - but I was not making any effort to attain that speed; but the effort of controlling myself - i.e. avoiding spinning out of control - was at times significant. I do wonder how fast my heart was beating.

Finally, the finish - this the view from behind the line after I had come in. As you can see, there was no one there at this point! A total of three more came in eventually, I think, including the septuagenarian, for whom, perhaps, the descent necessarily had to be taken a little slower.

How did my energy fare with the almost zero-carb pre-race food? Pretty good.

I felt less destroyed than on previous races where I had run - but it was not the walk in the park I had expected.

I think I am going to buy a heart rate monitor. Don't get me wrong - I don't plan to use it whenever I workout and start obsessing about keeping my heart rate down. I just want to get an instinctive feel for what it feels like to be exercising at certain levels.

...and in any case I like the idea of putting myself through this kind of experience now and again, even if I do stray into steady state mode. I did no training for the event, other than the sprinting, swimming and weight training of recent weeks. I consider it equivalent to a hunter gatherer having to move camp by travelling over some mountains quickly before it gets dark.


Matt Metzgar said...

It looks like you're climbing straight up a wall in one of those photos!

Sounds like it was a very interesting run. It must have been tough to control the heart rate on such steep terrain.

Methuselah said...

Matt - yes, it's a steep old climb. I reckon I was exceeding the recommended heart rate at times, but not to an extent that would be a problem. Since then I have done various ad hoc tests to see what different heart rates feel like (e.g. doing some exercise then taking my pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying by 6) - and feel that probably I was in the correct zone for 95% of the time...