Arrogance is a dangerous thing

Yesterday I raced the inaugural Open Adventure "Lakes in a Day" ultra, my first race as part of the new Scott-Accelerate team, which I'm very proud to be part of. However some things, it seems, don't change...

First of all, lets rewind to Thursday. I met coach Stu and Debs from Accelerate, Colin from APC, Pete from Scott and fellow runners Dot and Chris. It was great to finally meet Pete and thank Scott for their support at the Matterhorn race. We ate some food, talked about plans for the year ahead and officially became Team Accelerate-Scott. After so much support over the years from Accelerate it's great to continue this, and it's also very exciting to have the support of Scott. So, as a sort of sponsored runner, by Saturday it was time to do some running...

Me, Dot, Pete, Colin, Debs, Chris (Stu taking photo)
After a very busy Friday trying to write and submit a journal paper, I finally left Sheffield at about midnight, heading to Cartmel in the south lakes ready for the Lakes In A Day race starting the next morning. A couple of hours after arriving I was awake again, registered and ready to go before getting on a coach to be taken from Cartmel (the finish) to the start at Caldbeck. The hour and a half journey was the first time I'd had a proper look at the route map, which wasn't ideal, but it didn't look too difficult...

The route looked amazing - from Caldbeck we would run south up High Pike, then Blencathra and down to the first checkpoint at Threlkeld. From there up again to Clough Head and along the Dodds ridge to Helvellyn, then down Fairfield and to Ambleside, where we would have climbed around 3000m. With another 1000m or so left to climb in the rest of route would take us from Ambleside, along the edge of Windermere to the final checkpoint at Finsthwaite, through Newby Bridge and back into Cartmel.

In an attempt to avoid the stomach problems I have so eloquently described in previous blogs, I decided to try a small breakfast before this race. On the coach I ate a banana, looked over the maps as much as I could and tried to sleep a bit. Soon we arrived at the start and before I knew it we were off! After a few minutes the field was spread out, I chatted to Alex Pilkington for a while but spotted someone in a yellow jacket heading off into the distance. I really didn't want to set off too fast but whoever he was seemed to be running away into the distance so I decided to up the pace a bit. A little while up the road I caught two guys running together in 2nd/3rd, they looked to be going well and we chatted for a little while, then I continued on again to catch up with Mr. Yellow... Who turned out to be Harold Wyber, a friend of a friend and a good runner (2:34 marathon!), who I last met on a stag do in Keswick.

We weren't yet at the top of the first hill so it felt risky to be at the front, but by the top of High Pike that's where I found myself, despite losing some ground to the guys behind when Harold and I took the wrong line up the hill...

Unintentional detour 1 (solid line=me, transparent line=recommended route)
At the top of High Pike we entered the open route choice section of the course, and feeling ambitious (I will never learn) I tried to cut the corner by running down across the open fellside instead of sticking on the Cumbria way. The route looked simple, just go south until you hit the big obvious path, how hard could it be?!

So after faffing about in deep heather for a while and adding about another kilometre to the 75km course I rejoined everyone else and found I had lost about 25 places. As I crossed the very impressive makeshift bridge constructed by Open Adventure I could see a long line of runners stretching out into the clag up Blencathra... At least I wouldn't have to navigate for a while! I told myself that there was lots of time left and set about gradually catching up to the front. It was nice to chat to a few people as we climbed, and good to see Joe Faulkner marshalling on the summit. The weather up there was pretty grey and a bit claggy, which meant that the descent off Halls Fell was a bit slippery. Joe told me there were now four or five people in front so I tried to push on, but I ended up on my bum a few times so decided to keep it sensible rather than have a more serious fall - though I can still feel the bruises as I write this! 

Towards the bottom of the section into Threlkeld I caught Harold again, and we were both caught by another runner. The three of us arrived into the checkpoint together and I quickly grabbed a bit of food and headed out while the others stayed a bit longer. By the time I caught Alex Pilkington about 100 metres down the road I realised I had not got enough food, it was 25kms or so to Ambleside and I'd now eaten all I'd picked up, leaving me only with two gels and some sweets - this race was turning into a disaster!

Impressive race-branded sweets, but not enough for 3 or 4 hours!
Next came the long climb up to the Helvellyn ridge. After another few minutes chatting with Alex I set off after the (now three) guys in front... I was feeling good now, I felt hungry but the stomach was behaving itself after the smaller breakfast and my legs felt tired but OK. The first two appeared on the lower slopes of the climb, I caught them after a while and we made our way up Clough Head. Being experienced adventure racers (Tim Higginbottom and Jon Duncan) they were navigating perfectly and I was grateful to not get my map out for a little while. I hadn't realised that the paper wasn't waterproof so it was now looking a bit soggy! We soon made our way to Clough Head, Calfhow Pike and on to Great Dodd. At some point along the ridge I got away a little from Tim and Jon and set off after Robin Houghton.

And that should've been it! Robin was going well but after a while I caught him and we ran together for the rest of the day. At Ambleside it was great to see Lucy Spain and Bruce Duncan from Haglofs cheering us on, and I left the checkpoint alone as Robin stopped to change his shoes. After all the mishaps maybe I finally had the win in my sights? Nooooo, of course not! I took a slightly dodgy route in the woods after High Wray and before I knew it Robin appeared from a track on the left and my thoughts of victory were blown apart. As we would later agree, "Arrogance is a dangerous thing".

Coming off Blencathra - Me (l) and Harold - Photo James Kirby
Back together but running well and now having completed most of the ascent, we settled in for the run along Windermere to the Finsthwaite checkpoint. It was tough and we both worked hard, this was probably my low point of the race but I knew we just had to keep moving at a good pace and not get lost. We didn't know at the time, but from having just 4 minutes gap over Tim (who had pulled away from Jon) at Ambleside, we had 20 minutes by the time we got to Finsthwaite.

12 km to go! Just as in Ambleside, Bruce was there to dispense encouragement, the checkpoint staff were great, and I left before Robin. This time though the competitiveness had waned and I ran at 95% until Robin caught me up. He later said that he'd worked hard to do so, and as we will soon discover, it could perhaps have been a very different result if I had had the balls to push on. We were not concentrating on the navigation and began to make silly (even for me!) mistakes, first losing the path through Backbarrow then missing the junction in Brow Edge and had to make an extra climb.

 I was worried now that Tim would be close behind, but we were close to the finish and couldn't see him. We ran past Bigland Tarn and discussed going out for a beer after the race, which sounded like an excellent plan. I think I said something like "provided nothing goes wrong in the next few kilometres, we can buy each other a pint"... Well, we didn't go to the pub.

Instead, after Bigland tarn we missed the footpath junction and headed down a small road (thinking it was the footpath) to the B5278. Only when we had run along it to Ellerside Farm did we work out what we'd done, and try to rectify it by climbing up on a footpath through the woods, then rejoining the road east into Cartmel. The path in the woods was non-existent in places, and we clambered up through the trees for what felt like a long time before we eventually reached Howbarrow and rejoined the road. I was now convinced that not only Tim, but lots of others would have passed us. I thought we might scrape a top-10 finish if we were lucky.

We finally saw the church steeple, passed the race course, saw the finish banner and ran up the field towards it. We could see Tim on the finishline, but no-one else. It turned out only he had finished, which surprised me! He had been in for about 4 minutes, though the results show Robin and I arriving 2 minutes apart when we certainly didn't, so maybe Tim had been there 6 minutes. Anyway, after a day of daft mistakes one had finally cost me the race!

The finishline (taken later in the evening)
However, it was a fantastic day. The course is brilliant, there's loads of climb, some spectacular scenery (the sunset from the top of the final hill was beautiful*) and great running. As always with Open Adventure, the organisation and checkpoint staff were top notch. As my first race with Team Accelerate-Scott I had a new pair of Scott Trail Rockets to wear, which I used straight out of the box... Not normally sensible but not a blister in sight and great shoes for the whole course! As I mentioned I struggled down Halls Fell Ridge, but everyone I spoke to after the race, regardless of their shoes, struggled down there!

After a shower and some food,  Robin and I were generally mocked, and prizes were awarded by James Thurlow of OA and Bruce Duncan of Haglofs.
I'd like to say massive thanks to Robin who as well as being a great guy to run with was also a true gentleman and insisted that I took the second place trophy.Well done Tim on a great run, and thanks to everyone at OA for putting on a great event. Apologies to Accelerate-Scott on not being  able to kick us off with a win, but I WILL be back next year.

Well done Tim! (Bruce l, Tim r)
* - though I don't want to see it next year


  1. Hi Stu, great write up.

    I picked up your live tracking mid afternoon on Saturday after Accelerate posted the link. I was glued to the screen for a good few hours. Little numbers moving across a map couldn't have been more exciting.

    It was so frustrating seeing you and Robin head off the wrong way, downhill, but it added even more excitement in the final hour. It looked as if you were still in with a shot of winning until you couldn't find the path in the woods - and it was absolutely clear what was happening at that point (check out my comment on Accelerate's Facebook page at that point!) .

    Even then, it looked like you might just have a chance as your paths converged with Tim. The laptop had to sit on the table while we ate tea (the Mrs wasn't chuffed, but the kids loved it!). So thanks for some great entertainment - live tracking has got to be the future for ultrarunning. Well done, and better luck next time around!

    Btw, I'm the guy who recognised you on the way up Porter Clough. Now I've been live tracking you as well, you can say you've got a Walker-Stalker.


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