By Richard Slack
I’m still not sure what I was doing in the registration and coach pick-up from St Bees School at 6am on an August Saturday morning. Sure I had taken part in a couple of the Claremont 35 outings managing a modest 20 miles or so on the latest one, but that was by far the farthest I had ever run, or even contemplated running. Here I now was surrounded by ultra runners and about to get on a coach to take me to Dodd Wood, and St Bega’s church Bassenthwaite, some 35 miles (actually 37) away to then run back. How did this madness come about?
As many will know a number of the Claremont Ladies (Nina, Julie, Marie, Mary, Michelle with Elaine and Collette) recently completed the Lakeland 55k and in 2016 Marie had supported Nina, Julie, Mary and Elaine on their SBU. With this historical backdrop Marie announced that she would like to do the SBU in 2017 and I asked if we do it together? Marie had the ultra experience of our team and I had decent navigational skills through the Lakeland terrain.
What ensued was simply one of the best days out we have had! The weather was kind throughout the day with light winds, high cloud and occasional sunny spells, ideal for a long run. The first stage (11 miles) headed south from Dodd Wood crossing open countryside to the Lakeshore path along Derwent Water. We then headed into Grange before following the Allerdale Ramble route through Borrowdale to the first checkpoint at Rosthwaite. This initial stage taught me two things: one, you simply have to keep moving at all times and secondly the old mantra of walk all the ups and then maintain a steady jog/run on the flat and downs.
After a refuel at Rosthwaite we then headed into the heart of Lakeland and a simply staggering, although a great deal more challenging, second stage (another 11 miles) to Ennerdale. The route headed up bridleway towards and then up Honistor pass to the Honistor slate mine. Passing through the slate mine we then kept uphill on the mine road before emerging out onto Gillercomb with Great Gable and Pillar now in clear view. Traversing round we then descended a delightful, although steep and knee jarring, rock staircase parallel to Loft Beck to reach Black Sail youth hostel. A four-mile jog along the valley path saw us reach Checkpoint 2 at Ennerdale youth hostel. What was noticeable by this point is what seemed like an easy jog on Leg 1 was now becoming a bit more challenging. However the more serious joggin (no G and courtesy of Steve Wright) meant getting to the finish!
So off we headed on stage 3 (another 11 miler), passing along the lakeshore of Ennerdale before heading inland to the final key ascent of the route. Whilst Wainwright describes Dent Fell as “a pleasant walk” on an ultra it is anything but with a seemingly never-ending steep ascent and perhaps summed up by its more common name of Bummer’s Hill. However, the views of the Cumbrian fells looking east and the coastal plane to the West was magnificent. All that was then needed was a quick descent into Cleator Moor to Checkpoint 3.
The final stage of 4.3 miles used mainly cycle paths initially and then over open countryside with St Bees and the tower of St Bega’s church coming into view. The finish is on the former playing fields of St Bees School. Finishing together was a huge and very proud moment. Thanks to Marie for this epic adventure. Naturally celebratory beer followed along with a hot meal – both as part of the SBU.
Throughout, the marshals were superb and friendly, the checkpoints relaxing and well stocked on food and pop and the overall race organisation simply excellent with a brilliant route-finder guide detailing each stage.
Richard and Marie both 10 hours and 53 minutes.