Thursday, 10 November 2016

Race Report(s): The Lakeland Trails Dirty Double Weekend

I love the Lakeland Trails series. Very well organised races, with everything from the newly introduced 5km sport trails up to 110km ultras (guess what I entered recently...!). I've previously done the Hawkshead 15km, getting my arse handed to me by the Coffin Trail, and also the Coniston Marathon, so the Dirty Double was a good addition to the end of year race calendar.

Saturday was the Helvellyn Trail, at roughly 15km. We didn't actually go up Helvellyn, instead sticking to the foothills, but even that made for a tough race. I'd foolishly checked the previous year's finish lists and reckoned on a top ten placing as a possibility, completely failing to take into account the elevation profile! No idea why I did that... This meant that, when I lined up at the start, I was literally sandwiched between a National Champion, in Lou Roberts, and a GB International Mountain Runner, in Heidi Dent. I started to feel a bit nervous at this point.

The gun went off and I tried to keep up with the pack but it was not to be. Those folk were fast! Despite having had a bit of a warm-up legging it from the carpark to the race village due to inexplicable delays on the A69, my legs weren't warm for that kind of effort, and I quickly lost places. Then we hit the first incline. My legs definitely weren't warm for that kind of effort! Having built up a nice supply of lactic acid from the sprint start, my quads told me in no uncertain terms to eff off, and I was reduced to a tactical hike embarrassingly soon in the race. This meant losing yet more places. It didn't get much better when we topped out, as then the trail switched to muddy technical singletrack. My X-Talons may as well have been rollerskates on some of those rocks, as the grip was non-existent, despite being outstanding on the muddy bits as usual. Call me a wuss, but I didn't fancy a broken ankle or worse when there was snow on the mountain, so I took it very very steadily and, you guessed it, lost yet more places.

This was probably a wise choice as, about halfway into the race, the guy in front of me turned his ankle. I and another feller stopped to help him, with offers of strapping etc, and I walked with him for a bit until he felt he could run on it. A few minutes later I had a bit of a flying lesson - no idea what caused it but, much like at Ingram, one minute I was upright and the next I was looking at the sky! - and he overtook me, so the ankle clearly wasn't too bad!

With nothing bruised but my ego, it was time to begin the big descent back to Glenridding. This was well-groomed and fast trail, becoming road, and suited my current skill-set much more than the techy stuff. I was able to open up my stride and claw back quite a few places, turning my ankle a couple of times in the process, and eventually finishing 36/264. Not bad, given the field, but a bit lower than I would have liked. Headed off for an awesome slice of courgette, lime, and pistachio cake (as well as an obscene hot chocolate...) at Fellbites, before driving to our lovely Air B&B in Great Strickland for a nice family evening of eating pasta bake, drinking wine (the grown-ups, anyway) and relaxing in front of the woodburner.

Woke up to wintry mix on Sunday morning, tending towards snow. The Ullswater Trail had a mandatory kit list regardless of weather, due to the inaccessibility of the trail, and I was debating whether to run in tights. Despite the weather, it was actually not too cold bizarrely, so I opted for shorts as usual. My race vest always has full body cover in it regardless, so if anything happened I was good. I did put my waterproof on, however, as that's also windproof obviously and there was a bit of a breeze, to say the least.

This breeze would prove significant! Somehow managing to be late again, I had to pull in at the race village and jump out of the car, leaving Rachel to park up, so that I could go and collect my race number. The Ullswater Trail is supposed to start with a steamer ride across to the eastern shore, before running one of a number of routes back to Glenridding. I was entered for the 14km race, as usual. When I arrived, however, there were a LOT of runners at Saturday's start/finish (which was also to be Sunday's finish). This was a bit confusing. I asked the lass sorting my timing chip where to line up for the start and she said same as yesterday, which wasn't what I was expecting as there were no boats there! After asking a couple of other runners when I got there, it turned out that the steamers had been cancelled and a bad weather route put in place, with all runners going off together in a mass start. Due to being late this meant that I was to start mid-pack, right on the edge, which wasn't where I would have ideally placed myself but did at least ensure that I didn't try and go off like Prefontaine again.

The shortened bad weather route started with a dose of road running from Glenridding to Patterdale before turning onto well-groomed singletrack, so I was able to do a lot of overtaking and get more into the the "race pack" rather than the "challenge pack". The legs seemed happy enough to turn over so I went with it and clawed my way up the field as quickly as I could. The trail started to climb, still fairly well-groomed, and I was pleased that I had the gears to run it, even managing to continue to overtake. At this point I reached a dogleg and looked up to see other runners climbing away from me seemingly at a 45 degree angle! I thanked the marshal as I passed and he just smiled wickedly and said "enjoy!", prompting a chuckle verging on slight hysteria from me! Sure enough, this was a steep rocky climb and prime tactical hike territory. Running wasn't any quicker for the majority of us, so I was happy to give the quads a break.

We then hit a slippy techy descent and I was again reduced to delicately and gingerly picking my way down. I don't mind techy when it's dry, but once again had no desire to become an MRT statistic with a fractured ankle or something. This was to be the terrain largely until we completed the loop and rejoined the track back to Patterdale, at which point the stride opened up and I did some more overtaking, crossing the line to the MC's comment "...and here we have #173, Ben Heathcote, rocking a BIT of a beard...(!)". I may possibly be due a trim, but I'll need the protection for Wooler in two weeks. 35/493.

Running the Ullswater Trail
All in all, a fun weekend. A shame that the course had to be changed on Sunday, but if the steamer captain was unhappy about sailing there's got to be a reason for it, and fair play to Lakeland Trails for putting the alternative route in place rather than cancelling altogether. If you've never done a Lakeland Trails event, I highly recommend them. I'm already looking forward to Coniston Marathon and the Ultimate Trails 110km in 2017.


  1. Sounds awesome, I really want to get some races in the lakes in the calendar for next year, although main focus is the Lakesman triathlon so a little different to these races.

  2. I'd recommend them even just as a fun day out, but specific training is definitely worth considering too. My main focus is the UT110k, and the benefit of running on Lake District fells is going to be huge, I think. Know your enemy, and all that! Northumberland has some hills, but nothing that really compares.