Gareth, Simon I had this moment this weekend, our first jaunt into the mountains in preparation for the Avalanche Events Winter Fandance.
It isn’t like we haven’t been training, my running has increased exponentially and I have been running with a min of 3kg and regularly having 8kg during weekday runs and up to 11-12kg at the weekend but going practically race weight, 16kg (35.27 pounds) of weight and kit and 2.5 litres of water meant the combined 18kg (39 pounds) was quite a shock, especially when combined with the route.
We started at the Storey Arms as this is the start of the event in January and headed up the path, and when I say up I mean up and up and up. The starting elevation is around 445 metres and its a slog up for about half a mile before you start going down again.
As we had set off early there was still ice on the ground so this descent isn’t any form of respite. I had quickly made the decision to get out my walking poles and in this first half a mile I had at least one wobble where had I not had my poles in my hand I would have come crashing down. After crossing the stream its back upwards for the ascent of Corn Du, going from around 550 metres elevation all the way up to 839.
Reaching Corn Du it is then another small drop and ascent to then reach the summit of Pen Y Fan, all in around 2.2 miles gaining 400+ metres of elevation in that distance. With the weight we were carrying this ascent had taken over an hour, way off our planned pace. The whole thing had come as a bit of a shock to the system and I have to say even after this short distance I was a little despondent.
From Pen Y Fan we had an option, we could follow January’s route exactly or we could take in another peak and ascend Cribyn. We had pretty much decided that we weren’t going to be setting a “race” pace and so decided to deviate from the plan and get some more elevation in by hitting the other peak. Again this meant a descent and another ascent and again the descent was a fairly severe loss of 200 metres in about half a mile, so no chance of gaining any time back.
What had become apparent was with the weight on our backs, simple things like lowing yourself down a step became an arduous task of balance and control, resulting in very slow deliberate movements. After Cribyn was ticked off we then descended to pick up the correct route again and enjoyed a fairly easy 2 mile downhill to the turning point. At this point we stopped and took our packs off for a brief respite (a very odd feeling I have to say, almost feels like floating!) before the inevitable slog back uphill. We took the more direct route back up to Pen Y Fan and then retraced our steps over Corn Du and descended back to the Storey Arms, total distance for the day was 11 miles taking 6 hours 5 mins (excluding stops it would have been 04:37:12) .
The race in January is 14 miles and has a cut off at half way of 3 hours 3 minutes so it is clear that we need to step up our game by modifying how we train, less out-and-out running and more walking up with heavy packs. I still think it is achievable but it is a case of being very careful not to go too hard and get injured, it’s always a fine balancing act.
It looks like I will be making more visits to Box Hill in the foreseeable future….