Sunday 13th saw the 2019 Langdale Horseshoe fell race which was good fun, challenging, and eventful.
The Langdale Horseshoe is organised by Ambleside AC and a classic Lakes fell race, that can and does challenge people due to distance, terrain, ascent and descent, and whatever the weather can be in October.
We’d (wifey and doggy) travelled up in Minty the VW T6 to stay at the National Trust Great Langdale campsite where the race starts from, staying over Friday and Saturday night. Also running the race was Andy “Persistent” Poole and Jill “Boss” Davies who we caught up with on Saturday morning.
Andy Poole and I from the Saddleworth Runners ended up running 12.7 miles, with 5,308 feet of climb. We’d decided to run together but not race as I’d not Lakes raced since the Old County Tops in May, and Andy has the Snowdon Marathon in two weeks. Despite this it was a tough race, especially where visibility and temperature declined on the top of Bowfell making for hard navigation.
FLICKR PHOTOS: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHFVioC
Overall the weather was wet and damp with rain at the start of the race, so making rocks slippy and treacherous, with grassy and muddy descents lethal at times.
The Race Organiser at the start explained that it was a full field with over 400 runners, a record. Children counted us down and we were off. It was shoulders and elbows (in a nice apologetic way) as we ran along the track for the climb to Stickle Tarn.
I’d been exercising during the week, but being sensible. But what I’d not realised was I was tired from a busy week and it transpired on tired legs from helping neighbours lug 3 tonnes of gravel for repairs to a collapsed garden wall. But the key factor was the time in not having been in The Lakes. It is a different type of running compared to the Moors of Saddleworth.
Some facts here. You reach the top of Pavey Ark from the valley after 2.2 miles and at this point have climbed over two thousand feet in one go. I was knackered and my legs not working, whilst still feeling asleep. Praise is given to Mr Andy Poole who stuck with me to check I was okay and helped drag me up the “offensive” climb, and to be frank round the whole race.
From this point it was a run across the moors of Thunacar Knott and Martcrag Moors, both of which were boggy with all the rain lately.
At one point a number of people ran into a bog, icy cold, up to their waists - Andy was one of them, and he explained it was freezing whilst it also shocked him.
We carried on heading for Angle Tarn to catch up with Josie “Smiler” Greenhalgh making her way to Esk Hause which turned out to be a pleasant climb; by now I’d seemed to have woken up, shook off lassitude, and my legs seemed to be working. All of this was great, but I was soon to be rewarded with the God awful contouring section beneath Esk Pike as you head to Ore Gap. On climbing to Ore Gap the mist and clag had come down, visibility limited and temperatures dropping as we climbed to Bowfell. It was hard climbing on slippy, slimy, and shifting rocks and you had to be oh so careful.
But on Bowfell summit we were rewarded with smiles from Liz Tromans and Jane Hodgson who kindly offered water that I gratefully received. This race goes to show that even in rainy, cold, damp weather water is important - you do sweat profusely.
Kit is also important, and I’d kitted my self out correctly with the Softshell top, Inov-8 Race Elite shorts, and Ultimate race sack. However I’d right ROYALLY fooked up the choice of shoes, thinking Innov-8 Rocklites would be a good choice with all the rock. But what about the nightmare muddy, grassy section from Pike O’ Blisco? More to come on that.
From Bowfell you head to Crinkle Crags, difficult in clag, with a shocker descent off Bowell down a slippy walkers path that had people falling all over the show.
This was not the main concern, the main concern was Bad Step in the drizzle. What is Bad Step? Very simply after Gunson Knott you have sheer rocky sides with big drops as you drop off Crinkle Crags. Bad Step is where you drop down and it involves scrambling. And in the weather was certainly NOT pleasant. Andy (with knowledge) got myself and another runner down and around Bad Step via a sneaky route (steep and iffy mind you) and we were glad. Josie commented later that it had been horrible.
Off we ploughed for the long but enjoyable descent to Pike O’ Blisco rewarded with great views as the clag and mist cleared. Andy did start to cramp, took some salt immediately and that seemed to sort him out. The climb up the Pike was good, solid, and fun. Views on the top breathtaking. At this point you have basically smashed the race as it is all descent to Great Langdale and the finish.
Now let me tell you about the descent from the Pike O’ Blisco… It was at this point that my choice of Rocklites bit me in the arse. The descent is muddy, grassy, and long as you head toward Blea Tarn and turn away toward Great Langdale - people will also know part of the route from the Three Shires fell race. Not having fallen over (coming nastily close coming off rocky Bowfell) I flew off my feet onto my side trying to overtake two runners grazing my arm. Stood up, ran 10 feet, flew off my feet again. The runners initial concern transformed into silence at my ineptitude. Basically it was a bloody awful descent, one of the worse I’ve had and all poor Andy could hear behind him were expletives and shrieks. On seeing the road I was happy knowing it was soon to be over, only to launch into thin air completely off my feet to land heavily on the running sack. Thankfully the sack took the blow but I was badly winded. Hobbling to the road for the final descent Andy had kindly waited.
It was then a quick pelt down to the campsite and to the finish. It is worth noting for the record that “The Boss” accompanied by Terrier Ted were out on a run to meet us at Red Tarn before the climb up Pike O’ Blisco. They said hello to lots of runners, but not myself or Mr Poole. Oh, and they missed us at the start and finish. (Compare to Trigger 2019.)
We’d finished though and were happy, chatting away with Claire and Ted.
But this soon turned to concern as the Race Organiser could be heard asking for Liz Tromans, and we identified ourselves. It transpired that Jill Davies had take a bad fall off Bad Step and broken both her wrist and one of her fibula bones. She could not move and we were worried. We had no idea as to what we could do, where Liz and Jane were, so promptly headed back to Minty to get changed to then head back to HQ. There was no real news apart from an Ambleside Runner had legged it to Jill with a full med-kit to sort her out, with other runners helping, plus the marshalls on Bowfell. A runner had actually run all the way back up to Bowfell from Bad Step to get an emergency shelter off the Marshalls!
Eventually Andy headed back to the Achille Ratti hut and left Claire and I to Minty. Not long after this we heard the whoop, whoop of a coastguard helicopter heading exactly to Crinkle Crags. Worried, but we knew Jill was sorted as she was airlifted off with the helicopter landing!
What I learnt from this is why I love fell running. People mucked in and helped, with fellow runners keeping Jill company despite their being in a race.
Saturday night we headed to the Old Dungeon Gill Inn to listen to folk music from a festival. It was relaxed and good, but we did think of Jill.
Would I recommend the race? Yes. But train for it. Wear Mudclaws or something similar…
(After what happened to Jill, all I can say is KIT, KIT, KIT. Her kit kept her warm.)