Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Great Westmorland Trail Race 2011

Another trip to Penrith, another race in Cumbria. This time the Westmorland Trail Race had the dubious pleasure of my company. It was advertised as a 7 mile stretch in the countryside with 1000ft of ascent. I parked up in the farmers field and signed on at registration at the Crosby Garrett Village Hall. About 4 miles west of Kirkby Stephen, it was a sleepy hollow but 140 of us had made the trip and I was advised that ‘not road shoes’ were the order of the day. Does that mean flip-flops will do?

The course follows rolling grassy and gravel trails around Crosby Garrett Moor and after the first long exposed climb the rain arrived and coupled with a strong headwind, I looked for some shelter. Carl Bell and a couple of others were well away at the front followed by a group of 3 and a group of around 8 or 10 which I was in. It began to fragment as we levelled out on wide expanse of moorland and I found myself with Hanna, an under 21 runner from the local club the Howgill Harriers. I tried to work with him to share the work at the front in the headwind but he didn’t hang in close enough behind me to get any benefit. On the other hand, I was so close on his shoulder when I dropped back that I caught his heels a couple of times and had to trust that the line he was taking was safe enough there not being any space between us for me to avoid boulder and hollows.

We ploughed on as we dropped into the Picturesque Potts Valley that sweeps down past Hazzler crags. Turning at 3 miles we had a powerful tailwind and worked hard to catch Garner of Cumbrian Tri. It was all good, fast running terrain with only a few boggy patches. The Ambleside runner just in front was proving more elusive and, slowly, a gap had opened up between me and Howgill, but I had to stay with him and told myself I was in running well. We splashed through a stream and then the track rose steeply up the valley end with a 350ft climb in front. The pace dropped to nothing and it was all I could do not to walk. Ambleside had 30 seconds at the top and Howgill 10 seconds as we began to descend. The route took us through a right of way between two grey, mossy drystone walls creating a sweeping narrow corridor perhaps half a mile long and 2 metres wide (called Ladybank and Ladle Lane. I hammered down the narrow track, the grey limestone walls high on both sides, the Salomons struggling to find traction in places on patches of wet rocks, cobbles and boulders.

As we entered the village, Howgill and I were together and it was flat out to the line where I got the decision, but there was really nothing in it. Had a quick clean, cake and tea and a nice chat with the cheery ladies who were overseeing the catering. Checking the results board which was at the finish line as I made my way back to the car, I noticed that I was first vet (8th) and with a little more scrutiny also saw I was in line for first lady as well. This gender re-assignation was evidently going to be rumbled at the prize giving so I thought I’d better put the organisers straight. Waited for the prize giving and got a nice voucher to add to my little (and now old) collection of Pete Bland tokens for when I’m next in Kendal. The Howgill runner was one of three who made up the winning male team and got a bottle so that seemed a good result all round. This is a great trail race, scenic and not too demanding with markers every 50m or so and probably one of the best routes I’ve ran. A good result always adds of course to that positive feeling.

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