This is an event I do every year, not because I particularly like it (though I do), but because of the four years that this event has taken place I have taken part.
The half marathon this year, as it was last, forms part of a double event where by you can run both the marathon and the half to get a special prize. Unlike in previous years however the full marathon was being ran on the Saturday, with the half taking place on the Sunday. Weather conditions up on the Cheviot, which the full is supposed to go over, took a turn for the worse and their Saturday route became two laps of Sunday’s half route.
Great, what was looking to be an already soggy and boggy course had been churned up even more with the full runners tackling it twice the day before us half runners got set loose on it. Safety first though and the right decision was made for the full runners.
Running this event with me were two of my work colleagues, marvellous I thought to myself, this means I’ll have to put some effort in to beat them.
So onto the run itself. I’ll summarise this very quickly. If you’re not going up hill, you’re going down and on this occasion if you weren’t running in thick mud you were running in a stream. Yes, my shoes went from nice and clean to very dirty multiple times before they joined me in the shower at home.
This really is a great Half Marathon and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
This was a last minute decision. We didn’t have any plans for Saturday and a Leeds friend mentioned he was doing a race which didn’t offer either a medal or a T-shirt. To him this was a negative but to me it spelt out being my sort of race! So on an impulse I booked us in.
The Holly Hustle is a small race with 11k and 22k options (the latter just two laps of the former) with a total maximum competitors of 250. It’s described as a challenging trail race which is a fair description. It was definitely too challenging for some (my road-running friend hated it and dropped out after a lap) and not without its hazards (Tom managed to end up falling head first and damaging his leg and hand) but it is all runnable as long as you don’t mind a lot of mud and rocks and roots to negotiate.
Broadly speaking the lap is a figure of 8 through woods and along the river. Almost all is on muddy tracks apart from a killer hill at the end of the lap which is on tarmac. Notorious for people getting lost I was chuffed with myself for getting round the first half without making any nav errors but on the second lap I had nobody near me (all the one lappers were in the pub!) and I realised it was more complex than it had seemed when I was following other people. There are lots of river crossings and remembering this from the first lap I managed to take the wrong bridge and get myself in a right confusion. I headed back to the last point I recognised and eventually another runner turned up and pointed me in the right direction. He pointed out I should know what I was doing as I’d done it before but he obviously wasn’t aware of my ability to get lost wherever I go… After that point I didn’t see any other runners but did manage to follow the very small pink flags all the way. I finished 4th woman and in under 2 hours, injury-free and pleasantly tired which I was happy with.
I really enjoyed the race and it had a nice relaxed atmosphere. An added bonus was starting and finishing in a pub and free soup at the end. I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of off-road running.
A few years ago I was racing every 2 or 3 weeks, chasing PBs and pushing myself up and down fell races trying desperately to win prizes where I could. I loved it but with a full-time job and three somewhat demanding children it wasn’t something I could keep up. Whilst I’ve not stopped running, I have stopped competing and that combined with getting deeper and deeper into the V40 age range has knocked my pace back.
If I’m honest knowing I was getting slower made me less inclined to race but deep down I knew it was something I still enjoyed so when I spotted the Ennerdale Trail 25k was on a weekend I was free I was keen to give it a go. It’s a race I’ve known other people to enjoy, in a beautiful part of the lake district and organised by High Terrain Events who I know from previous experience put on a good day out.
Once I’d decided to do it next job was to get Tom signed up too… he’s had even longer off racing but with good reason as his knees have been bothering him for some time now after the years of racing up and down mountains and completing stupidly long events. He’s been doing short runs but this was going to be a step up or back in time for him. Also, being a trail race I knew he might find it a bit lacking in mountains and even dull…
Anyway I signed us both up and the forecast promised us good weather so I knew all would be fine. However as we drove over from Eskdale on the morning of the race I realised the forecast was a little off the mark as we drove through incredibly heavy rain which Tom described as “the type of rain which gets you really wet”. Once we got to the race headquarters the rain had calmed a little so maybe we were going to be ok.
The route is a big circuit which starts at one end of Ennerdale water, takes you down beyond the other end to the YHA at Black Sail (the half way point) and then back down the other side of the lake. Nice and straightforward with almost all the climb on the first half according to the elevation profile.
The start was congested and I regretted starting near the back as it was hard to get past people but after a mile or so it thinned out and we were on a wide very runnable track. I enjoyed it but couldn’t help thinking it would be a bit boring and hard underfoot for Tom. The first half continued like this – quite a bit of climbing where I was able to overtake people and the weather was kind was just a bit of rain which soon cleared. I was feeling pretty good and knew I was fairly well up the field as we got to the YHA. I looked at my watch to see I was under an hour and was a little confused. The course record for women was well over 2 hours and surely I’d done the hard half as it was the uphill part?
However as soon we passed the YHA we moved into part 2 which was a very different race. There was a lot of bog to get through to cross the river which was fun but definitely slowed everyone down. Then we briefly returned to the easy wide tracks but with occasional bog to keep things interesting. Then the real fun started. We dropped down to the lakeside and went from path to wet loose rocks. I figured this would just be a short section but how wrong I was… it was so infuriating. The views were stunning but I just couldn’t get any kind of rhythm and I stumbled slightly as I felt someone lurking behind me. I asked her if she wanted to pass me and she said no as she was knackered but as we carried on I had to wave her on as I was getting more and more annoyed with myself for not being able to get going on this tougher terrain.
One positive was that I knew Tom would be enjoying it more… but then the thought occurred to me that it could also mean he’d catch me up! I plodded on and as a couple of others passed me I felt quite despondent and wondered if I’d lost my racing bug completely. Eventually we got onto a steep climb which was slowing most people to a walk but I managed to run up and after a short scramble up and down I felt more in my zone. There was then a short run along the final part of the lake – I could see I was closing in on a couple of people who had passed me but all too suddenly I was back at the finish and having a medal thrust over my head. I chatted to a couple of the guys who had passed me on the rocky stuff and before long I saw Tom happily crossing the line.. only a few minutes behind me he seemed to have enjoyed himself although claimed it was a couple of miles longer than he wanted. Results-wise I was nowhere near where I’d like to have been a few years ago but once I’d got over it was pretty happy with 5th lady. I’m not sure if I’ve got my racing bug back or not – time will tell. But for anyone who enjoys trail racing in a beautiful part of the country I heartily recommend the High Terrain Events – well organised and always in beautiful settings.
The growth of ultra marathon running has been nothing short of spectacular in the last few years. If you’ve not tried one, I would encourage you to give it a go – don’t be scared!
But this growth has meant, and this includes races of all distances in general, that they are getting bigger, often more expensive and quite difficult to get a place in. This year’s Hardmoors 55 was a sell out with over 400 people having fun on the North Yorkshire Moors in the deep winter. Bonkers!
Now I’m not complaining (much) but sometimes it’s nice to run a low key, inexpensive, no-frills kind of race and that’s exactly what I found in the Pen-Y-Ghent ultra.
Organised by Ranger Ultras, this race was the baby of two races that day, the other being a 70k race which took in the other two of Yorkshire’s three peaks of which 100 people had signed up to. If you were feeling really mad they offered the 70k runners to the chance to extend to 100k by heading back out from the finish up Great Shunner Fell to Thwaite and back.
The Pen-y-Ghent ultra was a mere 50k heading out along the Pennine Way from the village of Hawes up onto the Cam Road, an old Roman highway, before dropping into Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a loop up and over Pen-y-Ghent and then retrace the route back to Hawes. With just 19 starters it was certainly low key, and the 70k runners heading out an hour before us meant that solitude was almost guaranteed. Running with my long-time running partner in crime, Jen, the first few miles were a sloppy slog up along the Pennine Way to the Cam Road which gave way to expansive views over the Dales and its three peaks in the distance.
A steady plod was the order of the day. I wasn’t here to break any records, just enjoy a nice long day out, so I maintained a nice pace that wouldn’t have me blowing up at any point. It was a nice easy route to follow as I made my way down into Horton where there was a simple check point offering hot drinks and cold pizza. From there I enjoyed the climb up to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, it was a bit more relaxed than my last visit in the fast and furious 3 Peaks Fell Race a few years ago. At the summit, the lead runner in the 70k race caught me. He looked strong and relaxed as he bolted off down the nice and new looking flagstone steps that lead off the fell. Taking my time has its benefits but soon, as I approached the last checkpoint with around 6 miles to go, the weather turned getting cold and wet and generally miserable, visibility reducing to near nothing. Cold pizza dipped in hot tomato soup cheered me up and is definitely the future of ultra running fuel!
With waterproofs, hat and gloves quickly put on I made my way onwards to the finish back down the even wetter and sloppier tracks of the Pennine Way and back to in Hawes in just over 7hrs. Not fast by any means but a great way to spend a Saturday. I hung around a little to see some of the 70k runners coming in and for one or two of the foolish souls to head back out for another 30k – what’s the matter with these people?
So, if you’re looking for a low key challenge, I’d highly recommend one of Ranger Ultra’s many races.
OK, strap yourself in. I’m turning the Nostalgia dial up to 11.
Back in the day, when I was a lad, we’d often go to visit my grandparents in Peebles. My brother and I would spend weekends playing in Hay Lodge Park, jumpers for goalposts, and exploring the woods along the River Tweed. My grandparents lived in Hay Lodge Cottage, opposite the park gates, where my aunt still lives. As I grew up in Edinburgh I’d still visit Hay Lodge Park, with my student chums, and late at night, we’d sometimes manage to get into Neidpath Tunnel and walk through casting our torches ahead like something out of Scooby Doo. The real challenge was to walk through, alone, without a torch. Larks.
The whole stretch of line here is an engineering marvel, from the tunnel to the viaduct with its amazing skew-arch construction, which was necessary as the bridge crosses the Tweed at an angle. There are stories that suggest that the Royal Train hid in the 600 yard tunnel during WW2 as the Kind and Queen visited war damage in Clydeside. Great story. Not even sure if I’m bothered about whether it’s true.
Fast forward 40 years and things have changed a little. Hay Lodge Park now has a parkrun, and the tunnel is open to the public. It’s normally unlit, but for one day, the tunnel is lit for the Tweed Tunnel Run.
I first heard about the run when I saw that Colin Blackburn had ran it previously. It looked a hoot. Three courses to choose from; 20km, 10km, and 4km. I signed up and put it in the diary.
The weather wasn’t looking great for the run, which was a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of autumn colour and contrasts and a ray or two of sunshine would’ve made for stunning conditions with the Tweed running high after all the rain. The Start was an intriguing affair. Like many races there was the problem of bottlenecks early on, especially with narrow wet rocky rough paths within the first kilometre. The organisers tackled this in an interesting way; every runner was set off individually, with the fast guys off first. It reminded me of these scenes you see of people taking a parachute jump; the starter would tap a competitor, say GO, then the next one would move forward, and a few seconds later (4 I think), the process was repeated. They allow half an hour to get all the 20km runners away, then it’s time for the 10km runners.
I’d seeded myself near the back of the pack and it was about 10 minutes before I finally got going. Even so, it became apparent to me pretty quickly that this was not going to be a quick race. I was full of a big tea from the previous evening, and I was beginning to suspect my field research into the relative merits of Clipper IPA vs Broughton Pale Ale had perhaps, on the whole, been a little too extensive. I settled down into a comfortable pace that seemed to be slightly slower than everyone else’s, meaning that I was steadily overtaken on the narrow paths.
On my feet I was wearing a pair of reliable and comfortable but worn Saucony Nomad trail shoes that had served me well. But the recent rain meant the paths were muddy and slippy. The route is mostly trail with occasional track and short sections of road, but even so, if it’s as wet as this next year I’ll wear a shoe with a more aggressive sole.
The route itself was wonderful. I thought I knew the area pretty well but the race took us upriver and across bridges and along paths I never knew existed. I loved the contrasts. I love woodland paths but this was all mixed in with tracks and riverside and open hillside, with twists and turns so you were never quite sure what was coming next.
Having done a few ultras I thought a 20km trail run would be pretty easy and I was surprised when we got to the 10km marker and got that ‘only half-way’ feeling. But I wasn’t pushing hard and I was happy to run easy and enjoy the views. One advantage of non-standard distance races on mixed terrain is there’s no benchmark. So I felt no pressure to go faster, as frankly, what was the point?
We were led onto open hillside and an exposed climb round Cademuir to the highest point of the course where the views of Peebles and the valleys made me stop and stare for a bit. Then there was some fun descending down slippy paths where again I felt the lack of traction in my shoes. It wasn’t downhill all the way though with a few kick-ups here and there, before the feed point and the turn into South Park Wood and the approach to the tunnel.
This bit of the race was a series of flashbacks, probably mostly imagined, as the last time I’d played in these woods was a long time ago, usually involving convoluted plot adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson. Still, every now and then I’d see a familiar path or feature and it was curious to see how much had changed, and how much hadn’t.
The routes converged and split a few times, and on the final descent to the tunnel there was a bit of congestion. There were no obvious problems as far as I could see though, and I guess if I was a bit faster, I’d be in front of the pinch points. I quite like these mixed-pace runs that you often see with LDWA events where the runners catch the walkers and there’s a lovely big melting pot of runners and walkers all out doing their own thing on their own terms.
The approach to the tunnel was quite a thing. Quite theatrical as it got closer, and then 674 yards until daylight again. I liked it. I wasn’t sure I would as I thought it might be a bit cheesy, but I think they got it just right. There were walkers and runners in the tunnel but I jogged through and enjoyed the surrealism, knowing that I’d be back for seconds later.
One of the great things about this event is that after the races are over there’s a 3.5km walk that you can sign up for that takes in a loop over the viaduct then back through the tunnel. This means the day can be a family affair as the runner has time to get back, finish, then go out on the walk again.
I set out with Roberta on the walk, retracing bits of the run route, and this time with plenty of time to enjoy the tunnel again.
I’ve already signed up for 2020. If you fancy a taster of what to expect, and to see some more, ahem, professional quality video of 2019, have a look at the Tweedlove video below. And I’m not just saying that because I make a brief appearance (1:34 since you ask).
I can’t remember the last time I entered a 10K race. Sure, I run 10k’s as training runs, but they are normally at a nice comfortable pace. I made the decision after my last Ultra to give up on distance for a while and just focus on getting my love for running back with some shorter stuff with my ‘Long runs’ being around 10 miles unless I was at an event.
The Coxhoe Trail 10k was just a random event that I knew would see a good Strider turnout. It was local, cheap (£10), and had a nice t-shirt. It was the T-Shirt that sold it for me.
Registration was quick and easy at the Active Life Centre (formerly the Leisure Centre) in Coxhoe itself collecting race number and event t-shirt. It is then a miles walk uphill to the actual race start location. This worked quite well as a bit of a warm up.
At the start area a huge strider contingent amassed and led by Captain Michael a number of us headed out for an out and back warm up. It was at this point I was starting to feel like the odd one out. I had chosen, as I always do, to wear my striders t-shirt and not club vest. everyone else was of course in their vests. Since I don’t like wearing a vest I’d just have to be ‘unique’. Back from the warm up and now assembled on the start line we were ready to go, though I soon realised that I was far to near the front of the pack.
The 10k route spends a lot of its first mile running downhill, and starting to near the front, I of course got swept up in the initial stampede.
Running a 7:30 minute mile downhill is all good and well if you can sustain it onto the flat, I, in my current shape (round), cannot. For long anyway.
As more and more sensible runners passed me having already reached their appropriate cruising velocities I reluctantly eventually reached mine. This was after thinking about a mile in that I was on course for a 10k PB on the flat, never mind off road. Reality soon kicked in and forced me to slow to the far more comfortable 8:30ish pace on the flat.
After the initial downhill sprint (and delusions of grandeur) the Coxhoe Trail 10k course is actually really nice. It’s an out and back loop course, so head out along the flat trails, which I assume are a former railway line, drop down, and then at around 2.5ish miles start a long steady climb up to Quarrington Hill. Several runners were struggling on this climb, but I felt strong. Anyone who has ever ran a Hardmoors event would probably only consider it a minor blip on an otherwise flat section, but to those who haven’t I can understand why it was a struggle.
As said, this is an out and back with a loop, and what goes up must again come down. As I approached the summit of the climb I passed fellow Striders Ian Jobling and Lesley Charman, who obviously weren’t loving the climb as much as I. They both caught up with me as we descended, and Lesley kept with me for the majority of the rest of the race, though I kept both of them in my sights.
Down the hill, back along the flat former railway line (please someone tell me if I’m wrong) and back up the hill which I flew down at the start. Going up the hill, I again felt strong, perhaps because my delusions of grandeur had long since passed and a PB was now just a passing memory. As I eased my way up through the field I was about to pass Lesley when she suddenly let out a huge scream and pulled up in pain. Concerned I stopped to make sure she was ok, she assured me she was so I pressed on with Ian Jobling now in my sights.
I passed Ian, again on the final hill, and noticed Anna Mason was just ahead, she too looked to be struggling on the hill, and as we approached the top I shouted some words of encouragement to her “Don’t get beaten by a fat lad”. I suspect it didn’t work since I didn’t see her again.
Slightly cruel, but to finish this race you actually have to almost run past the finish and into the woods for a final loop, I did this and entered the finish field to see the Strider finish staff doing their jobs admirably.
Ok, so lessons learnt; Hills for strength, Track for speed. Guess where I’ll be headed alternate weeks on Wednesdays, even though I dislike track (sorry Allan). I really enjoyed this race, even though I’m not used to ‘racing’ and would recommend it to anyone. Special Congratulations to Gareth Pritchard for 1st male and Emma Thompson for 1st Female, and to all the other Striders for some great efforts.
In mid-July an email from Nigel Heppell* entitled “This one’s got your name all over it”, contained a website link to the Abraham’s Tea Room Round. “A tea room? Does that mean there is cake?” I thought wistfully….and clicked to explore further. Fast forward two months, and Nigel’s dangled carrot resulted in probably one of my most enjoyable days on the hills to date, and the reason for this report (both to cement it in my memory banks, and to tempt other folk to give it a try…).
*please note: IT WAS HIS IDEA!
Ok so here goes for the background history bit…The George Fisher store in Keswick was originally the Abraham’s photographic shop, but in 1957 George Fisher turned it into an outdoor equipment store. High up on the top floor, with spectacular views – is Abraham’s Tea Room. The view from the café is beautiful, but often obscured by the weather, so someone has painted the view above the window, and labelled all the fells that you can see on a clear day.
A remark from Alan to Jacob (who work at the store and had clearly been looking at the painting and daydreaming) apparently went along the lines of “Tell ya wat Jacob. Garn round skyline from Tea Room would be a grand day out eh?!”
This inspired the 30 mile route that starts at the front doors of the shop, it’s creation coinciding with George Fisher’s 60th Anniversary – see the George Fisher Blog.
The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’ are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge, and place on their leader board.
The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’
are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA
Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do
them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the
route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge,
and place on their leader board.
Having had a relatively empty race calendar since my Hadrian Hundred at the end of
May and no trips to the Lakes at all this year, I was feeling rather dubious
about our chances; not worried about the distance, but rather by the climb…with
“12,000ft +” it has over twice the amount as the Tour (de Helvellyn) which I
have done a few times and is always a tough one. Was this bonkers?!
Nigel and I vaguely pondered logistics…usually
in the pub after club night, and mostly without any resolution (other than
continued consumption of pints and soggy thrice-fried chips). When to do it?
Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Who could we rope in? Could we run it as a relay?
Were we fit enough? Were we mad enough?!
As the weeks went by, summer was fading and it
felt like this was a project best saved until the Spring, with better weather,
longer daylight hours and more serious recces under our belts. We’d vaguely
considered the 23rd September as a possible date, but long term forecasts
didn’t look that hopeful, and we had agreed that – after my two previous 100
mile rainstorms – this was NOT going to be a bad weather outing. But then the
Met office predicted a strange thing…was this a mini heatwave on its way?
Surely not?! I emailed Nigel…. we had a weather window! would he consider an
outing sooner than planned…in fact very soon…like, THIS weekend?! Shall we just
go and DO IT?!
After roping in another last minute willing victim
in the shape of Mike Hughes, at 5.45am on Saturday morning 14th September, we
were driving down a deserted motorway bound for the Lakes, not quite sure what
the day had in store. We parked in Keswick, made our way to George Fisher’s
(slightly eerie walking through empty streets that were usually rammed with
tourists) and took the obligatory starter selfie on their doorstep before
setting off soon after 8am.
The route starts with a short run out to
Portinscale village before heading up and over the top of Catbells. As we made
our way up the first climb, the early morning sun was shining, spirits were
high and we were all enjoying the distinct lack of tourists – a rare occurrence
here! A calm Derwent Water was gleaming below us, and we stopped frequently to
savour the views. If it continued like this, it was going to be a cracking day.
We descended down into Little Town in the Newlands
Valley, trotted past Newlands Church and up the grassy banks of Robinson:
familiar territory from leg 1 of the Bob Graham, only difference being this
time I was allowed to pause for breath! After another selfie at the summit
cairn – all grinning from ear to ear – we descended Robinson using an easier
grassy route than the hideous slippery rock scramble down to the road that we
had tried on a recce (when I had ended up on my bottom x4 times), this time
taking us straight to Gatesgarth and the shores of Buttermere. Well aware of
the most difficult section that lay ahead, we enjoyed a quick pie pit stop and
psyched ourselves up for heading into virgin territory for the loop on the
other side of the Lake.
The climb up High Stile starts innocently enough
as the path contours parallel with the water, climbing gradually until you
cross a fast flowing gill, but then you clamber up through the crags ..up and
up…a relentless quad-burning and calf-popping climb (there was swearing), which
wasn’t helped by the increasing strong winds. But the views back over the Lake
(and beyond in all directions) were breath-taking, and at one point the three
of us just sat down to gaze back into the valley and soak it all in.
Knackering, but what better place to be on a Saturday morning?!.
After a windy summit photo stop, the only way back down was to tick off Red Pike Summit too (staggering views on the ridge line but avoid Chapel Crags edge), and the descent from here down to Bleaberry Tarn was dismal…sliding/staggering down on loose scree and rocks that smashed at your ankles and sapped the (now waning!) energy from the legs. The route back to Buttermere eventually takes you through Burtness Wood, on a never ending path of rocky steps that –with wobbly legs – was frustratingly impossible to attack with any sort of speed (if you still valued your teeth).
Ah, returning to Buttermere was a relief! All feeling a bit battered, we headed to a cafe to refuel on shortbread and tea (well, it was a tea room round after all!). As we sat savouring our cuppas, my comment of “anyone fancy getting the bus back then?!” was met with unanimous agreement that we were going to crack on. After this we would be committed to be up in the hills for a good few hours, but I think we all felt ok. The thought of coming back and having to do High Stile again if we failed on this attempt was all the motivation I needed to carry on.
It was soon after 4pm when we left Buttermere, the possible rain that had been forecast hadn’t appeared, and in our minds – even though we had hours ahead of us – it felt like we’d broken the back of it. For the first time that day, it dawned on me that we had a good chance of completing the round, and we trotted out of the cafe feeling rejuvenated. As we headed out of the village up through the woods alongside the river, I grabbed the chance to devour another of my sarnies before I needed both hands for my poles and the climb up Whitless Pike. As we clambered up to the top it got progressively rockier and ridiculously windy (same as last time I was there…coincidence, or bad luck?) and the poles were soon ditched to make sure I had both hands to grab on safely.
Over the top, we took the track to Wandhope and over to pass east of Crag Hill. By now everything felt a lot more isolated & exposed, and the only other faces we saw were the fluffy-cheeked smiles of Herdy sheep that were idly chomping on their early supper, but the terrain was more runnable in parts. Stretching out in front of us to the left was Sand Hill & Hopegill Head behind it, and Grisedale Pike to the right, both of which we had to climb. The skies (that had been full of high cloud for most of the afternoon) were clearing, and the low sun gave everything an orange glow as we set off to do this out and back. The odd shaped triangular bit of the route on the map didn’t look too daunting compared to what we’d already done. Someone commented “this bit’ll be over in a jiffy”, which of course wasn’t the case.
It was hard going, but again the views from Hopegill Head were a just reward. The ridge route along Hobcarton Crag was, er, bracing! (and another crawl on all fours in parts…just felt safer when my bum was on the floor!) and after a quick selfie stop on top of Grisedale Pike, the pace quickened to get back down asap, and retrace our steps back to the crags, and back to the route that returned to the eastern side of Crag Hill. After a ludicrously steep but relatively short climb up to Eel Crag, we pushed on to Crag Hill summit, and paused. This was the highest point, with spectacular views and beautiful skies in all directions, and the landscape around us was burning in low evening sun. Wondering if I’d ever be lucky enough to experience these kind of views and conditions again, I just stood there and savoured it for a bit.
Shortly afterwards on our way down, we sat in a line on the grass, legs stretching down the hill and resting back on our rucksacks, and just had a breather. It was just before 7pm, and my Garmin said we’d done 25 miles. Only 5 miles to go? Hhmm I was starting to suspect it would be longer, and it wouldn’t be long before we lost the daylight. But the toughest climbs were behind us…for the next few miles it was a case of running along the ridges with gradually decreasing height…it felt like the end was in sight.
We pushed on across to Sail, past the squiggly ‘fix the fells’ giant zig zag path, and along Scar Crags. The increasing wind had become bitterly cold (yet more layers were pulled out of the rucksack), and again going was slow as safety demanded trying to get as much contact with the rock as possible. The side wind on Causey Pike summit was mental…I struggled to stay on my feet, removing my glasses before they were whipped off my face. The sun was just setting behind us as we descended down, creating orange and pink clouds ahead of us and rich inky shadows down to our left in Rigg Beck Valley.
The out and back run from Causey Pike to Rowling End was memorable due to the attentions of an extremely stubborn and persistent grouse*. Not content with bursting out of the undergrowth around us every few minutes, flapping about our heads and generally making a horrendous din, it manoeuvred itself on the path in front of Nigel and became our little bobbing front runner! This somehow seemed even funnier on the return journey. But even so we were glad to be rid of it when we turned to drop down into Stoneycroft Ghyll.
* it turns out the grouse had almost celebratory status on the ATR facebook group. George Fisher commented “we actually decided you needed a bit more of a challenge so have been training “attack grouse” to help keep your times competitive”. On a more serious note, they realised that it was probably protecting a next somewhere and have asked folk to be considerate.
By now it was almost completely dark, and I could just make out Nigel and Mike’s silhouette’s as they headed down into the valley through the heather ahead of me. Even in daylight, there is no visible path or trod…. it’s a case of spotting the path up (eventually bearing right, up to Barrow) on the opposite side of the valley, heading in that general direction and hoping that you can cross the beck when you get to the bottom. It was a long slog down, but thanks to Nigel’s lead, we found the path, crossed the beck, and paused to put on head torches before we climbed up again…the LAST ascent…and not before time.
We climbed up in silence, tired but determined, the world around me confined to the small pool of light from my torch, with spiders, toads and other wriggly wildlife things scuttling out of sight. At Barrow summit we stood and looked down at the twinkly lights of Braithwaite and Keswick. The three of us let out an audible sigh of relief…we weren’t home yet, but it was all downhill from here.
The inky black route down to Little Braithwaite seemed blanketed in calm after the earlier windy heights. We let gravity tug us down over the gently descending grassy banks and every now and then spotted the little flicker of a glowing insect (beetle?) flashing up from around our feet. Once down on the road, for the final couple of km (that dragged!) we followed the signs to Portinscale and Ullock and the feeling of nearing civilization grew as the houses became more frequent, until we found ourselves back on the same path leading back into Keswick, and walked through town back up to the market square. We got some odd looks from Saturday night revellers who were spilling in and out of the pubs around 10pm, and looking at the selfie we took when we reached the doors of George Fisher, I’m not surprised!! We looked somewhat more bedraggled and weather beaten than we had at the outset, but the big smiles were still there. We had done it!!
At the end, Mike had muttered something under his breath about “never opening an email from Jules again”…!…but over the few days that followed there was swapping of photos and stats. 32.89 miles; 14:01 hrs; 14,603ft ascent: 7hr15m going up: 5hr43m going down; and 1hr05m flat time. After emailing our gpx proof to George Fisher, a reply informed us that we had been added to the Leader Board of Glory and would also receive some spoils in the form of Badges of Honour, and…wait for it…. free tea and cake in the café next time we are there!
Next time I am there? Will I be in Keswick to just to sit in the café, or will it be to try this again? There is no doubt we could have done it quicker (skipping the food shops/food stops/sit downs/café visits/grouse chasing episodes), but would I want to? I’m not so sure… the day was pretty near perfect as it was.
But one thing is certain…next time I am in Keswick for whatever reason, there WILL be cake.
For a while I’ve had it in my mind that I wanted to do a big challenge – either running or biking or a combination of the two. I love running in the fells and my new passion is my bike, particularly on hilly roads, so the Lakes seemed the place to go. But there didn’t seem to be any obvious event and anyway I fancied devising something myself. However, I didn’t really know where to begin and sadly the idea faded as I embarked on a new job which involved up to 5 hours a day of commuting and less and less time to train. My personal situation also changed and I lost the drive I’d had previously. I kept running and biking but with no kind of direction, no racing and no goals.
Then things changed and I decided I wanted to do something not for myself but for Beat. They’re not a huge charity but one who are doing great work to help people struggling with eating disorders. I had also resigned from my commuter hell and given myself a summer of being unemployed and therefore a few full days to train (when I wasn’t occupied with childcare).
At first I thought I’d do a long run and then a long bike ride but I couldn’t work out any routes that worked. I considered known routes for the run such as the Cumbrian Traverse and then just doing an out and back on the bike but it didn’t feel very natural or neat as a plan. I spoke to Tom about it who suggested a run up the Scafells followed by a ride to Keswick through Hardknott and Wrynose and maybe stopping off at Thirlmere to run up Helvellyn. I quite liked the idea of doing big hills on my feet and big passes on the bike and it felt like a plan was beginning to come together. It just didn’t feel enough. I decided to add on Skiddaw – if I’m doing the three biggest peaks why not add on the fourth? But I still felt like it could be a neater plan. Starting in Wasdale seemed a bit tricky…and wouldn’t it be cool to make it a round beginning and ending in Keswick? When I suggested this Tom seemed to think I was maybe a bit mad – to get from Keswick to Wasdale is a long old ride as you have to go all the way round to the west and it would add on a lot of mileage. But we agreed there was no point in doing it if it wasn’t a challenge…
So the route was planned and the motivation to raise money for Beat was there. As this was a new challenge there were no training plans to follow or even recommendations from friends. So I figured the key things were to get to know the route and also practice mixing riding and running. It seemed to be the right plan. Getting used to the feeling of transitioning from cycling to running took a few goes but I loved being back in the lakes for a few days of hill-climbing. We managed to get a couple of days to recce the bike ride and it was then that I began to worry. After a full day of riding I was aching and ready for my bed – and this was only half of the full ride. The second half of the ride was harder and due to bad weather very slow – getting up and down Hardknott pass is not fun on a bike (or any form of transport) and seeing a car which had failed to make it up in the rain didn’t help. Tom kept telling me this was a massive challenge and I did start to think I might be mad…
I didn’t have much more time to train after this with a holiday to France with the kids and my new job starting soon. But I’d told everyone I was doing it, recruited some amazing folk to support me and set the date so I had to do what I could to prepare myself. Fortunately, the holiday was an active one in a hilly area so I got some hill reps in and some nice sociable bike rides. Then once I started the new job it was time for a good taper…
Right from the start I’d known that my biggest enemy would be the weather. I’m useless when I’m cold and riding a bike with no feeling in your fingers is more than a little dangerous. So I obsessed about the weather forecast for the week leading up to the big day and was amazed to see it was really quite good. And as the day got closer it stayed quite good – unheard of for the lakes! As we drove over on the Friday evening the scenery was absolutely stunning. I had no excuse for failing – the weather was on my side, the team were ready, I had an endless supply of food, drink and clothing. And a lot of people had given their money towards the cause. I’d even invested in a tracker so the team and supporters could see how I was doing. The problem with it being an unknown was I really had no idea how long I would take to do everything. I assumed each section would be a bit slower than when we recce’d but beyond that I wasn’t really sure….
So the morning arrived (or is 4am still the night?) and after a somewhat disturbed night and two bowls of porridge consumed I was ready to go…
Most of the biking was just Tom and me – we had hoped to have road support between the changeovers but sadly our support wasn’t well so it was just the two of us from Keswick along the 45 miles to Wasdale Head. When we started it was still dark and cold. And when I say cold I mean really cold. I knew there was promise of a nice day ahead but it doesn’t help when you feel like you’re in a fridge. Fortunately, (?) we were soon heading up Whinlatter pass which woke and warmed us up a bit but dropping back into the valley it seemed to get colder and colder. I was desperate for the sun to come out and start warming us up… Eventually it did and we both began to feel more human. This section of the bike ride was the only bit with some tricky navigation but other than one point when wishful thinking made us turn a bit early Tom did a grand job leading us in the right direction and at a comfortable pace. It was a beautiful morning and although hilly, the roads were empty and a pleasure to ride along. I started to feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I was doing. Life can be so complex and hard to navigate – having the strength to enjoy our beautiful country in this way is a real blessing. I had just one point of terror when my chain came off. I’ve only had cleats for a few months and poor Tom has had to endure several occasions where I’ve yelped as I toppled over before managing to unclip. This looked like happening again and we had an interesting discussion in crescendo where he said “unclip” and I said “I can’t” repeatedly until eventually I managed to free myself. I must admit I didn’t feel very professional at that point…
I’d assumed this first section would take 4.5 hours but as we cycled along the absolutely beautiful Wastwater in the morning light I was chuffed to see it was around 9am, just 4 hours since we set off. Tom told me to go into the car park first so I could be cheered in but when we got there we couldn’t see any of the team! Nina and Fiona quickly appeared from Nina’s campervan (the star of the day!) and Alex wandered down from the other end of the car park so all was not lost. But unfortunately the combination of a rubbish tracker (it failed from about 20 miles in) and a misjudgement of timings to drive from Keswick to Wasdale, the car with my kit and food was nowhere to be seen. Nina and Fiona calmly established that I could do the Scafells in Nina’s clothes (fortunately she’s pretty mini like me!). I tried not to stress but it felt all wrong – I had my food and my clothes planned and now everything had been thrown into disarray. Tom went off in search of Nick and my kit and after the others had fed me a cup of tea and some food I realised it would all be fine. Then just as I finished putting Nina’s running kit on Nick and Mel appeared with the car!
I quickly changed my shoes and then we set off up Scafell pike. I’d had a longer break than planned but in a lot of ways that was good – I was ready to go and it was fun to chat to Nina, Alex and Fiona. The thing that makes this challenge very different from most Lakeland running challenges (apart from the fact there’s much less running and more cycling!) is that I’d decided the easiest way to do the peaks was up the tourist routes. Scafell pike is a popular hill any day but on a lovely late summer Saturday it was particularly hectic. It was quite a novelty passing people who exclaimed at our speed (which was not actually very fast…) or helping people out who weren’t sure of the way. Whilst the weather was still lovely down in the valley the tops were pretty cloudy so before long we were into murk. But navigation is very straightforward and before long I was touching my first peak of the day. The next bit was the most exciting of the running element of the day. There’s no easy way between Scafell pike and Scafell but between Fiona, Alex and myself we were pretty confident of our route and enjoyed introducing Nina to Lord’s Rake which is a quite exciting scramble. Once you’re up through the gully it’s a short climb up to the top of Scafell. The cloud was pretty thick at this point and it was a little confusing not being able to see where the peak was! After a bit of dithering we agreed where we were going and spotted some rocks which seemed to go uphill so headed up. Second peak done it was a fairly easy descent back to Wasdale. It was good to get out of the clouds and though I’m not a fan of scree it was quite exhilarating “skiing” down it
Back to Wasdale and we were met by Tom who looked at
his watch and asked what we were doing back so soon. The 3-3.5 hours expected
for this leg had been an over-estimate and we were down in 2.5. Tom was
obviously worried I was going to crash and burn because I’d gone too fast but I
assured him I was fine. After a good feed and change back to cycling clothes I
was all set for the next leg – the hard(knott) one. Nick was joining us for the
first part of this ride and I thought that would mean a nice leisurely chatty
pace. To be honest I think that’s what it was but as soon as I got on the bike
I started to feel the miles I’d already covered and had a slight mental wobble.
I’d still got the big passes to navigate as well as two more big peaks and several
hours of Lakeland undulations on the bike. I focused on the beautiful scenery,
had a drink and before long was happily pedalling along and enjoying the Tom
and Nick banter. After a few miles we passed the pub where we’d stayed on our
recce and I marvelled at how much better I felt today than I had the night we’d
stopped there for the night.
A few miles from there was the big one… Nick chose
to catch a lift as Hardknott approached and after a quick cup of tea it was
time to get our heads down and start the climb. If I’m honest I had no
intention of cycling it – on the recce I’d had to push almost the entire thing
because it was so wet. So once we hit the steep road I jumped off and started
pushing and up we went. And up. And up. The steepness lessens about half way up
so we managed to cycle a decent section before jumping off again to get to the
top. Then the fun bit starts… As I said the recce had been wet and there was
no way I was cycling down it in that weather but today was perfect conditions
so I decided to give it a go. The sensation when your bike is facing downhill
on a 30% gradient and there are tight bends to negotiate is a bizarre one.
Somehow I got down but there was a fair bit of cursing whenever we met cars…
When I finally got off the brakes in the valley I had the weird sensation that
my fingers no longer knew how to bend. All that clinging on to the brakes for
dear life seemed to have sent them into permanent cramp.
We tootled along the valley (which was stunning),
fingers gradually becoming normal and then inevitably had to start the next big
climb up Wrynose. I managed to stay on the bike a bit longer on this one but
after about two thirds I had to get off and push again… On the way down I felt
a tiny bit more confident but the hands were getting another battering. At one-point
Tom passed me and as he said his brakes were about to fail I got a distinct
whiff of burning rubber. We stopped and his brakes appeared to be almost on
fire. Water sizzled on them and we waited a few minutes for them to cool down.
Once we were down into the Langdales I knew we were past the worst and started
to feel pretty happy and confident. I could see we were well ahead of time and
I rethought my timings and decided my aim should be a midnight finish. The ride
to Ambleside seemed to fly by and then we were onto the main road all the way
back. Somehow I always have it in my mind that more major roads are easier and
flatter. They’re not. This one goes up Dunmail raise and when you’ve been going
for 12 hours or more that’s not much fun. I found myself longing to get off and
have the relief of climbing Helvellyn!
Eventually we reached Thirlmere and the car park
and again Tom told me to ride in first for the cheers. But again we were early
so Nina and Adrian were the sole supporters! We realised Geoff and Gibbo (set
to do Helvellyn) probably had no idea I was ahead of schedule and with no
reception there wasn’t much we could do about it.
I tucked into some much needed food and got changed into running gear and now I had my new target I didn’t really want to wait too long for the guys to arrive. So Nina and I set off on our next little adventure. The route up Helvellyn from Thirlmere is straightforward and it was an absolute pleasure climbing up in the evening light. The views were just stunning and again I was able to enjoy myself rather than worry about what I was doing. As we admired the view we spotted two familiar figures climbing behind us. We kept going as we could see they were going faster than us but as the wind picked up we decided to shelter behind a rock so Geoff and Gibbo could join us. It turned out they’d arrived just a couple of minutes after we’d set off. As we continued the climb the wind gradually got stronger and it was reminiscent of Elaine’s Bob Graham when Gibbo had been responsible for sheltering her from the wind!
Once we reached the top Nina took a couple of quick windswept photos and we were off back down again. The legs were starting to complain but the wind died down and the sunset was spectacular and it started to feel like I was on the homeward straight. Once down in Thirlmere there was just a short final bike ride into Keswick and Skiddaw to deal with. Thirlmere changeover was fairly short – it was getting dark and we knew it wasn’t far to ride so we wanted to get going. Riding along quite a busy road in the dark wasn’t the most fun but it was a great feeling to know we were doing the last few miles and I knew I had it in me to finish the job!
Back into Keswick it was great to see the spot where we’d set off about 15 hours earlier… we’d done it – or almost! For the final climb I had the dream team – Nina, Tom, Geoff and Susan. Head torches on we set off chatting and enjoying being the only ones out on the hills at this time. I figured it was likely to be windy since Helvellyn had been pretty bad but as we climbed higher it seemed like this was going to be a different scale of windy. At first Susan tried to shelter me (despite me pointing out there isn’t very much of her to shelter me!). Then we all started to struggle to stay upright and Geoff grabbed hold of me – speaking to each other wasn’t an option through the noise of the wind so we all just clung together as we fought our way up. I’ve never experienced anything like it. If I hadn’t had Geoff and Tom to hold onto I’m fairly sure I would have taken off…
The climb seemed longer than usual (and Skiddaw is always long!) but eventually we were there. Nina loyally tried to get photos on the top whilst we all did our best not to fly off and then we turned round for the final descent. We wanted to move a bit quicker but not being able to hear, see or stand up properly were hindrances… It was a relief to get to normal levels of wind where we could actually speak to each other. My legs were really not that happy now but as it started to drizzle we broke into a jog. I assumed we’d lost loads of time trying to fight the wind to the summit but I was delighted when Tom said it was only 11.30 and I knew the end was in sight.
Finally we made it back to the bottom at 11.45pm and my challenge was done. Over 100 miles and over 17,000 feet done in 18hours and 45 minutes It’s a weird feeling when something like this is over…exhaustion, elation, emotion…it was all there. Tom and I waved everyone off and then had the simple matter of riding back to our holiday home (less than a mile away). I looked at my bike and looked at the road and thought I can’t do this! Challenge done I knew it was time to relax and sleep….
Congratulations to anyone who has read this far – I know it’s a long one but this really was a most amazing and important day for me. The money it raised for Beat far surpassed my expectations and I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who donated. Beyond that there are some people I owe huge thanks to – this was an odd adventure for all of us and you all made it so special. So big thanks to Geoff, Susan, Fiona, Alex, Nick, Mel and Gibbo. Extra big thanks to Nina who was with me for every step on the hills and whose campervan was an absolute lifesaver! Biggest thanks of all to Tom for encouraging and supporting me every step and wheel turn of the way from the very first seed of an idea through the training, all of the organisation and right to the final pedal and peak.
I joined the striders in May, having being on the lookout for a running club for a little while but not having plucked up the courage to do so, so if I haven’t met you yet, hello! The Willow Miner hasn’t been far away from conversation since I joined the club. On the last bank holiday in May I did a recce of it on a ‘Captains Special’ run and made my usual excuses afterwards that trail wasn’t for me, uneven ground is tricky etc.
Having said that, training on trail routes had been progressing reasonably well so I took the plunge and signed up, knowing this would be my first event in striders colours. I am certainly not at the top end of the club in terms of pace but I was determined I was going to maintain a reasonable level of pride in the performance I put in.
Last week another recce of the route was to follow (thanks to Malcolm for giving up his time for this) and I found I had gained some confidence from the first time I had attempted it. Onto race day, I had persuaded a friend (who isn’t currently a strider, maybe one day) to attempt the race as well. He has had a pretty severe knee injury and hasn’t run a lot of late but he is always game for a challenge. Following the opening messages involving a lot of thank yous to get the race on (more on that later) we were good to go.
As is often the case at the beginning of the race, the first part was quite frantic, settling down around about a mile in. This is where my next thank you is owed, I ran the rest of the race from this point with Louise, a fellow strider, who was an absolute superstar.
She was a superb pacemaker through the middle of the race and then I took up the role for the last 2km or so. She kept me on point excellently and I wouldn’t have managed the time that I did without her. Finishing time officially for me was 50.02, work to do on that but I had set myself a target of 50 minutes so the aim for next year will have to be 45 minutes! My injury prone friend managed 57 minutes without any reoccurrence of his injuries so that’s a positive to build on also!
To Jonathan and all of the volunteers who marked out the course and marshalled to make the event possible I must say thank you, you were excellent and kept me going! It was very professionally done and at no point did I think I was going to get lost.
To the striders who showed up to offer support who weren’t involved, thank you to you too, its that sort of support that makes this club what it is (even including the photographers who always catch me looking fresh!) The mood at the finish was excellent with the buzz of all of the different clubs involved, many of whom I spoke to were very complimentary about the event and our club as a whole, which is excellent to hear. Finally well done to our speedsters and to each and every strider who finished the course, in humid conditions all efforts were impressive!
Final thought from me is with regards to the club and how welcoming it has been in the short time I have been a member. If you are considering joining a running club I couldn’t recommend this one highly enough. There are runs available for all abilities on a weekly basis and I have improved both speed and endurance a lot in my short time with the club, with lots of further room for improvement.
I wasn’t going to write a run report for this one, mainly due to being busy with other things going on in my life. However I couldn’t let you lovely lot down, so here’s a very quickly written one…
A week after completing parkrunathon, followed by Sunday to Friday away training with the army probably wasn’t the best way to prepare for a Hardmoors event. I was never going to be competitive though. I’m all about the completing, not the competing!
The weather for this event looked great given the downpours in the preceding days, the sun was shining as we left Durham and would continue to shine throughout the day. I say ‘We’ because joining me in the car for the journey down were my ‘better’ half Jill, and our friends Debbie and Bill. Debbie was doing her first event of this year’s series, and Bill probably just wanted to actually finish one.
We arrived just as the Marathon Runners were starting at 9am. Registration was, as always a very straightforward affair. Name, ID, Number. We were then waiting around to start, making the most of the sun before we (Well , more, me) started cursing it for being too hot during the race!
10am, race start. The start of this race is at the top of Sutton Bank, at the Visitor Centre. Starting on the road you make a swift left turn onto the trails leading towards ‘Britain’s best view’ overlooking Gormire Lake. In the Full Marathon and the 10K you drop down about 1000 foot to actually run around Gormire Lake. Fortunately in the Half you stay on top of the hill overlooking it.
White Horse Half is surprisingly runnable, unlike the previous event in the series (Wainstones), meaning that a comfortable pace can be held throughout the majority of the race. It wouldn’t be a Hardmoors event if there wasn’t some elevation and sure enough shortly after the first checkpoint at Sneck Yate there is a climb up to High Paradise Farm. On a normal day, feeling fresh, or wanting to go for it I would probably have attempted running up this climb, but today I just couldn’t be bothered. I could see everyone else in front of me walking so I joined them.
From High Paradise Farm the route takes you off into the fields, down a steep technical descent, and off towards CP2. It was just after the descent that myself and another became confused as to which way the route went. There seemed to be tape going both left and right. Just as we were about to get maps and route descriptions out another runner with an expensive watch pointed us in the right direction (I paid £60 for my TomTom watch and it usually sees me right!). Off we headed now with CP2 in sight.
CP2 was a quick water refill and off up a tarmac section. I can’t recall much about this section other than the downhill parts were real quad burners and we crossed over a ford. After crossing the ford and climbing up hill it was off into a wooded section which took us towards Rievalux Abbey. The previous day’s rain had made this wooded section ‘interesting’ in places and at one point my foot (and half of my shin) disappeared in some mud. It wouldn’t be a proper trail race if there wasn’t mud!
Approaching Rievalux Abbey (12ish miles) my left hip was starting to really give me some grief so I moved to a run-walk strategy. This was to continue for the rest of the race. Probably best given that the last four miles of the race are all uphill following the Cleveland Way back to Sutton Bank.
At 13.1 miles, I know because I had just checked my watch, I heard someone fast approaching. I turned, looked and said out loud “I might have known”, ” Well done Mark”* (*Might have been an expletive in between have and known). It was Marathon Winner and fellow Strider Mark Kearney whizzing past as though out for a Sunday jog. His passing spurred me to run for a bit. It didn’t last long.
Onward I plodded, run-walking to the finish, eventually getting there in a time of 3:20:22 (16.7 miles). Mark had completed the Marathon in a time of 4:01:25. He was the only Marathon runner to beat me home, so what if they’d ran 9ish miles more.
Bill finished about 4 minutes after me, only just being beaten by the 2nd place Marathon runner (who had run a 40-mile Ultra the day before apparently). Jill, Debbie and fellow Strider Jane finished around 3 hrs 50, having ran the whole route together.
Next event in the Hardmoors series – Farndale, where I will finish the half before Mark Kearney wins the full!