Most people in Ponteland Runners who know me are aware of my fondness for hills! I often receive gentle teasing and I’ve even been sent videos, mid race, of the ‘using your elbows’ technique J! So it may not have been a shock to my fellow runners when they heard that I’d signed up to the ‘Dirty Double Lakeland Trails’! It comprises of the 15K Helvellyn Trail on the Saturday followed by a 14K Ullswater Trail on the Sunday. For those who know me even better it was even less of a shock that I signed up to do both because there was a discount if you did so, I’m a sucker for a bargain! So with family in tow and the promise of an evening in our favourite Lake District haunt, Ambleside, we set off early on Saturday morning for a weekend of rain, gale winds and running!
I had registered for the Helvellyn Challenge, to be completed in under 3 hours, rather than the Helvellyn Race to be completed in 2 hours as I was a little unsure how I would cope with the terrain. The race started at noon and the first 4 km were straight uphill, nothing like a nice gentle start?! The cold that I’d had the previous week and was still fighting to get rid of was causing me to sound like an ancient set of bellows, I think people next to me were running just to get away from the horrendous noise I was making and from the possibility that they would have to give me mouth to mouth if I collapsed! Once we got up into the hills and started to contour round the trail the terrain was a gentle downward slope, but the ground underfoot though was boggy, rocky and we had to wade through streams every 100 metres or so. It was great fun, but really difficult to traverse. There was lots of stopping and starting, slipping and splashing! Everyone was in great spirits though, likeminded nutters can have fun together! Finally after a couple more kilometres we rounded the corner to the other side of the hill. A lovely, narrow but less rocky track – I was just thinking to myself how much easier this section was when I suddenly ended up flat on my face! A lapse of concentration is pretty lethal on the trails! Several fellow runners helped me up, found my trainer, which had flown off and helped me back to my feet! I’d bashed my chin and my knee quite badly, but I knew it wasn’t damaged and I also knew I had to get straight back on it before I either started to cry or worse my knee seized up! So with my face covered in mud I carried on running, suddenly I saw the photographer right in front of me! How do they manage to hide so well and choose the perfect spot for snapping you unawares? We were deep in the hills at this point and the weather started to turn, the wind and icy rain lashed down – for once I didn’t have to take my top off (thank goodness you all say!) and actually considered putting on my coat, but you don’t really have a chance to stop on the trails and I could see a sheltered section coming up so I kept going. By now we knew we were more than half way and heading back to civilisation. The next few km passed in a bit of a blur, all I could think about was making sure I lifted my feet up enough to avoid falling again, but then farms, roads and civilisation started to come into sight, yes we were nearly at the end! Catching sight of my family waiting near the end I managed a very choked and emotional dash across the finish line in an official time of 1h 46m 40s.
The weather on Sunday morning for the Ullswater Race was so horrendous that they had to cancel the sailings for the 14K race. This was a great shame as we were due to be transported across to the start at Howtown on the Ullswater Steamer, whilst being serenaded to by a pub singer, you can’t say that’s something you experience with every race! As we registered we were told that an emergency contingency route had been invoked and we would be doing just 13K. As we congregated for the mass start at noon, rumours passed through the crowd that we were now only doing 10K! Several minutes later, whilst being held waiting in the torrential rain, we heard more rumours that the route was now just less than 9K – we all had a good chuckle at the rapidly decreasing distance and wondered if they held us for much longer at the start whether the route would be reduced to just running round the field! Finally we were off and skirted round the bottom of Ullswater lake and up into the hills through farmland on farm tracks. Finally getting into some proper trail terrain we turned a corner and we all had to stop and laugh at the long snake of bodies that we could see winding up a ridiculous hill (my strava profile showed an elevation of 100m in a distance of 400m?!). The whole field, apart from maybe the few elite people at the front and mountain goats, was trudging up a narrow trail, which was actually now a stream, in single file. I love moments like this though, the runner camaraderie really comes into play and you can laugh at all being in the same boat, or stream together! At the top of the hill the gale force winds and rain like needles in your face drove you on to get over the top as fast (and safely!) as possible. A lovely grassy stretch took us back down to the lake and on towards the end of the race. There was no family at the end today, I had left them all tucked up snuggly in a nearby hotel bar, so I made a quick dash through the finish line to complete the race in an official time of 1h 09m 09s and collect my tshirt souveneir.
It was a great weekend and I thoroughly loved every minute of it, ok maybe not the epic sprawling fall at the time, but I will definitely be back next year and I may even register for the Helvellyn Trail Race now I know I can do it in under 2 hours! So if you fancy a weekend of mud, rain and frolics have a look at the Lakeland Trails Facebook page or website, they have loads of races throughout the year. We may even manage to get a Pont Runners tour for the Dirty Double next year ….?