Three Rings of Shap 2015

This is a hard event to finish – no bones about it.  Conditions on Saturday were just about ideal for runners: there was a bit of a haze all day to take the edge off the hot weather of the previous couple of days, and the predicted rain never happened.  T-shorts and shorts until dusk, then an extra top to hold off the breeze.  Even so, of the 87 people who had entered the do the full three rings, only 28 of us got all the way round the 62 miles, and nearly all those 28 were runners.

Having said it’s tough, it’s also a great event.  It’s not officially a race, it’s an LDWA challenge event for walkers, but runners are welcome, and they were happy to have Runfurther back again.  This year there was a new RO in place – Neil Beetham – who seemed to have endless enthusiasm, and made us very welcome.  The organisation of the event was immaculate, as is generally the case at LDWA events, and new for this year was the use of Sportident dibbers for tracking the entrants, which meant the results were up very quickly, including on a screen at the finish.

Straight to the results then, which were really pretty impressive.  First was Ken Sutor, in an incredible time of 10:38:30, breaking Kevin Hoult’s record, set last year, by just over an hour.  Second was Karen Nash, in 12:43:37, breaking her own record from last year by 1h40m.  Both of these were very fast runs, leaving the rest of us with fewer Runfurther points than we’d been hoping for!  Third was Martin Terry, 14 minutes behind Karen, and second woman was Tanya Coates, in 15:14:58.  12 of the 28 finishers were Runfurther members, including 6 of the first 7.  The full race results are on the Sportident website here, and the updated Runfurther leaderboard is here.

We’re now halfway through the Runfurther year, with 6 races completed and 6 to go.  So far 12 runners have run 4 counters, and two, David Wilson of Bowland FR and Karen Nash have run all 6.  They are both aiming for Grand Slams, and to be honest I’d be surprised if they don’t both complete them.  Karen is well ahead in the women’s competition, with the strongest threat probably being from Carol Morgan (Nidd Valley Road Runners), who has beaten Karen twice this year, but is averaging fewer points per counter.  Chris Davies (Saddleworth Runners) is still leading in the men’s section, but he’s likely be overtaken by Stewart Bellamy (Mercia Fell Runners) in a couple of weeks’ time as Stewart has higher points per counter than Chris, and the Clif Bar 10 Peak Lakes should give him his 4th counter.

Karen has written up her run on her blog here, including photos from the day and from recces.  Nick Ham was taking photos on the way round as usual, and they are here.  He’s also posted a load of photos from his run round the LDWA Red Rose 100 in Lancashire last month, and those photos are here.  Andrew Chester finished 7th at Shap, and his blog is here.

Andy’s Race Report

My run wasn’t as impressive as Ken’s or Karen’s, but it was a lot better than my performance last year, when I was still recovering my fitness after a stress fracture.  Then, I got round one ring OK, one struggling from exhaustion and awful stomach problems, then had to give up.  This year I got round two rings OK, then struggled round the third suffering from exhaustion and awful stomach problems, and finished 6th.  So, a successful race really, but not quite in the style I was hoping for.

The first ring heads west from Shap into the eastern fringes of the Lake District.  I set off with Karen at 8:25, after most people had already left, to avoid queues at the early stiles.  Within 10 minutes it was clear that Karen was on a mission, and she gradually pulled away, moving at a speed I knew I’d not be able to keep up with for long, however hard I tried.  Still, I’m used to that!  As last year, it was a very sociable start up the tracks in Wet Sleddale and Mosedale to Mosedale Cottage, chatting to the slower runners and walkers as I passed them, and the occasional faster runner coming up behind me.  From Mosedale Cottage there’s a pathless climb for a mile to the summit of Branstree, the highest point of the day, and as I was hacking my way up, something streaked by – Ken Sutor, who appeared to be running all the way up the mountain.  It was no surprise to me when I found out later he’d set a new course record.  I dibbed at the top, touched the cairn so I could tick the Wainwright, and headed off for Selside Pike, to touch the cairn there too.  The views weren’t great as it was so hazy, but that was no bad thing, as sunshine would have made it so much harder to run.  The ridge run to Selside was fun, but even better is the run down from there into Swindale – great running the whole way down grass then rockier paths by Mosedale Beck, in great hill scenery.  And so down to the first manned checkpoint at Truss Gap, and a drink of water.

There were still a few runners around, but it was starting to thin out.  I passed a couple more on the gradual climb out of Swindale, on a great path that slants up the hillside, over a low rocky ridge, and drops to the farm at Tailbert.  More delightful running followed, down the valley through trees and pasture to the road at Rosgill.  From here easy field paths along the River Lowther led to the ruins of Shap Abbey, then uphill a bit to the event centre in Shap once more.  First ring done, and I was feeling fine.  Karen was just leaving as I arrived, but I never saw her again, even though I only stopped for two minutes myself.  More water and it was off again at noon for the second ring.

The second ring starts eastwards from Shap, but soon turns north, following the farmland and river valleys north of Shap.  It’s the longest ring, but it’s flatter than the others.  There are still plenty of hills though, and as I was plodding uphill over and past the M6 I could see someone ahead of me, who later turned out to be David Wilson.  He soon pulled away though, and by the time I turned north at Iron Hill he was nowhere in sight, and I didn’t see another runner for miles after this.  The run downhill to Reagill was good, then it was across a few fields to join the River Lyvennet for a couple of miles.  Riverbank running is usually good, and this was no exception, but by this time my legs were starting to feel pretty tired.  By the time the route left the river to climb to Morland and on through fields to Cliburn I was definitely feeling the worse for wear.  I was still running OK, but not like I had been earlier.  The road section to the pub checkpoint at Great Strickland was a mile long, but felt longer.  Still, got to keep going.  More water and I was off along the next road section heading north.

This bit of the route is a bit less inspiring, in my view.  Large crop fields, a motorway crossing, then the big prairie/plantation landscape of the Lowther Estate.  It improves again once you reach the descent to the suspension bridge and follow the bank of the River Lowther though.  It’s a long way back to Shap from here, but it’s the home stretch of this leg, the scenery’s good and the running’s straightforward.  David Wilson overtook me on the way out of Bampton Grange, going a lot stronger than I could manage – he’d gone offroute on the Lowther Estate.  Once again he disappeared into the distance, and I trotted back to Shap, occasionally spotting him in the distance.  He was still there at the event centre when I got there, my stomach not feeling good.  I couldn’t face eating anything, but there was some excellent soup on offer, and I managed to get some of that down.  And so, much against my better judgment, I headed off out of the door to attempt the third ring.  It was about 5:30.

The third ring heads into the limestone country east of Shap, and the first half of it is really great to run or walk.  I knew I was going to struggle though.  My stomach was giving me problems, which probably meant I wasn’t going to be able to refuel properly.  My legs were no longer able to do what I wanted them to do.  But at least I knew the route for the first section, as it follows Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route, which I walked with my family in 2011.  By this time I was walking all the uphill bits, and trotting the flat bits slowly.  Every mile felt like two – I’d forgotten how far it was across here.  As I was descending from Crosby Ravensworth Fell, David Wilson came past again, still much faster than I could manage.  He’d left the hall after me, forgotten his headtorch and had to go back for it.  The route leaves the revised Wainwright route to head up Beacon Hill and across the Great Asby nature reserve – great limestone scenery here, and still very runnable, if you’ve still got the legs.  I hadn’t.  By the time I got to the checkpoint near Great Asby I felt terrible, and couldn’t even keep water down.  The rest of the way was grim, and I couldn’t tell you what the scenery was like – I didn’t notice.  A long track climbed up and over to Gaythorne Hall, roads to Bank Moor, then what should have been a glorious descent to Crosby Ravensworth on a grassy track and an access road.  It was then road followed by grassy track for ever up to Oddendale to rejoin the outward route back to Shap.  I even managed to go wrong here as it was getting dark and I guessed wrongly about which direction to head after the quarries.  Still, I only lost about 5 minutes, and sorted it out by putting my headtorch on and reading the map properly.  And down to Shap where I could stop.  I collapsed onto a chair, unable to communicate for quite some time.  14 hours 18 minutes 45 seconds and 6th place.

In summary, a great event for runners, and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a long ultra with a bit of navigation in a beautiful area.  It’s varied, it’s challenging, and the event is friendly and well-organised.  I sat around for an hour or so, still unable to eat or drink, then drove home, with stops at two motorway services to sleep for a few minutes.  I got home at about 2:30 in the morning, said hello to the dog, had a shower, wound down by reading the paper I’d bought in Shap before the race, then went to bed.  The following day I was in no state to do anything, which is why I’m writing this on the Monday.  I’m still very tired, and still hungry.  Bring on the Lakes 10 Peaks…