Keswick Mountain Festival 50k race report

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

‘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’

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50k route
50k elevation (2)
Elevation profile. My Strava came out at 5946ft of elevation gain

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.

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The view from the top of the ascent down to Buttermere

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.

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Somewhere around Whiteless peak

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

  • Buff
  • Inov8 AT/C Stormshell
  • Salomon long sleeve top
  • Salomon Skin Pro10
  • North Face better then naked shorts
  • Injini trail socks
  • Inov8 Roclite 290’s

Nutrition

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

Conclusion

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.

Strava of the race

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The view of Derwentwater from the shore of the festival 

Gear review Patagonia Houdini jacket

I purchased the Patagonia Houdini because I wanted a versatile weather resistant lightweight jacket for runs on days with suspect weather, and it needed to be light enough that when I put it in my hydration vest I would hardly know it was there. Patagonia market the jacket as providing

‘Proven protection from the elements, the featherweight nylon Houdini® Jacket is the go-to running shell for weather-resistant protection’

It is most definitely light and packable, it weighs in at around 100g and is smaller than my fist when packed into its own chest pocket. This means that it doesn’t only fit easily into my hydration vest but I have on shorter runs when hydration is unnecessary been able to fit it into the pocket on the back of my shorts. This versatility ensures that there is never any need to be without its protection because it is so packable. And the protection it provides is stout enough for all but the most driving rain. Its wind resistance and breathability are incredible for a material which feels no thicker than a Rizla. It has stood up to driving wind on Dartmoor and the South West coast path whilst protecting me like a shield, and allowing my sweat vapour to escape so that I don’t get wet from the inside out.

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Me running on the South West Coast path in the Houdini

This is not classified as a waterproof but it has a DWR coating which I have found withstands much of the rain I have encountered on runs, and to be honest when it is pouring outside or forecast I will draw for the Inov 8 AT/C Stormshell which is fully waterproof. It is about utilising your gear for what it is best at and this jackets strengths are definitely its versatility. It is not the most wind resistant or waterproof jacket on the market but it stands up admirably to both. It was also reasonably priced. I purchased mine for £65, and for the amount of wear it has received already it was paid for itself many times over.

Overall this jacket is one of my most utilised pieces of trail running kit. It really hits the sweet spot in weather resistance and weight which means it is always on my person or in my bag waiting to be worn if the weather turns. I highly recommend this jacket for anyone that wants an alternative to their seam sealed waterproof on days when that is just too much.

Features

The features of the Houdini are minimal to keep its weight down but it does have a hood, full zip, chest pocket and elasticated cuffs, which are really all you need to keep the weather out and to run hard.

  • 102gr/ men’s med
  • Full zip
  • Zipper chest pocket/ stuff pocket
  • One pull adjustable hood
  • Reflective logo’s front and back

A trail running holiday in Gran Canaria

My friend Oli and I are both passionate runners and both of the companies that we work for shut down over the Christmas period. We thought that as we had enforced holiday over this period we should use the time to head to warmer more mountainous climes to get in some quality runs before we began our training plans for our 2017 races. We had a quick think and I suggested Gran Canaria, primarily because I knew it would be warm and I assumed if Transgrancanaria was such a popular ultra, contested by some of the best runners in the world then there must be some epic running to be found.

We stayed in a town called Moya in the north of the island situated in the mountains. We organised an Airbnb and this was the perfect spot to be the base for our trip. We had to hire a car so travelling around the national park would be easier, and it also gave us more flexibility in our route choices. We did four runs whilst we were there and covered around 40 miles and 14,000ft of ascent. As previously stated on the blog I struggled for the last few months of 2016 with shin splints so didn’t enter the holiday at the fitness level I would have liked. I found every run we did challenging but not unmanageable, and really felt like I got some great training in. Living in Devon my experience of running lots of ascent is from Dartmoor and the South West coast path and although you can achieve lots of elevation, (such as the Endurance life marathon that came in at over 4,600ft) it is usually accumulated through lots of undulation. Gran Canaria though was a different beast. The run pictured below had over 2,000ft of ascent in the first two miles, there aren’t many places in the UK where you can replicate that. And we both won our first races of 2017 on the 4th of February so all that running up mountains must have done us some good.

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One of the runs we did, 10 miles and 5,000ft ascent

We used the Gran Canaria tour and trail map, including the rambling roger routes to plan and navigate our runs. I would say that being used to OS maps I don’t think it is quite as accurate, and for one of our runs we planned to park near La Culata and follow a narrow ridge path marked on the map up to the highest point on the Island Pico de Las Nieves, but after climbing through sharp bushes and scrambling for 1000ft up the side of the mountain we had to concede there wasn’t a track there and aborted, got back to the car and parked on the other side of the mountain so that we could finally run up Pico de Las Nieves.  I have to admit that although getting lost and having your legs scratched to pieces is never fun, when you are on holiday with no time constraints and the day stretched out in front of you to explore and run until your heart is content it is the most enjoyable way to get lost.

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Me at the top of Pico de Las Nieves

To all my non running friends and family, the idea of spending the money to go on holiday to run around in the mountains is absurd. But hopefully if you are reading this blog you too have a love for running and a keen sense of adventure. As a destination Gran Canaria was pretty perfect. The island has lots of opportunities for beautiful challenging runs and also has the infrastructure to make accessing them easy, because it is a popular holiday destination. If you stay away from the main hubs such as Las Palmas and Playa del ingles then you will be amongst the locals and be able to find some great places to replenish your energy of an evening such as Locanda el Roque, where the food and service was amazing and is the perfect antidote to a day running in the mountains.

Conclusion 

Overall it was a really relaxed trip that incorporated the perfect amount of physically testing mountain running with the relaxation required to push yourself again on the next run and to also feel re energised for the new year back at work. For anyone wanting a running holiday in the sun during winter I would definitely recommend Gran Canaria and believe  you will not be disappointed with the views, and the opportunity to push yourself up some great peaks.

Runs we did and would recommend

  • Agaete to Mount Tamadaba and back 15mi 4,500ft elevation
  • Cuevas Caidas up to Roque Nublo and back in a circular route 11mi 3,300ft elevation
  • Presa de Los Hornas reservoir to Pico de Las Nieves and back in a circular route 7mi 2,000ft ascent
  • San Pedro to Montana de las Presa and back circular route 10mi 5,000ft elevatio

Gear I used

  • Inov-8 Race Ultra 290’s
  • North Face better than naked shorts
  • Patagonia Nine trails shirt
  • Salomon Skin Pro10 hydration pack
  • Clif bar Bloks
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Oli at Roque Nublo