Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sunrise to Sunset... Tour de Helvellyn 2016

I've always loved Helvellyn so the chance to do the Tour de Helvellyn winter ultra last December was just to good to be true. A winter ultra with plenty of elevation to test the legs and 38 miles of navigation between checkpoints and 7,000ft+ of elevation. The Recce a few weeks before was full of snow but on race day it had cleared.

After sleeping in the village hall the night before, meeting folk and discussing ultras and the route, lovely atmosphere. I was amused to see that the team organising the event, spent much of the evening fixing with planks, hammers, and bricks the beer keg tap in place. It needed to to be straight. Brilliant team effort and I can't rate Nav4 Adventures enough for their down to earth, real attitudes with hearty hospitality. They make great soup too!

Once I got my head down and it was lights out I hardly slept. I kept waking up having dreamt I had lost my 'orange' raincoat and couldn't find it for the kit check! I don't even own an 'orange raincoat' so I told myself, 'the kit is fine, get back to sleep'. Well I was still up super early, gear on, porridge collected and eaten.  I had met another runner the night before and we decided to set off just after 7:40am to get through the kit check, which is thorough, then it's dib in and your off. Still dark, but enough light to not even bother with the head torch. The sun beginning to rise as we headed up the road, through a few gates and on to the moorland, the days adventure had begun with the plan to make it back in before he sun goes down. Sunrise to Sunset was my goal.

My plan in general was to take the first section to the CP2 really steady and let the miles just pass by in the early morning...this is how it went with plenty of chatter.

Coming down from Boredale to CP2 it was well worth a stop to take in the morning views with plenty of the route to go and the big climbs still to come. With the first check point and a welcome cup of coffee and snacks ahead could it get any better.
Pic taken by Ian Heywood my running buddy

Sticks pass on the recce had been a foot deep in snow, on race day it was near perfect, the sun was shining; it just goes to show that you need to be prepared for any kind of weather. I had planned to run the early sections of the climb then power hike the rest, this seems to work well and I enjoyed the climb.
Joe Faulkner (NAV4 Adventure) 

Reaching the highest point of any race is welcome and with a photographer near the top, best running stride required; seeing these pictures puts into context the glorious views that during an event can if your not careful just pass you by.

At the top of Stick pass the route takes you down at times steeply to the footpath which runs along to the carpark and one of the other CP's that had food and drinks available..I had a festive mince pie at this one (CP5); this short section running wise was the most difficult underfoot, with on the day a muddy but rocky path, making it at times difficult to get a footing and much slower going than expected. Coming off the top of Sticks Pass noticed more some runners taking better more direct route on the mountain, saving time, with some local knowledge definitely an advantage.

After the checkpoint, it is along a newly graded path, up and down for a few miles until its up Raise Beck with a nifty water crossing. This was the only point on the day where the cloud misted up and it became quite atmospheric. This climb is a tester with 21 miles already on the clock.
Once at the top of Raise Beck Grisedale Tarn awaits for some rocky view points down the valley back to Patterdale, which at this stage of the event getting back to Side Farm for some might be the end of the event if they didn't make the cut off - this is about marathon distance and there is plenty running left to do and the last section shouldn't be under estimated as the evening draws in and the legs get tired and the requirement to navigate your way in fading light.
view near Grisedale Tarn towards Patterdal

Don't forget Boredale Hause!
On the way past CP8; CP1 on the way out, you can choose which way to go, behind St. Peter Church which is the way we took earlier in the day, better under foot in reflection and less descent, keeping the elevation gain. on the way back I opted for the route which is a steeper descent, picking up some road sections and passing Howtown to connect again with the footpath.

This final picture sums up the day for me, my goal had been to get back before the sunset and I did, and here I got a glimpse of the end of the day coming to spur me on to the end (8hr 45mins), heavy legged but well pleased to have taken part; I'm going to be back for more, next with the Lakes Mountain 42 in April. I should mention the after event chat, drink and food was awesome, a truly friendly bunch of runners, with tales going on into the night.
Sunrise to Sunset - looking back at Howtown

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