By REBECCA HOWARD
Ullswater Dirty Double Weekend – Running on a Lakeland trail
Picture for a moment a merry car of runners. Music chirps from the speakers, conversation is solely upon what lies in the weekend ahead. Outside all is bleak, misty moorland, rain and howling wind. The weekend feels more intrepid with every passing twist and turn on the journey west. Thus began the Lakeland trail finale weekend. Give us your worst, weather, nothing is going to dampen spirits this weekend! Good for the soul! Or at least the quietly eccentric part of it.
The finale of the Lakeland trail series is a double bill of running, held at Glenridding on the edge of Ullswater. Saturday’s route choices take runners around the side of Helvellyn while Sunday’s races involve a steamer trip across the lake and a run back along the shoreline. Bright eyed, bushy tailed and full of complementary Kendal mint cake from the B and B, we were at the start line of race no.1- the 15K Helvellyn challenge.
Following the river out of Glenridding and up into the footholds of Helvellyn, the first part of the race wound its way up towards a youth hostel, nestled in an old slate mine. The hard-packed track at this point turns into a narrow, rocky and muddy path, threading its way around the side of Helvellyn. One marvellous consequence of taking part in the whole series this year has meant seeing the Lakes through the seasons. A hop and a wet footed jump across a beck and Autumn in all its glory opens up around me. Glenridding is in miniature now as the route takes in a spectacular bird’s eye view of Ullswater. The tree tops still cling on to their leaves, a watercolour of greens and oranges and auburn bracken rustles as the wind whips up the valley.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what I love about this run, there are so many little wonderful things that make it perfect. Perhaps it is the need for concentration virtually all the way round while I find my footing over the terrain. The knowledge that pace and distance checking can be saved for other races is liberating. Or maybe it is the views that emerge as the path snakes up the valley which make it so enjoyable. My favourite part is the beautiful moment of peace as I run past a tarn that is protected from the wind by a small outcrop of pine trees. This moment only broken by a rush of adrenaline as I’m back head on into the wind and rain and fighting for breath as both elements seem determined to take it from me.
I finally find myself tentatively skipping down a rocky path back onto a farm track which I know turns into a road and eventually takes me to the finish. I admit, everything aches as I enter that finishing field, but my mind wishes I’d had longer to take the route in, and that I could carry on. It was one of those fleeting moments where, beyond all explanation, everything seemed to fit, and I must make a note of it so when things don’t go to plan, I can remember this day and take strength from it. The support is fantastic, marshals cheer the runners in, a fabulous t-shirt and fried egg bun refuel later and we’re all listening to some post-run live music from local singer-songwriter Pete Lashley. Roll on day 2!
Ullswater Emergency 12.5K
It was a struggle to draw myself out of bed on Sunday, I confess, but equally there is something deliciously challenging about it all. What better way to finish the series than a double run with company enjoying a good laugh and a lot of jelly men along the way. The route traditionally starts with a steamer trip across Ullswater and a run along the shore back. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and it was too windy for the steamers. Onto route option two which runs towards Patterdale before taking a low route out around Ullswater, skirting Place fell, followed by a higher route back. The climbs on Sunday were more brutal. After the first rocky ascent, Ullswater is now spread out below to our right, and Place fell with its slate screes and waterfalls is to our left. The going is beautiful and tricky in equal measures. Water bubbles down streams crossing our path as we weave our way along the fellside. Another brutal climb awaits as we turn a corner and glance up at a slow train of hi-viz picking its way upwards, across the rocks. Time to embrace the burn! A sharp descent and we’re back in the valley heading to the promised celebration finish.
Another Lakeland trail race finished, another t-shirt (this time bright yellow) collected and a party in the tent. These events have been the highlight of my running year. There are a few faces I now recognise as fellow Lakeland trail runners, and as we all huddle in the tent to sing along to Pete Lashley and congratulate the winners, I feel there is a lot of truth behind founder Graham Patten’s catchphrase, the “Lakeland Trails family”. When I first started running, the best piece of advice I was given was “make sure you finish wanting to get out there and do more”. I can safely say these Lakeland trail runs make me want to do more. From the opening muddy bath at Cartmel, to the spring sunshine of Staveley, that fabulous dip in the lake after the marathon at Coniston, the smell of the heather at Keswick and the challenging weekend in Ullswater. Yes, give me more in abundance please, I think it will be a little while yet before I am tired of these adventures.