Thursday, 17 September 2009

The 'Buttermere Duathlon' and Other Exploits

Location: Buttermere Valley, The Lake District, UK
Date: 10th-14th September 2009

Day 1: Brief Lake Swim
Day 2: 800m Ascent at Sunrise, then Lake Swim
Day 3: Another Swim and Treetop Workout
Day 4: 'The Buttermere Duathlon'

Day 1 - Brief Lake Swim
When we arrived at Buttermere Valley it was overcast, but mild. I was determined to make the most of every opportunity to swim in the cold, clean, clear water of the lake, so I paddled out and splashed around for a few minutes .

I planned to increase my exposure time with each day. Although September is the warmest time for lakes in the UK, the cold still took my breath away when I went underwater.

In the evening we ate shoulder of lamb with vegetables.
Day 2 - 800m Ascent at Sunrise, then Lake Swim
The ascent of Red Pike from Buttermere valley is a steep affair. I ran it in 39 minutes a couple of years ago and I couldn't walk the next day. That was before I realised that running every mountain as fast as you can is not necessarily the way to better times.

You gain about 700 metres in height over a distance of less than half a mile. A good portion of the route has stone steps. Imagine going up the Eiffel Tower via the steps - twice, with a few dozen extra flights for good measure. If you are taking it easy, you take one step at a time. If you are racing, two.

During this ascent I took my heart rate at regular intervals. It averaged about 150. This is a little more than I wanted, but it still felt easy. In any case, given that I wanted to hike without resting (except when taking my pulse!) this was as easy as I could make it on this gradient.

My camera stopped working after this first photo - it shows the mist over the lake; but from my photos of previous years I have the following: this is where the steps begin - not too steep at first. The path then continues through the woods. On the right hand side of this photo you can see the scar of a waterfall through the forest leading up to the hanging valley - the path follows, roughly, that waterfall. Here is the peak of Red Pike taken from a different part of the valley: - it's the pointy one, roughly in the centre of the mountain range.

This was a truly spectacular morning, so I must put into words what I could not capture with the camera:

By the time I had reached the flank of Red Pike, the sun had emerged in all its glory, bathing that side of the valley in a rich orange glow. I've run in this valley on many occasions, often witnessing some beautiful mornings - but I can honestly say this beat all others.

I scrambled the final metres to the summit, reaching it in 70 minutes. I stood surveying the view. There was almost no sound to be heard and barely a breath of wind.

The sheep, dotted around the flanks Red Pike and its side-kick Dodd, were unusually silent, perhaps knowing it would be churlish to bleat in the face of such majesty. The only sounds came from the twittering birds, too innocent to know better, as they flitted around the grassy slopes; and of course there was the distant, low sound of the waterfall.

I tried the camera again, cursing its failure to work at such a moment. It was surely ashamed to function, knowing its primitive lens couldn't possibly capture the beauty of the scene.

In the distance, the Newlands and Borrowdale valleys slumbered beneath duvets of cloud and mist, awaiting the attention of mother sun, whose sole affection seemed for now to be directed our way.

Forget standing on the bow of the Titanic with a Kate Winslet. I know where I'd rather be.

After a few moments, I began the descent. It's almost impossible to descend via this route without feeling as if you are taking the mountain with you. The slope is eroding with every footstep - great for breaking a fell runner's footfall and allowing a rapid descent, but not great for the mountain. I have always said Red Pike would make a great fell race, but I am guessing the owner, quite rightly, forbids it.

By the time I reached the steps, both Vibrams had taken in stones and grit. Even the Flows could not keep this stuff out. I stopped briefly to deal with it.

Once re-shod, I made the final descent down the many stone steps, bronzed for 15 minutes by twin suns, as the mirror-still lake reflected the surprisingly powerful September rays, now blazing above Hindscarth edge on the other side of the valley.

105 minutes after I set off, I was back lakeside, and ready for a dip. Once again, I was disappointed not to be able to capture the scene with my camera: millpond stillness with a thin layer of mist, glowing from the sun's rays.

The cold water, as ever, took my breath away at first, but once I was accustomed to it, I did about 10 minutes of front crawl and paddling on the shoreline, marvelling at the clarity of the water and enjoying the cooling effect on my legs.

Back at the hotel, breakfast was scrambled eggs with tomato.

Later Mrs M and I walked around the lake, which took around 2 hours.

Lunch was a baked trout with salad. After a nap and some reading, in the evening we had shoulder of lamb (again!) , after which Mrs M capitulated and consumed a banana and toffee cheesecake: .
Day 3 - Another Swim and Treetop Workout
My enthusiasm had clearly had an impact on Mrs M because the following morning I managed to persuade her to accompany me to the lake for a pre-breakfast, dawn swim. Only the cows were up before us .

Armed with fresh batteries for the camera and treated once again to a clear sky, I was able to capture a little of what I had experienced the day before. This was the view of the lake at the point where the path meets it . This is a view of the inviting water's edge where we swam ; and the obligatory Vibram shot from in the water, showing the 'twin suns' keeping us warm .

I swam out about 30 metres then back in to shore twice, spending about 10 minutes in the water. I was testing my ability to swim front crawl for a sustained period without my breath being taken away by the cold.

I wasn't telling Mrs M, but the next morning I planned to swim across the lake at its narrowest point (about 300 metres.) I wasn't telling Mrs M because last time I mentioned it she insisted she would row alongside offer assistance if needed. I felt this was overkill and a scenario with the makings of a classic comedy sketch.

For breakfast, a coffee.

Later, we went for a woodland walk, where I resisted the temptation to take another dip here . It was mainly the thought of having to dry out the Vibrams again that stopped me, although now I think about it, I should have simply braved the rocks with bare feet.

We did some sunbathing and ate some lunch - for me a classic medley of healthy fats (salmon, sardines, avocado, Brazil nuts) with a token red pepper which I ate like an apple.

Mrs M then whipped out a book, leaving me somewhat at a loose end. So, I monkeyed around in the trees, seeing what exercises I could do and, rather childishly, demanding Mrs M take photos at regular intervals. This was in part to punish her for having brought a book without suggesting I bring one too, and in part so I could include them in this post.

I could have done a good workout, but I was mainly playing. I did some balancing , some pulling up , some handstands and some rock lifting .

On the way back we picked some wild blackberries for dessert .

Later we went for a curry in Cockermouth, at the Spice Club. Nice place. I ate this , but am including a photo of Mrs M's plate since I ended up eating half of that, too. She made a textbook blunder by treating herself to a garlic naan, which of course filled her up too much to finish the Tandoori platter. Bread: seems like a good idea at the time but rarely delivers on its promises.
Day 4 - 'The Buttermere Duathlon'
On the final morning I arose early and did not encourage Mrs M to join me for my morning swim. She didn't come.

I then ran halfway round the lake, to the point where it is at its narrowest. This photo from last year shows it . For obvious reasons, this time I could only take with me my shorts and my Vibrams.

I then spent 30 seconds in the water, acclimatising to the cold, before setting off across the lake.

Have you ever noticed how running outside is harder than running on a running machine? It seems there is a parallel with swimming in a pool vs. swimming in a lake. The lake was harder, I suspect for the following reasons:
  1. The cold
  2. An inability to see where you are going once you get into the deep water
  3. Not getting a brief rest every 30 metres (at the end of each length)
The crossing took about 10 minutes. I never doubted I would make it, but nevertheless was given new respect for people who undertake (or are involuntarily thrust into) greater aquatic challenges than this.

Once you are out there in the deep, you really are on your own. When you are running, you can stop. Standing still takes no effort. Treading water, does.

I could tell that the cold and the effort had affected me because I was initially unsteady on my feet as I began running back. Here is the route marked on a satellite image of the valley: .

Thus did I compete in (and win) the inaugural event of the Buttermere Duathlon. Estimated time: 45 minutes. Admittedly there was not a great turnout, but look at it this way: if I can persuade my running partner to take part next year, I will double the field!

Breakfast was melon followed by scrambles eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms .

Then we drove home to the city :-(

Day 1: Brief Lake Swim
Day 2: 800m Ascent at Sunrise, then Lake Swim
Day 3: Another Swim and Treetop Workout
Day 4: 'The Buttermere Duathlon'


Ogg the Caveman said...

You remind me of a cousin I have from back home, 1.2 million years ago.

Thanks for a great story.

Mini said...

Was good to hook up with you and Mrs M, I have to say Buttermere was as beautiful as I have ever seen it on that Sunday. As I am lucky enough to live close by I go frequently so you were very fortunate to see it like that.
I also enjoyed my 'non paleo' Burger and french fries for lunch that day, washed down with Coca Cola!

The other question I had- Is Carrot Cake healthy? My rather large next door neighbour has a cake making business (and sugar adiction) and she has made the most wonderful carrot cake, which I am sure you would love too (if you are planning a lapse soon?!)

All the best and thanks for the great day- Mini

Methuselah said...

Hi Min - yes, enjoyed meeting up for the walk and witnessing your cola, burger and chips extravaganza. The answer is that carrot cake is indeed healthy, provided it's made to a healthy recipe. By which I mean no flour, no sugar, no butter from industrially farmed animals and no artificial sweeteners. So that'll just be a carrot then ;-)