As little as 5 weeks ago I was panicking, I was really quite worried that my level of fitness had deteriorated so much over the winter that I really wasn’t going to be ready for my long walk this year. Winter walking, for me at least, always tends to be more intermittent than summer walking; I don’t get out every weekend and those weekends when I do, I tend to walk a shorter route and don’t clock up the height gain that I do at other times of the year. This inevitably leads to a dramatic tail off in fitness.
My annual long distance path is becoming a common fixture for the first two weeks in May. This is a quiet time of year at work, it avoids the peak walking season and therefore the crowds and I can rely on at least one Bank Holiday to reduce the number of days leave I need to take. It also acts as an incentive to get out in the spring and build up the hill legs that have atrophied over the winter.
Unfortunately this year I have been struck down twice already with debilitating bouts of sickness and the other thing that’s really hard to spell but results in you not wanting to be any further from a toilet than you have to be. I’ve missed probably three or four weekends walking because of this and the hill legs really weren’t developing the way they should have been.
5 weeks ago I walked with Tex, up from Hartsop to the Knott and then over High Street to Thornthwaite Beacon. The intention had been to then ascend Caudale Moor and drop down to the Kirkstone Inn for a beer before returning down the valley to the car. However, I found myself gasping for breath, with severe cramps in my sides on the ascent to the Knott, completely out of shape (even for a fat knacker like me) and very worried. I insisted we cut the route short at Threshthwaite Mouth and I slunk back down Pasture Bottom, metaphoric tail between my legs to the car and a serious rethink about my training regime.
Back home the next day, I analysed my training for this year’s event, compared to previous years and I quickly realised where I was going wrong. My days out in the Lakes are inevitably short days in terms of mileage but with quite a lot of height gain – normally between 3500-4000 feet of ascent. My legs just weren’t up to this level of height gain and I needed to return to some lower, longer walks to build up some of the stamina I need for these sorts of days out.
I planned a series of three walks in 5 days, in the Peak District and east Cheshire, each walk slightly longer than the last and each one with around 2000-2500 feet of ascent. I finished the long easter weekend, fortunately we were given some great weather in the north, with three walks under my belt and a feeling of returning fitness.
Last week I returned to the Lakes with Tex and a serious test of fitness. Walking from the Walna Scar Road above Coniston, we did a round of the Coniston Fells; Wetherlan, Swirl How, Great Carrs, Grey Friar, Brim Fell and the Old Man. About 10 miles of walking, but more importantly just shy of 4000 feet of ascent. I managed it with energy to spare. I am back on form and feeling great. And not before time either – there was only just over a week to go before we left for St. Bees.
I write this now, with just three days to go; I will be packing tomorrow and working away for a couple of days before dashing back up the motorway from Slough on Tuesday afternoon to head north to Cumbria. I can’t wait.
I suppose the moral of the story is, start small and build up the training rather than continually trying (and in my case failing) to hit the heights from a standing start.