Two weeks before the Tour de Helvellyn, Storm Desmond dramatically hit the Lake District. Just over a week before the race, the organisers Nav4 Adventure, gave the happy news that the 2015 Tour de Helvellyn would go ahead – albeit a bit of a grittier version.
My journey started at Canary Wharf on the Friday afternoon. A cycle to Kings Cross, a train to Leeds and a drive to Askham, arriving just in time to register and set up camp in Askham Village Hall floor for the night. The 38 miles and over 3000m starts on the Saturday morning.
You can choose when to set off which gives the start a really relaxed feel – no mad dash for the first gate!
I’d had a really good run at the Hardmoors Roseberry Topping marathon (which turned out to be 30 miles!) 6 days before so I wasn’t expecting to feel very strong but was looking forward to a good wintery day out in the hills. Casper had decided to run with me too which made the day even better!
The sun was just rising as we set off from Askham. As we battled over Barton Fell to Howtown it was a hood up, head down, left, right, left, right few miles. The rain was hammering down and the wind was relentless. Heading into Howtown we saw the first signs of Storm Desmond – landslides had taken out footpaths and even drystone walls. Climbing up to Boardale Hause there were “waterfalls” that definitely weren’t there when I reccied the route a few weeks ago.
I loved the super fast decent down to checkpoint 2, Side Farm. It was heaving with runners in the barn, some in and out in a dash whilst others took their time over warm tea and savoury nibbles.
After a small diversion to avoid some flooding it was the climb out the back of Glenridding to Greenside and Sticks Pass. I was about 12 miles in now and my legs felt a little heavy but really not too bad. Greenside was a fun checkpoint, being greeted by the very smiley Stuart and Jill of Nav4. Then it was the gentle ascent to sticks pass.
When I’d reccied the route 3 weeks before, the gusts were at 70mph up here and I’d had to run over the top backwards as the wind and rain was too painful on my face. Today was windy and rainy but significantly less wild, so I enjoyed running down forwards, making the decent much easier!
A little way along the Thirlmere valley was checkpoint 4 and my favourite checkpoint snack, cheese! I grabbed a big handful and was on my way. Then we began to the see more devastation of the stormy weather – where there had been bridges a few weeks ago there were now huge landslides, it brought tears to my eyes to see the power the water had had. The bridge at Dunmail was gone too so we were given the choice to run along the road for a few hundred metres or to keep high and cross the swollen stream, which had become rather a raging torrent.
A guy had just crossed who kindly pointed out a good place to cross. The whole race had this team spirit atmosphere, it was lovely. As I stepped in, the water was up to my waist! As we ascended Raise Beck I shouted through the gales back to Casper “I’m having so much fun” – as I really was!
Reaching Grisedale Tarn and the westerly wind I’d been looking forward to for the past 4.5 hours, you couldn’t take a step forward without being propelled a further 50 percent than intended! I kept to my strategy of it is quicker to descend faster with the greater risk of falling over than to run slower. I fell lots, 2 times hard and a few lighter bounces on the ground.
I arrived into the penultimate checkpoint (which had also been checkpoint 2) at 6 hours. It took 2 hours to arrive there earlier on so I knew if I got a move on I’d make it back in 8 hours! (which was my secret hope!). After another big handful of cheese I was on the home straight and back over to Howtown and the final ascent. I felt really rather strong on this stretch, passing quite a few people. It was lovely to get cheered on by Kim Collison who was out running in the opposite direction. On reaching the top of the final ascent I could see Casper waiting at the final gate. We were on 7.37 (so I had 23 minutes to do just over a mile, easy!). I hurtled down the hill yelling “we are going to make it back in 8 hours!”. I was very excited!
I loved every part of the run, but a special little moment, at that gate, just over a mile from the finish, when Casper asked me TO MARRY HIM!!! was definitely my favourite! I said of course and then sprinted off down the hill to the finish. We finished together in 7 hours 46 minutes. Not only had we made it back within 8 hours, I’d found my new favourite race and received a proposal of marriage but I’d finished 2nd lady too! I was one very happy girl.
The Tour de Helvellyn is a fantastic event. The guys from Nav4 Adventure have it spot on. Everything was just right; staying in the village hall, the humbleness, the checking we were all probably equipped for being on the hills, the marshals, the food, the race momentum coaster, I could go on and on. Thank you for a such a good day out! The Lake District is most definitely open!