Climbing the Coniston Old Man

The crowd buzzes with excitement. At 10°C, the weather is perfect for running minus the grey sky, though rays of sunshine peeks in and out of the clouds from time to time. All around them, runners gather in small groups, chatting among themselves as they wait for the race to begin. A lady warms up by raising her legs in quick alternative motions. Toddlers weave in and out around the festival area, squealing and laughing as they chase each other around.

At the start line, she rubs her palms together to stay warm while she looks on at the massive mountain in the distance. Three months ago, she vowed to herself that she would step up her training plan and increase the distance of her Sunday runs. Now she regrets not following through. Looking at the grey sky, she hopes that it doesn’t start raining.

 

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…” the crowd chants, snapping her back to reality.

 

“Four, three, two, one!” The crowd starts to move along slowly. As their feet land on the timing mats, the crowd speeds up.

 

For the first 3km, it is relatively smooth. They maintain their normal pace, just like their practice runs. At 3.5km, they hit a steep incline. Many runners slows to a rapid walk. She was no exception. In fact, she is probably the worst as more and more runners pass her. He keeps ahead by less than 500 meters, just enough to keep her motivated, constantly glancing back to see if she is still keeping up.

 

The beginning of the race when they could still see most of the runners…

 

On the steep incline, he slows down even though she knows very well that he has the stamina to keep going. She feels guilty for slowing him down. There is no way he would achieve a personal best at this rate.

 

She quickens her step so she catches up with him. “Please go ahead, you don’t have to wait for me,” she says.

“No, we started together, we will finish together,” he says with an encouraging smile. “I would not have asked you to run the race if I didn’t want us to run together,” he added.

If she isn’t so breathless, she would have laughed at his corny comment but at that moment, his encouragement gives her just that tiny bit of motivation to keep going.

Little do they know, the steep hill is actually the Coniston Old Man, one of the tallest summits in the Furnness Fells in Lake District. After what seems like forever, they finally hit flat ground which she thought would make everything better.

Instead, the trail is unbelievably narrow and rocky. The weather gods choose this moment to open up and let heavy drops of rain pour from the open sky. The trail is composed of millions of stone slates, making it extremely slippery in these conditions. She follows closely the footsteps of an elderly runner, whose physique look so frail and skinny but must be a seasoned runner. “Keep it up, you are doing well,” she smiles. Her encouraging words and friendliness gives Sharon another bit of motivation. She runs past a few more puddles, now not caring that her trainers are completely muddy. She just wants to finish the race. Please don’t let me sprain my ankles, she prays even though she is an atheist.

When she takes a moment to look around, the scenery is actually incredibly beautiful and she suddenly understood why it was consistently ranked as one of the most scenic races in the UK. Running on the edge of a mountain cliff, she could see rolling hills and valleys far into the distance. They even came across a waterfall.
The first sighting of the finish line!

The first sighting of the finish line!

For the last 2km, volunteers were dotted along the route. Every time she passes one of them, they would say “almost there” except “there” never seems to arrive. Yet somehow they managed to cross the finish line within their target time. What a sweet relief.

The best part was definitely the massage afterwards. Thank you, that was such a sweet surprise.
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Lake District in the Autumn

Eager to push our (amateur) running pastime to new limits, the requirement (i.e. Sharon’s condition) of “scenic views” and challenging trail routes led us to the Lake District – England’s largest national park and home to some of the best views (and mountain) around. We stayed in a small cottage off the main high street via a small alleyway. Margaret, our host, was incredibly accomodating and offered guidance on the best places to go. We had a certain appreciation for Margaret, because she had made excellent use of the space in her cottage. The downstairs was home to a small sweet shop; the spare room upstairs made use by us! Breakfast was served, ready at the table, with silver-plated cutlery and fine china pots immaculately placed. Everyday.

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Our first day was spent exploring Windermere. It was small and quiet with a much lower density of shops and homes as in London, however situated numerous antique shops, small cafes and restaurants. We couldn’t help but feel like we were far below the average age within the vicinity! After a tour around the town, we opted to take a view of the town from the lake:

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Afterwards we climbed Orrest Head, an iconic vantage point and conveniently a stone’s throw from our cottage. Tell me, who doesn’t like easy wins!?

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Our initial plans were to visit England’s largest “mountain”, although, to the relief of Sharon, the weather and rain did not present us with the greatest of conditions. Instead we visited (on a very windy and rainy day indeed) Loughrigg Fell. At one point , I remember my whole body engulfed in pins and needles  as a result of the wind and cold!  If not for the hot chocolate saved for the top, we probably would have suffered a great deal more! Boy was that satisfying.

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After a gruelling climb up the fell, we retreated to a small pub in Ambleside, where we warmed ourselves by the fireplace. Logs were periodically added, which we gave a nod of approval and appreciation to! Special mention should be given to the local who “complained of more restaurants than residents” and the couple who seemed to gain far more appreciation for things than we did (in general), when we had far more concern to dry ourselves.

It wasn’t all physical suffering. We managed to treat ourselves to an independent retro-styled cinema, Zefferelli’s, in the evening – complete with felt seats. There aren’t many cinemas I can think of with a gourmet italian restaurant downstairs and certainly makes for a far more appetising alternative to popcorn. Our final leg took us through Ullswater and the Kirkstone Pass, which provided delightful views over the undulating countryside. This ended at Penrith where, after a quick browse around the old market town, and equipped with our “Lake District 2014 Playlist”, we made for the long journey home.

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