By Sumanth Nayak
This is one of the Lakeland Trails series of races. I did the marathon around Coniston Water in 2012 and I’ve always wanted to try the shorter, but no less challenging, races. There’s a 10k in the morning and a 17k (actually 18) in the afternoon. Both start and finish at Staveley, near Windermere. The 17k is a loop going out to Kentmere and back. A friend gave me a lift and we set out at 9am in torrential rain feeling sorry for the parkrunners but also worried about what was in store for us. Thankfully, as we approached the lakes, the skies cleared up and it turned out to be quite a pleasant day.
There was a great atmosphere at race HQ, Staveley recreation ground, with food stalls, a drum band playing near the start and lots of runners warming up. My first priority was to decide which food stall I would visit after the race. The tagline for the race is ‘Sting in the Tail’ referring to the final punishing climb to the summit of Reston Scar, a kilometre from the finish. I think the name itself inspires terror! We could see a stream of the 10k runners coming down the hillside into Staveley. I was joking that Reston Scar was probably just a tiny bump but judging by how high up they were, it looked like we were in for a nasty climb. As we headed towards race registration, I bumped into Paul Hughes just finishing the 10k (actually 11) in fifth place! I think he’s done a few of these events and it was actually on his recommendation at Coniston, that I entered this one.
The race starts with a tough climb out of Staveley on tarmac paths before heading onto rocky trails. I set off way quicker than I wanted but I felt fine on the climb, steadily making my way through the field. It was the descents I was worried about as all the rainfall in the previous week would have made them treacherous. Sure enough, on the first descent at 4km, scrambling down large rocks, mud and puddles, I twisted my ankle. I was probably going quicker than parkrun pace but it was impossible to slow down, it was just that steep. After hobbling for a bit, I carried on, the adrenaline numbing the pain. That was probably the steepest descent out of the way. Another long, punishing climb towards Kentmere for a couple kilometres and it all seemed very familiar for some reason. Of course, this was part of the Lakeland 50 route! Memories of crawling up these massive rocks in sheer agony came flooding in. Thankfully, I was in fitter shape this time to run up the entire way.
Once at the summit around 10km, a long, steady descent followed where I could really let loose and make up time. Conditions underfoot were getting worse, with mud more than ankle deep in places. Every time someone around me tip-toed around a puddle, I made a point of just streaming right through it, soaking us both. There’s no avoiding getting dirty on a route like this so you might as well just take the shortest path! Towards the end, there were a few stiles and walls to climb over breaking up my momentum but at least it gave me a few seconds to take a breather. I could now hear drumming, which meant the final climb was close. Only, it was a series of climbs! There were signs reading “Sting in the tail” and “Are you prepared?”. A couple of false summits, some muttered curses and finally, I could see the top marked with a pile of stones. A sharp left turn and then it was a steep downhill but mostly on firm grass. The view of Staveley and surrounding hillside was jaw-dropping but I couldn’t stare for too long for fear of tripping over and breaking my neck. Just over a 100m descent in one kilometre; definitely worth the grueling climb to the top! I timed my sprint finish wrong, thinking it was just around the corner. Instead, there were a few twists and turns before finally heading into the recreation ground where I managed to hold my pace and finish in 1:26. Someone said to me a good time on this course would be something equal to my half marathon best, so I was quite pleased with that.
This was without a doubt, one of the best races I’ve done. If you’re looking to get away from road races, I can’t recommend the Lakeland Trails series enough. There’s something for everyone, 10k to 18k, half and full marathon, and a couple of ultras. The routes are very challenging, not just for the elevation but also the rocky terrain but they’re well worth the effort. As someone who can’t stand cross country, this will come as a shock, but I think the wetter and muddier the better. And you get a pretty snazzy t-shirt!