Great Lakes Fell Race: report

Another report from Gary Mason:

Great Lakes Fell Race 15th June 2019

Another early start for a trip across to the Lakes and a return to Langdale for the Great Lakes Race beckoned. Having signed up for this one a while ago on a bit of a whim without reading much about it other than it was thirteen mile and a lot of climbing I hadn’t given it any further thought due to focusing on the Ennerdale race the weekend before. As it was fast approaching I thought I had better check out the Ambleside website and find some further details. A description that included what a monster, a rough tough classic and a record time longer than Borrowdale set the alarm bells ringing. The fact it was at Langdale the scene of my only ever DNF due to timing out last year at the Langdale Fell Race in the torrential rain and getting pushed out of the flooded field afterwards didn’t instil much confidence.

This year’s Great Lakes Race was included in the British and English fell running championships which meant there was a much larger volume of entries than usual. It was raining lightly and misty on top of the hills as I arrived at Stool End Farm but at least no torrential rain this time. After a race briefing and a kit check it was off for a long steep climb up The Band towards Bowfell. Knowing there was more climb per mile than any other A class race I opted to take it steady at the start. Mist hung in the air towards the top so you couldn’t see the summit. Although the mist cleared on the top once over it was into the mist again and care needed to be taken across the boulders and uneven rocky paths towards Esk Pike. The going wasn’t much easier from Esk Pike onwards but I tucked in alongside a small group of ladies thinking safety in numbers. Towards Great End visibility was very poor which made locating the check point tricky but the marshals kindly shouted to guide us in the right direction. Not being the greatest at descending or running across boulders and uneven rocky ground I was having to work very hard to keep up with the group and grateful to find any bits of grass or bits that were flat enough to pick up a little bit of pace and keep up with the group.

After the steep climb up Scafell Pike it was off towards Scafell along more boulders and rough uneven ground. Some additional runners caught up adding to the size of the group. There was a bit of confusion near the drop down to Foxes Tarn with the group splintering in two. Luckily I picked the right group to run with and dropped down rather than going further on. The route down was narrow and covered in shale and mist meant you couldn’t see the tarn. After dibbing into the checkpoint the imposing site of the gully with water running down it loomed above. I seemed to make decent progress scrambling up it and quite enjoyed the change from picking my way across boulders. At the top of the gulley there was more climbing up the steep shale, gravel and mud track to get to the summit of Scafell.

After Scafell the mist had cleared and the grassy terrain was much more runnable with some lovely views heading towards Slight Side. Dropping down from Slight Side was a little bit tricky not knowing the best line down and just winging it. Progress towards Pike O’Blisco continued crossing the River Esk and some small streams. Further up ahead I noticed a lady behind me had opted to veer off to the left up a hill whilst the majority seemed to be heading in front of me. The runner behind me advised going up the hill was shorter and more direct but would mean more climbing. Having proceeded to keep going in the same direction across some boggy ground I suspected the direct route may have been quicker for me rather than putting in what seemed like a lot of extra distance but never mind.

Soon it was time to climb up the winding path to Pike O’Blisco and the legs were tiring but feeling alright. The two hikers politely declined my request for a piggy back up to the summit so I had to make my own way up. Worth a try though! At the summit I had lost touch with the runner ahead and could see cars down below in the valley but struggled to find where to run down which was a bit frustrating but I did eventually find a some sort of way after running around aimlessly for a short period. I knew I was on the right lines when people overtook me. The grassy bank towards the finish was very steep, wet and slippery especially with tiring legs and soon I lost my footing and was sliding down on my backside which seemed like a good idea to make rapid progress until it started to burn a bit. Using a mixture of running, slipping and sliding I thankfully reached the bottom for the short run to the finish line to catch most of the presentation.

Carl Bell from Keswick was the winner just 17 seconds shy of the course record although the race was started 200 metres further back due to the larger number of runners. Thanks to all involved for a challenging but enjoyable race.

Gary Mason

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