This September Wigan Harriers took part in the inaugural running of the Cumbria Way Ultra Marathon fielding 3 teams of 5 runners each to contest the relay event. the event runs from Ulverston in the south of Lakeland all the way to the finish some 73 miles later at Carlisle Castle in the north.
Here’s how it went in words, pictures and video……
Leg 1 : Jacquis Report:
Friday teatime, myself,Waddy, Nina and her daughter Danielle travelled North to the lakes. Danielle is working up there so we stopped for tea on the way to dropping her off at her digs near Ambleside. Fed and watered we moved onto our accomodation in Ulverston where we would spend a whole 7 hours!
Registration and the kit check ensued and thankfully we all passed with flying colours.
Back to the digs for some R and R before being rudelly awoken at 4.50am. A quick breakfast (the first of the day) before heading out into the dark to start leg 1, Ulverston to Coniston.
At 6am at the Gill a very quiet group of 20 or so runners headed off into the night.
It’s the first time Nina and I had run with headtorches and to be honest I really enjoyed it. Having recced our leg a few weeks ago Nina and I were pretty comfortable with the first couple of miles. We headed off into the night immediately climbing. My legs felt like lead and I thought oh no how am I going to get through this?! argh. They soon losened up though thankfully.
Arriving at the gate to the field we needed to cross, we could see many of our competitors taking the road, they had gone the wrong way!
Waddy was nowhere in sight, he must be going well I thought! Next minute he was coming up behind us, he had followed the leaders the wrong way! Muppet 🙂
Onwards towards the first of many farms. As we approached, the pathway was full of cows. (this was to be a recurring theme throughout the day’s events).
The cows were fairly placid and after some shooing by one of our competitiors, Andy, they soon dispersed. The stench of what they had left in the farmyard though was enough to turn the stomach at that early hour so we got through there as quick as we could.
Now if I had to guess I would say we had to go over or through around 100 stiles and gates on that first leg but it was all worthwhile when we saw that beautiful sunrise around 30 minutes in. The most amazing morning had emerged, blue sky, fresh but not cold and just a very light breeze. Perfect running conditions.
The Ulverston to Coniston leg begins outside the Lake District National Park and although we didn’t have any huge climbs it is pretty much up and down all the way. Our recce seved us well as passed through the many fields and farms on our leg. We had Andy for company for much of the way as he wasn’t so familar with the route as us! When we did the recce we used the Cumbria Way guide book. Unfortunately the route notes supplied by the organisers did differ slightly and this caused us to go awry at one point. Luckily Andy gave us a shout and returned the favour of our help earlier, we were back on track!Approaching the Tarn from a different direction was a god send as we missed the bog we had encountered during the recce.
We were making good progress at this point and were moving at good speed. Not far now until we got our first glimpse of Coniston Water.We had only had to consult our notes a couple of times when we both had had mental blocks. Then disaster , we were running gleefully downhill feeling fantastic when we suddenly realised we had gone off course. We should have been following a trail of telegraph wires and we weren’t!!!
We headed fuirther down towards he road to regroup and figure out where we were when a friendly farmer got out of his tractor. Are you in the running event? He shouted. Yes I shouted back. Well you are going the wrong way he yelled. Follow me and I will show you where to go. Soooooooooooo I ran behind the tractor, Nina behind me , blowing out my behind on the steepest hill we had run up all day. Finally we got to where we should have been, back on track, phew. Thank you Mr Farmer.
Then it was plain sailing not long before we got to the marshal point and our first glimpse of Coniston Water lakeshore. Now if you would have asked us what that last section was like a couple or weeks ago we would have said flat! Flat it is not! It is up and down for a couple of miles until you hit the forest. Then the tree roots are a major obstacle and Nina almost faceplanted a couple of times. We were both starting to feel it at this point and we were trying to push on. Through the forest and then onto the lakeshore path, through the campsite. We could see Coniston , pushing on, already over 15 miles under our belt Nina started to protest. I could hear her tummy rumbling, she was famished. It had been al ong time since breakfast! Now if you know Nina you will know that she doesn’t do hungry! She had had an emergency flapjack enroute but this just didn’t cut it, she wanted breakfast number 2 !!!
I tried to cajole her, tried to keep her moving. I held the gates to let her through so not to break her rhythm. Oh she shrieked, I can see the flags! I hadn’t the heart to tell her that wasn’t our checkpoint, we still had a fair way to go. So onwards past the back of John Ruskin school where a cycling event was taking place, past the Blue bird cafe and along the path to the road. The last 400m were along the road to the sports and social club. We ran in holding hands. We had made it in approx 3hrs 26 mins, 17.5 miles. A new distance PB for NIna. We sat in the sun and refuelled as Sarah and Becky headed of on their journey.
We then went to the Meadowdore Cafe for breakfast number 2, a very content Ms Fisher.
A great day alround, well done to everyone involved
Dave Waddington was running for the A Team, (Team Wigan Awesome), and set off on the first leg with Jacqui and Nina. Read on…..
Dave handed over to Howard for the A Team, whilst Jacqui and Nina passed the baton to sisters Rebecca and Sarah…… Read On!
Leg 2: Coniston to Sticklebarn
Howard, Sarah and Rebecca
Howard Avery was tipped out of Sarahs car at the checkpoint some anxious minutes after Dave Waddington had already arrived for the handover. Howard was generously allowed a toilet stop before he was handed the dibber and sent on his way for leg 2 from Coniston to Stocklebarn in Langdale.
Howard hadn’t managed to get to the Lakes to recce his section so was reliant on his studying of the map and Ninas Cumbria Way book…which he left in his drop bag. To ensure he at least set off in the right direction Graham Millington ran with Howard over the first quarter of a mile seeing him safely on the path to Tarn Hows.
He remained on course for little less than a further mile before managing to avoid the Tarn and take a detour of his own down to the main road and away to Yew Tree Farm completely off the route! Luckily for him he was found wandering and confused by Race Director Gaynor Prior who happened to be driving to the next checkpoint and spotted one of her competitors wildly off course! Gaynor pointed him in the right direction with only an additional 4 miles racked up over and above the 11 miles he should have run…
Howard also reported asking for directions somewhere near Chapel Stile and being sent a good half mile the wrong direction “up a mountain”. Thankfully we didn’t need Mountain Rescue to go retrieve our errant Ultra Hobo and he finally made it to Sticklebarn
Sarah and Rebecca had managed a recce of the route the previous week and this showed in their flawless navigation all the way to Langdale without putting a foot wrong. In fact the girls actually managed to beat Howards time for this section!
After the final runners had departed, Graham Millington began his Sweeper Marshall role and also covered this section making sure all the competitors had arrived safely at Langdale with no strays lost on the route…. see the video below:
Next leg – Langdale to Keswick – Read on!
Leg 3: Sticklebarn to Keswick:
Metres climbed: 573
Known deviations from route: Otterbield Bay, short extra loop by Derwentwater
Highlights: Brilliant view back down Langdale Valley, Cracking view from Stake Pass, could see the next two miles laid out in front of you. Generally easy to navigate if you can read a map!
Things you can keep: Really rocky paths for mile after mile, really tough on the feet
Final thought: Yes to next year and maybe I’ll run faster to free up time for a cream tea stop at Rosthwaite! Thanks to the organisers, marshals and finally Graham for getting us involved in this great event.
Kevin Edwards and Gary Wane covered Leg 3 for our 2 remaining teams. Unlike Howard, Kevin had managed to recce the route a few weeks earlier so had a good clear knowledge of the route. We had high hopes that Kev and Gary would make big inroads into the 3h40 it took him on the recce what with it including stops for photographs and map checks etc……For some strange reason it ended up taking significantly longe ron race day…….
On September 13th, the team of leg 3 runners made the journey up the M6. Mike Gary and myself, completely ignoring VIP travelling instructions and using the one car, with Mel acting as close protection officer
We arrived at the Sticklebarn with plenty of time to spare so had a recce of the start. Mike wasn’t confident of my skills but I assured him I had recceed it and new what I was doing 🙂
We watched the first runner coming in. He was running the full way and leapt over a stone wall with out braking his stride and fuelled up and was on his way. Mike waited for Howard to arrive. Gaynor had already told us she had put him back on route near Tarn Hows, so we speculated how long for his leg. No fear he arrived in good time and we waved good bye,
Next it was me and Gary up, looking through the trees for Becky and Sarah, and they came in with full matching kit down to the fingernails
Off we go. Yeh, I do know where iam going, yeh no problem. The first section to the bottom of Stake Pass is runable so no problems and its all in a straight line so you cant go wrong. At the bottom of Stake Pass Gaynor was sitting where the track splits into two, so I decided to take the wrong one, just to make her laugh, honest…
We walked to the top, to be meet by a guy taking photographs and he had come on his push bike too. Still don’t now how it got it up there. From the top you can see what’s ahead: a long windy path on a river bed. When we did the recce we took the right hand path. For the race you used the left path. So after lots of swearing and “I am never doing this again”, we got off the rocks and I knew the worst was over and we could get into some good running,
Our first slight detour came at this stage, when we followed a ultra runner off course. It wasn’t a big detour but should have been a wake up call. Off we go again and within a mile we were off course again.
Right that’s it. I am going to get the map out and run with it in my hand, (it comes in handy that looking at the map thing you know). The ultra runner had now passed us and we give him a wave as we passed him 15 minutes later deeply embarrassed.
Derwent Water comes into view. That’s it, you can shift up a gear, 6 ish miles to go, smash those legs, you start to see other walkers out now and give them thumbs up as you fly past
Off the hard trails on the road and footpath for the last 1 mile, absolute heaven. Tarmac you are my true friend, how I have missed you! Then its the final run into Keswick. I thought the checkpoint was in a Co Op for some reason. Anyway Mel was waiting for us, and waved us into the right place, The bus driver who we ran in front of gave us a blast of his horn to signal our arrival, (well I think it was for that reason)
We passed over the dibbers to Andy and Paul and off they went
So it was refuel time, before Mel drove us all back home
Leg 4: Keswick to Caldbeck
As Mike Harris handed over to Andy Kaufman Harriers Team Awesome were some 5 minutes down on the lead relay team. The next leg saw the course reach its highest point as it climbed up the shoulder of mighty Skiddaw before the final pull up to the summit of High Pike. This was perhaps the wildest section of the route and ideally suited to our very own mountain man.
Andy set off with his familiar loping gait eating up the terrain like he was out for a Saturday morning park run. We’ve come to expect stellar performances from Andy but just a week after his 4th place in the Wigan 10k, we had no right to expect the monumental charge up the hill that saw him eat up a 5 minute deficit and turn it into a half hour lead by the time he reached Caldbeck to hand over to Gary Fitzpatrick.
Waiting at Keswick for Kevin and Gary to complete their magical mystery tour were Andy Eccles and Paul Bryers. This may have only been a 15 mile leg but the atmosphere of an Ultra event was clearly awakening the beast within Mr Eccles as memories of his own illustrious ultra career came to the surface. The Old Master was proudly wearing an England vest and representing his country over 100k long before the term Ultra Marathon was invented. In those days it was just called a “long run”!
Drawing the short straw of having to keep up with “The Beast of Anglezarke Moor” was poor Mr Bryers. A no pressure run out over the fells turned into a death match as he was treated to 15 miles of personal coaching Andy style. This culminated in Mr Eccles instructing Paul to give everything he had left in the tank over the last mile into Caldbeck. a quick glance at the watch showed Paul he was already pounding along at 6:40 pace! He at least had the decency to pretend that his subsequent injury was a result of some trampolining activity the next day rather than an Andy Eccles beasting.
Leg 5: Caldbeck to the Finish
“No pressure Gary, but its yours to lose now mate”, or “Good chance Kaveman will have taken the lead so really its down to you not to throw it away Gary…”
Good motivational stuff.
Andy Kaveman came hammering up the road and into the checkpoint like the hounds of hell were on his heels. He dibbed in, passed the dibber onto Fitz with great urgency and shouted “Go Go Go Gary – they are only about a minute behind me!”
Fitz shot off in full sprint mode with the thought of the 2nd place team breathing down his neck as Kaveman came out of the checkpoint chuckling to himself as he declared, “He’s got about a half hour lead but that should keep him going!”
The first placed solo runner had incredibly arrived at Caldbeck even before Andy Kaufman, having covered something like 60 miles at this point ahead of even the fastest relay team. Much to the amazement of those at Caldbeck he also reacted to Kaufmans arrival by dropping his drink and tearing off out of the checkpoint after Gary!
Leg 5: Caldbeck to the finish
Gary Fitzpatricks report
Garmin Distance: 16.5 miles
Metres climbed: 82 (not even claiming it was hilly!)
Aggressive cow dodging detour through brambles which resulted in bloody legs at mile 7.
Munching up the less interesting miles whilst questioning my vegetarian ideals following the above incident.
Vue Cinema…… a sign of civilization meaning I was on the home stretch and (barring disaster) Harriers were scooping first place.
Finishing in the spectacular setting of Carlisle Castle
Things you can keep: Chained up gates that were wide open on both recce’s
Livestock with a serious attitude problem
Carlisle fight club (honestly, it was like the Wild West after 11pm!)
Final thought: Great day to be a Harrier & bring on more events like this.
Julie Platt and Darren Jackson
Our final pair of runners setting off from Caldbeck were Julie Platt and Darren Jackson. Julie had previously recced the route and drawn a good few hits on Youtube when footage of her encounter with some exceptional docile and harmless cows was published on the club site. The Cumbria Way Recce report has become one of our most popular items thanks to the comedy value of Julie doing high knee lifts at some speed in completely the wrong direction.
As they took over from Andy and Paul they were heading into gathering gloom with the prospect of traversing that same cow field by torchlight alone. Gary Fitzpatrick had by now finished his leg and kindly phoned Caldbeck to let us know that he had encountered some particularly truculent cows on the route that had forced him into an impromptu detour through a bramble bush. Julie decided it was a wind up…
Somewhere in the darkness our intrepid pair were to meet up with those same cows…which turned out to be bullocks. Whilst they may have begun the evening in a mildly truculent state, the constant passage of runners had clearly vexed them so by the time Julie and Darren arrived they were positively irate bullocks. Julie claims they were scratching at the ground, snorting in irritation and giving impression that they were about to charge! Without much hesitation our runners chose to plunge into the icy waters of the river Caldew and wade to the opposite bank rather than take on the Carlisle bull run!
Despite soggy socks and sodden trainers the pair made it the rest of the way without incident and crossed the line inside Carlisle Castle to take 5th and 6th place for our two remaining teams. The tale of the cows gained momentum over the next hour or so and the odd bottle of Cumbrian Ale as we all heard about the dangers of Darrens loose bullocks in the dark.
After 3 months of planning, 15 hours of running, and one well fought victory the general consensus appears to be that this was a terrific event that we would be keen to do again next year. A few of us will probably wish to recce our respective routes a little more thoroughly, and one or two team members may elect to include a cattle prod in their essential kit next time out though….