Do you train for the mountains?
It's a question I didn't ask myself until ten years ago. Whether it was the onset of middle age and a sense of slowing down, or the arrival of social media and countless training articles, somehow I started to prepare for the mountains. I did the sums. Each year I spent between 20 and 30 days in the mountains, mostly climbing, for between 8 and 12 hours at a time. The grades were fairly consistent - up to HVS in Summer and VI in Winter - most with a rucksack and all the kit that goes with a day out in the hills. How was I going to prepare? With two young children and a partner who worked as a Consultant Oncologist, I knew that time was going to be tight. Two important decisions had to be made - the first was simple - move to the Peak District and be closer to the mountains. The second was somewhat harder - work less and go "part time". Put aside the loss of earnings and the feelings of professional inadequacy and use the time instead to train and climb.
In the future I'll talk a bit more about what I do for training, but for now I'll sing the virtues of triathlon and in particular, mountain triathlons as a way of preparing for the hills. Several now exist in the UK - if you're ambitious check out the likes of the Helvellyn Triathlon or the Snowdon Snowman and enjoy a great day out. But if you're looking for something a little easier it's well worth entering the Hathersage Hilly. Whilst most sprint triathlons pride themselves on flat courses and smooth surfaces, the Hilly is more akin to a "pocket" mountain marathon with steep climbs and rugged conditions under foot. The day starts with a 420m swim in the outdoor pool, followed by a hilly 21km bike ride and a 6.5km fell run. Training in the disciplines of swimming, cycling and running means that the physical stress is spread widely across the body and leads to good "all round" aerobic fitness. If it's mountain fitness you want this is a great place to start!
Here's Andy Hartley's account (Mr Fat to all who know him!)...
"I paid up early and forgot about it. Two weeks before I thought - I better give the place to someone else because I’m not fixed yet. But Mrs Fat encouraged me to give it a go and suggested doing the swim and cycle then stopping, so at least I would have the times recorded. The day before I thought – maybe I can run to the top of the hill then walk down. On that basis I picked up my number from race control. I have really missed the adrenalin rush of going to registration, seeing the transition areas all set out, the bike racks ready, the funnel and running route marked out, all the timing mats etc. At the time the nerves feel bad but it is addictive, for some reason. So I turned up on Sunday morning, set the bike out, helmet, glasses, socks, towel at transition 1 and my trusty Hokas at transition 2. It was hot and clammy, I drank a gallon of water. Before I got in the pool I just remembered I needed a timing chip on my ankle. You would be amazed how many people forget in the anxiety of the moment. Our Tom forgot his at Skipton Tri. I have done a lot of swim training but nothing prepares you for swim racing in lanes with other folk. 3, 2, 1, go. I pushed off but made a school boy error of not checking my googles for tightness before hand– they immediately filled with water. I couldn’t see a thing. The water is a mass of bubbles and other peoples feet and arms. The pool filters can’t remove visitors sun cream quick enough so the water is white rather than clear. I couldn’t see the lane markers at the bottom of the pool and got caught on the lane rope continually. I tried to concentrate on my ‘catch’ - think fingers lower than wrist and wrist lower than elbow. Don’t turn my hand in, keep it flat. Pull with forearms. High cadence. Don’t forget to breath out hard. Counting to 14 should be easy, but even that is a challenge. Then jump out, run to T1. Two others were with me at this point and one was faster on to his bike. I set off after him. Within a couple of minutes he was 200 yards ahead. It stayed that way until Calver bridge when it started up hill, when the distance increased, he disappeared. It’s a slog up the hill, I over took quite a few but not him, in his red, white and blue SufferFest tri suit. Then he appeared again as we reached the main road at the top, still ahead but reachable. I put my head down out of the wind and pushed. When Fox House junction appeared I prayed for no cars coming down the road and was in luck. The road sweeps round under Toads Mouth then up to Surprise View. I was getting closer but still not close enough. As we descended down passed the Millstone the 30mph sign flashed on. He was still ahead. The road narrowed at the chemists and cars dawdled down the high street. Then is was left, pass the Little John, where all the cars had stopped and I squeezed passed them, then fast downhill to the football pitch and T2. Don’t overshoot the stop line or I will be disqualified. He was leaving the field as I pulled on the Hokas. I wonder how it will go.. no pain from my knee, great. I have to confess to loving the chase of a race. I caught him after the ski slope in the silver birch wood and just edged passed. I then bust a gut to stay in front until the end when we sprinted in to the finish funnel together. So much fun. We chatted afterwards, kindred spirits. I was just ahead finishing but his total time was faster than mine. Wow I miss the competition of the fell races, but the triathlons are a good substitute. Time was one hour 28 which was 2 mins 30 quicker than last year. 35th out of 300. 1st wrinkly."
Many thanks to Andy for providing permission to publish his account.