The 2012 Staveley 17km Challenger Event, Cumbria, England

The Staveley 17km event was organised by Lakeland Trails and held on Saturday 26th May, 2012. First of all, here’s a film of the event, it’ll give you an idea of what to expect from the route.

I think I have to name this event as my Number ONE so far this year. Without a doubt actually. Sure, you do have to pay for parking (£2) which is unusual in the races I’ve done before, and you get no goody bag or medal (you do get a decent T-Shirt though), but none the less, it’s definitely my favourite, and here’s why.

First of all, the location of the run, tracing a line around the Kentmere valley just east of Lake Windermere, is magnificent. But that’s not too unusual in the events I compete in (luckily enough for me), last week it was the Windermere Marathon itself, and a few weeks before that the Stonehenge Marathon, each of them cutting a path through the most beautiful scenery. Second up was the fact that the event had several races going on during the course of the day. Starting off with the 10km run. Usually I’m taking part in the races, so I don’t get to see the competitors getting all excited and then setting off, and then later on, making their way to the finish line. I really enjoyed experiencing that. Then there was a kids race, 1 or 2 laps around the field according to their ages, with some parents joining their youngsters on the laps. That was fun. And then there were two versions of the race I was taking part in, the 17km. The Challenger race, for those who weren’t quite so good on the trails, and the race itself, for the other, more experienced runners. I opted for the Challenger race. Partly because this was my first trail race in the Lake District and I had no idea what to expect, and partly because I was tired out. We’d had stunning weather for the previous week, and I’d been hiking up into the high mountains every single day since the Windermere marathon. Indeed, the day before this race, I’d hiked 18km up to and along the Helvelyn summit ridge, and swum in 2 lakes (actually, the lake swimming might have been a great thing; sort of a natural ice bath), and I’d woken up on race day with my legs feeling pretty battered.

About 300 of us set off at 1pm. It was another hot day but the pace didn’t seem to suffer. Nobody had any excuse to be dehydrated at first; there were barrels of free water and electrolyte fluid on offer all day at the event village. The first 3 or 4 km were on tarmac, with 2 of those km taking us up a steady climb. That, and the rutted track that came after it, really strung the field out, and by the time we hit the 4.5km mark and turned onto a grassy plateau, I started to pass people who were already walking.

Then came a fast, deeply rutted single track across the fell, with no room to pass, although kindly the chap in front of me jumped to one side momentarily to allow me through. It really was a fast course. I was still feeling tired, but at the same time felt that I was flying across the fell, and then down along a steep incline that was more like a dry river bed with loose stones and boulders coating the ground.

There were precious few flat bits, and little time to recover. We were either going down, or up. I hope nobody lost their concentration there on the downhills as it would’ve been easy to twist an ankle there if you weren’t careful. I just went for it, keeping my eyes fixed well on the ground, hopping from rock to rock, hoping they were well embedded and not going to give way under my step…

There was a fuel stop at about 5km with water, electrolyte fluid and mint cake and shortly after came the start of a long uphill slog. The views over on our right were breathtaking; Kentmere Tarn down below and the peaks of Kentmere Pike and Hollow Moor above it, dotted with hawthorn and crab apple trees in blossom. The hill went on, and on.

There were a few 5 bar gates to get past. 1 guy in front of me bothered to open and shut them, whilst another guy just climbed over. I chose to climb over as well, it seemed quicker that way.

A guy on a mountain bike shouted out, asking if I knew where I was in the field. I didn’t really, I’d got a slow start I thought, so I was about 50th I reckoned. It was impossible to tell, the route was so hilly it was hard to see who was in front and who was behind.

So I was pretty shocked when a Marshall shouted out that I was 5th. It gave me new strength in my tired legs. I’d never finished any race in the top 10 before! Not that I’m bothered, I just like to take part mainly, but, faced with the prospect of finishing 5th, well, that would be something to tell my old mum, wouldn’t it…

It was mainly a dry track, with a few streams to jump over, and a couple of large puddles/bogs to traverse, which I managed to hurdle except for one, which left me with wet trainers. Then the ground seemed to head slightly downhill for a few km, allowing me to really build up some speed, and then another chap came into view. It was such a nice feeling, this seeing somebody on the far hillside and feeling confident that you had a chance of catching him. Mainly this was because I was in the Challenger race, with other runners of my own standard. I’m sure if I’d have been in the main race I’d have been near the back, among the crowds. But there was also the style of running I was adopting which made it possible. As long as you ran hard on the downhills, you had a good chance of catching the person in front, as many seemed to take it very careful on those rocky stretches.

And I did catch him, and then in the far distance I could see 3rd place, and the track was good so I was able to go full pelt, stopping briefly at the 2nd fuel stop for a long drink, and then I caught and passed him with about 3 km to go.

I knew that waiting for us, before the final descent to the finish line, that there was what the organisers had called ‘A Sting in the Tail’, which took the form of a particularly tough final fell called Reston Scar. All runners, taking part in the 10 and the 17km races, had to tackle it. I felt every step of its 255 metre height, and luckily for me, so did the chap in 2nd place. I overtook him on the way to the summit, where a Marshall high fived me and pointed me into the wind with an encouraging ‘1st place only has 35 seconds on you!’

The was a fierce gale blowing, it nearly took my hat off, and it was hard to run into, to get any speed up in, but at least it was downhill all the way now. I could see the event village way below, and just kept my head down, scouring the ground all the time. It was grassy, but there were lots of dips and knolls, and deep rivulets, to avoid, and then we were onto a dirt track which zigzagged every downward. Until a sharp left turn, then is, and a very surprising bit seconds later where the wide sunlit track narrowed into a shaded, very dark single track pathway where for about 10 seconds I could see hardly anything, as my eyes got used to the gloom.

I exited that onto tarmac, and there was 1st place about 10 seconds away. But he was strong, I could see it, and I was done in, and he accelerated away, leaving me to enjoy the final jog alongside the river, then into the event village space, on my own. The final 400 metres was one lap of the field, which was dotted with picnicking spectators, who all very kindly cheered me in towards the finish. A drumming band played as I crossed the line, and the lad who had got 1st place had generously hung around to shake my hand. I’m not sure what the time was, about 1 hour 30 I think. Not fast, but then again, it was a tough course, and I’m far from being an accomplished trail runner, so I was well happy with that.

What a great event. Something for all runners, of all abilities. Afterwards there was live music, more bright sun and ice creams all round. And then I stopped off at Ullswater on the way back to the campsite and had a swim/ice bath in its clear waters before falling asleep on the shingle beach. Brilliant.

Lakeland Trails organise a variety of Lake District based events, including marathons, 17kms, 10kms and more. To discover more, please visit www.lakelandtrails.org

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