Blake’s Heaven

A report from Dexter with a salutary lesson for all! (with addendum from Melanie Williams):

Blake’s Heaven               5 miles; 1,650ft               25th January 2014

“Blake’s Heaven”? That sounds enjoyable. Let’s give it a go, I thought. After all, there aren’t many races to choose from in January.

It seems I wasn’t the only one from the club with a similar thought, as Melanie Curtis-Williams unexpectedly appeared on the start line too.

The race starts from Lamplugh in the western Lakes, around the Loweswater area. It wasn’t an unduly cold day, around 7 degrees on the car thermometer, but the wind was very blustery, so the clothing choice was a bit tricky. There was a horrendous shower on arrival, but that passed. I opted for a short-sleeved Helly under my vest, and my usual race attire of shorts. 

As I did my pre-race warm up run, up the lower part of the route, it was clear that shorts were … well … in short supply. There were a few others, but most were wearing long trousers or tights, and in fact many were also wearing their windproof jackets. I assumed this was just for warming up, but as another shower arrived it was clear that it could be pretty challenging higher up if it stayed wet.

With about 5 minutes to go, I decided to play safe and rushed back to the car to get my OMM pertex jacket to wear on top of the Helly, and under my vest. I was carrying the full waterproof kit specified, but it seemed a bit excessive to wear that to race in, and the windproof pertex top seemed to be a good compromise.

I got back to the start just as the hooter went for the briefing.  A minute or two later and we were off. A record entry, of 122 runners.

It was obvious at the first mini-climb that my legs were not at their best! I struggled from the start, and just could not get going at all. After an initial section of open grassy approach, we climbed a barbed-wire fence and then entered a wooded area, picking up the forest road as it zigzagged towards the fell. The headwind was ferocious. People steadily edged past me as my leaden legs floundered!

We left the forest road with a sharp right turn and immediately hit a non-runnable section. It was relatively short and took us at a yomp to the top of the first peak. As we rose above the sheltered side, the wind was so strong it was literally blowing you backwards. It was the slowest 30 metres or so that I have ever run! Fortunately you then turned round and had a side wind. Or it would have been fortunate, if it hadn’t started to rain again … viciously.

The climb up to Blake Fell was awful. The wind was around 40mph, and gusting much stronger. Add in the rain and progress was far slower than it should have been with the debilitating cold. After turning off the top, the rain turned to hail and I’m not sure that I have ever been so cold in my life. My legs were battered red by being lashed by the hail, and were burning red-hot. The sunburn-like mark below my shorts line was still there 3 hours later in the shower!

I was struggling to remain lucid by this time. My head was hot and fuzzy, and I was wandering side-to-side, unable to see the ground properly. And it wasn’t just because I’d had to take my glasses off! I could hardly keep my eyes open and felt very sleepy. My vision was blurred, and any thoughts that this was a race were left behind quite a while earlier. I was still just alert enough to know that this had become about survival, and that I must stay on my feet and stay awake at all costs. I felt so much like sleeping. We have all had that late-at-night-in-front-of-the-TV-in-a-warm-room feeling, when your eyelids just won’t stay open. Well this was happening to me on the top of a Lakeland fell in minus wind-chill temperatures whilst running along! It was surreal; as if I was having an out of body experience. The rain/hail was still lashing down and I was just getting colder and colder.

I considered stopping and putting on my waterproof jacket with hood and waterproof trousers, but decided that the weather was so ferocious and my hands so cold, that I would have struggled to get them out of my bumbag and put them on in the howling gale. I decided, as we probably had less than a couple of miles to go, and must be due to start descending soon, that getting off the fell was the priority. I knew that if I stopped I could have succumbed to the cold and collapsed, and if I had, I suspect I would have passed out and getting me off the fell in time, may have proved difficult.

After the descent, which is all a bit of a blank to me, there was a narrow section about 3 feet wide between a wall and a fence. I could hardly run down it without bouncing off the sides like a bobsleigh track! I can barely recall the last section across the field to the finish, where there was thankfully a hot water boiler to make tea at the edge of the field. Sadly there was a queue of shivering runners, and I couldn’t stand up without wobbling and shaking violently as I waited my turn. I finally got my tea, but as I tried to sip it as I wobbled, soaking wet and freezing out of the field, I was shaking so ferociously that I shook the tea out of the cup in seconds!

My time was 47:13 minutes. I have no idea what position I finished. Well down the field, behind many that I would normally have beaten. But I didn’t care in the slightest. I was still alive, just. And for a while up there I wasn’t at all sure that I was going to be. I aborted to the shelter of the car as quickly as I could, so I don’t know how Melanie did either. Apologies Melanie if you thought I was being anti-social. I was just trying not to die!

Blake’s Heaven? Blake’s Hell more like it!



This was actually a lovely race, over an excellent route, well organised and well marshaled. The conditions on this occasion simply became treacherous. It was a salutary lesson. I must have done more than 400 fell races over the last 20 years, a significant number of which have been in the Lakes, and many in challenging conditions. I consider myself very experienced, and I usually get the dress decision about right. This time I was caught out, despite adding an extra windproof layer before the start. I don’t know whether there was something more wrong with me physically, given how badly I felt right from the start of the race, but that wasn’t apparent before I set off. And I genuinely felt that I could die out there. It was very alarming, feeling that I was losing control and could do very little about it. If the race had been a bit longer, my waterproof full body cover could have made the difference between survival and not. I remained just lucid enough this time to make a decision to carry on as I was, because the race was short, and so that was a realistic option. In a longer race, such a decision could have proved disastrous.

The FRA issued a hypothermia leaflet with the handbook this month. I concluded later that I was somewhere in the “Moderate Hypothermia” category. I suspect it wouldn’t have needed too much longer out there to move beyond that into the “Severe” category. It is well worth reading that leaflet.

The kit rules have been tightened this year. On a lot of occasions, the kit you carry isn’t used. Don’t be fooled into trying to avoid carrying it. Think of it like an insurance policy. You hope you’ll never actually have to claim on it, but when you do, you’re damned glad you had it!

Addendum from Melanie Williams

I joined Dexter on the start line for the Blakes Heaven route (it was a nice surprise to see a fellow NFR runner and a friendly face). As Dexter says, there’s not many races in January and the AS category suits me well. I’d walked the route a couple of weeks earlier so had a good idea what to expect and, as someone relatively new to fell-running (although with plenty of road miles under my belt), I knew it was within my capabilities. Famous last words! The weather was biblical and made it one of the most memorable experiences of my running career. My experience wasn’t as bad as Dexter’s – I was togged up in my trusty Odlo running tights and Montane jacket – but nothing prepared me for the gale force winds and stinging hailstones which left me gasping for air. The ascent of Blakes Fell was impossible. The wind was so strong that no-one was running – it was a fight to stay upright. The marshall’s had (I think) abandoned the checkpoint at the top of Blakes Fell and dropped down 20 foot to guide runners towards the descent. Sensible decision. My feet and hands were frozen so keeping moving was the only option. I struggled (staggered?) on down Owsen Fell towards the finish and a cup of tea although, like Dexter, I was shaking so much most of it end up on my feet. I exchanged a few words with fellow runners in the queue for tea – most of them (like Dexter) very experienced fell runners but noticeably shaken by the experience. My husband Chris, standing in as a marshal, said it had taken four of them to hold on to the registration tent to prevent it blowing away.

I’d classify this as SB – short and brutal. That said, it is a nice route with some varied terrain and, on a clear day, lovely views across the Solway – I’d return again under better conditions and give it another go. A memorable experience not least because with a time of 53.22 its likely to be the only race where I’ll come within 6 minutes of Dexter!

Melanie Williams.

Comments are closed.