The English Lake District: what better place to introduce a small group of Notfast Running Club members from the flatlands of the East Midlands not only to running among the mountains, but in some cases, to running off-road full stop. I took great pleasure in planning these two days’ worth of running, wanting to pick routes as varied as possible in terms of distance, terrain, scenery and challenge, routes that would not only show off the best that this beautiful part of the country has to offer, but also routes that would enable a progressive development of their mountain running skills and confidence.
Meeting underneath the defibrillator sign in the centre of Grasmere for our first run of the lower-level day was perhaps not the wisest choice (I didn’t know it was there, honest!) but having a good laugh about it made a jovial start to the morning. Warming up on the road to the lake, we headed onto easy lakeside trail before hitting the slopes of the wonderful running playground that is Loughrigg. Introducing some key rough ground and uphill running techniques and tips (pick your feet up, small steps, pace yourself, walk if needed and use your hands on your thighs for support), we headed up into the mizzle in search of the trig point. Mastering the rock ‘steps’ of the repaired path challenged all, and the higher we climbed, the more the wind picked up. With much hilarity and flapping of fabric, jackets, hats and gloves were donned at the top; 24 hours ago it had been very warm and sunny but up here it was cold! Attention then turned to downhill skills as we headed down the fellside on a much less-used path; here it was all about maintaining balance and being foot-sure (and for Ernie, using his backside!) The steep, rock-littered path soon gave way to a shallower, grassier slope, and it was here that confidence started to grow; it was great to see people picking up speed and whooping on their way down! A final woodland trail and lake path section provided some welcome relief for hill-weary legs, and led us all back to the village for lunch and a well-earned break.
Fed, watered and refreshed, the afternoon run provided a real contrast. Although similar in distance (6 to 7 miles), the terrain was quite different and the weather too! Gone was the mizzle, replaced by blue sky, warm sunshine and big white fluffy clouds; perfect! Heading out of Grasmere on a flat, easy-to-run-on track, the ascent to Easedale was more runnable for most than the morning’s climb, and so, despite several diversions to “Ooooh” and “Aaaah” over inviting pools in the river, it wasn’t long before the tarn came into sight and a decision was made to run around it. Bog-running and route-selection strategies then came into play, for much of the surrounding grass was waterlogged despite the recent dry spell. Although Easedale is a relatively popular location, there was hardly a soul around and so everyone enjoyed the solitude and beauty of this lovely spot as we ran along. It was wonderful to see, hear and feel the sheer enjoyment of the group, and I felt I had chosen the route well. They were loving this! It was also so rewarding to see skills and confidence growing, and by the time we dropped into Far Easedale, I could see that everyone was hooked, totally and utterly. Back in the village with a drink in hand, talk was of what a wonderful and unforgettable day we'd all had.
The next day dawned bright and clear again, and Nikki was up for a higher altitude adventure, so the two of us headed out of the village towards Heron Pike and the Fairfield horseshoe. Starting off on a path heading steeply uphill, we soon made the decision to head off-piste. Using our bog-hopping skills, we followed the Greenfield Gill up and up into the valley head, before making a beeline for the ridgeline above. This was real hands-on-thighs, calf-burning, lung-bursting territory, but judging by her “Amazings” and “Beautifuls” and the grin on her face, Nikki seemed to be loving every minute.
Having seen no-one but sheep for the whole of our ascent, we reached the ridge and ran/walked up onto Great Rigg, passing several walkers along the way. The Fairfield Horseshoe has long been my favourite place in the Lakes and yet again, it did not disappoint; the views were as tremendous as ever. Reaching the summit, we allowed ourselves a few minutes to peruse the view from every angle, especially important for Nikki as it was her first Lakeland mountain and she had popped her mountain running cherry! New skills were required on the start of the descent to Grizedale Tarn; not only is the terrain very steep and rocky, with patches of loose scree, the wind was fierce and, rather than helping us down, was actively trying to blow us back up to the summit, so maintaining balance became key. As the angle of slope eased and the wind dropped, running became easier and we made good progress to the tarn and down alongside Tongue Gill.
All that remained was a last couple of miles on grass and road and we were finished! Two successful days of running in the mountains were over, and there were smiles all round. “You will be doing this again, won’t you?” was all I needed to hear; five runners had been converted to the joys of running among the hills of our most beautiful national park.
Thanks to Nikki for saving the day with photos!