Helvellyn and the Dodds Fell Race, Lake District, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Aaron Gourley, Tom Reeves, Penny Browell

I’d be lying if I said I was wasn’t feeling nervous about this race. As I drove over from a dull and damp north east across the A66 I was worried about low cloud. However, as I dropped into Cumbria my worries faded as blue skies appeared and the temperature started to rise.

The Professionals

Pulling into Threkeld Cricket Club, I made my way to registration, handed over £7 then dashed straight over to Pete Bland’s mobile shop to purchase some emergency equipment – a race map, blok shots and a spanking new pair of Walsh’s.

All set and ready for the off, Tom and Penny appeared and after a quick group picture it was time to run.

The first mile winds its way along a track then through a soggy field before we hit the base of Clough Head, here starts the long and torturous climb to the first check point.

For the next mile it’s a near vertical climb. My heart rate has hit 89%, and all I’ve seen for the last 10mins are the heels of those in front – Inov8, Salomon, La Sportiva – I pass the time studying each person’s shoe choice. All the while in my mind I’m thinking that this is going to be a horrendous descent, will the Walsh’s I have on cope? Will my legs cope? I need to keep something in the bank for this.

Briefly looking up for a moment to savour the views the summit of Clough Head is reached and its a long run down then back up to Great Dodd, via Calfhow Pike before skirting the summits of Watson Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd before dropping down to Sticks Pass.

From here it’s a slog up to Raise and the ground gets rockier and the crowds of walkers bigger. It’s also getting hotter.

From Raise the route drops down again before rising back up to the summit of White Side, It’s here the race leader of this out and back course, Carl Bell, comes flying past. He looks so strong, is minutes ahead of the chasing pack and as it happens, managed to break the course record by oner 2 minutes.

Dropping off White Side there’s a small climb up to Helvellyn Little Man and it’s here I hear words of encouragement from Penny and Tom as they make their way back from the summit of Helvellyn, the turn around point of the race.

I guess they’re around 10mins ahead of me at this point as I take my time up to the summit of Helvellyn. Turning around the race retraces itself back up and over each peak. I’m still feeling good but the temperature really starts to take it’s toll and I being to flag,

Approaching the final climb to the summit of Clough Head again I hit the wall and have to stop for a bit. There’s a paraglider about to begin his take-off, I wonder if he’ll take a passenger and drop me off at the finish.

The final descent is as torturous as I’d imagined. the lactic acid builds up in my legs and the heat has become unbearable as I reach the bottom for the final run in back to the cricket club.

3hr29mins of torturous beauty in the high fells of the Lake District on a simply stunning day. What more could you want from a day out running? Well there was lots and lots of cake at the end and the ginger flapjack was a real treat.

I wish I could smile and run uphill at the same time!

… Tom Reeves and Penny Browell

Descending Fast

TR: Although I’ve covered the ground of this race many time on various Bob Graham expeditions, I still studied the map which Penny kindly provided very carefully, as she drove me across to Threlkeld Cricket Club and the start of the race. This is a category A fell race for good reason with 4388 feet of ascent over a 15 mile out and back route covering long hard high ground. The day looked good for navigation with clear blue skies and sun. My main aim of this race was to get round in good form as it was my first lakeland race for quite some time.

PB: My aim was purely survival! Although I’ve done little bits of running and walking in the Lakes I knew this was going to be harder than anything I’d tried before so I wanted to get round without getting lost and ideally without completely dying on the second half.

TR: We bumped into Aaron who had also ventured over to take part and we headed for the start on the road beside the cricket club. After a quick photo opportunity we were off and soon spread out as the fast guys at the front pushed on. All too quickly we left the road and started the long thigh busting, back breaking climb to the summit of Clough Head (728 metres). Penny and I swapped places several times on the first half of the climb before she began to pull away from me. I just couldn’t keep up with her.

PB: I found the first climb hard but really wanted to get it done. Whilst we could see the frontrunners pulling away it was still quite congested in the middle of the pack and it was hard to get into any kind of rhythm so I kept overtaking people to find some space. I’d been warned it was probably the hardest climb and was delighted to get up it unscathed and feeling good. The view at the top was breath-taking – I don’t care how hard climbs are when you’re rewarded with landscapes like that!

TR: At the summit Penny was about 50 metres ahead and I gradually caught her on the long grassy very runnable descent from the summit toward Great Dodd and another slightly less steep climb. The sun was well and truly out by now and I was beginning to feel the pace a bit.

The pattern for the race was pretty much set by now…Penny would get ahead on the climbs and the flattish stuff; I would get ahead on the descents (being less sensible) On the drop down from Whiteside (863 metres) before the final rocky climb to Helvellyn the race leader passed us. I gasped a well done and pushed on to the summit as more and more runners ran past me on the way back!!

PB: The frontrunners were incredible as we made the final climb up Helvellyn. They seemed to literally fly down the mountain. The leader (who broke the course record) seemed never to touch the ground – as someone who struggles with downhills I was in total awe. Although out and back races sometimes seem less exciting it was an absolute joy to see such incredible runners show us how it’s done.

TR: There were quite a lot of people at the summit cheering us on which really does help. The views from the top were stunning as I felt a new injection of energy as I headed back. The run back is obviously a bit easier as you are generally heading down, but there are still a couple of naughty climbs which Penny was still blasting up.

PB: I think blasting up is an exaggeration – although there is less climbing on the way back it seemed a lot harder! I was starting to feel quite weak and sickly but managed to get some food into me and was spurred on by Tom and a Swaledale friend who were both still running well. It was also good to see Aaron heading up Helvellyn and to exchange tired “well done”s with other runners.

TR: We had a fantastic run down off Great Dodd and soon found ourselves at the summit of Clough Head and clearly the most difficult of descents after 14 miles of hard running.

PB: I’d been dreading this from the start – everyone told me the final descent was a killer and I knew I was going to lose some time here. Fortunately I was feeling a bit less sick and knowing this ridiculously steep and long hill was taking me back to tea and cake definitely helped. I knew Tom was going to get away from me but I just didn’t want to lose too many more places on the way down.

TR: I managed to overtake a good handful of runners but by the final road section my quads were little more than jelly and even though it is a gentle run down the road to the finish I was also finished and was nearly caught on the line by a woman! My stubborn male pride could not allow this of course and I crossed the line gasping.

PB: In the first half of the descent I was overtaken by a couple of runners and Tom gradually disappeared into the distance. But I felt slightly less wobbly than I’d expected and once we were off the really steep stuff I managed to get past a couple of people so I think ended up finishing in the same position as I’d started the descent. OK I was way slower than Tom but for me this was a minor victory!

TR: Penny arrived shortly after me and I gave her a congratulatory hug knowing it won’t be long till I’m following her in. Tea, sandwiches and cakes awaited us in the pavilion and it was a very pleasant prize giving out on the grass in the sun. All in all a very good race.

PB: Finishing the race was tough – the road seemed to go on forever but the sense of achievement crossing the line matched any marathon I’ve finished. I’d been pretty scared going into it as these Lakeland races are so much harder than the small fell races I’ve done in North Yorkshire and Northumberland. But it couldn’t have been better. For a mere £7 we got the most incredible climbing and running and stunning views in the most beautiful part of our country. I’ll never forget being half way up Clough Head and seeing runners spreading out into the distance both ahead of me and behind me. The atmosphere as we recovered after the race was fantastic and the cheese and pickle sandwich, Bakewell tart and tea were exactly what I needed. I’ll definitely be back to the Lakes for more…

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