Sunday, 1 July 2018

Darren Holloway Memorial Buttermere Horseshoe - June 23rd 2018

The start. Run over all the hills you can see from here and a few more you find along the way.

Perfect weather greeted the start of the Buttermere horseshoe – high cloud rather than the baking sun of the previous day and cooler air. Well over 300 starters gathered at Loweswater Village Hall for what is justfiably billed as one of the toughest races in the fell racing calendar with about 36km and over 2800m ascent over the beautiful Buttermere fells. It promised to be a good day out.
On our way                                                                                                                                   Photo: Holmfirth Harriers
We were off; down the lane and through the wood and then out on to the open fell. I felt I was comfortably settled in in the back half of the pack. The first ascent was hard going but I was conscious of not pushing too hard at this stage. Still, I was soaked with sweat by the time I reached the first checkpoint at the summit of Whiteside. The next three checkpoints at Hopegill Head, Grasmoor, and Whiteless Pike went pretty smoothly with some fine ridge running between them and I was happy enough with my position – the legend that is Wendy Dodds not far in front of me, and her rival in the W65 category, Lesley Malarkey, just behind me. 

Fine ridge running from Whiteside
and towards Whiteless Pike

After checkpoint five at Newlands Pass, things started things started to deteriorate for me. I don’t know what the best line is, but I’m pretty sure I lost a lot of time on the one I took, which involved a lot of energy-sapping contouring through high heather and bilberry before getting back to the ridge up to Dale Head, checkpoint 6, followed by the descent to Honister and checkpoint 7. I passed Honister after about 3½ hours and, resisting the temptation to drop out and get the bus, pushed on up towards Haystacks. I still had others runners fairly close at this stage but it seemed to be getting harder to keep contact with them. From checkpoint 8 at Innominate Tarn it was down to Scarth Gap Pass and then began the ascent up to High Crag. 

This ascent was where it really started to go downhill for me. I had a headache, I felt sick, and it was becoming a struggle to set one foot in front of the other. I was in danger of being overtaken by a bloke out for a walk with his dog and I began to wish I had dropped out at Honister. My pace had slowed so much that I began to get cold so it was on jacket and gloves, and I did my best to ‘dig in’. I I thought it would never happen but finally I made it up to the top of High Crag and then managed a bit of a slow jog along to checkpoint 9 at High Stile. Shortly before the checkpoint a little group of four runners caught me up, I was a bit surprised as I’d thought I must be in last place by this time.
Finally approaching the top of High Stile                                                                   Photo: Grand Day Out Photography
...and managing a smile of relief                                                                                  Photo: Grand Day Out Photography
Looking towards Mellbreak                                                                                         Photo: Grand Day Out Photography
 I was still feeling pretty exhausted, but the nausea and headache started to pass. I couldn’t keep up with the group but I was still a bit encouraged by a bit of human contact. There was still a way to go but it felt achievable now, and I felt a bit chuffed to have come through the crisis. Coming down from Red Pike another little group caught me, again I was surprised. I followed them down to Scale Beck and across to Mellbreak. The last climb up Mellbreak and checkpoint 10 was always going to be hard at the end of a long day, but at least I wasn’t feeling ill any more, just knackered. I'd warmed up and the jacket was back in my bag and it was just a tough grind to the top.
Looking back up the valley on the final ascent up Mellbreak
From there it was downhill all the way. The marshal talked of a good runnable descent, probably wisely not mentioning the gorse you end up in if you don’t get quite the right line. However, I made it down and then it just along the track to finish, with a cheer from the revellers as I passed the Kirkstile Inn, before finally reaching the finish line in a time of 7 hours 44 minutes - barely 4 hours after Carl Bell’s winning time!
Some soup, bread, tea and cake later I was feeling vaguely human again. I was last finisher, not an achievement I had aimed for but, on the day, I was pleased to have made it round. And I’d won a £10 spot prize and took home a bottle of Loweswater Gold and some extra cake, so I can’t really complain. Thanks to the organisers, marshals and helpers for a great event.

Lessons learned; the inevitable post-race analysis has been going around in my head the last week. 
1. Training, or rather, lack of it. I can’t expect to run a race like this without have done a good bit more training – both distance and ascent - I think I've not really put in the effort this Spring.
.     2. Nutrition. The homemade energy bites aren’t working for me. I need to find something else to eat on longer races.
      3. Route choice. I was guilty of following those around me rather than taking an active choice. I wasn’t able to recce the route, but it would have been an idea to think a bit more about it beforehand. But it would be nice to manage do a proper recce beforehand of a Lakes fell race one day.

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