Category Archives: Tour De Helvellyn

Tour de Helvellyn, Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nina Mason

The route

I had planned for this to be my ‘big one’ for 2019. I entered the race in January thinking I would have nearly a full year to build up the mileage and effort required. I was looking forward to braving the elements, and running in the dark – I find this so much fun. The route is out and back from Askham with a loop ‘round’ Helvellyn

Having completed the Old County Tops with Elaine in May however, I didn’t feel like it was uncharted territory anymore – and I became giddy with excitement in the few days before the event!

I had recced the route a few times in sections. My other prep included squeezing all the kit (a fair bit) and food (ditto) into my rucksack, writing the checkpoints on my hand (so no worrying if my mind got foggy), deciding what time to start, planning when and where to snack (easier for me on ups), and what I might snack on (buying race food was a highlight in the week before!)

The weather was kind on the day – no wind to speak of, and although it might have drizzled on me, I don’t recall proper rain. It was mild too for the time of year. Snow, ice, wind, or rain would have changed the day entirely (though there were small patches of melting snow over Sticks).

The route is on tracks and trails, and there is a small bit of road too. There was no navigation needed, though I was pleased that there were runners around me in the low cloud over Sticks Pass and Grisedale Tarn.

I found it very different to other (shorter) races I have done in the Lakes – I didn’t dare tackle the ups and downs as I would usually (full throttle – though that means different speeds depending on direction) due to the distance. I felt I had to hold myself back a little earlier on – it is so tempting when warmed up to really enjoy the downs! I’ve never had much speed on flatter sections, so a steady plod here felt ok.

I saw mum at Side Farm on the way out – I think I surprised her because she shouted ‘slow down!’ (she was trying to take a photo) but she just got a ‘No way! Have a good day!’ I missed her (or she missed me?) on the way back as I was ahead of schedule. I didn’t look at my watch until I got to Side Farm on the return – I didn’t think there was any need, as I could only go as quick as I could go. When I did look I was pleasantly surprised, and this spurred me on for the ‘home stretch’ (10 miles, but it felt like the home stretch!)

Anyone on Barton Fell as the daylight dwindled may have witnessed the ‘Mason shuffle’ – not quite running speed, but quicker than my walk. And achievable whilst snacking on fizzy, jelly sweets – always a winner for me when getting tired, ‘solid’ food is looking less appetising, and I need an instant hit. I do however feel more research on this may be required, and am always on the lookout for new brands, shapes, or flavours to test, and different hills to eat them on.

I pushed on for the last few miles over the moor, conscious of the clock, overtaking a few people and determined they wouldn’t go past – though knowing I wasn’t necessarily racing them, as everyone chooses their own start time. But the competitive urge is always there, so when I spotted (and I think verbally greeted) the gorse bush on the moor above Askham, I knew it was a downhill mile or so back to the village hall. I pushed hard, had to brake suddenly to get over the cattle grid, grimacing to get the legs running again.

And a dash into the heat and lights of the hall, to be dibbed at the finish. I must have looked wild-eyed (wild-haired? tired? windswept? sugar rush or crash?) as I got a few ‘are you ok?’s and ushered into a chair, vaguely disgruntled that I hadn’t even needed my head torch – both starting and finishing in the half-gloom.

Because of the staggered start times I was washed, changed, and full of soup by the time I saw the other Striders. We shared a few war stories, and then thank goodness for the post-race buzz that allowed me to drive home. Great fun, and already signed up (and hoping for snow) for next year.

Event Website:


Photo courtesy of John Bamber

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Tour de Helvellyn, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 15, 2018

38 miles (shortened route 27 miles)

Aaron Gourley

The warmth of the village hall was soon forgotten as I headed out the door and into the morning darkness for the start of the Tour de Helvellyn. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

With Storm Deirdre bringing winds in excess of 60 miles per hour and wind chill down to around minus 10 degrees, the day was certainly looking to be a challenging adventure. Thrown into the mix were freezing rain, a rare occurrence in the UK, and snow for later in the day to further add to the hazards we’d face. The weather brought the dilemma of what kit to start the race in and what to carry in addition. I opted to start out light and add layers as the day went on meaning I’d be carrying a fairly heavy pack.

I arrived at Askham Village hall in good time to register and prepare ahead of the race which I’d decided to start at around 7:30 am. Getting out of the car it was immediate how cold it was going to be and headed straight to the hall to register. Upon entering I happened to notice a small handwritten note which read that the route was to be shortened by around 12 miles, cutting out the loop around Helvellyn due to the weather.

At registration, this was confirmed and although I was slightly disappointed, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be out in the mountains for as long as I’d thought. This also meant I could ditch a small amount of the extra kit I was carrying and lighten up my pack a little. As I did so, Elaine, Geoff and Juliet turned up to register.

Out on the open moor, it was starting to get light as I moved at a steady pace having set off at 7:45 am. The wind was blowing but nowhere near as strong as expected and, despite the initial shock of the cold, I was happy with the number of layers I had on. The first few miles cross Askham Moor are pretty straightforward to navigate. I ran with a girl from Penrith and we chatted as we steadily made our way towards Howtown.

The ground was quite hard underfoot and there was the odd patch of ice but nothing too treacherous. At Howtown there’s a choice of routes you can take to get to the first checkpoint at Martindale Church – either continue straight across the trail and arrive at the back of the church, or cut down past the adventure centre and run up the road to the church. It’s noted that the road is the quicker of the two and is the route I took on my previous running of this race. Today, opted for the trail.

Checking in at Martindale Church, I moved swiftly through to the next section which is a long road run up the valley to the start of Boredale Hause. From here the route climbs to the col which then leads to the village of Patterdale on the other side. The next checkpoint is at Side Farm at the foot of the pass on the edge of Patterdale but you cannot pass through until this opens at 9:30 am so timing your run is vital. This meant that there were a lot of runners on this section as I arrived just after the opening of the checkpoint.

Inside I grabbed a few treats then made off for the next section through Glenridding and up towards our turn around point at Swart Beck Footbridge, just below Sticks Pass. The weather was still ok on this side of the valley but the howl of the wind could be heard and every now and again there’d be a strong gust that would take you by surprise. Still taking my time, I ran into Glenridding and up past the Traveller Rest pub to the Greenside for the start of the steep climb up to Swart Beck. The route climbs steeply here, often the need to use all fours to make progress. It was getting colder and the wind was stronger as I made my way up. For the very short moment I dared lift my head I spotted Elaine making light work of the descent having already been to the checkpoint and turnaround point. The girl is a machine and had passed me somewhere on the route as I knew she’d started after me.

I eventually got to the point where that path levelled off and made my way across to the checkpoint before turning around and making my way back. On the way back I passed Geoff who has been running immensely strong this year and again, I knew had started after me so was making good time. It was now a battle to try and stay ahead of him.

The run back off was taken with caution as the ground was covered in loose rocks. I slipped and pulled a muscle in my left shoulder, nothing serious but was quite painful at the time. Retracing my steps back through Glenridding to Side Farm, I enjoyed the run in the shelter of the valley. I checked in at Side Farm and took a moment to grab a nice hot cup of tea and a biscuit. Rather than wasting time, I set off with my tea (you have to bring your own mug if you want a drink), as I left Geoff came running in, he was closing the gap on me.

I made my way up the steep climb back up to Boredale with my tea which seemed to be retaining its heat a bit too well. The climb was slow and laborious but eventually, I reached the top, stashed my now empty cup and made for the long descent back to Martindale Church. At the foot of the pass, I went to open a farm gate but a gust of wind howled in and trapped me, I had to wait until it eased to get myself free. I ran/walked up the road eventually arriving back at the church. I checked in and decided to head back across the trail rather than take to road route through Howtown.

The wind was picking up and my body temperature was dropping as was my pace. I was feeling really tired all of a sudden and running was becoming difficult. The ground was getting icier heading back to Askham and the tracks were becoming more hazardous. Hopping the tracks and ice was energy sapping and because of this I misjudged a jump and ended up flat on my back. I lay for a bit as I slowly tried to comprehend what I’d just done before trying to get up which was much more difficult than it should have been.

It was now raining but it didn’t seem too heavy. This was freezing rain however and I was now soaked and very cold. With about a mile and a half to go, I decided to just keep moving and get back to the finish as quickly as possible. Eventually, I made it back and was so glad to be warm. Elaine was already relaxing and Geoff was back getting changed. He’d managed to pass my due to route choice at Martindale Church, I’d taken the high road, he’d taken the low.

In all, I’d enjoyed this race but was pretty relieved that it had been shortened – even though it was still a 27-mile race. I made hard work of it as I seem to have with all my races in 2018 but it was a good experience again. The journey home was just as eventfully however as the A66 had been closed meaning a diversion up the M6 and across the A69 was needed to get home.

2018 Results

PosNo.NameClubCategoryTime Taken
1251Jim MannDurham Fell RunnersM05:42:46
5126Katie Kaars SijpesteijnNorth Leeds Fell Runners1st F06:16:53
12236Scott WatsonMV5006:41:57
96115Mike HughesMV4008:42:02
9755Geoff DavisMV5008:43:12
11985Aaron GourleyM09:06:35
138172Juliet PercivalFV4009:24:58
13856Mandy DawsonFV4009:24:58

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Tour de Helvellyn: A Tale of Two Spectators, Lake District, Saturday, December 15, 2018

Our route: 17 miles, a few thousand ft of ascent, 3 coffee shops, 30 miles bus travel

Nina Mason

It was Brownies that taught me to always carry emergency money. The 2p piece for the telephone box has now been replaced by my credit card, a crumpled fiver, and my phone….and I was glad of the 40-yr old lesson last Saturday.

I’d heard about the Tour a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I’d thought it might be achievable for me to complete. I want to enter the race in 2019, giving me time to build up the mileage required, practise navigation, running in the dark etc. Having done an out-and-back recce of the first and last 12 miles of the route, I wanted to recce the ‘loop’ at the end of this ‘stick’, parking at Patterdale and following the course round Helvellyn

And what better day to do it? On the day of the race itself, with Mum for company, at an easy jog/walk pace, experiencing the weather the competitors would get. I’d checked the forecast and we knew it would be a tough day out, so kitted up with everything we needed. We would go in the opposite direction to the runners and hoped to surprise the hardy group of Striders that were competing (Aaron, Elaine, Geoff, Juliet, and Patricia) with chocolate and jelly babies half way up a hill. I’d worked out their approximate split times, aiming to bump into them between their checkpoints 3 and 4, probably on our way up to Sticks Pass.

Well, that was the plan…..

The day started well. Up at 4.30, drive and park up at Patterdale. Then a 7 am start up to Grisedale Tarn. In hindsight, this was the best bit of the day. Despite the freezing temperature and a bit of breeze, we soon got warmed up, jog-walking up the track, head torches on. It was pitch dark when we set off, and the mountains slowly appeared around us as we headed up the hill – a stunning experience that I will never forget.

It was quite breezy at Grisedale Tarn but nothing we couldn’t manage, followed by a very icy (so fairly slow) descent down Raise Beck. The next section – a long forest track by the side of Thirlmere – was straightforward. We stopped briefly for second (maybe third!) breakfast, and I think we were lulled into a false sense of security by the breeze – nothing alarming – being at our backs.

We reached Stanah (the runners’ checkpoint 4) at 11 am. I’d been expecting to see runners coming towards us by now, but there was no-one visible. Maybe they were just on their way…

What happened next justified some of the precautions that we are all told to take when we head up the hills – appropriate clothing, map and compass, spare food…yes, all that of course, it goes without saying. But equally important – an ‘escape route’ and (Brownie) bus fare home.

As we headed up the steep path to Sticks Pass the wind was in our faces. After a couple of hundred metres of ascent, we were struggling. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced wind like it – literally, every step required effort and a pause to rebalance and ‘pin’ ourselves two-footed to the ground. The wind was relentless, and every now and then a stronger gust would mean we had to stand still, leaning into it, preparing to drop to the ground if it knocked us down. Whilst we were just about warm enough in our clothing, the bits of exposed skin around our eyes (the only bit showing between hat, hood, and buff) was freezing, it was so bitterly cold.

So when mum got knocked off her feet the second time by the wind (quite literally blown off her feet) we knew it was time to quit. I’ve only ever bailed out once before – in similar conditions out walking with Leigh when she was young (also in the Lakes). If I had been alone I might have continued, but I always tell Tony I’ll bring Mum home in one piece, and it just suddenly felt too dangerous – so we hunkered down, backs to the wind, and looked at our options. Back down the hill to Stanah first.

We then considered a long jog/walk back to Patterdale via the Old Coach Road and Dockray, but the mileage looked a bit much, particularly as it was starting to rain fairly heavily by now, and the wind would have been in our faces for much of it.

From there then, an easy, though long, finish to the day. Coffee shop then jogged along to Threlkeld, half hour wait; bus to Penrith, over an hour wait and two more coffee shops (pretty cold and sick by this time); bus to Patterdale, and then a drive home in appalling conditions via the A69 (the 66 unsurprisingly being shut). Home at 8 pm desperate for a shower and bed.

I think Mum enjoyed herself – the early start took a bit of convincing, but she agreed it paid off. I think she too will remember the experiences of the day. And – she had the foresight to bring her bus pass! (hmmm, I must ask if she went to Brownies….)

We found out later that the race went ahead, but a shorter route – to CP3 and back. We had missed the runners by about a mile and a half – in my opinion, the wildest, windiest mile and a half in the country that day! Well done to Aaron, Elaine, Geoff, Juliet, and Patricia on the day – we were thinking about you even if you didn’t get the shouts and sweet treats!

After a day like this, I tend to reflect. What did I learn?
I want to experience more darkness and dawns amongst the hills.
I am definitely planning to do the Tour next year.
The life-skills learned at Brownies will remain with me forever (laugh if you want, but we played a game involving the order you wash your dishes, and that also remains with me).
And I obviously have more ballast than mum.

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Tour De Helvellyn 2017, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 16, 2017

38 miles

Elaine Bisson

This was my big one; I’d been building up to it for months. The Tour of Edinburgh (55km) had been a practise run. Nothing really could prepare me for this day. It was just unbelievable. I’ve been going to the Lakes since I was tiny; it was our only summer holiday destination. We would stay in Glenridding, so I knew a lot of the route. I had also recced it in two parts, Askham to Patterdale once with Geoff and the rest by myself. However, reports of good navigators getting lost on Askham Moor concerned me.

I’d packed my bag and checked it twice (mandatory kit and lots more layers just in case), charged my head torch, marked my map, set my compass for the all-important Askham fell crossing…even borrowed a watch from Stuart who had added the GPS route just in case it went horribly wrong.

I woke at 4 am, ate my breakfast, prepared a few snacks and then sat in my car while it defrosted, wondering when on earth this behaviour became normal. I arrived at Geoff and Susan’s at 5:15. Susan had offered to drive.

We arrived just past 7 to find the hall teaming with runners filling up on breakfast (a lot had camped out on the community centre floor). We registered and were given a race tag that would be scanned at all 8 checkpoints. We had to arrive at Side Farm, Patterdale from 9:30; we weren’t allowed to pass through any earlier. From my last and only recce I’d worked out I should be able to arrive in 1hr50, so wanted to leave at 7:45. Hopefully, the sun would be coming out and if I was lucky, dusk wouldn’t have fallen on my return. This seemed to be Geoff’s plan as well. After a thorough kit check, we scanned our tags and the race was on.

We opened the door to see the sun just kissing the sky, visibility was good, Susan was waiting to cheer us on and we were off up the icy road onto the track, through the gate and onto Askham Moor. It was an amazing morning, you could see over Ullswater, the mist just rising in places, the far-off fells white. There was no wind and weather conditions, apart from the temperature, seemed reasonable.

I kept to a comfortable pace. A sheet of ice covered most of the paths and I had to go pretty slowly to work my way across anyway. On the safer gravel bridleway, I could pick up my speed. I was disappointed as most of this section is on good runnable trails or road so I had wanted to make sure I got these easier miles under my belt, however, the ice slowed progress.

CP1, Martindale Church. There were a lot more runners than I expected. With the staggered start, I’d thought it would be quiet but the trails were relatively busy. On up to Boredale Hause and I passed quite a few as I tucked into my first flapjack of the day.

Running down the hill to Side Farm I grew really frustrated as I slowed on the uneven surface and a few men flew past. With a concerted effort I caught the lady in front only to realise it was Ros, the organiser of the DT series, we exchanged a few greetings and I finally reached CP2, Side Farm, perfectly timed…1hr46!

My card was scanned and the Marshall told me this is where I should look happy as he pointed/directed me towards all the food and drinks set up inside the warm tea room. I was slightly confused, the day had only just begun and I had a considerable amount of miles to cover yet.

I continued on over the cattle grid and into Patterdale, I knew these little valleys so well, I felt happy coming back. I made a sneaky detour up through the Glenridding car park as most runners took the longer route (by a few 100m…every metre counts) up the main road; it gave me such pleasure to arrive on the road ahead of them.

As I started the climb up to Sticks Pass the scenery became increasingly whiter as the ground was covered in more snow. The valley bottom was shrouded in mist and a light rain hung in the air. I stopped to put on my jacket knowing it would get colder as we climbed. I looked up and considered taking a more direct line to the top, but unsure I followed the majority along the zigzag path.

CP3, Trolls Bridge. I’d looked forward to the pass, it’s got a lovely undulating path, which isn’t too strewn with rocks and isn’t so steep that you can’t run most of it. However, today it was covered with a thick layer of snow, in places going up past my knees. I tripped and fell into it quite a few times. It was amusing to try to ‘run’ past people who were out for the day on their skis.

This is obviously a big race day; quite a lot of the well-known fell runners were there. I was bewildered to see a woman pass me then stop to the side of the footprints to pull down her leggings and knickers and happily wee in front of all.

Despite packing all but my kitchen sink I’d forgotten my sunglasses, which would have come in handy. The glare off all the snow was so blinding. I was pleased by the proximity of the other runners and that snow wasn’t still falling, although the mist clung to the valley making visibility quite poor. It would be really easy to go off track and get lost in this unforgiving white landscape.

Finally, I reached the top. Next came the descent down to Thirlspot and CP4. Not as quick as I’d hoped, as the snow was really thick, as I struggled on the steep slippy descent. Katie (2nd fastest female BGR) and Nicky Spinks flew past.
The views down this valley were just beautiful. Snow dusted the lower slopes, the tops were white, the low sun had a reddish glow and a mist danced along Thirlmere. I like the path here that winds along the stone walls, across little becks, the high fells flanking either side.
At Swirls carpark I was feeling tired and cold so stopped briefly at CP5 to fill my mug with hot sweet tea and sipped it as I made my way up onto the forest tracks, pleased to make use of my early Christmas present, a foldable mug!

This is my least favourite stretch, on my recce. I’d found it monotonous and was surprised by the roads that still twisted up the valley. The snow and views were beautiful today though, so I was happily distracted. I was busy following the trainer footprints trying to work out how many people may have passed this way before me. There didn’t seem to be too many, and here and there were the distinct prints of reindeer!

Down to CP6 and then on up Raise Beck. I somehow managed to sink knee-deep in mud…about the only muddy square metre on the whole route, then hauled myself out to immediately skid on ice and land on my bum making my leggings v cold and wet and soaking my gloves. Thank goodness I had also packed my buffalo mitts! This knocked my confidence, as I now had to find a safe route over the beck without falling in. The rocks were either covered in ice or just very slippy. As I floundered about and skidded, nearly landing in the beck, some men who had followed my lead skipped past on the same route and headed on up the hill. I cursed them under my breath for their speed and sure-footedness. It wasn’t long before my spirits were lifted, seeing Santa sitting on a rock wishing us a Merry Christmas, just as Jules had said (I promise I wasn’t hallucinating).

Much to my surprise, Susan was here too, hoping to spot us on route. She laughed when I told her how tough it had been and said Nicky wasn’t too far in front. I found it difficult getting the right line around the tarn, the snow was really thick. I tried to follow the trainer prints but it was slow going. Where it lay thinner I could run but most was a hard slog through thick, thick snow. The stunning views made up for it.

On down the Grisedale valley and I was relieved to see the green slopes now not so far away. I chose completely the wrong route; coming down slowly on the path…I know time and places were lost. But again I found myself in familiar territory. I’d spent one summer trying to get fit with my brother, run-walking between these valleys. I’d gone on my tiny dinghy down the little beck and had been chased by feisty cows through a field. I’d been one of very few who had come here when foot and mouth disease had wiped out tourism and remember dipping my trainers at all the gates. I love this place, so while I was beginning to feel very tired my memories kept me going. The road did feel very hard going despite being predominantly downhill until CP7, back at Side Farm. A supporter gave me a massive cheer and told me to keep going, ‘just keep putting one foot in front of the next’…so that’s exactly what I did and I kept repeating it to myself all the way back.
So now to retrace my steps. I felt quite daunted; I’d already been on my feet far longer than I ever had in a race. I wasn’t looking forward to the trudge up to Boredale Hause. I was flagging. I stopped again, filled my bottles with juice and took another cup of sugary tea up the path.

I’d only been to the top of the Hause once with Geoff. I’d thought there was only one path to follow, unfortunately, it branches and I missed the quicker route, ending up circling around and back on myself. Panic rose as I didn’t remember the path; I was so relieved to find the ruined wall that marked the right route.

Annoyed at myself and tiredness drifting in, I pushed on as hard as I could. I started having to make deals with myself, to run to certain markers and then walk, to set regular snack intervals.

It’s still about 10 miles back; a long way after already completing 28miles. I was keen to reach the moor before sunset though, so this kept me pushing forward.

Martindale CP8 done and only one left to go. I started to keep in time with two men who’d been running together. When they ran I ran, when they walked I did the same. It felt comfortable and it distracted me from my negative thoughts. I kept up with them until the cockpit stone circle. I was determined to keep on Geoff’s shortcut after that.

The paths here scatter crazily across the moor. I knew I could go wrong. However, it wasn’t dark, the fog hadn’t fallen and I could see the trees that marked my way home (this was one of my major fears, getting lost in poor visibility on the moor, so the relief was quite something)!

The men in front took a different line but I fixed on bearings and made my way across the moor until I hit the path I knew well from running up as a kid. I realised I’d picked up quite a few places trusting in his directions.

It was pretty much downhill from now and my legs really ached but the thought of finally being able to stop and sit. I speeded up as much as I could, between the ice, only to have to stop to wait for a tractor to cross the road. Then I saw the sign for the finish and stopped for a second, before turning the handle and opening the door to the community centre, final CP, the journey’s end.

I could barely smile and was close to tears; sheer exhaustion had taken over, what a day. It’s strange how you can keep moving forward but once you stop that’s it, and that was certainly it for me.

I must have looked a state. When changed and cleaned up, I arrived at the small canteen and the lady insisted that I sit down and she would bring me all the soup and tea I fancied. I pulled out my phone to tell John ‘your wife is still alive’! He’d had reservations about my adventure. There was no signal though, so I sat and watched as all the weary runners entered.

It’s quite a sight, seeing all the relief and pride flood through the doors. Most wobbled, not quite in the present; a few grinned from ear to ear. The overriding feelings were of pride, exhaustion and gratitude to arrive safely home after what was quite an epic adventure.

I watched the minutes pass waiting for sight of Susan or Geoff; I was relieved to see Geoff arrive safely back. He’d managed a 15-minute PB in conditions that were tougher than some of his previous 6 races; he was also first in v60 group, by a huge margin of 1 hour 15 minutes.

We shared our stories over our tea and soup until refilled and rehydrated, Susan took us back home.

Can’t quite express my deep satisfaction having raced this event. Even last year I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting anything like it. My hardest, most memorable race yet, can’t wait to do it again!

[Photographs courtesy of John Bamber, Piers and Hillary Barber and Jim Tinnion]

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Tour de Helvellyn 2017, Helvellyn, Saturday, December 17, 2016

38 miles

Aaron Gourley

I’d had my eye on the TdH for a while having been inspired by Geoff and Tom’s race reports over previous years but never thought I’d be capable of running.

This race, a self supporting, self navigation 38 mile race around Helvellyn, is held on the weekend closest to the shortest day of the year and is a bit of a beast to say the least and as their website suggests – it’s not one for novices!

So with that in the back of my mind I’d stayed away from it until this year when I threw caution to the wind and decided to enter, on the basis that there were a good number of other Striders taking it on. But alas, I was too late, the entry limit had been reached. I placed my name on the waiting list but didn’t expect to get in, in fact, I was quite relieved in one sense as I still wasn’t sure if I was capable of running it.

But then I got an email inviting me to take a place and I was in.

Race day was Saturday 17th December, but I’d chosen to stay over the night before at Askham community centre, the race HQ. £5 for a place on the floor with around 100 other runners – not for the faint hearted either it seems.  I’d even forgone my works xmas night out in Newcastle, I must be mad.

In Askham I met up with Mandy, Juliet and Scott Watson who were also running, in the pub for a really nice meal. If anybody thinks Scott is not eating enough then you would have been surprised to see him tackle the most amazing array of desserts that were on offer.

Scott and I were both staying at the hall, Mandy and Juliet had opted for the comfort of a hotel, although not the one they’d thought. I slept ok but it was punctuated by snoring and someone having nightmares and shouting out in his sleep.

At 5am, we were pretty much all woken by the race organisers (Nav4) getting ready to open the registration and cook breakfast.

I got ready as more and more people arrived and the hall got fuller, busier and louder. Striders for the day were Geoff Davies, David Gibson, Mike Hughes, Mandy, Juliet, and Scott.

This race is more of a time trial and runners can start anytime between 7am and 9am. I’d decided to set off around 7:30am but so had most of the other runners so getting through the thorough kit check took a while.

I was going to run with Mike and David for a long as possible and thought they’d already gone through check so I dashed out and caught up with Geoff who’d left just ahead of me, but turned out Mike and David were still not out of the hall so I stopped and waited for them.

The morning light was just breaking and a bright moon shone as we set off over Askham Moor, the conditions were cold but as good as you could wish for.

Mike and David set the pace, I followed on behind trying to maintain a good pace but not get left too far behind.

The first few miles breezed by across the moor as I kept check on my map to ensure I had an idea of where I was going on the return leg later in the evening.

The race allows you to make your own route choices so long as they’re legal, and you get to the next checkpoint within the timeframes. Our first decision was to take a low route through Howtown to the first self clip checkpoint at Martindale Church. It seemed to work as people who were ahead were now behind. From here it was a long slog up Boardale Hause before a steep but thrilling decent down into Patterdale and the next checkpoint at Side Farm.

We stopped here for a quick refuel and refill of water bottles before setting off for the run to Glenridding. Just as we were heading out on to the road side, Scott caught us up, looking very cheery. He’d left Askham some time after us but had made good progress in the first 10 miles and looked strong as he took off into the distance.

This section marks the start of the long climb up to Sticks Pass just under Helvellyn. There’s a long zig-zag path up to the old mines, some chose to follow it, we decided to cut straight up.

Before long, we were at the quarry and had caught Mandy and Juliet who had set off around 30 mins ahead of us. We ran with them up to Sticks Pass when we were joined by Geoff who we must have passed at some point on the way up. We all ran down the steep valley side to the next checkpoint 4 near Stannah Beck. I particularly liked this decent as it had long, grassy sweeps that were good for running on.

At the bottom we made our way to the next checkpoint at Swirls Car Park where we could top up water bottles and get some food. We didn’t hang around long as we set off on the long meandering path towards Dumnail Raise. The run along the valley was brilliant and the conditions made for a stunning cloud  inversion in the distance.

As we reached the foot of Dumnail Raise, we turned and made our way up the steep sides of the beck that was flowing. I started to suffer a bit here and was powerless to keep up as Geoff, David and Mike pulled away. I decided there was no point in trying to keep their pace as cramp took hold making it difficult for me to run across the mix of bog and rocky ground as we skirted Grizedale Tarn to make the long decent back to Patterdale.

With Mike and co, now out of sight, I resigned myself to finishing the race on my own, but still hoped to get back before dark. I reached Side Farm for the to find them still there so quickly grabbed a cup of tea and a light snack before following them out for the tough ascent back up Boardale Hause. But I should really have stayed longer at the checkpoint and recovered a bit more as I found the climb difficult and just couldn’t keep up with them.

Out of sight again, I pressed on at my own pace which was a mix of walking and shuffling. I wasn’t too worried as I was still moving at a good pace but was conscious it was soon to get dark. My main worry about this race had been getting lost in the dark going back over Askham Moor.

I pressed on reversing the route I’d ran earlier that day. Dusk was falling as I reached the stone circle known as the Cockpit. This was significant as it’s here that many runners often go astray. With still enough day light I was able to pick the right line just as Mandy and Juliet came running past. They were looking strong and focused, so much so that they didn’t even notice me.

I maintained my own pace and my own line. Soon it was dark and I had no choice but to put on my head torch for the final mile and a half. across the rough ground I’d chosen.

Before long the lights of Askham appeared and after what seemed an eternity I made it back to the warmth of the Community Centre for the finish.

There was a lively buzz in the room as I walked in. I was exhausted but elated to have finished such a fantastic race. I’ll definitely be back next year but hopefully finish feeling stronger although I doubt conditions will be as favourable.

Aaron Gourley


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Tour De Helvellyn, Saturday, December 21, 2013

BS / 37.3m / 6562ft

Geoff Davis

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!

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Tour De Helvellyn, Saturday, December 22, 2012

BL / 60km / 2000m

Tom Reeves

This race is in its 3rd year and is a race for runners who are able to navigate and look after themselves in the mountains in difficult conditions. It is always run on the shortest Saturday of the year so being able to move quickly is an advantage. I think its going to become a classic.

However as I sat in the Travelodge the night before the race watching the weather I really did not want to do the run the following day. Torrential rain and strong winds! Err no thanks!

I did this event in 2011 with Geoff Davis and I was doing it again with Mr Davis. We set off from Askam village hall at 7.30 in full waterproofs top and bottom and finished many hours later in full waterproofs. We set off with another runner Chris Little who runs with NFR and set off with us the previous year. The weather was wet but not as wet as expected and although the wind was cold it was not too strong.

The race itself is 38 miles on pretty good tracks most of the way passing through Howtown on Ullswater then Patterdale via Boardale Hause (the first big climb of the route). Timing is pretty important as checkpoint 2 at Patterdale does not open till 9.30 am and you must pass back through it on the return journey no later than 4pm. Our timing was pretty much spot on on the way out and we hit the checkpoint just after 9.30 going at a nice comfortable pace. We stayed together as far as the climb up sticks pass when myself and Geoff pulled slightly ahead of Chris. I felt the cold for the first time as we hit the snow line and spent the next 15 minutes or so running through ankle deep ice cold water. I contemplated putting more clothes on but didn’t bother deciding the decent to Thirlmere would warm me up as we lost height. It did. Heading out from checkpoint 4 at Stanah Gill Geoff jogged along eating a gel while I chomped on a pasty can you guess who enjoyed their top up more?

Myself and Geoff swapped taking the lead all along Thirlmere which is always longer than expected. I pulled away from Geoff on the steep climb up Raise Beck to Grisedale Tarn, I was going quite well till I took a tumble on the run down from the tarn to Grisedale and back to Patterdale. I somehow managed to trip on the worst bit of ground clattering my dodgy knee. I lay on the ground sure I’d smashed my kneecap. After a couple of minutes and several expletives I took a few tentative steps and boy did they hurt. I kept at it and managed to pick up the pace catching a group of runners I’d been tailing for some time.

The rest of the run from Patterdale is the reverse of the start of the race and fairly runnable once you’ve got back up over Boardale Hause. By the time I got to Howtown I knew I was going to better my time of last year and so I did finishing in 8hours and 25minutes. 35 minutes better than 2011. This was down to better running conditions and not better running I might add.

Geoff came in not long after me bettering his time by even more than me. After race food was fantastic loads of home baked cake lots of mugs of tea and very tasty homemade carrot soup.

This is a great event and clearly others agree as the race has doubled in entry numbers since last year. I think it might be a regular for me.

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Tour de Helvellyn, Saturday, December 17, 2011

BL / 60km / 2000m

Geoff Davis …

Apart from its slightly pretentious name there’s nothing phoney about the ‘Tour de Helvellyn’. Billed as a ‘low key’ event of 38 miles with 2200m of ascent, it came with a number of health warnings such as:

Two old blokes jogging up Boardale.

  • ‘not for novice runners’;
  • ‘the route is unmarked’;
  • ‘not for those who can’t navigate’;
  • ‘before entering think very carefully’;
  • ‘can you cope in winter conditions with minimal support?’; and finally,
  • ‘unsuitable applications will be rejected’!

The organiser, Joe Faulkner (one of the most competent ‘Fellsmen’ in the country), didn’t reject my application, even though I haven’t done anything really ‘mega’ for three years, and so I was in!

Five weeks of intensive training later, interrupted by a heavy cold, Tom Reeves and I were in Askham village hall at 7.30am. It was a dark, cold and frosty morn as we waited for Joe to tell us our kit was sufficient and that we looked competent enough to be allowed to run in his race.

The event was a time trial so you could start at any time between 7-9am and Tom and I had decided to set off just before it got light. We were joined by NFR friend Chris Little who’s Bob Graham I had helped out on over seven years ago (where has that time gone?!). The first mile or so was on road that was covered in frost and black ice and proved challenging although we all managed to stay upright. The next few miles over Askham Moor and down to Howtown were frosty and icy underfoot but went over quite quickly. We split up briefly when a route choice presented itself. The younger men chose what proved to be the longer, slower option and I was left waiting for them at the checkpoint for a couple of minutes, much to my delight!

Kicking Steps To Swart Beck. The first ‘up and over’ at Boredale Hause had a bit of snow on but nothing to speak about and, apart from Tom and Chris’ endless chatter, things went quite smoothly, although not ice-free, till be got to the Helvellyn Youth Hostel. Chris stopped to put on his snow spikes and Tom and I continued together. From here the ascent to the highest point of the race, Sticks Pass at 750m, began and we were into deep snow immediately. As we ascended, the cloud did the opposite and soon we were in near whiteout conditions slogging up a steep slope through deep snow with the wind in our faces blowing tiny snowflakes into our eyes. After what seemed an eternity we finally ‘topped out’ onto the pass and began the long slippery descent to Thirlmere.

I’d been very glad to have Tom with me over this difficult section and really appreciated his morale boosting comment when we finally reached the bottom of the slope: “well that’s 16 miles done, only another 22 to go!” We parted company at this point, but not because we had a spat, Tom was just moving more quickly than I was. So now I was on my own and knew that, although the most difficult section was done, the next 22 miles were going to be a challenge.

After a steady jog / power walk through the forest I arrived at Dunmail Raise with the next up and over to face. The ‘up’ proved easier than I’d expected with a good trail having been broken through the snow. However, the ‘over’ bit around Grisedale Tarn was unpleasant with the deep soft snow concealing wet boggy ground beneath which soaked and froze my feet. The descent to Patterdale was slippery initially, but the snow gave way to a well-defined track to the valley and I felt fairly comfortable. There were one or two runners around me for the next few miles, over Boredale Hause again and onto Matterdale Church, but I was mostly on my own with my thoughts (just how I like it!)

The race had also been billed as taking place on the ‘shortest’ weekend of the year and now, at around 4pm, dusk was starting to fall. I’ve run through the night across the fells many times so that wasn’t a problem. However, I prefer running on ‘night vision’ rather than using a head torch but when I started to trip over rocks and clumps of reeds I knew it was time to turn the damn torch on.

The last couple of miles over the near featureless Askham Moor were going to be tough in the dark but I had a ‘pre-prepared’ bearing and I could still make out a key landmark in the gloom, so I knew where I was going. However, the traverse of the moor was frustrating as it was frosty, icy and consequently very slippery. Nonetheless I managed to keep to the track and eventually came out onto the road into the village. It was with great relief that I ran into the Village Hall and handed my control card to Joe Faulkner who congratulated me. As my eyes became accustomed to the bright lights I could see Tom sipping a cup of tea. I must have looked a state ’cause he kindly offered to get me some soup and tea. As we chatted with a couple of other friends Tom remarked that I had done a good time – for someone of my age. Thanks Tom, for that, and for a great weekend!

… and Tom Reeves:

I’d heard about this event last year but never got round to entering it so I was pretty keen to have a go this year. I’ve done a few long runs so felt I could do the distance the main thing about this race is the time of year. The days are short and the weather can be challenging! Geoff D was coming across with me so we both kept our eyes on the weather in the week leading up to the day of the race. We drove across on Friday night so we could get a good start on Saturday morning.

The race HQ and start/finish of the race was in Askham Village Hall it was dark and icy when we arrived I’d had my cold rice pudding and was almost raring to go. The weather reports were more positive so we were hopeful of a good day out. Geoff and I decided to set off together and see how the race panned out, we headed off at 7.44 as the sky was just beginning to get light. I almost went over on black ice as we left the hall not a good start! The road up to Askham Fell was very icy and we toddled along barely above walking pace.

One of Geoff’s NFR buddies Chris joined us over the initial part of the race. Once we were on the fell it we were able to get running and warm through a bit. The first leg takes the runners along the side of Ullswater to Howtown and the up to a self clip at Martindale Church. At Howtown there is an option of following the road or keeping to the fellside. I opted for the off road and Geoff took the road. Surprise, surprise he got to the church first with a rather satisfied look on his face!

Swart Beck. We had a mile or two of road along Boardale then headed up on a steep bouldery footpath to Boardale Hause and lots of snow. The weather was still being kind to us and there were fantastic views of the route to come. The next checkpoint was in Patterdale and on the run down we started to get overtaken by some of the faster runners. It was quite icy and care had to be taken but I think we all made it down with no falls (yet).

We got to Patterdale bang on opening time of the checkpoint and ran on through to Glennridding followed the road up to the youth hostel and what would be the longest climb to Sticks Pass the highest point of the course. Chris stopped just before the climb to put his brand new micro spikes on. We kept on going expecting Chris to catch us up with the added assistance of spikes. We passed quite a few skiers on the way up as the snow got deeper. This was what I was hoping for, lots of snow and I got it! We made good progress and got to Swart Beck Footbridge and a marshal who deserved a medal for being up there. We clipped, Geoff put his jacket on and we were off for a long slog in deep snow and a virtual whiteout. It felt like a long time till we dropped out of the cloud and got our first views of Thirlmere. The run down to Stanah Footbridge was very slippy and I fell over a couple of times on the steep hillside.

Climb up to Sticks Pass. Geoff took a bit longer to get to the checkpoint and I don’t think he was impressed when I mentioned we only had another 22 miles to go. I felt quite tired after the run through the deep snow so refuelled on home made flapjack as I jogged along under Whiteside to Swirls Car park and checkpoint 5. I was greeted by the splendid sight of Santa Claus and the sound of bells ringing which was very festive. Geoff was around a minute behind me as I entered the woods along the side of Thirlmere. I passed a few runners and one or two runners passed me, the racers with higher numbers had started after me so I was able to get a roughish idea of where I might be in the race.

The climb up Raise Beck to Grisedale was a tough one but it seemed to pass pretty quickly, I was now heading back in the direction of Askham, I was over half way and the next checkpoint would be Patterdale. There was deep snow again heading past Grisedale Tarn and I managed another couple of falls. I began to feel quite cold for the first time since the start of the race. Time to eat more and pick up the pace. I noticed a young lad tracking behind me on the descent down Grisedale. We got chatting and he informed me in no uncertain terms that he was feeling the pace. I suggested he run along with me and we duly ran the rest of the race together. He (Tom) had started and hour and 10 minutes after me so he had made really good progress (he finished in the top 20).

At Patterdale I ate my chicken and ham pastie which I’d carried all day and was determined to eat. It wasn’t too bad actually, and gave me a boost of energy on the final major climb back up to Boardale Hause. It was now 3pm is and the soon to be setting sun looked fantastic it had been a great day out and only 9 miles to go. The final checkpoint was Martindale Church again and I took Geoff’s route back down the road, and yes Geoff, it was quicker. Tom was struggling with cramp but managed to hang onto me with a bit of encouragement.

It was just beginning to get dark as we ran across the final stretch of Askham Fell but the head torch stayed in my sack. I was pleased to get back in (almost) daylight and even more pleased to get in dead on 9 hours. I was hoping for under 10 hours so … job done!

The tea and soup were flowing back in the village hall and the cake was very good too. I managed to cramp up while taking my fell shoes off, but then again I wasn’t the only one judging by the grimaces of my fellow competitors. Geoff arrived in due course and looked very pleased with himself. Chris arrived a short while after, so we were all safely home.

Anyway we were soon heading back to Durham after a great winters day on the fells. Beats Christmas shopping every time.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Kim Collison 6:05
35 Tom Reeves 3 9:00
50 Geoff Davis 5 9:40

90 finishers, 95 starters.

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