After a week of man flu and no running for even longer, I approached the first race of the Lakeland Trail series at Cartmel with a little more trepidation than usual. The day dawned dry but grim. It was above freezing but there was a sharpness in the air made keener by the mild breeze that made the thought of stripping down to racing kit less than appealing.
I contented myself with the thought that these events aren’t necessarily all about flat out race performances or pushing yourself to the limit. The Challenge event in particular gives participants the opportunity to simply enjoy running on the trails of the Lake District with even a chance to admire the stunning views this part of the world affords. There’s competition if you want it, but camaraderie is the usual winner. With that in mind I began my warm up with full winter tights, hat gloves and a baselayer and gave thanks that this wasn’t cross country and no need to strip down to man-suit only!
There was a real atmosphere of “first day back at school” at Cartmel as acquaintances made at previous races met up for the first time that season to celebrate the joy of running on the fells again. Sadly the Lancaster Batala band who added so much to the atmosphere last year had been silenced on the day following local complaints. I wonder how many of those complainants were still happy to benefit from the enormous revenue the event was bringing to the sleepy little village of Cartmel in the off-season?
A funny thing began to happen during my warm up. The more strides I did the less my lingering cold seemed to be bothering me and the fresher my legs began to feel. A few more laps of the grassy car park and the tights came off as I decided to man-up and brave the conditions properly. Then the sun began to peep out from behind the grey and as the temperatures crept up a degree or two, the baselayer came off too and the race face went on!
The pent up energy of the last 2 weeks exploded out of me at the start and I had to make a conscious effort to hold back the pace from a silly 6:30 minute mile. I still felt very comfortable over the first mile in around 6th place and revelling in the feeling of soft fell side under my Inov8s again for the first time this season. I swapped positions between 6th and 10th as a group of us formed a loose “pack” over the first few miles before settling down.
The first few climbs of this route set the tone for what is to follow. There are no huge climbs or quad busting rocky descents as may be found elsewhere in the series. Cartmel is more about an unrelenting series of ups and downs that never quite bust a lung, but give no chance to recover on the shorter downhills before the next technical climb. It encourages a faster pace but seems to take a bigger toll. The battle swings constantly between lactic thresholds and oxygen debt depending on the incline or terrain.
We passed a particularly helpful marshal at mile 4 who usefully shouted our placings as we went through. I was told I was in 8th place just as the guy in 9th drafted past me! My little pack had spread a bit now, and although we were all within sight of each other the next few miles were about digging in and fighting the fatigue over some tough terrain.
This really is a delightful route and would make a tremendous days trail running. The views over the bay and up country to the snow-capped fells are awesome. From a runners perspective, taken at a slower pace the technical twists and turns through the heather and rocks and the paths through the woods are a joy to run. Sometimes it’s better to slow down and enjoy the surroundings a bit more than we tend to do in a race. This isn’t a part of the Lakes I would have discovered without Lakeland Trails, but I will be making a point to re-visiting the area to explore a few more of its run routes.
Cartmel promises Sticky Toffee pudding to all finishers and stickiness there is in abundance on this muddy course. It had rained overnight to ensure the gloopy sections lived up to their reputation and nobody was to be disappointed by the amount of mucky stuff! Maintaining speed up a hillside of mud is as much about picking a good line through the mire and keeping up the momentum. I found myself floundering and slipping about at one point, wasting valuable energy on a poor route choice and was swiftly picked off by the guy behind to relegate me to 10th.
Graham on his pretend motorbike
A fabulously twisting technical path through knee high bracken is followed by a sharp incline to a road section. The tarmac meant greater speed on now tiring legs, but gave some respite from the sapping demands of the muddy trails. I picked up the pace along here and pulled some time back on the runners in front but as soon as we turned off the road it was back into a forestry track that was calf deep in rutted mud and brought me almost to a lactic knotted standstill!
“Softer stuff ahead “, shouted the cheery marshal as though that was good news!
I was caught on this section by another 2 runners and we slogged and stumbled our way uphill together through heaving bogs of mud. At this point there are no kind thoughts of admiration for the course setter and between agonised gasps we all agreed that to plonk a small mountain of mud at this stage in the run was “brutal”!
Up until mile 8 I had entertained ideas of finishing in 10th place but now I was content to simply keep going and not drop any further than the 13th position I found myself in. The 2 runners in front couldn’t pull away much, but neither could I dent their lead as we hit the last mile of rocky paths. I found a bit of energy to power into the flooded ford for the benefit of the photographer, only to stumble on a hidden rock and nearly give him the photo of the day of me face planted in the stream! That’s what vanity gets you.
As I swung into the final uphill section through the woods I spotted the 2 lads in front had ground to a walk up the steep terrain. I had a faint idea that this could be my chance to make up some ground but despite keeping up an agonizing jog up and over the tree roots, they were away and running again before I could make up enough of the gap. From here it is a quick, twisty descent through the trees before bursting out into daylight and the racecourse itself for the finish.
I got a rousing cheer from the family and the crowds lining the run in. Its amazing how the presence of an audience can lift previously finished legs into a heroic sprint for the line! That was 11.2 miles completed in 1 hour 34 something and 13th place from 400, (3rd vet 40). I was delighted with a 1:41 for 26th last year so more than happy with that!
As I said at the beginning, there’s competition to be had in even the challenge event if you want it – buts its camaraderie that wins the day at Lakeland Trails. As soon as I was over the finish line I was met by the other 4 or 5 runners I’d been racing and we stood around re-living our shared experience and congratulating each other between the handshakes.
With the business of running about the hills getting muddy out of the way, it was time to enjoy the rest of the day. These events are about far more than the run itself and so it was now time to enjoy finding familiar faces, and kicking back to enjoy Pete Lashley entertain the crowds with a cracking set whilst refuelling on a sausage bap. It’s always worth hanging about post-race for the various race presentations and to join in the fun of the spot prize give away at the end too. My daughter proved her sprint potential once again and was up like a jackrabbit in response to the call for volunteers to make the draw. For once she spared my blushes by not pulling out Dads number!
Another fabulous day out for the whole family and we are already looking forward to the next fixture at Hawkshead. By then I hope to have removed most of Cartmel from my dogs, shoes, kids and car boot….
Cartmel 18k Challenge Results