Digested Read: This weekend, a whole load of Smiley Paces Awesomeness decamped to the Lake District for a weekend running the Lakeland Trails. Packing was a nightmare. I got a lift up with four Smiley comrades. Our very own road trip. It took a lot of faffing to get us all there, but we made it. Yay! Youth Hostels are a lot nicer than I remembered. The sun does not always shine in the lake district. Who knew?
The longest journey starts with just a single step. That’s how the saying goes. I suppose technically that’s true, you can’t really argue with the literal interpretation of that, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Case in point. The Smiley Paces annual outing to the Lakes. The origins of why this trip are largely lost in history, but a brief excursion into the archeological records of the Smiley Facebook page suggest it had a lot to do with a scouting party of Smilies spontaneously heading to the Lakes some years ago, having a lot of running-related fun and deciding to share the love by bringing a whole load more smilies in their wake the following year. A lot of prosecco was drunk too, which probably helped, until to a raucous chorus of ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ the seed of an idea that ultimately led to the birth of the annual Smiley Trip to the Lakeland Trails Dirty Double Lakes trip was born. The rest as they say, is history. Or more accurately the stuff of legend.
We Smiley Paces folk are fortunate in that we are blessed with a logistical genius who can make things so. Hence, for the past couple of years Smiley Paces Sheffield Women’s running club have decamped en masse to the land of the lakes where the sun always shines, to take part in the Lakeland Trails Dirty Double weekend of running related fun around Helvellyn and Ullswater. Basically, there are two runs on each day, a morning 10k and an afternoon 14k or 15k depending on the day. You can run just one race if you want, but why not do one on each day and sign up for the Dirty Double Delight of getting soaked on two consecutive days? Alternatively you could be a really hard-core pumped up Smiley and request the opportunity to do the Filthy Four and enter all of them. If you are going to do that, it’s a brilliant strategy to commandeer a whole load of other Smilies to join in too, and then drop out at the last-minute on some unexpected and/or handy pretext such as a child’s birthday (your own offspring’s not some random other child) or perhaps a broken foot. Inexplicably, whilst the Dirty Double already has a link to it live on the Lakeland Trail website multiple entries info for 2018, the Filthy Foursome doesn’t appear to get a mention. A Smiley Special offering it seems. I wonder why?
On the Sunday, you get to take a boat to the start, only you don’t because it keeps being cancelled due to high winds and torrential rain. Apparently last year it was when the event HQ marquee blew away from its moorings and tumbled off into Ullswater that participants had to concede hope over experience can only get you so far and no ferries were going anywhere, still, there’s always next year eh? Or as it’s now next year, this. (Keep up).
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make, is the weekend finally dawned. The 2017 Lakeland Trails Dirty Double (and Filthy Four) main event, and we Smilies were heading out if not exactly in convoy, then as moths to a flame or trail runners to mud. We were coming to Glenridding whether the events organisers were ready or not! The numbers have swelled over time as Smilies are a collegiate lot who like to share the love, and from just a half-dozen or so the first year, the group became 40+ last year – booking out the whole of Patterdale Youth Hostel for the occasion last year to a positive bulge of seventy-five Smilies hoping to get there in 2017. The YHA was once again booked out for our exclusive use, the were races entered, the prosecco was bought, the event was on. Yay!
We’re all going on a running holiday
Lots of running for a day or two.
Fun and laughter on our running holiday,
No more worries for me or you,
For a day or two.
We’re going where the sun shines brightly
We’re going where the lakes are blue.
We’ve all seen it on Facebook posts,
Now let’s see if it’s true.
Every runner wants a running holiday
Doin’ runs they always wanted to
So we’re going on a Smiley holiday,
To make our running dreams come true
For me and you.
For me and you.
So, obviously, I didn’t want to miss out. In the euphoria of coming back from the last trip, participants conveniently forgot all about the torrential horizontal rain, brushes with hypothermia and ending up in A&E parts of the collective Smiley excursion. Rather they regaled us with tales of shared laughter, joyful scenery and bonding in front of an open fire amidst a veritable upturned bottle bank of empty and ongoing prosecco receptacles. Great! You have to admire and embrace the optimism and celebratory qualities of fellow Smilies, but sometimes you do also need to contextualize it with the visual evidence to the contrary. Not that hope over experience isn’t lovely, but a bit of triangulation of the evidence can help to manage expectations, that’s all I’m saying.
Clearly, I’m shallow and susceptible to peer pressure so signed up for this 2017 sojourn at the first possible opportunity. Yes, we’d have to share a dorm, but hey ho, I’m a grown up it’ll be fine. It’s only two little 10ks it’ll be lovely. I’ll just throw my running gear into a little bag with my tooth-brush and a clean pair of knickers and away I go. Travelling light, leaving nothing but footprints, taking nothing but photos.
Oh. My. Gawd! Do you have any idea how much stress is involved in packing for a two-day running trip? I am in the midst of moving house and I swear that I got way more stressed sorting myself for the Dirty Double outing than I am over moving or when I had to pack for a three-month trip to Cambodia. It’s a nightmare I tell you. How on earth people manage to pack kit for a triathlon overseas I have no idea. I was thinking of becoming a professional sports personality, but it’s just not worth the bother of trying to qualify for the GB team (other teams are available) unless you have staff to do your packing, logistics and kit for you. Make your own choices, I can only speak from my own personal experience, but whilst the trip was most definitely worth the effort, it was most angsty preparing for it.
There’s the what to wear aspect. Two days running in potentially foul weather means a lot of kit. Then you are going to get your shoes full of water so that means two sets of shoes potentially. I knew almost intuitively trail shoes were to be order of day. Well, I say trail shoes, but maybe fell? Oh gawd… These runners are fell over a lot on the terrain earlier in the year, so that would suggest fell might be best?
No shoes in the youth hostel so you need slippers for inside and ‘normal’ shoes for when not running. Then warm clothes because the lakes are cold, and wet weather gear because it always rains in the Lakes whatever unlikely tale last year’s graduates may have tried to spin. Then there was the kit requirements for Ullswater:
Mandatory Kit List – Cagoule, tights or over trousers, hat and gloves. The Ullswater Trail is unique and follows one of the most beautiful lakeside trails in the UK. Access is difficult for a large section of the route, and safety teams can only reach it by boat. For this reason, we have a mandatory safety kit list which you must bring with you (wearing or carrying). This will be checked before you board the Steamer, and we will be running spot checks at the finish.
Upshot was I did not travel light. I pretty much emptied my entire running wardrobe into a squishy sports bag and then wore every other item of clothing I possess in a futile attempt to make it look like I had less stuff than I did, like some people do to avoid paying luggage excess before flying. It remains a mystery to me that I can still expect on pretty much any trip I undertake not to use half the stuff I’ve brought with me and yet still have ommited to bring one or two items of crucial significance. This weekend amongst those items on the latter list was the charger for my TomTom. Oh well, we live and we (sometimes) learn.
Then there was the minefield of collective catering. What to bring? Enough for the occupants of your car? Enough for your dorm allocation? Enough for all Smilies in attendance? Enough for all smilies everywhere, past, present and still to come? Yes, that, the last one, and a bit extra ‘just in case’. Tell you what, feeding five thousand barely registers as food provision in Smiley terms, collectively we could feed the world! What about nightwear? Oh my gawd, I forgot that. And then you’ll need to change after running.
My only consolation was that fevered messages were exchanged by others too. Well I say consolation, but in many ways it also created further potential for angst as I thought of new things to stress about. Someone suggested a bike would be a boon as it’s about a mile and a bit from the start to the hostel, and if you are doing lots of trips that saves a lot of walking. Then there was the reminder that at Patterdale Youth Hostel there is no wifi and no phone signal? ‘I’ll have to pack carrier pigeons as well now’, I thought, and yet in my heart of hearts I knew that 2 hours pre departure time there was insufficient time to source such birds, let alone train them. My favourite post though was the plea for someone to lend them an extra Smiley Vest as they were doing multiple runs and were worried about their pong quotient exceeding acceptable levels if they had to wear the same top throughout. Of course lovely smilies offered up a multitude of tops to borrow, but one wryly observed this request would never in a million years have been posted by members of her other running group. Hard core, out of the peat Dark Peak Runners who can run in shorts through ice and snow-covered peaks aren’t going to let whiffy kit scare them on a weekend away. That made me laugh. A lot. So true. Smilies are hard-core runners too of course, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate wearing kit that’s come laundry fresh straight from an intensive sport cycle on the washing machine if we are about to tackle vertiginous terrain!
The countdown to Dirty Double Departure day included regular updates from the Lakeland Trails Facebook Page. Although this included handy stuff about starting lists it also alerted us to the possibility of, well let’s just say ‘inclement weather’ shall we. Here was the parking field a couple of days out. Ooops.
But we didn’t need to rely on them to tell us what was happening. The BBC was also obligingly keeping us up to date. Well, this is a Smiley escapade we are talking about, what could be more newsworthy and in the national interest than making sure we were all up to speed with the potential running conditions in the Lakes?
To be honest, it was a bit like the relief of exam day when Friday finally dawned, and it was too late to do any last-minute purchasing or packing adjustments!
My cheetah smiley buddy had offered to drive. Not only that, but she’d worked out a logistics timetable for pickups. She arrived at mine to the minute, having even rung (hands free) en route to let me know she was on schedule. I mean you can’t buy that sort of attention to detail. So it was, five of us were all a-jolly in the car and off to Patterdale by 1.30 on Friday afternoon. Food in the car boot, squidgy bags in the roof box, and away we went.
We were soon off doing our very own road trip. Exactly like Thelma and Louise, except that we were five people not two, and there was no sexual assault or murder en route and we didn’t have to drive off a cliff edge as a finale. But otherwise identical – oh apart from the weather. Our road trip was less desert dust and cloudless skies and more horizontal rain. So basically same same.
Smiley catch up was mandatory of course. De-brief of the contents of every food bag. Detailed cross comparison of packing choices. Speculation about the weekend ahead. That kind of thing. A micro adventure. One of our party wanted to stop to stock up on further provisions. ‘Only if there’s a waitrose or M&S en route‘ because we have our Smiley standards it seems. Even more hilariously, there was! One of the service stations had an M&S food outlet so we all decamped and got emergency rations that we suddenly realised we wouldn’t be able to manage without like honey roasted cashew nuts, that kind of thing. Well, they weren’t just honey roasted and salted cashew nuts…. as the advertising slogan reminds us!
We left Sheffield in glorious sunshine.
The weather worsened en route. Here are some scenic shots along the way:
Despite the weather, we did get the occasional glimpse of the surrounding scenery and it did look super awesome. I can’t lie, I wasn’t over enamoured at the thought of running not only in torrential rain, but essentially through flooded rivers throughout, but I was comforted that I’d be doing so with a veritable Smiley army of compatriots, plus wet water running is really hard-core, so extra kudos would offer some compensation. It was a pretty smooth drive up all things considered, apart from the last couple of twisty, turny miles which made me regress to being a carsick child in the back seat of the family cortina. Why haven’t I outgrown carsickness? It’s not fair!
Our route took as part the race start, and then just over a mile up the road – and a manageable walk meaning we’d avoid the nightmare of lack of parking and shuttle buses from Penrith entirely by being able to companionable amble down to the races each morning and afternoon. Handy indeed. I mean, it’s very impressive (no it really is) that the Lakeland Trail organisers had such an effective wet weather contingency plan, but that would be a whole new level of angsty faff to add to my neuroses, and that I am very glad to have avoided. Big buses aren’t they? I think I’d definitely have heaved in one of them on the windy roads.
Finally, we were there! YHA Patterdale! It is pretty impressive. HUGE. We disgorged from the car and padded across the entrance….
I was so glad to be heading in to an actual building. The camping fantasy is all well and good, but really, would you?
We kicked off our feet as we entered and found it all brilliantly organised within. There were lists of who was in what dorm. A fantastic communal area with enormous squidgy arm chairs and a roaring fire. The kitchen was miniscule, and soon over-flowing with Smiley tuck bags. The dorms were simple but spacious and everywhere was immaculately clean. It was also incredibly and unexpectedly hot. Every radiator was blasting out heat. That I did not expect. Youth Hostels have evolved a lot from the grim austere dorms I remember from my youth. Not that I stayed in them very often, but the memory of communal cleaning and the horrors of huge dorms lives with me still.
I was quite excited to find myself in a dorm with predominately woodrun folk. Who are not to be confused with woodcraft folk which is something else entirely, nor folk dancing which is also a different skill set altogether. I have been inwardly speculating for some time how our Smiley leader arrived at her final lists for dorm allocations. Does she pick names from a hat? Does she randomly allocate by numbering off room numbers against an alphabetical list? I think not. My current favoured scenario, is that she operates from a sort of subterranean bat cave, and has a huge wall of glass on which she draws colourful overlapping circles to create a flowing montage of Venn diagrams. Like they do in contemporary detective dramas when they are trying to be all high-tech. There would be a circle for woodrunners; another for triathletes; snorers would have their own sub circle somewhere and so on. She’d overlay this diagram with one of the dorms and then using some sort of statistical fairy dust arrive at a ‘best case’ matching scenario to ensure no-one is left all alone with no special friend to hang out with, but all also get the chance to make new friends too.
I’ve since had some inside information on this, and it seems that – other than the subterranean bit – I was way out. She actually operates from an underground military bunker. She has a huge map of the destination, and a variety of shaped elastoline (or plastic) figurines, and then she pushes the figures around using those little rectangular ended sticks. Whatever strategy it is, it seems to work. Respect for that.
We did some milling and loitering. Poking the fire and sharing anticipatory excitement angst with other Smilies that had also just arrived. The Youth Hostel is pretty amazing, my photos don’t really do it justice:
The views were just amazing. Hang on, I’ll steal photos from someone else with better photographic skills:
and the hostel was pretty swish too:
There you go… I’ll do my best getting some photos for you by way of illustration, but you need to appreciate there’s a lot of photos to sort through you know. It’s not like the olden days when you waited four weeks and then got your 12 bonus print shots back from the printer with stickers on them telling you they were blurred or over-exposed because you were a failure as a camera operative. Those were the good old days when you didn’t really have to choose between photos because there was only one useable offering worthy of retention let alone display. Nowadays in this digital age there are thousands. What’s a blogger to do? You have no idea how I suffer for my questionable art. …. no idea at all. How could you. If you saw how exorcised I was trying to pick out my most suitable pair of running socks to take with me to the lakes when they are even the same make just at different stages of wear and tear, then you might get some small insight into the paralysing effects of being faced with thousands of alternative Smiley sourced photos from which to choose. It’s hard being me. It really is. To be fair knowing me or hanging out with me is even harder, but at least people in those categories don’t have to do so 24/7.
Never mind, whilst I was hobnobbing with the sofa set, my more selfless and community minded traveling companions were whipping up a fabulous meal. Choice of vegetarian or meat chilli, pasta, salad followed by cake. We even had vinaigrette dressing and parmesan cheese (not on the cake, that would be stupid). I may have no aptitude for catering, but I clearly have considerable aptitude for tagging along with Smilies who do. It may be parasitic but at least I was appreciative, so that’s practically symbiosis. They do all the work, but I thank them for it. They gain kudos and appreciation in return. It might not sound quite fair and balanced to the untrained outsider, but I’m sure it must be, otherwise what would that make me? Anyways, it was all very delicious. And very civilised. Left to my own devices I might have had the wit to bring a sandwich with me, or possibly I’d rustle up something vegan and dubious using only the mould scraped off the interior walls and moss from the outside. It might have been innovative even, if not actually palatable, but we’ll never know. I did bring yorkshire tea bags along though, so that was something by way of contribution.
So there we are, Smilies all a gathering on a Friday night all set for a weekend of running adventures ahead. Who knew what the morrow would bring?
The anticipation is exciting, isn’t it! Eek.
Spoiler alert – some of what it brung is this lot:
For all my Lakeland Trails related posts, click here and scroll down for older entries.