Graham Millington represented the club at the Cartmel “Sticky Toffee Trail” at the weekend:
No sooner had I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the cross country season that I was pulling on my Inov8’s to tackle the 18k of muddy, trail based madness at Cartmel for the Lakeland Trails season opener. These events offer a range of distances from the kids fun run, to a 10k “sprint” around the fells aswell as the the longer distance Challenge and Race events. With a programe of entertainment throughout the day to keep race supporters happy, these are a fun day out for all. Once my two kids had earned themselves a medal in the junior dash, it was time for me to line up at the start of the 18k Challenge.
All the races begin beneath the main Grandstand at Cartmel Racecourse, with runners assembling on the actual course itself. Full of confidence from recent performances, and adopting the over optimism tactics I employ at cross country meetings, I chose to position myself somewhat closer to the font that I would normally do in a road based race. I was a little surprised by the comparitively sedate start, expecting the usual mad dash that characterizes a Mid Lancs fixture! As a result I found myself in the unfamiliar position of mixing it in the leading pack of runners in the first furlong
My confidence may have increased following results over recent weeks, but even I couldnt fool myself that I belonged in such elevated company at the sharp end of a race. As we were led out of the racecourse and onto the first sections of trail by a bicycling marshall, I resisted the temptation to go for an early lead just for the hell of it! Instead I made the most of enjoying the novel expereince of being up at the front as I settled in and awaited mass overtakes as the natural order re-asserted itself.
As the first race in the series, and the course involving the least overall altitude, it could be assumed that this is an easy introduction to the delights of trail running in the Lake District. Most of the other events involve at least a partial ascent of a significant Lakeland fell such as Consiton Old Man or the flanks of Skiddaw. The fact that this course is also affectionately known as “The Beast” may give a clue as to how tough it can be!
Within the first couple of miles we had already slogged our way up a few testing climbs and out onto the twisting trails heading north. Although a few runners had drafted past me, I hadn’t been swamped by the hordes I had expected to come charging up from behind. In fact, inspired by having overhauled a couple of runners myself, I decided to dig in a give it my best shot of hanging on to the surprisingly elevated position I had started with. This meant attempting to conserve a little energy on the uphill sections bearing in mind that I would still need something in reserve to tackle to the notoriously muddy ascent in the final couple of miles.
Glorious views of the southern fells opened up as the race progressed making me wish I had the chance to admire the scenery a little more. With tricky technical sections varying from rocky paths, to ankle deep ploughed mud, full attention to the trail was essential. A large part of the skill of maintain good speed in this race was being able to pick a good line through the terrain. The more obvious racing line often proved slower to negotiate than a deviation to less muddy or uneven ground. Perhaps this explained why I still hadn’t been trampled by hordes of faster runners who must surely be gaining ground by now?
By 5 miles in I confess that I was beginning to feel the pace. I had found myself tied in with a group of haf a dozen or so runners who seemed to swap positions depending upon the going. Some would make a break on the swift downhill sections, only to be overhauled once again on the next uphill bit. Others seemed to make up more ground once back on the interlinking sections of tarmac, but none of us seemed able to make a decisive break. None of the group were tempted by the Guiness on offer at the aid station in honour of St Patricks day, (I kid you not!), opting instead for a swift mouthful of more traditional hydration.
After a very tricky and twisting sprint through gorse and heather we finally came to the infamous mud on the approach to the penultimate summit. I have plodded my way through some quagmires during the past season of cross country, but nothing has sapped my strength and reduced me to a stumbling crawl more effectively than the Cartmel mud! Having chosen the wrong line on one particular stretch, I found myself calf deep and virtually stopped dead. To my rescue came a friendly Blackburn runner who seflessly gave me a huge shove from behind and told me to “come on lad, keep going!”
Once through a knee deep stream water crossing there was just the final short, but cruel climb through the woods before entering the racecourse once more for the finish. By this point I was alone, having dropped off the back of the Blackburn runner but with no-one threateningly close behind me. It was a surreal few moments to be running alone through silent, tranquil woodland but hearing the increasing racket of the samba band and cheering crowds at the finish. Even odder was knowing that I would soon be out of this peaceful wood and my own little world of pain, and entering the impending din!
The incredible energy generated by the Samba band cant be underestimated and it lifted me to a semblance of a sprint finish. It felt fabulous to run the final hundred yards between ranks of exuberant drummers and I even managed to applaud them, smile and cross the line arms aloft! By the time I collected my souvenir T-shirt some 20 yards later I was performing that half-trip, half walk shuffle of the truly knackered runner!
The day would have been perfect if left at that, but discovering that I had somehow hung on to that good start and finished 26th overall lifted me to a whole different level. Chuffed is not the word for it! Half a fruit loaf and a can of coke later I was sufficiently revitalised to sit back and enjoy the after race entertainment provided by Pete Lashley and his guitar, (who had also just finished the 18k challenge and then found the energy to sing and perform for a further half an hour!).
A cracking day out and I cant wait for my next Lakeland Trail at Staveley in May.