Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Cumbria Way Ultra

The inaugural Cumbria Way Ultra took place on September 13th 2014. It was organised by Pure Outdoor Events, who also do the Grand Tour of Skiddaw.

The Cumbria Way Ultra is a 73 mile trail ultra race which passes through the varied terrain of the beautiful Lake District, giving over 10,000 feet of ascent. Starting in Ulverston, the Cumbria Way passes Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Dungeon Ghyll, then crosses Stake Pass to Borrowdale, Derwent Water and Keswick. The route continues to Caldbeck passing Skiddaw House and over High Pike, the highest point on the trail. It then follows the Caldew valley to Carlisle” 

I had only entered the race the weekend before, deciding that I was just about ready for my first outing since the Lakeland 100. My Achilles has been irritable since before the L100 but seems OK if I don’t do too much on tarmac and on the flat – so a day in the Lakes seemed like a good idea!

Having parked in Carlisle, I met fellow-competitor Colin Russell at Carlisle rail station. His TDS shirt and Salomon pack were the give away! Interesting to note that all car parks in Carlisle allow overnight parking for the absolute bargain of £4 per 24hrs.

Arriving in Ulverston, we checked into our respective B&B’s then wandered over to registration at The Old Farmhouse. Now I’m not usually superstitious, but I was not overly happy with race number 13 for a race starting on the 13th day of the month.

After a delicious and massive portion of paella at The Farmers Arms, it was an early night ready for the 06:00 start.

It was a very relaxed atmosphere as we nattered away at the official start of the Cumbria Way at The Gill. It never ceases to amaze me how relaxed everyone is (or appears to be) at the start at ultra’s, especially when compared to many road races. I suppose we have all day (and sometimes more) to get stressed!

We were soon off and a couple of runners seemed to be on a mission. Race organizer, Gaynor Prior, had warned us of the perils of following the person in front but we obviously paid no attention as the first 8-10 of us all blindly missed the first turning and ended up being the last 8-10!

Having made the sensible decision not to set off too hard, I found myself in the lead pack of 4 runners. After an hour or so, my calves and hamstrings started to feel really tight to the extent that I was forced to take some painkillers. I decided to back off a bit, which turned into a lot, and started to lose my enthusiasm. I was soon joined by the next group of 3. It took a good hour for me to get back into my running but my calves remained sore all day for whatever reason. One of those strange ultra-things that we get no doubt!

Not feeling very happy
...but still plodding along
The first section was fairly flat though farmland but we were soon running round the shore of Coniston Water and into CP1 in Coniston at 15miles.  We were well provided for with flapjack, ginger cake, malt loaf, peanuts, 9Bars, Clif Bars, GU gels and more. All 4 CP’s were top notch - well organized, well stocked and there was always a friendly and helpful reception.

Off towards Langdale, we passed Tarn Hows. Without any great intent, I started to pull away from the others as we approached Elterwater and I reached CP2 at Stickle Barn on my own. I was in 2nd place as two of the runners ahead were in relay teams. The next runner arrived just as I was leaving the CP. It was the last time I was to see a solo runner all day.

It just doesn't get any better...
I was feeling happier now and looking forward to some hillier terrain as I ran along the valley, with the sun on my back, to the bottom of Stake Pass. I was also comfortable with the knowledge that I knew the rest of the route.

The path up Stake Pass was far more substantive than I remembered, as was the long descent into Borrowdale. The views were spectacular as ever. There are few better sights that Borrowdale on a sunny day.
Feeling happier again
Down towards Borrowdale
Going through Rosthwaite, the tearooms were full of walkers and day-trippers, and I felt a little jealous as I munched on another energy bar!

Running round Derwentwater, my Achilles was becoming increasing sore so I had another couple of paracetamol. They soon worked their magic, and my Achilles was mysteriously cured for the rest of the day.

After 40 miles, I arrived at Keswick and CP3. As I devoured some cold rice pudding, I tried to dismiss the fact that there was another 33 miles to go, and concentrate on my tried and tested ‘CP to CP’ approach!

Leaving the CP, I steeled myself for the ascent around Latrigg, the bottom of which seemed a lot steeper than normal! Then it was the long traverse of Skiddaw to the YHA bunkhouse, and a right turn picking up the River Caldew. This section is really quite wild and I had a very strong feeling of solitude. I was still running strongly on the sections I should be running and working hard uphill.

The climb up Grainsgill Beck was every bit as hard as I remembered, especially after the best part of 60 miles. I checked in with the marshall at Lingy hut, and looking back down was surprised (and a little angry) to see to 2 runners taking a ‘racing line” directly to the hut. Not knowing whether they were solo or team runners, and not wanting to lose a position, I decided I’d better get a move on!

Powered on by adrenaline I probably ran my best section of the day, pushing hard down to the CP in Caldbeck.  I quickly dibbed in and grabbed a handful of calories. Just as I was leaving two relay runners came in so I was happy that I was still comfortably in 2nd place.

The 10 miles from Caldbeck to Dalston mainly follows the River Caldew through farmland. It was just before 18:30 and I was keen to get as close to Dalston as I could in the daylight. Although I had recce’d this section, it’s much easier to make mistakes when you’re tired.

A few encounters with feisty cows were dealt with by a combination of shouting and clapping. Whether or not cows understand profanities is debatable, but it seemed to work. I later heard 2 runners describe how they’d had to take evasive action, dive over a fence and ford the river to escape a snarling bull. They obviously didn’t swear enough!

Faultless navigation (!) saw me running into Dalston. The final 5 miles to Carlisle is along a tarmac cycle path, which was hard on the legs after 15 hours on the go, but the finish was in sight.

Entering the outskirts of Carlisle and suburbia, there were plenty of locals out and about ‘enjoying’ their Saturday night. Lager drinking on the riverside seems a popular pastime!

I safely negotiated the A595 and crossed to the Carlisle Castle and over the finish line in the castle itself.

73 miles, 3000 metres ascent, 15:55, 2nd place.  A good day at the office.

After several cups of Heinz tomato soup, which tastes remarkably good after an ultra, the only challenge remaining was a 1 mile walk though the middle of Carlisle at closing time on a Saturday night to my car at the station! There seemed to be a remarkable number of people out celebrating my success!

A thoroughly enjoyable race. The Cumbria Way is less bumpy, and therefore involves more running, than the Lakeland 100 course. As with most races in the Lakes the scenery is stunning virtually throughout.

Organisation was absolutely first rate and couldn’t be faulted. All the CP’s were well stocked with a good variety of food. The marshalls and helpers were absolutely brilliant – really friendly and always seeking to help. Thanks to all.

It probably suffered in terms of entrants due to the number of events in the Lakes in September and October – Grand Tour of Skiddaw, 3x3000, Lakes in a Day – and also because the Hardmoors 60 was the following weekend. However, I’m sure it will grow as an event and I certainly fully recommend it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lakeland 100 - a brief report

For need of chronological continuity, I need to quickly add my report of the Lakeland 100

I finished in 26:24.

I was 16th.

I was very chuffed.

Jenny & Jessica were brilliant supporters.