This was an important race for me for a number of reasons
– I was using it towards qualification for the Dragons back
– it would be an excellent tester/pre-race for the West Highland Way
As a race, it was so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t true. I’ve never ran or even spent much time in the lakes, this race was a traditional marked race on a set course, but an orienteering style event with checkpoints and freedom to choose the route. My only other experience of something similar is the 7 Hills of Edinburgh, where the course is so busy that there is a snake of competitors to follow.
The event centre was in the village of Pooley Bridge near to Penrith. I arrived and registered before pitching camp for the night. On registering I was given the map for the following three days running and spent the night pouring over it looking at the best routes and deeply regretting my decision to enter the elite course.
The following morning, I checked in my overnight drop bag and stood nervously preparing to leave for the ferry which would take us to the start. It was certainly one of the most glorious ways to start a race.
As we sailed to the start, I took the opportunity to check out my competitors footwear, Inov8 was the shoe of choice and I was glad I had brought mine. I was a lot less glad they were sitting in the car, but that another story.
Each competitor dibbed in at the start before heading to the first checkpoint. For the elites, that was Place Fell and the first of many tough climbs. After that, I followed the Coast to Coast (C2C) path for a bit before heading off the path and a brutal climb up to Gray Crag, I had a real low point there, stressing about my poor navigation skills. At the summit, I met Paul, another competitor with similar skills and ability to me and he dragged me through the rest of the first day and the second day.
Checkpoint 3 was Kidsty Pike so we re-joined the C2C and followed it through the checkpoint to Haweswater. At Mardale Head we made the first of many navigational errors and selected the path to Gatescarth Pass rather than Smallwater Beck, realising our error when we found the wrong checkpoint. The path along through Harter Fell should have brought us back on course, but error number 2 meant we missed the junction at Harter Fell and carried on South over Kentmere Pike before realising our mistake and heading back to Harter Fell, finding the correct path, we soon got the point at Mardale Ill Bell (no. 5) before following the ridge along to Yoke (point 6) and then dropping down to Gartburn Pass and Kentmere. From here, a run though some farmland took us to Till’s Hole and Birk Rigg before heading down to the finish. It was an excellent but long day (albeit the winner took just over 5 hours) we took over 10 hours, but that did include a 2 hour detour.
This promised to be a long day and Paul and I set off early. Checkpoint 1 was at Gartburn Pass which was near where we came off Yoke the day before, then some sharp navigation took us down to Troutbeck and the climb up to Wansfell Pike (point 2) before was dropped down to Ambleside and the checkpoint at Bilbo’s Cafe. Deciding it would be rude to go all that way without stopping for a cup of tea, we retired into the cafe for some refreshment.
Leaving the cafe, we had the challenge of using an orienteering map to navigate through the town and after some challenges, got onto Nook Lane which we followed up onto the Horseshoe and up to High Pike. As we climbed up the weather came down and we reached High Pike in some pretty thick mist, barely able to see 10 foot in front of our faces and struggling to stand in the wind. The next checkpoint was round the Horseshoe at Great Rigg but somewhere about Hart Crag we lost the path and couldn’t find it again despite our best efforts. We eventually made the decision to head down into the valley and back to Rydal, missing the checkpoint, it’s better to be safe than finish.
We got to the point at Rydal at 1550 hours and decided that we didn’t have sufficient time to make the other two checkpoints (Lingmoor Fell and Sergeant Man) before the course closed so reluctantly headed along to the finishing camp to end a disappointing day.
The final day started with some better looking weather, but still low cloud. We set off sharp and joined the C2C path up towards the first checkpoint at Seat Saddle before dropping down and then ascending up to St Sunday Crag, where we were again enveloped in thick fog. This time we stuck to our guns and using a combination of map and compass found the correct path and as the mist rose, we were privileged to witness some astoundingly beautiful views. Unfortunately Paul, my running partner, was finding it really tough going with his knee and IT Band hurting considerably. He asked me to push on without him and said that he’d take the boat from Patterdale back to the finish.
I pushed on down the Crag, passing Ian Corless (Talk Ultra) on the way down.
I ran through Patterdale, stopping to re-fill my water bottle and put some Hi5 energy powder in the bottle before heading up to Boredale Hause and then following the valley down to Sandwick and then round to Kailpot Crag and the next checkpoint. From there, I followed Fusedale Beck up heading for Loadpot Hill, the path would take me past the top before coming back round to it, but I decided that I could cut a significant (3k) amount off the distance by going straight up. I followed a gill up and it became progressively steeper where I was climbing on all fours to get to the top. Looking at the map, I climbed 200 meters in height in less than 500 meters distance. The top was relatively flat and I made my way to the checkpoint and then followed the old Roman Road, High Streets, back to the finish with just one more checkpoint to go at the junction where I would turn to Pooley Bridge.
It was on this long runnable descent that I became aware of an intense pressure in my right calf, which was, at times stopping me run. I struggled through the pain and reached the end, where Shane Ohly was effusive in his congratulations. However, when I downloaded my chip, I had missed a checkpoint, there was another fell, Steel Knotts, between Kailpot Crag and Loadpot Hill, which I had completely overlooked whilst planning my route. I’m still kicking myself at the stupidity.
I had an amazing time, the other competitors were really friendly and the event staff and marshals were so friendly and helpful. I’m really looking forward to doing it all again next year, but I might step down to the A or B courses rather than punish myself on the elite.
The Lakes are not an area I’ve spent much time before and I’ve discovered just how beautiful they are. I will make some time in the future to go back and run in them and have already been looking at ultras down there to try.