Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 2019

It seems strange to think that just three years ago I’d never taken part in a race. I was in training for the London Marathon, in a distinctly inadequate manner, and a friend asked me if I’d be interested in running in a trail race in the Lake District a couple of weeks afterwards.

That first trail race was the Lakeland Trails event at Staveley and I’ve not looked back since in my love for trail running or the Lake District. These runs have a special place in my heart - there’s a great atmosphere, a variety of events and fantastic scenery.

Trying to keep the pace on a tough day at Hawkshead Trying to keep the pace on a tough day at Hawkshead

Saturday was my first time at the Hawkshead event and I’d entered the 16km challenge. I started strongly enough and tagged onto the two front runners for a quick first kilometre or so. The route leads around the edge of Hawkshead, starting to climb steeply in the second kilometre, and it was at this point that I first realised I didn’t have anything in my legs.

I dug deep and tried to maintain some pace in the climb, having a brief chat with another runner as he overtook but try as I might I couldn’t shake the feeling that my legs were weighed down by the ghosts of the Coledale Horseshoe last weekend.

These runs have a special place in my heart - there’s a great atmosphere, a variety of events and fantastic scenery.

As my confidence drained away, my senses heightened – the sound of runners fifty yards or more behind reverberated in my mind with a steady, metronomic, thudding. I dropped to ninth and thought I could possibly cling on but the second wind never came.

After an undulating section the course drops down and passes the Cuckoo Brow Inn in Far Sawrey. There’s a tight left that sends you up another hill towards the half way point. I’d almost been reduced to a walk when we approached a gate and a marshal shouted, ‘fourteenth, steep and rocky downhill’.

For a moment something akin to hope flickered through my mind; if others took the marshal’s warning as a note of caution, I’d take it as an invitation to the party. I threw myself into the downhill with all of the recklessness I could find and every ounce of energy I had left.

The great Emil Zatopek once said that when you feel like you can’t sustain your pace anymore you should speed up. The downhill provided space to do just that, leaping from rock to rock and overtaking a couple of the guys in front. It was by far the most exhilarating part of an otherwise tough run.

The great Emil Zatopek once said that when you feel like you can’t sustain your pace anymore you should speed up.

Things flatten out for a short while along the shore of Lake Windermere, with boats bobbing on the current like a scene from a postcard, before another left turn and a sign indicates that you’re about to start the coffin trail.

The coffin trail is a couple of kilometres in length and two hundred metres of elevation gain and boy, do you feel it. The ground at the start of the climb is pretty rough and keeping any kind of pace up on tired legs was a tough ask. A few more optimistic runners chirped that we were near the top - but the regular signposts indicated we weren’t even half way.

I was soon passed by the runners I’d gained on during the downhill and then several more. On a good day I know I could have done the climb a lot quicker but tired legs and mental fatigue were a combination I just couldn’t fight through on the day.

Just over the top of the climb were a group of spectators screaming motivation as though they were at the Olympics and it gave enough of a boost to carry me to the final downhill section and get going. As we headed back down toward the village the competitors in the next event made their way up the hill in the other direction.

A flat last kilometre took us to the finish line, where in true Lakeland Trails fashion almost every competitor was cheered through by name.

Overall it was a grim and frustrating performance but a wonderful event, I look forward to coming back in future with more life in my legs.

Thanks to Paul Mitchell at Wildman Media for the photo