Thursday, 24 December 2015

Tour De Hellvelyn

It's been a while since I've put a race report up, I've run a few events since the summer but none of them has inspired me to share the experience until I completed this one. The Tour de Helvellyn.

I entered two mountain events in December but the first in the Brecons fell by the wayside as I got drunk the day before. So despite the horrific flooding Cumbria had suffered in the previous week I was determined to get up there and get amongst it.
Grisedale Tarn

I drove up on Friday afternoon and after seven hours of mind numbing motorway I arrived in Askham in darkness. I managed to get the van parked in the community centre carpark and jumped in the back and got the kettle on. After a very tasty out of date boil in the bag ready meal I dived in the main hall and got myself registered. Dibber attached I retired to the van, my head was frazzled after the motorway so I was glad to be sound asleep by 10pm.

I woke at 5am because of the rain bouncing off the roof of my van, I laid there and pressed the snooze button several times. I was wondering whether I really wanted to do this? It was cold, wet, dark, windy, did I want to? Of course I did I love it! Two cups of tea and two pots of porridge and I was set. Full winter kit was needed for this one and I can honestly say I have never carried so much kit not even at UTMB, to be honest though given the conditions, the forecast and the fact that most of the day I was going to be wet, I made a sound choice of kit.
Kit Check

We had to make a decision on what time to start bearing in mind that you mustn't reach the Patterdale checkpoint before 9.30. I joined the kit check queue at 8 with a view of starting at 8.15, my aim was to get round in daylight so that gave me roughly 8 hrs. I didn't fancy being out on the fell in the dark. I had my kit checked and left, I wanted to follow someone to the fell because the Harvey map didn't cover the very start and I tucked in with a group until we reached the gate on to Askham fell. The rain was lashing and wind was blowing, today was going to be a challenge.

I had my map and compass ready but as soon as we were through the gate everyone split, some to the right, some the left. I took a quick bearing and the lefts had it. We ran into a vicious headwind and all the way over the flat featureless fell I was taking mental notes knowing full well I could return this way in the dark. I recognised the cockpit stone circle as it was the only bit of the course I had been to before but beyond it was all new to me. I fully intended to nav the route myself but when it's raining that hard and that windy it is very easy to follow the crowd and that is what I did. Had I naved the course on my own I would have been walking and a whole lot slower. I still have a lot to learn! After a lovely muddy trail and a stretch of tarmac we reached cp1. I dibbed in and moved on. After another stretch of tarmac we were treated to a lovely rise upto Boredale Hause. The wind was absolutely howling and it really was a struggle to stay up right at times, great fun though! I was soaked through and sprinted down towards Patterdale slipping over on a grassy bank as a went, I reached CP2 at Side farm, 10 miles in grabbed some sweets and was off again.
Cp 3 soaked through
We passed through Glenridding stopping to look at the raging torrent and the repairs that were underway, god knows how powerful that water was coming down during the floods. We started the long ascent towards Sticks pass and the weather was really having a moment now, It was lashing down. As I approached CP3 at Swart Beck bridge we were getting hammered, I jumped onto what I thought was a tuft in a puddle but it turned out to be a two foot deep pool, over I go again. Right infront of Stu at the CP. Glad he was there to take the piss. I was run walking all the way up but it was getting quite tiring the nearer to Sticks pass we got, That's when the eventual winner Jim Mann came running past. He made it look easy, I wish I had those skills. We reached the pass and I actually checked the map as it was very misty even with the high wind, straight over the top and we started our descent. I was really concentrating on the path as I sprinted through the mist, I looked up and couldn't see anyone, in that instant the mist cleared in seconds to reveal the most beautiful view of Thirlmere. It was fantastic, one of those moments when you just love being a trail runner. It was a long technical descent and I was flat out passing lots of runners on the way down. It wasn't without incident as fell two more times on the way down. Amazing fun though, I loved it. We dibbed in at the bottom and carried on.

28 miles in and still happy

The long descent had kind of gassed my legs and I was having brief moment, I took the time to have a chat with Rob and Braddon two fellow Dragons backers, I soon shook off the wobbly legs and started running again leaving the other two behind. I managed a jog all the way to CP 5, it was wet and slippery trail but I roughed out my bad patch. Got to CP5 and stuffed my face with cheese and sweets, it was the first time I'd seen Joe during the day.

I had a fold up cup in my pocket and drunk a few cups of water at the checkpoint. The conditions being as rough as they were I decided to drink on the go rather than faff about refilling my bottles, anyone who owns a inov8 ultra pack will testify what a faff it is to refill the bottles. In hindsight I would have not taken my bottles but should have taken my Sawyer straw, water on route was obviously plentiful but after getting campylobacter I should drink more carefully. Lesson learned.

The run from 5 to 6 was a forest track and easy going, I was a bit stiff in the legs but running well. I  soon came across the first of several beck crossings but the foot bridges had been swept away in the recent swathe of bad weather. The becks were now torrents and without bridges it was just a case of  jumping in and trying not to lose your footing, very dodgy indeed at some points but hey its not a tickling contest. I reached CP 6 and we were warned that Raise Beck ahead was dangerous and we should cut across to our left before crossing the water. I walked ahead with my head in the map trying to pick the route when I stepped in a bog, I waded through but my foot got caught on a branch in the mud, I went arse over tit straight into the bog my whole right side was in it. After dragging myself out I decided to pay a bit more attention.

We crossed the angry raise beck and ascended up the side until we reached Grisedale tarn, the wind was hammering us from behind and we started to descend. I could barely stand, the wet rock was slippy, the wind was blowing and it was very testing running. I could see people off to the right following the stream on the grass so I cut my losses as I was struggling on the rock and joined them. I slipped and fell again several times but yes it was much better running, I over took a few more runners on this section. We were soon back on the road to Patterdale and it would be the small case of 10 miles back to base.

I totally lost my bearings coming out of Patterdale and couldn't even remember the way back. I would have done a left had it not been for everyone going right but I still wasn't convinced. It wasn't until I crossed back over Boredale hause that things looked familiar. Up ahead was a pal of mine Ollie, who I was determined to catch up. It gave me good focus to spend the next few miles trying to catch him up. I finally caught them at CP 8 and we left chatting about the day. I worked out that I would now get back in daylight so all was good. I was busy chatting to one of the guys and Ollie shot off, he later told me he hadn't wanted me to pass him. Us mid packers are very competitive. With about 3 miles to go I felt amazing, time was ticking and I wanted to get in before dark so I left the other guy and pushed hard back across Askham fell desperately trying to reel Ollie back in. The weather had closed in again it was getting cold and raining hard again.  Sadly catching Ollie wasn't to be but I entered the hall just as darkness was falling and it was lashing down again happy to be back.

It was about 4ish so I had a couple of bowls of soup, a hot shower and started the epic journey home. As I left I could see the head torches coming down the road through the heavy rain and was very happy to be in the warm van.

Overall I had a fantastic race. The conditions were testing, the terrain was technical but I pretty much ran the whole way finishing in 7:42. I had no major energy dips and above all I had great fun. My only negatives were my own making, my right quad is still slightly iffy and has been since Sparta. Also I totally gave up navigating because of the weather which was a shame but it worked out ok. On the flip side I did seem to be one of the only people that didn't know the route. This certainly wasn't a race for a novice, so if you're thinking of doing this as your first ultra it'd probably be a good idea to try something else first and come back when you're confident with your mountain skills.

Everything was fantastically organised and you'd do well to find fault. Big thanks to the Nav 4 team I loved it. Thanks for the pics too.

Our wonderful momento

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