Lakes Mountain 40

On Saturday 20th April, I completed the NAV4 organised Lakes Mountain 40. This is a route of approximately 40 miles with 9000ft of ascent (depending on the exact lines you take).  I enter very few ‘on the gun’ races but this one appealed to me for a number of reasons:

  1. It is an unmarked course. There are 9 checkpoints that are issued with their grid references in your pre course information. No map issued, no gpx route to download. The map you buy and how you get between the checkpoints is up to you. 
  2. I had gathered that Joe’s NAV4 races were remarkably low key. This, for me, sounded ideal. I love to challenge myself in the mountains but I don’t like a fuss about it. 

I had only run a distance in this ballpark once before, that was just over a year ago when I completed a round of the Harvey Howgill Tops. I did one third of this solo and the remaining two thirds with my husband, Andy. I was keen to test myself over a similar distance but wondered if doing it in a race situation would be good motivation! 

I forget the details of how the conversation went but the outcome was that Andy and I both entered the LM40 and booked two nights at The Punch Bowl Inn, Askham for a fun weekend away without the kids! 

I like to have a big goal in and around April. It gives the grim winter running in January and February a bit of focus. In the run up to the LM40 I’d had a decent training block with three or four decent mountain days. Although I missed my longest run in the block – I went and completed England’s Longest Line with Andy instead. You can’t do everything. The Longest Line was a great day out but I do wonder whether that big mountain day was a bigger miss than I thought it would be. 

Our friend, Charlie Baker, has a podcast called On the Back Foot. We occasionally record snippets for him if we are out doing ‘something interesting’. The voice recordings I have included here were recorded with this in mind. In the end, I spent virtually all day alone and I think I used these voice notes as a substitute for conversation (!) but they also provide a nice record of my head space and thoughts throughout the day. 

Friday 19th April

Andy and I arrived in Askam on a wonderful sunny, spring evening. Neither of us had been before and we were charmed by the wonderful, quiet Cumbrian village. We checked in to the pub and enjoyed a tasty meal (good to get it down before the nerves kicked in too badly) before heading up to registration. It was a luxury to be doing this all with plenty of time. We even had a little wander up the first kilometre or so of the route to see a lovely sunset before heading back for an early night. 

Saturday 20th April 

The race start is 6am. I hate to feel rushed and so our alarms went off at 430am. Despite the very comfy bed, I had not enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Anxiety dreams had kept me from getting any decent rest. However, I enjoyed a lovely hot shower – determined to make the most of the luxury (normally, I am crawling around the van trying to find everything I need!) and given how often Andy mentioned the expense of a hotel stay I imagine it will be a while before I experience the luxury again – and then breakfast and coffee in our room. As we looked out the window, the sky was clear and there was a sparkling frost on the ground. It looked like the weather forecast had come good. There was some lengthy debate/indecision around which base layer I was going to wear. I opted for the thinner one. And I was very pleased with that decision later in the day. Suncream, however, was something that did not cross my mind. And that would be a serious oversight. 

As the clock ticked round to 0540am, we headed downstairs and out into the cool morning air. 

Andy and I before the start.

Walking up to the start and along the road for a little jog, we wondered where the ~70 other runners were going to appear from as the road was deserted. However, as 6am approached people appeared from all directions and gathered ‘by the big tree next to the bus stop’. Joe Faulkner, RO, joined the group and with a subtle flick of the hand and point of the finger, we were off. 

As we headed up the gentle incline towards Askham Fell, the sun was rising behind us. It really was the most incredible morning to be out. 

Sunrise as we climb up to Askham Fell

The route climbs up onto Askham Fell, past The Cockpit and then on up towards the first CP at Loadpot. The low overnight temperatures and chilly start meant that the ground, and most of the bogs, were frozen. Conditions really couldn’t have been any better. It was an inspiring day to be up on the fells and it felt like a real privilege.

Approaching Loadpot CP1

From Loadpot, the route carries on along past Whether Hill and Rampsgill Head before dropping down slightly before the climb to High Street. Again, my breath was taken away by the incredible views (and the running!!). As I looked down onto Haweswater it really was spectacular. The trip to the High Street summit CP is a short out and back and was over quickly.

High Street summit

I had a little check in with my legs and decided they were feeling good. My pace was on target for where I needed to be. This was all going to plan! I was mindful not to push too hard on the descent despite feeling strong. It was a long one and I did not want to mash my quads – not just yet! Angle Tarn is always a cracking spot and today was no exception – it looked glorious as I came around the corner and it came into view. Safely through this CP, I was on my way to Patterdale. It was on this section that I had my only company of the day. I caught a man called Dave and we had a bit of chat as we descended. 

The only checkpoint with food was at the CP 4/7 at Patterdale. I had never done a race with a nibbles table before so this was a new experience. I had enough food in my bag to keep me going but I did enjoy a few pieces of melon and a drink of juice – what a treat! 

Dave disappeared, I think to change his layers, and I headed straight off. I imagined that he would soon catch me up but in fact, I didn’t see him again. 

From Patterdale, the route heads up the long valley of Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn which is CP5. From there it heads up to the Helvellyn summit for CP6. I had been keeping my effort levels reasonable up until this point. As I mentioned, I had only run this distance once before and I was keen to try and pace it sensibly. I mused over when the best time to push the pace might be and decided that maybe the climb from Grisedale Tarn up to Helvellyn might be the best time. Given the benefit of hindsight, it would be fair to say this was probably one big climb too soon! The section around Helvellyn and the descent down Swirral Edge was incredibly busy by the time I got there. Not my idea of fun! But I was soon descending down through the Hole in the Wall and away from the crowds.

My thoughts as I descend from Helvellyn

From here you go back through the same checkpoint at Patterdale. The marshals at this checkpoint were incredibly helpful and friendly so thank you so much to them for being on duty all day and for looking after us so well. 

The Nibbles Table and wonderful marshals at CP4/7

The last big climb of the day waits for you as you leave Patterdale and head up Place Fell. This is a climb of around 600m although it felt like a lot more! From here on in it was a struggle. I had bonked and despite repeated efforts to get myself going again my pace dropped. 

My thoughts as I crash and burn on Place Fell.

From Place Fell you visit the final checkpoint at Martindale church before joining the Ullswater Way along to rejoin the route from the morning at The Cockpit and head back down to Askham. This stretch was tough but, map in hand, I gave myself little landmarks to get to. Get to the stream crossing. Next stop, the area of trees. Counting off the metres as I climbed up to The Cockpit at 330m. This kind of distraction really helps me focus the mind and just keep going one small landmark at a time. Once you reach The Cockpitm the hard work is all done and you have a gentle downhill run in to the finish where I was greeted by warm applause from those already in the community hall.

I had heard good things about Joe’s soup at the finish and I wasn’t disappointed. After a cup of tea and a bowl of very tasty soup it was time to hobble back to The Punch Bowl and reflect on a wonderful day on the fells. 

Thanks to everyone at NAV4 involved in the organisation of this event. It was a fantastic day and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to challenge themselves over a longer distance across the Lake District Fells.