Saturday, 28 December 2013

Tour De Helvellyn 2013

Coming to the end of the year and training has been consistent and I've managed to stay injury free. Importantly, I have also been better at not over training and so at the start of the taper for the Tour De Helvellyn race felt that I was adequately prepared.

This was a race of unfinished business. To recap; my schoolgirl error of last year when I unnecessarily followed another competitor, became the driving force behind my desire to fair well on the 21st December 2013. There is an element of risk involved when you are contemplating following someone during a race. You distort your usually sound thinking because they may, just may, have a better, faster, easier route than yourself,  and so you take the risk. Of course there may be a slender chance of the above, however the difference it will make is likely to be negligible and so the price of wobbling and not running your own race is that you risk getting lost with just a few miles to go and as it slips away you are anxiously wandering around in woodlands for an hour or so.


The Tour De Helvellyn (TDH) race has a reputation for it's hardiness because of the time of year. Principally, the weather which has been bitter cold, sleet, calf deep snow, ice, blizzards, and general grimness. This year the weather was less harsh yet, it remained a serious contender in itself. The 70mph winds were horrific... licking me up and spitting me out against the rocks at times. The run up and through Boredale Hause was a battle. Being pushed and shoved by the wind was tough enough however, with the helping hand of hail and rain that was coming in sideways, I could open my eyes only to a squint. Run....not a chance, however the hail stones bouncing off my teeth kept me amused.

I had a solid race and paced it nicely. Yes I started fast and paid a little for that at the end when I dropped off my pace more than I would have liked. The distance is 38 miles (however it's more likely to be a little shy of that distance) with approximately 6000 (ish) ft of ascent. So, fairly flat road and path sections make this a fast run-able race in part. The climbs are more long and drawn out for example Boredale Hause and Sticks pass, as opposed to sharp ascending and yet the beauty of being able to descent gently on well trod and metalled paths is that you fly for longer on the way back down, catch your breath and have moments where you can lift your head and view the reasons why you adore running in mountains. I get excitable when descending, for me it's where the fun is at and the run from Grisdale tarn into Patterdale is a playground, hop skip and jumping over through and around. I didn't find the crown of the kingdom of Cumbria as I a little short on time for looking for lost treasure. The climb through the ski centre on a zig zag path up toward Stang End was a moment of truth. I witnessed four competitors taking a more direct route, coming off the zig zag path and head towards the beck. Panic...argggghhh, do I follow? They may know a much better, faster, easier route than the one I have chosen! Wobble wobble. 'No Tracy, stick to what you know, let them go'. I let them go. A few minutes later, I looked down to my right as I approached the beck, and four runners were desperately trying to scramble up fell side, I left them behind and pushed on, smiling lesson learnt!

The contrast of open fell, road and path keeps you interested in this race throughout and approaching swirls car park over a technically rocky section, I spotted a long suffering pal, Gaynor being super organised as she effortlessly saw the runners through her checkpoint. Her words of encouragement spurred me on as I sprinted the few miles of forest path and skied across to the footbridge of Raise beck around the base of Dollywagon Pike. I say skied, the sopping ground was easier to ski than to run, even if the footwear for the activity was amiss! Talking of foot wear I had donned my favourite Inov8 Trailroc 236, they are responsive and I trust them implicitly.



Arriving into Patterdale check point for the second time I knew I was on the home straight, I negotiated the hidden path under a foot of water, grabbed a handful of cherry tomatoes and was off. A short climb and back through Martindale. The two figures that were confidently picking their way down were Karen Nash and Andy Mouncy, I hadn't realised at the time, however this was Karen's final ultra race, good luck Karen in all that comes next for you. Andy has been training for his next venture and was using this race as part of his training program, good luck Andy in your up and coming events. We exchanged pleasantries and I motored on. Two minutes later came the first spectacular fall, I was minding my own business going down what had become the water shoot of Boredale Hause, when both feet shot up in the air, and I was on my butt. No pain, good, up and run, oh and worry that two amazing runners behind just witnessed that fall, shame. Then for good measure, less than two steps later I repeated the trick, yeah, that's it, Andy and Karen, it was a purposeful trick to make you two laugh, ahem!



I had wanted to cover the return run over Askem fell in the light, yet had cut it fine as I didn't start the race until 9am and it is traditionally held on the shortest day. Nonetheless if I didn't lose too much pace then this was a real prospect. The last hour and half was surprisingly quick and I was reaching land marks much sooner than I had expected, a welcome sign when you've battled with wind dragons, are soaked through to the bone, tired and ready for a nice cup of warm something. I hooked up with Torq team mate Matty Brennan, not his best race, but he was only wearing half a shoe by the time I caught up with him. We pushed on and dragged each other through the fell for a wonderful sprint into Askhem. 

I was expecting to fair well in this race, I was certainly out there to make up for last year. To complete in 6 hrs 49 minutes and win has put a very large Christmas smile on my face. The first male in a very respectful 5hrs 48mins was Edward Catmur, both holding the course records in our respsecitve genders, for now.

Full results