> 2011 race reports
17/12/11 Tour de Helvellyn - from Geoff Davis

Mon Tour de Helvellyn 2011

Apart from its slightly pretentious name there’s nothing phoney about the ‘Tour de Helvellyn’. Billed as a ‘low key’ event of 38 miles with 2200m of ascent, it came with a number of health warnings such as:

  • ‘not for novice runners’;
  • ‘the route is unmarked’;
  • ‘not an event for those who can’t navigate’;
  • ‘before entering think very carefully’;
  • ‘can you cope in winter conditions with minimal support?’; and finally
  • ‘unsuitable applications will be rejected’!


The organiser, Joe Faulkner (NFR member, Adventure racer extraordinaire & good egg), didn’t reject my application, even though I haven’t done anything really ‘mega’ for three years, and so I was in!

Five weeks of intensive training later, interrupted by a heavy cold, Tom Reeves (Elvet & DFR) and I were in Askham village hall at 7.30am. It was a dark, cold and frosty morn as we waited for Joe to tell us our kit was sufficient and that we looked competent enough to be allowed to run in his race.

The event was a time trial so you could start at any time between 7-9am and Tom and I had decided to set off just before it got light. We were joined by NFR friend Chris Little who’s Bob Graham I had helped out on over seven years ago (where has that time gone?!). The first mile or so was on road that was covered in frost and black ice and proved challenging although we all managed to stay upright. The next few miles over Askham Fell and down to Howtown were frosty and icy underfoot but went over quite quickly. We split up briefly when a route choice presented itself in the last mile or so to the checkpoint. The younger men chose what proved to be the longer, slower option and I was left waiting for them at the checkpoint for a couple of minutes, much to my delight!

The first ‘up and over’ at Boredale Hause had a bit of snow on but nothing to speak about and, apart from Tom and Chris’ endless chatter, things went quite smoothly, although not ice free, till we got to the Helvellyn Youth Hostel. Chris stopped to put on his snow spikes and Tom and I continued together. From here the ascent to the highest point of the race, Sticks Pass at 750m, began and we were into deep snow immediately. As we ascended the cloud did the opposite and soon we were in near white out conditions slogging up a steep slope through deep snow with the wind in our faces blowing tiny snowflakes into our eyes. After what seemed an eternity we finally ‘topped out’ onto the pass and began the long slippery descent to Thirlmere.

I’d been very glad to have Tom with me over this difficult section and really appreciated his morale boosting comment when we finally reached the bottom of the slope:
“well that’s 16 miles done, only another 22 to go!”
We parted company at this point, but not because we had a spat, Tom was just moving more quickly than I was. So now I was on my own and knew that, although the most difficult section was done, the next 22 miles were going to be a challenge.

After a steady jog / power walk through the forest I arrived at Dunmail Raise with the next up and over to face. The ‘up’ proved easier than I’d expected with a good trail having been broken through the snow. However, the ‘over’ bit around Grisedale Tarn was unpleasant with the deep soft snow concealing wet boggy ground beneath which soaked and froze my feet. The descent to Patterdale was slippery initially, but the snow gave way to a well-defined track to the valley and I felt fairly comfortable. There were one or two runners around me for the next few miles, over Boredale Hause again and onto Matterdale Church, but I was mostly on my own with my thoughts (just how I like it!).

The race had also been billed as taking place on the ‘shortest’ weekend of the year and now, at around 4pm, dusk was starting to fall. I’ve run through the night across the fells many times so that wasn’t a problem. However, I prefer running on ‘night vision’ rather than using a head torch but when I started to trip over rocks and clumps of reeds I knew it was time to turn the damn torch on.

The last couple of miles over the near featureless Askham Moor were going to be tough in the dark but I had a ‘pre-prepared’ bearing and I could still make out a key landmark in the gloom, so I knew where I was going. However, the traverse of the moor was frustrating as it was frosty, icy and consequently very slippery. Nonetheless I managed to keep to the track and eventually came out onto the road into the village. It was with great relief that I ran into the Village Hall and handed my control card to Joe Faulkner who looked up and congratulated me. As my eyes became accustomed to the bright lights I could see Tom sipping a cup of tea. I must have looked a state ‘cause he kindly offered to get me some soup and tea. Chris arrived a while later after taking a circuitous route over Askham Fell in the dark.

As we chatted with a couple of other friends Tom remarked that I had done a good time – for someone of my age. Thanks Tom, for that, and for a great weekend!

results on NAV4 website

Geoff Davis, NFR, Dec ’11.

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