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The Espresso Round: A great introduction to round running


A round, in a fell running context, is a route that starts and ends at the same point and requires the runner to go to either a series of checkpoints, or follow defined a route, often under a time constraint. While similar in nature to a fell race, a round is not an organised event with a designated start time, rather it is done at a time that suits the competitor and ratified, usually, by means of GPS tracking. Of all mountain rounds, the Bob Graham is probably the most iconic and, along with the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay’s Round, make up the UK Big 3 or Classic rounds. Clocking in at 55-65miles and 25-30,000ft of ascent, these three rounds do little for making round running accessible for your average fell runner. This is by no means a criticism, they were not designed to be easy and, if redesigned to be easier, it would take away from what they are, and the achievement of those who have completed them. But that does not discount the fact that, for the aspiring round runner, they are a monumental and daunting task. While there are rounds harder than the Big 3 (Rigby Round and Lakeland 2500s to name but a few) there are also rounds that are easier to complete, including two developed by George Fishers in Keswick.


In 2017 the George Fishers Tea Round (originally called Abraham’s Tea round) was conceived. Starting at George Fishers Shop in Keswick it traverses the 10 fells seen from the cafe before returning back to the shop. At around 30miles and 12,000ft of ascent, the Tea Round is not as difficult as the aforementioned Big 3, it is still a daunting task for the novice fell runner. There is however, a stripped down version, again starting at George Fishers, taking in four fells (Cat Bells, Rowling End, Causey Pike and Barrow), before returning back to the shop some 12 miles and 3,500ft later, a much more achievable challenge for the runner.



Espresso Round


Having spent the past five months travelling around New Zealand, my fitness was not what it was when I tackled the Tea Round several years previously. While I had remained active on my travels, my trips were mainly walking and exploring new sites rather than running. Returning to the Lake District for 6 weeks, I wanted to do something meaningful to mark my time there, but knew I did not have the fitness for one the bigger rounds. Having thoroughly enjoyed my day out on the Tea Round, I set decided on doing its shorter counterpart, the Espresso Round. With a date set and a favourable forecast all that was left to do was run the round.


I chose to run the route clockwise, starting with Cat Bells, the most popular of the fells, in an attempt to beat the rush of people who would be drawn to the Lakes with the good weather. As I progressed through Keswick and Portinscale, and reached the base of the fell, the line of people winding their way up showed I had not been early enough. A gate at the base of the fell had been held open for me by a walker, I reached, and with a smile, grabbed onto the gate,allowing her to progress. A glimpse back showed a group just behind me, the lead walker sped up to take gate duty off of me, and I continued on up the fell. Looking over, as I reached the first of the switchbacks that lead you up the fell, I noticed that the gate was left wide open, the group that had gone through, nowhere to be seen. A moment of hesitation, a desire to complete the round in a good time versus a desire to do what was right. I turned and retreated down the fell, closed the gate with a click, and the began the ascent again for the second time that day. The route was tedious, I have never enjoyed the route up Cat Bells, finding it difficult to get any form of rhythm on at the best of time. With dozens of people on the trail, it grew even harder. Another runner drew level with me and we dodged slowly through the crowd with a series of “excuse me’s” “on your lefts” and “do you mind if we come pasts”. At the first scrambling section I lost him, him going left and me right. By the time I reached the top of the scramble, he was lost in the crowd, I do not know if he was ahead or behind. I eventually reached the top, tapped the trig point then descended, seeking a small grassy path that cuts down the side of Cat Bells around two thirds of he way up. Locating it, I ran down it, and suddenly, I was completely alone. The juxtaposition from the busy, hectic path up Cat Bells, to this quite isolated route was welcome. I began the descent down the fell, legs stretching out on the long grassy slope, this is where I could start picking up speed.


After running down the steep grassy slope of Cat Bells, the road section to the base of Rowling End was jarring. Never a fan of road running, I tended in the past to walk road sections, saving my running for the fells, but I knew that, on this round, this was not an option. The heat of the day was stifling, with hot air rising from the baked road. I reached the base of Rowling End and began the long steep ascent. Having only ever completed it from fells of a similar height or taller, it always appeared diminutive, a small climb that would not feature in the memory of the days running. From this side, it seemed colossal. The climb up could accurately be described as a slog, I ate some sweets, and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I could see a point ahead that I believed was the summit and as it drew closer, I dreaded the idea of it being a false summit, and this climb continuing. Mercifully, however, the slope shallowed to dry flat turf and the next fell, Causey Pike was revealed.


I had looked forward to reaching the summit of Causey Pike since I began climbing Cat Bells. For most of the round, I could see the summit and I knew, once summited, the vast majority of the climbing would be over. While still a steep ascent followed by a scramble to gain the summit, most of the height had been taken out by the ascent of Rowling End and mercifully, there was very little descent between the two fells. I powered up the ascent, renewed by the sugar I had eaten and knowing that, once at the top I was only one small climb away from completing the round. A short scramble up, and I was on top of Causey Pike, smiling to myself as I looked across at the route I had ran and, below me, the meagre climb to the small summit of Barrow, the final fell below me. The descent was relatively straightforward, a small path leading down to a stream crossing and then I was on the large motorway like path to Barrow. I ate the last of the food I had brought, two Babybells, as I ascended barrow and soon I was at the top. There were a few people hanging about on the summit, but I did not stop, I raced down the hill, and soon I was back on the road. My head ached from the heat as I ran through Portinscale, and fought my way through the crowded streets of Keswick to arrive at George Fishers.


As I touched the wall of the shop and uncontrollably smiled. I had done it, my second round. I felt surprised with how happy and accomplished I felt. I knew that I could do it, there was no doubt in my mind that, barring injury, I would get round. A few days prior I had run the Coledale Horseshoe which was a similar length, so I knew I was more than capable of doing this. Yet there was this great sense of achievement. Achievement that I had completed this round, that I had pushed myself and could not have given more to it. A feeling that I had lacked for the past 5 months of travel. A feeling that, again, I was a fell runner.


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