Finding Inspiration at the Lakeland Trails “Dirty Double”
Isn’t it always the same when you’re side-lined with a running injury? As days turn to weeks, then into months, there’s almost an acceptance that races are a thing of the past. Having achilles trouble has meant I haven’t run with a spring in my step for three months.
High on the Kentmere fells
That’s not stopped me from enjoying the mountains, the autumn, the fresh air and even exercising. I’m still able to Nordic walk with poles, get on my bike and go for a ride. Then there are the boring exercises from my physio. Tentative easy walk/jogs along the river, hoping to see the flash of a kingfisher.
It’s just not the same as bounding along, day-dreaming about how fast you may be able to run one day.
Hard to believe that the last time was in the heat of the summer, in the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Hungary, finishing 4th, only twelve seconds behind the winner. That race was the beginning of the end.
Finishing the World Masters Championships in Hungary back in August
Running too fast, too soon without a cushion of decent training in the bank. Punching above my body weight. Coming as it did only ten weeks after a bad fall in the woods of Witherslack. Racing at full tilt, when my foot caught in rusty wire from a fence hidden in the bracken. In a split second I was shot down. Suffering broken ribs, a dislocated finger, a whack to my head and torn quad muscles when I was reaching the peak of fitness after months of hard training.
Dreams shattered and a literal tumbling back down to earth.
When Lakeland Trails Event Director, Phil Blaylock, reminded me about running at Helvellyn and Ullswater a few weeks ago, I told him that I was still injured and couldn’t make it. Somehow, this final straw made the wind go out of my sails. I could feel my motivation ebbing away.
However, my mantra with the runners I coach, is that when things don’t go to plan, they should always look for the gift in adversity.
Maybe I could take part in the Challenge events instead? Walk them, instead of running them? Take my poles along? Enjoy the atmosphere, the views, the moving mass of humanity threading their way along these beautiful Lakeland Trails.
Would this give me some much needed inspiration to persevere in my long battle with injury?
At the start of this year’s Ullswater Trail
After all, that’s why I set up the Lakeland Trails all those years ago. To make them as inclusive as possible. As much an occasion for the back markers as the front runners.
So, on Saturday 6th November, I made my way to Glenridding in lashing rain. Proper Lake District weather. Taking my place at the back of the main Challenge ‘wave’, setting off at a walk, a gentle ribbing by friends who would normally expect me to be running.
My plan was to Nordic walk everything uphill and anything on tarmac, jogging only the flat sections and descents. Hope not to get carried away. Look after my achilles.
At first, I was so far behind everyone, I wondered if it was such a smart idea. Gradually, I caught up some of the competitors suffering from setting off too fast. I could now enjoy the banter, smiles and camaraderie that make the Lakeland Trails so special.
After the Helvellyn YHA, the trail double backed and levelled out, and I could jog along, even overtaking a few folk.
Battling the elements on the Helvellyn Trail
My ‘secret weapon’ is knowing pretty much every step of the route, every slippery rock. Having planned all the Lakeland Trails courses and run them many, many times over the last two decades, it was great being back on familiar terrain. Even better without the demands of racing. Or organising!
Simply admiring the views, enjoying the shock from some of the marshals who would suddenly recognise me with a double take. Then I’d stop, say a few words, thank them and move on.
With marshal Geoff Lowe on the Ullswater Trail
By the time I’d finished the Helvellyn Trail, I was really looking forward to the new route on Sunday’s Ullswater Trail. I said a few words at the prize giving, thanked Phil and his amazing team and drove home, soaked through, yet buzzing.
Autumn colours by Ullswater
The next day, my spirits were soaring just walking to the start. Autumnal sunshine filtering through the trees by the side of Ullswater. Views to die for.
This was going to be epic.
At the start of the Ullswater Trail
Keeping the same plan as yesterday, I set off at the back of the Challenge. With more tarmac at the start, I was miles behind everyone by the time we hit the trails.
High on the Ullswater Trail
It was difficult to get into a rhythm. The scenery meant I just had to keep stopping to take photos. I even took photos for others who were running together, memories that will hopefully last them through the dark days of winter.
High on the Ullswater Trail
More encouragement between those being overtaken and those overtaking. Everyone buzzing, high on endorphins, euphoric.
Enjoying the Ullswater Trail
Simply a joy to be alive in this special part of the world.
Two Lakeland Trails legends, pirate Kev Kendal, and photographer James Kirby
Then I caught up with a pirate wearing gold hot pants. Kev Kendal has been a regular at the events for years and years. We chatted on the climb to Boredale Hause, remembering some good old times on the Steamer with the RockTarts in fancy dress.
The Ginger Bread Man from ten years ago on the Ullswater Trail
I remembered my all time favourite, Lee dressed as a gingerbread man, and my pun at the time for the fancy dress winner “this one takes the biscuit”.
The finish in sight
Too soon, the finish appeared on the shores of Ullswater and I stepped across the timing mat. A chat in the sunshine with Phil and star runner Jonny Cox, before returning back home to Kendal, smiling.
Knowing I’d found some much needed inspiration from this year’s Dirty Double, Lakeland Trails working it’s magic once again.
A couple of days ago, I saw a photo on Facebook that brought back a few memories, as well as a smile to myself. A red-haired bloke grinning like a Cheshire cat, being presented with a piece of paper by none other than ultra running supremo Beth Pascall, in heels.
Jamie with Beth Pascal
It wasn’t just any bit of paper though. This was a hard-earned certificate, proving that Jamie Rennie had completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours and was now officially in the BG Club. Beth herself smashed the women’s BG Round record, her time one of the fastest ever, male or female. I guess she ran in studs.
Jamie’s BG certificate
So, I thought I’d ask Jamie a favour. Pen a couple of lines about me helping him with a bit of coaching advice. The idea being to put it on my website somewhere. I like being a bit of a ‘background figure’ with my coaching, although it’s something I’m enjoying doing more of.
When Jamie got back in touch with his reply, I was both humbled and touched by the words he wrote for me. Certainly it’s not just a line or two.
It’s a story in itself. One that may inspire others.
Maybe someone like you?
These are the words Jamie sent me:
“I’m 51 this year and have been running since I was 29. Before that, I played a lot of team sports, but my longest run had been once around the local park where I lived in Leicester – about 2 flat kilometres – and it knackered me!
Jamie training for the Bob with son Charlie
I first tried running properly when my brother decided to lose some weight and get fit back in 1999. I plodded around with him for a few months and gradually got a bit fitter. We entered a couple of road races and really enjoyed them. By 2005 we had graduated from joggers to runners and were looking for a new challenge.
Jamie’s family, Team Rennie, on the summit of Seat Sandal during a training run
The following year we entered the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) for the first time. Being from Leicester, the highest hill we’d run up was the local high point, Bradgate Park, around 250m above sea level. Not great prep for a mountain marathon!
Recce run on Leg 3 with Charlie, nearing Pike O Stickle
To compensate for this I read Richard Askwith’s new book – Feet in the Clouds, which had been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year. Suddenly, a new world opened up to me! That book first introduced me to the Ultimate Running Challenge – The Bob Graham Round. Just like Richard Askwith, as soon as I read about the BGR, I knew I wanted to do it.
Jamie setting off on his Bob Graham Round, with young WCOC orienteers for company
What followed was a journey into the joys of mountain running that lasted for 10 years. But during that time, despite running each individual leg of the BG several times, and taking part in numerous Mountain Marathons and fell races, I never truly believed that I could do the Bob Graham. It just seemed too big of a challenge, one that would forever stay as a dream rather than reality. In 2016 I got into orienteering, and the BG dream was put to bed.
Early light of dawn during Jamie’s Bob Graham Round
Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 appeared, and all competitive sport was postponed. Luckily, in 2017, my family and I had made the decision to move from Leicester to Cockermouth, so when the pandemic struck we were living on the Lake District’s doorstep. With no orienteering available, I decided to resume my love of mountain running.
Sunrise on High Raise
At the same time, my son Charlie – a promising young orienteer – was being coached by Graham Patten. Graham and I spoke regularly about Charlie’s coaching, but we also talked about my running, and it was during one of these informal chats that he persuaded me to have another look at the BGR.
Jamie digging in on the Langdale Pikes
Graham convinced me that not only was it possible for me to do the Bob Graham, it was also highly likely that I would succeed, and have a great time along the way, both during the training and on the attempt itself. He agreed to write me a training programme in late 2020, with a view to making an attempt on the round in Spring 2021.
The make or break Leg 3 – Jamie finding out what he’s made of
What followed was exactly what Graham had convinced me would happen. A series of specific training runs (some of which Graham accompanied me on himself), weekly zoom calls, advice and coaching tips that not only were highly enjoyable, also gave me the belief that a successful attempt was likely. Something that I never thought would have been possible a few months before.
Jamie descending into Wasdale at the end of Leg 3
Graham’s experience and knowledge of the BGR, long distance running and elite running in general is comprehensive. Training had gone perfectly and we began to think about possible dates for an attempt. In late March, with the programme Graham had designed almost completely fulfilled, we noticed a weather window. The date was set, pacers and supporters organised, and final preparations began.
Leaving Wasdale NT car park, just get up Yewbarrow and you’ll make it!
On the night of April 16th 2021, me and three pacers set out from the Moot Hall at 8pm, cheered on by Graham and a few family members. Conditions were perfect. By Dunmail raise I was just about keeping to the schedule. I met Graham, who was pacing Leg 3 for me, and we set off up Steel Fell at 4.30am. Leg 3 is the most difficult of the BG, and it’s where many attempts fail.
Only 3 summits left – Jamie leaving Honister Pass for the glory leg
Graham’s encouragement and friendly banter throughout Leg 3 made sure I got to Wasdale with the attempt still in good shape. He gave me the belief that if I could get myself up the next hill, Yewbarrow, then I would get back to the Moot Hall in Keswick within 24 hours of leaving there.
Finishing the Bob – now who’d have thought?
And so it proved to be. At 7.15pm, me and a hoard of supporters ran into Keswick to be greeted by friends, family, and of course Graham. There at the start, middle and end of my BG. His advice, coaching, encouragement and friendship were invaluable in my completion of the round. The dream had finally become a reality.”
Jamie Rennie, WCOC
A well-earned pint, the Bob Graham Round completed – never in doubt!
Thanks Jamie, for letting me be a part of your adventure, a really good day out on the fells. Thanks also to everyone involved, especially Jamie’s wife Helen, who had the hardest job of all keeping the show on the road.
Living in the Lake District, I am lucky enough to be able to run from the back door of my house in Kendal and in just a few minutes be on limestone hills with panoramic views of the fells.
I want to share some of this Lakeland inspiration with you, gathering together twelve of my favourite photo memories taken whilst running over the mountains in last few years. There is one photo for each month of the year, with the story behind it too linked up too. I hope you enjoy them.
Fingers crossed, the national Lockdown will soon be lifted. Then everyone will be able to come and enjoy this beautiful part of the world too.
Just thinking about Pete Hartley brings a warm glow deep inside and makes me smile to myself. Despite all the current world troubles and freezing cold winter weather.
What a lovely man.
On the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Memories come flooding back as I’m looking through all the photos Pete gave me from the early days of the Lakeland Trails. From 2005 through to 2012, Pete regularly came up to the Lake District capturing the true essence of the events.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He really did understand the ethos of what I was trying to achieve. His iconic, picturesque images catapulted the Lakeland Trails into people’s imagination, directly contributing to the events becoming so successful. With Pete’s dramatic photos, normal everyday people could picture themselves running in the stunning Lake District landscape. Maybe you were one of them?
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He tirelessly helped me behind the scenes, sending his images to National magazines and newspapers, always letting me know with his infectious enthusiasm and positivity.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
“Runnersworld asked for a good shot from the Garburn Trail” he’d tell me on the phone. ”Their readers just voted it ‘the most scenic race in Britain’, so I’ve emailed one for you, I’m sure you’ll like it”
“The most scenic race in Britain” – on the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
When Pete first came to photograph the events, he was working for an outdoor website. He needed to sell quite a few of his photos direct to our runners, just to cover his travel expenses. This seemed a complete nonsense to me.
On the Kentmere Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Instead, I came up with a much better plan. Simply cut out the middle man and pay Pete myself for a proper day’s professional sports photography. We could then give the photos away digitally to anyone that wanted them. It was one of those win, win, win moments. Everyone benefited. Our competitors could download free photos via Facebook, Pete was paid properly for his work and we got some amazing images. This soon became standard practice with almost every mass participation event since. Yet we are proud to say we were the first!
At the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Through the eye of a lens
Pete’s work still lives on in the Lakeland Trails through our current photographer, James Kirby. For a number of years, both would be working at our events, Pete quietly taking James under his wing. It’s fantastic to see many of the locations James still uses today are ones Pete originally highlighted. Capturing runners in their element was a real skill of Pete’s and he willingly passed on all his experience to James. A true teacher.
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
It was fitting that James came along to help me at Pete’s funeral, taking photos, helping with our gazebos, outdoor PA and speakers. The church was packed and hundreds more were crowded outside.
Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
In the pub afterwards, everyone had a story about Pete. Smiles all round. Tears of joy through knowing him. Pete brought something special to all of our lives.
Through the eye of a lens – A tribute to Pete Hartley
Just before Christmas, a new hard cover book was published, featuring Pete’s stunning photographic work. It’s been a labour of love for Pete’s partner Denise Park, as he left behind over sixty thousand images.
Pete Hartley and Denise Park – photo Pete Hartley
“Through the eye of a lens” is a fond tribute to someone who was liked and loved by so many in the running world, me included. The book is full of beautiful images, stunning scenery, total mountain and trail running inspiration. If you want a copy, you can order one here
Six years have passed since Pete lost his battle with cancer back in November 2014. I remember writing some words in his memory at the time and thought I’d share them once again here:
The Magic of Pete Hartley
It’s early evening and I’m sitting at home in front of the wood burner, plugging in the laptop for a quick check on the internet. Suddenly I’m stunned. Shocked. I read Denise’s post on Facebook, that Pete Hartley has died from cancer.
I didn’t even know Pete was so ill. I must admit, I didn’t know Denise and Pete were so close.
Like many others, I’d been enjoying the quiz Pete had been posting on Facebook, guessing the runners and races. His photographs brought back so many long forgotten memories of all those people that have been part of my running life. I’d also seen Facebook images of Pete and Denise travelling around, enjoying themselves. I naively assumed they must have just got together and were spending some quality time with each other – good on them, I thought. I was at Edisford Primary School in Clitheroe with Denise, and we even share the same birthday. Knowing them both for so long and then hearing this sad news completely out of the blue, stopped me in my tracks
Pete Hartley. Pete Hartley …
I first met Pete when I was a young lad at local orienteering and fell races in and around my home in the Ribble Valley. He was always friendly, he always had time to chat and encourage. It was Pete’s images of the fell running greats that helped inspire me to take running more seriously. Imagine being on the cover of the Fellrunner one day? Although I never did make that honour!
Time goes on and throughout the next two decades, I’d often bump into Pete at fell and mountain races, with his camera and ready smile. He never changed. Always friendly, always time to chat.
Over the last decade, we met each other much more regularly – he was my first choice photographer at the Lakeland Trails events. That’s when I realised how hard Pete worked to capture those unique and iconic running images. Pete always arrived a day or two before an event, having first spoken at length on the phone about the course, who the favourites were, discussing who we thought would win. His enthusiasm for everything to do with running seemed boundless. Then he’d set off around the courses, checking the backdrops, checking the light, re-checking start times, calculating the best places to be throughout the day. A true professional.
It didn’t just stop there though. After going around the course, he’d help us in any way he could. I vividly remember our very first event in Keswick in 2006. The day before the event it was bucketing down. Pete abandoned his course check and helped us assemble the marquees and run in, smiling and chatting to everyone, all day long, in the pouring rain. He decided he was going to join me and Claire camping in the marquee. We couldn’t afford security in those days, so had to do it ourselves. In the evening, we brought fish and chips back with us to the marquee, and in the fading light, watched the downpour from the shelter of the tent, still chatting and laughing. Pete held up a chip and said “magic fish and chips, these!”
Last Sunday evening I went out for a walk on the limestone scars above my home in Kendal, and thought about Pete, about what made him such a special person for me and countless others. I know he would have enjoyed the spectacular sunset with the Lakeland fells in silhouette. I thought about the strength of his personality, how he dealt with his own struggles after the car accident cut short his running career. About how he turned to photography, to enable him to continue being a part of the sport he loved the most. And the photographs themselves, what they meant to so many people. I thought about his recent battle with cancer, how he just got on with it, keeping it all to himself. His partner Denise too, I thought about what she must be going through.
The one word I kept coming back to was “magic”, and I realised that was a big part of Pete’s special gift. He could see the magic that surrounds us all, the magic in people, in wild places, in the simplest of things. Yet he could do even more than that. He could capture that magic moment forever in his photographs for us all to see the world through his own eyes.
It was dark by the time I got home, and whilst my little boy Ash was playing with his Lego, feeling sad, I turned on the laptop.
I read this, from Pete’s son Michael :
“My sister Claire and I grew up assuming that it was everybody’s Dad who climbed the Matterhorn, ran the London Marathon, cycled across deserts, took them canoeing down rapids and was the master of fancy dress. As we got older, we realised how lucky we were to have such an inspiring, supportive and loving Dad. His optimism and enthusiasm for life inspired nothing but kindness.
Yesterday, our Dad’s fight against cancer came to an end. Our heads are full of happy memories which will last forever, so please don’t be sad for us. He’s just off on his next big adventure…”
Reading those words made me feel so much better and I can think about the pleasure he brought to me and be reminded of him forever through his photographs.
I can remember Pete’s big smile and think of him, off on his next big adventure.
Sunset at Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
10th January 2021
Sign up to my blog and have a chance to win a copy of “Through The Eye Of A Lens”– A tribute to Pete Hartley. We’ll be making a draw on 15th January 2021 and two lucky subscribers will win one of these beautiful books.
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.
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 professional running coach one day. To help others with my lifetime of running experience, stretching back more than forty years. In this time I’ve had 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 questions, listening to 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.