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Posts Tagged ‘Lake District’

We are in an age where limits no longer apply. Runners are going further, faster, for longer, in colder and darker conditions. Races are run over days and weeks, not hours and minutes. Athletes are enduring physical and emotional torment beyond what was ever thought feasible.

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Steve Birkinshaw on his way to breaking the 214 Wainwright Peaks Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 2014.

Steve Birkinshaw is one of those remarkable runners who know no limits. No longer content to ‘just’ win the Original Marathon Mountain and the relentless Dragon’s Back Race the length of Wales, in 2014 he set out to break Joss Naylor’s ‘unbreakable’ record of traversing the 214 Wainwright peaks in the Lake District in just over seven days.

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The snow fell heavily as we journeyed up the M6. Turning into Kendal, it seemed to be settling more and more. We were lucky to reach Ambleside in time before the roads became impassable.

Happy to be in a snow capped Lake District for the week.

Happy to be in a snow capped Lake District for the week.

We had booked a few days in the Lake District in mid-February, a welcome spring break after the long dark Irish winter. Little did I expect this mountainous place to be covered in a foot of snow.

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When it comes to mountain races, I’m a terrible one for complaining. Why do they have to mark nearly all the routes? Why, when the routes aren’t mark, do hardly any racers turn up? Why don’t more people run the IMRA navigational series? Why don’t a lot of Irish mountain runners know how to use a map and compass?

Learning how to Navigate in the Lake District. Photo courtesy of John Allen.

Learning how to Navigate in the Lake District. Photo courtesy of John Allen.

I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is. Back in 2007, I attended a NavArt course in the Lake District run by Joe Faulkner. Afterwards, he casually suggested that in the future I should teach at one of his mountain navigation courses. “When you teach navigation, it improves your own navigation”, he said. With a course running in March of this year, I asked Joe if I could take him up on his offer. Read more…

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Angle Tarn with Hanging Knots to the Right, Lake District. Photo courtesy of Mark, http://picasaweb.google.com/markinbucks

Maps don’t always tell you all that’s out there.

I was doing the Great Lakeland 3 Day, a three day navigational event covering 100 miles of distance and 30,000 ft in climb in the UK’s Lake District. Not from the UK myself, the Lake District was yet uncharted territory: I was completely map dependent.

Nearing the end of Day 1, our seventh control was at the top of Bowfell. I was approaching from Stake Pass, North East of the summit. Between me and the control, the map showed closely packed contour lines, a mess of crags and cliffs right in my way. The map also showed a safe path running around Angle Tarn up onto the saddle, adding a kilometre on to the route, but keeping me alive.

Another guy was running just ahead of me, another fellow competitor. I watched him veer to the left of Angle Tarn and head straight for those same cliffs. “Nooooooo, don’t doooo it”, was all I could think. “But then again… maybe he knows something that I don’t know. Maybe the map isn’t telling me the full story. I’m tired. I can’t be bothered doing an extra kilometre”. So feck it, I followed.

He picked up a narrow, narrow path, threading its way through Hanging Knots Crags. At times, we were on all fours, scrambling up the scree. Scary though it was, it saved us 10 minutes, popping out ahead of some very surprised but faster runners.

Later he revealed that those attempting the Bob Graham Round use that path as they try to summit Bowfell and 41 other Lake District Peaks in under the stipulated 24 hours. A secret short-cut for mad endurance mountain runners that cartographers obviously thought too crazy to map.

Nothing like a bit of local knowledge.

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