For most of my adult life there has been something mystical about the lake district. The magnetic pull of that internal compass, drawing me due north-west to bigger skies and dramatic valleys.
As an avid cyclist I am well versed in the flowing roads and torturous gradients that connect these valleys, many deeming them the litmus test for riding in the UK.
Not until recently however was my gaze turned upwards towards the fells and rocky traverses that surround the lakes.
We packed the van and headed to Lake Buttermere early on Friday morning, excitement building as we stopped in Keswick around lunchtime to fill our coolers with food for camp and last minute kit.
Fully stocked we headed into the Lakes proper, our phone service failing as the roads narrowed and the mountains loomed over us.
The setting for the Trail Pursuit Festival site was almost unbelievable. We pitched our tents, nestled in the shelter of a dry stone wall looking out at a panorama spanning Fleetwith Pike to Haystacks, perfectly dissected by the Warnscale Beck and its Bothy set into the rock above.
We were joined by just over a thousand other runners and as the groups and vans trickled in a sense of nervous anticipation and excitement was palpable amongst the camp.
A forced change in routing for the event had meant that the running tomorrow would be limited and a day of scrambling and power hiking was on the menu. I felt a feeling of uncertainty that night as we loaded ourselves with carbs and watched the sun set over the water, something I have in all honesty missed since leaving competitive sport.
We awoke to blue skies and the promise of a dry day. Christian and Alex were headed out on the bikes to take on the infamous Fred Whitton route in training for their upcoming 2600km endurance race.
We shared some light hearted prodding about who would get home first (I only just managed this…) and discussed our fuelling strategies respectively.
Unsure of the time I would spend on the trails I prepared for the worst, filling two soft flasks with MIX90s alongside two GEL30s and some prototype energy bars. The boys loaded themselves up too and they accompanied me to the start line to wave me off, with cheers and a few chuckles.
With a limited amount of running in my legs in recent weeks I set off with the group intent on keeping things relaxed and a focus on enjoying the views and keeping my heart rate steady. After the first few kilometers, plodding alongside the lake and accessing the sensations, we took a sharp left at the steps to Bleaberry Tarn and the day began.
Despite my best intentions the excitement got the better of me and with palms pressed against quads for support, a group of us powered up the rocky steps, eyes fixed on the path ahead and heartbeats thumping in our ears. After climbing for what felt like a lifetime we crested the top and began descending through dense gorse, skipping down the crag to the sounds of runners whooping and sloshing through bogs.
A relatively flat run along Crummock water saw us reach the feed station where I restocked on fluid, adding some SLT05 to my flasks to try and get ahead of impending dehydration and salt loss. We doubled back on ourselves ascending again as we climbed the narrow and technical path following the Scale Force waterfall.
Exhausted runners were strewn along the way as people stopped to catch their breath and gasp through burning lungs or turn around to gaze at the views of runners weaving their way up the pass, ant-like in formation.
The “run” into the line was a battle with the last five miles taking in Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag before a final, pounding, scree covered descent back to Gatesgarth farm.
I crossed the line a good couple of hours later than I had expected to but in the end that didn’t cross my mind.
Along the way I met so many friendly and engaging people, all open to the challenge and brought together by a shared passion. We laughed, staggered and hobbled our way to the finish together, drunk on the views and swelling with pride for where our legs had taken us. The evening was spent refuelling (all carb groups covered…) and catching up with Christian and Alex after their mammoth cycle.
By all accounts they had an equally challenging and rewarding day out there. We danced and shared our experiences with other runners from the day. Plenty seemed to have enough left in the tank to cut some serious shapes. Especially great to connect with our neighbours, Mikey who had a super strong run and his partner Sarah as well as catching up with our supported athlete Rich who was out on course photographing the day.
With heavy legs and a few heavy heads, we rose on Sunday for a gargantuan breakfast and set off up Fleetwith for some active recovery and reluctantly checked our emails at the summit.
A dip in an infinity pool for some spontaneous cold water therapy, high up the beck made for the perfect recovery. Our laughter must have made its way down the valley as Alex provided a world class rendition of Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl”.
We returned to a now emptying camp and packed up our belongings taking time to soak in the last of the afternoon sun and our surroundings. With the car loaded we set off home after a weekend filled with clean air and hard earned memories. Heading back down the M6, tired and content I felt that compass in me shift again.
I knew I would be back soon to explore even more of the wild and beautiful scenery the Lakes have to offer!