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The Buttermere Round - 16th February 2003

On a bright, cold day in the middle of February 2003 I drove up to the Lake District to take part in Keswick Athletics Club's most challenging annual road race, the Buttermere Round. This 22 mile race begins from the Moot Hall in Keswick, and the course runs down through Thornthwaite to Borrowdale, up one side of the Honister Pass and down the other, along the side of Lake Buttermere, turns right up and then down the Newlands Pass and eventually runs back to the cricket pavillion in Fitz Park, Keswick via Portinscale. For me this run entirely re-defined the description "hilly" :-) and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had!

Set out below is the account that I wrote that evening for some running pals on an internet running forum. I've included links to the photo's I took along the way :)

What an amazing day! I was extremely keen to do this run because it's such a fabulously beautiful place and I've done loads of walking and camping there. I shouldn't really have had a go so soon after hurting my leg, which although much improved is not entirely better, but I'm afraid I just couldn't resist!

I arrived in the Lakes at about 8am after a 90 minute drive, and as I approached Kendal the sun came up over a hill - suddenly the whole place was absolutely suffused with golden light!

I got to Keswick and bought a bum bag, as I'd not been able to find mine at home. I got to the cricket pavilion to register and was first there, looking and feeling very nervous :) Fortunately a couple of others arrived fairly quickly and I was able to get advice on clothing, as I wasn't sure whether people would wear tights/shorts, waterproofs/what, carry bum bags/not, not having done this sort of isolated, long, hilly run before. I decided to go for tights (keep that leg warm), to wear a HH, light fleece, hat and gloves and to carry w/proof, camera, 3 gels (SIS) and Neurofen in the bum bag.

The race began at 11am, and at that time I wasn't entirely sure that I'd be able to get all the way round. I was worried that my leg might let me down. However, I settled into an easy pace about 3/4 of the way down the field, and the first 2 or 3 miles went by quite easily. The weather remained absolutely perfect, with bright sunshine shining off icy puddles :) Several times I stopped to take photos because I knew that if I didn't I'd regret it when I got home.

About 7 miles in I arrived at the Honister Pass. I've walked down and driven over on a number of occasions, but I confess I've never thought of trying to run up it before... My Timex SDM told me the hill was about 1.3 miles long in the end, and extremely steep. I probably ran about a quarter of the way up and then I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and walked up the rest. When I got to the top I was exhausted, and my legs felt like lead. I was worried initially that the leaden feeling wouldn't go away, but all of a sudden the pass dropped away steeply in front of me and I was running fast, downhill. Running down the Honister Pass today qualifies as one of the most thrilling experiences of my whole life, almost bordering on orgasmic! :) The sun was blinding, the wind was freezing (so exhilarating!), the scenery was awe inspiring, my lungs felt as though they could go on for ever, my legs were suddenly strong and I was listening to amazing music on my MP3 player! I felt transported, a big grin spread over my face and I realised that I was finally experiencing a runner's high :) I stopped to take a few more photos, and managed to press gang a couple of innocent cyclists into taking two piccies of me on my camera :)

After Honister I ran a few miles along the side of Lake Buttermere, and still felt quite good. I'd been looking for some convenient vegetation since not long out of Keswick for a quick loo break, but other than that I was quite comfortable. I turned right at the head of Buttermere (this was about 13 miles into the run) and began the long climb up the Newlands Pass. Again I started at a run, but settled fairly shortly into a strenuous walk, as did all the other runners I could see. I was just beginning to feel a bit of a twinge in my left calf and hamstring after the pounding down Honister, and was hoping that they wouldn't develop into anything worse. Eventually I got to the top and began the long descent. I'd hoped to re-experience the amazing rush I'd enjoyed on descending Honister, but by now I was tiring, and although it was enjoyable to be going downhill it wasn't the thrill that Honister had been.

The last 7 miles or so were quite hard work. They weren't quite as exhausting as I'd expected them to be, but the constant undulations were fast draining the energy from my legs and, on occasion, the resolve from my mind. I stopped a few times more for photos, but about 5 miles from the end was a little alarmed to find some sort of major stickiness happening in my bum bag where I'd been storing the used Gel sachets, and so decided I'd better leave the camera alone in case I got it covered in gunk. Uh-oh... :)

I'd found the Timex SDM enormously helpful as a guide to how far I'd run, but I've still not got the hang of where to see how long I've been running. The consequence was that with 3 miles to go I had no real idea of how long I'd been out. I'd noticed on the results from last year that the last runner got in at 4.10, and so I'd decided that I'd be happy to break 4 hrs. However, at the last water station I ran into another runner, who mentioned the possibility of breaking 3.30. I didn't want to start sweating over times at that late stage so I asked him not to tell me how long we'd been going, and I tried to just keep pressing on as fast as my little legs would comfortably take me. The last 3 miles felt like awfully hard work, but eventually I got back to the main road and there was Keswick ahead of me! I followed the signs and quite suddenly I rounded a corner to see the cricket pavilion in Fitz Park about half a mile ahead of me :) At that moment I actually cried a bit, it was such a relief, particularly after the mounting pre FLM panic I've experienced recently with a week out due to flu followed by a week out with a bad leg. I got that irritating emotion induced asthma thingy, but it soon passed off and I managed to put on a bit of a spurt (only a very little spurt!) to cross the line and complete the run in what turned out to be 3:27 :-)))

The whole thing was really quite amazing - I can still hardly believe what an utterly fantastic day we got for it, weather wise! My leg was a little sore on the way home, but I don't think I did it any damage, and in fact it was less sore today than it was after Helsby last month. I was so exhausted on the drive home that I had to sleep for an hour in a motorway car park, and didn't get home until about an hour ago. I'm happy now, though, and tomorrow I'll see about getting my piccies up on my web page.

For anyone interested in this sort of run, I'd recommend the Buttermere Round without reservation! Finishing felt like a real achievement - taken as a whole, I think it was harder work than either of my two marathons, but the experience was glorious. Also, I was extremely impressed by the organisation. There were water stations approximately every 3 miles, and there were friendly marshals at each one. Back at the cricket pavilion there were soup, tea, coffee, scones and mince pies, and Hot Showers :-)) Unless something goes wrong, I'll be back there next year :-)

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