To give Striders a feel for this race I’ll quote from the organiser’s blurb:
“Now in its fourth year, the TdeH has fast become a classic ultra run. Traditionally run on the shortest Saturday in December the route is a tough circuit around Helvellyn starting and finishing at Askham on the edge of the Lakes. The distance is 38 miles with several thousand feet of ascent and descent. The terrain is tough mountain trails and so fell running and navigational skills are essential. Entries are strictly limited to experienced and competent entrants. This is not an event for novice trail runners…!”
Tom Reeves and I like the occasional break from the mud of cross country & this would be our third ‘Tour’. For us the race provides a focus for our winter training and a stern challenge before the Christmas festivities kick in. If you arrive at the start of the ‘Tour’ underprepared then you will suffer – big time! Previous years have served up snow, freezing temperatures, strong winds, rain, hail and darkness but we were still back for more! This year it would be gale force winds that would be our biggest problem supplemented by a hail storm in the middle of the day and heavy rain for the last hour or so of the race.
It was still dark when we set off from the start at our chosen time of 07.30. We were slightly amused to see the head torch lights of the ‘underprepared’ scattered all over Askham Moor as we got into our stride. Tom and I know the Moor fairly well so we were across quite quickly accompanied by two Tynedale Ladies (Steph Scott & Bev Redfern) and someone Tom had met whilst out BG recceing (Mark Pearson). The only problem was that we were running into the teeth of a south westerly gale! Having such a wind in your face for over four hours tends to sap the energy somewhat and by half way we were both fairly ‘pooped’. However, we were still together, although we’d lost the Ladies but not Mark.
During that ‘first half’ the wind had brought us to a near standstill as we crossed the mountain pass of Boredale Hause and recent rains had flooded the fields around Patterdale which meant we had to wade through knee deep, freezing water to get across (the swans seemed to be enjoying it!). Furthermore, as we approached Glenridding, I heard a deep rumble of thunder which seemed to come from Helvellyn itself and within a couple of minutes we were running through rain and hail that was just sheeting down! To add to all this, the ground was absolutely saturated and the steep descent from Sticks Pass had been an uncomfortable slippery slide, although I did manage to stay upright – just!
At the start of the ‘second half’, as we passed Grisedale Tarn, the wind was now behind us, and instead of barring our way, it threatened to send flying onto our faces across the rough, rocky path. None the less we pressed on and things got a little easier as the gradient became less steep and the surface more forgiving as we approached Patterdale for the second time. After a further wade through the flooded fields and a wave to the swans we stopped at the check point for a quick cup of tea and ginger biscuit.
We were now into the final quarter of the race. Although Tom and I were always ‘in touch’ during this section we didn’t run together much or exchange many words. After 30 miles you really need to dig deep and call upon your own reserves of fitness and determination to carry on. As dusk started to close in, and the rain began to fall by the bucket load, driven on by the still strong wind thankfully now at our backs, Askham Moor finally appeared after more than 8 hours, 35 miles and countless gallons of rain since we’d crossed it that morning. Tom drew level with me, spoke some encouraging words, and pressed on. I knew his two young sons would make his life hell if he didn’t finish ahead of me!
It was nearly dark now but I could just about manage to see without my torch to navigate back across the moor and muster up the energy to pass a couple of competitors on the final run back to the starting point in Askham village. What a day! I’d finished in 8 hours 51 minutes – much quicker than I thought I would have managed when I was half way round and only 3-4 minutes slower than last year when conditions were considerably better. Tom had come in a couple of minutes ahead of me and Mark about 5 minutes behind. We were all pleased with our performances and delighted to have finally finished such a gruelling and punishing event. If only someone could bottle that feeling – they’d make a fortune!