St Begas Ultra

Inspired by two running friends’ photos on Facebook (Jen Scotney and Martin Hookway) who ran across the Lakes taking in the ‘Coast to Coast’ route as part of Jen’s epic ‘Northern Transverse’ reccie for the race (Second Female I may add) I wanted to play in those hills too.

To run or not to run? What a stupid question.

It just so happened that I found the exact race that allowed me to play in the hills and get me from A to B without a logistic nightmare and without a day off work. Calling SBU35 – St Begas Ultra – 37 miles of appetising trails. With a slight diversion this year so it came just a tad under 37 miles rather than 35 miles but they didn’t charge us extra for the 2 miles. The event also spanned the late May bank holiday weekend – another bonus for I get 2.5 days away without having to forego any self employment work income.

Ultra runners aren’t born they are forged on the trail – SBU35

SBU35 is designed for ‘new ultra runners loved by all’ as well as more seasoned runners – this doesn’t mean they would all have to carry salt tabs as their mandatory kit however I did have some on me and they came in useful to help someone in the later stages of the event. Regardless of what you think of salt tabs…

The finish, camping and registration was all at the rather ‘posh looking’ St Bee’s School. I had opted for the race camping option – an absolute bargain – £5 for two nights with access to hot showers at the ‘on campus’ swimming pool / sports centre. With 1 minute walk to registration and the finish line too you just can’t go wrong with that. I wasn’t sure why more didn’t take up the offer?

The systematically extra efficient registration ran like clockwork gave confidence to us all that it would certainty be a good event. Disclaimer, full kit check very slick,with little marked out boxes in a grid to put all gear, then you would move on to get a free tea or coffee, a questions table where I asked whether cheat sticks were necessary. Then the drop bags table – I decided against a drop bag as it was ‘only’ 37 miles. Finally payment for the camping and option to purchase buffs. I would have bought a buff but they were white and not keen on white myself. What a slick operation. I can understand why it is aimed at new ultra runners, if I was a new ultra runner I would have really felt comfortable as a first ultra race.

Back to the tent after registration to eat, just like ultra runners do, a quick gear faff like you do, then bed for an early 6.30 am start where coaches would run us to the start much quicker than we would run back – some 37 miles away.

Remember, the second most important thing to choosing the right shoe, is choosing the left one.

Coaches promptly lined up the following morning to take us to Dodd Wood Bassenthwaite Lake, just outside of Keswick and we would just run all the way back to the coast – pretty simple, right?

It was great to meet fellow Sheffield resident and member of Sheffield Running Club – Caroline as we sat together on the coach chatting away. Caroline is inspiring to all, not only did she go through the clubs’ couch to 5 km but then went on to go straight to an ultra, we call it couch to ultra. Amazing.

We Piled off the coaches, ample toilets including extra portaloos had been placed at the start – great thinking. Then the Race Director marched us up a little slope to an opening in the woodland, where we were all given a clear race briefing, clarifying any differentiation’s from those that had done the race before, to telling us that ‘Bummer’s Hill’ will end, and the best way to eat a jelly baby to maximise its energy levels. This gave us all further confidence that the race was run in safe hands, and throughout the event the RD and his merry men (and women) would pop up here and there to wish us well.

My name is Suunto. Will you run with me?

Then we were off beep beep start. I placed myself mid pack no need to rush with these things. The race started with an uphill slog through Dodd Woods, just enough vertical to get you in the mood for later. A cameraman precariously hidden in the woods about 2 miles in made for some really good photos.

After the cameraman, the route dropped into Keswick, meandering around the lush trails of Derwent water and winding its way through the sweet tasting trails of Borrowdale.

Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations….I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they may lead. – Louisa May Alcott

Although this was a self navigating event, the comprehensive road book featured step by step instructions of the route accompanied by detailed OS Maps. Turn L at the tree, and R at the pothole and carry on following the green blade of grass. When you get to the muddy dry puddle, bear thu the kissing gate to reach the stile at the path end. Marshals were also placed at a few small areas for safety. And thank your marshals as you move passed.

Checkpoint one soon arrived some 11 or so miles in after dancing through the pretty woodlands, skipping down the rocky trails and pretending to be on ‘good form’ for another cameraman.

The checkpoint bananas were kept in their skins by helping us fill our bottles or asking if there was anything we needed. I felt very waited on and laughed at the ‘banana’s in pijama’s theme’ for the first CP.

Given it was so hot I downed some coke, took some nuts and jelly babies and went on my way. I had been running with 3 or 4 guys until the first checkpoint, chatting away and enjoying the heavenly sunshine. One guy was taking a ‘run-walk strategy’ he would walk a bit then come storming past us, then walk a bit again.

Often at checkpoints groups of runners disperse, and once the climb to Honister Slate Mine began, I left them all for track dust for there was not a pinch of a puddle anywhere as I made my way up to the slate mine with breathtaking views of the valleys below.

It can look a long way up just don’t look up then

Past the slate mine, another cameraman (or the same one?) was ready to capture those grimacing faces ready to follow the zigzags up the very steep vehicle track. There was quite a bit of up then.

Once near the top, the road book told us to ‘see standing rocks’ VERY IMPORTANT, and taking a faint track across the fell. There was actually a Marshall here as well all in fancy dress. I had to smile a smile or two and thank him as well.

Onto the fell, fantastically fun, jumping over heather, rocks and meandering around little gullies. Even at the highest point on the fell they had put another Marshall informing us we were at the highest point and the only way was down. Another gratifying touch to the race organisation.

A technical descend down to Ennerdale Valley required concentration picking my way down steep rocky steps. It was just me and my feet, negotiating every little rock. I managed to stay vertical at this point.

Over the mountains and through the woods, down the river and up the valley over the boulders and through the stream to nobody’s house I go

The Ennerdale valley welcomed a more runnable section across grassy banks past the little shed that is Blacksail YHA and onto a more distinct forest track. However it was here where I lost my concentration and ended up horizontal twice in two minutes. Splat, blood, two minutes later, splat, more blood. Great timing as one of the strong boys from earlier came ‘whizzing’ past me making it look so easy. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, swore very loudly and took on some liquid and some food and began to walk. Sulking with myself for being so stupid and glaring out into the distance at the guy who had come whizzing past wondering how he could run so fast 18 miles in with the heat blasting down was way beyond my little brain right at this point.

No brain, no pain

The forest track continued for about 4 miles. Flat and what may seem ‘easy running’ But easy running can be deceptive, the tedious flat forest track testing the mental capacity of both the head and the body. I passed one guy who was struggling, asked how he was and if he needed water before going on my way.

You run an ultra largely on concentration … not letting your form drag and continuing to run. Your body quits and the mind takes over. It’s not like a marathon where you think, maybe I can gut it out. – Georgs Kolesnikovs

Finally I saw a group of about 4 runners come up a hill and an arrow pointing down the hill, this would mean just one thing – checkpoint alert! I was desperate for water at this point and couldn’t wait to feast up on all the food and drink. The checkpoint had all picnic delights you could ask for. Sandwiches, Cake, jelly babies, sweets, fruit, savoury stuff including gluten free and vegetarian options. I took some none meat scotch egg thingies – I am not vegetarian but I like vegetarian food, and downed what seemed like a whole bottle of coke. The kind marshals filled up my water bottles for me too. I had three soft flasks, two in the front of my pack and one in the back – and I certainty needed all three in the heat.

In an ultra you should eat like a horse, drink like a fish, and run like a turtle.

The track continued for another two miles, and ‘whizzing’ bloke had caught up with me again after spending longer at the checkpoint than I did. I didn’t know at this point where I was in the ‘race’ I wasn’t using it as a ‘race’ per se for I was also taking lots of photos and admiring the stunning scenery.

Whizzing bloke left me once again to pick up the pieces of my deteriorating body. I was struggling around Ennerdale water and began walking on the flat ‘easy going’ trail around the lake shore. I was slowing my pace to the point that I could have been beaten by a sleepy snail. Another marshal had been placed to direct us off the lake shore and onto a little bit of road that would then take us to Ennerdale Bridge. Must start running, must run, pretend to run at least….

Keep going, keep growing

An extra water station had been placed at Ennerdale Bridge and I politely took advantage of this as I was already running a bit low on water and trying to ration it. The guys at the water station told me I was about 8th or 9th over all and 3rd female. Did I really want to know that? Hmmmm – it got me thinking.

The road then headed uphill (uphill written in bold obviously to let us know it was uphill). This was where I caught up with Whizzing bloke. Just as I was picking up again, he was apparently suffering from cramp so I gave him some salt tabs that I had spare (whether they work or not is up to the individual, whether its a placebo effect or not – who cares? if it works it works).

A rolling descend through Nannycatch Beck was felt blazing hot. I copied another guy who energetically came burning past me, as he dipped his cap into the clear becks placing it back on his head to cool himself down. I’d never done this before and tried it. It was like melting marshmallow heaven as the water dripped down my body cooling every hot inch of my skin. And again and again and again until we ran out of water.

Running along the beck was so much fun, I’d found my energy again, jumping over the becks, flying over the quaint little wooden bridges, bouncing along the pathways, so much fun, so much fun.
But the fun had to end as I hit the bottom of ‘Bummer’s Hill’ as it is known to the locals, Dent fell to the tourists. This, a steep incline through the forest would stop the fun in its tracks for a while. The Race Director did say ‘Bummer’s Hill does end’. And it did; to far reaching views of the Lakes on one side and the sea on the other – nearly home.

If the hill has its own name, then it’s probably a pretty tough hill.

A fantastic descent led down to the last checkpoint around 32 miles in. It was here where I caught up with the group of 4 runners, 3 guys and a girl who I had seen leaving at CP2. My mathematics told me that if the guy at the water station in Ennerdale Bridge was correct that if I overtook these 4 guys then I would be 4th or 5th (as one guy had overtook me down along the Beck). I gently ran past and said hi to them all. They were walking down the wide forest track and I found an extra bounce as I passed in the most polite way possible.

Pass them, don’t pace them

At the bottom of the wide forest track I wasn’t too sure of the route and stopped to re-read the road book. The 100 meters along the road felt like a very small 100 metres and the path through a farm wasn’t very obvious. The four runners caught me up and seemed to know the way, I thanked them and ran onward towards the smorgasbord of goodies I could smell a mile or so away at the next checkpoint.

I was quick inside the checkpoint, didn’t fancy any food, but got both bottles filled up, poured my last sachet of tailwind into my now leaking (and new) soft flask and went on my way chasing the guy who had overtook me earlier down the bike track. It was only 4 miles to ‘home’.

I followed my road book counting the 3 bridges. After the third bridge there was an arrow pointing down and through the ‘squeeze’ into a number of fields. The other guy was just ahead but I didn’t really have the energy or cheek to try and pass him so I just sat back and comfortably ‘chased him’.

Don’t stop, push harder, keep going

In view came the rooftops of the school, ding ding, can you hear the school bell? Nearly home then. I had caught my little friend up at a gate that he held open for me but I beckoned him to carry on. ‘Go go go’ I said with hand signals.

One of the race people had come out on course to tell us we only had another few minutes to go. Just a few more minutes as I took my last gulp of green tea tailwind to see me through the last little bit.

A final little push through the school car park, down a little slope and across the camping field I went. Hello tent’ I said as I put on an ‘ultra sprint’ across the cricket ground and through the finishing funnel to a most welcoming finish.

I was handed a goodie bag inscribed with my name, inside a technical tee, pair of socks and a few other goodies. Then laid on a table were all the medals. All different, made out of Honistor slate with ‘SBU 2018’ stamped on in white ink. A hot meal and beer token was also thrown into the goodie bag for later consumption.

I came in 4th overall and 2nd Female which was a rather happy surprise. There were about 145 starters so I can’t complain for an event that I spent half the time taking pictures and admiring the views. Next time try harder.

In addition, I found out later and was witness to the Race Director helping out Caroline who got timed out at CP2 and had a few issues getting back to the Finish area due to the new transport sweeper system. The RD was mortified at the way she had been ‘treated’ and was so apologetic. An apology wasn’t enough for the RD to make things better and he proceeded to give Caroline a free entry for next year. Now that tells me that the RD and organisers really do care about their runners and the experience they have at the SBU. If you want to try out an Ultra this is definitely one to put on your list.

Photos of the event

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