I’m delighted to host this guest blog race report from the lovely Di Newton. Di is 70 years old and only started her running journey ten years ago at the age of 60. Running most days, she clocks up enviable distances spotting wildlife and wombling wherever she goes, even during races! Continually curious, many of her adventures result from wondering where different paths might lead.
I’ve been privileged to spend some happy hours in the hills and on trails with Di. Her glass is always half-full and her life’s tapestry a mass of diverse stories and experiences. An accomplished and informative raconteur, she’s just the best company on an outing and brightens even the most miserable of weather days the Lakes and Dales throw at us. She’s also one of the gnarliest runners I know.
Age is just a number as Di illustrates in her account of a few short months of her adventures in 2021.
A tale of three races
This is the very long tale of my run on Saturday 12th June 2021. You’ll need a bottle of gin, or Prosecco to keep you awake whilst reading it. Don’t feel obliged to read it, but there are some nice photos of the Lake District on a sunny day and we all need a sunny day now and then.
Lakes 40 Limited Edition (formerly Lakes Mountain 42) is an ultarun by NAV4 Addventure. This year the course was shortened from 42 to 40 miles by cutting out part of the route requiring a descent into Thirlmere and a long climb back to Helvellyn.
A little history behind my story for this event.
Firstly, I have marshalled for NAV4 on this event for a few years and seen it from the other side of the finishing line, dishing out soup, giving words of advice and generally looking after the runners on their return to Askham after a long day in the fells. Joe is the main man on this event and his events are just the very best: low key and no frills.
Secondly, this year I have been able to run with Angela, aka The Running Granny. She is a legend who is the oldest lady to complete the JOGLE, John o’ Groats to Land’s End. Very recently she has trained and run the Steve Parr Round. This involved running 62 peaks in the Lake District at the age of 62. She set herself a target of 62 hours and went over her target, but only just. So like I said, in my eyes she is a legend. The reason she has been doing these runs is because she is passionate about spreading the word that age should not be a barrier to getting fit and staying healthy and fit into later life. I have learnt an immense amount about running and nutrition from her. When I told Angela I had signed up for the Lakes 40 she was happy to help me with lots of great advice and training runs.
The year so far
I have been one of the lucky ones during lockdown in that I have been able to go out running when I have wanted. I avoided the high fells with the view that if I were to have an accident out there and Mountain Rescue was needed this would put immense pressure on their services. So no hill training to speak of although I have run a few long distance virtual events.
My first real event was the 23 mile Derwentwater Dawdle in April. It didn’t end well. It was a hot day in the hills and by mile 15 I had runner’s lean. This condition is where the body starts leaning to one side. It gets more and more painful as time goes on. Your balance is buggered and the only way to fix it is to stop. Within a couple of hours of rest it starts to get back to normal. It has been suggested that bad hydration could be a cause or an imbalance of muscles on one side of the body. This was race number 1 and I managed to finish in 7hrs 40mins, 165th out of 206 entrants and 76th lady out of 104 entrants.
Race number 2 was The Lap, 46 miles around Windermere at the beginning of May. The weather was poor. It got worse. By the time many runners got to Ambleside from the start at Lakeside and after negotiating Loughrigg in the bitter cold they were queuing up at the Alpkit shop to buy extra hats and gloves. I was well equipped and kept going. The weather was no better on the top of Wansfell. I finished about halfway up the field in a time of just over 16 hours.
Race number 3 was Lakes Mountains 40 on Saturday 12 June 2021 – 6am start
I was up at 5am to eat breakfast and prepare for registration and the start at 6am. I usually dress in long pants for racing as I fear if I fall with shorts on I will do more damage than if I have the long pants on. However, the day looked settled and as if it was going to be hot. I lathered up with sunscreen and donned my shorts! I had a bagful of stuff that I might never need during the day, but always go prepared. It was a COVID staggered start and I was first out of the blocks! We were set off at minute intervals. Social distancing was great. I walked the first mile up the hill to where a track takes you across Askham Fell to an old stone circle called the Cockpit. By the time I reached the Cockpit five or six people had overtaken me. This was expected.
It was quite reassuring to have someone to follow as we turned to go up the old roman road known as High Street. It isn’t a road, it is a faint trod leading up to Load Pot Hill then on to the top, High Street. The first checkpoint was manned by Angela at Load Pot Trig point. Bearing in mind Angela had only just completed her epic 62@62 she had been given a tough gig marshalling there! I told her I was cold and she just said “Do you need to put a extra layer on?” Thanks Angela. I put a tank top over my thin long-sleeved top and donned my hat and gloves. Immediately I felt much better. Now it was onwards and upwards on a fairly good trod to High Street. It was a while since I’d been up here so kept a close eye on where I was going and where the runners in front of me were going too. We could take any route we wanted between checkpoints. I was soon climbing up with a high wall on my right when nature called! I saw there was a bit of a kink in the wall and as soon as I had glanced over my shoulder I squatted down! I finished just in time, as the next chap came up. I just told him I had issues! We could see across to the Helvellyn range where the sun was shining but we were in a thin wind. Finally, I got to Checkpoint 2 at the High Street trig point where Paul ticked us off his list. Little did I know I would meet him much, much later on.
We turned around at the Trig and ran back down the hill taking a turning towards Angle Tarn (the next checkpoint). I was on familiar ground now. Still people were passing me, but I was in my happy place. Angle Tarn came into view along with John Bamber (top explorer/mountain man/camera man) who was ticking us off his list and taking our pictures as proof that we had been there. We had a quick chat and I carried on, dropping down towards Boredale Hause. The tourists were up and about now and in some places the path was a bit narrow, but social distancing was observed. From Boredale Hause the path is steep and rocky in places and takes you to the valley bottom to Patterdale. The temperature was rising. I removed my hat and gloves but kept the top on for a bit longer.
My friends Sally and Steve were up in the Lakes for a few days staying nearby at Brotherswater. It occurred to me that they may pop up somewhere on the route so when I saw a dog with two people across the valley bottom I guessed it was them! They were too far away to shout and they were trotting away from me. Damn. I ran to the Checkpoint near the George Starkey Hut at Patterdale and Louise, one of the marshals, told me she had just texted Sally to say I had arrived. However, Sally and Steve had trotted off to see if they could cheer on Sabrina who was doing her Wainwrights’ Challenge over the weekend and might see me later.
It was lovely to see so many familiar faces at this roadside checkpoint. We were allowed a drop bag for our own food that we could have on the way out and on the way back. It worked well, I had put two of everything I thought I might enjoy. The rice pudding pots were yummy. I took a couple of bars, gels and other stuff to see me right up Helvellyn. I’d left the pork pies in the van fridge, booh! At this checkpoint we had the option of returning to Askham by a route over Place Fell or carrying on to do a loop of Helvellyn then back to Askham via Place Fell.
I was enjoying myself far too much to leave it there. I think this was where the last few runners overtook me and I knew I was probably last. Oh well. I was determined to finish this race. Previously I had attempted NAV4’s Tour de Helvellyn, TdH, twice and each time I had not finished. Joe had to drive a long way to pick me up from Martindale Church on one of those occasions but I had told him this time there was no way he was going to have to do that. The TdH is a fabulous event, staged on the Saturday before Christmas so close to the shortest day and always in winter conditions.
The Grisedale valley is beautiful and it was a real privilege to be back there – I was trotting along quite nicely, taking in the birdsongs and smells of the countryside. My next objective was to get to Ruthwaite Lodge. It is a good climb up to it, but you know it’s not so far to Grisedale Tarn from there to the next CP. As I approached the Lodge (it’s a locked hut used by Outward Bound I think), there on the side of the path was an empty can of Stella! WTF. I picked it up, but then I had no room in my back pack for it. Damn. Outside the hut was another empty Stella. I crushed them both and lay them beside the doorway. On my way back I would collect them if I had the room or inclination.
Here is a strange snippet. My mother lived in Grisedale for many years and on some occasions I would walk this way to Grasmere to catch a bus home after a visit. One year at about the same time of year, I heard a bird in the high crags on the right-hand side. It was going “meep, meep, meep” I couldn’t pinpoint where it was. I thought it must be a young bird calling for its parent. So, imagine my surprise when I heard the same noise on my run! I still couldn’t pinpoint it. So, a bird that uses the same nest every year? I’m thinking something like a Peregrine.
I was soon having a quick chat with Jim the marshal at the tarn. I got my poles out for the first time. Jim and Zoe Tinion who had been following me, passed me. I thought Jim was the sweeper, but he wasn’t. I started up Dollywagon (I love that name!) Head down and slog, slog, slog to the top of those stone steps. Lots of people about on the tops as I ran towards Helvellyn Trig. Striding Edge came into view. There was a long procession of people on the ridge. They looked like worker ants. It only took for one person to lose their cool and MRT would have a huge job on their hands. I had decided that I would return to Patterdale from the top by the same route because I knew it so well and I certainly wasn’t going to try Swirral Edge on wobbly legs. The other option was the zig zags, I didn’t know that route terribly well.
I was still eating and drinking well and a quick turnaround at the top saw me heading back to Grisedale Tarn. It goes on a bit, but I know it so well from a year I spent walking up Helvellyn from Swirls and then dropping down that way to Grasmere to catch the bus home. I must have summited it nearly as much as the weatherman that year, before I started to run.
Back down the steps I could look across at the views. It was a fabulous day. At the Tarn Jim the marshal was still there. He was waiting to tick off two runners. He scribbled their numbers down on my tag so that I could ask Patterdale to radio him and let him know if he could stand down or were they still on their way. As we were talking, a runner was approaching, a young lass in a tartan skort. As she got nearer I thought that looks like Lorna’s skort. Guess what? it was Lorna, who was out recceing the Lakeland 55k. We had a quick chat until I remembered I was supposed to be in a race!
Back at Ruthwaite Lodge and the beer cans were still there, but now I had my poles out I had room for the can litter in my pack. It was a good run down to Patterdale to the checkpoint where the only drop bag left was mine and, I was last! Sally and Steve and Max the dog were there to greet me. We had a chuckle about the beer cans. It was insinuated that I had drunk the contents as fuel. I had a quick cup of tea, reloaded my food. It was 3.30pm. The first TdH when I retired, I had got back just before the cut-off at 4.30 so was happy that there was still a bit of time left. There were no cut-offs this time, but Joe does like us back before last orders!
I fuelled up in anticipation of the big climb up to Boredale Hause and then up again onto Place Fell, the last huge climb of the day. I had recced Place Fell as I didn’t know the way off the top. It had taken me just over an hour on fresh legs to get from the valley bottom to the Trig. I thought it might take me longer this time!
It was very hot in the late afternoon. Although I had put sunscreen on, I didn’t dare change from my long sleeves to my vest top. The last thing I wanted was sunburn and heatstroke. As I had anticipated, the climb was very tiring. In the end I was walking for a few metres, stopping for a few seconds and then repeating in-between mouthfuls of food. Place Fell is deceiving in that you may think you are nearly at the top, but no, there is more! I was so pleased to see Eddie the marshal on top and also Paul from High Street again. Eddie is a pal of Angela’s who had helped her on both her epic challenges. Paul had also run one leg of her 62@62 so I was in good hands. We hadn’t met before. Paul told me that he was the sweeper from here to the end. Deep joy, I was now going to have company for the rest of the event. I love being on my own. However, company is sometimes a good distraction.
I set off down the other side of Place Fell towards Martindale. After all that uphill it was a nice change to be able to run again. The path is rough in places, but you can get a bit of a shuffle on where it is less rough. The path takes you down through the contours, then at an angle before dropping steeply into the valley bottom. I had to throw myself over a gate because it was all chained up but that was it, I was down. At the beck I stopped and dipped my buff in the water, it wasn’t the first time I had done that. I couldn’t get close enough to the water so paddled in. The relief to my feet was enormous. They had been starting to throb a bit. I stuck the buff on top of my head.
Paul and I jogged along the road for about half a mile, up the steep little road to the check point at the church, where Angela was waiting to tick me off her list for the second time that day. We stopped there for a bit whilst I caught my breath and Angela asked me questions like had I fuelled up, what had I eaten, how much had I had to drink. It was going over my head a bit, but then I realised I was standing still in full sun and I was overheating. I moved a few paces back into the shade and started to concentrate. She forced a banana and a nutty bar onto me and I was good to go. The path goes behind the church and joins a good path towards Mellguards at the bottom of Fusedale. Just before that I needed a pee, so asked Paul if he would go ahead and let me know if anyone was coming. He gave the ok sign, so I did what I had to do.
We trotted along together, sometimes I had to walk for a bit. The path starts to gradually go up hill, but very gently, so it was doable. At the beginning of this event, I had it in my head that I would be happy if I could get back by 8pm. It was looking like it might happen if I kept focussed. Angela’s checkpoint at the church was the last one.
The path leads round to the Cockpit that I passed so many hours ago. I was pleased to see it but almost took the wrong path there. The land here is a bit flat and so you can’t see where a path might go and I nearly went wrong again, but thanks to Paul for giving me the nod in the right direction.
We climbed slightly out of the dip onto a very well-trodden downhill path. We were probably only a mile from the finish, but my legs were shot. I really tried to run and gravity helped. Finally, on to the tarmac, down a very short hill and into the finish. 8,520 feet of ascent completed.
All the marshals cheered me in in great style. Thank you every one of them. I had a bowl of Joe’s special home-made ultra-soup and a large cup of tea. I was done in just over 13 hours 45 minutes, and it was 7.45ish. I couldn’t have been happier.
A big nod to Angela for helping me, giving me great advice and being there on the day when she really should have been recovering from her epic run. Thanks to Paul for putting up with me for all those miles from Place Fell to the finish. I didn’t take any photos, so thanks for the photos from Jo Adams and John Bamber.
Imagine the unimaginable - then make it happen