After a grand day out on the Lakeland Trails 23k in June, I decided to keep the trail race ball rolling by booking on the Lakeland Trails Keswick event, opting for the 15k challenge. With my base training from June’s adventures, I figured I could keep on running over summer and be ready to maybe go for a quicker time. But the best laid plans and all that – short breaks to Whitby, a family holiday to Arran and just way too much heat (and maybe too much too eat) over summer meant I didn’t get out to train anywhere near as much as I would have liked. I found myself in the position where I was just out to get round and enjoy the route, which is no bad position to be in.
I set off from Manchester early on the Saturday morning, this time joined by Nigel, who was giving his first ever trail run a go. We parked in the centre of Keswick and walked to Fitz Park and the start of the race. Getting there early meant we had plenty of time to pick up our race numbers and watch some of the finishers of the earlier races cross the line whilst listening to the brilliant, thundering drumming from Batala Lancaster, getting us ready for the start of the race. As our start drew closer, it was time to take my nervous bladder to join the ever growing queue for the portaloos, before we walking to the start line for some stretches whilst wishing I’d managed to do a bit more training.
But it was too late. We were here, and there was no dropping out now. The countdown to the start began and we were off, taking a lap of Fitz Park before heading onto the road. On my way out of the Keswick, I spotted Rachel, the race sweeper from the Lakeland Trails 23k in June. After a quick hello, I shuffled on, following the pack to make our way to a bridge crossing the A66 before climbing a forest track. By this point, Nige’s hat was disappearing into the distance and I was beginning to settle into my comfortable pace. Behind us, the Helvellyn range resembled a volcano smouldering in the distance.
The path had been climbing steadily and I was utilising my walk the uphills, run the rest tactic, but ahead was what could only be described as the climb from hell. Deep furrows in the dried mud track made the going really tough as I trudged up, wheezing like General Grevious. My calves were burning, I was being overtaken, but it was brilliant. Everyone was supporting each other with words of encouragement, and while a lift might have been nice, I think we’d all have refused it. Just keep going!
After summiting Hell Hill (as named by me), and feeling surprisingly good, I enjoyed a bit of downhill – even managing not to panic too much when crazy waving arms were the only thing keeping me upright over a particularly steep section. It was another hot day and the route led to a shaded footbridge crossing the most inviting looking stream – it took a lot of willpower not to linger in the dappled light.
The downhill wasn’t to last forever, and after crossing the stream, the route began to climb again. I was alternating between slow jogs and fast walking and feeling a general state of shock with how well I felt. I was slow, but steady. The path was easy underfoot but as I passed through the gate alongside the most beautiful tree (just look at it!), things were going to change. As the sheep chilled out in the sunshine, I pressed on, wondering when I was going to encounter the “infamous Glenderaterra bogs”.
While I ran/power walked alongside Glenderaterra Beck at the base of Blease Fell, and when my breathing allowed, I chatted with the people around me as we forged our way into the hills. You meet some fab people out on the trails. Looking ahead, we were pleased to see there didn’t seem to be too much more of a climb. However, our joy was short lived – we spotted the front runners, high on the hillside on the opposite side of the beck. There was still plenty of work to be done.
As the path petered out to a sheep trod, we realised that it was getting pretty wet underfoot. We followed in each other’s footsteps, letting the person behind know where the water was deep – doing this, I only went calf deep in water a couple of times. And trudging through the bracken, concentrating on where I was putting my feet meant I didn’t have too much time to think about the evil bitey bloodsuckers that may have been lurking in the fronds. It felt like an adventure and I was loving it.
At least until my weak ankles decided they’d had enough of walking on a slope. The uneven ground, sloping down towards the stream meant as I traversed the slope, I was going over on my ankle, over and over again. It was driving me mad, and I found myself getting really frustrated and unreasonably annoyed with the tufts of grass and reeds knocking me off my stride. I may as well have been walking on the top of my foot and it really hurt. I felt my face change from smiles and laughs to one of grim determination. This was the worst run ever! At least until the path levelled off and happiness was restored as I reached a foot bridge to cross the stream and start the last steep climb of the race.
It was around this point that the front runners from the 15k race began to catch us back markers from the 15k challenge. Giving way to let them pass, I felt the familiar feeling of awe as these mountain goats sprang past, seemingly oblivious to the rocks, heat and incline. Then I remembered, we were all completing our own best race, supporting each other as we went, regardless of experience or perceived ability. I felt a renewed vigour and continued climbing the rocky path to the summit of the course, where the views opened up ahead of us – the small top of High Rigg in the middle, its summit dwarfed by surrounding fells.
The path that snaked its way round the fell-side was fun to jog on. Spotting the course photographer, I put on my best attempt at a run. Oh yes, I’m the great pretender. Pretending that I’m running well. The smiles were all very real though – how could they be anything else with those views. The course was rocky in places, and some careful foot placement was required given the steep slope off to my left, but overall, I was enjoying being out and had no signs of the cramp that plagued my 23k attempt. My ankles had even stopped aching
As I came further round the fell, I was faced with far reaching views of Wainwright’s North Western Fells and Derwent Water. “Wow! Look at that view!” I exclaimed. But my amazement was short lived and my view quickly became grey, as the tip of my nose brushed the rocks of the track. For a few seconds, I had no idea what had happened, aside from the fact that I was flat out on the floor like an over adventurous toddler. Too busy watching the vista ahead of me, I must have tripped on something on the path. I took a little longer to make sure I still had all my teeth (obviously the first thing you check) and was ok to get up. Finding my feet, I made sure I’d not put a hole through my gorgeous dinosaur leggings (also very important) whilst the lovely lady coming up behind me and the marshal stood at the gate I was about to pass through made sure I was actually ok. Apart from the chunk of skin I’d taken out of the palm of my hand (that I hadn’t noticed until I saw the blood) I was absolutely fine.
After assuring the lady and marshal I was okay and with only about three miles of mostly downhill to go, I tried running again. I’d manage for a bit, but my legs became too shaky and I’d have to walk. As I ran round the side of Latrigg, I found myself back with one of the ladies from earlier in the day. We stopped at the water station for a drink where I was able to wash out my hand. From here, we followed a path through the trees that took us back to Keswick. Each time I tried to pick up speed, I felt wobbly – I assumed a combination of nerves and adrenaline from falling over. More trails learning for me – take in the views, but watch where you are going.
My fellow runner stuck with me till we reached Fitz Park – thank you for looking out for me. As I entered the park, I could hear the announcer at the finish line and tried to inject a bit more energy to the finish. The familiar twinges in my calves started again, but I made it across the line, feeling knackered and very happy. After picking up my t shirt, I found Nigel, who had finished much earlier and was waiting at the finish line for me. What a stonking first trail run he had! After a celebratory brew, all that was left to be done was to head back to the car, but not before having the best chips, peas and gravy I had ever tasted. Another race (and chippy) to return to next year.