An absolute drenching at the Keswick Lakeland Trails did nothing to dampen our spirits. After lockdown and everything 2020 has thrown at us, to be able to run a covid-adapted event was just what we needed.
As many blog posts here have said, my love of trail running was fuelled by Lakeland Trails. It was also a trigger to start taking running more seriously. For Keswick, myself and Louis could see that the LT team had done literally everything in their power to make this event as safe as possible. The least we could do was trust in them by supporting the team and running this adapted event rather than postpone to 2021.
The build up for me and Louis, my now 19 year old son, had been one of really consistent training through lockdown and a gradual return to track as restrictions were lifted. All summer and into Autumn we’d been doing the crucial varied training that’s so key to improved running and consistency. That had consisted of weekly speed sessions, a weekly tempo and one long run, all complimented by slow runs for the rest of each week. Both of us had been injury free and had therefore improved to our best form in a very long time. For Louis, this 15k was to be his longest ever trail race, having come top 10 in the Ullswater 10k almost three years ago.
After so many cancellations of so many races throughout 2020, we were desperate to seize this opportunity of a race. We’d been meant to race Staveley 18k in the summer but all Lakeland Trails events had been rescheduled to Autumn onwards. Given the Covid situation, we were really excited and also slightly nervous of what the event would be like. Starting in groups of 6, would it even feel like a race? Would it be safe? Would people be kind to each other? Would it be worth the 4 hour round trip? How would we know how well or not we were doing?
The answer to all of these questions was a resounding ‘Yes!’. And the last one didn’t matter because it was a case of effort and doing our best on the day. Our respective placings would be a reflection of that.
Blencathra, forboding and thrilling
For me, as you head West approaching Keswick, once you see the incredible and awe-inspiring Blencathra, you know you’re near to Keswick and the wonderful mountains and trails it offers. We had wondered what the day may throw at us and as the rain hammered the windscreen, we knew the forecast of heavy rain and strong winds was likely to be accurate. At lower ground that didn’t bother us at all. And it was pretty warm too on the day. We managed to park no problem and took our time hydrating and enjoying a walk around Keswick before returning to get our race numbers pinned and head into Fitz Park for our warm up.
Check in wasn’t required due to the Lakeland Trails team posting out race numbers with timing chips ahead of the event. At their own expense. They’d also invested heavily in more timing equipment, larger race crew, more flags and a heap of marshalls. We and every participant in every event that day were very grateful indeed for this because it was a real success. The baggage area was one-way too, making this far safer and avoided the need for people to congregate.
Strangely, although very soft and damp underfoot, the rain had stopped and it was very calm before we started. Meeting up with fellow Harrier, Mark, meant the three of us were able to enjoy a gentle warm up and chat. Even the portaloos were managed really carefully so as to keep participants covid-safe.
Myself and Louis were to start 6 mins ahead of Mark. So our group of 6 went forward first. This was really efficiently done, with each member confirming their name and stepping onto one of six markers while wearing face mask. We then moved forward to the next set as the group in front of us moved to the start line. Then one minute later we were called forward to the start line – each standing on a marker – before the count down to 13:21 meant we were off! Masks on until out of Fitz Park (about 100 metres) we were almost instantly distanced 2m of each other, meaning we could take our masks off and get into the run. Louis immediately went off pretty quick and opened up about 10s on me. That extended to about 15s as we headed East along the old railway before turning a sharp left and following some really undulating forest trails for the next few kilometres. The profile shows this towards the base of Latrigg fell and parts of this were a pretty brutal start for the 15k. In parts, very fast descents, fast trail, then short very sharp climbs it really got the quads and lungs going!! Louis had about 30s on me here as I kept catching him slightly on the flats or descents, only for him to pull away a bit more on the climbs.
About 4.7k in we turned sharp near the Blencathra Centre, to begin heading North to contour Blease Fell and up to the Glenderaterra bogs!! At this point I was really into nice running and could see Louis also going strong ahead of me. That ‘flow’ was stopped as soon as we hit those infamous bogs. I have NEVER known them so wet and so long as that – ever!! 😂 They totally sapped the energy from our legs as everyone struggled to even run in parts. It was a relief to climb to 330m & 340m to see the back of them lol! Turning West to cross the gushing becks, then head South, the tough little climb to 420m on the East side of Lonscale Fell actually came as a relief. I knew we’d be quickly into much faster trail running along the path that contours right around the East and South of Lonscale and seeing that iconic view over Keswick. Here I was really pushing in order to catch Louis but he’d had the same intention of keeping ahead and maintained about 90s gap on me through this whole section. Several runners I’d passed said I had a chance of catching him but I knew that unless I got to within 30s of him at the start of the descent, I’d have no chance.
Turning right to head along the South contour of Lonscale, the heavens absolutely opened on us all! Suddenly it was incredible headwind, couple with torrential rain and hail. I had to shield my eyes with one arm to see where I was going! I hammered myself here while still trying to run controlled to Whit Beck and up towards the car park, in order to have something left to really hit the descent through Bruntholm Wood. These photos are right at the top of that descent just before we hit the steeper and much wetter sections. If you look closely you can see how drenched we were and how the rain is hammering down.
Pic Jumpy James @jumpyjames
Pic Jumpy James @jumpyjames
That final 3 k down the trails through the woods were insanely enjoyable!! Flying past hikers and many runners, really pushing to try and catch Louis (I couldn’t see him mind!), the centre of the trail was gushing with water coming off the fells. I’ve never seen it anywhere near to that wet before. It was so wet we often banked up the trail in order to overtake people and to avoid the worst of it, though it was a childlike thrill to be running full-on down some steep parts of soaking trails. I gave it everything but when I couldn’t see Louis as I crossed the bridge over the A66 I knew he had me beaten by at least 90s – 120s. At parts of the finish through the woods back into Fitz Park it was so wet you had to take it quite easy. Then it was a sprint of about 250-300m around the park to the finish. He’d just come through the tent and urged me onto a strong finish.
Both of us had finished elated, Louis coming 36th in 1:19:12 and myself 45th in 1:21:40. On that course with such a tough start and in such conditions, we were both delighted. We both stood around waiting for our club mate Mark. 6 mins came and went, turning into 10, then 15, then 20. Where the hell was he? Had something happened to him? Well he wasn’t injured as we’d first worried. Turns out he and a woman had been overtaking each other regularly on the route. He’d got so intent on getting ahead of her that he followed a trail when she suddenly stopped to take off her jacket. Another 1k down the trail he stopped and realised the route wasn’t right. Checked with her and she told him she wasn’t in the race haha!!!! He’d only been trying to beat a random runner on her own blissful fell run! Coming in 120th we worked out he’d lost about 40-50 places with such an error. With all the extra signs we couldn’t believe he’d gone wrong, however the woman had randomly stopped in front of one important sign. At least it meant we got to listen to Pete Lashley for a while longer, and to enjoy some food from the fantastic food vendors at the event village 🙂
We always thank marshalls and all other crew. For this event especially. At times the weather was brutal, yet everyone went about the day with a welcoming smile and a determination to enjoy it. Standing, marshalling and serving for hours on end in that kind of weather, really takes some commitment. Thank you so, so much! It turns out it was a precious one to enjoy because 2020 events took over yet again…
Post-event and looking forward
The only dampener was Louis struggling with his left foot the day after and it not getting better. It turned out to be a stress fracture caused by nearly going over on his left ankle on that 3k of descent before the final woods and Fitz Park. He’s been unable to run since and forced to rest until 3rd week into October. That was a real blow to him as he was hitting really good form and getting stronger all the time. Judging by his development through 2020, including a 5k PB, he’ll be progressing again through late Autumn and Winter.
Sadly, the Lakeland Trails team have had to postpone Staveley, Helvellyn and Ullswater events until 2021. It’s such a shame because they had put on an amazing event at Keswick. And at the time of writing, they’d made a real success of the Coniston weekend that included the usual Autumn Coniston trail routes, followed by the Marathon day on the Sunday. This must be a massive blow to the team who’ve done all they possibly could to put on events this year, in the face of unrelenting obstacles around the pandemic.
Myself and Louis are entered for Staveley 2021 18k and will be entering as many of the other events as we can. Please join us in committing to and looking forward to their 2021 events.
All the best! 🙂