Race date: Saturday 11th May 2019
Report by Andy Sheppard
Seeing as I needed to be near the Lakes for work for a few days I thought I may as well bung the tent in the car, stay over for the weekend and do something a bit daft on the weekend. And for someone at my level of running ability and relative newness to fell racing, the Buttermere Sailbeck definitely counts as something really pretty silly to take on.
The forecast was for clear skies which is great in the day, but it means a very chilly night – cold enough for ice to form on my tent overnight. Some hot porridge soon warmed the cockles and everything looked amazing as the sun crept over the valley to bring much needed warmth.
I’d seen the stats for the course – 9.5miles and over 4,000ft of climbing but hadn’t really understood what that meant. Heading down to the start I overheard some particularly wizened looking local participants describing it to someone as ‘quite a hard race’ which thankfully made me a bit cautious about starting off too quick.
After a relatively flat climb to get the legs warmed up and a river crossing to get the feet cooled down, we started the first climb up to Knott Rigg – a full 20 minutes of lung-busting walking. Not knowing the terrain, I tucked in behind a local and was surprised to find myself picking up a few places. There then followed an amazing run along a wide ridge with views for miles in the sun. If I’d known this was going to the last bit anywhere close to flat I’d have soaked it in even more but ignorance is bliss and I didn’t know what was to come!
First off was a crazy descent and this is where I lost all the places I’d made on the climb and more. The locals were descending like people possessed. Absolutely crazy speeds but not one of them took a tumble or ever looked out of control. After another river crossing, the real climbing began. The first one was the baby of the route! For the next hour we climbed at various gradients ranging from ‘steep’ to ‘really? up there?’ Some of it was definitely veering into scrambling territory as I learnt that even if the path meanders, the quickest way is a straight line no matter what’s in your way.
The final hurdle was just a solid half hour of steep descending but the pack was spread out by now so not too many passed me as I lumbered heftily downhill feeling like a gorilla amongst gazelles. Pain in my thighs like I’ve never known from running was building but I wasn’t going to let the chap behind catch me up!
I crossed the line as the lone Strider in 97th place out of 134 finishers in 02:26:57. Never have I worked so hard for 15 minute miles! The winner (Brennan Townshend) managed it in 01:28:55. I literally have no idea how that’s humanly possible. First female was Sharon Louise Taylor in 01:46:09. Equally mind-boggling.
Overall, the race was amazingly well organised with fantastic marshalling counting everyone through each checkpoint. And as usual the camaraderie amongst people who think this is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon was very life-affirming. I’ll definitely be back next year and can thoroughly recommend it. Just take the internet description of it having ‘great runnability’ with a pinch of salt…
The full results are here