The author running up Grisedale Pike with Skiddaw in view behind

Coledale Horseshoe 2019

I’d been driving west for about an hour and a half when it happened. The A66 swept round towards Keswick and Blencathra appeared majestically on the right, a healthy dusting of snow on the summit and the ridge lines. I’m not ashamed to say I eased off the accelerator and whooped for joy. That view is like the gateway drug to the Lake District and to see it with just the right amount of snow, on a clear day, is pure joy.

It was the Coledale Horseshoe today, one of the classic Lake District fell routes. Having spent the best part of last week reading past race reports, studying the OS map, looking at elevation profiles, and hitting refresh on and the mountain weather information service, I arrived with peak anticipation for what was ahead.

The weather was sublime. It felt as though a benevolent creator had designed days like this as a kind of private joke, knowing that no one would truly appreciate them for a few billion years until people started to fell race. It was about 6° celsius, the sky was clear, the sun was out and there was near enough zero wind. The snow dusting the tops added to the beauty and wet your feet without adding anything in the way of difficulty.

I set off reasonably close to the front of the pack to try and beat the bottle neck up the stairs at the bottom of Grisedale Pike. At the point I reached it we were fairly tightly packed in, but it didn’t feel like it slowed us down as we tackled the stairs two abreast.

At the top of the stairs you’re straight onto the long climb up Grisedale Pike. It’s pretty unrelenting stuff and, aside from the briefest of runnable interludes, it was a hands on knees, heart pumping, power hike to the summit and the first checkpoint. The path has some scree but is a relatively straight forward climb.

Coming off the summit, a quick drop of 180m in about 1.5km takes you to the foot of Eel Crags and that’s where it gets tricky: in seemingly no time you’re scrambling up scree and rocks using your hands and knees quite a bit. It was a technical climb, and once or twice my choice of line wasn’t the best, but the path flattens out at the top for a runnable ascent across the snow to the second checkpoint at the peak of Crag Hill.

The descent from Crag Hill to Sail is also technical and there were a few tricky moments on the wet rocks before passing the marshals at Sail and realising that the worst of the terrain was now behind us. There’s a long sweeping trail down towards Barrow to make up some pace and a short, runnable, climb to the summit to tick off that final checkpoint.

And then the inevitable happened: on the downhill to the finish I found myself in the hurt locker. As I made to pick up pace my right heel started to throb with something like a friction burn. A couple of guys I’d overtaken on the last climb sped past me as I limped the first part of what should’ve been a barnstorming finish. I’d have given anything for an uphill finish to escape the burning but, glancing behind me and seeing people closing in, I managed to put my foot down and block out the pain for a decent finish.

Entering the hurt locker on the downhill from Barrow Pulling faces. Trying to ignore the pain and focus on the last descent

Overall the time wasn’t as good as I’d hoped but it’s a fantastic race on a great route. It’s my first race back since injuring myself in January so coming out without injury was a big boost; before the race I’d given it only a 50/50 chance of not destroying my calf completely so this should give me the confidence to push harder on it now.

A major plus side on the gear front was my new S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 pack, which is practically weightless and gave great access to the soft flasks. With no bounce it fits just like another item of clothing and comfortably fitted full FRA kit with space to boot.

The Coledale Horseshoe is also a great race to run if you’re Wainwright bagging, giving you the summits of Grisedale Pike, Crag Hill, Sail and Barrow. I’m on 31/214 but plan to cover a lot more in the next few years!

It’s been a great day in the hills and I look forward to coming back for another crack in the future.

Thanks to Carlos Reina for the photos.