By Lisa Jenkins
St Begas Ultra Trail Race
I was challenged to complete the run by a fellow Quaker who unfortunately was not able to run with me on the day. Training started 4 months in advance and involved running mostly in mud or snow and up the hills of Hamsterley Forest, increasing my running from twice a week to 4-5 times a week – my weekly mileage peaked at 43.5 miles. I also learned about nutrition and started going to the gym 3 mornings a week in order to build my strength. I was keen to prove that you don’t have to be an elite runner to complete an endurance event and whilst I never doubted that I could complete the race, beating the cut off time of 12 hours would be another matter!
The course is approximately 36-37 miles long and has 4000ft of ascent and 4500ft of descent. Runners follow the route of the legendary Irish princess, St Bega, travelling between two chapels, that both bear her name. The Start is in the heart of the Lake District, overlooking Bass Lake near Keswick, and the Finish and race HQ is in the west coast village of St Bees, the start of Wainwright’s coast to coast walk. Between these two points, lay 36 ‘country’ miles. (37 miles this year, due to forestry work) On the day of the race, runners are bussed from the HQ at St Bees to the start.
The race is split into 4 legs:
Leg 1: Dodd Wood to Borrowdale, Rosthwaite (approx. 12 miles)
The route climbed on forest tracks and through a break in the trees, we got our first glimpse of the route ahead, and the fells looking over the open valley floor. Descending steeply through the woods, we crossed the valley to the shores of Derwentwater. The route ran along the lake shore and past the wooden ‘entrusting hands’ sculpture. It was tempting to dive into the lake to cool down but instead we continued through the low level woodland, before finally breaking off towards Borrowdale. We had been given a tip off about cold drinking water that was available in the public toilets so we emptied our warm drinks and filled up just before reaching checkpoint 1. Still feeling pretty fresh at this point and after a quick photo, change of socks, drink of juice and flapjack, we were on our way again.
Leg 2: Rosthwaite to Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre (approx. 11 miles)
For me, this was the toughest section. The temperature was rising and the sun was zapping our energy. Heading South, through the ‘Jaws’ of Borrowdale, a momentous climb was revealed. After a welcome flat section to pass through Honister Slate, the route climbed again on a seriously steep track. I’ve climbed this a few times whilst climbing/walking at the Lakes but ‘walking’ it with the full mandatory kit on my back was on another level!
The route then changed to the remotest section of the journey, where I was most worried about getting lost! We headed out over open fell on rough tracks and then descended down hundreds of steep ‘steps’ into the secluded Ennerdale valley. This was followed by 4 miles of shale track. I had trained on similar at Hamsterley Forest but it was really tough going. I had anticipated walking the whole of this leg but managed to run some of it. There are no roads here and midway down this valley we reached Checkpoint 2, where we had the best cheese sandwiches I’ve ever tasted!
Leg 3: Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre to Cleator Hill (approx. 11 miles)
Reaching the shore of Ennerdale Water, the route runs along the full length of the lake. After this isolated and beautiful place, the route climbs steeply onto gentler fells, where the notorious ‘Bummers’ hill resides. This felt relentless with tired legs and at the top of this punishing climb, the summit of the fell, Dent, gave us our first view of the sea and the welcome flat land ahead. A steep grassy and fast descent on jelly legs whilst ‘smiling’ for the camera brought us to the final route checkpoint – Checkpoint 3. By this point, the very hot weather was taking its toll – we were starting to get close to cut off times and about 20 runners didn’t start leg 4.
Leg 4: Cleator Hill to the Finish at St Bees (approx. 4 miles)
Pushing on, this leg was fairly flat with about 3 miles of tarmac cycle path (which felt very strange on the legs) followed by a few fields full of staring cows and raggy sheep (that looked how I felt!) as well as gates to climb/struggle over or get stuck on, and what seemed like dozens of stiles.
The finish line is at the end of the St Bees valley. Here, a fabulous welcome awaits every runner. I ran in with a time of 11:50, beating the slightly extended cut off time to account for weather conditions, with 3 other runners, one of whom we picked up in the last field. I felt emotional as we ran the length of the school field and our names were read out over the tannoy to applause from the other finishers, friends and family. A hot meal (fish and chips for us) and a pint were included as were a technical or cotton t shirt and a slate medal from Honister slate mine.
The SBU family have created something special with this event and they pride themselves on supporting first time ultra runners. Everything is extremely well organised from the communications leading up to the event to registration the night before or early morning of the race to the surveys after the race. The check point marshals are brilliant and dress to a theme – this year we had bananas (!), horse racing jockeys and miners at the official checkpoints and a superhero to point us in the right direction at the top of Honister.
Would I do it again? I never thought I’d say this but Yes! I highly recommend giving this race a go… feel free to ask me any questions.
My low point – not having my training buddy there on the day; she sent lots of motivational messages during the race which I received whenever I got signal.
My high point(s) – the support and encouragement from everyone around me – before, during and after the race – my husband and sister, my running buddies, fellow QRC members, gym buddies and friends that don’t run/gym as well as the SBU team and runners … the support kept me going and helped me to believe in myself.
A recce weekend was held in April (limited number of places, so you need to be quick) and was attended by a mixture of existing and new ultra runners. The Saturday was very hot and on the Sunday it was pouring down so all of our mandatory kit was tested and I learned I’d have to fuel better in the heat! The support was fabulous and vital to those who haven’t ran this distance or are nervous about the navigation side of it. A road book with maps and detailed route description is given to all runners.