6 at 60: it’s people who matter

This weekend I completed the Lakeland Trails series – 9 (I think) trail runs, all 14-15km except Cartmel 10km, and ending with the ‘dirty double’ this weekend at Glenridding.

My emotions and physical ‘oomph’ definitely fluctuate through the year, and recently I’d been feeling less enthusiastic about this particular challenge. I haven’t done quite as much training, I’d given blood about 2 weeks ago, and the change to autumn and the dark mornings and dark nights is getting to me a bit. BUT excuses out of the way, this was the weekend for doing 2 trail runs back to back.

Helvellyn on Saturday had also been entered by 4 of my friends, so it felt like a team effort. I’ve done the route and parts of the route before – most recently on my birthday in 2020 when Penny and I had walked up to Grisedale Tarn for a swim, just a couple of weeks after running up there (see https://runningin3time.blog/2020/08/31/grisedale-tarn-and-crummock-water-re-visited/ and https://runningin3time.blog/2020/09/15/birthday-micro-adventures/) – but last time I’d run the trail run route I’d been suffering from a broken heart. All I could remember today as I ascended the first hill towards the YHA was how physically heart-broken I’d felt that day: and in fact it’s not surprising as the physical effort does make your chest almost ache.

The rain was coming down and the wind was against us, taking our breath away, until we turned along a bit of stony, muddy single track. This is the sort of running I love – the wind behind me, my footing relatively secure, and a rocky, muddy path beneath my feet. I should add that it has taken me YEARS of practice to get more confident on this sort of trail, and even so yesterday I slipped about 4 times.

We dropped down between the valleys before rising up again towards Lanty’s Tarn – where it was very muddy and I fell over, fortunately on to grass. Anne was not so lucky later on – when we met her at the finishing line she had a lump on her head which by Sunday had turned into a colourful ‘black’ (blue/purple) eye. From Lanty’s Tarn we were again heading into the wind, with the rain slashing across us from the side: at one point a gust almost blew me sideways. I was already wet through to my underwear.

Wet through to my underwear (but still cheerful).

Rather than continuing on to Grisedale Tarn we then cut across the valley (I felt sorry for the marshals, but particularly for the one up here, exposed to the elements) and there was then a track followed by road all the way back down hill. Towards the end I was feeling tired – I should have stopped to eat a Graze bar, but didn’t want to undo my jacket to get to my bumbag – but I continued along the road and on to the finishing field. As I turned the corner into the home straight I saw Mark behind me – and picked up the pace to make sure he didn’t get past me! Mind you, it was close: and Penny came in about 5 minutes later, followed after a bit by Anne with her black eye but in a buoyant mood, and Tricia – who has done very little running recently but still managed to complete 15km and be smiling at the end (and who was going to be camping over night with her husband!).

Unfortunately it wasn’t a day for hanging around and exchanging stories, as we were all so wet, the rain was still coming down, and we were getting cold. I was staying at Penny’s overnight (it was nearer than going all the way back to Brampton, and my fab. neighbours and friends Mark and Laura had said they’d feed the cat) and I spent a lovely half hour warming up in the bath and watching an Italian show on Netflix – there’s a rather scathing review of it here but for a tired body and brain after a soaking wet run it’s fun (the reviewer is critical of Luna Park too, but I also enjoyed that – sometimes trite predictability is exactly what you want. Who says you have to be thoughtful all the time? And also both are helping me with my Italian).

After risotto and apple crumble (great carbo loading) and watching Strictly Come Dancing and part of Lord of the Rings I, I fell into bed and slept until about 8a.m. A bowl of granola and a coffee and it was time to get going again: this time Penny was coming along to support me (and leaving her husband to play with motorbike parts and watch motorbike racing).

Fortunately the weather was a LOT nicer and despite dire warnings about not being able to park, we parked at the Glenridding ferry car park – the steamers weren’t running which probably meant more spaces for runners. It did however mean that rather than the lovely boat ride over to Howtown to start the run, we were running from the same starting point as yesterday: the mud slides had amazingly drained a bit overnight, so the ground wasn’t too bad to walk on.

The run took us south to start with and past the field that we would have parked on if it hadn’t turned into a mud bath yesterday (this is where my car got stuck last time I did the Helvellyn run: it was bad enough having a broken heart but then to get your car stuck as well…). The stony path undulates through some grassy land before dropping down to come out just near a pub at Patterdale: across and down the road a short way and we then ran down the track towards the farm which advertises wool for sale, and from there turned to go along the lower path which runs parallel to the lake. I’ve only ever run this the other way round – once when I did the Ullswater trail race from Howtown and another time when Penny and I ran all the way round Ullswater (only two and a half years ago! https://runningin3time.blog/2019/03/25/following-the-daffodils-the-ullswater-way-and-memories/) when we were running round lakes for her 50th birthday.

It’s a beautiful route, and flashes of memory came back from running it before: some of the larger stones looked familiar. This time we rounded a corner and there was a climb straight up a hill. As I hadn’t studied my map properly I thought this was the only major hill (it was fairly small) and enjoyed the consequent descent back along a path which ran parallel to but higher up than the one we’d just run along. At one point I fell over but bounced up again: a guy behind me a bit later wasn’t so lucky and I didn’t see him again (I should have stopped to check he was OK but I’m afraid I didn’t).

Then there was a HILL. A steep, long hill. Strava was later to tell me that the total elevation for this run was 454m – about 120m higher than yesterday when we were going up the side of one of the highest hills in the Lake District. I think today we may have been running (ha! nobody was running – everybody but everybody was walking) up the side of Place Fell.

We came out near the top on a plateau which isn’t far from Angle Tarn, and ran down a steep track which I had previously been down after ‘running’ up to Hayeswater and along to Angle Tarn (https://runningin3time.blog/2019/06/23/an-almost-bonus-lake/). At the bottom instead of running into Hartsop – which is what we’d done before – the route turned back towards Patterdale, before retracing our footsteps back to the pub. This time we went a different way across the grassy bit before running downhill to the main road. I was struggling by now and walking bits and only crossed the finishing line after 1hr 53 mins (yesterday it was 1hr 39 mins). Even so it looks as if I did OK for my age group.

This is is something which really upsets me and disappoints me about the overall series, as they’ve told me that they’ll be measuring my overall performance on the FV50 age group not the FV60 age group – in triathlon it’s how old you are on 31st December in the relevant year, which would put me in the FV60 age group. I also didn’t get a t-shirt for this final race, which I’m quite, quite sure was the only one I HAD ordered a t-shirt for. So all in all despite some fantastic routes, I finished the series in tears – probably partly just due to tiredness: the t-shirt for today was black, so it didn’t look that great and isn’t that much of a miss and certainly not worth getting upset about. It’s just a pity that I’ll have nothing to celebrate having completed the entire series other than these blogposts (maybe they’ll have to do).

Fortunately Penny was there with a small bottle of fizz and we celebrated me finishing another challenge, before going to have lunch in one of the Glenridding cafes. I then picked up my car from her house and she gave me another bottle of fizz to take home, picked up two of my children from their Dad’s (the other one is self-isolating for 2 more days) and drove back to Brampton, to home and another warm bath.

Thank goodness for the moral support of friends.

Water, water everywhere (almost)

The day started OK. Edward was playing football at William Howard – and looking surprisingly like a footballer, despite the fact that he has only played about twice in his entire life (he’s now keen to find a club to join). It was a bit chilly and the weather forecast was not good, but fortunately the actual rain held off while I watched him, chatted to one of the other Mums, and he handed out the scones he’d made yesterday. Food is always important to Edward…

At 11 a.m. David came to take over parental supervisory duties and I drove down to Coniston. As I went past various of the lakes it was already raining: Thirlmere still looked quite low, although there were plenty of streams rushing down into it, but the beaches usually apparent at Rydal Water had disappeared. Already the ground by Coniston Hall was looking muddy, and there were mats for cars to get a bit of grip as they drove on to the field. Remembering the time several of us had had problems getting off the parking area at Patterdale, I worried that we’d have a repeat performance: however there were so many of us I rather assumed (fingers crossed) that the organisers had got a backup plan in the event that tons of cars got stuck.

I kept on my double layer of clothing, warmed by the journey in the car with the heater on almost full blast, and went to get my number and go to the loo. En route it was good to see the smiling face of a guy from work – who I haven’t seen since before the first lockdown – and to have a brief catch up. Then it was back to the car to change into my waterproof jacket and to put my race number on before going to the start and sheltering under a tree: and another quick chat with the guy from work before the race began and he sped off.

The run starts off along the half marathon route but after the initial uphill bit towards the Coppermines, the two diverge. Today we went on past the Coppermines on a firm, wide and stony track which turned to go fairly steeply uphill. If I ran I overtook a few people; they then overtook me when I walked a bit (I also stopped to take a photo of a very noisy waterfall, although there was an even better one later on). I really do need to improve my uphills, but on the other hand at least by walking some of the steeper parts I conserve energy and then have more ‘in the tank’ for the downhills and flatter bits.

The track narrowed which was fine going uphill (everyone was walking) but then made it a bit tricky to overtake people once it had levelled out. I got chatting to a young guy, and then to a girl, both new to the run: and then started talking to a guy who turned out also to have turned 60 this year, and who played bass guitar and also did triathlon. I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to carry on talking to me and my shoe laces came undone anyway, so I dropped back a bit.

After a relatively long stony downhill bit, we hit some tarmac where the other 60-year-old went to overtake a couple of people and I ran past him. Across a field or two and I fell over in some mud in front of someone I’d just overtaken – by coincidence I met him at the end of the race as he turned out to be the brother in law of a friend of mine. (he has a bad knee so even completing a 15km run is impressive).

Along a narrow path that was more stream than path I overtook some more people before going past the friend-with-the-brother-in-law through the woods. It was probably mean of me not to slow up to chat, but he’s got a bad knee so even completing 15km is impressive and I don’t think he would have expected me to wait for him there.

We eventually came out on the lake shore path, which is relatively level, and my mind went briefly back to the day when Penny and I ran round the whole of Coniston as one of the 16 lakes at 50 (i.e. for her 50th birthday). I’d like to run round Coniston again – it was a nice route with very little on road. By now I was beginning to feel a bit tired but there were runners in front of me who I wanted to overtake. My competitive spirit has definitely re-appeared after several years of not being fit enough to be competitive!

Just before the end there was a stream running down into the lake, and the only way was through it (“we’re going on a bear hunt… we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it...splishy splashy splishy splashy“). There were some people standing there waiting for family and friends to run past: as I splashed into water up to my bottom I realised why (memories of the Crossbay Challenge, where you run through about 3 rivers).

There was nobody to see me over the line, but I went back to cheer on firstly the young guy (who avoided looking at me – perhaps I was too wet to be recognisable) and the 60-year old guy (who kind of smiled), and then Nick as he ran on despite his knee hurting. He reminds me of Penny: pushes through the pain. I’m not sure I would, and I’m not sure whether I’m intrinsically lazy or just self-protective. I respect people who keep going, and I can understand the frustration at having a long-term injury and wanting to get moving again. I guess I wasn’t terribly sensible after my caesareans…

After a cappuccino (with cream, biscoff syrup and two tiny biscuits) and a brief chat with Nick and his brother in law (the one I had fallen over in front of), I walked back to the car, keeping my fingers crossed that it would move. It did and I headed home in more pouring rain, with water oozing from me on to the seat and the heating up full blast again.

6 at 60: turning 60

Every time I write or think those words – that I am now 60 – it is difficult to believe. After all 60 is grown-up, right: middle-aged even. But somehow I feel more like I did when I turned 40; 50 sounded older but 60 sounds fun. Perhaps it’s also because I’m happy on my own again, and achieving things which matter to me: at 50 I had a baby, two young children, no career and was in a marriage which was not bitterly unhappy but was not happy either.

Perhaps the lesson is that when I’m doing the things I love – enjoyable work; exercising; music; time with people I love – then I am happy and feel energised. Life feels abundant; but I’m also perhaps more confident than I’ve ever been before.

The week started with a spa day with Anne. The treatments which we’d booked had to be cancelled as they were short-staffed: but we were amply compensated with a glass of champagne each, a free side order with lunch, and another half day, with the missed treatments, at the spa in November.

On my actual birthday I travelled down to Kent via London. I hadn’t been to St Pancras International since it had been redeveloped: it’s now an amazing location to spend time between trains, with far too many tempting shops and wine bars. Getting on the fast train to Kent was amazing: it zooms out of St Pancras between huge concrete walls, arriving at Stratford in about 5 minutes; unfortunately once it gets into Kent it slows down somewhat, and I then had to change at Faversham on to a bog-standard suburban train.

I was staying with Jo and Mike – the pair who came up in the summer – and we went into Whitstable for dinner, picking up Jo’s daughter en route, and walking to a lovely fish restaurant by the sea. My shoes were already hurting so I took them off and walked barefoot: but it was hardly a sandy beach, unfortunately. It didn’t matter though – it was a great evening and to see someone who I had looked after from time to time as a small child and who is now a beautiful adult was great.

There was a two-day work conference at the castles in Dover, Deal and Walmer and my memories – although the content was interesting – are of seeing the white cliffs of France in the sunlight on the other side of the channel; running up on to the white cliffs of Dover and into the National Trust nature reserve; and of the sun being out and walking around the gardens at Walmer and then along the shore to Deal. I am resolved to go back sometime and take the boys, as I think they’d love it.

Having arrived home late on the Thursday night, Friday was then a day of whizzing around and friends arriving before I got up early on Saturday to drive down to Cartmel for the Cartmel trail race (10km challenge). I was really pleased as it was actually 11km and I ran it in an hour and 6 minutes; my 10km time was about 1.01 (I’d love to get it under an hour!). The results were all over the place, but it looks as if I was second in my age group – having just sneaked now into the Female Vet 60 age group.

I got back home to find my lovely friends had prepared some food for the soiree; I got changed and headed down to Lanercost to set up the Dacre Hall and have a final rehearsal. I had an incredible amount of help from my generous friends – generous with their time and support as well as with their donations of food for the party, presents and with their contributions to my chosen charity.

The party/soiree went well and people seemed to enjoy it; I was delighted that my two older children were there and proud to see them being so charming to my friends. Bella in fact enjoyed it so much that she wants me to organise something similar every year. Rather than reproduce the entire programme, I will just upload a handful of photos (I thought, having subscribed, I’d be able to upload a video but it appears I can’t – unless I perhaps do it via YouTube – there are two here now if you click on those two links – one of the others that I wanted to post is sideways for some reason). I do realise that I sound very amateur when compared to other renditions on YouTube – but as I love singing and have no ambitions to be a professional singer, I guess that’s OK. It’s the music that matters.

Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory“. Percy Bysshe Shelley

6 at 60: Keswick sprint distance triathlon

The sky was that halfway stage between darkness and daylight as I left that morning, the birds singing to welcome a new day.

I arrived in Keswick at about 7 a.m., and slotted into a parking space more-or-less opposite Tricia and Tim, who had arrived moments before. We assembled the various things you need for triathlon and headed over to registration through the early morning bustle of a mountain festival site beginning the day, people looking either uncertain or very athletic.

At the transition area we had our helmets checked then walked through the wet grass to find our bike racking slots. It was chilly but not too chilly, but as we then waited for the race briefing it started to rain. I borrowed a rain jacket from Tricia and Tim for a few moments then after the briefing headed off for that all-so-important last minute toilet break.

Watching the first waves entering and leaving the water, you could see it wasn’t easy: the long dry spell meant the water level was low and the rocks and weed were making it tricky. As I started the swim I worried that I was going to hate the swim so much that I’d end up bailing out: fortunately one of the kayakers who was looking out for us all told me I’d be in about 2m of water after a few moments, and then I was able to start doing front crawl – so much easier than breast stroke – and my breathing calmed down and I even overtook a couple of people.

Getting out I trailed bits of weed with me, which had entagled themselves in my race number (97), and I ran/jogged up into the transition area. There was Tricia, putting on her cycling top and getting ready to go. I grabbed my helmet, put on my shoes and socks, Tim took a photo, and then taking my bike I was off. Within minutes a smile was on my face: I felt as if I was peddling smoothly and steadily, and slowly I began to overtake a handful of people.

The ride climbed up and along the side of Catbells via Portinscale (I got overtaken by 2 people going up the zigzags – I overtook them both again later, although one then overtook me on the run) before dropping down through Grange, at the southern end of Derwentwater. As I went through Grange a red squirrel dived into the hedge just ahead of me: possibly the highlight of the race for me!

Fortunately there still wasn’t too much traffic on the roads, so overtaking coming back into Keswick wasn’t a problem. I jogged back into transition with my bike and then headed out on the run. This was the bit I’d alway used to worry about when I first did triathlon many years ago, but I also knew that my running has improved tremendously over the past couple of years. Despite breathing fairly heavily I managed to keep up a steady pace and again overtook a handful of people. The run went up through Cockshott Woods, along the path which hides behind the wall going along the road (I could see cyclists coming towards me on the other side of the wall – one guy who had been in my swim wave shouted something at me and I waved back) until turning back to come along the gravelly lake short path.

A short section on road past Theatre by the Lake and I was back on the grass of Crow Park and heading up a small hill to the finish line. Tricia’s husband Tim was waiting there and told me I’d crossed the line at about 10 to 10. I’m not entirely sure what time my swim started – it was due to start about 8.30 but I think it would have been more like 8.15 or 8.20 – but I’m looking forward to seeing the official results when they are posted.

A few minutes later and Penny turned up, and at about 10.30 we jogged back along the running route to see if we could see Tricia. There she was, just coming past Theatre by the Lake, so we ran back alongside her and cheered her over the finishing line.

My enthusiasm for triathlon – sprint distance, at least – has been completely re-ignited. Penny and I drove to Bassenthwaite to meet up with Anne and Laura for a swim – where the sun even came out – and I was chatty; I was buzzing for the rest of the day. I love feeling fit and healthy and strong and days like this just make me want to do more, and to get fitter – I still have an ambition to do a standard distance triathlon and actually manage to run the entire 10km run, instead of walking bits. So I’m already looking at races for next year…

6 at 60: Keswick trail race

I’ve just finished reading The Edge of the World: how the North Sea made us who we are (Michael Pye). It’s a fascinating ‘ramble’ (and I do NOT use that word pejoratively) around the countries surrounding the North Sea and through the centuries. The introduction starts in Scarborough but moves quickly and memorably to Domburg, and the various discoveries there of ancient remains including a temple to the goddess Nehalennia (who I had never heard of before). It continues by looking at the Frisians and the invention of money, and covers how money developed from paying for ‘things’ to purchasing more abstract items (insurance); it looks at the Vikings, those incredible explorers; and discusses politics, fashion, religion and travelling. It’s the sort of history book I love: a delve into social history and how the so-called dark ages evolved into modern life.

However there were certain thoughts that kept popping into my head as I read it. One was how human nature really does not change much. Another was that ‘back then’ people were always looking for signs about when the world would end. It struck me that we do that to a certain extent even now: there definitely is an ‘imminent disaster’ feeling about climate change. Whilst I do believe that climate change is real and has been exacerbated by human greed, at the same time the climate of the planet does change naturally from time to time – there were floods and famines in the past – and seeing signs that the world will end is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I believe fervently that we should be using fewer of this beautiful planet’s resources, and also taking more care of it; and I’m very conscious that as a ‘westerner’ I am one of the greedy guzzlers who uses so much of those resources.

The other theme that seemed topical was that of plague. The Black Death was as terrifying as Covid and as highly transmissable. The book has an entire chapter entitled ‘The Plague Laws’ and, having been published in 2014/15 states: “Like terrorism, like AIDS in our time, it settled in memory and panic and stung a sense of guilt into life”. It led to rules controlling travel and for a long time nobody knew what caused it nor how to prevent its spread. It has struck me often recently how a year and a half ago when Covid first became prevalent, there was a sense of panic but also perhaps our adrenalin was running high: certainly I was emotional when I first had to queue up at the supermarket, or had to queue outside an empty secondary school to pick up a Doctor’s prescription.

In terms of the series of trail races I’m running as one of my 6 at 60 challenges, there are still some safety precautions in place – likewise for choir. Lakeland Trails, who organise the races, ask that all entrants take a lateral flow test prior to racing; they also ask that we wear facemasks in the marquee, and provide hand sanitiser in the marquee.

Yesterday’s race took place at Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. Having dropped the kids off at their Dad’s house, I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to park: after all the schools were back or going back on Monday, so could Keswick really be that busy? After driving around one car park twice I went to another – on the second loop I spotted someone leaving. Hooray! I paid for parking, ran through the town centre – the market was on, so it was busy – went to the toilet and registered and got to the start of the race a little flustered but with 10 minutes to go.

I’d opted for the mass start but a lot of people are still choosing to pick a time and do a wave start. Ironically, I think they’re limiting numbers to 30 for the wave starts and there were only 33 of us on the mass start… I seemed to be with a lot of young, fit, men and kept trying to make sure I didn’t start off too fast. After a short trot along the old railway line (now a multi-use track which I’ve previously cycled along – see https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/03/28/return-to-the-lake-district/) we veered off to run up a gravelly track, which I think had been created to help with the tree clearing (the hillside looks denuded at present). We ran along an undulating track, but mostly uphill, around the southern side of Latrigg, and then along towards the Glenderaterra valley.

I’d run much of the course from this point several years ago: and conveniently had forgotten how it’s mostly a continuous but gradual uphill. At the northern end of the valley the route cuts up across the ‘Glenderaterra bogs’ – the long marsh grass lay underfoot like reeds, but hiding some very wet mud – and also at times stones. A young guy overtook me at one point and his left leg disappeared at the same time up to the ankle in mud. Through here even the young, fit runners were walking – and there was little room to overtake anyway.

At the top of the valley you cross a couple of streams and then after another short – but this time stony – uphill, you’re then on a gorgeous track which wends around Lonscale Fell – not much good for people with vertigo though – and then starts to go downhill. The car park on Latrigg was further away than I remembered, but at one point there was a lovely view of Derwentwater, and it’s basically downhill all the way – and the sun had come out. I’d previously run/walked up the path which goes up the northern/north western side of Latrigg, so it was great to be running down it. At one point I was overtaken by a very fast young man with rabbit ears on and an orange skirt. His t-shirt said ‘Matt’s Stag’.

By the time I got back to Fitz Park I was beginning to feel the effect of running 15km: but I knew that although plenty of young men had overtaken me (and a few older men), not many women had, and in fact I had overtaken a handful of people.

The results seem to indicate that out of the 33 people who did the mass start, I was 2nd woman, with a time of 1.42. That doesn’t really say much though – when I compare my time with the 335 people in all the wave starts it looks as if I would have come around 125th overall – and about 5th in the FV50 category.

If you’ve managed to read to the end of this with no photos, I hope you won’t mind if I now ‘advertise’ my fundraising page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs I’m using my 6 at 60 challenges to raise money for Medecins sans Frontieres (sorry – haven’t worked out how to put accents in to wordpress) and it would be great if you felt like sponsoring me.

Meanwhile here’s a photo to brighten things up.

So what’s new?

It doesn’t feel as if I’ve been anywhere particularly novel recently, nor done anything new – the summer remained grey and damp for a couple of weeks, and I continued to try to go out for my lunchtime run while working from home, including attempting to include some hillier runs in order to improve my uphill running. I had plans of running from Walltown Crags to Housesteads and back (quite a long way) but didn’t do it – instead I did a brick session (bike followed by run) in training for the triathlon I have coming up mid-September. It feels as if things are building to a peak in terms of the 6 at 60 – September isn’t only my birthday and the triathlon but two Lakeland trails races, swimming Snowdon and some more singing.

Then I’ve also just entered a cycle sportive in November: I’ve kept meaning to enter a sportive and never got round to it, so when I saw this one advertised and checked the date and found I was free, I decided to enter. And I’m now thinking of doing my Trinity College of Music performance diploma, having done the ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music).

Having had a week off with the kids, I then booked a few more days off. I met Jane in Lancaster on a glorious sunny day which made us feel all summery again. I haven’t been to Lancaster for a few years, and even then it had been most often to look at the fire station (it was redeveloped a few years ago and I had to value it). This day Jane and I went up to Williamson Park and the memorial that you see from the motorway, as well as the butterfly house and mini-zoo, and then after lunch in the city centre went into the Castle. I was really impressed by what the Duchy of Lancaster have done with the Castle – it made me wonder if we (English Heritage) could do something as good with Carlisle Castle. Both cities are similar in many ways – roughly the same population; near the M6; ‘stop off’ places en route to other places (the Lake District; Scotland); and both have universities, although Lancaster ranks 10th out of UK Universities while the rather newer Cumbria University ranks 114th (and Lancaster is also home to UCLAN which is 87th and apparently has a campus in Cyprus).

I look forward to going back to Lancaster Castle when the interiors are open; and next time I shall make sure I haven’t just had lunch, so I can try out the cafe: created from the former prison canteen and by extending into the courtyard.

I hadn’t seen Jane for ages – and it was great to catch up with her. Likewise it’s been good to go out running with Anne and I was able to introduce her to Askham Fell (with apologies to Penny, who is still recovering from injuries). We chose another rainy day to do the 10km route which Penny and Tim had introduced me to on New Year’s day: a lovely run which goes along by the river Eamont before heading up on to the Fell – absolutely stunning with purple heather – ending with a fantastic long downhill back into Askham. We then went to the cafe at Askham Hall for a late lunch: the stables have been converted and it’s quite rustic but really nice. The pizzas seem to be popular and I wondered if they’d be as good as the Mill Yard cafe at Morland.

Whilst I have my 6 at 60 to complete (before I turn 61, I reckon), Head Torches are currently running, cycling or walking from Lands End to John O’Groats (LE JoG). There’s a great app. called Myles which will record mileages of challenges and, I realised last week, also shows you on a map where you’ve got to. Meanwhile in terms of the 6 at 60 I ticked off one more unofficial swimming location: swimming on the Scottish-English border at Penton.

The week before I had been on a Border Reivers tour with Off the Wall tours – a fascinating tour around Arthuret, Langholm, Newcastleton and Bewcastle. We’d travelled back and forth across the border, highlighting the mixed heritage of this area in many ways, and stopped at some great spots – I loved the Gilnockie Tower, and the rainy, misty day made Langholm Moor atmospheric. I decided that at some point I’m going to cycle across there, taking in Hermitage Castle one way. It feels incredibly remote and not the sort of place you’d want to break down, especially not in the winter.

Penton fits into a similar category. The countryside around there feels really remote, and yet it’s also spell-binding. Laura mentioned that it might be worth trying the river Liddel for swimming, and I took a Friday off work. Hannah arranged to drive across and, having been held up on the A69 and the Military Road, arrived an hour late but brought the sun and warmth with her – she was obviously meant to arrive later!

It’s only half an hour’s drive from Brampton, with a small parking spot just off the road. We parked in Scotland and swam up and down the border. The rocks make it easy to get in so long as you’re prepared for sudden drop-offs – in places the banks of pebbles keep the water shallow but in other places the river has cut a deep channel through the rocks. At other places there are shallow rapids; the river rushes through, creating white water; in other places the rocks lie almost flat and create good picnic areas. It was teeming with small fish, making us think the water must be clean. After the initial chilly feeling and a bit of swimming, I took my wetsuit off, enjoying the tingly feeling and freedom of the cold water on my skin: and then we all sat in the sun and enjoyed a picnic lunch. It was lovely to be able to wild swim again – I’ve really missed it with the rather cool, damp, weather of recent weeks.

I’ve also just set up a JustGiving page: if anyone feels like sponsoring my 6 at 60 in aid of MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres), then please visit this page, which will also have regular updates on progress: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me so far.

Wetter and wetter…

Our spell of weather which was growing warmer and sunnier unfortunately came to an end. Having not had many April showers, as May popped its head over the horizon the rain came too.

Penny and I arranged to go for a bike ride on the bank holiday Monday at the beginning of May. We agreed we’d finish the ride we’d cut short previously, aiming to do a 20 mile loop from Langwathby up through Melmerby and back through Kirkoswald (one of my favourite Cumbrian villages) and Lazonby. This loop also meant that in terms of cycling around the edge of Cumbria, I would have completed the circuit up the Eden valley from Kirby Stephen northwards; and in fact in terms of the overall route the only section(s) now missing are from Grange over Sands to Kirby Stephen.

However the weather was not kind to us. We met on a grey chilly day at Langwathby station and cycled north towards Little Salkeld, although we turned to the east before we got into the village: on a nice day and further on into a ride it would be a good place to stop as there are the standing stones of Long Meg and her daughters to see, a working flour mill, and Lacey’s caves down by the river.

We cycled east to Ousby where we picked up the route we’d turned off from before, going almost due north to Melmerby and then Gamblesby. So many of the villages are attractive in the Eden valley, but this was not a day for stopping, so we just admired them as we pedalled through, chatting as we went – Penny’s father in law had recently died and Penny and Tim had been to the funeral on the Friday, so there was a lot to talk about. Fortunately it was relatively easy cycling, without any major hills, so it was quite easy to chat.

At a five-way junction near Busk we turned to the west again, along a lovely undulating road which then plummeted down into Kirkoswald (or KO as many local people call it). We came out at the bottom of the hill which leads down through the village. When driving through the village from the other direction I’d often wondered where the road we came down led; now I knew; looking at the map apparently we’d come past the remains of the castle as well (next time I’ll have to remember not to enjoy the speed so much, and try to take some notice).

It was then a straightforward ride on the ‘main’ B road back through Lazonby and down to Langwathby – but the wind was against us, the rain was coming straight at us, and the 4 miles south felt further and a bit of a drag. We got back to the cars drenched and chilled.

On the way home I stopped at the motorway services to use the toilets – I literally had to peel my clothes off as they were stuck to me, they were so wet; and my car seat was also drenched with the rain water oozing out of my garments. Even with the car heater on full blast I was chilly – when I got home I got straight into a nice deep, warm, bath.

I then went down with a head cold on the Tuesday and Wednesday (I blame Edward and school), which was annoying as I’d been hoping to get some extra running mileage in with the first of the Lakeland trails races at the weekend: however I figured that a couple of days’ rest wouldn’t hurt, and might mean the cold disappeared that much more quickly. I had forgotten what having a cold was like: my brain was like cotton wool and the pile of tissues in the waste paper basket was growing higher and higher.

I’d love to be able to say that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, ready for the run – but it didn’t. I layered up, took spare clothes and shoes, and headed down the motorway to Staveley, near Windermere. I could feel the car slipping a bit on the grass of the field being used for parking, and hoped that I wasn’t going to get stuck – a few years ago I got stuck after the Ullswater trail race and it was a real effort to get the car out. At least there were plenty of parking attendants around, so presumably they’d be able to call a tractor if people started getting stuck.

Hanging around at the start line was quiet and a little strange compared with previous races. We were being started in groups of up to 6 each minute, and for some start times there were no runners. My 1.30 slot however was fully booked, with me and 5 men lining up ready for the off. We’d been asked to arrive only 15 minutes before the start, so hadn’t been waiting long but were already getting wet: though not as wet or cold as the poor marshalls, many of whom would have been standing around for hours.

The route was on bluebell-lined tarmac out of the village for quite a way before turning off to head over the fell. A stony track went downhill before some more hard surface, and even running through the yard of a factory of some sort. Most of the middle part of the race is a bit of a blur, partly as I had no idea how far I’d come or had to go. There was a longish section on top of another fell though, with a lot of mud and water across the path: in places huge muddy puddles covered a wide area and it was difficult to know whether just to run straight through or to go round the edges.

Finally we started crossing fields, at each stone wall having to clamber over a stone stile, before heading up the last hill for ‘the sting in the tail’. I must admit I quite enjoyed that last grassy wiggly hill – it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I knew there was a downhill section coming up afterwards. The photographer was waiting there: I haven’t yet dared to look at my photo as I dread to think what my hair looked like, I was so wet.

On the enjoyable long downhill section I overtook a couple of people, which was gratifying, and then there was a run along the road to get back to the recreation ground and the finish. I managed a bit of extra effort to get over the line but not having run 18km for a while I also felt a little bit tired for the rest of the day.

At the finish there weren’t crowds milling around; the whole atmosphere was, like at the start, somewhat muted compared to previous years’ trail races. It was more like doing a triathlon than a normal running race – you’re far more spread out in a triathlon normally due to different swim waves/start times, and before too long the competitors are strung out along the course. One of the features of the Lakeland trails, and other trail races, has been the camaraderie: however the marshalls were all friendly and out on the course whenever people passed each other they’d say hello. It may have been a slightly lonelier experience than before, but it was extremely well-managed and Covid-safe: and at the end of the day great to be able to race again.

According to the stats I completed the course in 2 hours and 7 mins. They’ve put me in the FV50 category whereas I thought I was due to be in FV60 this year; but it doesn’t really matter. It looked as if the fastest female in my race was in the FV70 category, so it goes to show that age doesn’t necessarily affect your running ability!

Now to get in some extra miles so I’m ready for the half marathon in a few weeks’ time… but meanwhile I cooked lunch for some friends on the Sunday. The weather stayed dry – otherwise the lunch would have become a take-away – and we enjoyed a cold cucumber soup, followed by roast lamb with pomegranate, two salads, and then Ruins of a Russian Count’s Castle. I think this could become ‘a Thing’.

Old and new

We are currently enjoying a spell of mostly warm, sunny, weather reminiscent of Lockdown One this time last year. Some of my friends were brave enough to go open water swimming last weekend; I plucked up the courage this weekend (with moral support).

Now that we are allowed out in groups of 6 and that most of my peers have had their first vaccine at least, people have got more relaxed about meeting up – outside – and it’s been great to see more of my friends once again. I have various whatsapp groups and some people belong to most or all of them. The chats have been great, but meeting up face to face is definitely best!

I met Clare at Chesters Roman Fort on Friday (my non-working day) and we wandered around the ruins and down by the river Tyne. Most Roman Fort sites, even if they all seem much the same, actually have something unique about their particular ruins. At Chesters it’s because it was a cavalry fort and you can see the barracks where the men slept with their horses; there are remains of the large parade ground; and remains of the bath house by the river.

It was lovely to be able to wander around the site and then to sit outside the cafe with a coffee and a sandwich.

On Saturday I met a volunteer for some of the Hadrian’s Wall sites. As everybody knows everybody around here, it was no surprise to have found out that we vaguely knew each other; but it was good to walk from Poltross Burn to Birdoswald and chat about all and sundry. She knows far more about the wall than I do and will be a superb volunteer; I then ran from Birdoswald via Gilsland along the wall trail to Walltown, and then back to Gilsland where I had left the car. I haven’t run that part of the wall route for several years, and it was lovely to retrace footsteps – this time on quite dry ground, whereas my memories of doing it before are of plenty of water-logged, sodden ground and of trying to stay on the higher parts of the path rather than in the bottom of what I think is the ‘vallum’ (the ditch the Romans built alongside the wall). I had in fact intended to attempt to run a half marathon but I’d misread the map and it was very warm so when I got to Walltown I ran round the labyrinth in the nature reserve there, and then turned back to Gilsland. It’s not a fast run – you cross the railway twice and there are lots of gates and stiles which slow you up, plus there were plenty of sheep being very protective of their lambs.

Today’s forecast was for cloud but we’ve had blue skies and sun all day. A group of us walked to Broomlee Lough for a swim, somewhere I’ve written about in this blog before and where I’ve just been waiting for the right time to swim. Today was the day, and it was glorious – the walk is pleasant without being too demanding, and takes in plenty of Hadrian’s Wall sites (depending which route you choose); the ground was mostly dry to get there; and then the lough itself………. there was a stony entry, but not for very far, and then a sandy bottom; we picnicked under a crag which was sheltered and sunny; and whilst it’s early in the year so the water was cold, it wasn’t unbearable. We were the only people there, so it felt like our own private lake.

Finally, in contrast to all the joy of the weekend, I played – on my new phone – a recording of me singing Dowland’s Flow My Tears, accompanied by talented guitarist Jim Booth. It was recorded at Bewcastle church when we were practicing for a series of concerts. Previously I’ve always found listening to myself uncomfortable and I definitely have not liked the sound of my own voice; listening to it again recently I feel fairly pleased with it – though of course listening to it more times I then pick up all sorts of faults, as is of course the trouble with listening to yourself sing. Unfortunately having tried to upload it here or to YouTube it’s the wrong file format, apparently, and I can’t. But in this year that I turn 60, I’d like to get my voice recorded a few more times as well as doing my ARSM: if I’m not too dissatisfied with the results I’m hoping to be able to turn them into a short film. Watch this space!

Running, reading and riding

The past year has meant running and cycling a lot of the same routes near home, varying them to make them longer or shorter to fit my mood: but one thing I’m grateful for living round here is that there is a wide choice. Even so, it’s still good to get a little further afield and to do routes which are new or which I’ve only done once or twice before.

This evening Anne and I had agreed to meet up at Kershope to do the route which Penny and I had first done back at the end of December when there was ice on the ground (the photo below is from December). Today, in contrast, was t-shirt weather and beautifully sunny, although the shady bits in between the trees – which had been so ice-covered in mid-winter – were still chilly. I’d also forgotten how much hill there was in the run; and then managed to go the wrong way at about the 8km mark, resulting in a lovely run along a track and then a gorgeous path between the trees, jumping over fallen trunks. Unfortunately it meant a fairly long final stretch back along the road but I was enjoying being out in the evening sun and with such glorious views.

I’d been waiting until the non-essential shops had re-opened to get new running shoes, and today was the first opportunity I had to make an appointment at Chivers, the excellent running shoe shop in Carlisle (they sell other things too but their core business seems to be running shoes, and they know what they’re talking about). My preferred brand is Saucony – I’ve had several pairs now and been very happy with them – but I was thinking of changing style, and I wanted to try them out before I bought them. I’d seen the Peregrine trail shoes online and whilst it was partly the colours that attracted me, they are also a good shoe – the guy in the shop said they’re a best seller this year. I think I’ll buy myself another Goretex pair as well though, as I’m a convert to having shoes where you don’t get your feet soaking wet unless you’re in water that’s more than ankle-deep. But I really like the cushioning and the lugs on the new shoes, as well as the colours.

Apparently the company was founded besides the Saucony creek, and it should be pronounced ‘sock – a – knee’. The company’s website also says “The word Saucony comes from the Lenni Lenape Native American word “saconk,” meaning “where two rivers run together. Inspired by the original location on the Saucony Creek, our logo represents a running river marked by three boulders.”

I had a real fascination with the Native Americans when I was a kid/teenager: I was probably more in sympathy with the Native Americans than I was with the Cowboys. I particularly felt cross about the way the buffalo had been hunted wastefully by white immigrants to America. I had a book called American Indian Myths and Legends which I absolutely loved, which contained their version of the creation story plus lovely stories about animals as well as people. Every so often I have tried to find another copy: it was unfortunately one of those ones which I sent to the charity shop or something, along with an extremely good book I had about Mathematics (all I can remember about that now was that one was almost square and had bright red boards underneath the dust jacket; but that it also explained maths in a very pictorial way, which is one of my preferred learning styles).

I copied out the Native American poem which begins something along the lines of “I do not want to die a white man’s death, sealed alone and inside a metal box” and stuck it in my scrapbook – I still have it somewhere. I probably started being more interested in the outside world at that point: not in gardening nor even in going for walks with my parents, but just in how I felt if I stood outside bare-footed in the grass at sunrise in summer; or if I stood and listened to the rushing of a brook over stones.

Reading has always been one of my loves and about a month ago I started a book group, prompted by a passing remark from a friend. Our suggested book was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; having read that I passed it on to someone else, who lent me three books in return. I have now read those three as well: Toby’s Room by Pat Barker, War Doctor by David Nott and another one which was so memorable I have completely forgotten what it was… I’m now on to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. As much as anything I wanted the book group to be an opportunity to chat about books generally and to perhaps share books; I didn’t want people to feel that it was compulsory to read the suggested book. We’ve had some fantastic whatsapp chats about poetry and crime novels; meanwhile I have a big pile next to my bed as I bought quite a few when I got some ‘bonus money’ last month, ranging from a history and novels to philosophy.

I find very often nowadays that when I watch a film or documentary or read a book, I look up more details online (isn’t the internet a wonderful thing from that point of view: an enormous and easily accessible encyclopaedia). One thing leads to another and I come round full circle and am then planning bike routes or runs… one of my vague ambitions is to cycle up to Orkney; perhaps not along quite the same lines but Michelle Obama’s book and her comment to ‘tell your story’ has made me completely revise the two books I was trying (very slowly) to write… I may have 6 at 60 challenges but my bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to visit (by bike, by train or on foot) is almost endless!

Lockdown one year on

The first UK lockdown started on 23rd March 2020. Approximately a year later, we are just relaxing the rules a little bit from our third lockdown. Spring is burgeoning all around us and there’s a tangible sense of freedom. Even so, radio announcements warn us not to forget that Covid is still present – and of course it’s in fact on the increase now in the younger age groups, the ones who haven’t been vaccinated. I get my first vaccination tomorrow.

Having been interviewed about moving to the country from the city, because something like 300,000 people have moved out of London since the first lockdown (with a population of over 9.3m in greater London it’s not exactly a large proportion, though notable), I woke up this morning wondering about exercise. Last summer the Government pledged more money for bike routes, and people who have bikes which need serious repair (as opposed to just servicing) can get a £50 voucher towards their restoration. I wondered how many people started doing more exercise this time last year – but also how many people have kept it up.

I’m doing tons more exercise than I was last year, and prior to working from home one of my frustrations about a long commute to work was trying to fit in as much exercise as I’d like – also I found 4 hours on the train a day quite tiring for some reason (going for a run as soon as I got home would probably have done me the world of good, but I wasn’t that motivated at 7p.m. on a dark, cold and often wet winter’s night). When I was at work I was in the middle of a city with no trails nearby – if I wanted to run at lunchtime I had to run on the pavement (the office did have a shower, so I think in 2 years of being based there I maybe did 3 runs).

I have loved the fact that over the past year I’ve clocked up around 100km a month – quite a bit more some months – running most days of the week; and I have also increased my cycling mileage.

However for me this is something that has been an incredibly important part of my life since I was in my early 30s, so I have relished having the opportunity to get fitter again; and with my ‘6 at 60’ challenges this year I’ve now entered the entire Lakeland Trails series – 9 runs – and also just entered a triathlon. But what about those people who started to get fitter last spring and summer, perhaps feeling that rush of excitement from starting something new, including buying some colourful lycra? Are they still persevering with it? I have to admit at times recently my motivation has waned when there’s still hardly anyone to go running with – I feel a bit of a pariah when, even when we’re allowed to meet up with one other person to exercise, people still think up reasons not to meet up; and there are times when you’re out running and you say ‘hello’ to someone you pass and they look at you as if you’re carrying the plague (let’s face it, I don’t think I would be capable of running if I had Covid – I would guess even the symptomless one must surely affect carrying out demanding exercise like running (especially the hills around here…)).

So – are you one of those people who dusted down and oiled their bike; who dug their running shoes out of the back of the wardrobe? And what are you doing now? Have you gone from strength to strength or did it just get too difficult to remain motivated over the dark winter months? Please let me know!