26+ miles and 3000ft of elevation set in the picturesque surroundings of the Lake District. Throw in a few fun obstacles, some short swimming sections, and an intriguing start; and you have a very special event on the cards.
I had already missed out on this event the year before due to injury, so was pretty excited about it. I'm glad to say that it definitely didn't disappoint.
I felt in good shape before the race. It would be the farthest I've ever ran, but my training had went well and I felt confident I could cover the distance. Ultimately however, I was just pleased to be there, not injured, and finally able to see what this event had in store.
The weather at the start line was the proper British summer of heavy rain and strong winds. A misty fog covered Morecambe Bay making visibility poor, and if I wasn't pumped about the imminent race start, then would have been a pretty miserable morning.
Crossing the Bay
The first 8-10km of the race would be a very special crossing of Morecambe Bay while the tide was out. Since this can be potentially dangerous if attempted unsupervised or at the wrong time of day (see Chinese cockle picking tragedy), we were to follow a local farmer in his tractor; who would dictate a safe route across.
Everyone gathered on the wet sand as we waited for the tractor to appear out of the fog. After a bit of a wait, the race was underway and we all headed off across the sands, towards the barely visible tractor far in the distance.
I was surprised about how variable the sand and terrain was during the crossing. It ranged from damp bouncy sand (that felt awesome to run on), to marshy quicksand, and also sections of wading across thigh deep water.
After 3-4km of running, I looked back and there was a long line of people as far as you could see, snaking across the sands and disappearing into the misty abyss. Felt pretty special to be a part of, and it'll be a sight that will stick with me for quite some time.
Another 5km or so later, we had crossed the Bay and were heading along the narrow windy roads. The first pit stop was up next, though I didn't really stop, just randomly grabbing a Viscount biscuit as I ran past. I was feeling good and was eager to crack on and maintain the decent pace I had going.
The Vertical Kilometre
However, round the corner and across the street, we headed onto a trail for the start of the many hills. I overheard another runner say "this must be the start of the Vertical Kilometre". (One advertised quirk of the event is the "Vertical Kilometre" - a separately timed race within a race, featuring a very steep kilometre).
Thinking this must be the vertical km, I upped my pace to a bit more than I would've liked, trying to get a respectable time for this extra "race". It was tough going, and I was breathing hard by the time the trail started to level out a bit.
I reached the top, and there was a bit of a clearing with a marshal waving me forward. I ran towards him, and he said "scan your token here for the start of the Vertical Kilometre". "The start!?" I thought. Turned out the steep hill I had just powered up wasn't it at all haha.
The actual "Vertical Kilometre" started out with a short stint heading downhill, which felt a bit strange, but round the corner it turned into another steep climb. I had already wasted way too much energy on the previous climb, so resigned myself to taking this fairly steady and not trying to chase a decent time.
At the top of the climb there should have been a spectacular view, but the misty fog was still in full effect. It was actually kind of eerie, as visibility in places couldn't have been more than about 25 metres in places. It certainly made some of the fast downhill sections pretty exciting!
The terrain for the next while varied quite a bit, from sections through thick overgrown trails where your legs got shredded from branches and stinging nettles, to tarmac farm roads. I had opted for Inov-8 Roclite 305s, and they were proving to be a wise choice in dealing with the mix of trails, road, grass, etc.
We ran passed a hotel at one point, and all the guests were standing outside it cheering everyone on. I was by myself at the point I ran past, and it felt amazing having about 30-40 people personally cheering you on and wishing you luck.
The weather thankfully started to get a bit better, just in time for the first plunge in the water. There was a small rickety bridge across a small stretch of water, with at least every second rung missing or broken. I followed the person in front across it, carefully balancing on the creaking rungs, trying not to fall in. Just as I made it to the other side, a marshal in a kayak paddled down the stream towards us and shouted "Sorry, that isn't an obstacle, just jump in the water and swim this way". Haha, oh well, was fun trying to cross the bridge anyway.
The water in this part was only about waist deep, but the ground was so marshy your feet just got stuck in it if you tried to wade across it. So instead it was a short swim to the other side, and the coldness of the water was definitely a bit of a shock to the system.
It wasn't long before we reached one of the big advertised obstacles - the giant Tarzan swing. After swapping your backpack for a life jacket, you climbed up a wall on to a reasonably high platform. A marshall hands you a rope and then you get to swing out off the platform, while doing your best Tarzan impression. Someone shouts "let go!" at the right moment, just in case you don't know when you should, and it's a short fall to the water below. It was incredibly fun.
After the Tarzan swing, it was more running along the trails and roads alongside the shores of Lake Windermere. Just after the final pit stop, with about 10km to go, the cramp finally properly hit. My quads were spasming out of control, and had to completely stop for a few mins. I inhaled a packet of ready salted crisps, took another salt tab, then an energy gel, then did some gentle stretching. This seemed to be enough to get me moving again, and I was able to slowly work up the pace back to what I was doing before.
It wasn't long before there were some more water based obstacles to tackle. Some pretty straight forward inflatable platforms to jump across, though made significantly more difficult to the intermittent cramp in my legs.
A bit more challenging was the floating monkey bars. Same as what you see during the water zone at Rat Race Dirty Weekend, two large floating pontoons separated by a stretch of monkey bars. However, all of the bars were offset in height slightly, and they were soaking wet due to the rain. I took my time, and successfully made it to the other side, and the marshall said I was only the 6th person of the day to complete it. So must've had quite a high failure rate.
Immediately after the monkey bars, there was a really long inflatable tube that you could run along and see how far you could get. No consequence or benefit of how far you managed to get along it, was just for fun.
For a good part of the last 10km, I ran with and chatted to another fella going about the same pace as me. I was completely on auto-pilot for a good part of this, not thinking about anything, just following the route and steps of the guy in front. 5-6km just flew by, and before I knew it we were on the final stretch.
Approaching the last few hills, the guy I was running with started to struggle, whereas I was strangely feeling pretty good. So we parted ways, and I tried to pick up the pace for the last stint. The rocky descent down towards the finishing straight was steep and fast, and my tired legs struggled to keep up the speed required to stop me falling over.
Fortunately I managed to not have a spill, but the impact of the fast descent meant that the cramp in my quads returned. As we crossed a small stream, I could literally see and hear the finish, so I did my best to just continue running through the random spasms in my quads. It was pretty painful haha, but I was determined to finish strong.
There was one small sloped wall (with a rope) to climb over at the end, which was pretty straight forward. Though you could tell who was a runner and who was an obstacle racer, as some people seemed to make a right meal of the wall, looking pretty tentative or terrified about how to get down the other side.
Stopping to do some push ups on the finish line (inspired by the Bad Boy Running Podcast), I crossed in 5hrs 36mins. I was aiming for sub 6hrs, so was over the moon with that time. Although I wasn't really racing with position in mind, my time was good enough for 60th out of 640 finishers (more started but there was a lot of DNFs).
Overall, I thought this was a brilliant event. The route was incredible, from the bay crossing, through the hills, and then alongside Lake Windermere. The obstacles were nothing to write home about, but are not really the point of this event. If you looking for an obstacle intensive race then this isn't it.
However, if you're looking for a fantastic longer run over varied terrain, with awesome views, and a few straight forward obstacles, then get signing up for next year.
What gear to use?
The mandatory kit list for this event was pretty long, so if you're planning on entering this race and not sure about what gear to take, here is a quick run down of what I used. (I was very happy with everything I used, though you could probably get away with some cheaper alternatives if on a tight budget).
- Inov-8 Roclite 305s (great for tackling the mixed terrain, as well as being comfortable for plenty miles)
- Inov-8 Race Elite trail running shorts
- Subsports compression shorts
- Injinji 2.0 Outdoor socks (my go-to sock for all races, no blisters even after running 25+ miles with soaking wet feet)
- Skins sleeveless compression top
- Obstacleman race vest
- Inov-8 Stormshell waterproof top (very lightweight and super waterproof)
- Inov-8 Stormshell waterproof bottoms (never actually used them, though fold up really small making them useful for mandatory kit lists)
- Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set backpack (love this! Very lightweight, loads of pockets, and enough capacity for rest of the gear. Also includes an emergency foil blanket and whistle as part of it)
- Waterproof bag for phone
- Salomon 2L Soft Water Reservoir
- Small First Aid kit
Nutrition: (though the pit stops during the race are well stocked as well)
- Cliff shot bloks x 2
- HighLife gels x 4
- Cliff bar peanut butter x 1
- Nutrigrain Elevenses bar x 1
- Salt tabs x 4
- 2L water bladder (filled to about 1.75L to fit in backpack better)
- 0.5L soft flask with isotonic mixture x 2