With the Mayan thing being a complete disappointment in terms of an apocalypse …I made my way over the border to the Lake District and the Tour de Helvellyn instead. Reckoned a 38 mile ultra race the day close to the winter solstice would make for a good substitute.
Arrived down in Askham (location for registration and the race start) very late on the Friday night and was soon giving it big “Z”s in the back of the van. Woke up to the alarm at 6:20 rolled around getting into race gear before a short ramble over to registration. Was nice to catch up with a few folks from similar events before coffee and some breakfast / last minute kit faff killed more time.
One of the many great things about the event run by Joe Faulkner at the Nav4 adventure team is you pick your own start time since they use SI timing to record race times. With not enough long training miles in my legs I opted for an earlier start and headed off into the dark some time close to 7:30(ish). Initial fears about taking a wrong turn out the village were calmed with the route being obvious i.e. a straight line from the start for a few miles (also helped with a trail of headtorches leading up the track onto Askham fell. Over the watershed, the path deteriorated a wee bit and the cold bog water helped wake the remainder of the body up. By the time the descent towards Ullswater and the first control at Martindale were approaching, daylight had arrived and it was good to get some distance covered in the company of other runners.
First control dibbed it was onto the tarmac for a wee while and towards Boredale. It was also time for another breakfast. For ultra events, I have long sinced moved away from anything that has “energy” or “flavour” on the packaging …real food is far better and enjoyed a cheese roll. The last climb to Boredale Hause was a great excuse to walk for a while and the descent on the other side was equally good fun.
Rolled into the Patterdale control to find my old pal “Pyro” taking photographs. Had a bit of a catch up …bit of banana and filled my bottle before heading off.
About this time, I felt a strange gurgle in my stomach. Only a short distance later …the feeling had moved south and the big antelope strides were replaced with a shuffle that resembled Naomi Campbell on the catwalk. Notice a few runners get confused as I sprinted off right towards the Ullswater Steamer car park …and the safety of a toilet !! With the guts sorted …it was time to continue again. Nice wee run up through Glenridding at up past the mines to Sticks Pass. Here the weather took a turn for the worse and the hardest decision was whether to stay warm by moving a bit quicker or break out the dry gear from the pack. By the time I had decided, I was dropping down the control at Swart Beck Footbridge and out of the weather.
Next section basically traverses the Helvellyn screes before climbing back up the hill towards Grisedale Tarn.
Without doubt, the next section of the run down towards Grisedale was my favourite bit of the course. Great scenery and enough interest under foot to keep the concentration away from the increasing pain. Onto the tarmac again …ma least favourite bit. Had a sense of humour failure which was cured when I found the surprise cheese roll (the one I put chilli sauce on).
Into the Patterdale control which signified the start of the track back route towards the finish (which despite being hours away felt pretty close). Saw Pyro again and was disturbed at how much better a hug from a grown man made me feel (strange things are Ultra races). Was busy climbing the steep section slowly to Boredale Hause when a young lad jogged up the hill …nae idea where he got the energy from !
Keen to get as many miles in as possible before the light faded again, a wee bunch of runners started working together. Nice thing was they were all better than me but as long as I didn’t try to talk got pulled along in the wake. Back through Martindale, we had one last climb onto Askham Fell before the downhill finish. Thankfully, two of the runners were local and knew the line perfectly so despite now being dark, no headtorches were needed.
Was happy to cross the line in 8:56:29 and in 65th position from 148 folks who started. Huge thanks to Joe and team for putting such an event on at this time of year.