Based out of New England, US, Amy Rusiecki knows trail running from all angles. Not only is Amy a successful ultra runner herself, she is also married to one (Brian Rusiecki) and together they are the race directors for the Vermont 100. Amy had visited the Lake District fells of the UK in 2015 during a trip to the World Mountain Running Championships in nearby Wales, and this year returned as part of the #MyRoclite #GetAGrip24 adventure. Teaming up with fellow inov-8 ambassadors Avery Collins (US) and Ben Abdelnoor (UK), the trio set out on an epic 24-hour adventure through the fells. Amy takes up the story:
I’m not going to lie – running has brought me many amazing opportunities over the years that I am very grateful for. I’ve got to travel the country, and the world, to run in fantastic places. I’ve met incredible people and athletes who are as passionate about running as I am and who each have their own unique story. I’ve pushed my limits, broken myself down to the core, and experienced both unbelievable highs and devastating lows. I remain humbled and grateful for all the experiences that have come my way, yet hungry for the next one.
One of the coolest opportunities I’ve had came just a few months ago when inov-8 invited me to its UK homeland for what was pitched as a 24-hour adventure in the Lake District fells – and what an adventure it turned out to be!
First off, I had to get there. After crewing/pacing at the Grindstone 100, I grabbed six hours of sleep before joining a friend for a 23-mile training run. Next stop, the airport! Unfortunately I didn’t sleep much on the flight, so I was exhausted by the time I met up with Avery Collins (the other inov-8 US athlete on this trip) in Dublin, Ireland. We then boarded our puddle-jumper to Manchester, England. Since Avery had raced – and won – Grindstone, I assumed he would be even more exhausted than me, so I took one for the team and talked to the shuttle driver who drove us the two hours to the Lake District while Avery passed out in the back seat.
We arrived at the inov-8 office on Monday morning and they quickly treated us to much-needed coffee and sausage sandwiches. We met all the team and put faces to the names we had seen previously on emails. It was amazing to see prototypes for new products, get our hands on running shoes that have not yet hit the market and try on top-secret new clothing.
From there we headed north into the heart of the Lake District. We got out for a short hike to stretch the legs and I quickly realised just how beautiful these trails are. The countryside had beautiful foliage that was turning yellow and deep maroon, but contrary to New England where the leaves turn colors, it was the ferns that were turning colors. Then – and apparently this is quite common in the Lake District – the weather changed quickly. Thick fog and heavy rain rolled in, so we decided to head our hotel for the night.
A short night’s sleep, and we were up at 6am ready to hit the trails for the start of our 24-hour adventure. We packed our bags with enough clothing to keep us warm, donned our inov-8 waterproofs and set out into the fells, or what we’d call mountains. Led by inov-8 UK ambassador Ben Abdelnoor, who has raced and trained over the fells for many years, we knew we had the perfect guide. And while the skies were grey, we were treated to many elevated views across to lakes within the park, and at one point we could even see as far as the Irish Sea.
We ran along ridgelines, stared at views and dived into small stone huts… all the time talking about our shared loved for running and adventure.
I really tried to take in the beauty of where we were adventuring. The fells are a unique area and very different to where I run in New England. There aren’t designated trails or blazes to lead you where you want to go – you follow unmarked paths, sometimes scrambling over scree or across fields, to get to where you’re going. And much of our way finding was based on getting to the nearest peak or ridgeline, so you could read the map and find your way into the next valley… and so on. We summited at least one ‘Wainwright’ fell, which is similar to the 4,000 footers in the Whites or the ADK’s 46ers. There are a total of 214 Wainwright summits in the Lake District.
I was amazed at how these mountains we were playing in were called ‘fells’ or ‘hills’ rather than mountains. Sure, their peak elevation isn’t huge (the highest peak is Scafell Pike at 3,209ft), but they rise sharply from the low-lying lakes in the valleys, and to get up them involves at least 1,500ft-2,000ft of tough running/hiking/scrambling.
The views were spectacular – from the fern foliage, the random sheep grazing the hillsides and the scree fields that roll off the peaks, to the giant lakes in the valleys and the grassy green growth everywhere else. It was completely different from where I usually run and beautiful for its unique appearance.
We then dropped down to Black Sail Hut – a remote ‘bothy’ situated at the head of the Ennerdale valley. This was where we would eventually spend the night. The hut is only accessible by foot, but is fully stocked with food and drinks. We took advantage of this to grab some warm mugs of tea before heading back out onto the fells up to a nearby ridgeline.
By now it was mid-afternoon and we were hoping to capture an amazing sunset while up on the ridge. Unfortunately the clouds were low in the sky and the winds were whipping through. We made our way back to the bothy, flying back down the hills and having some fun along the way.
Spirits were lifted, however, by a serving of bangers (sausages) and mash (potatoes), washed down by bottles of local ale. We all retired early in preparation for day two. I remember lying there listening to the sound of the rain pelting against the stone walls, thinking that the following day could be fun!
Next morning and the rain was still pouring down. The winds had also significantly picked up in speed. We sat and devoured an English breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon, fried tomato slices and baked beans) and coffee, all the time staring at the epic weather outside.
We stalled for a while before layering up in all our warm and waterproof gear. It was time to tackle some of the fiercest conditions the Lake District had to offer!
Almost immediately we saw that the small streams we’d hopped over the day before were now raging rivers. There was water falling from all angles, cutting down the fell-side and channeling into valley torrents.
We had two options to make our way back to the vehicles we’d left behind the day previous: Either go the long way that kept us at a lower elevation, or take the shortest way up over a mountain pass. We opted for the shorter more direct route. We’re hardened ultra runners…. How tough could it really be?!
After wading through a few rivers in the valley, our path turned up towards the pass. It was fairly easy going until the path crossed the now-raging river, and suddenly we were stranded on a mountainside without a trail to follow. We were forced to scramble over loose scree, clutching to the heather for balance (and dear life!) knowing that any slip would land us in the overflowing river and ultimately back down in the valley.
Gusts of wind, 50mph and stronger, were blowing directly towards us, with the rain pelting the only exposed parts of our bodies – our faces! It reminded me of winter hiking up Mount Washington last year, when I had to carefully pick every footfall in the loose snow and pause every time a gust of wind came through for fear of being blown over.
Once we reached the pass, we made our way down the other side, again wading through deep waters. It was a relief to reach the vehicles. What an adventure – and what a test for the new inov-8 ROCLITE 315 GTX shoes and waterproof clothing, all of which was superb in some of the meanest conditions imaginable.
We all scrambled into the vehicles to find blankets and towels. All that remained was a simple drive back… only it was anything but simple! We were only 15 minutes down the road when a vehicle driving towards us rolled down its window and the lady inside warned us that the road ahead was flooded and impassable. We quickly u-turned and tried to head out of the Lake District the opposite way. Numerous road closures and diverted routes later, we made it back to the inov-8 office. A drive that should have taken an hour, took four hours!
And would you believe it… after all that epic rain, as we entered the car park the sun came out to play. Typical Lake District, apparently!
Unfortunately (having a full time job and all), I didn’t have any additional time to spend in the UK, so I flew out the next morning. I enjoyed a beer in Dublin on my way home and reflected on what a brilliant adventure I’d been lucky enough to be part of.
24-hour adventure kit lists
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