Race Report by Dave Boothroyd
The Cumbria Way Ultra
So, after the Lakeland 50, the question was … what next ? Well I waited a couple of weeks to see if there was a reaction to the race, and everything seemed fine, so it was onto the internet to look for something in September, and up popped the Cumbria Way Ultra. A bit further than I’d done before, and through the Lakes, so it seemed like the one I was looking for.
The race route was from Ulverston up to Carlisle:
The elevation profile was reasonably flat:
Having done the Grand Tour of Skiddaw race last year, which was organised by the same organisers, I was sure that it would be a well run event; after a quick read of some blogs from last year’s race confirmed this, I decided to enter.
Fast forward to September 18th & there I was in Ulverston registering for the event – which was a bit of an achievement in itself; I’d had a sore Achilles two weeks before so I’d decided to be sensible & go for a cycle rather than a run to give it a rest, & ended up aggravating something in my foot – it was painful to walk, never mind run, for the week leading up to the event. But with a bit of positive thinking, and a few paracetamol & ibuprofen in the pack, I was ready to go.
Up at 0420, a quick breakfast & a short drive from the B&B and I was at the 6am start. A few words from the organiser & we were off – me & about 60 other lunatics. Most were doing the whole route, but there were options to do it as a relay team, either as a pair, or a team of 5.
Due to the late decision to run I hadn’t managed to get up for any recces – I’d done a couple of sections before as part of the Lakeland 50 & Grand Tour of Skiddaw, but there were large sections that I hadn’t run before. So I set off with route details in one hand, and a GPS in the other. Trying to save battery, and being in sight of a number of other runners from the start, I didn’t bother to switch on the GPS, but I soon lost sight of them, and then missed a turn, and was almost immediately lost! Luckily the GPS fired up quickly & I could see how to get back on track.
Soon after I met up with a guy who was from Aberdeen, and who also didn’t know the way. He seemed happy to stay with me once he realised that I had the GPS & it got us through some of the initial tricky nav.
Along the way we saw some fantastic views, including Beacon Tarn
And some local highland cattle; they provided a good excuse for a stop to let them go past – didn’t fancy arguing with those horns!
But eventually Mark got bored of running at my pace & I told him that he should go on & that I’d see him at the finish (that didn’t quite come true!).
The first checkpoint at Coniston soon came in a bit over 3 hours. A couple of slices of water melon and a flapjack, and then it was off towards Tarn Hows. Chris & Fen had been staying in a holiday cottage for the week just near to there, but unfortunately they’d had to leave that morning so we didn’t manage to meet up.
Not long after that we got onto the L50 route so I could switch off the GPS as I knew my way for that part, which made the running much easier and gave me a chance to get my head out of the instructions & have a look at the views.
The second checkpoint was at Sticklebarn Tavern in the Langdales, and I got there in about 5 & a half hours.
I’d taken the option to hire a tracker for the event. This is a little GPS device which plots your location every 90 seconds onto an OS map on a website so that your loved ones can see where you are. I was going to be meeting up with my father-in-law on the way & thought it was the easiest way of us meeting up – trying to predict a time when you’re going to be at a location isn’t easy & you can be a long way off. I’d been hearing some sporadic beeping coming from my rucksack, so checked with the ‘Tracker man’ to see if that was the source. He didn’t think so, and did a bit of fiddling with it, but I found out later that it hadn’t been working so it was a good thing I checked.
For some reason my quads were already starting to complain so I decided that I needed to take it easy on this next stretch as it was a long leg, and went up a steep uphill to the top of Stake Pass.
This is a photo of me approaching the top – the guy who took the photo had got there on a normal road bike!
This was probably the toughest of the legs, particularly as it was in the heat of the day. At each stream I was dunking my hat into the water so as to keep my head from overheating. The route wound its way along Langstrath through a number of typical Lakeland villages, with lots of slightly bemused walkers wondering what we were up to. At just the right moment we popped out into Keswick & it was great to meet up with my father-in-law, along with my brother-in-law & nephew – after 10 hours it was a good excuse to stop & chat, and get some more food & coke down to fuel the next leg.
The only problem with the long stop was that my legs didn’t want to start again, so I must have been a funny sight for the Keswick shoppers as I shuffled off on the next leg. Luckily it didn’t take too long for them to warm up again & I was back to the normal slow-paced run.
There followed a very long uphill section to Lattrigg car park, which is a normal start point for walkers aiming to go up Skiddaw. At this stage in the race, a long uphill was very welcome due to it using different muscles.
The views along this section were fantastic again.
However, dusk was fast approaching & I realised that it was time to get a wiggle on to make sure that I got over High Pike & off the fells before it turned dark. Before that though there was the small hurdle of the final climb up to Lingy Hut. The organisers had taken pity on us & had put out orange marker flags & light sticks to show the way. Luckily it was still light when I went up, but I did think that, even with these aids it was going to be a bit of a challenge for some of the others in the dark!
The headtorch went on and I set off from the top of High Pike on the obvious path – unfortunately it was the wrong one! Luckily I checked my GPS not long after setting off on the descent, so I realised my mistake and soon got back on track. (I was to find out at the end that a lot of people had made the same mistake & the organisers had to park a Land Rover with its headlights on to guide them to the right route!)
Once it becomes dark you have to be more careful, so the pace dropped further (well that’s my excuse anyway). I got to the final checkpoint in Caldbeck after 14 & a half hours, & filled up on vegetable soup, more coke, sweet tea, crisps, – they do say that ultras are eating events with a bit of running thrown in – and then it was off onto the final leg.
I’d done this bit before, & it was good to know the route so I could just concentrate on ‘running’. There were a few amusing encounters with startled cows & sheep, who obviously weren’t expecting a one-eyed-monster to come across their fields (apparently one of the other runners managed to trip over a cow, they’d obviously got fed up of getting out of the way by the time he went through).
I’d had a vague ambition of finishing by midnight, but I was just coming into Dalston at that time, only to be met by the welcome sight of my father-in-law again – he’d followed me on the tracker, which was now working properly, & had decided to come & meet me there. He’d really got into the event & was determined to come & pick me up at the finish, even though it was going to be very late by the time I got there. So that gave me the incentive to get there as quickly as I could.
The final section followed the local cycle path, made interesting by having to dodge a wobbly drunk man, the Carlisle boy racers practising their drag racing skills in a large car park, and a cruel steep footbridge right at the end.
But then the finish arrived at Carlisle Castle. I was greeted by the sound of cow bells & loud congratulations from the die-hard finish line staff, who were fantastic, as were all the other helpers/officials.
And that was it, after 19 hours 21 minutes I’d completed the Cumbria Way – 73 miles done, or was it 75 ? I’ll never know as my Garmin ran out of battery just before the end – I really must run faster!