First of all, let me say that this is an absolutely fantastic race. If you haven’t done it before then make sure you give it a try next year. It is everything that I like about a race. Locally organised by a friendly running club (Eden Runners), there are none of the commercial aspects that typify the mass participation events. Race entry is only £15, parking is free and well-organised, and you get a commemorative mug full of steaming hot tea plus a piece of locally produced flapjack at the finish! Race HQ is the local (Bampton) village hall and there are comfortable changing facilities available should you need them. I was particularly impressed to see a desk set aside for the transfer of race numbers, with a sign asking that you don’t run in someone else’s number. If a small running club can sort this out, why can’t the bigger events get to grips with it? I think we all know the answer to that one!
The only thing that they can’t guarantee is decent weather, but a race in the lake district in early March is always going to struggle with that. We left in plenty time on race day and called off for a coffee at Shap services. Jayne had ducked out of last week’s Standish trail race, and as the sleet battered the cafe windows she indicated that her “dodgy stomach” (no more details) might keep her out of this one too. I was slightly encouraging, as this would mean I could keep my coat on until the last minute and pass it to her at the start. The remainder of the drive was “interesting” as rain and sleet fought with the occasional sunny interval, always accompanied by the promised strong winds – not from Jayne.
We parked up, walked to HQ, walked back to the car, walked to HQ, changed, did a warm-up which doubled as a toilet stop, back to HQ, back to car, portaloo, … I think you get the picture of typical pre-race preparations. On our last call at HQ, we got down to vests and shorts, although I really did seriously consider putting on a base layer. Just as we were about to leave the changing hall to jog to the start, there were a few groans and we could see through the window that it was lashing it down with sleet and hail. Strangely, weather like this bonds everyone together and there was lots of banter as we set off for the start. This part of the event reminded me of the Snowdonia marathon, there being plenty of supporters mingling with the runners, many with dogs and children. I’ve been caught once before (Wrexham!!!!!) thinking I’ve been at the front of the start when I was actually at the back, so we took great care in getting the direction right, then dallied about to make sure we were reasonably close to the front. The race starter’s brief included a warning that there had been a landslide close to the turning point and so we should take care when negotiating it!
The website offers the following description of the race: “The Haweswater Half follows an out and back course from Bampton Village and passes along the shores of Haweswater in a remote and dramatic mountain valley. The hilly course offers an exhilarating run in unique surroundings.” The out and back section isn’t quite a half marathon and so you do a loop around the village to start. I’ve not done many out and back races and wasn’t at all sure how I’d take to it, particularly in view of words such as remote, dramatic and hilly. Did I really want a preview on the way out of what I would have to contend with on tired legs?
The race starts with a climb for about the first 5k. It then bobbles about before descending to the turning point; the car park at the end of the reservoir road. The views are certainly stunning, and the downhill sections allow you some recovery during which you can take it all in. My pre-race target had been sub 1.28 but I was only just managing a 1.30 pace on the outward section. My head went a bit and I broke one of my golden rules and started chatting to the bloke I was running with. Truth is I was missing Burgess, who’d gone off to run a flat course at Coventry.
The rain had stopped but there were torrents of water in places across the road and there was no option but to get wet feet. The landslide had taken out half of the road, but the field was spread out at this stage and so it didn’t present a problem. At the bottom of the hill, we ran round a car and prepared ourselves for the return journey.
The second half of the race proved to be surprisingly easy. We had actually been running into the wind for the outward section so we now benefitted from a strong tailwind. I think the Snowdonia training must have still been in our legs because we both stepped up the pace on the return, despite starting off with yet another steady climb. One really good feature of an out and back is that you get to see runners coming in the other direction. I was anxiously looking for Jayne, in case she had had to pull out, and was relieved when she appeared. If the truth be known, I was also secretly comforted that she hadn’t managed to sneak up to my shoulder as she had at Snowdonia.
It took your mind off the climb trying to identify the many club vests coming the other way. However, the last runner eventually passed and it was a case of getting on with the race. Having done the extra mile loop at the start, the turning point was well past half-way and this was a real boost coming back. The climbs and descents kept the interest going, and before long the village hall and finish funnel came into view. I’d had a good battle with Richard Jones of Garstang, with him pulling away on the downhilsl and me catching him back on the climbs. Unfortunately, the run in to the finish is relatively flat and he pulled away from me, not to be caught, on that section.
There was great support at the finish, and having crossed the line, a mug and flapjack were thrust into your hand – no medal Graham M. The queue for tea was relatively short, and I’d only had a few sips when Jayne sprinted through, just failing to catch the chap in front of her. We don’t do cool downs these days, so headed into the warmth of the changing hall and did what runners do best – sat around talking all things running. Utopia!
The results were up pretty sharpish – I ended up looking after the results man’s dog as he put them on the wall! A total of 503 runners completed the course, the race winner being James Buis of Border Harriers in 1.12.51, while first lady was Heide Dent of Howgill Harriers in 1.26.51 (38th overall). I must have clawed back a lot of time on the return, as I got under my pre-race target of 1.28 with 1.27.34, for 46th place. Jayne had another strong run on a difficult course, despite her pre-race traumas, finishing in a time of 1.31.42; 76th overall, 4th lady and 1st Vet 50.
The best decision we made was to stay over in Shap. So after one last walk to the car, we headed off for the excellent King’s Arms pub. Half an hour later we were sat down with a pint, a glass of wine and crisps. Jayne didn’t even complain about watching the rugby on the tele.
We’ve got a taste for these slightly more testing races – you can hide a bad time by taking off an appropriately exaggerated slice to get a flat course equivalent. Injury permitting, next up is the Dentdale Run (14 miles) on March 14th, if anyone fancies it.