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Beauty and the Beast from the East in Cartmel

My eyes were watering from the strong, bitterly cold, easterly wind coming straight off the Baltic, bringing Siberian wind chill temperatures to the Lakeland Trails season opener in Cartmel. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold at sea level. Everything I’d brought with me I had on before the start. And I was still freezing.

Everyone else was well wrapped up too. Balaclavas and buffs covering exposed faces, making us a motley looking crew of bandits.

One or two hardy souls in shorts. A mass of humanity grouped at the start, like a mob of Antarctic penguins, shuffling around to keep warm, waiting for the off. Flurries of driving snow, then sunshine. Almost spring. What do they say about March? In like a lion, out like a lamb?

At last, there’s movement at the front. Soon we’re moving too, over the timing mat and away. A migration of trail runners. Relief to finally be moving, already the leaders of the 10K are out of sight.

Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves now, chatting to each other, running in two’s and three’s. Some are in cosy warm looking puffer jackets, making me wish I’d thought of wearing mine. I had on tights, a thermal top, last year’s green Helvellyn tee shirt in honour of the Irish and Paddy’s Day. A warm hat, buff round my neck and thermal green gloves. I still wasn’t warm though.

Big puddles as we near the woods and there’s a bottle neck in front. People are stopping to pick their way around to avoid the icy waters. I egg people on to splash straight through, to keep up our momentum. When the trail starts to climb gradually, I’m pleased, my muscles finally warming up. Some are already walking. Maybe they set off a bit quick?

Everyone was encouraging and I joined in too, knowing every step of the route ahead. Glimpses of Morecambe Bay and then we double back. Into the teeth of the wind. The ground is hard and dry. A combination of frozen soil and the recent dry easterly winds. This is the driest it’s ever been in the nine years of the Cartmel Trail.

Across fields and the usual mud bath has been reduced to a few puddles. Last year it was a knee deep quagmire, the reason we call this course “The Beauty and the Beast”. Shelter from the wind along the tarmac single track lane. An easy downhill to the water station.

With the wind behind and sun in our faces, it starts to feel warm. Hard work through a tough, boggy section. Bedraggled ponies watch us run up their hoof-marked field, churned up and rutted like it’s been ploughed. It must have been a long, hard, wet winter for them.

Miniature wild daffodils on the verges bring a welcome dash of yellow, hint of spring. Two girls marshalling at a lane junction, playing music, cheering us on. Dancing to keep warm and making me smile. The spirit of our volunteer marshals is amazing. It must be extremely cold to be standing still in this wind all day long.

Now some 5K runners join us, making a splash through the stream.

Uphill through the woods and many are walking, looking spent. It’s not over yet though. Across tree roots and rocks, we can hear the band and the MC tantalisingly close.

Then agony when we reach the Racecourse and start running away from the finish. The course re-routed at the last minute to avoid damaging the hallowed turf.

An endless, long run for home, spectators cheering, cowbells ringing out their welcome.

I finish with lots of others, many of them new to the Lakeland Trails. Everyone beaming with pride at having finished the course and braving the elements. The steel band is playing away, despite the cold and wind.

We collect our well deserved finisher’s T shirt. Then for me, it’s into lots of warm clothing. A hot coffee, some good food, catching up with other runners I’d not seen since last year.

I can’t wait until the Hawkshead Trail in April. Surely it will be warmer by then?


© Graham Patten

18th March 2018

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