Thirlmere from the ascent of Helvellyn
Just the kick up the ass I needed!
It was a relatively late decision for me to enter this race, it popped up on my radar a few weeks ago and I was immediately intrigued. However if I could have chosen the timing of this race the first weekend in April would not have been the date I would have chosen. It was too long with too much vertical from where I am in my training; I would rather have raced this in early June…
That said of the 365 days in the year, Saturday 6th April 2013 was the best possible day to have it! The conditions made for an awesome day! The recent snowfall that had me concerned pre-race provided the perfect back drop to a beautifully sunny day. It seems spring had sprung and not a day too early! In the weeks leading up to the event there had been a snow dump on the ‘tops’
Taken from the weatherline website:
“Many popular routes are covered with hard, compacted snow and some ice which is obviously slippery. Away from the paths, deep soft snow is the norm – sometimes with a glazed crust – and extra time is needed for the energy-sapping plodding this requires. Other than paths becoming more compacted and icy these conditions are not forecasted to change until early next week.
Both Swirral and Striding Edge on Helvellyn are covered with deep drifts of soft snow and windslab mixed with patches of more compacted snow and ice, especially on their steep exit ramps. The edges, and similar routes in the Lakes, should therefore only be attempted by those experienced and equipped for such conditions, with crampons and ice axe essential.
Full winter clothing and footwear are essential for anyone venturing out onto the fells. For those attempting or traversing steep or technical ground or even just walking on higher level paths an ice axe and crampons are also essential. Summit temperatures remain below freezing with a windchill in negative double figures.”
This had me worried, I didn’t dare tell the missus, I wouldn’t have been allowed to race…However, I am sensible and if I thought there was any real danger I would have simply turned round at any point and pulled out.
Despite the forecast the conditions were perfect! The only dangers was some of the other idiots up on Helvellyn, climbed it in their plimsolls and then decide to get a bit closer to the edge for a better look, without realising they are standing a few feet beyond the edge on a cornice made entirely of snow and ice! I had to shout a few warnings to these plonkers!
Friday I went looking for some over mittens and found some in Mountain Warehouse, this was the only bit of additional kit I thought I would need, there’s nothing worse than cold hands! I got my kit packed on Friday and made a batch of low carb pancakes to cover me for breakfast and in race fuel. I adjusted my usual recipe to take account of the race and added some banana chunks. Then I got slightly carried away and experimented making pancake sandwiches with wither peanut butter or Nutella filling- it worked an absolute treat!! I loaded the car up and got to bed.
I tossed and turned for a few hours and then was up again at 3:15am! I slurped a coffee and made a second for the road, put my base layers and a tracksuit on and was on the road by 3:30am. The drive up was fine, and I was in Askham at just after 5:00am. I found the village hall and parked up. It was a frosty morning and still pitch black. I found Joe, the race director, stirring a vat of porridge in the kitchen. Those that had spent the night on the floor of the village hall were slowly rousing. I collected my punch card and last minute instructions before making my final kit check and putting on my outer layers, ready for the off.
We were ushered into a side room in the village hall where I was greeted by a familiar face. Alan, a chap I used to play rugby with was racing. I’ve not seen Al for about 3 years; he played fly-half when I played scrum-half for the Saracens at Fylde Rugby Club. It turns out he’s been doing this type of thing for the last few years and has already done the Lakeland 100 (that I plan to do later in the year). It was nice to see a familiar face, the other faces were only familiar from photos I had seen of them as there were several accomplished trail runners in the group!
My mate Simon (currently tapering for VLM) and Mark (an acomplished Ultrarunner – training for the Ben Trend Ultra) formed the crowd at the start line, cheering us off.
Following the race brief we gathered in the road a few minutes after 6am and set off uphill and onto the open fells.
The sun would be up soon
Start / Finish – Askham Community Centre GR 513 237
1) 457 182 Loadpot
2) 441 110 High Street
3) 410 131 Hartsop Carpark
4) 398 162 Side Farm
5) 324 136 Wythburn Church
6) 342 152 Helvellyn
7) 337 166 Whiteside
8) 398 162 Side Farm
9) 406 169 Place Fell
10) 435 191 Martindale Church
This was navigation as well as a running challenge. I started chatting to Al as we headed out but I quickly realised my additional layers needed to be shed. I made my excuse and told Al, I’d catch him in a bit, knowing full well that I would be taking the pace slowly and he was likely to finish a good few hours in front. I took my coat off and strapped it onto the top of my ruck sack where it would remain for the rest of the day. I got chatting to a girl who was training for the Bob Graham round that she was planning on doing in May, this would be her biggest training run in one go and from what I remember she had something planned the next day also. That is an example of how ‘hard-core’ this field of 25 was! No wonder I was at the tail end!!
Trekking over High Street in the snow
I slowly eased my way off the back of the field, sticking at my own pace, there were three people behind me throughout and I hung to the tail end of the other 21 runners until the descent from the summit of High Street after which I lost touch with them. The first hour of the ascent was over bracken and heather before we hit the snow line. The snow was deep in places but there was a nice crust in places and if you tread lightly it was easy going on top of the crust. However occasionally it would give on a heavy foot strike, especially on the ascent, I fell twice, tripped up by the deep snow. The landings weren’t so soft either!
Long shadow with ‘sun-up’
Now that I’d dropped off the pack I had to get the map out… I wasted a lot of time faffing with my rucksack; I know I need something different for the 100. I need easily accessible pockets. My current bag is really comfortable but I need to take it off and open than main compartment every time I need something, which wastes a lot of time and energy unnecessarily. I was glad to get down to Hartsop, the Descent round ‘The Knott’ was fun! The snow was a bit softer and it made the steep descent a cross between skiing and running.
First manned CP
I was greeted at Harstop with a great selection of my type of food. Not a sandwich or fruit cake in sight! I had a hard-boiled egg, cheese, nuts, crisps and a few cherry tomatoes, washed down with a nice brew. The next section up to Side Farm is rolling and runnable. This was the first hint that I was going to have foot problems. The Inov8’s I was wearing are an awesome piece of kit, great for the snow and on anything that requires grip but they’re not so good on tarmac! There’s minimal cushioning and the studded sole becomes uncomfortable on harder surfaces. I also had wet feet from the snow. Moisture + friction = blisters!
From Side Farm I started the long ascent up by Grisdale Beck, round Falcon Crag to Grisdale Tarn 9which was completely frozen). It was a nice easy climb and if I was racing I would have run a lot more but I was enjoying it and doing much more walking than was strictly necessary. My aim was to get a good long session done, in terms of time and distance. On this climb I noticed my right butt cheek (gluteal muscles) beginning to ache, this is something I would suffer from on every climb for the remainder of the day (note to self- more Glute exercises required!). From the tarn the descent down Raise Beck was another stonking descent in deep snow with the ski-run technique
I topped up my water bottles and had a banana at Wythburn Church before the long, long climb to the summit of Helvellyn. Despite taking on another litre of water at the check point I was supplementing it with snow long before I reached the top. It was so hot I was also using snow on my head and neck to stay cool. The climb isn’t technical it’s just very, very long and the snow hampered progress. In the end it’s worth it. The path beside Swallow Scarth had a daunting drop to the West side, not mega steep but something that if you started to slide you’d struggle to arrest a fall without an ice axe. The path was perilously close to that edge. I remember fully concentrating; I really didn’t want to trip or stumble…
ice cream pick me up
I took a slight wrong turn toward Lower Man, missing the path to White Side and costing myself an additional 100m climb! Over White Side and then the long descent over the twisting path to Glenridding Beck. I followed the Beck down to Glenridding, I was getting tired now, Psychologically as much as physically and I knew what I needed to pick me up… An ice cream! Manhatten Flavour (creamy vanilla with toffee and choc chips) delicious!
Helevllyn had a few impressive cornices
You can just see the CP punch dangling on the summit Cairn
The final manned CP
Back at Side Farm, another Egg, cheese and a brew was consumed before I set off up to the summit of Place Fell. A slightly frustrating climb with several false summits, one of which even required a descent scramble, hands required! When I finally got to the Cairn I swore a few times at the person who had put the CP punch attached to the Cairn as it could only be reached by scrambling over some jagged rocks!
There was a long downhill towards the Church at Martindale, a few technical sections but most of it was very runnable
. My most encouraging part of the day was that my legs still felt strong on the descents, despite being on them for 12 hours! That Electromyostimulation is obviously working!
Chasing my lengethening shadow
The sun was still warm as I reached the church and the penultimate CP of the day. Less than a mile to Howtown and then it was a rolling few miles back to Askham. This part of the course is the reverse of the start of the Lakeland 50 (about half of the first leg) but I was tired. Physically, my feet were on fire and any ascent triggered the pain in my right buttock. Emotionally I was feeling it too. This was probably down to the length of time I’d been on my feet and the fact that I’d expected to get round in a leisurely 12 hours but I was still 5+ miles away when the clock passed 6pm. I was getting a few texts from my mate Si who was in Askham, telling me how cold his beer was, I think I actually started running when he text me to suggested he would come and pick me up in the car if I needed, cheeky begger! My Shadow was getting long again and I was unsure if I’d make it back before dusk…
I text my ever supportive wife for some motivation at 19:20, she delivered and I ran the whole way back, determined to beat dusk! I just managed it, an owl “twit-twit-twoo’d” as entered Askham to suggest Dusk was upon me.
happy to finish
I jogged back down to the pub where I started 14 hours earlier. I was greeted by Simon, Mark and Justin, who gave me a warm welcome and a shandy! I made my way into the village hall, the final CP of the day, completing the course in 14 hours and 6 minutes. I covered over 70km and climbed nearly 3km vertical.
I feel this was a harder course than the Lakeland 50. On reflection there are several factors for this
I was less well trained for this even than last July
The conditions were tougher
I had too much kit
Although the elevation is similar the Helvellyn climb is very draining
Overall, this is a great low-key race; I would recommend it to anyone looking for an early season challenge. I’d like to thank Joe and Nav4 Adventures for organising the event and all the people who helped out at the check points. I think you are onto something great with this race. I hope it’s the start of something big for the future, it has all the ingredients of a classic!
This was just the race I needed to kick me up the ass and understand the challenge the Lakeland 100 will bring in July. I need to focus on staying positive, back to back slow long runs (preferably in the hills) and save up for a new rucksack
The sun sets over Ulswater