Kentmere Horseshoe

aka ‘the wa’m one’

Sunday 20th July at 1pm

Fellrunning fervor started to rise as the cars began to line up, in the grass field, below the old kirk in Kentmere village.  Ominous dark clouds loomed over Kentmere Pike; waist packs were filled and race numbers attached to vests.  Club vest colours were unfamiliar which provided a bit of intrigue and definite inferiority.Rain wasn’t forecast and the morning cloud cover was expected to clear and display full Lakeland views.  The Kentmere Horseshoe is classic race which this year forms part of the English Championships.  The race limit of 650 was reached months ago.  Quality was in the air.   As the race start approached I began to think – like many others I suspect – what was I doing here!?

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All runners were summoned on to the tarmac road.  With little ceremony and in keeping with fell running informality it appeared the race was started by an old fella stood nearby in the doorway of a white wall cottage.  The single lane road rose sharply; the old kirk on one side and the village hall on the other.  A full rainbow of club vest colours was soon bobbing up and down; each finding some rhythm and a manageable pace.

Unbeknown to most entrants there were hourly cut-offs at the three checkpoints, approximately at 3, 6 and 9 mile markers.  The first checkpoint required approximately 2400ft of climb on rocky bridlepaths, steep bracken sided banks and across soft, spongy bog. Compounding this challenge, the sun screamed out in full glory.  The heat immediately radiated back off the limestone rock. Sweat streamed off foreheads.  Conversations ended.  No jokes ensued.  The race had indeed started.

There aren’t many tougher ascents than this first section; not necessarily because of the gradient or the mixed terrain, but due to the race day conditions.  The heat was simply unbearable. No air, humidity from ground moisture and the collective sound of grunting, and pain.  I would describe it much like flipping BBQ sausages while inside a sauna.  Gnarly runners were soon seen walking homeward with blank, ashen looks on faces – tired, heat-struck and busted.   And I knew the leaders and elites would’ve skipped up here.  My only goal was keep moving and focus on the 60 minute cut-off.

Checkpoint 1 – Ill Bell: 59:57
(Tom Addison – 32:05)

The second section started immediately with an unforgiving technical descent.  I could then stretch the legs as the route navigated to the west below and around the summit of Froswick.  Not for the faint-hearted (or jelly-legged) mind, as the gradient fell sharply down screen slopes to the left. One stumble here and you’d been in Troutbeck before you could say ‘loose rock’.  Soon, the path again gradually rose on the Roman Road towards the trig point of High Street.

I actually managed some good running here and gained a few places; even joked with others that the leaders had just left the final peak and were descending towards the finish (this actually turned out to be very accurate!).  Grey skies quickly filled the sky-line and the first few drops of rain were welcomed.  The views over my left shoulder south west to Windermere and across to the Coniston fells were amazing.

Checkpoint 2 – High Street: 35:15 (1.35:12)
(TA – 18:00/ 52:05)

I shared a bit of bogtrotting banter with a red-vest lady from Horwich and a fella in a navy blue vest.  The route shifted approximately 150 degrees and I instantly felt the race was heading home.  This stretch was also good terrain for striding out; relatively smooth, soft mud path on a gradual descent.  After only 5 mins the route again presented another rocky technical descent and the red and blue vests were soon away from me.  The rain began to intensify and I was soon wet through.  The cloud cover had also dropped as I started the ascent up towards, and then bearing right before Harter Fell.

The paths began to get more sodden – a combination of the rain and the volume of runner already having passed.  Over the grassy shoulder of the Knowe, the rocky summit of Kentmere Pike was approximately a mile away across a long saddle of bog strewn paths.  Kentmere Reservoir was glass-like some 2000ft below to the right.  The gaps between runners were now becoming more stretched.  I only caught the next runner on the rise towards Checkpoint 3 as he stopped for water and some energy intake.

Checkpoint 3 – Kentmere Pike: 37:13 (2.12:25)
(TA – 19:53/ 1.09:58)

The finish could be viewed almost immediately.  The eye immediately scanned down the lush-green valley and just caught a glimpse of the old kirk.  Then whack! My right foot thumped on a sharp rock.  The race was not over.  I still had nearly 3 miles left. No more ascent though. All downhill or along country tracks so easy, right? Wrong.

Yes, the first half mile was fast descending or wet, grassy tracks.  My only concern was grip – I’d selected trail shoes over more aggressive fell.  Soon, the grassy path was interspersed with bog hidden among long grass or moorland reeds.  Dark mud soon splattered up legs as I slipped my way downward.  The quicker I moved the harder I found it to slow or even stop.  Hazards were quickly upon me.  I just had to leap over or wade through.  This strategy was not full-proof and I had two major falls within minutes; the latter one was witnessed by a runner behind who later awarded me 8/10 for recovery!

A brief effort on a tarmac track led on to a walled track where I passed another two flagging runners.  The finish field and parked cars were now in view.  Ramblers applauded as I trudged through the light rain towards the old kirk.  One last navigation across the mud tracks of cars (likely the already departed Tom Addison’s) at the field entrance and a ceremonial shuffle towards the finish checkpoint, where I received a cheer from other Pudsey Pacers plus Alex Jones from Pudsey & Bramley.

FINAL – 31:31 (2.43:56)
(TA – 17:57/ 1.27:55)

Post-script

1) Grateful for officials who were still on Kentmere Pike (and possibly descending from other checkpoints) when the monsoon rains hit 10 seconds after I finished.
2) Fortuitous there were no kit checks – spotted my compass on side table when I returned home.
3) Thankful to Abbey Dom whom we’d left in muddy field after he’d helped push our car through the Somme.

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