Tour de Helvellyn Report

Saturday 21st December 2019

I had wanted to do this race for a few years so decided 2019 was the year. I had been having some issues with my chest in the build-up so hadn’t been able to train as much as I wanted but a 19 mile run two weeks before the race gave me enough confidence that I would be okay.

I left Paisley just before 6pm and had an easy journey down to Askhan where the NAV4 race HQ was situated in the Village Hall.

Sandra, Dragon’s Back super cook, was on registration so it was good to catch up with her. James Thurlow was once again providing the timing equipment. He was trialling a new system alongside his normal scanning so we had two bits of kit.

Over the next couple of hours it was great to chat to various friends who were either running or marshalling. I also joined the Scottish contingent in the Queen’s Head next door for a drink and chat. I had a hot chocolate while the rest enjoyed something stronger.

We all headed off to our various accommodation at 10.30pm. I slept in my van and it was really cosy and warm. It was a mild evening compared to some nights we have had recently.

Joe Faulkner who organises the race provided a bowl of porridge for the runners so I enjoyed that to start the day.  One of the things about this race is you can start anytime from 7am to 9.30am. The checkpoint at Side Farm, Patterdale (9.75 miles) doesn’t open until 9.30am so you need to time your start to make sure you get there after 9.30am.

Basically it means that the slower runners need to start nearer to 7am and faster runners around 9am. I opted to start around 7.30am as I had planned 2:25 which would work out well.

I normally try to take the recommended amount of kit and not much more but for this race I decided to be a bit more cautious and take extra clothes and gloves. I think I might have gone over the top as when our friend Gaynor Prior saw me at Swirls Car Park checkpoint she asked whether I had Katrina in my pack!

Most runners were wearing long running tights but I decided to carry them and run in shorts. I had a base layer, my favourite green long sleeved top and a Gillet style body warmer on top and my skins and shorts. I also wore light weight gloves and a buff.

Once I had got myself sorted I headed to the start just after 7.30am. By the time I had gone through kit check my timer started at 7:38:53. It was still dark when I left so I had my head torch on but only needed it for the first 20 mins.

The course is a pan shape the handle a run to Patterdale followed by a big loop around Helvellyn before retracing your steps back to Askham.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 11.20.03

Askham to Martindale – 6.18 miles

I like to have a plan and as I hadn’t run this race before I decided to base my splits on Graham Kelly’s run in 2017. I think it was a particularly snowy year but I thought it would give me something to work on.

I was on my own from the start which suited me as I really like to get into my own pace. I like to start easy as I like to be able, if possible, to finish strongly and I know I can’t do the latter if I go off too quick.

On the way out I tried to make some mental notes of the route as it would be dark on the way back and a few people mentioned how easy it is to take the wrong path.

It didn’t take too long until we were on the Lakeland 100 route and familiar ground. There were a steady stream to runners going past me. Normally this would be discouraging but it was fine as I knew they were stronger runners who had left later!

A few of the runners who went past were friends I had met at various races so it was good to have a chat as they went past. I would say there were runners going past for the first 3hrs.

One of the other things about this race is you can make some route choices. Most of the route is obvious but one option is between Howtown and the first Checkpoint (CP) at Martindale Church.

I stayed on the higher track whereas a good number of runners opted to that bit on the road. I had downloaded a gps trace from a previous year and this runner had gone out one way and back the other way.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 11.33.37

As I made my way to Martindale along the higher path I caught up with my first runner who started ahead of me. It was Sarah Wallace. I had chatted to Sarah and her sister Jo the night before. They are from Scotland and have run various Scottish ultras. As I caught Sarah she explained she had gone off course near the start and thinks her sister will have gone past but won’t have seen her Jo will think that Sarah is still ahead.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.08.48

Just leaving Howtown heading to Martindale.

On my 10:30 plan I had 1:25 for this first section and I was pleased to see that I arrived 8 mins early and more importantly feeling really good having taken things relatively easy.

  • Start to CP1: 6.18 miles in 1:17:25 (12:48 pace)

Martindale to Side Farm – 3.90 miles (overall 9.95 miles)

The first mile or so is along the road and then once through the farm we were on a good track which was first bigger climb of the day.

Runner still continued to go past me going well but I slowly caught up with a group. Just before I did one of them dropped their map so I picked it up and hoped I would be able to hand it back.

Just as I caught them Anna realised she had dropped her map and as she looked round to look for it I was able to hand it to her! Good timing.

I had met Anna before or she had watched some of my videos but anyway we climbed the hill together chatting about various things. It made the climb a lot easier and soon enough we reached the top and started the descent to Side Farm.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.12.07

Descending to Patterdale

More runners sent past moving so confidently on the wet rock. I, on the other hand, was a lot more cautious but made it down safely. I was happy to see I taken another 5 or so minutes off my plan for this section.

I spent a few minutes in the CP refilling my Tailwind and getting some more food out of my pack. This is the only indoor CP and I had thought if the weather had turned for the worse I would put on my running tights but I felt really comfortable in shorts and stayed that was for the whole race.

Katy and Sharon were just leaving as I arrived so I assumed I would catch them soon.

  • CP1 – CP2: 3.90 miles in 54:50 (14:04 pace)
  • Overall – 9.95 miles in 2:12:15 (13:17 pace)
  • Rest – 3:17

Side Farm to Swart Beck Footbridge – 3.45 miles (overall 13.40 miles)

I caught up with Katy and Sharon as we made our way through Patterdale and on to Glenridding. They had set off just after 7am and were enjoying their day out.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.16.37

Sharon and Katy

The route starts a long climb up to Sticks Pass and I chatted to Katy about her recent challenge when she ran the Great Glen Way and then the West Highland Way carrying her gear and sleeping on the trail. After a while she stopped to wait for Sharon and I pushed on.

It was a good steady climb and I was happy with how I was feeling.  I was drinking my Tailwind and eating the odd nougat or energy bar. I’ve started using the ones from Decathlon and I really like them as they are tasty and small enough that you can eat them in a few bites and so more likely to actually eat them.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.17.15

View towards Glenridding

It was good to see Stuart Smith and his team at the extra checkpoint at Swart Beck.

  • CP2 – CP3: 3.45 miles in 57:27 (16:39 pace)
  • Overall – 13.40 miles in 3:12:59 (14:24 pace)

Swart Beck Footbridge to Stannah Beck – 2.84 miles (overall 16.24 miles)

Once over the Footbridge there was plenty more climbing until we reached the top and then started descending to the next CP. It was quite misty and a fair bit colder but never really cold enough to consider stopping to put on my jacket.

I was still moving well and feeling good. Early on in the race I did feel my chest a little bit but it soon eased off and for the majority of the race I couldn’t feel anything which was encouraging.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.19.34

Almost at the top of the climb. We did see a little bit of snow!

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.20.14

View towards Keswick

Granddayoutphotography  had a photographer taking photos of the runners as we made our way down. I liked this one so I bought it (£3.99 good value!)

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 17.36.07

Once we reached the top and started heading down I slowly caught up with a couple and we arrived at the next checkpoint together.  There were a couple of marshals ready to scan our numbers. Thankfully the weather wasn’t too bad but it was still quite a commitment to stand out for a few hours checking all the runners through. Joe has a great team ready to help him.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.20.40

Checkpoint 4 – Stannah Beck

  • CP3 – CP4: 2.84 miles in 50:09 (17:40 pace)
  • Overall – 16.24 miles in 4:03:08 (14:58 pace)

Stannah Beck to Swirls Car Park – 1.37 miles (overall 17.61 miles)

This was the shortest leg of the race but was probably the muddiest. I tried to run as much as I could but probably ended up walking more than I would have liked.

A few runners went past me, including Jo Wallace, who were moving so much better over the muddy ground than I was!

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.22.12

Jo Wallace running well

Jim Tinnion, who I met on the Northern Traverse in 2018, was scanning runners 100 yards before the CP and our good friend Gaynor Prior was taking numbers as we arrived. It was great to see both of them.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.32.46

Jim Tinnion scanning the runners as they pass

I spent a few minutes in the CP refilling my Tailwind and drinking some orange squash before heading off to the next CP.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.38.21

Gaynor checking all the runners through at CP5 Swirls Car Park

  • CP4 – CP5: 1.37 miles in 27:08 (19:48 pace)
  • Overall – 17.61 miles in 4:30:16 (15:21 pace)
  • Rest: 5:01

Swirls Car Park to Birkside – 3.13 miles (overall 20.74 miles)

Another shorter section but which included a bit more climbing than I was expecting. But what goes up comes down and there was also long downhill sections when I could have a decent run.

I don’t think anyone caught me on this section and I didn’t get overtaken but there were a couple of runners going the other way who looked good runners!

I started to think a bit more about my finishing time and target. I was now at least 20mins up on my 10:30 aim so I wondered whether I could gain another 10mins and finish under 10hrs. It was still a long way to go but it gave me something to aim for and keep my effort up.

It was good to be on a decent forest path for this section as I knew the next climb up to Grisdale Tarn would be wetter and tougher.

  • CP5 – CP6: 3.13 miles in 44:11 (14:07 pace)
  • Overall – 20.74 miles in 5:19:28 (15:24 pace)

Birkside to Side Farm – 6.42 miles (overall 27.16 miles)

I had given myself 2hrs to do this section which would be the longest section of the race. After leaving the CP the path contours along before crossing the river the heading up to Grisdale Tarn with the river on your left.

A group of 4-5 runners went past me so I tried to hang on at the end and become part of their train. I arrived at the river just behind the group but soon found myself at the front of the group and leading the way.

I got into a rhythm and just kept on going to the top without stopping. One of the things I learnt in training for and running the Dragon’s Back this year is to just keep on going and the top will eventually arrive. I had a tendency to be always looking for the top to arrive and when it didn’t it had a negative effect.

Sure enough the top did arrive and even though we were in quite thick fog and drizzle which meant we couldn’t see too much it was good to run along Grisdale Tarn and know that there was a long downhill section back to Patterdale.

The group I climbed up with were obviously a lot better at descending than I am and they soon disappeared down the hill but at least they helped up to get up the hill.

I tried to run as much as I could on the way down and I could see a group of 4 runners not too far ahead so I decided to try and catch them before Patterdale.

Once we got down and on better ground then the road I caught up with them. I was pleased to see that Nikki Somers, who was one of the medics at the Dragon’s Back, was part of the group. They were running the race together and were having a great day out. I stayed with them and chatted for a mile or so before pushing on.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 16.42.44

Nikki with her Christmas Hat

It was good to arrive at Patterdale and then after turning left head back to Side Farm. I had decided to stop here for a few minutes and I had three jobs to do. One – change my gloves and buff as they were pretty wet by now. Two – recharge my Suunto watch as I was down to 15% battery and three – have a sit down and drink of tea.

I was pleased to see that I had run that section in 1:53:35 so felt the sub 10hrs was still a possibility.

  • CP6 – CP7: 6.42 miles in 1:53:35 (17:42 pace)
  • Overall – 27:16 miles in 7:13:03 (15:57 pace)
  • Rest: 9:03

Side Farm to Martindale – 4.09 miles (overall 31.25 miles)

I probably stopped a little too long but I did feel better with dry gloves and buff and some hot tea inside me as well as having a quick sit down.

I reckoned I had 2:35 to cover the final 10 miles. It had taken me 2:12 on the outward journey so it was possible but would mean I would have to run as much as possible.

I climbed the hill with Nikki and her group. It was good to chat about various races we have done and have planned. The next big one for Nikki is the Spine in January so I look forward to following her progress.

At the top of the hill I missed the track we came down on and added on a little extra and then missed a turn and was thankful to Nikki and her group calling me back.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 11.20.54

Route out (top) was a better line than the route back!

Once back on the proper track I pushed as hard as I could all the way down. I could see a runner ahead and slowly caught up with him. It was Dave who I have run with before so we made our way to Martindale together. We were running all the flats and downhills and walking all the ascent which is pretty much what I’d been doing since the start!

We arrived at the Martindale checkpoint for the return leg after 1:07 which was probably 7 mins more than I hoped. It meant I only had 1:30 to cover the final 6 miles which I thought was going to be a challenge.

  • CP7 – CP8: 4.09 miles in 1:07:51 (16:35 pace)
  • Overall – 31.25 miles in 8:29:57 (16:19 pace)

Martindale to Askham – 6.18 miles (overall 37.43 miles)

It was still light but we wouldn’t have too much daylight left so I put my head torch on and filled my Tailwind bottle for the final time.

Dave was also sorting himself out so I headed off on my own. I followed the trail path back to Howtown. I had done very well in not having fallen but that record came to an end as I slipped on the wet boggy ground and went down quite heavily. I sat down in a bog so my bottom, hands and arm were covered. Not what I wanted but no injuries.

I put on my head torch at Howtown. The climb back along the Lakeland 100 course was longer and steeper than I thought it was going to be but it may have been a combination of feeling tired and the darkness.

I decided I wasn’t going to look at the distance or time until I reached the wall at the top when the route takes a right and heads over to the stone circle.

I tried to run as much as I could but I was doing more walking than running. I had my Petzl Nao head torch which is great but the battery life isn’t as great! I had used it for about 25mins in the morning and after 30mins or so it flashed to say it was about to die.

Thankfully I had put a spare smaller head torch in so I switched to that one for the rest of the run.

Dave went past me going very well near the top of the climb and I could see his head torch in the distance. It was a lovely evening and I felt warm enough.

Eventually the wall arrived and when I checked my watch I had done 3.25 miles since the last CP so had about 3 miles to go but I only had 35 mins to get under 10hrs. I knew there was still some small climbs to go and the ground was wet and boggy so I didn’t think I was going to make it but wanted to be as close as I could. My time was going to be well under my 10:30 initial target so I was more than happy with that.

I made my way over the boggy ground past the two signposts and headed for the forest which showed the path down to the Village and the finish. As I reached the forest two runners came from my left. I’m not sure if they had a better line or had wandered off line. I expected them to go past me but they never did.

When I reached the road I looked at my watch and it read 10:00 so as I expected it was too much of a challenge. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped so long at Side Farm on the way back! But this race wasn’t all about the time. I had had a great day out and really enjoyed the whole day.

I ran down the road and into the village hall finishing in 10:05:56. I asked James to take a photo of me at the finish.

Screenshot 2019-12-22 at 17.21.25

  • CP8 – CP9: 6.18 miles in 1:35:59 (15:32 pace)
  • Overall – 37.56 miles in 10:05:56 (16:11 pace)

Congratulations to Donna Pass who was closest in my Guess My Time competition.

Finally a big thanks to Joe and his team for putting on an excellent event. The soup and cake at the end were so good it was worth running for 10hrs just for them!! I would definitely recommend it and I hope to be back for another go one year!

Race Results from Open Tracking

This entry was posted in race reports, Tour de Helvellyn, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tour de Helvellyn Report

  1. Pingback: Review of 2019 | John Kynaston's ultra running diary

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