Saturday, 29 December 2012

Tour de Helvellyn - 22/12/2012

Arriving at the Swart Beck checkpoint, pleased to see Stuart
I signed up for Tour de Helvellyn after I'd ducked out of the Long Mynd Hike, as I wanted to complete one more ultramarathon this year (total six I think - 2 at Pilgrim's Way, the Brecon 40, the WOW, the CCC and TdeH). I'd tried to do the race last year but a combination of a party the night before and atrocious road conditions on the drive from Shropshire to the Lakes put paid to an early start and meant that I was a long way behind the field for much of the day. I called it quits after about 20 miles and a big struggle over Sticks Pass in total whiteout conditions.

This year I learned from some of the mistakes and drove up the night before, staying on the floor in the event centre at Askham Village Hall.

I woke at six after a fairly fitful night's sleep and had a fairly leisurely preparation, chatting with Joe, Keith and Pauline, Nick Ham, Adrian Donnelly and Dale Colclough and his partner Den. The event format allows starts from seven until nine, but the first manned checkpoint, at Patterdale about 10 miles in, only opens at 9:30. I'd decided to start about quarter to eight so the checkpoint would be open and any rush of waiting runners would be gone before I got there.

Lovely relaxing cup of tea, thank you Pauline!
Having a natter before the start...
In the event Adrian started about ten minutes before me and Dale a couple of minutes after me, so I ran the first couple of miles up to Askham Common on my own. Here, Dale caught me up and we ran together comfortably over Moor Divock and down to Howtown where Dale showed me a handy short cut to the road which cuts a little distance and a bit of muddy trail off at the cost of 50' of extra climbing. We walked purposefully up to the church at Martindale where I was able to spot the dibber and kite easily having done the event before. (1:04 from start)

Onwards along the road into Boredale and I were nicely matched for pace and managed a good conversation until the top of the Hause where I let him run on as I felt I'd gone rather faster than I originally had intended. I dropped into the Patterdale checkpoint 50 minutes after leaving Martindale.

The next stage climbs up to Greenside and then on to the footbridge over the Swart Beck on the Sticks Pass path, where Stu from NAV4 was waiting with his camera and the dibber for CP3. I went quite well up here, passing Dale and Adrian before Dale repassed me near the checkpoint. (45 minutes from Patterdale, 2:40 total)

Passing the SportSunday camera lady at Greenside
Closely followed by Adrian and Dale
Nice impressionist view of other competitors approaching Swart Beck
The remaining section to Sticks Pass is more gently graded and was much easier than last year with only a few small patches of slushy snow. The route at the top was obvious (straight on across the main ridge path) and I continued on down through ankle deep freezing water which eventually turned my feet into solid unyielding lumps. I told myself they'd warm up when I was lower down and on drier ground. The rain was still falling fairly steadily but my newish less running more mountaineering style kit (Quecha thermal, Haglofs Stem II mid layer and bargain Berghaus Etive Gore-Tex Paclite Cag) was keeping me reasonably dry and even on the pass I wasn't desperately cold. Some gloves which fitted would have helped though, and I nearly put my fleece on.

The descent down to Stanah is marginally easier to the right and I followed a quicker runner who'd just passed me on the way down. I got to Stanah 43 minutes after leaving Swart Beck (3:23 total). At this point I'd decided to bail last year and hiked up the road to Swirls so I didn't know the rest of the route intimately.

From Stanah to Swirls the route uses the public right of way following the intake wall above the fields of Thirlspot. This is probably the most technical section of the route, mostly singletrack and with lots and lots of rocks embedded in the path. I took the opportunity to take on a bit of water and half a Go-Ahead bar, walking quite a bit of this section before dropping into Swirls car park to meet Den and a couple of other check point staff. 26 minutes from Stanah (3:49 total).

I dumped a sarnie which I guessed I wasn't going to eat with Den, took on a few bits of banana and set off on the forest road towards Dunmail. I was quickly passed by a couple of quicker guys and then made the first of two dodgy route decisions, choosing to go down the forest road and then climb up again to the end of the woods rather than use the permissive traversing path used by many of the other runners. I think this probably cost a minute or two - it gave Adrian the opportunity to catch and pass me just before the next checkpoint at Birkside Gill which I reached in 41 minutes from Swirls (4:30 total).

Immediately after the checkpoint there's a choice to either continue along the intake wall to Dunmail and then use the "gutter" path up to Grisedale Tarn, or to take a more direct line climbing up onto the brilliantly named Willie Wife Moor and contouring round into Raise Beck just below the col. I chose the latter option and it was very tough, on rough ground, and I was conscious I was moving quite slowly. Eventually I reached the beck, crossing it at the only point I could see which was safe (it was very full) and then using the path for the final couple of hundred yards up to the col. I made ehavy weather of the boggy section round the tarn and down towards Ruthwaite Lodge and finally realised something wasn't right with a lot of folk passing me. I was hungry so I ate - two more Go Aheads and a gel. This got me going again and by the flatter section of the valley I was running reasonably well again. After a minor road rage incident with (you guessed) a white van, I jogged into the Patterdale checkpoint 1:54 after leaving Birkside Gill, and 6:23 total time. The loop round Helvellyn took four and a half hours. This was easily my worst leg.

Just after leaving Patterdale to climb to Boredale Hause
Here I had a quick few words with Stu and Joe, grabbed some banana and some crisps and walked through to Side Farm deliberately keeping moving but using the flat section to eat and sort my kit out for the push back to Askham. I climbed up to Boredale with Marie Mitton who was going pretty well. We used the main path, which is longer, but more easily graded. At the top Marie met her friend Helen, and I pushed on, descending the path into Boredale quite efficiently. I slowed a bit after the road junction and Marie and Helen and myself leapfrogged each other to the next checkpoint at Martindale (1:11 from Patterdale, 7:34 total).

Marie and three others with her went the high route from Martindale so I decided to try to grab a bit of ground back by using Dale's lower route again. I popped out on the path well ahead of them so stopped at a bench, drank some water and ate two thirds of a KitKat then got going again, alternately walking and running the fairly interminable section along the top of the fields above Ullswater. Eventually this starts to climb quite steeply and I hit the climb just after being passed by one of the more elite runners. He came straight back to me on the climb so I asked if he was ok and foisted the rest of my KitKat off on him. It must have worked because he got going again and passed me up by the stone circle. I was glad there were a lot of runners about as it was getting dark now and together we were able to set the right course across Moor Divock and hit the track spot on for the run in to Askham. I did most of this in company of another runner, and stayed in touch enough to find the quick way in to the finish, where Keith and Martin Stone were waiting with the final dibber and a results print out.

Martin Stone and Keith Richards manning the finishing checkpoint with style!
I finished 67th of 128 finishers and 148 starters in 9:04:48 and was 25th MV40 of 50 MV40 finishers.

Overall I was pretty pleased with this, off very little distance work at all. My longest run since the CCC had been about 15 miles, and I've had no consistency with the long runs at all. It was a very enjoyable day out in the hills and a great learning experience as ever. Thanks to Joe and all his helpers at NAV4.

Joe, a top event organiser, and Joe's soup, the best!


  1. Jim, I've only just found your blog from the link on NAV4. I can also confidently put name to face now (shame on me as usual).

    This is an excellent blow-by-blow description of your race, posted in timely manner, and the outcome was rather good. Brilliant stuff. Hope to catch you again at the races this year, possibly Brecon 40 again?

    Incidentally, I was sitting at your table at the finish. You appear in a couple of my photos.

  2. Thanks Nick! Only ultra racing plan I have at the moment is the LDWA Camel-Teign 100 at the end of May, although I have a 100km solo challenge in mind for earlier in the year. Otherwise I'll be concentrating on my fell running. You doing the 100?

  3. Great report Jim thanks for this and hope to see you somewhere in 2013. Nice pics.