Time has simply flown by so fast. Yet at the end of last year’s season, after more than sixteen years as Event Director, the time felt right for me to pass the Lakeland Trails flag over to Phil Blaylock.
Phil has been involved with our events for over eight years and we’re all very lucky to have him. From competing himself, then volunteering as a marshal, he’s made steady progress to the top of our Lakeland Trails family tree. Phil’s been a keen student during all the various stages in his event management development and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring him through all of these over the years. I couldn’t have hoped for a better successor. When Phil took over the Event Director reigns last December, I officially ‘retired’ from the Lakeland Trails and stepped down from my role with the events.
Phil running at Keswick in 2017
I thought I could sit back and reflect on all this work with a degree of pride. Take stock and enjoy that contented feeling of a job done to the best of your ability. Like a proud parent, I quietly let go without any fuss, confident that we’d done everything possible to ensure the future of the Lakeland Trails for everyone’s enjoyment.
Then suddenly the ‘cheese moved’. Who could have foreseen back in March the first total lockdown situation only a week or so before the 2020 opening event was due to take place at Cartmel? Phil and his team will need the support of everyone, to ride out all the challenges imposed by the current coronavirus pandemic.
Running at Cartmel in 2018 and the Beast from the East
There’s always a balance running an enterprise for altruistic reasons. Often things just stop when a founder decides to call it a day. Sustainability has always been a big priority for me. Not just environmentally, but economically and personnel-wise too. We’re fortunate to have built some great relationships over the last sixteen years, and there are so many people to thank for helping make my dream of the Lakeland Trails come to fruition.
To everyone who has been involved in any way at all – from you, the competitors, to our fabulous volunteers, event crew, landowners, stakeholders, sponsors, entertainers, service suppliers, catering concessions – many, many thanks for all your support over the years. It just couldn’t have happened without you all!
A typical Lakeland Trails scene from the start
Looking back, since creating the first event in 2004, I was the Event Director for over 100 Lakeland Trails events. Totting up the total number taking part comes to around 150,000 competitors. It’s remarkable when you think the very first event had just 80 entrants and trail running was a relatively new sport to the UK back then. We’ve contributed well over £150,000 directly to local regional charities and community groups. In all, our region, Cumbria, has benefitted economically to the tune of well over £20 Million from the Lakeland Trails during my time. Truly amazing!
My first Lakeland Trails as a competitor in the Derwentwater Trail in 2017 – Back to Front
And who was there in 2015 at the start of the Ultra 55K when Kim Collison broke the 110K course record? I remember we delayed the start by a few minutes so we could welcome him home with a cheering guard of honour and Batala Lancaster drums. Magic sporting moments like these bring tears to your eyes.
Watch the opening 30secs of this video to see Kim Collison’s “Ultimate finish”
Sadness too, with four very special characters from our Lakeland Trails ‘family’ passing away recently and now running in those big trails in the sky. Peter Samuelson, Charm Robson, Lawrie Woodley and Lance Saxby (aka Gerry Giraffe) will be forever in my thoughts. All of them positive, happy people.
Phil at the finish in Staveley with Charm Robson in 2018
Many people start their own running journeys with us, getting off road for the first time and onto the stunning trails I created here in the Lake District. Every now and again I’ll get stopped with “is that Graham from Lakeland Trails?” and then someone will tell me an inspiring story or anecdote. How they’ve just completed an Ultra, even a Bob Graham. Or they’ve just run the 10K event with their teenage daughter, who ran her first Fun Trails as an 8 year old.
It never fails to make me smile when I see someone out and about wearing a Lakeland Trails T shirt, or see one of our car stickers on a vehicle, sometimes far away from the Lakes.
Finishing (and winning!) the Coniston Trail 10km in 2018
Retiring from the Lakeland Trails doesn’t mean sitting around in my slippers. It means I have finally closed one big chapter and can look forward to some different challenges. With more time I’ll be able to coach a few more people in trail and ultra running – give me a shout it you need any help!
Maybe spend more time partying with my partner Claire?
Party time with Claire for one of Ash’s birthday parties
Over a year ago I started a new Primary schools orienteering pilot project in Kendal coaching Year 5 and Year 6 children which ultimately fell victim to Covid-19. I’d love to see more youngsters and newcomers taking part in ‘the thought sport’ – maybe this could be a new project in the making?
Orienteering in the Italian Dolomites
My own performances in orienteering have steadily improved since returning back to the sport just over three years ago, after an absence of 30 years. I’ve been at the top of my UK age group ranking list for almost two years and was just seconds away from winning the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Latvia last year, coming 4th. The previous year, in Denmark, I was 2nd, only one second behind the Swiss winner. I was shaping up nicely too for this year’s cancelled World Masters in Slovakia in August 2020. With hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine, there’s now an excuse to take part in next year’s World Masters in Hungary.
Enjoying the atmosphere of European orienteering
No doubt there will be some new running adventures to write about and photograph, to keep this TrailRunning blog more regularly updated. Maybe recount some fond memories from the early years of Lakeland Trails – what do you think, would you be interested? It also still rankles a bit that I didn’t complete the 55 Lakeland summits at 55 years of age a couple of years ago – some unfinished business maybe?
If anyone does have any memorable Lakeland Trails stories or anecdotes they’d like to share with me, then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
Finally, I want to wish Phil and his team every success for the future of the Lakeland Trails in these difficult times.
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.
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.