A WINTER Bob Graham Round

Why would I want to run round 42 rugged Lake District Fells totalling 105km 8700m ascent/descent in Winter?

I was missing something this last year. I hadn’t felt that huge sense of pride and achievement you get when you really test yourself and overcome a challenge; especially when the outcome is uncertain. My 2017 running year had been an injury disaster going round in circles to try and fix myself, ending up in a big disappointment at UTMB (which at the time was the only real outcome). The real positive to come from this DNF was that I needed to change what I was doing. I reflected on what was different from 2015 and then using this to learn and develop; it is not in my nature to give up.

Throughout the year I received plenty of helpful advice, support and ideas and, post UTMB, I reflected and developed a multifaceted plan to rehabilitate. My first test of the success of the plan was in the middle of November at the Tour of Pendle. It was an overwhelming success and I was moving in the right direction at last. I ran hard, raced without significant reaction and had the excitement of fell racing again.

After the Tour of Pendle the idea of a Winter Bob Graham reemerged in my brain while listening to James Elson & Dan Lawson on the British Ultra running podcast interviewing the legendary fell man Bill Williamson about the Bob Graham Round. I was inspired to try again as a few years back I set off on a winters night on a solo unsupported Bob Graham from Keswick; which ended before I had even reached Threlkeld and I then ran home to Penrith with the tail between my legs. At last it was again on the agenda but I could not commit completely until I had the confidence of another block of training. I had identified a weekend that fitted the training and could be fresh. A week out the long range forecast was suggesting sunshine but more importantly low winds, however the forecast also highlighted their could be a fresh dump of snow on the mountains midweek but this made it more exciting; this was going to be an adventure.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday laid additional snow down; Mountain Run’s winter report highlighting what we were in store “Striding Edge, Helvellyn and Swirral Edge, 14th December 2017 Conditions reports for runners, skiers and climbers. Observed condition: snow starts around 350m, wet until 500m. At this height it is around 10cm in depth. At Red Tarn we experienced drifts over knee deep, well compacted wind blown snow. Ascent to Striding Edge fine, but knee deep and hard work. Snow well bonded to old layer underneath with crusty snow on final 100m. Striding Edge in perfect winter condition. Crampons and axe used from half way along Ridge. Poles a bonus on the ascent. Exit from Striding Edge was very deep with snow, thigh deep in places. Felt well bonded. Summit plateau south of summit shelter over 30cm deep in wind blown snow, similar north of shelter but icy layer of ground evident in places. Swirral Edge great fun to descend, snow extremely deep in places. Full winter equipment and knowledge necessary fit safe travel. Skiing looks great, running was tough, mountaineering great fun right now, Climbing on the Crags would most likely be more like swimming. Stay safe, have fun!

Friday had finally arrived and James Thurlow very kindly dropped off a Tracker.¬†I must thank everyone for the messages of good luck; it definitely helped spur me on. I’d printed out a schedule for Jim Mann’s winter record of 18:18, I knew this was unrealistic given the conditions but this didn’t stop me chasing the schedule at least to Dunmail.


Standing at the Moot Hall I knew that I wanted to give it my best and was going to go relatively hard from the gun. I had Martin Mikellson-Barron on Leg 1 with Andy Thompson, Jim Scott & Rob Brown from Outward Bound escorting me up the slopes of Skiddaw. At midnight the epic adventure began full of enthusiasm and a bounce back in my stride. I got half way up Latrigg before the Katoola micro spikes went on; where they stayed for 90 % of the day.  By the top of Skiddaw it dawned on me how much snow there was on the fell. I found the stile off the back of Skiddaw bang on but drifted a little bit on the descent to Hare Crag and I had waves of the same mistake as last time. This time it was a minor deviation which was quickly corrected and I was soon back on track. By the top of Blencathra Martin and I were glad we were in the footsteps of Matt Reedy who very kindly set off at 7pm leaving a reassuring trail for us, for most of the day. The descents were fun with a nice glissading action but the uphill was slow going, sinking into soft snow.

One of my question marks was which route off Blencathra? In the end I chose Halls Fell Ridge and it was one of my highlights of the round; there was so much snow covering the rock it made it a lot easier and fun. Sticking to the ridge was the safest way down and I could bounce  like Tigger down to Threlkeld and, to my surprise, I was 5 min up on schedule. 2hrs 57 min.


A quick cup of coffee and I was on to Leg 2 with my new support runners, Steve Birkinshaw and Anthony Meanwell. This was probably the coldest point but I was warm, happy and still full of enthusiasm. The spikes were on by the end of the road, hiking well up the steep climb to Clough Head but this was going to be a lot of effort in the snow. The Dodds to Raise normally can be quick going without expending too much energy but not this time with large accumulations of snow to wade through. I was starting to see the schedule slip yet still working really hard; this was fine because I was giving my best and clearly doing well as Steve and Anthony were struggling at times. Then heading over Helvellyn the first of the early morning snow showers made things more interesting. I picked up the summits of Nethermost Pike and Dollwagon Pike as my pacers skirted the summits. Before descending to Grisdale Tarn I collected a few gels off Steve because Fairfield was going to be a solo affair. Meeting Steve and Anthony at the saddle the final climb was Seat Sandal, on the way up we lost Steve.  At the summit without getting my compass out I headed off in what I thought was the right direction with Anthony in tow. You should of heard my expletive when I hit the wall and gate and realised what I had done. It could be worse, like missing a summit, but added on some extra road on the way back up to Dunmail, curse and carry on. The schedule was starting to slip but I was still going incredibly well without no issues.


Leg 3 was the first time I had fully met my support runner Mike Barron and I’m extremely ¬†pleased he volunteered for this. My road support for legs 2 and 3 was Jon Tombs, my thanks goes to him; particularly for sleeping in a car in the snow at Dunmail. It was still snowing as we weave our way up Seat Sandal, pop out on top and start the trudge. It was slow going with mist, snow, drizzle, thawing snow and difficult terrain with plenty of hollows to gather snow but we kept moving. Mike does a brilliant job of keeping me fed and my spirits high, trying to find the easiest route between the summits but there is no easy route. My focus changed I was behind schedule and now just wanted to complete in the best possible spirit. A big low point was scrambling up Pike of Stickle, when the only option was to sit down suck on a gel and head off again.


Thankfully halfway up Bowfell we found harder snow and the going became slightly easier. The mind started to pick up and I start to try and shift again, the top of England is not far away. I saw the first walkers of the day on Scafell Pike and then for the part Mike and I had been most nervous about, the climb up Lords Rake. The snow was deep, not icy and we could climb steadily to the top. A nip up to the top of Scafell then it was down towards Wasdale. What an epic leg and in my head now realised I was going to do this! I changed thermals in Wasdale and ate well before heading out on leg 4; I had been pushing hard. Mike did an amazing job and thanks to Sam Ware for covering the road support at Wasdale.


Leg 4 support runner was Andy Thompson and we found the first climb up Yewbarrow was slow; I was lacking energy again. On reaching the top the spikes go on and I get back on with the job in hand. This was probably the nicest leg with patches of clear sky and cracking views and we kept on rolling along with Andy feeding the machine. Climbing up Kirk Fell with the red sky was stunning although this meant darkness would come along too quickly. Great Gable is always tough and from the top I knew we needed to take a bearing as I don’t want to end up at Sty head tarn! We set off me ahead leading the way but it didn’t feel right and we were heading towards Sty Head but fortunately it was not too late to easily solve the problem. We soon tick off the last three tops and roll into Honister Leg 4 complete. Thank you Andy I couldn’t have done leg 4 without you.


There was a mini crowd to join me on Leg 5. Becx Carter was there on road support, having made it up Honister in the wintery conditions (and then safely down again). Thank you Becx. Jim Mann joined me, having already run the Tour de Helvellyn and still has bounce, Martin is back and Scoffer even turned up to help. I was mentally stuck in no man’s land with no incentive to push extremely hard; I’m grinding it out and starting to struggle with a painful hip flexor (not a surprise with all the stabilisation needed in the snow). I came off the fell on to the final road section and reflected that eight years ago it was a breeze, however this time round it was mentally and physically tough, and my body was shutting down. I had to shout at myself a few times but Keswick arrived and the glorious view of the Moot Hall. A crowd had turned up to see me finish. Thank you for making it a special occasion. The¬†smile on my face is the why I wanted to run a winter Bob Graham Round.¬†


I’m extremely happy with 20.36 for a full winter Bob Graham round and to have performed again. A great Christmas present.

If you are considering a Bob Graham Round and want a guide for recce runs or support on the day please contact me.


Raidlight Waterproofs, Leggings, Thermal base layers, Beanie Hat, Responsiv vest and the winner of the day carbon poles.

Petzl Nao head torch, Ice axe ride and Ayup torch on last leg

Buff Thermonet

Katoola Microspikes

LCF socks

Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch

Neoprene Socks warm feet all day but needed bigger shoe size by end of day!

Open adventure tracker

Survival bag, Emergency Phone.

Warm Mountain Fuel, Energy Gels, Energy Bars


5 reasons my UTMB DNF was a success.

1. I made this start line after not being able to walk on two separate occasions in June. @UTMB start An incredible experience to be part of 2300 runners; including the best 100 mile field ever? All being hyped up for the journey ahead.
2. For the first time I managed to stick to a plan and start easy. Yes I cannot believe it myself. Having way too much fun!

3. These  socks from LCF were awesome. They were so comfy when I tried them on, they came highly recommended so I decided to try them on race day. A risk not to be normally recommended but they were far superior in quality to what I had. I choose a warm pair given the forecast and had no cause to give my feet a thought during the 9 hours I was moving.  I even tried them this week for 7 hours hiking, I might just put them on again tomorrow!? I will be racing in them again.
4. Running from Chamonix to St Gervais making the most of the incredible support and enjoying every minute with plenty of high fives.
5. The Raidlight Waterproof trousers  and Over gloves  did the job in a blizzard when I was in a big unshakable low on top of Bonhomme!

IAU World Trail Championship 2015

Pulling on the Vest
It was a real honour to have the opportunity to pull on the GB&NI vest and to represent the country at the IAU World Trail Championship in Annecy, France. Despite all the politics leading up to the race, I had worked hard to achieve this dream and was not going to let it dampen my spirit. I would enjoy the experience of running a truly stunning mountain course.

The race for me started well before the start, with careful planning enabling me to peak come race day. This planning included nutrition, pre race training and entering the championships with the correct mental approach. I drew on my previous experiences of the three Adventure Race World Championships to help place me in a good position come 03:30am on Saturday 30th May.

I was determined not going to let the stress of the start get to me and in some ways I was more than happy to be some way back in the field for the start line. This allowed me not to get too carried away when the fireworks went off in the early hours. The race pace went off like a rocket, as expected, but I kept my focus on myself; going at a hard pace but comfortably hard. Moving onto the trails for the first big climb I was using my heart rate monitor to keep my pace even and trying not to race too early on. This worked really well for me, although on reflection I wish I had gone five beats a minute lower, which could of helped me attack better later on.

Descending down the first hill was fun in the dark with the mud from the overnight rain. I was enjoying overtaking competitors who were taking it a little more gingerly than me. Then hitting the bottom I caught sight of fellow GB team mate Tom Owens, who went on to finish 4th, and this was the last I would see of him. The next big climb was pretty tough, or maybe it was just the company I was in, and I  felt like I was suffering! However by the time I had made the next checkpoint at Doussard I was shocked to find I was in 16th place.

A this point¬†the American train of Alex Nichols and Dave Laney caught me and soon left me in their wake. I was in need of this pit stop and some instant sugar to pick me back up. Pleased with how I was going I¬†thought it was time to start digging in and use a positive attitude to get me through. The next climb was started steady but determined and I started to get stronger; attacking with a run/ walk strategy. I overtook a couple of competitors, which always helps the confidence, and was moving well, but¬†I made the¬†mistake forgetting to fuel while going strongly.¬†This started to effect me towards the final few hundred metres of the climb along with my chest starting to tighten. I couldn’t really accelerate away from the top and with painful big toes I could not capitalise on the decent, which had been a strength earlier in the day.¬†On a Charge

The third checkpoint came at a good time, I was in need of refreshment and a boost. I choose the wrong drink, a For Goodness Shake, I should of just gone for the classic flat coke as for the next half hour I was struggling with nausea. I managed to keep fighting but it was not a strong finish I had hoped for but I wasn’t crumbling either. With the summit of the final climb over, now for the long way down. With my big toe black and blue I was catching it on what seemed like every stone causing me to wince in agony. I couldn’t attack and was simply free wheeling my way down; a sitting duck to any chasers. I lost three places in the last two km’s, including a flying Irishman Dan. I wasn’t disappointed as I had raced well and competed with some of the best in the world. To finish in the top 20 at a world champs is great and a performance I’m delighted with, but like all performances I will look how I can improve for the next one!Finish. Top 20

I was ecstatic to learn when Lee crossed the line, we had done enough as a team to earn Team Bronze. This was more than my dream. The smile on my face speaks more than words. It was good to use the new Raidlight Responsiv 8L for the race being super comfy and lightweight and Osmo nutrition worked well for me in this race. I loved the x talons for the first half of the race but needed something more cushioned later on. Thank you for all for the incredible support.Mens Team Podium

Time to Focus

While I managed to juggle two sports last year being able to compete in both ultra trail running and adventure racing to a very high standard I have decided it is time to focus on one. Although I love adventure racing and there is nothing quite like getting to the finish line with a team who have shared your journey through extreme environments, it is when I am running freely through the mountains which makes me content.

While I have the opportunity to soon run for my country and later in the year to compete in the UTMB my early season has been geared towards doing the best I can at these events. I had hoped to once again go to the Adventure Race World Champs this year in Brazil in November but I sadly have not made the team this year. The last few days I have been weighing up this decision and it is always hard to give up something you love doing. I have decided it is time to invest all my effort into ultra running to see what I can achieve over the next few years and to run some iconic races around the world.

I have decided it is time to leave Team Adidas Terrex and wish them well in their future races. I would like to thank the team’s sponsors for all their support in helping the team achieve on a world stage. I really enjoyed racing with the team at the highest level and thank you for the opportunity.

With an ending comes a new exciting opportunity to focus on one sport rather than spread my resources too thinly.

My ultra season looks something like this

  • 30th May – IAU World Trail Championships, Annecy, France
  • 27th June – Ultimate Trails 110km, The Lake District
  • 28th August – UTMB, Chamonix, France
  • 10th October – Lakes in a Day, Lake District
  • 24/25th October – OMM

2016 ?????

Hardmoors 55 


Today my legs are tired after yesterday’s 55 mile race from Guisborough to Helmsley and my focus will soon shift towards my spring time goal race of the World Trail Running Champs in Annecy. However yesterday was a great run across the North York Moors following the Clevland Way, although a cool day the cloud was high giving stunning views across the Vale of York. The ground was hard after a good dry spell and with a tail wind conditions were set for some fast times. I wanted to use this race as a preparation race to get me back into the Ultra mindset and test my winter training. I set myself three goals which I thought were all possible yet would provide motivation to give me a hard race to test the mind. The primary goal was to try and win, secondly to break the course record and thirdly run sub 8 hours.

 To achieve this I knew I could not run a tactical race with a hard burst towards the end. So after about 500 metres I took the race on and pulled a 30 sec lead over Paul which stayed pretty constant to Roseberry topping about six miles in. I knew it was not going to be a free flow running day after my hamstrings had tightened after two miles but a day of graft and determination to succeed. I pushed on the return from Roseberry and the elastic had broken. I was on my own with only my mind to spur me on. I came in to Kildale expecting a drop bag to be told no bag here but further on, without thinking or looking at the map I carried on in haste. I had one gel left and nine miles to cover, I was well stocked up to this point so I should make it okay if leaving me a little depleted by claybank (A lost driver, time to adapt and cope). I had equalled Dan Anderson’s split from the year before but I did not want to fade the same way. After Clay Bank I stuffed some food in and attacked the hills to Lord stones, I started to feel the pace and feel dehydrated but managed to maintain rhythm to Osthmotherly where I could fuel up for the last section.  I was clearly going well I was 21 minutes up on record pace with all three goals still possible but I knew it could all fall apart with 23 odd miles still to go. 

The climb out of Osmotherly was a grind but I was happy with this, it was on reaching the plateau realising there was still twenty miles to go and my legs felt shot where my mind suffered. I was using my watch to make sure my legs kept on task and I made a new goal to set a faster leg than last years winner in order to keep me focused. It was a grateful sight to reach the White Horse and walk the steep steps after so much good running. I knew my legs were tightening but all I had to do was cover the last ten miles down towards Rivleuax and on to the welcome sight of Helmsley. I ran into the town to the welcome sight of a small crowd including an old work friend. I was proud if extremely knackered to of set a new course record going well under my best goal achieving a time of 7hrs 39 mins for the 55 miles. Thanks to Hardmoors for organising another great, friendly event and all the volunteers who make it possible with a friendly welcome and supportive words of encouragement.  


Itera World Series Adventure Race – Wales 2014


Walking into Caernarfon Castle for the start of the Itera world series adventure race brought memories flooding back. Nicola MacLeod came over and we tried to remember the last time we were in the castle; at least a decade ago? No it was actually a little under twelve years. Nicola and I were then finishing the first British adventure race championships; a three day expedition race starting in Porthmadog. My lasting memories of the race was running around this crazy village called Port Meirion and paddling against the tide through the Menai Straights to the finish. I had come into the race under tough circumstances. Having done a lot of running with my dad (Richard) when I was a junior and in 1998 we discovered ACE races and our adventure race careers had begun. We made a father and son team with good map skills we were competitive in male pairs events. I went off to University late in 1999 and drifted in and out of competitive sport for three years. In my final year the first British adventure race championships was born and my dad volunteered me for a team; I think he would of loved to do it himself but knew he was not too well, so I jumped at the chance. In  June my dad had passed away suddenly, so when the championships came round in September I was not really physically or mentally in the best place. The memory of the adventure and the joy of reaching the finish line must of stuck somewhere in the back of my mind as a little seed waiting to germinate. I then went on a long path of self discovery for a few years which lead away from adventure racing until, in 2008, I entered my first Open 5 in Dalby Forest and the spark was reignited.


In 2014 I had decided to join the Adidas Terrex adventure race team and was selected to race in the Itera expedition race in Wales with Nick Gracie (Captain), Chris Hope and Sally Ozanne.


The route – Eddie Winthorpe

On arrival in Cardiff on Saturday morning we discovered the route of the race starting in Caenarfon and finishing in Cardiff using the main disciplines of kayaking, mountain trekking and mountain biking mixed in with a few special activities.


Where are we going? Eddie Winthorpe

A lot of race time can be saved with careful planning and organisation of kit, marking routes on maps, and working out food requirements and your race strategy. We spent plenty of time on these activities pre race.


On the Saturday there was a prologue as a little warm up to the main race. This was a 10 km flat road run around Cardiff bay where the time lost to the winners would be multiplied by 3 and served as a penalty in the main race. In the middle of the run was the excitement of a run down the whitewater course in inflatable kayaks in pairs relay before you could finish the run route as a team.


The prologue went well and we managed to come away with the win and no race time penalty. It was also a fantastic way to relieve nervous excitement for the journey to come.


The race started on the Monday morning at 8 am with a couple of laps around the streets of Caenarfon to split the field before stage 1.


We were first onto the water and the race position we were to successfully hold all the way to Cardiff. We got to paddle the Menai Straights with the tide in our favor and a following wind made for some exciting wave surfing. The wind was too strong to complete the paddle to Conway, so we biked there from Bangor instead.


On arrival in Conway we had the first special activity of finding controls around the town walls and castle. The walls were surprisingly steep and this was a real pleasure to share this Welsh historic site with the on looking public.


Stage 2 was a bike from Conway to Ogwen cottage with a real trouser filler on route; with the lightening fast zip wire flying over a disused quarry. I could not fail to enjoy this minute long thrill giving me plenty of adrenaline to pedal the last few miles to Ogwen cottage.


Sunset from Ogwen cottage – James Kirby

I’ve always enjoy arriving in Ogwen with such stunning mountainous views and this time it was for the start of stage 3. This stage was a long mountain trek including the scrambling ascent of the north face of Tryfan, the Glyders, Snowdon, Yr Aran, Cnict and one of the Moelwyns. This was a real highlight of the race for me; high mountain terrain in day and night.


A large part of  how well you do in adventure racing comes down to how efficient you are and this includes in transitions. I was now in the team who are one of the best in the world at efficient transitions and yet again fast transitions were helping the team build a gap on the opposition. Stage 4 was supposed to be a kayak to Barmouth with a stop in Port Meirion for an Orienteering stage, but the wind was still too strong for a sea paddle so after Port Meirion crossed the estuary and biked over the hills to Barmouth.


We arrived in Port Meirion at first light for a run around the little Italianate  seaside town. It was still just as bizarre as twelve years ago and, like then, finding the controls on the tourist map proved very tricky. When we completed this stage we were timed out to enjoy an hours sleep in a concrete ship; this was due to a restriction on starting the next leg before 8am Tuesday morning . The stage recommenced with an incoming tide rushing into the estuary and a battle to make our way up the shoreline, before we were told to abandon checkpoint 21. We then used the flow to ferry glide across the estuary to the next transition. With a quick transition we were away from Haglofs and back on our own; biking towards Barmouth. There was a cracking long descent into the transition at Barmouth. Stage 4 was a big trek over Cader Idris and the Tarren Hendre ridgeline to Machynlleth. The long climb up from sea level to the summit of Cader seemed to drag but once over the top the rest of the trek seemed to pick up.

Once in Machynlleth the biggest stage of the race was to begin a 220km mountain bike ride across mid Wales to Glasbury. The first part through Tuesday night was on some exciting bike trails with a cracking single track descent enough to keep sleep deprived eyes open with some extra caffeine.


A short special stage in the early hours of Wednesday morning was a trip to see the waterfalls from Devils Bridge, including a 100 m descent on foot down very steep steps and back up the far side. The dawn brought a grey damp day and Sally started to suffer with a poorly stomach which lasted til the end of the race. The journey forward was a beautiful road ride through the Elan valley and a large proportion was downhill to the visitor center; we all agreed this was a hidden gem and would be back to revisit in the future.


The visitor center marked halfway in distance and the location for a 12 km trail run around a two loop course. The team found this hard with weary legs and heads (with little interest to keep the mind occupied). Due to the large number of time outs in the first half of the course race director James Thurlow had decided to equalise the differences and put the lead teams back into the correct time order on the ground; if you were in front of a team you were ahead of them. For all other teams on full course this would mean a compulsory stop at Elan visitor center; with no time to serve we justed stopped here for a short sleep to rejuvenate ourselves for the rest of the bike.


Time to recharge – James Kirby

The second bike ended in Glasbury after battling the wind, rain, flooded bridleways, many hills and some lovely narrow single track down a hidden valley. We refueled  in a chippy in Builth Wells, we musted have looked rather jaded as the owner wanted to give us free food, before we toiled on to the stage end. We arrived at Glasbury at 1 am Thursday morning to be timed out until 7.30 am and gain a valuable long sleep off the race clock.


Stage 7 was a paddle down the gentle grade 1 river Wye from Glasbury to Brewardine. An enjoyable affair after a nice sleep and a healthy lead.


The stage was interrupted by a short street orienteering stage using ancient maps and a compulsory breakfast at the bakery in Hay on Wye.


Stage 8 transported us on bikes via the black mountains to Tal y bont on the edge of the Breacon Beacons where stage 9 would begin. A big trek across the summits of Fan y big, Cribyn and Pen y fan starting in the fading light of Thursday evening. Once up high the ground was compulsive to good running with some awesome views on a clear night.


The first half of the trek went very quickly which then faded into a crawl with my sore feet and Chris’s stomach; deciding it did not want its contents anymore. The special cave activity was great to sooth my sore feet although there was very little crawling for Chris it was an ordeal to be survived.


Stage 9 came to a welcome end and Chris had chance to recover; I also got some treatment on my tender feet.


Stage 10 was the final ride up over the Rhigos to descend through the valleys into the finish at Cardiff bay. We left with smiles on our faces and, after some unnecessary diversions, when we reached the top of the last hill we could just keep the wheels rolling into the urban environment.


We crossed the line to win the Itera World series adventure race across Wales on Friday afternoon in 93 hours 31 mins


This was an incredible journey across the best of  Wales pushing both body and mind in a test of human endurance. We were lucky enough to win but anyone reaching the finish line had completed something amazing.


I feel really privileged and proud to have achieved this success so soon after my Lakeland 50 win. It was also great to race with Team Adidas Terrex. Thank you to all our sponsors, who help make this possible.


After some good recovery I’m now starting to focus my attention towards the Adventure Race World Championships in Ecuador in November.

You can follow the team @ https://www.facebook.com/teamadidasterrex?ref=hl



The Lakeland 50 – British Athletics Ultra Trail Championships

Haweswater - James Kirby

Haweswater – James Kirby

Today my duty manager at Outward Bound Tony announced I was British ultra trail champion; it was a dream come true. Last year I attempted to race the Lakeland 100 which ended after 30 miles as I suffered in the heat and became ill; I wanted to come back and make amends. This year at work I also really wanted to run a classic 3 week adventure course for 15 -19 year old students, which meant I could only have one day off a week. The Lakeland 50 was my only option and Ally entered me while I was at the CCC. I could not afford to enter the UTMB this year so it was also to be my target race of the year (especially as it was announced as the British Athletics ultra trail championships).

With some good form in early June at Ennerdale fell race, a good block of training and a taper I was feeling confident I could perform by the time I was standing on the start line at Dalemain. With a goal of top 3, and listening to Mark’s briefing, I wasn’t too bothered about the time, I was there to race. My plan was to go with the pace at the front, stay as cool as possible, and fuel and hydrate early and often then see what happened. Looking at the start list; ¬†Ben Abdelnoor was missing due to injury so there was no stand out favorite but six guys with winning pedigree and, on their day, a chance to win. These were Stuart Mills, last years 100 winner, Lee Kemp, reigning British Champion, Danny Kendall, star in the Marathon des Sables, Martin Cox, international mountain runner, Marcus Scotney, course record breaker at several ultras this year, and myself.

Cockpit - James Kirby

The gun went and, as expected, Stu took up the lead setting a good pace but one I was happy with; Danny and Lee came too. To my surprise Marcus decided to take a steady start in the heat and, after a steady start, 3 miles in Martin was with us at the front. After Stuarts early pace setting both Danny and Lee took up the reins and seemed comfortable setting the pace, and Martin and I just sat in. Stu dropped back as the tempo increased on the first hill to the Cockpit, which continued at a fast pace down to the Howtown checkpoint. I turned the checkpoint around quickly. I was first away so I could take it easy and save some energy. By this point I had started my keep cool strategy; after racing in the heat in Transvulcania and feeling the difference cold water over the head could make, I took every opportunity to dip my cap or pour a bottle over me. This strategy was a winner (I have fairly often in the past failed to race well in the heat).

Fusedale would be the first real test of climbing strength and where Martin made a strong move late on up the climb and, although I struggled to cover the move, we had put 10 seconds on Danny and Lee by the top. We were caught on the way down to Haweswater but as the slope steepened I decided to take the lead and use my downhill strength to test the water and set the pace. I wanted to keep it steady along Haweswater as this was the windless heat trap so I let Lee to take up the reigns but a short distance later he stepped aside and was gone. I was then back in the lead coming into Mardale checkpoint so, with Martin and Danny following, I went for another quick turnaround.

Mardale Head

Mardale – James Kirby

I dibbed the checkpoint turned round hit the river, poured water over my head, filled up my bottle and then was off. I had a 30 second lead and was steady away up Gatesgarth pass, the gap was not closing so ¬†I ran strongly down the rough track into Long Sleddale. I was now alone and going away from Martin and Danny. I like to think I was suffering the least after the early hot pace of the front four but always on the back of my mind was when Marcus was going to come. I had to use several techniques to keep my mindset positive as I was starting to rapidly slow between Kentmere and Ambleside. ¬†Ambleside checkpoint was a welcome sight as I was struggling, after a head dip, two cokes, water bottle refill a gel and some positive splits from Ben I started to feel good again, setting off in a¬†steady strong pace towards Langdale. Then it happened, bugger, Marcus was on my shoulder moving like a train just before Elterwater about 40 miles into the race. I thought I had blown it but no I was not going to let this one go I was going to fight. I managed to find some inner strength and find another 2 gears, falling into Marcus’s 6.15 min/mile pace. I was holding on and feeling OK I kept eating, at this pace knowing that if I didn’t I would soon crash. We then ran into Langdale checkpoint together re-hydrated, water over the head and off we went together. I started to think I would soon¬†blow but, it wasn’t me, Marcus started to slow and I took the lead and a gap started to form. I kept it steady and strong, ate some more food, pushed up the climb out of Langdale and the gap grew.

Blea Tarn - Jen Regan

Blea Tarn – Jen Regan

I knew this was my opportunity and I gave it my all, I was now running determined to win this race. I had the belief I could do it and gave it my all to Tilberthwaite. The checkpoint arrived and I was looked after well (as I was at all checkpoints), and left with no one in sight. The dream was becoming reality but the ghost of the Marcus kept me pushing all the way to the top of the hill, as I hit the top I knew then I could enjoy the descent into Coniston as I was not going to be caught now. Running into Coniston the emotion started a tear in my eye and the fist pumping began. I ran into the finish to be crowned winner of the Lakeland 50 and British ultra trail running champion.

Coniston Finish  - Adrian Stott

Coniston Finish – Adrian Stott

I would like to dedicate this race  to the memory of my Grandad Tony and my Nanna Pat who both passed away this last month who gave me the strength to fight for the victory and helped make me the person I am today.  Thanks to all the event staff and checkpoint volunteers for making it a great event. Sorry I could not stand on stage and collect the prize but I had 11 students to help inspire to realize their potential. Maybe this will help me live another dream of wearing a  GB vest! We can keep dreaming.