I had targeted the High Terrain Events 3x3000s ultra as one of my big races for this year. At 80k long with 13,000ft of climbing over the Lakeland fells, it certainly was a big one! This race had been at the back of my mind all summer, and I had made sure I was running a combination of the short, fast fell races, the longer AL races (Borrowdale, Holme Moss etc), plus making sure I had enough 6+ hour days out in the fells.
Alan from Belper Harriers did this race in 2014 and has spoken fondly about it, and with my desire to attempt the BGR next year, I knew that this would be a good opportunity to test my current fitness and see how I would fair. Although not being a newcomer to ultra running, having previously run 5 ultras, with 3 50+ miles, I knew this would be a lot harder due to the elevation and terrain involved.
Lily and I arrived in the Lakes on the Friday afternoon and after registering in Keswick and going to the race briefing which included a weather report, race day information, and various route choice details including how to avoid a notorious section called ‘The Bog’ after High Raise where you could easily disappear up to your chest, we headed back to the campsite in Borrowdale as I was up for a 5am race start.
My alarm sounded at 3:15, and after a breakfast of porridge and coffee, I made my way over to Keswick. Weather reports leading up to the day had been mixed, but thankfully it was dry, however there was a significant wind as expected – it was forecast to be 60mph on the tops! Starting at 5am meant that the first couple of hours were in darkness as the sun wasn’t to rise until just before 7, but having done quite a bit of off-road running with a head torch, I was looking forward to this. It was a very low key start from outside the Theatre On The Lakes at Crow Park, and at 5am we were off. As expected, some runners shot off, but I stuck to my plan and went for the steady approach, wanting to make sure I didn’t burn out too soon – it was a 50 mile race after all, and I was expecting to be out for up to 12 hours! As for tactics, I had planned to run my own race, and not be tempted to increase my speed to chase anyone down, and also to walk any form of climb that caused my heart rate to raise.
Shortly after the start, another runner, Matt, ran alongside me and we started chatting, and it turned out we were both aiming for the same finishing time – under 12 hours. It turned out that we would run together for the rest of the race, all the way until about 5 miles from the finish.
In a nutshell, the route went from Keswick, up to Watendlath, down to Borrowdale, up Scafell Pike (3,209ft), over to Wythburn, up Helvellyn (3,117ft), along to Threlkeld, up Skiddaw (3,054ft) and back down to Keswick. It was a proper fell running route, with 99% of the route being off-road. Terrain was predominately on mountain paths and mountain ridges, but with sections off-path, and other sections over boulder fields, through bogs, and with plenty of steep climbs and steep descents throughout.
I really enjoyed the first section in the dark, on single track, rocky paths from Keswick towards Watendlath, via Ashness Bridge. You have to concentrate that little bit more when running on this type of terrain in the dark, but thankfully my head torch was clearly lighting the way. I was running in a small group of 4 at this stage, all with the intention to walk the hills and run the rest. This plan worked and we came down into Borrowdale at 6:15 am. The race went right through the campsite where we were staying and Lily was waiting – I don’t know how much she recognised me as all she could see was a line of head torches coming her way!
We continued on towards Seathwaite and the first feed station. I arrived here at 6:40 after 1 hour 40 running. My plan was to always ensure I had drank both of my 500ml soft water bottles and always fill up at all the water stations. Doing this would mean I would fill up 4 times, however there was a long section between Seathwaite and Wythburn with no feed stations so I filled up from a stream on the way up High Raise. As well as making sure I drank plenty of water, I also made sure I took on electrolyte, as from experience, I have occasionally suffered from cramp when only drinking water. Based on this, I took a handful of electrolyte tablets with me and made sure one of my bottles always had electrolyte in it. This tactic worked, and I didn’t suffer from cramp once, even though there were large sections of wet, bogey ground which has contributed to cramp in the past.
From Seathwaite, we made our way up towards Sty Head tarn. The sun had now started to rise and I was able to remove my head torch. It was just Matt and I running together now, and looking around it looked quite ominous as the mountains were heavily shrouded in low, dark, heavy clouds. At Sty Head we started to experience the stronger wind, and pre-empting the temperatures dropping, on came my jacket and buff. The climb up the Corridor Route was rocky and technical at times, and good fun and we soon disappeared into the cloud (600m). This section of the route was partially marked so navigation wasn’t a problem. We eventually came out on the top of Scafell Pike after 3 hrs (14 miles), and were hit with the full force of 60mph winds and driving rain. Visibility was down to matter of meters.
After dibbing at the checkpoint, we tried to run off, but due to the wind, the boulder field and the rain, running was very hard. The rocks were treacherous and slippy so running was only possible sporadically whilst being beaten by the wind and rain. We carefully picked our line towards Esk Hause, thankfully with no nav issues in the clag and headed towards Angle Tarn and then towards High Raise. The section from Angle Tarn to Wythburn via High Raise is pure, exillerating fell running, and I loved it, none of this was marked but navigation thankfully wasn’t an issue. The climb up High Raise took about about 20 mins, and the next section over ‘The Bog’ was certainly interesting. At the race briefing we had been warned that we could end up chest high if not careful. Matt had ran this recently though and we picked a good line through, with just a few minor submersions, although another guy with us at that stage did go in to his thighs which was entertaining!
I arrived at Wythburn after 5 hrs and 17 mins. This was pretty much half way (24 miles). Lily was waiting here for me and I stopped for 7 minutes, stocking up on food and drink. There were 4 guys already there at the feed station, and only 2 had already passed through. Whilst not wanting to be tempted to race others, it was good to hear I was near the front of the race. After making sure we didn’t stop for too long, Matt and I set off, and the other guys followed. A group of 6 of us plodded on up Helvellyn, the second 3000ft peak. The group soon started to split, with Matt, me and another guy leading the way. As we climbed, again we disappeared into the cloud and after just under an hour we summited, again into the full force of the wind!
Visibility on Helvellyn was again down to a matter of meters, but having been up there a number of times, and on the ridge for BGR reccees, I was familiar with this area, although this time you couldn’t see a thing! After dibbing at the unmanned checkpoint at the trig, we headed north along the ridge, taking in a number of summits along the way. This section wasn’t marked, and with the clag down you had to pay attention making sure you didn’t take the wrong lines. Unfortunately, at one point we started descending down to the right, and I soon questioned the line we were on. Unbeknown to us, we had taken the wrong path and were starting to descend down towards Patterdale. Thankfully, I noticed within a few hundred meters and we corrected our mistake and made a bee line up the side of the mountain towards the path going over Raise.
After just under 8 hours of running we had come off the steep descent down Clough Head and were in Threlkeld (34 miles). I wasn’t looking forward to the next section, as this was a lower level section (boring) towards Latrigg. My legs started to feel a bit tired, and my feet a bit sore (I was wearing Inov-8 X-Talon 212, and I could start to feel the studs pressing into my feet). Despite having a bag taken to half way, I opted not to change socks or shoes as I didn’t want to disrupt anything as I was feeling great. However in hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to change shoes.
Lily was at the feed station at Latrigg and again helped me refuel, taking on food and filling my drinks. This time we only stopped for 5 minutes to prevent seizing up and then Matt and I went on our way. I knew we still had 13 miles to go, but it was here I realised that was pretty much a quarter of the race!
The route took us around towards the back of Skiddaw via Skiddaw Hause. The path was constantly climbing, but it was predominantly runnable. Upon reaching Dash Falls and another checkpoint, the climb really started. This was a steep, long drag. We finally reached the summit (10 hours 45 mins, and 45 miles) and once again into the full force of the wind, however this time it was head on! We could barely move, and we certainly couldnt hear what the marshall at the top was trying to say to us. The descent was down the motorway route, down Jenkin Hill. I said to Matt if he had anything in the tank he should go for it, and he started to pull away. I went as fast as I could back down the steep track to Latrigg, before descending down into Keswick. Keswick was busy and as it was only 4:30 in the afternoon, the market was still in full force so I had to dodge a lot of people on the way through.
I finally finished back at Crow Park in 11 hours and 36 mins, in 6th place. I was really happy with this as I was hoping for sub 12 hours. The conditions were certainly testing, but it was a fantastic event, and a fantastic day out running in the high mountains – what could be better?! I learnt some valuable lessons in regards to a longer BGR attempt (hopefuly next year), including fuelling (don’t eat bagels and peanut butter as they’re too dry) and change shoes if possible.