Langdale Horseshoe 2011 Race Report

Race details:

Date: 8 October 2011

Distance and Ascent:   12.6 miles, 4600 feet

Position: 81st out of 364

Click here to see my Garmin download from the race

This was my second Langdale Horseshoe race.  I did the 2010 race, which was my first race in the Lake District – I found it very tough going, and never recovered from going off far too fast.  I just squeezed inside the top 100 (out of around 330), which was a respectable performance, but I knew there was plenty of room for improvement and so was keen to do the race again this year.

We decided to make it a family weekend, staying in a lovely hotel in Newby bridge with our friends, the Brightmore family.  Andy was also doing the race.   It was certainly nice to get the long drive out of the way on Friday night, rather than driving up early on the morning of the race, and I enjoyed a relatively long lie in and leisurely breakfast.   Andy and I then set off for the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel where the race starts from.

This is one of the true classic Lakeland fell races.  It has a lot of climbing (over 4500 feet) in its 12.6 mile course.  But the real test is the terrain.  It can be very boggy, making even the flatter parts of the course difficult to run well on, whilst the climbs and descents are made so much tougher by the rocks and scree which batter your feet and ankles.  So a great challenge.

Climbing above the clouds

This year the conditions made the course even tougher.  The 2010 race had been held in beautiful dry, sunny conditions which set up a fast race.  This year the conditions were damp drizzle, with low cloud, while the heavy rain in recent days made the course boggy and slippy (both the rocks and the turf).

The race starts with a half mile dash along a rough track, which is too narrow for the 350+ runners.  I made exactly the same mistake as last year and started too far back, which then resulted in me using up more energy than I should have in overtaking people – this required running along the ditch below the track to get round people.

We then began the gruelling 1800 foot climb, in less than 2 miles, up to Stickle Tarn then onwards and upwards around the back of Pavey Ark and up to Thunacar Knott.  This is really hard going so early in the race.  Whilst I found this tough, I was in much better shape than last year when I considered dropping out at Stickle Tarn.

After Thunacar there is a nice down hill stretch across Mart Crag Moor, which allowed us to pick up some pace – although this is one of the boggiest parts of the route.  Whilst my feet and ankles were soaked, I was lucky not to be one of the several runners who went in above their waists in bog!!

I was feeling pretty good after that, keeping a steady pace which meant I was neither overtaking or being overtaken by many runners.  The clag had lifted quite a bit allowing some great views along the way.

The route to Angle tarn remained very wet, slippy and heavy underfoot, and so quite enjoyed the climb from Angle Tarn to Esk Hause Shelter which takes a pretty good path.  That relative luxury ends after the Esk Hause check point, when there is an awful scramble, traversing under Esk Pike for a mile or so, back to Ore Gap.  It required maximum concentration to avoid a nasty fall, and the constant battering of my legs was energy sapping.

After Ore Gap, we continued up to the highest point of the race, the summit of Bowfell (2980 feet).  I was still feeling pretty good, but was conscious that there would be no let up in the remaining 6 miles.

The descent from Bow Fell is tough and rocky, requiring great care.  I’m always amazed at how many runners can bomb down such steep rocky slopes, fearlessly at such great speed!  I lost a few places with my more cautious approach, but had a good stretch of running after that through the Crinkle Crags.

Last year, the steep climb up to Long Top, the highest Crinkle, really finished me off.  This year I was in better shape as I reached this climb and it didn’t feel anywhere near as bad.  At the summit I followed a couple of runners who took a very different line to last year.  It was a bit nerve wracking picking my way around a steep ledge, but it turned about to be a good choice of route.  This line went round the other side of the final Crinkle and so missed out the Bad Step, a 10 foot rock step which I didn’t particularly enjoyed climbing down last year.

There is then a nice stretch for 1.5 miles  to Red Tarn.  I picked up a good pace, holding my race position as I tried to stick close to some faster runners ahead of me.  It was still very slippy and required great concentration.

We then hit the final steep climb up to Pile o’Blisco.  I still felt good and was encouraged to see some other runners I knew and who are much better than me – suggesting I was in a good position.

It’s downhill for the final 2 miles after Blisco.  Frustratingly I couldn’t pick up a good pace as it was extremely boggy, making it slippy but also really hurting my calf muscles.  I was battling off cramp but kept going.  I hoped to gain a few positions on this final stretch but just didn’t have enough in my legs and at some points I didn’t have enough confidence to really go for it on the steeper downhill stretches.

I finished strongly, feeling so much better than last year as I crossed the finish line at Old Dungeon Ghyll.

My finish time of 2 hours 49 mins and 3 seconds was only 30 seconds faster than last year.  At first I was a little disappointed not to have taken more time off last year – I had hoped to beat 2.45.  But as I reflected and as I read the reports of other runners, I realised how tough the conditions had been and I was very pleased with my result.  I certainly felt better than last year throughout the race and felt that I paced myself well.

I finished 81st out of 364, which was a big improvement on last year.

The final descent after Pike o'Blisco

I still think there is room for further improvement and I will be back to try again soon.  This really is a fantastic race which epitomises all that is good about fell running.  Fantastic scenery (when you can see through the fog!), punishing climbs, steep rocky descents and technical challenges throughout.

It was very satisfying to get back to the hotel and enjoy a pint and a huge bowl of chips, and then a lovely Gray/Brightmore family meal that evening.  A really enjoyable weekend!

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