Cumbria Way Ultra Race Report

At the time of writing, I am about three days post race. I’m tired, my body is aching and my feet are absolutely trashed. I feel content, content with finishing something that just over three weeks ago, I wondered if I’d ever be able to accomplish.

Granted, you can’t compare the TDS with the Cumbria Way Ultra, in terms of elevation it is a pale comparison. In distance, the same. There is far, far more running in the Cumbria Way Ultra, so regardless if I’d completed the TDS, I could not claim to have run as far as I now can following this finish. Two days after the DNF at the TDS, the SiEntries race calendar popped up in my inbox, the Cumbria Way jumped out at me, this had to be my redemption race, it had to happen.

It’s no consolation not finishing something when the decision was out of your control. It still sucks. There is a feeling of needing to make up for the failure, a need to redeem, reset and re-write how things went. From the more I talk to ultra-runners, there more I hear a version of this same story. Yes the TDS had a 40% DNF, no it wasn’t my decision to withdraw….yes it STILL SUCKS.

So, three and a half weeks later Ed and I are on a train to Ulverston. Drop bag for the finish at the ready, kit packed and ready to go. It felt like the right thing to do, particularly as for me the latter stages of the route is one I know intimately and so I’m literally running home.

We registered, got through kit check and headed to the B&B where we had a cider and set our alarms for 4.00am (that part never gets easier). In the morning, we were up and feeling ready to go. I had my usual porridge pot and we set off for a 15 minute walk to the start.


The start of the race is in Ford Park, we deposited our drop bag and gathered around the start. At 5.30am it was the race briefing and the smallest hint of sunlight was beginning to appear. I didn’t bother with my headtorch and it was the right decision as the route crosses through the houses and by the time we were onto footpaths, it was light enough to see.


The first section of the run follows footpaths through fields and farm tracks, muddy at times but the sunrise made up for it. The pace was conservative and so I was taking care not to allow myself to push on as it is such a long distance.

We made our way along the fields and fells to Beacon Tarn. It was obvious by this point that it was going to be a beautiful day as the sky was completely clear. The path around here was boggy and so began a day of wet feet.

The Cumbria Way route then drops down toward Coniston and follows the lake path. This section was flat and I was getting a little concerned as my hips were really beginning to ache and hurt quite badly, without exaggeration, it felt as though I already had 50 miles in my legs and we were barely on 15. The only thing I can put it down to is lingering fatigue from the TDS. I pressed on, hoping that the pain would settle down, it often happens in these long races, niggles can disappear once the body and mind accepts that this is it for the foreseeable future. The path emerged at a campsite and once on the road, there was a bit of discussion concerning the correct route but we worked it out and reached CP 1- Ed’s Garmin read 17 miles….mine read 10 because the blasted thing had (unbeknownst to me) given up the ghost way back.

We refilled bottles and had a couple of pieces of cheese and flapjack, Ed picked up some crisps and so we munched those on the way out. There are considerable gaps between CP’s on this race, I like it, makes it seem shorter in a way, plus, if you’re a CP to CP kind of guy, it’s a good level of progress. The next section is a flat-ish fast one, very runnable. We knew that we needed to bank time for the later stages and so we really tried hard to push on and ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’. There was a little group of us by this point who were going around the same pace, we arrived at CP2, Sticklebarn Tavern in really good time and filled up drinks.

The first proper climb of the day followed soon after. We made our way along the valley on rocky paths before making the ascent up Stake Pass. As descents go, it wasn’t too bad, good underfoot with little steps, making it nice for maintaining a steady pace. My hips were still very painful and I gave in and took a painkiller, hoping that it would settle things down a bit.

 

The descent from Stake Pass follows a zig zag path that snakes it’s way to Langstrath Valley. It was getting warmer and I was a little concerned about how much fluids we had left. On the way down, we overtook a couple of runners while those we had ran with before widened their gap and soon they were dots in the distance. I found the section down to Stonethwaite tough, there was still a long way to go the thought of how many hours and miles we had left, dragged me down like an anchor. We bickered and the cracks were beginning to show. By the time we had got to Rosthwaite, we were a little cheerier. Ed stopped at the little tearoom and got us a bottle of water and a can of Fanta, after that we were chipper and made light work of the last bit that followed Lake Derwentwater on to Portinscale and Keswick.

By now were daring to dream that we might actually be on track for under 20 hours but I was painfully aware that a) there was still 30 miles to go and b) the next section was undoubtedly the worst.

At the Keswick CP (around 45 miles) I changed my socks and had some hot food- chilli and rice, it went down a treat and I was feeling positive. I phoned my parents who were going to cheer us on in the later stage and gave them a conservative eta.

We saw a few people here who we’d been running with and knew we’d be seeing them again later (as is the way with all of these things). After a brief stop we meandered up to the turn from the swimming pool that goes up Spooney Green- the start of the Latrigg Fell Race, it was sapping on tired legs but fuelled by chilli we actually made pretty solid time and before we knew it, we were through Latrigg Carpark and on our way along Longscale Fell.

The light was getting good and the views were stunning over into Keswick, we took our time and chatted for a while, apprehensive about what we knew we were going to face, by now, we also knew that this would be in the dark and so we prepared ourselves for what would be a challenging section.

By the time we reached Skiddaw House, we’d amassed a merry band of runners. None really sure about where they were going and so they appreciated Ed and I’s local knowledge. The nice thing about this race for me is that I know the later stages like the back of my hand, it’s an advantage for navigation but it also emphasises a painful realism- where as if you were unaware of what was to come, you might just be blissfully jogging along, thinking that you’d broken the back of it.

To be honest, it was a lot easier than I remembered it. By the time darkness fell we were beginning the climb up the fell towards Lingy Hut. The moon was full and it stood emphatically constant, on the horizon, squat and black.

We pressed on, leading a group of seven runners. The ground was wet and boggy, we were tired but keen to make in-roads. Eventually, after a wall of tussocky grass, we met the solid dark form of the hut. Following the route, we took a right and headed up the undulating boggy rise to the summit of High Pike (another familiar place) there was a tent with a marshal and little red flags peppering the descent off the summit, down into Caldbeck.

Ed set a good pace down the grassy track and we were in such good spirits knowing that the worst was over. We jogged into the CP at the village hall, ate some roast potatoes and cracked on. The route cuts through Caldbeck, up through woods and across fields along the river. The moonlight bathed everything in a soft white glow and the stillness was only punctuated by clumsy tired runners and a couple of enthusiastic owls, screeching from the trees. There is a deviation from the route at Bell Bridge due to its collapse from the floods so a short road section cuts the corner back onto the fields. My feet were troubling me, it was cold but we made good time and soon we were in the final CP at Dalston Victory Hall.

I was starting to feel nauseous and I didn’t want a repeat of the TDS so I dibbed in and pressed on by myself whilst Ed warmed up with a coffee. He soon caught me up and we began the slog along the cycle path (I must have run this route hundreds of times) I knew Mum and Dad would appear shortly and I held on to the thought of seeing them. The Tarmac made every pressure point on my feet acutely painful, at one point I had to take off my shoe and pop a blister between my toes. Grim.

Then my folks appeared, I was so happy to see them it made such a difference and I felt renewed as we took on the final stretch into Carlisle. As we neared the finish, Ed turned to me and said, we might just make it under 20hrs. There was a little way to go, I didn’t dare to hope.

I spotted my Mum and Dad cheering us on by the footbridge, it did the trick and we put in a final sprint to finish in the castle courtyard in a time of 19.55, 6th woman and 18th overall, fully redeemed.

Thanks to marshals and organisers for a great race, Mum and Dad for being there and Ed for bringing out the best in me….well most of the time.

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