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Lakeland Trails – Getting to know Phil Blaylock

Lakeland Trails – Getting to know Phil Blaylock

Here we get to find out more about our Lakeland Trails event manager, Phil Blaylock, the man organising all the work behind the scenes to ensure everyone has a great time whilst out on the trails. I caught up with Phil last week and asked him a few questions :

Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’ve just turned 44 and currently live by myself in the small village of St Bees, which is on the most western point of the Cumbrian coast. It’s a bit remote which means lots of travelling to get anywhere but having access to a stunning beach, the quieter side of the Lake District and having a fantastic group of friends to go exploring with make up for the time spent in the car. When I’m not running or cycling around the fells, or travelling further afield to bigger mountains, I love spending rainy days in the kitchen (setting up an informal crew Bake Off when I was Marshal Manager was great fun) and taking photos. I also regularly play the guitar but I’m not going to divulge my dodgy musical tastes!

How did your Lakeland Trails journey start?

Love brought me back to Cumbria six years ago to be with my girlfriend at the time. As so often in life, things didn’t quite go to plan. So I joined St Bees Triers to build up my social circle and used running as a way of finding my feet. That in turn motivated me to take part in my first Lakeland Trails in Keswick back in 2013. Even though I was reasonably fit, I still had the nerves on the start line – I suppose it was because I didn’t feel like a ‘proper’ runner and didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have worried! I loved the event so much that I quickly signed up for the Helvellyn Trail, deciding to volunteer as a marshal as well as run. Even though I was the wettest I’ve ever been, the enjoyment from having hundreds of drenched but happy runners going past meant that I was addicted! Once you’ve been to a few Lakeland Trails, you soon recognise familiar faces and feel part of the community, so a couple of years later, I took on the Course and Marshal Manager role. That progressed to me getting involved with developing our in-house radio communications and here I am now managing and delivering the events.

When did you first start running?

My running journey started out of chance. I was part of the school fell-walking club and the teacher who organised that, a lovely chap called Mr Horsford, was also responsible for the cross-country team. Apart from anything else, I was flattered when he suggested I could be a good runner. So I joined the club, ending up representing my school. It’s strange that the memories I have of that are the green swimming pool at Stonyhurst College (apparently, it’s still there) and listening to a tape of Bon Jovi on the coach trips!

Do you run for a club?

I’m a member of St Bees Triers. The club shares a similar philosophy as Lakeland Trails – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, so long as you enjoy yourself and try your best. It’s a great club – everyone’s warm and welcoming and we’ve a couple of fantastic coaches. I organise weekly trail runs and have a bit of a reputation for finding the hilliest, boggiest routes – they just make running even more fun!

Last year was your first year in charge of managing and delivering the Lakeland Trails events. How was it?

Well, last year was certainly a challenge! When you asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the event management, it really seemed like a no-brainer. Lakeland Trails has brought me so much happiness and it was a privilege to be able to put my skills to good use to allow people to keep experiencing the magic of the events. The fear of the unknown and the risk of ‘making mistakes’ have been tricky to deal with, so it’s been great to have your support and guidance along the way, as well as that of our wonderful team of crew and volunteers at the events. Putting on the events is like a huge jigsaw. I counted up my action list at the Lakeland Trails in Keswick and there were over 100 points to sort out just on the Saturday! Of course, the event crew did a fantastic job getting them ticked off and the event was a great success. I don’t remember ever getting more than 2-3 hours’ sleep on the night before each event which is definitely something I want to improve on this year.

Any high points from the year?

I think one of the high points (literally) was at Staveley when I left the event start/finish area to climb up to the top of Reston Scar (aka The Sting in the Tail) to do some cheering. I felt the confidence that everything was running smoothly and if anything cropped up, the crew were more than capable of resolving issues. I’ll often be watching the finishers come in too, and seeing their smiles and sense of achievement is so rewarding. Of course, another high point is when I have to pinch myself because my job involves running a lot in the Lake District – turning the corner of Silver Howe on the ultra-course or dropping into the Grisedale Valley on the Helvellyn course always makes me stop and smile.

Low points?

When you want everything at every event to be a success for everyone, it can be hard to focus on all the positives as there are always things which could have gone better. The first two events last year had a number of issues which I found difficult to overcome. For example, at Cartmel, we could have found a better route through the woods at the finish when the original route was not possible at the last minute due to the waterlogged racecourse. (Incidentally, I had a meeting at the racecourse last week and we have a weatherproof solution so that so runners won’t face that demoralising run in again). Maybe my car parking plans were too complex at Cartmel too, so I got sucked into helping sort that out during the day. I hold my hand up for overlooking the props and signs for theming the Coffin Trail at Hawkshead – I promise that will come back with a vengeance this year! All the things which did or didn’t go to plan are thoroughly discussed in meetings afterwards and lessons learnt for the future. After a busy, challenging weekend, it can be hard, too, to remember that so many people have had an amazing day.

Biggest lessons?

Now I’ve had a complete Lakeland Trails season under my belt, I am much more confident about the year ahead. Hopefully that experience will translate into relaxing and enjoying my role more. Lying awake in bed at 2am thinking things over on the Saturday morning is probably not the best way to prepare for the day! Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always come off, even though we always have a Plan B, or even Plan C to fall back on. Carefully reflecting over the whole event, to learn for improving in the future is really important too.

What did you do before managing the Lakeland Trails?

I suppose you could describe my previous jobs as varied! I’ve got an unused degree in Construction Management as I went straight into Retail Management after university (selling Peruvian alpaca jumpers with the added bonus of regular trips to South America). I got the 7-year itch and re-trained to be a teacher, working in a deprived area of Blackburn before moving back to Cumbria, where after a brief spell in a new school, ended up working in an HMRC call centre for a few months – something I never expected to have on my CV. I was given the option of returning to my old school in Blackburn, but I’d fallen in love with the Lake District great outdoors. I’d been used to working 70 hours a week as a teacher, which I don’t regret, but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. Luckily that was when your offer of managing the Lakeland Trails came up.

You’ve just completed climbing all 214 Wainwright summits – how did that feel?

It was great to finally finish them (although I’m not sure Mr Wainwright would approve of people ‘bagging’ his fells!) A bit like the Lakeland Trails, the challenge has taken me to parts of the Lakes I might not have seen otherwise. Just last week I was high above Ullswater on a glorious day, but I joke that I’m going to publish a book called ‘Mountain Tops in the Mist’ as so many have been covered in clag, and the weather for my final summit last Saturday didn’t disappoint. Fortunately the group of friends I was with remained in suitable humour and we celebrated on the top of Bonscale Fell in 50mph winds and rain.

Any challenges pencilled in for the future?

I tend to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor activities so have lots of ideas on the burner. Next up is the Fred Whitton Cycle Challenge the weekend after the Lakeland Trails in Staveley in May. For those who don’t know it, the route is, let’s say, demanding. It’s just over 110 miles long, taking in all the Lake District passes, as well as some lesser-known climbs, with Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road to look forward to at around the 100-mile mark. I loved it when I took part a couple of years ago. There’s a great atmosphere along the course and several friends (including some who are also Lakeland Trails crew) were out to support me, providing much-appreciated supplies and encouragement. I managed to meet my goals of cycling up Hardknott Pass and finishing!


What would you say is the best thing about the Lakeland Trails?

This is an easy question because I’ve found it out from my own experience as a runner that it brings so much happiness and a sense of accomplishment and belief to so many people. I love being out on the trails myself and enabling others to experience that pleasure in a safe and controlled way is amazing. It’s a combination of the dedication and friendliness of the crew and volunteers as well as the runners, which generates such a lovely atmosphere at the event and out on the course. Oh, and how can I forget the stunning scenery!

Anything else you’d like to add for our competitors this year?

I can’t wait to be back on the trails in Cartmel on 16th March and am working hard to make things even better than my ‘debut’ last year. As we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of the Cartmel Trail this year, all our finishers will earn a delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding as a special treat, as well as an event T shirt. I always enjoy chatting to our runners on event day so come and say hello and let me know how we’re doing.

Thanks very much Phil – it’s been a pleasure working with you over the last five or six years and I’m looking forward to many more in the future. Co-ordinating and taking responsibility for the Lakeland Trails events is a massive undertaking, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Experience is hard earned. You’re learning all the time and I have no doubt this all helped with the way you managed the horrendous conditions for our 2018 Dirty Double finale weekend.

We’re all lucky to have such a positive and enthusiastic person at the helm. Good luck with the events this year. Now me and my family are back from France, I’m looking forward to running in some of them myself!

Graham Patten

Early bird entry for the 2019 Lakeland Trails is open until 31st January. Visit the Lakeland Trails website to check out the events and enter online.

New to the Lakeland Trails?

The Lakeland Trails season opener takes place in the pretty village of Cartmel this Saturday. For many, it will be their first trail running event. You may have completed other trail runs, yet may be new to the Lakeland Trails in Cartmel.

This short piece tells you what to expect on the day. How the Lakeland Trails may be a bit different from what you’re used to. What the courses will be like at Cartmel and how best to run them, that sort of thing.

This will be the fifteenth year for the Lakeland Trails – the very first event had just 80 competitors and at Cartmel this year there will be over 1800! We like to keep the size of the events manageable – big enough to feel a part of something inspiring, small enough to feel like one large sporting family.

Pick up your number and timing chip

When you arrive, you’ll be directed by car parking stewards and will see the Cartmel Racecourse main tower building and stands. This is where you’ll find Registration, within the huge marquee. You’ll need to look at the start list boards inside to find your name, then pop along to the Registration team. Tell them your number, and you’ll be given a race number, safety pins, a reusable timing chip and a velcro strap for attaching it to your ankle.

All the events during the day have different coloured numbers, so if you’re running in the 10K, your number will be blue. 5K numbers are pink, 18K challenge numbers are yellow and 18K race numbers are white.

Time to grab a coffee or a late breakfast

Once you’ve got your number and timing chip, you can chill out. Lakeland Trails are much more than a trail run. They are a complete family day out, with something for everyone throughout the day. Live music, MC commentary, children’s bouncy castle and face painting. Now is a good time to chat with friends old and new, maybe get a caffeine fix or a late breakfast. There are plenty of good food and coffee vendors, vegetarian options too, a trail running kit shop, even trail running shoes that you can ‘test run’.

Lots to do in the event village

Meet & Greet

Come and say hello to me and other experienced Lakeland Trailers at the blue ‘Meet & Greet’ gazebo. There will be a couple of flying banners to guide you, with Lakeland Trails hoodies, T shirts and headwear to tempt you once you’ve finished. 

Keep your eye on your watch though – all the events will start on time. If you’re planning on warming up, a slow 15-20 minute jog half an hour before your start time will loosen up your muscles. If you need to leave any spare kit, bring a small bag or backpack. You can then leave it at the baggage store within the marquee, within sight of the start line.

What to wear?

Knowing what to wear for your first trail run is very much dependent on your own experience, and the weather. My advice would be to wear something comfortable, clothing and shoes you’re used to. For the 5K you could wear any running shoes, although the more grip, the better. On the 10K and 18K, you’re better off with trail running shoes. Bring along a cagoule, tights, gloves, a hat and small pack to put them in too. The Lake District is a mountainous region, famed for it’s temperamental weather. Even snow can fall here at any time of year!

Which course?

There are maps and profiles of all the courses on notice boards in the marquee. What they don’t tell you is what the underfoot conditions will be like. How best to run them. All the courses are very well signed, with flags, race route arrows and lots and lots of friendly marshals. It’s helpful to wear your number on the front, so they know which course to direct you along.

Our friendly marshals will look after you and make sure you’re safe and stay on course

10K Cartmel Trail Run – Blue numbers

The first event, the 10K, sets off at 11am. This is the one that I’m going to run this year. The first kilometre is flat, fast and furious, on a good solid trail, so don’t get carried away. Find your own rhythm. You’re better off starting off slowly and speeding up. It’s good for your morale. Passing people is always better than being overtaken! After 1K, you reach some huge pine trees. Now deep puddles will appear in the track. Enjoy splashing right through them. You’re going to get wet and muddy on this course, it’s all part of the fun.

After a couple of hundred metres in the woods, the trail starts to wind gradually uphill. This is where your patience at the start will pay off. The faster starters will have legs quickly turning to jelly. The climb goes onto a single track tarmac lane with great views to Morecambe Bay as it levels out. 

Pat yourself on the back as you’ve done most of the climbing on the course. A level section on hard trail*, then into the first section of mud with hedges either side. Try and keep your momentum and plough through the mire. Some will be trying to avoid the wetter sections, picking their way around. Pass them and splash them! Soon you’re out onto rolling green grassy trails**, past a small caravan park and some pretty Lakeland cottages.

Straight down the middle

A slight downhill and you’ll see what looks like a man eating marsh up ahead. It’s a favoured spot too for one of the event photographers. Whatever you do, don’t try and go around this one. It’s an old sunken track. The water may be brown and knee deep, yet underneath is hard gravel. Plough through the middle as though you were ten years old with a big smile on your face. It’s what life’s about! The edges of this track are where the trouble lies. This is where the deep, sticky mud lies in waiting. 

Stay clear of the edges of the trail

Once through the mire, it’s good running along a short section of tarmac lane*** to the water station. From here, some soggy, boggy trails which are just hard work. Relentless going. Once you hit a slight incline, the worst is behind you. Wordsworth daffodils will be watching you from the banks of the trail. Through a farmyard****, then across a small stream, another favourite photography spot. Make a splash. You’ll have a photo memento you can treasure in the future! 

Finish with a smile

The hardest section is at the end, the last one and a half kilometres or so. There’s a climb in the woods, and it’s soft underfoot. The trail winds through the trees and you’ll probably hear the PA and band, tantalisingly close. Yet the end seems to elude you. Suddenly you burst out of the trees and you have a final couple of hundred metres of glory. With luck, your name will be announced as you cross the line.

Moving along at a walk, you’ll be ushered into a section of the marquee to have your timing chip taken from you. Then awarded your well-earned finisher’s T shirt that you can wear with pride.

Now you can change out of your muddy, sweaty gear. Treat yourself to some goodies. Chat with your new friends and enjoy the atmosphere.

Tuck into something nice after your run

5K Cartmel Sport Trail – Pink numbers

The second event, the 5K, sets off at 11.15am. There are a lot of youngsters taking part in this event and they haven’t learnt the art of pace judgement yet. They will set a suicidal pace. Keep up with them at your peril!. You follow exactly the same route as the 10K course as far as the level section of hard trail*, after around 3km. From here, you take a ‘short cut’ along a forest road, gently downhill to the farmyard described above****. You have the stream to cross and the hard section back through the woods, so save some energy for yourself.

Kid’s Fun Trails

Bringing the family along? Children under the age of 12 can take part in the Fun Trails. Short, exciting trails for the Under 10’s and Under 12’s. Any age can take part, even mums and dads can run with the children too. They will set off when everyone is back from the 10K and 5K events, the younger children setting off first. Gerry the Giraffe joins them and keeps them on course. Everyone gets a medal for taking part. The buzz and excitement of the kids is worth experiencing first hand.

18km Cartmel Trail Challenge – Yellow numbers

The third senior event, the 18K Challenge, sets off at 1pm. It follows exactly the same route as the 18K Race an hour later. The Challenge is the relaxed version of the 18K event. The one for taking part and enjoying the views and friendly banter along the trail.

Both 18K courses follow the 10K route as far as the rolling green grassy trails**, so you can read as far as this in the 10K route to know what’s in store for you. Then a stunning 8K extra loop first takes you along good, fast grassy trails with views in all directions. Lakeland snow capped peaks ahead of you in the distance, the shining levels of Morecambe Bay over to your left.

Strike a pose when you see one of our photographers

After crossing a single track lane, there’s a short climb through mature oak woodland, then comes the gorgeous Bigland Tarn. You skirt round this and along a track to the first water station at around the 9K mark. More tarns to circumnavigate, along a lovely, muddy single track cutting through heather. It’s difficult to overtake here, much better to wait, take it easy and a few hundred metres later the trail opens up and there’s lots of room to pass. 

A section of rolling single track tarmac lane, then into rough felled woodland, the trails cut up from heavy machinery. This section of the course tends to be the toughest. It’s wet, muddy and there’s a devilish incline. One of those that’s not steep enough for everyone to walk, yet very tough to run. 

You’ll be soon through this and onto another short section of tarmac lane***, picking up the 10K route from here, all the way back to the finish.

The fastest in the 18K Race, which set off at 2pm with white numbers, are GB International athletes who will be home within 70 minutes. This leads to an exciting finish as everyone arrives back from both 18K courses at similar times.

By 3.30pm, singer/songwriter Pete Lashley, who would have already run in the 18K Challenge, takes to the stage. Pete plays for an hour, many of the songs he’s written himself, as well as requested cover songs.

Then it’s the Prize Giving for all those who have earned them, followed straight afterwards by the Spot Prize draw. Anyone can win one of the spot prizes, although you will need to fill out a spot prize form and put your name and number on it, then just post it in the podium.

By 5pm everything is over for another day. If you’re staying in the Lake District, you’ll meet lots of Lakeland Trailers in the pubs and restaurants, proudly wearing their finisher’s T shirt.

Welcome to the Lakeland Trails family.

See you on Saturday!

If you’ve got any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.


© Graham Patten           

12th March 2018

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