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.
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.
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!
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.
My feet are up on the couch as I write this, so this title just popped into my mind.
Why we run – for trails like these
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time lying on the couch. In my “glory days” when I was a youngster, it was for much needed rest, my body exhausted from training twice a day. I’m older now, need less sleep, so consequently get up every morning before 5am. By early afternoon, I’m back on the couch, having a granddad nap, or ‘recharge’ as I like to call it.
Looking for inspiration before the Joss Naylor Challenge
The couch is also one of my best place for reading books and day-dreaming. Where all my best ideas usually come from. The Lakeland Trails being a classic example.
Another one of my dreams was to become a running coach one day.
That day has arrived.
Now I feel ready. Looking forward to helping others with my lifetime of running experience, stretching back more than forty years. In this time I’ve had many, many coaches myself. Each one I owe a debt of thanks. Along the way, I’ve also made many, many mistakes, becoming wiser and learning from them all.
Trail running on the Lakeland Trails
There is only ever one way to do things, and that’s the right way. This is as true for coaching, as for every area of life. There’s no such thing as a ‘quick fix’. Everything needs to be built on a strong foundation. A lot of thought needs to go into why, where and how.
For me, I’ve been waiting patiently for a few years, learning my new trade, going on various leadership, mentoring and coaching courses. The main thing I needed was having enough time to do the job properly.
Me, finally being able to run the Cartmel Trail in 2018
During the last fifteen years, much of my time has been taken up with managing and marketing the Lakeland Trails events. Over the last eighteen months, I’ve been working hard behind the scenes with our Event and Operations Manager, Phil Blaylock. We wanted to create a seamless transition. The Lakeland Trails have now had more than a year looking after themselves with Phil’s great leadership.
So now the time is right for me to get stuck into my next adventure, coaching.
A few of the many books I love to read on the couch
I’ve been a student of coaching all my life. An avid reader of everything and anything to do with running, training, nutrition, psychology and related subjects. I guess I’ll always be a student. Always learning. It fascinates me how some coaches transform individuals and their performances.
What makes them stand out from the crowd?
My own coaching style will take a slow, long term approach. Coaching is a two way process and relationships take time to develop. This is not something that can be rushed or taken lightly. Every individual is different, with their own unique set of personal circumstances. Being able to see the bigger picture is something I’ve trained myself to do over many years. Asking the right questions, listening to nuances in the answers, prioritising, then making the best decisions for that particular situation.
The most important thing for me to encourage is to inspire people to dream big. Really big. Sky’s the limit big. As the saying goes, reach for the stars and you’ll maybe land amongst them.
Dream big! Nicky Ridley went from couch to 55K Ultra runner
For some, this may be to complete a 5K ParkRun. The classic Couch to 5K. Why not a 10K? Or a Half or Full Marathon? Maybe an Ultra Marathon? Nicky Ridley (in photo) went from being overweight and on the couch, to Ultra runner – read my blog about her, “Trails less Travelled”. Who knows, you may aspire to completing a personal challenge like the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours? Even making the podium in a World Championships?
Winning a Silver medal in the World Masters Orienteering Championships 2018
Whatever the dream, it needs to be YOUR dream. It’s worth spending some time really thinking hard about this.
Dreams are what will fuel your determination and persistence.
Trail running inspiration, where dreams are made?
Coaching follows on from knowing that big dream. Then the hard work for a coach begins. Reality checks of where someone is now and where they want to be in the future. Improving poor technique and correcting bad habits. We all have them. We can all improve. So for me as a coach, it’s back on the sofa, doing what I enjoy the most – thinking and planning.
Using all my experience, I can help with making achievable goals along the way, creating realistic, individual coaching plans.
“It’s not about winning. It’s about the journey”
This has become one of my mantras. I say it all the time, as I believe it’s so true. Once you have a big dream, have set some goals, then the really fun bit is starting out on a new journey. Memories from this will last with you forever, regardless of the final outcome. It’s like life. Having a purpose makes things much more worthwhile.
A photo memory from the journey of completing all 214 Wainwrights in 214 days
Getting started and taking the first step is always the hardest.
For my initial period of coaching, I am going to limit the number of clients that I coach to just six people. One of these, Rebecca Atkinson, has been chosen as the lucky winner in a prize draw made at the Lakeland Trails in Ullswater event. To have had a chance of winning, you just needed to be a subscriber to my Trailrunning blog. Congratulations Rebecca!
I started orienteering again almost two years ago, after a 30 year break from the sport. It was a way of trying to encourage my son Ash to take up the ‘thought sport’. I’ve always valued the lessons it teaches about decision making and independence, lessons that can be used in every aspect of life.
One October weekend in 2016, I just told him I was going orienteering on some sand dunes near Barrow in Furness. It was a shock to get lost so many times, unable to see map detail properly, despite my new sports contact lenses. I returned home finishing some 15-20 minutes behind people my own age.
The second time I went, again I couldn’t believe how much time I lost to my contemporaries, although the words that inspired me were from Ash. He was just seven at the time, and as I left the house, he simply said “Daddy, when you next go orienteering, can I come too?”
Those words were music to my ears.
So, our family orienteering journey started a few weeks later in some woodland on the shores of Derwent Water in the Lake District, my partner Claire shadowing Ash. Me running around too fast on the long course, getting lost again and again, unable to find the checkpoints hidden amongst the bracken. Tripping up all the time, trying to run in half eye reading glasses.
It’s fair to say I’ve been a better than average runner, and not such a good orienteer. Over the years, I’ve dipped in and out of the sport, since my first event way back in 1969. There weren’t really any suitable courses for kids back then, and my induction was a PFO club event at Dean Clough, near Burnley. Running in some woodland to the finish from the last control, I was flung backwards, catapulted by a single, rusty wire fence, landing spread eagled on my back. The wire was at head height and I just didn’t see it. I thought I’d got something in my eye, so put a hand over it as I ran back to the finish. Blood was everywhere. I’d been lucky. The wire had ripped one of my eyelids so it was hanging off, and the other was cut deeply. Off to hospital to get everything stitched and cleaned up. I remember wearing an eye patch for the next week or so, like a pirate.
What a badge of honour for my first orienteering event!
My dad, Alistair, was a big fish in Pendle Forest Orienteers in those days, one of the early pioneers in the sport. As a family, we did go with him a few times, although with four children fighting in an overcrowded Morris Minor, these were always chaotic, stressful days out. With nothing to do at the events apart from wait for dad to return, we quickly grew bored. It put my three siblings off any kind of sport for a long, long time.
One of these early orienteering experiences was an event held at Timble Ings, a small wood on the way to Harrogate. It was in around 1972, and I was doing the M12 class, the youngest course on offer, even though I’d only be 9 years old. I remember winning a small Yorkshire cheese, along with a map of the course, with Winner, M12 Yorkshire Championships typed in red across the top. I had this on my bedroom wall for years. It’s still the only ‘perfect run’ with no mistakes that I have ever done.
Unbelievable setting for orienteering at the Italian Dolomites
By the time I reached 16, there were more local orienteering events and this time round I started going without my dad, cycling to events with friends, getting lifts further afield with the late Gerry Charnley. I soon got asked to join Peter Palmer’s GB Junior Squad and had two years improving my rudimentary skills with training camps in Scandinavia. This started my life long passion for travel.
After experiences at big events like the Swedish O Ringen, orienteering in the UK suddenly lost a lot of it’s appeal. Then breaking my leg in a fell race when I was 18, it was some time before I had the confidence to run in rough terrain again. I’d also just gone to University in Cardiff, to study Optometry and found I quite liked parties, girls and booze. So that was it for orienteering for a while.
Instead, I ran cross country and on the roads for a season or two, although never quite made it into the ‘big time’, finishing with PB’s of 30.30 for 10km, 50.38 for 10 miles and 67.32 for Half Marathon.
SELOC Racing Team, 1988 winners of the JK Trophy Relays. Left to Right : Rob Lee (Leg 2), Rob Bloor (Leg 4), Stuart Rochford, Me (Leg 1), Ian Christian, Iain Rochford (Leg 3), Mark Seddon
The most fun I’ve had and my best year’s orienteering in the UK was when I was living with my brother Andrew for a while back in Lancashire. I joined SELOC in 1987 and spent a winter training with the likes of Rob Bloor, Mark Seddon, Rob Lee, Ian Christian & Iain Rochford. We dubbed ourselves the SELOC Racing Team, and with Ian’s contacts at Ron Hill Sports, where he worked, we brought a dash of colourful lycra to the UK orienteering scene. They were great times. Hard training, hard racing, with beers and barbies afterwards. We peaked too early though by winning the JK Trophy the following year. It all went downhill from there.
Then I fell in love with a beautiful Scandinavian girl and moved to live in Denmark for a while, running for Farum Orienteering Klub. I couldn’t even make their A team. Future stars like Carsten Jorgensen and Allan Mogensen were at the club too.
Moving to Bristol in 1989, I set up an Optometry practice on Redland Road, near Clifton Downs, and joined the local club BOK. I did the odd orienteering event, battling with a youngster in the club called Clive Hallett, although by now I was mainly running road, cross country and fell races. However, it was always mountain trail running that I enjoyed the most, after discovering superb races in the Alps, the Sierre-Zinal, Matterhornlauf and Thyon-Dixence amongst many others.
Then I drifted away from orienteering again after selling my practice and moving to live in Ireland. I won the Irish Mountain Running Championships in 1994 whilst living there – the only other name on the trophy belonging to the legendary John Lenihan, who had won it the previous ten or eleven years.
I took up a new sport, paragliding, and spent roughly half the year floating around the skies above the Alps of New Zealand’s South Island, the other half peering into peoples’ eyes, doing Optometric ‘prostitution’ around the more scenic parts of the UK, to fund my travels. Stuart Parker, from WAROC, came out to visit me in Wanaka, New Zealand, one year. He’d been running in the World Masters Orienteering Championships up in the North Island. I remember taking the piss out of him for taking part in an event for oldies.
I never, ever thought I would take part in one myself.
For a decade, I moved around a lot. Travelled a lot. Huge cycle touring journeys, one for six months. Massive hikes. New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, all over Europe and Scandinavia. Flying with huge birds of prey. Amazing experiences. I couldn’t settle down anywhere though. I was “like a cat on a hot tin roof”, as one of my friends, Shane Green, described me.
Finally ending up here in Kendal in 1999. I’ve been living here, off and on, ever since.
On the Lakeland Trails in Keswick 2017
For the last 15 years I’ve been organising the popular Lakeland Trails running and walking festivals in the Lake District. When I reached the ripe old age of 40, I just couldn’t face chasing veterans titles. So instead decided to put something back into the sport that has given me so much pleasure during my lifetime. I wanted to bring some of that European glitz and glamour to the dull world of fell running. Trail running was new to the UK back then. From humble beginnings – the first event had just 80 competitors, the events soon grew. We now get over 12,000 competitors every year. All ages and abilities take part in events from 400m Fun Trails for the Under 8’s, then on to 5K, 10K, 15-18K, Half Marathon, a Marathon, even an Ultra Marathon of 55K and 110K. Runners and walkers come from all over the world. I’m proudest of the fact that more than half our competitors are women! Check us out here : www.lakelandtrails.org
I gave up Optometry. Now I could combine my passion for sport with travelling during the winter months with my partner Claire. Ash was born back in 2009, and life has reached some sort of equilibrium since then. Although by the time he was six, he had been to New Zealand five times for long trips during the winter months, the first when he was only 9 weeks old!
A blink in time.
Suddenly Ash is seven. It’s October 2016 and I’m orienteering again to inspire him to hopefully join me.
How did that happen?
So the World Masters Orienteering Championships this year in Denmark always seemed to have my name on it. The event centre was even in Farum, where my old club was based. I felt I just had to go back again after living there 30 years ago.
Before this could happen though, I needed to get a few ducks in line. As the World Masters was going to coincide with our Ultra Marathon event in Ambleside, I knew I couldn’t be in two places at once. So this particular journey started even more than a year ago too, helping my friend Phil Blaylock, to work on managing the Lakeland Trails events, taking over from me.
It had been a dream of ours to have a year long family adventure living in France, with Ash experiencing life in a French school. Suddenly this became a possibility too. Last October, just after the Lakeland Trails ‘Dirty Double’ weekend, we bit the bullet, moving out to the Ariege Pyrenees to begin the challenges of a new life in France for the school year.
Me and Ash on the podium in Gran Canaria – Ash 2nd in M10, me winning M55
We enjoyed an orienteering Christmas holiday on Gran Canaria, running in the G-com 5 days there. My very first Sprint Orienteering event too on the opening day. A magical experience at night in the Medieval town of Aguimes. Palm trees and finish gantry lit up with fairy lights. PA and commentary blaring away in the balmy evening.
Our favourite control in Gran Canaria
Controls next to sculptures, our favourite one a camel. Luckily for me, I had a chat before the start with big Jon Musgrave from MAROC. He told me his best sprint races were when he didn’t try too hard. I listened. Instead of running fast, I took it easy and won by 2 minutes!
The start & finish at Agen, home of our French club PSNO
Early in the New Year, we found out about a weekend of “Sprint” orienteering events taking place in France in a town called Agen, a two hour drive away. Fortune smiled on us that weekend. Ash was full of cold so didn’t take part, yet I won both Open Sprints, a day and night one, outright. The organising club, PSNO, Pole Sports Nature Orientation, loved it. A totally unknown English H55 beating all the young guns. They were full of enthusiasm and support, welcoming us so warmly into their big family. Suddenly we were being invited to orienteering events all over France. We are all proud to be part of this fantastic club.
Meanwhile, there was still lots of work to be done with Phil on the Lakeland Trails, with frequent trips back to the UK, combining some of these with orienteering events.
The first Lakeland Trails event of this year was our Trails & Ales Party in Kendal for all our volunteers, around 200 of them, in February. On the same weekend I had an awful performance at the British Night Orienteering Championships in South Wales. Next came the Cartmel Trail in March and an opportunity for me to run in the 10K event, joining everyone in the Baltic, freezing cold. The next day, driving in the early morning through snowdrifts on the M62 to get to the Midland Orienteering Championships, only to find it being cancelled at the last moment due to the weather. A frustrating six or seven hour round trip.
Training in deep snow near our home in the Pyrenees
In France I was getting fitter and training hard, despite the deep snow, although still making some big mistakes with my navigating at orienteering events. So I got in touch with an old friend, Rich Tiley, from Lakeland Orienteering Club, the same one I had joined in 2016. Rich is an orienteering coach and quickly steered me in a new direction. Another person I need to thank. My running speed and fitness needed a degree of balance that I just couldn’t find. With Rich’s help I soon had a framework to build on, some sense of purpose. A formula to work with. Four words summed this up : Plan, Direction, Picture, Distance.
PDPD became our new mantra for orienteering.
I also bought Carole McNeill’s book and this became my bible. For anyone who hasn’t got a copy – buy one now. I read sections of mine almost every day, learning something new each time.
Spring sunshine for the Hawkshead Trail in April and it was now becoming the norm to turn up at the Lakeland Trails, everything perfectly set up. Strange to have time to chat with fellow Lakeland Trailers, being there in case I was needed. However, it was becoming obvious that I just wasn’t. Everything was running smoothly under Phil’s leadership. So I left him to it, and ran in the Middle National event in Graythwaite, just down the road, finishing a couple of minutes behind Quentin Harding.
Winning the French Middle Distance Championships 2018
Staveley in May and time for a big decision. The first Lakeland Trails event in 15 years that I wouldn’t be going to. With Phil now happily in charge, I remained in France, fretting and anxious, like a nervous parent watching his eldest child leave home. Big surprises too this month, despite plenty of errors. Winning my age class in the French Middle Distance Championships, by a whopping 8 seconds. Losing out by a few seconds in the British Long Distance Championships to Clive Hallett, in the sunshine at Balmoral Castle.
The Lakeland Trails Marathon in June and now I’m helping with event marketing, uploading photos and videos, seeing the event from a different perspective, in the virtual world. Finding time during the day to drive down to Corbiere in the morning for a blast round Mediterranean scrub and pine forest, my orienteering improving, winning the Open senior class once again. Back in time to upload the results online for the first Marathon finishers.
Me and Ash at the French Relay Championships 2018, Lens en Vercors, Grenoble
Before we knew it, time had flown by. It’s the end of June. We’ve pulled Ash out of school a couple of weeks early and the start of a month long family orienteering road trip. It began with the French Long Distance Championships near Grenoble, and another victory for me, this time by 5 minutes.
Running from the last control 5 Days of Italy 2018
We all run the next day for PSNO in the Relay Championships, serenaded by a 50 piece band at the finish. A week in the Italian Dolomites, for the 5 Days of Italy, mixing it with the Scandinavians, eating humble pie.
Mixing it with the Scandinavians at the 5 Days of Italy 2018
A few days later we are in Denmark. Spending a couple of days in the warm sunshine at Legoland, a real highlight for Ash.
Ash in Lego paradise
Then we move campsite to be closer to Copenhagen and the World Masters Orienteering Championships.
Sprint podium, WMOC 2018, H55 & F55
It’s a fairy tale that I made the podium in the Sprint race. The whole journey from two years ago has been absolutely amazing. It’s hard to absorb the fact that I only did my first Sprint race just six months ago, and have now won a Silver medal in the World Masters. It’s one thing day dreaming, wanting something and working hard for it. Quite another actually doing it. And to be so close to a Gold medal too. Just one second!
Me, Ash, the Little Mermaid and my WMOC Silver medal, Copenhagen 2018
The higher you go, the bigger you fall. Denmark still had more surprises in store for me.
I thought I was on for a chance of another podium finish a few days later in the Middle Finals too, although it didn’t quite work out that way. It’s interesting that the Control 15 that I messed up big time affected the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest overall at Control 14. All three of us lost a lot of time on it. I was going very well up to that control, running within myself, not really missing anything. I couldn’t find Control 15 though – despite going into the thicket three times from the path bend, only 50m away. Eventually I convinced myself that I was in the wrong bit of the forest, and ran a big circle, in a panic, about to pack in completely. Then I realised I could hear the MC at the finish as it was only 450m away, so I relocated on that. The control still took some finding – it was hidden in thick undergrowth.
Whilst the Middle Final was disappointing, the next news was a disaster. Losing so much time at Control 15, nearly 10 minutes, meant I was in the bottom 25%, so would be dropped from the Long A Final on the last day. That was always my target event. Grib Skov is my favourite wood in Denmark. A fast, rolling beech forest criss-crossed with tracks. I was heartbroken!
A thumbs up from Ash on the final day of WMOC 2018 – my B Long Final
Ash saved the day for me. At first, like a petulant child, I said I wasn’t going to run in the B Final. Yet Ash has been doing well all this week, orienteering on his own, gaining confidence, enjoying himself. He wanted to run the M10 event at Grib Skov and it was a reminder to me about why I took up the sport again in the first place – to hopefully inspire him to go orienteering.
Somewhere along the way my own selfish ambitions reared their ugly head. His needs helped me to see things in a more positive light, the bigger picture.
It’s only sport.
So I ran the B Final, finishing 2nd, although I found motivation difficult, making lots of silly mistakes. It was a bitter pill just to be there, watching the A finalists come into the finish, wishing I was one of them. Yet by swallowing it, I can move on. Ash had his best day too, coming 6th in his class. It was wonderful to see how pleased he was with himself, proudly wearing his pink and blue PSNO running kit.
Having had some time to reflect and learn from my first WMOC, if anything, the experience has inspired me to try and get fitter, work harder technically by specific orienteering training on my weaknesses, such as relocation strategies. I want to work on my sports psychology too. My short term goal is simply to try and improve.
Who knows what may then happen when the World Masters Orienteering Championships takes place in Latvia next year?
My long term goal is to be World M90 Champion. I’ve plenty of time yet.
Learning so much from others, I’m now keen to start earning my own tickets as a coach for both Running and Orienteering, so that will be another interesting journey.
Orienteering, a year living in France, a new language to learn and a different role with Lakeland Trails. All these changes in direction have brought us many memorable life experiences. What a wonderful journey.
And who would have thought that just by slowing down, I could run quicker?
20th September 2018
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Last year we gave the Coniston Trail a rest. It was a very tough decision to make. We’d brought forward the big Dirty Double weekend into October in the hope of better weather, although a fat lot of good that did us! We found our autumn calendar much too busy to fit the Coniston event into our schedule.
So the Coniston Trail is making a welcome return this year on the 22nd September and my thoughts turn to the very first event.
Memories come flooding back of the surprise on peoples’ faces, finishing the 2005 Garburn Trail in June, having another event in Coniston already planned for them in September. Trail running in the UK was in it’s infancy back then and completely new to the Lake District. We soon filled up all 500 places on offer.
I hoped the Coniston Trail course would be a hit. The trail has a bit of everything, making a near perfect circuit. First going through the white-washed cottages of the honeypot village. Then climbing gradually on a good track, up past Coniston Coppermines and the Youth Hostel. Splashings of waterfalls and mountains rearing up vertically as a backdrop for company.
Once height has been gained, a contouring single track through slate mines and out onto the Walna Scar Road. Spectacular views of Coniston Water, the shining level below. A long, winding descent takes you through ancient, mature oak woodland, back to the lake, with a couple of kilometres through trees dappled in sunlight along the lake shore.
Autumn has got to be one of my favourite times of year for running. The air is cool, the low light creating spectacular views in the early mornings and evenings. The mountains are quiet again after the busy school holidays. Peace descends to the Lake District.
Trees steal the show, their leaves changing colour daily through September, October and November. Combined with bright sunshine, there’s a sense of magic all around.
For me, this magic also gets sprinkled underneath the trees and for many, many years, I’ve enjoyed collecting wild mushrooms. This passion began when I was in my early twenties, living in Scandinavia. The thrill of the chase. Never knowing what you may find. I can smell the musty, rich autumn fallen leaves just thinking about those times.
Maybe apricot yellow chanterelles?
Or the spiny, almost white, hedgehog fungus?
The mature oak woodlands around the pretty village of Coniston usually come up trumps. I always have a back pack on when I’m running during these months. Dinner is often a surprise. A celebration of one type of fungus or another.
Back to the Coniston Trail
Which brings me back to the Coniston Trail.
In late spring in 2005, I was in a meeting with the guys from Grizedale Arts at the Forestry Commission. One of the local farmers had told me about a big, new festival taking place in the village on the same weekend as the first Coniston Trail event. I needed to know if there was going to be any conflict with our event planning and logistics.
It turned out that the “Water Festival” was mainly orchestrated for TV, some much needed publicity for the region in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis. A conduit for the River Cottage team who were going to be filming an episode of their popular television series on Channel 4.
“If Hugh needs a mushroom guide, then please give him my number” were my parting words, meant as a joke.
Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later I get a call out of the blue and someone from the River Cottage team, a ‘fixer’, wants to meet up with me. I guess all the other mushroom experts in the area were too busy that September weekend.
Filming for River Cottage in 2005
River Cottage TV
I’m a big fan of the River Cottage celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall, so when I get asked if I could find him a cauliflower fungus, I agreed without really thinking.
“If I find one though, would you please ask Hugh to come and start the Coniston Trail event?” I was trying desperately hard to think of ways to gain some additional publicity.
When I got home the enormity of the task hit me. I had only ever found two of these strange mushrooms before and never in the Lake District. I knew they favoured growing at the base of conifer trees, particularly Scots pine. I scoured my maps for new places to try, making up new running routes for myself. Inadvertently, these ‘mushroom runs’ gave me new ideas about future potential trails in Keswick and Hawkshead too. It had been a dry summer, and I spent many, many happy hours running through likely looking ‘hotspots’, coming back each time with lots of other mushrooms, albeit not the one I was searching for.
A perfect cauliflower fungus, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall in 2005
Filming was due to take place the day before the Coniston Trail and I struck lucky with only one day left. A perfect cauliflower fungus, the biggest and best I’d ever found.
I met the River Cottage film crew on the shores of Coniston Water, having already spent a few hours course marking most of the Coniston Trail. Hugh was charming, and intrigued by me wearing running gear. We got chatting, and when he heard this was how I go foraging for mushrooms, his eyes sparkled with ideas.
Filming for River Cottage TV in 2005
We spent the next couple of hours running around the woods, all for just a couple of minutes of TV. Once the filming was done, we shook hands, I shouldered my pack and continued with the course marking.
The following day the first Coniston Trail was a great success, the sun shone and the course was praised for being spectacular. Runnersworld magazine even gave the event the title “the most scenic race in Britain”. There was only one blip. Unfortunately in the morning, Hugh got held up filming on the lake, trying to catch Atlantic Char, so we missed out on having a celebrity start the event.
All these years later, I still get friends mentioning me being on repeat showings of that River Cottage programme on TV, running in the woods with Hugh chasing me.
Looking back, what pleases me the most though, is all that time spent looking for potential mushroom sites back in 2005, increased my knowledge of new habitats no end. I now know where to find cauliflower fungus in many areas of the Lake District.
Even better, both Derwentwater and Hawkshead Trails were born and added to the Lakeland Trails the following year.
Me and Hugh back in 2005
We’ve all got Hugh and a search for cauliflower fungus to thank for that.
See you in Coniston on 22nd September for this year’s event?
We’d always planned to climb the last Wainwright together as a family, and Ash wanted it to be a new one for him. So we thought Low Fell would fit the bill. We left our home early this morning to make the most of the weather window, arriving at the little hamlet of Thackthwaite just after 9am.
Ash had brought along Meery the Meercat and Cecily the Snake, his two best “teddies”, as they’re part of the family too, and you can’t argue with his logic.
The air felt cool and damp, black slugs were everywhere, going about their slimy business. We climbed up an old bridleway, the rocks greasy with overnight rain. A blackbird with a bright yellow/orange bill was digging in the earth, then flew off into a walled garden. Ash wanted to climb across a fallen tree trunk spanning a ditch, nerves getting to him looking down at the drop below.
A brown Herdwick sheep with a white head on the path amongst foxgloves. Ash ran towards it and she disappeared into the high bracken. Tiny silver grey moths fluttering around everywhere. I left Claire and Ash to continue up the zig zags without me, and ran off, climbing steeply through wet grass and bracken to the rounded lump of Fellbarrow, my penultimate Wainwright, a stone trig point marking the summit.
A speedy descent, then contouring round small hills, converging on Claire and Ash, who were both running, trying to beat me to the distant summit pile of rocks. “Last one there’s a silly sausage” is our family motto.
Throughout the year, I’ve been running all the Wainwrights on my own, preferring solitude and the flexibility this gives, weaving my own ambitions in to our family life. I never once felt alone during these runs, knowing my “dream team” are always there for me back in Kendal. If I’d left the house at some ungodly hour of the morning, I would usually be high on the fells and in mobile phone coverage around normal breakfast time, for a chat with them both before school. Knowing they are there for support gives constant reassurance, and I know how truly fortunate I am, indeed how fortunate we all are.
Low Fell has a number of false summits, all marked with a small pile of stones. I caught up Ash and Claire and we played “roller coaster”, running fast on the downhill bits and seeing how far we could keep it going up the other side.
Claire had already been laying out a trail of hula hoops, a game we started when Ash was just three years old, placing “treats” along a walking route, to break up the monotony for him. He still loves us doing this and I wonder how long this habit will last.
We set up the camera timer on the final summit, overlooking Loweswater and Crummock Water, the wind now picking up, and the camera wobbling on the mini tripod. One for the family album, my final and 214th Wainwright of the year and Ash’s 26th Wainwright of his life.
More games on the way back. This time I’m laying a trail of Malteesers, placing them on dry rocks along the path. I veer off the path and quickly jog up to the actual high point marked on my map, a grassy knoll without a pile of stones.
We’re soon back at the van, thankful the rain held off. First we had an early lunch at the Keswick Museum Cafe, then all afternoon in the pool at the Leisure Centre, a great place for kids, with a tunnel slide and wave machine.
Another goal fulfilled, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of running the Wainwrights, and writing about them too. Soon a new journey will begin towards an altogether different goal, and I’m already excited and looking forward to it.
The Lake District – what a great place to live, work and bring up your family!
2 Wainwright summits today, that’s all 214 Wainwrights completed in 179 days.
I’d been saving the Wainwrights around Buttermere for the final long run in my 214 summits in 214 days challenge. Leaving home just before 5am, the roads empty, an inversion of mist settling in the hollows, trees rearing above the veil. I parked by the roadside near pretty Buttermere church, and set off wondering what the morning would have in store for me, with a mixed forecast of cloud, turning to thunderstorms by late morning.
I stopped to marvel at the view of reflections on Buttermere, taking photo after photo. The sun had just crested the nearby peak of Robinson, and light was filtering through the trees along the lake shore.
A red breasted merganser floated into view, and further along a family of great crested grebes, the young almost half the size of the adults. Early morning walkers already striding out, this weekend run making a change from the solitude of my usual mid week excursions.
Three middle aged men were having a rest early on the climb of Fleetwith Pike. I stopped for a chat, then pushed on, the view opening up behind me.
Near the summit, the unmistakable musk of fox, sour and ancient. This must be it’s territory.
A lovely run along a single track path, through heather and down to an old slate quarry, the flattened stones blue-green, a tortoiseshell butterfly sunning itself.
Stepping stones across a stream, Buttermere like glass way down below, framed by rock and crags. The fox smell again, and I suddenly remembered Wainwright’s ashes were scattered at one of the tarns nearby.
The mirrored image of Great Gable in Blackbeck Tarn, further on, Innominate Tarn and I stopped in my tracks.
Ahead on the path was an old fox, looking at me, it’s orange fur speckled with white. Then it was off, trotting along the path, looking back to see if I was following it, leaving tiny wet prints on the rocks.
Haystacks and both summit cairns built around an old iron railway track, no doubt from the slate quarry. Lots of walkers coming of High Crag, thermal cloud building and subsiding around the summit.
A ring ouzel, my fourth one this year, along the rocky ridge line to High Stile, far off Ennerdale coming into view.
Thick cloud on Red Pike, and a fast grassy descent and on up Starling Dodd, the cairn a sculpture of twisted metal fence posts.
Collages of green lichen and pink rock on Great Borne, steeply down by the side of a fence, reaching bogland and cotton grass.
Three fieldfare a nice surprise on the way to Gavel Fell, they’ve usually migrated back to Siberia in the spring. This trio must like the Lakes too.
Rolling summits of Blake Fell and Burnbank Fell, down through deep tussock and cotton grass with views of Loweswater, to clear sparkling waters of Holme Beck, foxgloves crowding for attention.
I made up some Nuun drink and watched a wasp as the tablet was dissolving, it flew to a white, melon sized nest hidden at the top of a stream bank.
Around the edge of a mature conifer plantation on a good track, the sun now very warm, another ring ouzel. Further on near Highnook Tarn a buzzard flying low behind me. Something wasn’t right. I stopped and watched, it’s wings were pale and rounded, the flight all wrong. As it flew near it looked at me with yellow and black eyes in a fierce round face. It was a hunting short eared owl.
Through shoulder high bracken, a painted male redstart calling in alarm on the dry stone wall in full view, flying off with a flick of his orange tail.
Up through dwarf bilberry, picking the biggest, juiciest ones, hardly breaking stride, a bleached sheep’s skull grinning at the sky, a large white stone of quartz. Thermals getting stronger on the ridge, the air feeling cooler, clouds darkening by the time I reached the top of Hen Comb.
Over the top, picking my way round rushes and through bracken, jumping the meandering beck, brown with tannin. Tussock grass sapping tired legs, impossible to run, floundering in deep mossy bog.
A final hands on knees climb up the steep slope of Mellbreak, and soon I’m on the way back, Crummock Water and Buttermere getting closer, down through more bracken, a boulder strewn beck, across a footbridge and the final mile or so with tired legs and sore feet, ash trees green with leaf.
Dog walkers, families, a dad with his toddler in a backpack, swallows in the farm yard and I can now stop running. I change next to my van, and drive back down to the farm cafe for a well earned bacon buttie and coffee, sitting outside, watching the clouds build ever higher.
I’ve done it, all the hard work’s over. Now there’s only the glory leg to celebrate running all the Wainwrights within 214 days, and there’s only one way to finish!
12 Wainwright summits today, that’s 212 down, only 2 to go.
All my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about anything in particular, often whilst I’m day dreaming, in a ‘running trance’. This one was no different. I was out for a long run, enjoying one of my favourite Lake District trails along the east side of Coniston Water.
As I climbed out of the woods into bright sunshine, skylarks singing overhead, I stopped and admired the view. Blimey, I thought to myself, as I looked at the toy white yachts, way down below. Imagine an off road course going around the whole of the lake. I wondered how far that would be? Would it be a marathon distance if Tarn Hows were included somehow?
A decade ago
That was a decade ago, way back in 2008 and it took another three years of hard work to turn that dream of an idea into reality. First, I had to convince the National Trust, as most of the course was on their land. This included the ‘hallowed ground’ of the Tarn Hows beauty spot.
Fortunately, I had the help of John Atkinson, who farms up and around Parkamoor and worked at the time for NT. I’d worked with John before with our Coniston Trail event, so we knew each other. He immediately saw the potential of the event and the advantages to Coniston village businesses and surrounding areas. He was a big help in making the first event happen. We even got permission to do a complete lap of Tarn Hows and by including Beacon Tarn, we made it up to the Marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
There were many more agencies and stakeholders to win over though and this took time. Natural England, Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park Authority, Bethecar Moor Commoners, Torver Back Commoners, Cumbria County Council. The list was endless. Meetings in dreary offices with some people who had never run a step in their lives.
In June 2010, I walked the entire course with our nine month old son in a backpack, taking photos of my partner Claire, the ‘model’ for the slideshow of the course. It was another sunny day. The views were breathtaking. I knew immediately that the course was destined to become a classic. Maybe even one day becoming one of the World’s iconic marathons?
I remember bumping into a couple of running friends that day. Myself and Claire must have looked guilty, as they asked me “You’re not planning another of your Lakeland Trails here are you?” We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with another year still to go, laughing it off. Towards the end of the route, we were both hot and tired, our son fast asleep, his head lolling to one side. Then, as an added bonus, we found a few big, fleshy cep mushrooms, a gastronomic treat to finish our day off perfectly.
The first Marathon Trail
So at 7am on a beautiful Sunday morning in 2011, the very first Trail Marathon in the Lake District set off from Coniston. History was in the making. We’d planned this early start with the National Trust, to avoid the busy crowds around Tarn Hows. It’s become a truly memorable way to start our Marathon. The air is cool even on those sweltering June days, the lake often steaming as inverted air tries to escape, still like a mill pond.
Almost a thousand runners started this inaugural event, shared between the Challenge and the Race, setting off two hours later. We gave a generous 8 hour time limit for the course, 6 hours for the Race, knowing that the underfoot conditions and relentless climbs would take their toll.
You can forget about your road times on this course! You have to earn those views with plain graft and hard work. This, the most beautiful marathon in the UK, could also be described as one of the toughest too!
Gradually the event has grown and now runners from all over the world come and take part. A couple of years ago we were even awarded the status of “one of the World’s iconic Marathons”. Another dream come true.
Half Marathon and Mini Marathon 10K added
We included a Half Marathon Trail in 2012, which takes in much of the first half of the Marathon course as far as Tarn Hows. Then in 2016, we added a Mini Marathon Trail Run 10K.
This year is the 8th anniversary of the event. So far, we’ve had six warm sunny days and one cool one when the rain poured down. That year, 2012, was also the year both course records were set – Ben Abdelnoor from Ambleside AC in 2hrs 53mins 50secs and Jo Zakrewski, Dumfries Road Runners, in 3hrs 21mins 34secs. I wonder if anyone will get close to them this year?
Finishing alongside the lake shore, through dappled sunlight, the trail amongst mature oak trees, the water shining silver, you’ll feel as though you’re in running heaven. You’re not going to ‘hit the wall’ either, as we take down the dry stone wall making it easier to enter the event arena.
Knowing once you cross the line, you only have another few steps before submerging in those cool waters to relieve your tired muscles. That will keep you going.
Then to bask in the warm sunshine. The afterglow, knowing you’ve really, really earned your finisher’s medal. And ice cream. And as much food as you can eat. And even more ice cream.
Remember my friend John Atkinson who helped with that very first event? You’ll see John handing out drinks as you pass his beautiful holiday cottage at Parkamoor, just after half way. On Marathon day, one of you will win a fabulous weekend’s holiday to come back and stay here. Now, that would be a perfect way to round the day off, wouldn’t it?
Thick, dark grey cloud hung over the tops like a blanket. It didn’t look promising at all. Yet first thing this morning it all looked so good when I left my home in Kendal. The Kentmere peaks white with late spring snow. Clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight.
This morning was my only window of opportunity to get a long run in, before a family trip to the West Coast over the Bank Holiday weekend. So I’d set off early, and was now parked up in Little Town in the Newlands Valley, jogging up the road, wondering what the morning had in store for me.
Deep snow lay amongst the heather and had drifted onto the narrow path running along the ridge up to the first summit of Ard Crags.
It was shin deep, the top few centimetres were frozen, making the going hard work. Running was impossible. So it was hands on knees, post holing upwards. I’d hoped the snow was windblown along the ridge, making progress easier, yet it had drifted into a deep cornice.
The views made up for the difficult underfoot conditions. Sunlight was streaming over the Catbells ridge, warming the air. Creating spectacular thermal clouds, quickly rising and enveloping the higher tops.
The going became slightly easier along to Knott Rigg, and running became child’s play. I had a huge smile on my face.
Robinson was shrouded in thick white cloud. Wet bog lay under the soft snow. All I could do was keep pushing on as best I could, round Buttermere Moss, then up the steeper slopes, into the mire. There were great views behind me.
Then as I neared the summit, a total white out, the cairn just about the only dark object around. I needed a compass bearing to find my way off to the col of Littledale Edge, following the fence and bounding downhill in huge steps in the deep snow.
I stopped, mesmerised. The cloud was lifting, sunlight was getting through. In seconds the sky was bright blue and the whole of Hindscarth appeared out of nowhere. Again, the climb to the top was an effort, then the fun of the downhill, and a nice ridge run to Dale Head.
Slabs of snow came loose on the descent to Dalehead Tarn, rolling away into huge snowballs. Another grunt up High Spy, thermal cloud swirling around the cairn.
The final run for home along the ridge down to Maiden Moor was a blast, the snow wasn’t as deep, and patches of heather and grass were showing through. The first walkers of the morning appeared, all wrapped up, overloaded with big rucksacs, ice axes strapped on the back.
Catbells was my final summit, looking stunning with the late spring snow.
I changed back at my van, and drove to Rheged, to my friend Peter Sidwell’s cafe, for a strong flat white coffee, and eggy muffins with crispy pancetta.
I flicked through the photos. This is surely my favourite Lakeland horeshoe, and this morning, a lucky one at that.
I got back home to Kendal just after midday. My little boy Ash excited about heading off soon for a train ride on La’al Ratty, and wild camping somewhere nearby on the coast.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 128 down, 86 to go.
Staveley is where it all began for Lakeland Trails, way back in 2004. This year marks the 15th consecutive event in the village, although the model has changed over the years.
My original idea was based on my favourite Alpine trail race, the iconic Sierre to Zinal in Switzerland. This is a 31km point to point course, with a ‘Tourist class’ for the less competitive, setting off around 3 hours before the “Race”. I always loved these mountain races, and thought it was such a good idea combining these two events. The camaraderie both out on the course and at the finish were tremendous.
Garburn Trail 2006
So I robbed both ideas, and created a 21km point to point, off road, trail running route from Windermere to Staveley, over the lofty heights of the Garburn Pass. It was called simply the Garburn Trail, and we had both a Challenge and Race, pretty much as we do now.
80 people took part in that first event in September 2004. Many of them were my friends who I’d cajoled into taking part. British fell running champions Rob Jebb and Lou Roberts won that very first event.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Runnersworld rated this “the most scenic race in Britain”
People seemed to like the idea of a European style mountain trail race on a marked and marshalled course. So I had much bigger plans in mind for the following year. Cumbria Wildlife Trust were our chosen charity. I found out they had a supply of badger costumes, their mascot.
So I asked Rob if he’d help promote the event, having an impromptu photo shoot on Orrest Head, friends donning badger costumes, running with Rob. The poster we produced looked fantastic. A combination of stunning scenery, fun and excellence.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Finish arena at Elleray School in Windermere
Lakeland Radio were roped in to come to the event and do a live broadcast, and local business Lakeland Limited came on board as our first sponsors. £500 seemed a lot of money in those days.
Girls love Garburn
I shamelessly promoted the event on the Fell Runners Forum, under a thread entitled “Girls love Garburn”, asking the question why such a high proportion of the fairer sex had entered. Back then, fell running was pretty much a male dominated sport and one or two fell runners took exception to an event of this nature on their ‘hallowed turf’. As the rants on the forum developed, I laughed to myself as the entries rolled in. More and more women were entering, particularly in the Challenge event.
Garburn Trail 2006
You can imagine “Mr Beard” moaning to his wife about “This bloody trail race happening in t’Lakes, with a website, course waymarking, marshals everywhere. And it doesn’t even go to the top of any of t’fells”. Meanwhile, “Mrs Beard” is thinking, I quite like the sound of that, has a look online, enters, then tells all her friends too!
Garburn Trail 2007 – Finish arena at Windermere
Within weeks we’d reached our 500 limit. This time the course started in Staveley and finished at Elleray School in Windermere, a drumming band welcoming the runners home. Kids ‘Fun Trails’ bouncy castles, face painting, food stalls – we haven’t changed much since.
Garburn Trail 2007
In glorious sunshine, National cross country champion Steve Vernon, and World mountain running champion, Vic Wilkinson, took the race honours. The event was a success on every level.
The Lakeland Trails was born
So much so, that at the finish, I opened a box of pre-printed flyers announcing the next one in Coniston in a few months time. The Lakeland Trails was born.
Each year more people took part in the Garburn Trail, finishing at Staveley. We got national coverage in newspapers and on TV. Running magazines gave us awards for the most scenic race in Britain, the best race in Britain. No one else back then was organising family friendly sporting trail running events, although soon our model was getting copied all over the UK.
Flooding – 2009
In 2009 we had some of the worst June weather on record, with the snow line down to around 1200 feet, below this heavy rain and flooding. Working with Kendal Mountain Rescue, we reverted to our emergency route in the Kentmere valley. This was a 17km low level alternative, avoiding the exposed Garburn Pass.
The surprise was how much everyone enjoyed this shorter course. We were inundated with requests to keep the course the same. So we did, changing the name to the Kentmere Trail.
Kentmere Trail 2010
Entries reached 1000 for the first time the following year and we haven’t looked back since. This year, over 1400 competitors will be running on the beautiful trails around Staveley.
Selfies on the Summit – 2017
As more people were taking up the sport of trail running, we added a 10km event to our programme around 6 years ago, then introduced the 5km Sport Trail last year.
Sting in the Tail
An idea in 2012 to have a bit of fun on Reston Scar culminated in the name “Sting in the Tail” and we got all creative, making a trig point out of printed correx boards.
Sting in the Tail 2012
Now there’s always a crowd of supporters on the summit, with cow bells, drums, horns, you name it. A fantastic motivation for the final climb before the mad, fast descent back to the finish on Staveley Recreation Ground.
Kendal Mountain Rescue 2017
We have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have the support of our local Kendal Mountain Rescue team at the event. Over £10,000 must have been donated to them from this event alone over the last fifteen years and long may our partnership continue.
Kev Kendall in 2012
Now all that remains is for me to wish you the very best of luck this weekend. I know that the views will astound you, the bluebells are nigh on perfect. Don’t forget to slow down a bit and look around you. Take it all in.
Batala Lancaster 2017
Save something too for that last lap around the finish field with the drums from Batala Lancaster pumping you with adrenaline.
I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run.
This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.
I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.
Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.
The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.
A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.
Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.
Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.
By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.
There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.
Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.
Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.
Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.
There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position.
A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”
Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.
I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.
A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds.
What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.
11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.