Ever since getting into off road running and reading Richard Askwith’s brilliant Feet in the clouds I have been longing to visit the area and run. I have been keeping a look out for races in the Lake Disitrict that would be a challenging distance and course profile and would also provide me with some stunning vistas. So when I stumbled across the Keswick Mountain Festival I instantly bought my ticket. It appealed even more to me because the festival would collect likeminded people together for a weekend and they held talks. On Friday I went to Ricky Lightfoot’s followed by Nicky Spinks & Jasmin Paris , Saturday was Donnie Campbell who also ran and won the 50k, so for an aspiring ultra, mountain runner it was perfect.
‘The course is a mixture of wide open trails, single track (fast & technical), big long ascents & fast technical descents, open valley running & very remote feeling trails around the back of the Buttermere/Crummock Water & the Newlands Valley area. It takes in area’s that you will not have run in before. Expect to be blown away by the views of the 4 valleys we take you through & overwhelmed by the quality of running you will be enjoying. This race is not only tough, but is also one of the most scenic routes in the Lake District & takes mountains & lowlands in its stride offering you the best trail running experience in the country’
The alarm went off at 4.30 am to allow me time to devour some Summit to eat porridge which was a freeby from the festival and get myself awake and to the start line which was moved next to the Theatre by the lake for the 6am start time. The weather forecast was for 60mph gusts and rain but the temperature was moderate, and I recently had a 18 mile training run on Dartmoor which blessed us with zero visibility and driving rain so I had confidence in my kit and my ability to grind it out when the weather has other ideas.
I started at a comfortable pace and had to remind myself that although it was flat now I had another 32 miles to go so settled in to enjoying the race and trying to find a pace that was difficult but sustainable. We climbed up through the woods where we appeared above Walla Crag. Early on I tried to manage my ascents by realising there would be large sections where I would be more efficient and faster power hiking then trying to run. This egoless strategy semmed to work because throughout the race I felt good on the hills and was able to up the pace on the more runnable terrain. I was running well in the top twenty and started to pass a few people in the lead up to the Honister mines. I found this the most difficult section. The climb was very steep and difficult and the high winds were really felt here, to the point where any forward progression felt like progress. I consoled myself by thinking of the old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ But the descent via Dubs Quarry round the back of Fleetwith Pike was extremely technical and I didn’t feel like I could gather any speed or flow. Whenever I thought I was cracking this rocky descent business I would stub my toe and nearly fall or kick a rock into myself.
I had managed to find myself in 10th at this stage which is the position I maintained until the end. From the bottom of the descent we ran around the southern shore of Buttermere & then Crummock Water to the 3rd Feed Station (CP 3) of the day at the foot of the lake and follow-on to run back up the north side, utilising the shoreline footpath. This was pretty flat in comparison to the rest of the race and I tried to crank out some faster miles here. The route then enterted the Rannerdale vale which was very wet and boggy leading to a single track hugging Whiteless Pike and Addacombe Beck. This section felt quite deceiving, I thought I should be able to run faster but I found it slower and more technical then I thought it looked. This is the most remote section and it certainly felt it.
Following another rocky technical descent towards the Newlands valley, you are on the home straight back into Keswick, having just ran 32.7 miles and covered 6000ft of elevation gain, I was pleased to finish but felt that I could of continued if necessary which is good to know If I plan on upping the training to tackle greater distances.
Kit and fueling
For the race I used from top to bottom
- Inov8 AT/C Stormshell
- Salomon long sleeve top
- Salomon Skin Pro10
- North Face better then naked shorts
- Injini trail socks
- Inov8 Roclite 290’s
I used all of my own nutrition and drink for the race apart from a few chocolate digestives I picked up at CP4. I didn’t seem to suffer from a lack of energy and I think I attribute that to constantly sipping on my Tailwind which kept the dreaded bonk at bay.
- I put two satchets of Tailwind nutrition in my bladder
- Clif bloks
- Wiggle energy bar
I loved the festival, great food and talks in the adventure tipi were amazing. The town of Keswick itself is also fantastic. It is surrounded by peaks and the views of Derwentwater are great. When it was raining all day on Saturday I went into town and looked around the shops which are a dream for anyone into running and outdoor activities, a special shout out to the guy in needle sports I spoke to and even checked the forecast for Sunday on the computer for me. The race was well organised even with the high winds forcing some last minute changes, the course marking was probably the best I have ever encountered and at no point was I ever concerned about where to go. I also got my most ambitious result of a top ten and 5.30hrs so overall I was very happy. I do not recommend driving back to Devon for 7 hours though immediately after running 33 miles, I have been a bit stiff since.