Summit of Stake Pass looking towards North

Summit of Stake Pass looking towards North

So as I sit down to start to write this report, five days have passed since I crossed the finish line of the Cumbria Way Ultra at 23:18 on Saturday 19th September 2015. I’ve fond memories of the race, my toughest to date, my legs are recovering nicely and I’m even considering a short run this evening – Editorial note: this was seriously wishful thinking at the time of writing. On trying to run I realised my legs were still pretty shattered so more recovery was required!.

Race Summary

As always with my race reports, I’ll provide a brief summary here of the key highlights of the race. If you want the gritty detail then read on after the list.

  1. Race was ran from Ulverston in south Cumbria to Carlisle Castle in the far north, covering 73 miles and 10,000ft of ascent
  2. I finished in joint 10th place in a time of 17:18:13 with Simone Durry (1st place lady) and Andy Haworth
  3. I ran with Andy and Simone as a three for 70km from Stake Pass onwards. We made a great team and it was a pleasure to share so much of the race with them
  4. The checkpoints were around 25km apart, which I surprisingly found quite challenging mentally at times
  5. The weather was brilliant, all be it quite warm in the middle part of the day. Fabulous views through out the race
  6. We met our target of getting over the Northern Fells and into the final checkpoint at Caldbeck before darkness fell
  7. In the last few miles of the race I started to feel a little nauseous. This turned into a major urge to vomit once the race was completed, which turned out to be as a result of low blood pressure.
  8. The GPS on my Suunto Ambit 2 let me down at around 45km. It switched to accelerometer automatically and amazingly was only 2km out at the end of the race!
  9. Peanuts, Barbecue flavoured crisps and Jelly Babies are a taste sensation when combined together
  10. Milky tea and cheese and pickle sandwiches are like rocket fuel!
  11. Bruised big toes and a slight blister meant that I’m going to need a larger pair of shoes for hilly races of this distance or longer in the future.

You’re still here? OK well lets get into the detail of the race.

Build up to race

As I wrote last week, my build up to the race was pretty good, with 12 weeks good structured training. In the days running up to the race I did two short runs to keep the legs ticking over. As always there was much navel gazing over kit and I packed and re-packed time and time again, trying to slim it down.

With the added distance between checkpoints I was concerned about how much food and fluid I would need to carry. In the end I opted for 3x500ml soft flasks for fluid and a mix of Nakd bars, Trek bars, Malt loaf and Shot Bloks for nutrition, which seemed to work fine during the race.

We were camping the night before and I set off from Ely with John and Simon at around 1pm for the 250 mile drive up to The Lakes, arriving in Ulverston just before dark. We threw the tents up and then headed across to race registration which went smoothly.

Once registration and kit check was completed, our next priority was to get some food sorted. With the Rugby World Cup starting that evening, it was tempting to find a pub to watch the England match. However sanity took over and we soon opted for a quick Chinese before heading to bed at 21:30.

Pitching my tent beside the portaloo’s seemed like an oversight on my part. However after a last minute kit sort ready for the morning, I put in my ear plugs, pulled on my eye mask and was soon fast asleep.

Race day

The alarm went off at 4am sharp. First order of the day was breakfast which I’d laid out beside me ready to go the night before. The plan was to try and get as much of my morning nutrition in as liquid, to both speed up the digestion process and attempt to avoid the stomach issues I’d suffered in my last race.

Start of the 2015 Cumbria Way Ultra

Start of the 2015 Cumbria Way Ultra

I laid in my sleeping bag for a while, letting my food go down and also trying to preserve as much energy as possible. I’d made the decision to wear glasses rather than contact lens for once. The weather looked set to be good for the next 24 hours and with some slight irritation in my right eye in the lead up to the race, this seemed liked the best approach.

Finally I got dressed, had the first of many visits to the portaloo, packed my drop bag for the finish and struck camp. By 05:40 John, Simon and I were ready to go and we wandered down to the start line for the race brief. This was wrapped up promptly at 05:50 and after 10 minutes of trying to stay warm we were off!

Ulverston to Coniston – 26km

Due to roadworks, a lead out runner led us out of Ford Park and down through the dark streets of Ulverston. It was pretty surreal running through the quiet streets by head torch, trying not to think about the journey that lay before us. Before we knew it we were off tarmac, running up beside the stream and out into the fields.

We’d been warned that the first and last sections of the race were probably the trickiest navigation wise and this seemed to be true as we went from field to field, down lanes and followed paths heading northwards to my first target Beacon Tarn.

The race team had given us each a road book, which described in intricate detail every step of the race. Although I was carrying a map and compass, plus had the GPS track on my watch and phone if needed, I found very little need for any of these and ran the whole race with the book in my hand.

Stunning dawn

The group soon stretched out, with the relay runners sprinting off the front while the solo runners found their pace. Night soon turned to day and what a dawn greeted us!

Misty dawn in the Southern Lakes

Misty dawn in the Southern Lakes

A low blanket of mist and fog sat in the valley bottoms and along Coniston Water as the sun came up, making for some spectacular views and photo opportunities. I’d promised myself that for once I’d be more efficient through the checkpoints and while I was, I soon blew any time savings out of the window, as time and again I’d stop and take yet another photo.

It was during one of these many photo stops that Simon pulled away from John and I, although we could see him a few hundred metres ahead so were confident we’d catch him up.

Misty dawn in the Southern Lakes

Misty dawn in the Southern Lakes

We were running up a lane on the final approaches to the climb up to Beacon Tarn, when we came around a corner to be confronted by a full grown Highland Cow standing in the middle of the road. I’m not a great reader of animal emotions but he looked a little narked that runners had disturbed his early morning routine. So we warily crept past him, not before another quick photo opportunity of course 🙂

Highland Cow in Road

Highland Cow in Road

At this stage I felt great. Running within myself with no stomach troubles from my liquid breakfast. Once again I was aiming to run by heart rate, trying to stay around 140bpm. It was in the upper 140’s at this point but this was pretty usual in the early stages of a race, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

Geographically misplaced!

As we started the final climb up to Beacon Tarn we made a navigation mistake. By now we were running along a discreet path through the bracken when we came to a T-junction in the path. I was running behind John, didn’t check the road book and we quickly took the right hand turn which looked the wider option. This wound around the side of the hill and then stopped!

With hindsight the sensible option would have been to reverse back the hundred metres or so to the junction and continue from there. Instead we decided to wade through the bracken up to where we thought the path should be. What we hoped would only be a minutes wading soon turned into five and finally we popped out on top of a small outcrop to see the path beneath us, with bemused looks from our fellow competitors climbing up it – doh!

Beacon tarn could be seen in the distance so we crashed down through the bracken onto the path and started to run towards it.

Beacon Tarn

Beacon Tarn

Ticking clock

The three of us had organised a hotel in Carlisle for the Saturday night. As it was a small family run affair they locked their doors at a certain point in the evening, meaning check-in had to occur before that time. The slight concern was what time this would be, as no information had been forthcoming about this, and whether one of us could make it in time.

I’d produced a pacing card for the race, based upon my average page at Hardmoors 55 of 7:30 per kilometre. This had us arriving at Coniston by 09:15, with a mini split at the northern end of Beacon Tarn of 8am. The card took no account of the particular elevation gain of the various legs of the race but if all was going to plan I should be comfortably ahead of this pace until I got to Langdale and the significant climbs commenced.

My Race Timing Card for the 2015 Cumbria Way Ultra

My Race Timing Card for the 2015 Cumbria Way Ultra

That was the theory but as it was already after 8am and I’d not yet reached the tarn let alone its northern end, it looked like my estimate of a 20:30 finish in Carlisle was highly optimistic to say the least. Oh well there was nothing I could do about the hotel now and I focussed on just keeping a comfortable pace and ticking off the miles one by one.

I eventually hit the northern end of the tarn at 08:14, so 14 minutes behind my schedule. From here is was downhill to Coniston Water and then along its shores to the checkpoint just outside the village, hopefully I could claw some time back on this section.

By now Simon was well ahead of us and a quick shoulder check showed John less than a hundred metres behind me. Still no concern as I was sure we would regroup quickly, so rather than wait for John I kept running. Little was I to know that that would be the last time I saw John until Carlisle.

The views opened out before us with the Coniston Fells rising above the mist which we were now descending into. I fell in with another group, which included Andy Haworth who, it turned out, I’d end up running the majority of the race with.

Descending into the mist with Coniston Fells in the distance

Descending into the mist with Coniston Fells in the distance

Into the mist

We ran down into the mist, across fells and through trees until the lake appeared in front of us and we began the run along the woods by the shore. I was comfortable running at the groups pace and was able to drop off to take photos or comfort breaks and quickly pull back to them afterwards. My heart rate was still in the 140’s but as before I wasn’t overly concerned.

Jetty into Misty Coniston Water

Jetty into Misty Coniston Water

What was a concern was the amount of times I was stopping to urinate. I think I counted 6 or 7 in total during the first leg, which seemed a lot considering what I’d drunk before the race. Still I didn’t appear to be dehydrated and kept sipping my water containing Nuun tablets to help keep my hydration and electrolyte levels up.

I’d started the race with 1500ml of fluid and hadn’t finished my second bottle, so ditched the content of the third one as we were now close to Coniston and wouldn’t need it before then. With the Coniston to Langdale leg being comparatively short I wouldn’t use the third bottle again until after Stickle Barn, so why carry an extra 500g further than you have to?

Mist Clearing over Coniston Water

Mist Clearing over Coniston Water

Eventually we ran through the shoreside campsite, where the smells of fried bacon were pretty enticing, past the moored dinghies and on towards the village of Coniston itself. Around this time we caught the group Simon was in and we ran as one large group past the steamer jetty, before cutting across the fields to the first checkpoint at the sports and social club.

First leg completed at 09:36. So rather than make up time I’d actually slipped a further 7 minutes behind the schedule! Time I decided to totally forget the pacing card and check-in times at Carlisle and just get on with the race!

Coniston to Langdale – 16km (42km total)

As with all the checkpoints, Coniston was well decked out with food and fluid, plus helpful volunteers who assisted with filling bottles etc. I took on loads of fluid, some coke and also plenty of food, grabbing a few bits and throwing them into an empty zip lock bag to take with me on the early stages of the next leg. The ginger cake was particularly good, as were the cookies!

I’d removed my head torch at Beacon Tarn but had run the remainder of the leg with my buff and arm warmers on, so took the opportunity to take these off and switch to my visor.

Simon and I decided to hang around for John, as I believed he was only a little way back. However after a while he didn’t appear so we decided to start and headed out onto the next leg.

We walked while we finished eating but soon broke into an easy jog towards the next climb up towards the tourist honeypot of Tarn Hows.

This was the stretch of the race that I knew the best, having stayed at Skelwith Bridge for the last couple of years and run up to Langdale and down to Coniston a few times along The Cumbria Way.

Simon slowed to take some salt tablets but said I should keep running as he’d catch me up, which I duly did. I soon caught Andy and his brother again as we route marched up to the car park at Tarn Hows. From here we hit the path around the Tarn before heading away through the woods and down to cross the Coniston to Ambleside road.

Simon had not reappeared since he slowed to take his salt tablets and while I was initially concerned, I assured myself he’d probably wait for John to catch him and pushed on. Someone had to get to this hotel before it shut didn’t they!?

Stretching my legs

As we began our descent through the woods the path opened up and I decided to stretch my legs and enjoy the downhill. I was well into familiar territory, smiling remembering our family holidays and even spotted the cottage we’d stayed at n the far side of the valley earlier in the year. I continued to run strongly and by Skelwith Bridge was on my own as I turned towards Elterwater and Chapel Stile.

Descent to Skelwith Bridge

Descent to Skelwith Bridge

I was getting concerned about my heart rate. The temperatures were rising and now my heart rate was sitting around 150bpm, a rate I knew I shouldn’t sustain or would pay the price later in the race. I remembered there was an uphill stretch coming up, along the road to the quarry behind Elterwater, so I slowed my running pace a little and decided I’d walk that stretch when I got there, to try and allow my heart rate to settle.

Another runner appeared in the distance as I weaved my way through the crowds at Elterwater but I resisted the urge to close them down, conscious of my high heart rate.

I arrived at Elterwater and slowed to walk up the hill and my heart rate dropped. Before long I was at the top and running again down into Chapel Stile and through the campsite. My heart rate was still in the upper 140’s but I felt pretty comfortable so carried on.

The runner ahead had slowed and eventually I caught her. She was a relay runner suffering from cramp, so I gave her my condolences, assured her the checkpoint wasn’t far and pushed on.

Great Langdale

Great Langdale

By now we were on the south side of the valley on some of my favourite trails. Rocky in places but giving stellar views of the Langdale Pikes and Bowfell beyond. Another runner appeared before me, a solo runner this time, and we exchanged words as I passed.

Before long it was the final downhill leg across the valley floor, into the National Trust car park and the second checkpoint. The car park was rammed but the checkpoint was easy to spot and I clocked in at 11:38am.

Langdale to Keswick – 26km (68km total)

Two legs down, three to go but now the hard work started. Ahead lay Stake Pass and beyond the Northern Fells. These would offer the largest climbs of the day and I for one was keen to get through these and into the last checkpoint at Caldbeck before dark.

As before the staff at the checkpoint were really helpful and quickly filled my water bottles. I had my third one filled as well this time as it was a longer leg coming up and with the day heating up I was going to need all the fluid I could get.

I drank plenty of fluid at the checkpoint, using my collapsible mug which was working really well. I also got plenty of food down, the fruit bread and salami being a revelation this time.

Other runners were starting to arrive into the checkpoint, so I quickly threw more food into my zip lock bag, bade my farewells and headed out onto the trail.

Entering Mickledon in Great Langdale

Entering Mickledon in Great Langdale

I walked up out of the car park, chatting about the race with a hill walker heading up to Stickle Tarn and eating more food. Soon I was back on the Cumbria Way and heading under old rock climbing haunts from years past as I traversed the valley to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and onwards towards Mickledon and Stake Pass.

Two other runners past me as I stopped to clean my glasses, something I’d forgotten to do back at the checkpoint. I was soon back running and caught up with them. As we made our way up Mickledon one of the runners dropped back and soon we arrived at the head of the valley and the start of the climb.

Let the hard work commence!

I was now running with Simone Durry from Germany, who’d flown over specially to take part in the event after enjoying the Ultimate Trails race so much earlier in the year. We chatted briefly as we climbed but soon we set into our own pace as we headed towards the top.

Start of climb to Stake Pass

Start of climb to Stake Pass

I was still concerned about my heart rate and had decided to take it really easy as I walked to the top. Aware that we were still well short of half way and had lots of climbing to come later in the race.

I enjoyed the views back down Mickledon as Simone pulled ahead of me and I munched on the fruit bread I’d carried from the checkpoint. Before long the guys I’d been running with out of Coniston caught me up, expressing their surprise to see me after I’d flown off the front 15 kilometres earlier.

Giles at Summit of Stake Pass. Photo courtesy of James Kirby

Giles at Summit of Stake Pass. Photo courtesy of James Kirby

We eventually all reached the top together, where the event photographer was waiting. The skyline opened and before us we could see Stonethwaite Fell, Langstrath and the Fells to the north. As was now the constant theme of the day, the views were amazing and we all stopped to take photos, any excuse for a quick rest 🙂

Singletrack fun

I started to descend from the pass down towards Langstrath Beck, the path quickly becoming a series of single track switch backs, which were awesome fun to run but did require you to brake hard at the end of each straight to negotiate the tight 180 degree turn. I was sure the constant braking and accelerating wasn’t doing my quads any good but it was so my fun I pushed on regardless.

I was running close to Andy as we descended, who was now running on his own. His brother had unfortunately stopped at Langdale, after being unable to shake an illness he’d been suffering in the run up to the race.

Singletrack descent to Langstrath

Singletrack descent to Langstrath

Once down in the valley floor we realised we’d stayed too high and needed to drop further down to the Beck itself, leaving the Cumbria Way for the more runnable path on the opposite side of the beck down to the end of the valley. We quickly descended towards the footbridge across nice soft grass, joining Simone at the bridge who’d taken the more direct line from the pass.

And so our band of three was loosely formed!

One becomes three

Little did we know that in the coming miles into Keswick we’d become a firmer group, ultimately running over half the race together and finishing as a three in joint 10th place.

This is one of the things I love about ultra running. How over the course of race people who previously had never met can come together and form strong groups, with similar race aims and aspirations. Rarely are arrangements ever formalised and these groups can form over a number of miles or hours. In the few times I’ve been lucky enough to be part of them, this bond has played an enormous part in the groups ability to get to the end, pulling each other along as one by one you experience your low points.

We ran on down Langstrath, chatting as we ran and comparing recent races. Andy and I found out that we’d both been lucky enough to get slots at next years Lakeland 100. We also agreed we’d need a lot more hill time between now and then, as it would be our longest race to date for both of us.

Langstrath Beck

Langstrath Beck

The path was pretty rocky in places and Andy and I commented that if this was the runnable path God only knew what the other one was like. We soon reached the end of the valley, crossed back over the Beck onto the Cumbria Way and headed westwards towards Rosthwaite, Borrowdale and my next mini split.

At this point I had a sense of feeling hungry. It seemed strange as I’d been eating well at the checkpoints and while running, with it less than an hour since I’d eaten the fruit bread on Stake Pass. Just in case I took off my running vest and dug out some shotbloks to quickly top up the energy levels.

I was also getting through my fluid, with only 500ml left as we hit the safety point at Rosthwaite. Fortunately the Marshall there, who checked on our water levels, pointed Andy and I towards the toilet where we could top up our bottles if needed and I took an extra 500ml with me just to be sure. By Keswick I’d drunk all of this so it was fortunate we took this opportunity when we did.

Mental demons

This for me was one of the toughest sections of the race. While my legs still felt pretty strong, as the hours ticked by I was mentally wishing the checkpoint to arrive. I’m not sure whether it was the pressing target of getting over High Pike and into the last checkpoint before dark, something the three of us all agreed we wanted to achieve, or just the need for a break but I could feel myself getting frustrated with the route.

Running Beside River at Grange in Borrowdale

Running Beside River at Grange in Borrowdale

My watch was also telling me I should be pretty close to the checkpoint by now, which I knew we weren’t as we were yet to hit the shores of Derwent Water, which we’d then have to run around to get to Keswick.

Andy seemed to have the same issue with his watch and we grumbled together about poorly measured legs, both getting frustrated I think. Little did I know that the GPS had actually stopped on my watch back at the foot of Stake Pass and was now using the accelerometer to measure distance, so little surprise it was out a bit.

When we eventually did hit the southern shores of Derwent Water I felt my frustrations grow as I gazed across the lake at Keswick in the distance and the Fells behind it we would eventually run through and over. Somehow I managed to quell this feeling and focus it on my running instead.

“What will be will be. Keswick is only going to get closer by you running, so stop the wining and get on with it!”

Derwent Water and The Northern Fells

Derwent Water and The Northern Fells

We pushed on along the lake shore, through the woods surrounding Portinscale and on towards Keswick. On a positive note we’d now passed the half way point which is always a great point in any race, knowing the finish is now closer than the start, all be it with another big climb to overcome this time around.

The crowds became thicker the closer we got to the town and we actually passed another runner about a mile outside Keswick, the first we’d seen in ten miles. We slowed to a walk on the path towards the town but soon Andy and Simone were running to catch me up, telling me off as I was walking too quickly. Sorry guys, I just wanted to get it done!

Before we knew it we were running into the outskirts of Keswick, passed the Pencil Museum and into the final checkpoint at 15:51. Three legs down and two to go!

Keswick to Caldbeck – 23km (91km total)

We’d agreed it would be a quick stop at Keswick as we were still confident that we could make the next checkpoint before dark. As it was now 4pm, time was of the essence though.

The checkpoint staff were again friendly and efficient and quickly filled our bottles and offered us hot food and drinks. As nice as their chilli sounded I declined, keen to get back on the road as quickly as possible. The cheese and pickle sandwiches were great though, as were the peanuts and crisps, my body now craving savoury food!

Andy took the opportunity to have a cup of tea, the second half of which he offered to me. Now I don’t normally drink tea and said so to Andy but thanked him and drank it. It tasted amazing! I’d be having some more of that at the next checkpoint I thought!

More fluid was quickly drank, I threw a random handful of items into my zip lock bag and we were out of the door and on our way, Caldbeck here we come!

It was tricky running through the crowded Saturday afternoon streets of Keswick but we were soon out of town and starting the climb up through the woods surrounding Latrigg to the car park above. We chatted as we climbed, now working well as a team.

Views South from Lonscale Fell

Views South from Lonscale Fell

As we left the car park we started to run and the views opened up back to the south as we skirted the edge of Lonscale Fell, which once again were stunning. I’d previously walked this route up to Skiddaw House during my Gold Duke of Edinburghs Award expedition some 25 years earlier. Memories came flooding back and before we knew it we were approaching the Youth Hostel, having broken the back of the first part of the climb.

This is where my memory let me down a bit, or maybe it’s old age, but I didn’t recall going right up to Skiddaw House 25 years ago before the turn north east towards Mosedale. A quick check of the map and the road book confirmed that my memory was wrong and we were soon marching past the Youth Hostels front door.

Climbing to Skiddaw House

Climbing to Skiddaw House

It was at this point that I discovered the random cocktail I’d put into my zip lock bag at the checkpoint. Who would have known that salted peanuts, crushed barbecue flavoured crisps and jelly babies would be such a taste sensation! I polished these off as we turned and hit the downhill track north east towards the next safety point and our final significant climb of the day.

This was a good runable section of just over five kilometres. At the first river crossing we stopped to confirm our location, confused that maybe this was where we started our climb. A quick check of the map showed we needed to go to the next river crossing before this started and on we ran.

We had a good navigation system working between us. I was running with the road book in hand and we were doing most of the navigation from this. Andy had the map in his hand which was great for double checks, such as the one we’d just done. Finally Simone had the GPS track running on her watch which she could use to occasionally triple check we were on the route. She also seemed to have memorised a lot of the major junctions from the road book which was pretty impressive as we’d only received it the night before the race.

The final climb

We pushed on down the track towards the safety point where some cheering supporters were a welcome sight and before we knew it we were turning back west for the climb up towards High Pike.

Climbing towards the sun on Great Lingy Hill

Climbing towards the sun on Great Lingy Hill

This section of the course had been marked by the safety team with small flags and glow sticks, for those that were to come through after dark. The good track ended at the old mine and we were soon wading up through heather and boggy ground following Grainsgill Beck up towards Great Lingy Hill.

The climb was hard going and God only knows how the guys behind us managed it in the dark. The three of us got our heads down and dug in, conscious of the setting sun.

We were in the shade of Coomb Height now and the temperature dropped significantly, so it was a welcome relief to see the gradient finally ease as we moved away from the beck, hit the ridge, the sun returning some warmth to our bodies.

We could see a runner five or so minutes ahead of us as we pushed on past Lingy Hut, over the top of Hare Stones and towards High Pike, our final summit of the day.

Approaching the summit of High Pike

Approaching the summit of High Pike

As before photo opportunities were taken as we ran but soon we were standing at the summit of High Pike, admiring the sunset behind us over the fells and the flat expanse of Northern Cumbria that lay between us and the finish line at Carlisle.

Sunset over the Northern Fells

Sunset over the Northern Fells

Sunset descent

We could see the village of Caldbeck below us and with the lure of pizza and the now setting sun we dropped like stones from the summit. A lack of concentration saw Andy and I take the direct path from the summit, however Simome soon clocked our mistake and a quick check of the road book showed we should have taken the left fork in the path a hundred metres below the summit.

It was at this point that I discovered the GPS failure on my watch. As I switched on the nav mode to check our line I was confused to see that my watch was a) trying to lock onto GPS and b) struggling to do so, despite the fact I had a wide horizon.

After a few fruitless attempts to get it going I gave up, annoyed it had failed and that I wouldn’t have a nice map of our run afterwards. Silly little things annoy you after nearly 90km of running!

Descending from High Pike towards Caldbeck

Descending from High Pike towards Caldbeck

We raced across the fell side to pick up the correct path and then onwards down into the valley and the welcoming lights of Caldbeck.

We passed through a couple of farms and looked back with a sense of satisfaction at the Fells behind us and the knowledge the hard climbing was now complete. The moon had come out above the fells so again more photos were quickly taken before I ran to catch-up.

Moon rising over Northern Fells

Moon rising over Northern Fells

We eventually hit the lane which we followed down into the village and as the light slowly faded we finally arrived at the checkpoint at 19:45. Job done!

Caldbeck to Carlisle – 26km (117km total)

It was a great feeling to enter the last checkpoint, knowing we’d made our target of getting there by dark and only had the final leg to go, all be it 16 miles worth.

We were now two and a half hours behind my pace card and the next aim was to try and get to Carlisle and secure a bed for the night. Andy’s brother had already arrived in Carlisle, so their B&B was secure but both Simone and I had the prospect of locked doors to focus our minds and legs.

The staff were really enthusiastic, as they were at all the checkpoints and couldn’t do enough to help. A massive thanks to all the checkpoints who were great throughout and a real lift.

Pizza was soon on the table and water bottles were filled. I ordered tea and sort out some more sandwiches, desperate for more of the same I’d eaten at Keswick, after feeling so good during the last leg.

I then broke my cast iron checkpoint rule, I sat down! One moment we were all standing and the next the three of us were sitting around the table eating pizza and drinking. It just seemed the right thing to do after all the effort and miles we’d put in.

No rest for the wicked though and we were soon back on our feet getting ready to do. My arm warmers and buff went back on and my visor was stowed in my race vest. My head torch was strapped on and I also took the opportunity to switch my orange lens to clear lens in my glasses, conscious I’d need good vision through the woods and fields ahead.

I stuffed a few handfuls of peanuts into my zip lock bag, grabbed my three full bottles and after a quick comfort break we were back out into the night.

It was completely dark by now, very cold and I was soon shivering. So we flicked our head torches on and headed off down the road into the night.

One last push

The legs were quite stiff but we soon built our core temperature up and were soon running out of the village and into the woods, starting the short climb away from Caldbeck.

This section of the route was pretty involved navigation wise, as it twisted and turned through fields and woodland following the River Caldew, before eventually joining the cycle path at Dalston for the final run into Carlisle.

As before we were navigating as a three, I was reading the road book while Andy carried the map and Simone had the GPS track as a final check. Now it was dark it was impossible to run and read at the same time, as the ground was too uneven and the book would block my torch light whenever I tried to read it. So it was a little stop start at the gates, stiles and junctions as I double checked where we were heading.

My legs were getting pretty tight, I was feeling tired and was starting to question whether I even had it in me to tap out 15 or so miles to the end. The fact my GPS wasn’t working also meant I had no idea exactly how far I had to go, which didn’t help the mindset. I tried to put this all to the back of my head and just keep running forwards, focusing on the road book and calling out the navigation.

“Just make it to ten miles to go and then take it from there”, we were telling ourselves.

There were cows and sheep everywhere, many pretty astonished to see 3 head torches bobbing towards them. Fortunately we encountered none of the aggressive cattle that had been out on the previous years races. Still we entered many fields with slight trepidation and would sweep the fields with our torches to make sure we weren’t surprised.

The temperature was dropping and mist and fog was starting to settle in some of the open fields. However as we were still running for the majority of the time, we were able to keep warm with minimal kit on. Once again we were grateful we’d made good time over the fells and worried about the people behind us, with thick fog probably making navigation particularly tricky in some areas.

Keep on running, almost there!

We finally passed through the 64 mile mark, so less than ten miles to go. It was really starting to hurt now and I started to visualise familiar training routes at home. The Coveney circuit was a regular ten mile training route. “Even with your legs feeling like this you can make it to Coveney and back” I told myself and pushed on.

Finally Dalston appeared out of the night and we were into the final 10km of the race, where we’d also join the cycleway to Carlisle. I knew we were in the home straight now, so emptied one of my bottles of water as had more than enough to get me to the finish. This was not a time for carrying extra weight!

We ran through the final safety checkpoint at Dalston, headed through the church yard and back out onto the road towards school and the start of the cycleway. We were all tired now and walked through the village but could smell the finish and knew one big final push would have us there.

We started running as we hit the cycle way and slowly ticked off the miles. It seemed so near but also so far!

We hit 8km. “Great!”, I told myself again, thinking back to my training run, “you’re at Coveney now, just turn around and bring it home!”.

Wobbly wheels

Andy had been suffering with ankle pain for a while and with 6km to go he was suffering a lot, the prolonged tarmac stretch wasn’t helping any of us, my ankles were getting pretty sore too and all our legs were tired of running.

So I called another walking break and suggested breaking it down into run walk sections. “Have a walk here, run to 4km and walk for a bit, then run to 2km and walk for a bit more before pushing it into the finish.” We agreed the strategy and put Simone in charge of tracking the distance, as her GPS seemed to be the only one working accurately.

We started running again and four kilometres slowly arrived as we reached the very outskirts of Carlisle. We walked and then started running once more. Nearly there!

I was sipping on water but at this point was starting to feel little nauseous whenever I did so. I didn’t feel like I was going to be sick, just a little icky and put it down to my stomach having had enough.

We pushed on again, 2km came and we walked once more. Simone seemed pretty strong and we urged her onto the finish but she said we should finish as a team and stayed. One mile to go, we can do this!

We started running once more but soon ground to an unplanned walk once we crossed the footbridge and into the final mile. The road book said we’d run uphill to the main road, over the bridge and then into the castle. I proposed walking to the far side of the bridge and running from there and everybody readily agreed.

We joined the road, climbed the hill and footbridge, before hobbling down the steps on the far side. There was the castle right beside us!

Finishing straight

It wasn’t totally clear where we should go but we could see a lighted entrance in the wall and as we approached we saw Andy’s brother waiting and cheering us home.

More confusion saw us trying to go down the underpass stairs but a shout from Andy’s brother soon put us straight and we ran up the drive and through the portcullis into the castle itself.

The finish line was there before us. The team at the finish were playing dance music, cheering loudly and ringing cow bells as we “ran” towards them.

Keen to finish as a team Andy and I called Simone forward and as the clock hit 23:18 we crossed the line in a time of 17 hours and 18 minutes in joint 10th place, with Simone bagging first place lady as well!

Post race

We checked ourselves into the timing system one final time, warmly congratulated each other, received our medals and generally soaked it in. We’d run together since Stake Pass, some 40 odd miles ago and here we were finally at the finish!

Finish line photos were suggested, so we gathered as a three while Andy’s brother did the honours. It was while he was taking the second photo with my phone that I had the sudden urge to vomit, and I mean really vomit! I kept my best smile for the camera while urging him through gritted teeth to “please hurry up!”.

The moment the photo had been taken I stepped to one side and sank to my knees, placing my forehead on the grass in front of me. I immediately felt better but Simone and Andy were keen for the final photo with Simone’s phone, so I got back to my feet, smiled, felt sick and sank back down again once the photo had been taken.

Giles, Simone and Andy at the finish

Giles, Simone and Andy at the finish

Wheels fall off

I felt much better with my head in the grass and just knelt there glad not to be running for once. The finish line team were great and swept into action, checking I was OK and calling the Doctor down to check me over.

The doctor ushered me into the building to give me a poke and a prod. It quickly became apparent that my blood pressure had dropped to very low levels. The doctor wasn’t overly concerned and suggested this is hardly surprising seeing as I’d just run 73 odd miles, which I guess is a fair point.

I had slight tingling in my fingers and toes as well, and it was suggested this was probably as a result of my body eating its own muscle to try and generate energy in the later stages of the race. Apparently I need to eat more cake and put on more body fat – fine by me! 🙂

I lay there for half to three quarters of an hour while we waited to see if my blood pressure would return to normal, which is duly did and I was eventually signed off by the Doctor sometime after midnight.

No room at The Inn

I’d already contacted the hotel we had booked to be told I needed to be there by 12:15am at the latest. OK so that’s not going to happen!

I took the opportunity of a quick flush massage to help clear my legs and then started to think about where we would stay that night. A quick phone around showed that all local hotels were full, apparently the university students went back that day so all the Mums and Dads were staying as well.

Again the finish line team were fantastic, coming up with a number of hotels I could try and eventually suggesting I just kipped down on the floor. With Simon and Johns whereabouts on the course unknown I didn’t really know what sort of room to get anyway, so this seemed the most appropriate course of action. Besides I was shattered and just wanted to sleep!

I had a quick rinse with cold water in the toilets, pulled on some clean warm clothes, found a corner of the timing room and curled up on the floor. I was so tired that I fell straight to sleep, despite the lights and noise, waking occasionally when finishers and retired runners came into the room.

Simon arrived around 4am so I woke and chatted with him, catching up on our individual race experiences and where we thought John would be. Simon hadn’t seen John either since we’d all run together near the start. We eventually turned off the lights and the 4 of us in the room tried to get more sleep.

I awoke again at 6:30am aware of the race organisers trying to sort out an issue with the timing system. I felt surprisingly refreshed so got up and went outside, to find John sitting at the bottom of the stairs, having just finished himself.

And that was it, all finished and accounted for! We rang our hotel at 8am and headed down for showers and breakfast before returning to the finish for the awards ceremony and the bus back to Ulverston.

The morning after

It was great to see everybody again, especially Andy and Simone after our exploits the previous day. Having been rushed into the doctors room, I hadn’t had a chance to spend much time with them after the finish. So it was good to catch-up with them briefly, Andy and I both agreeing we had a lot of work to do before Lakeland 100 in 2016!

Simone of course got her prize for first place lady – congratulations Simone! – and I was awarded a spot prize for vomiting at the finish line, which was a pleasant surprise, although I felt a bit of a fraud as I was never actually sick!

Then it was goodbyes all round, back on the bus to Ulverston and a little more sleep, before hitting the road for the long drive back south to Cambridge. As you can imagine I slept well on the Sunday night!

Our winnings

Our winnings


So another ultra finished and definitely my hardest challenge yet. While it gives me confidence for the races coming up next year it does also fill me with some dread, especially Offa’s Dyke, which is more than a hundred miles further than Cumbria Way – gulp!

While it was worrying initially to feel so rough at the finish I soon bounced back but I have felt pretty shattered in the week since. I tried a short recovery run on the Thursday but only managed a few miles before the legs started grumbling again and I headed for home with my tail between my legs. I’ll wait until next week before trying again.

The day was amazing, a superb route which was challenging due to the distance between each checkpoint and while not super technical terrain wise, had enough to make it interesting.

Looking back over the stats I was really pleased to be much more efficient through the checkpoints, logging around 30 minutes total across all checkpoints. Not too shabby for a 17 hour and 18 minute race. I’m sure I then wasted all the time gained by stopping to take so many photos along the route. The weather and views deserved the stops mind and as always, they probably did me good in the long run.

My heart rate was higher than I would have liked, especially in the first 40km or so after which I stopped looking if I’m honest. I felt pretty good though and put this mainly down to the heat of the day. Whether that then contributed to my sickness at the end I don’t really know and will need to keep an eye on this in the future.

My feet were fairly battered at the end, although I didn’t notice this until Sunday evening. I suspect I probably need to size up half a size on my shoes for this kind of terrain and distance, as both my big toes took a hell of a beating. Time will tell if I loose a toenail or two.

There was no return of the nutrition issues from the last race, so looks like I got this about right. The doctor suggested more salty dense food like peanuts may be useful during the race and while I did eat these at the checkpoints maybe I need to look at carrying more of these in the future.

Fitness wise then I got around the course nicely, all be it not as quick as the Hardmoors 55 pace I used when putting together my “optimistic” route card. Still I ran all the way, only dropping to walking on the uphill sections and an occasional walking section or two to break the monotony. This included the last leg where we ran the majority of the way, only dropping into a run walk strategy in the final few miles.

My quads were sore towards the end of the race but this is no surprise considering the length of the race and my over exuberance on the descents into Skelwith Bridge and Langstrath, which probably put these under more load than necessary. That said with the limited opportunity I get for hills down here in The Fens I’m pleased they held up as well as they did. 10th place is not bad for a Fenland Boy!

Thanks everybody!

A huge thanks to Andy and Simone for their company for the final 70km of the race. It was great to have people to both chat and run with. I can’t speak for them but I know for sure that their presence helped me enormously when I was at my lowest. Running as a three through the final leg especially made a huge difference and hats off to anybody that ran that leg solo during the night!

Final thanks goes to Gaynor and all her race and checkpoint staff. Throughout the entire event everybody was friendly, helpful and couldn’t do enough for you which is always appreciated. The road book was fabulous and I was happy to carry this for the whole race and apart from a couple of occasions, we managed to navigate the entire route off this alone.

The Cumbria Way Ultra may not be the toughest challenge the Lake District has to offer ultra running wise but it is a fabulous event I would highly recommend it to anybody. Point to point routes are always great fun and this one gives you a real taste of everything The Lake District National Park and the wider county of Cumbria has to offer. Besides who doesn’t like finishing in a castle 🙂

So there we have it, another race and race report in the bag. As always if you’ve made it this far then well done. What follows is my usual list of the lessons I’ve learned from this race in particular, the kit I carried and details of the route and my race stats.

My next race is just four weeks away. The Kings Forest 50km, so just a short flat run in the woods this time around. A completely different can of worms but a new challenge in its own right. Stay tuned for more on my prep for this race and my desperate search for some speed for my legs!

Lessons learned

  1. Largely liquid breakfasts seem to work, no adverse stomach issues this time around
  2. I need to wear larger shoes on longer hillier runs as both my big toes took a real smashing as my feet swelled. The Cascadia’s are still a great choice, providing ample grip on this type of terrain. Not sure what it would have been like in wetter conditions mind.
  3. I think I should consider taking on more caffeine in the later stages of longer races, as feel I could’ve done with a mental boost especially on the last leg
  4. Not sure whether it would help or not but I should look at consuming food such as salted peanuts when racing

Kit and nutrition

On race day I wore the following:

We all carried the following mandatory kit:

I also carried the following additional personal kit:

  • iPod Nano and headphones
  • Race Drone GPS tracker
  • Nuun electrolyte tablets x 10
  • Clear lens for sunglasses
  • Various odds and sods added to the first aid kit, including an emergency spare light, small amount of toilet paper, some pain killers, car key and cash

The Route and my stats along it

The Route

Below is the route of the Cumbria Way Ultra, taken from the GPX file provided by the race organisers. Exact distance was 73 miles and around 10,000 ft of elevation gain.

My Race Stats

I covered the course of 73 miles and 10,000ft of ascent in 17 hours 18 minutes and 13 seconds finishing in 10th place. Over this period I spent around 30 minutes in checkpoints, otherwise was out on the course. Speed wise I averaged 8:49 per kilometre with an average heart rate of 132bpm.

Full details of my day and the data my watch managed to capture, can be found on my Movescount page. The following table hopefully illustrates how the time and mileage broke down between the main checkpoints:

LocationTotal distance (km)Leg distance (km)Leg timeAccumulative time
Carlisle Castle1172603:34:5117:18:13