Lakeland Trails Helvellyn 10k

The weekend of the 3rd and 4th of November saw the finale of this years Lakeland Trails series with a “Dirty Double” header of running fun across the fells around Glen Ridding. Saturday was taken up with events around the lower slopes of Helvellyn, whilst Sunday involved a magical steamer trip across Ullswater for races of various distance back around the lake shore.

My own organisational ineptitude meant that I had forgotten to book myself in for any of Saturdays races, so I jumped at the chance of a place in the 10k in return for helping out with a spot of marshalling for the later races. That meant an early start on Saturday, and as we made our way over the Kirkstone Pass the drizzle that blighted the morning turned to snowflakes and a blizard by the summit. All it took was a hidden patch of ice beneath the fresh snow and the car was quickly spinning through 180 degrees between the unforgiving dry stone walls. We were as lucky not to crash then as we were to inch our way down the rest of the pass without mishap.

Once at Jenkins field we made ourselve known to the race crew and ran through a thorough briefing. I was to run the 10k first, then make my way back up the mountain to swap over with another marshall who was taking part in the later 15k race. I’d roped my race support crew into helping out with marshaling too – so that was my mother relieved of child minding duties in exchange for trail runner minding duties!

The view from the finish at Jenkins Field: snow on the hgh fells

Huddled in the communication tent watching the drizzle thicken I contemplated abandoning the 10k altogether. Even beneath my layers of clothes I was damp and cold! By the time the runners assembled ready for the off, we were muttering about it being too warm for the full winter tights, hats and gloves we were all wearing. The winter sun had made an appearance and whist the snow on the high fells glistened in icy splendour, there was enough power in the rays to add a touch of warmth to the day.I deliberately set off slowly for once, having fully concluded my experments into the “go out fast and see what happens” method, (the conclusion being I blow up in spectacular fashion!). The route made its way through the village and past the campsite towards the Glenridding valley and the approaches to Helvellyn, encountering some steep tarmac ascents on the way. The track leads steadily upwards towards the slate mines and provides a good test of the legs on generally stable crushed stone paths.

Not me! Slippy going in parts, (pic by Lakelandtrails.org)

As we turned and began the descent down the opposite site of the valley the terrain changed to traditional technical, rocky Lakeland paths with a healthy dose of churned up mud thrown in! A runner in front of me took a tumble on the treacherously slippy grass banks, prompting fellow runners to ask if he was alright. He was ok, and getting to his feet again as I passed and informed him in my most smartest alec voice that “its all part of the fun”. The Gods of justice were listening and within 10 steps I’d taken an identical fall and slid along the mud and grass at speed, eliciting a cry of “all part of the fun!” as he returned the compliment!

I took a little more care on the slopes past Lantys Tarn and lost touch with the group I was chasing as they bravely hurtled down the grass banks at high speed! I was content to let them go until I passed young walker who was happily counting the runners as we passed him. “You’re number 21” he said and all of a sudden it was game on! I managed to claw back a couple of places on the very fast tarmac descent back towards the village, but was slowing dramatically on the last half mile to the finish. I surprised myself by crossing the line in 19th place from 154 runners.

There was no time to glory in my run. I quickly changed out of my Harriers vest into my marshalls hi-viz and was trudging back up the mountain to do my duty!

The ethos behind the Lakleand Trails series is to offer races of varying distances and levels of competion to be as inclusive as posisble. The 10k race is often seen as the perfect introduction for new trail runners, with the 15k challenge offering a longer distance challenge to less competitive runners. The final event of the day is always the full on 15k race which can attract the elite of the fell and trail running world both from the UK and abroad.

Its a good ethos, and it works. My first foray into an organised trail run in the Lakes came at Staveley a couple of years ago. From that first nervous run I gained confidence and experience enough to regularly train on the high fells, and eventually take on my first Ultra marathon across in this years Lakeland 50. I have a lot to thank the Lakeland Trails for! On that basis it was great to get the opportunity to give something back by helping out marshalling the route.

Rainbow over Glenridding

I settled into my marshal point and pondered the fact that if there was every a place worth hanging about for a couple of hours, it was right here overlooking Ullswater with a vista of snow dusted Lakeland fells beyond. I then had a fascinating afternoon listening in to the Marshalls radio network marvelling at the huge amount of activity that goes on to make these runs happen.

The organisers were co-ordinating 3 consecutive races over some rough and fairly remote ground, keeping everyone safe and accounted for, closing and opening roads and updating marshall points throughout the day to ensure full coverage of the route. All this was going on as the wet weather plan was in full swing, involving the bussing in and out of hundreds of runners from Penrith due to soggy car parking in the village. I have marshalled a couple of events but I dont think I’ve witnessed or appreciated the effort and expertise that goes into putting on a safe, and slick trail race like this – impressive stuff!

For my own small part in this well oiled machine I shouted encouragement to the runners, warned them off the particularly slippy rock section about to come up and stopped adventurous sheep from making a break for it through the open gate I was guarding. I reserved the mosy vocal support for the runner I recognised, which included Pete Lashley who thundered past me on his way to a fantastic 27th place. St Helens Strider and regular Lakeland Trailee Gary Spriggs wasnt far behind in 33rd place and got a rousing shout.

It gave a whole different perspective on the day and I enjoyed being a part of the Lakeland Trails race crew as much as I did being part of the running community. The rain returned just as the races finished and we all took shelter in the main tent as Pete Lashley swapped his running shoes for his guitar and soon had the place rocking! With so many of us crowded into the tent, and with the drama of the weather outside the atmosphere for his post race gig was top notch.

After that it was a long and circuitous drive home to avoid the perils of the Kirkstone Pass, before icing up, carb loading and getting ready to do it all again the next day…..

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