One of the coolest opportunities that I've had was being asked to travel to the Lakes District in the UK for a week of photo shoots and product testing. Chalk that up to another awesome experience that's been afforded me through running! I didn't know much about the trip or our schedule beforehand - so I went in with enthusiasm and an open mind. I mean, Inov8 was sending me across the pond to play in one of the most unique places to run!
(The beauty of the Lakes District, UK)
So, after returning home (1am on Sunday morning) from crewing/pacing Brian at Grindstone, I slept a quick (6 hour) night before doing a 23 mile training run with a friend then driving to Hartford for my 6pm flight to the UK. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep much on the flight, so I was exhausted by the time I met up with Avery Collins (the other Inov8 US athlete on this journey) in Dublin before our puddle jumper to Manchester England. Since Avery ran Grindstone, I assumed he had even less sleep than I did - so I took one for the team and talked to the shuttle driver that took us the 2-hours to the Inov8 office in Staveley while Avery passed out in the back seat.
We arrived at the Inov8 office on Monday morning, and they quickly treated us to coffee (which was necessary for Avery and I to be able to function at this point) and some awesome breakfast sandwiches with homemade sausage. We got to meet most of the brains behind the awesome Inov8 product, as we poked around the office. It was amazing to see prototypes for new products, see shoes that never hit the market, and see next year's product line. From here on out, our schedules would be maintained by Britta, who was managing the photo shoot and video shoot.
(Sign in the Inov8 office)
That afternoon, Avery and I were slated to do a photo shoot for some of next year's products - notably the Trail Ultra shoe (which I'm super excited about), complimented by some amazing purple shorts and the lightest windbreaker I've ever worn. Britta drove us into the heart of the Lakes District, where we met with our photographer Dave, and hiked in to a beautiful trail for the photos. The country side where we were running had beautiful foliage that was turning yellow and deep maroon - but contrary to New England where the leaves turn colors, this was the ferns that were turning colors and providing the incredible coloring. Unfortunately, the fog rolled in and it started to drizzle on us after a few hours, so we called it quits and headed to the hotel where we were staying for the night. We had enough time for a quick nap before Avery, Britta, Dave and I met up with the rest of our team - Ben (Inov8 UK athlete), and James (photographer) for dinner. Leigh, the brains behind shoe design at Inov8, also joined us for a pint on his way home.
(Photo shoot for 2018 product)
A short night's sleep, and we were up at 6am to hit the trails early for our 24-hour adventure. We packed our bags with enough clothing to keep us warm, donned our Inov8 rain gear, and set out into the mountains. While the day was grey, we were treated to many amazing views to a few of the larger lakes within the Lakes District, and at one point could even see as far as the Irish Sea. We ducked into a small stone hut (a 'bothy' in the UK), ran along ridgelines, and stared at the views...all while James captured our movements in photos and Dave captured it all on video.
(Britta tucking all the lose pulls on Avery's pack - gotta look perfect on camera!)
I was amazed that there was very little need to stage any moments, or to redo anything for another take (or another angle) on our adventure. It was fairly organic, folks captured what we were doing as we were doing it. And that organic nature of this shoot really allowed me to fully take in the beauty of where we were adventuring. The fells are a unique area - contrary 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 were going. And much of our way finding was based on getting to the nearest peak or ridgeline so you could read a map and find your way into the next valley...and so on. We reached at least one 'Wainwright', which is similar to 4,000 footers in the Whites or the ADK's 46ers, that's the name for the group of designated peaks within the Lakes District.
(The 'creative team' discussing the next segment to shoot)
I was amazed at how these mountains that we were playing in were called 'hills' rather than mountains. Sure, their peak elevation isn't impressive (the highest peak is about 3,200 feet), but they rise sharply from the low-lying lakes in the valleys at least 1,500 or 2,000 feet to the top. Similar to many of the mountains we have in the northeast.
(Photo from our Lakes District adventure)
Anyway, we ultimately dropped down to the valley and arrived at the bothy where we would be spending the night. This hut was only accessible by foot, but was fully stocked with food and drinks. We all warmed up a bit with some tea before dropping some weight from our packs and heading up to another ridge line. It was mid-afternoon, and we were hoping to capture an amazing sunset while we were on the ridge. Unfortunately, the clouds were low in the sky and the winds were whipping. We got some shots but ultimately headed back to the bothy for dinner, where we were treated to bangers and mash, and great English beer. Avery, Ben, and I followed that up with one of the most competitive games of Jenga ever - it's amazing how even a game like that can bring out the competitive drive in all of us!
(Ben, Avery and I being filmed by Dave as we shared a snack of pork pie.)
We all retired early, listening to the sound of rain that just started to fall. By the next morning, the rain was still pouring down and the winds were intense - Brita returned to our bunk room completely soaked, having gone 15 feet outside to get to the bathroom. We enjoyed an English breakfast (which is eggs, sausage, bacon, fried tomato slices and baked beans) and some coffee, all staring out at the epic weather outside. We stalled, capturing some interviews on tape, but ultimately had to layer up in all our waterproof gear (thank goodness Inov8 has AWESOME rain gear!) and face the weather.
(Photo of amazing running in the Lakes)
Almost immediately, we could see that the small streams that we had hopped over yesterday were now raging rivers, collecting the immense rain and channeling it down any valley it could find. We had two options out - either go the long way that kept us at lower elevation, or the shortest way that took us over a mountain pass but directly to our car. We opted for the short and quick way (I mean, we're tough ultrarunners, right?!?). After wading through a few rivers in the valley, the path turned up towards the pass. At least it was easy going until the path crossed the now raging river, and we were stranded on a mountain side without a trail to follow. We were forced to scramble along loose scree, clutching to the heather for balance (and dear life!), knowing that any slip would land you in the overflowing river and ultimately back down in the valley. Gusts of wind, up to 50 miles per hour, were blowing directly towards us, with the rain pelting our faces as the only exposed part of my body. It reminded me of winter hiking up Mount Washington last year, where I often had to careful pick every footfall in the lose snow below, and had to freeze during every gust of wind for fear of being blown off-track. In short, it was a pretty darn epic hike out. Once we reached the pass, we sloshing through ankle deep standing water and shin-deep rivers as we made our way to the other side of the hills and ultimately back down to our vehicles. The silver lining is that the Inov8 rain gear was fully put to the test - and it performed extremely well to keep me dry and warm!
(Our hike out was quite epic - thank goodness for head-to-toe waterproof gear!)
Our vehicles were a relief, and we all scrambled to find blankets and towels to sit on so we wouldn't ruin everyone's car seats. Our intent was to drive about 20 minutes down the valley to get additional footage somewhere that we wouldn't be as exposed. However, about 15 minutes down the road, a vehicle driving towards us rolled her window down and warned us that the roads were flooded ahead and we couldn't get out that way. We quickly u-turned and headed out of the Lakes District the opposite way. We encountered numerous puddles up to the undercarriage of the vehicle that I was in, a few flooded vehicles along the way, and road closure after road closure as we continued to try to find a way out of there. Luckily, the last option to get out of the Lakes District was still open (and only flooded up to the license plate in our vehicle) so we finally made it out. Our 20 minute ride had turned into a 4-hour adventure through the back roads - but we finally made it back to the Inov8 office by late afternoon.
(Vehicles driving through the flooded streets)
Would you believe it, after all that epic rain...the sun was starting to shine at this point. We changed clothing quickly, and headed out to get some close-up action shots of the shoes. Luckily, there were plenty of puddles to run through, which gave awesome photos!
(Back at the Inov8 office again)
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 so I could go to work on Friday. I enjoyed a beer in Dublin on my way home (cause you've gotta, right?!?) and reflected on how much adventure I had gotten in over the past few days. I was amazed at how much we accomplished in a short amount of time, and grateful for all that I got to experience while I was there! As I said to start this, I am so blessed to have the numerous amazing opportunities for adventures like this!
(Enjoying a Guiness in Dublin on my return flight)