Not sure where to start with this, it was just an unbelievably epic event!
I found out the week before the race would go ahead but it may be a bit more gritty than previous years.
I signed up to this back in summer wanting something to aim towards and thought this looked good and it would keep me fit over the winter months. I signed up with a friend who unfortunately had to pull out and I sat and pondered what to do for ages. I decided to see how training went…well it didn’t go to plan after numerous colds and a hectic life schedule but I still held out.
Then the rain came…and came…and came and poor Cumbria took a massive hit with the weather causing unbelievable devastation. It came apparent the race may not happen and I waited until I found out the week before that it would go ahead but it may be a bit more gritty than previous years. They extended the deadline for pulling out until the Tuesday before the event and I was seriously considering it, I didn’t feel I was made for it, tough enough, competent enough with my navigation or fit enough (how many more excuses could I have made!!).
All around me people were going on Christmas dos, drinking and eating and that started to seem more appealing, particular as the forecast for the weekend looked pretty wild too. I then had some really sad news that a guy I knew who did some amazing fundraising through running events had lost his battle against cancer, he was only young and I just thought right, I’m doing this, if not for me, for him and the decision was made.
The rest of that week involved, panicking….packing…re packing…. panicking a bit more….it was ridiculous. It was a good job I had my boyfriend John around…what a support.
Now in my usual ‘I want to do everything’ kind of way it just so happened I was off to see the street magician Dynamo the night before, I thought it was in Manchester and thought it would be a good idea, keep my mind off the event, however it quickly transpired that it wasn’t there at all it was in Leeds!! So the night before the TdH I was driving around the country finally landing in Ulverston around 1am…not the ideal pre Ultra plan!
Having had little sleep…panick and nerves had yet again taken hold, I was up at 6am to head to the start, John bundled me in to the van with a sleeping bag and hot water bottle to try and get a bit more sleep before I started.
I woke up to find us parked in Askam, the van swaying side to side because of the weather. I most definitely did not want to run!! However, John was with me, not starting clearly was not an option. John knows me well and knew I just needed to get going!
Having struggled to find registration…’oh dear’, I’ve got to navigate round the course and I couldn’t find flipping registration… it was going to be a long day, I got myself registered and had the obligatory kit check. Quick goodbye to John and off I plodded. It really was a plod too, I felt tired and my legs felt heavy. Usually at the start of an event I’m full of adrenaline and keen to get going, excitement and exuberance having to be dampened down to prevent starting too fast. At TdH…this never happened!!
The intensity of wind and rain was like nothing I have ever experienced before
I got chatting to a group of guys and asked if I could run with them for a bit and I did for maybe 20 minutes until it became very apparent they were pretty good and low and behold at the end I found out they were in the top 3!! Thank god I dropped off when I did!!
So off I plodded, I made a few minor navigational errors but nothing major and I quickly rectified myself each time. This first part was mainly moorland, over Askam Fell, Bonscale, Howtown and Boredale, with a small road section in the middle. The descent in to Patterdale being quite rocky and slippy. The intensity of wind and rain was like nothing I have ever experienced before. Needless to say I arrived in Patterdale looking something none other than like a battered, drowned rat! The route on from the checkpoint was a little longer than usual as the fields were full on flooded! I was feeling pretty fed up too as twice when running over Askam Fell and Boardale the wind just caught me and I was sent flying over!
I have no idea how many times the thought ‘Shut up Head!’ went through my mind
I headed off then up to Sticks pass and en route through Glenridding saw John. After the race he said he thought I was going to pull out then as I wasn’t looking too happy but deep down I really wanted to do the next section. The next section involved a good climb up Stang End and then over Sticks Pass. On the way up quite a few people passed me the other way and I asked one lady where she was going…’Home’ she declared! Eeek! I then got asked by a guy if I had some weight in my rucksack, ‘why?’ I asked, to be told “I better had other wise I’ll be blown over going over Sticks Pass as the wind is even worse up there!” Gulp! I’d already been over twice and if I went over again a strop may be imminent. You could say I was a little fed up with the weather! Throughout the whole event I felt pretty strong physically, even on the climbs it was just my head I was struggling with. I have no idea how many times the thought ‘shut up head!’ went through my mind desperately trying to muster up some positivity!
Sticks Pass lived up to its expectations…wind I have never experienced before but I managed to stay upright on two feet and then powered on to get down asap! I dropped down to checkpoint 4 near Stybeck Farm and then had a relatively easy run over to Swirl car park for the next check point although the rock was really slippy underfoot which isn’t ideal in fell shoes and yep it happened…down I went again but this time really banged my left knee. Profanities were shouted…I was officially the most fed up on a run I have ever been. I’m done!! ‘shut up!’ and ‘run it off’ my mind shouted back, and I did and treated myself to a cup of coffee and some jam sandwiches at the check point. This did help to some extent. It didn’t really matter what I thought at this point anyway as I had no other option than to continue on, there was no going back!
The water actually came up past my knees as I waded through and was icy cold.
The next section was interesting. Two gushing waterfalls to cross because the bridges had been washed away and one diversion as it was too dangerous to try and cross the waterfall! The water actually came up past my knees as I waded through and was icy cold. I actually quite enjoy this kind of adventure so my mood did pick up a little round here. I noticed I was getting some warnings from my calfs that cramp could be coming on so I filled up my water bottle and threw in another nuun as I was conscious my bladder in my rucksack may be nearing empty and the cramp was signalling I needed some salts of some description. For the diversion we could either go ‘off piste’ and in doing so keep the height all being it was a little tricky underfoot or head down to the road (A591)and run along before then going back up the side of Raise Beck to Grisedale tarn. I decided that navigationally it was easier to head down so I did but in hind site I think I should have stayed high and kept the height but never mind. The road was pretty unbelievable as half of it had been washed away by the terrible weather a few weeks previous. It really is powerful stuff water!!
The climb wasn’t too bad, although it was here some guy was obviously struggling and squatted in front of me twice!! Twice!! Anyway I got up to Grisedale Tarn and picked up the coast to coast path to take me back to Patterdale. The wind had picked up again and the rain felt heavier than ever. The coast to coast path is a relatively nice path to run on as I’d been here just recently when it was covered in snow and had had a lot of fun. But during the TdH I ended up mentally in a very bad place. I could barely run at risk of slipping over or being blown over. I saw a guy be blown over in front and I just didn’t want that to happen again to me. It also started to get a bit dark and all of a sudden I started to feel a little scared and lonely.
Type 2 fun
1. An activity that is fun only after you stop doing it
“The Tour De Helvellyn was awesome!”
I was having a right battle with myself, just stop at Patterdale and its all over, I’ve still done 28 miles which is more than I would have done had I not done the event at all but then the other part of me knew I’d regret it not doing the last 15 miles. I then saw John….I could feel my eyes fill up as I tried to bat away the tears. He could clearly see I was in a bad way and gave me a pep talk I needed about “Type 2 fun”. He ran back in to Patterdale with me, kept me chatting and filling me with positivity I so desperately needed. He repeated back to me what I always say to him. ‘It’s only 10 miles to the end, you can do that in your sleep!’. He knows me well and knew if I’d had pulled out there I would have regretted it. I needed that reminder of breaking it down in to manageable chunks instead of the whole thing engulfing me. I was feeling good when I left John and at the checkpoint I had another brew and nearly ate a whole loaf of soreen as I realised I had been a little lax with my food intake which was probably also not helping.
I left that check point feeling strong as I re traced my path back to the end in the dark. It was wet, windy and dark but I put my head down, told myself to get a grip and go for it and that’s exactly what I did. Probably my quickest split of the day and I felt pretty great. The wind was also behind me now too so the reprieve from the wind probably helped. At the last checkpoint there were marshals sat in a car taking our numbers dressed as Santa and that cheered me up. So much so I began singing ‘Merry Christmas everyone’ and ‘It’s raining men’ out loud ha ha. Maybe i’d just lost the plot by now, either way I felt like I was finally enjoying myself. Only took 30 miles to get going!!
Suddenly before I knew it I hit the Tarmac for the run to the finish. I picked up the pace and sprinted in only to go in to Askam community centre via the wrong door! I had to run through the hall where all the finishers were sat eating their soup and telling stories of their day to the finish….what a plonker!!
I was met by John who gave me a massive hug and told me how proud he was of me. How I didn’t cry then I’ll never know but I’ve never been to so happy to finish anything.
The event was everything you would want from a winter ultra and more. They weren’t wrong about it being gritty.
The event was everything you would want from a winter ultra and more. They weren’t wrong about it being gritty. It’s possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hardest mainly because I started the day mentally not in the slightest bit ready. Due to this everything else just seemed emphasised. Normally I love a bit of rain, admittedly I have always hated wind and I love fell running but all of this just didn’t seem to matter.
I’m proud of myself to have completed it and I would just like to thank Nav4 event marshals who were all really helpful and in good spirits, standing out on top of fells and in that weather to count numbers, to the photographers and then most of all John. He spent the whole day ferrying me round and helping me through the toughest thing I’ve done so far.