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Archive for November, 2015

I’ve spent many a holiday in the Lake District, but until November last year I had yet to experience the delights of Ullswater. Driving along the lakeside road in the rain, grey Novemberishness lit up with stunning autumn colours, I quite quickly fell in love with the place and was adamant that we’d be returning. Fast forward a few months later and the Lakeland Trails Dirty Double weekend seemed like the obvious choice for another trip up to Glenridding, so I booked myself on both events – Hellvelyn 15km and Ullswater 14km challenges, on Saturday and Sunday respectively – and treated Daniel to the Hellvellyn challenge as a birthday present.

When we ran Hellvelyn last year, the weather was pretty awful. Both the start and the finish of the race were accompanied by torrential downpours, but we were lucky to have a dry-ish run for the race itself (not including my temporary disappearance into a rather deep bog!). So, when we saw the awful forecast for this year’s Dirty Double weekender I wasn’t too worried: I’d done it before – and done a pretty good job, too – so I could definitely do it again. Having started to build my training back up after injury I was feeling pretty fit and relatively confident, and was looking forward to getting in some good hills after weeks of flat running in York!

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The start of the Hellvelyn challenge was just brilliant – the atmosphere seems to get even better when a group of trail runners are presented with adverse weather and mounds of mud to run in! I caught up with a few familiar Lakeland Trailers and enjoyed some of my homemade energy balls to get me up those first few killer hills, and then we were off! Ambling over muddy and uneven ground, glad to be out running with such a friendly bunch once again, and looking forward to what I knew was a brilliant route ahead accompanied by my funny husband. The last time I was running through Glenridding I was in the first half of the UT55 and already beginning to falter; this time I had only 15km to run, and could look forward to a delicious lunch and a hot drink in an hour or so. We ran up and up and up, and just as I was about to take my first walking break I spotted my Dad and his friend, both of whom would be setting of on the race in an hour’s time – I kept on running until we were out of their sight, and then gave myself a break!

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It’s such a stunning landscape, and the heavy rain had filled the waterfalls to bursting. We stopped to take photos and I commented on the fact that I hadn’t stopped smiling since we got to the start line. Then, tracks gave way to a rocky narrow footpath; pretty treacherous after all the rain, so we slowed to a walk for a while. Once the danger of a sheer drop to a muddy death had passed we were running again, but – woooosh – I was over in the mud, glad of a husband to pull me back up so I didn’t have to get my hands covered! After this point the weather started to set in pretty badly. I wasn’t cold, but the wind and rain were exhausting, as were the footpaths which had turned to streams and waterfalls underfoot. It was hard-going with the wind in our faces, blowing rain and snot all over the place. The terrain seemed to be trickier than I remembered, and I couldn’t focus with the noise of wind and rain in my ears; actually, I felt pretty disorientated.

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Photo courtesy of James Kirby

We were still a good 4km from the finish when the first runner in the race overtook us – normally this doesn’t happen until the very last km, so I was quite disheartened. I knew we were going slowly, but until then I hadn’t realised how slowly. I kept having to stop to walk, stop for snacks, stop to rearrange my layers or have a drink. Finally we got to the final track which I knew would take us down into Patterdale, but then running even on this easy surface felt way too hard. For the first time in a long time I got to the end of a race with nothing left in me – I could hardly string a sentence together, my lips were blue, and I felt dizzy and in desperate need of warmth. It had taken us 15 minutes longer to run 8.7 miles than it usually takes to run 13 – very demoralising indeed! We made our way to Fellbites cafe, where we had a wash and tucked into pots of tea and cheesy toast with soup. It took a hot chocolate for pudding before I started to feel human again!

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The next morning, the owners of our B&B couldn’t believe that I was planning to run again – they kept reminding me that there was 100% chance of rain. Clearly they hadn’t met many trail runners before! I set out in full waterproofs, initially reluctant to run, but increasing in excitement as I saw the other people, just as crazy as I was, walking to the start in all manner of waterproof gear. In the tent I bumped into a UT55 buddy, who had to deliver the bad news: the Ullswater steamers couldn’t steam because of high winds, so the race was being re-routed, to start two hours later at midday. I ummmed and aaahhhed for a while: I had to be home in time to prepare a lecture for the next day, and the 10am start had been appealing for that reason in particular. I didn’t want to miss out, but at the same time I didn’t want to put myself in a bad position for the next day, and equally I didn’t want to wait around getting cold for two hours since we’d already checked out of the B&B. Tail between my legs, I collected my tshirt (what a fraud!), and instead decided to take myself out for a little jog around Glenridding – I was already in my running togs after all. I bumped into a marshal, and when I explained what I was doing he gave me some brilliant insider tips on trails in the vicinity. I ended up getting in a fantastic 7 miles along muddy trails, with a few notable hills to satisfy my love for the Lakes. I met up with a couple of other non-racers and we jogged along for a while, comparing notes from the previous day, and as I headed back into Glenridding people cheered and marshals stopped traffic: friendly runners, friendly marshals and friendly onlookers, as well as plenty of mud and hills – it wasn’t so different from a Lakeland Trails event after all!

We grabbed some lunch and yet another hot chocolate, and some of the faster finishers from the 12:00 race started coming in to the cafe as we ate. Everyone had clearly had an amazing time, and the bad weather and change of plans had only brought out the best spirits in everyone. I was sad to have missed out but equally relieved to be heading back early – the weather, true to form the entire weekend, made the drive back especially challenging; even our car had to deal with muddy terrain and knee-deep floods as it chugged its way back to Yorkshire!

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