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Cool Runnings

Feel the wind! Feel the rain! Get on up, its running time!

If there's one thing that's sure to be guaranteed by the Kendal Winter League, it's that the winter aspect is definitely likely to make an appearance and you'll be treated to some cooler running conditions.

This year was my first time entering the Kendal Winter League and my second time wearing the Helm Hill vest, which I wore apprehensively after my disastrous first race representing the club.

Back in October, I first donned the vest for the "Three Shires" fell race. All was going well until the descent to the 3 shires stone, when I fell down a hole and sprained my ankle. Hopefully this time I could do it justice...

Scout Scar

And so it was, standing (shivering) on the start line at Scout Scar that the 2023 winter league would start. My vest was safely stowed beneath my waterproof coat and my race number clung to my shorts for dear life, as I had lent Sam half of my precious safety pins.

The course was a fast 7.2km loop which contained a couple of steady climbs. My tactic was to go out hard and fast to try and warm up, and see where I was during the race. That seemed to work because I soon found myself at the front, leading a small group of 3. Unable to feel my legs and unsure of how hard I was really pushing, I wondered if I would warm up and feel terrible, or if this pace was sustainable.

Due to the non optimal weather, the course had become very muddy, and the limestone rocks slippery. The curse of the new vest came back as I took a fall right in front of 2 spectators, fool! I had just enough of a lead to get back up and running before Lewis was closing in. The adrenaline of falling over and being first in my first KWL race kept me pushing up the last hill trying to gain my time advantage back before the long slick descent back to the finish field. Lewis was closing but I had just enough of an edge to secure first place, the new vest and my hip donning a small hole.


Whitestones came second, and so did I! After seeing how Lewis descended the week prior I knew my tactic would be to go hard on the hills and top section, and hope I had a gap before the descent. A shorter route at 6.7km, but definitely harder running. The course starts with a steep climb, followed by roughly 5km of "man eating bog", before descending the same way down the steep climb.

The race started fast and there was a fair amount of jostling for front positions before the climb. I chose to thrash it through the bracken to get my position as I was caught off-guard by the sprint start. By mid climb I headed to the front to try and push the pace, and Lewis. Annoyingly he kept to my heels as we created a split, and the front 3 group of me Lewis and Matt took on the bog. Brief excitement occurred when the heard of cows decided to join the race, but thankfully they found themselves safely to the middle of the field before long.

We stuck together for most of the top section, and I found it hard to push the pace too much while sinking in the bog. I found a brief spurt of pace as we re-joined a farm track and gained a few meters on the other two. My hopes of first were soon shattered as Lewis approached just before the descent, making sure he took pole position for a quick finish. A quick sprint to the line secured 2nd, and fellow clubmate Matt took close 3rd place.

Birkrigg Common

The third race was a lovely, fast, rolling 5.5km course around Birkrigg common. Any hopes of first place were soon gone when superstar clubmate Tim turned up to take on the course record. A slight breeze but warm enough (barely) to risk just wearing a vest, the first climb is steep enough to bring you quickly to a sweat. I followed Tim as closely as I could, breasting the first climb with a good gap to the rest of the field. Tim took off from the top at an ungodly pace, so I allowed myself to settle into a comfortably hard pace and settled in for what was going to be a lone run.

The course was flowy and followed good paths with few technical sections. I could just about keep sight of Tim, and just about see 3rd and 4th place battling out behind me. Rounding the trig point of the final climb I had a short interaction with Becky as she filmed me asking which way to go, proceeding to head the wrong way before the marshals did a fantastic job of correcting me. A steep descent and run in through the quarry to find Tim looking composed and recovered after finishing over a full minute ahead of me. Sam (still using 2 of my safety pins) had a good battle with Simon, to finish 4th.


By this point the results table was shaping up to be an interesting affair, and my Wife took particular interest in my positioning and the possibility of me placing well in the league. Points are awarded for each race, with your best 7 out of 11 counting. The question was, would I be able to make 7 races?

The course at Sedbergh was a classic cross country course, totalling 6.4km. 3 laps of undulating fields, with a few log jumps and a water jump thrown in for good measure. Gossip at the start line all regarded whether the water jump was compulsory. It looked particularly deep and muddy this year! Adam the race director soon made it clear that it was, and off we went! (It appears in these races you don't get much of a countdown, so be ready!)

My aim for this race was to be patient and stick just behind the first group. Lewis took a flying start leading us for the first lap, before Simon and myself took advantage of a small gap. Another half lap later and I sensed my moment, and so took the lead. I managed to add a good 50m lead to Simon and thoughts turned to just sticking out the final lap and securing the win. Simon had other ideas, and a lapse in concentration meant he had managed to sneak his way back up to me. Hesitation and poor judgment meant he had the better position and on the final corner, and deservedly took the final water jump to victory.

Cunswick Scar

A beautiful week of clear skies and sunshine, walking in Glencoe preceded the 6th instalment of the winter league. My wife, growing ever more invested in the league table, had checked and calculated that I'd need the final 3 races I could attend to be wins if I was to take the overall victory of the league. While we were away Simon had won at Barbon Fell, and Sam and Lewis were scoring equally well with me.

As I warmed up in the tropical conditions, I scanned the crowd for Simon. A no show would mean he was out of the running as he needed to attend the final races to achieve the required 7. No sign of him and no time to scan the start line (I told you these races start with no warning) we were off. The route was a fast and runnable 8km with two notable climbs. The first was up to the summit of Cunswick Scar. Myself, Sam and Lewis had created a significant gap on the rest of the field by the summit cairn, and we settled into stride with one another. Chatting and taking our

eyes off the ball meant we didn't notice the field catch up on the descent, and a quick snap back to reality that we were racing was needed.

I took the opportunity to take the lead and pushed hard through the fields, only gaining a gap once we reached the second climb up to Cunswick Scar. A quick look back at Sam and Lewis showed a good battle before a flying descent to the finish. No sooner had I crosed the finish line than I saw Lewis charging for it, himself having just enough to beat Sam. Another teammate José finished 4th, meaning Helm had grabbed the top 4 spots. Success!

Helm Hill

A daunting race, just shy of 8km with 6 punchy climbs. My league table analyst (wife) told me I had the trophy in sight if I just kept Lewis and Sam in my sight. The week preceding the race had been thoroughly damp, and meant the route would be muddy and slippery. We were however treated to clear skies and lovely sunshine, which made up for the underfoot conditions.

Hesitating a quick start and jostle for position, I did not want to get caught out like I did at Whitestones, so set off at a sprint. Too fast though and I found myself at the front. Not exactly where I had planned to be when I wanted to keep an eye on Sam and Lewis. After the first climb the Helm trio had created a small gap, and I slipped into third, much better! The course was 2 laps, and I planned on sticking behind Sam and Lewis for the first, and letting rip for the second. We stuck together for the first lap and a half, until the steepest of the 3 climbs was repeated, where myself and Sam created a small gap. Billy Procter was standing proudly at the top of the hill, looked deep into my eyes and said "aye, I've felt the same pain on this hill lad". I'm sure my face was a picture.

Trying to take advantage of this gap, I pushed on with everything I had, Sam hot on my heels. One final climb before the finish descent was my time to go, and thankfully Sam gave me a small gap. I'm sure the finish would have been very close had he not. Another Helm 1,2,3 and just one more race to decide the final standings.


The final. But not the final. Elterwater is the final points race, but not the final race of the series. Arant Haw is the final race, but doesn't count towards the final standings.

A short 4.5km race delivers the best climb of the series, 2km straight up to the top of Silver How, turn around, straight back down the way you came. My points table reporter (Wife) had assured me that all I needed was 8th place to secure the overall title. So my aim was to of course go as hard as I could to the top, then see where I was at.

Not wanting a repeat of the previous week I decided not to sprint at the start (not that I could have as Billy had placed himself proudly at the front, right in front of me). The start was 50m of flat followed by a short punchy climb. As the gun went off suddenly with no countdown, it was a scramble to start. Dodging Billy and not sprinting had cost me quite a few places, and I was definitely behind 8 other runners.

My cheerleading squad (Wife, Sister, Jack, Hannah and their dog Bailey) proceeded to yell at me for not being at the front, and so I slowly made my way there as we hit the first section of the proper climb. Feeling good I kept a hard effort to the top and had gained a good lead on the rest of the field. Lewis had raced the day prior at Coledale horseshoe and it was looking like I had this one in the bag.

Turning at the summit of Silver How I was pleased to see I had indeed out a good gap on the group behind. A few cheers of encouragement as I passed runners in the opposite direction and a quick dodge of a sheep who decided to join the run, the finish line was in sight. Unsurprisingly the second half of the race passed much quicker than the first! Lewis had a phenomenal descent and managed to take 2nd with Adam coming 3rd. Another Helm top 3!

Arant Haw

The final race of the winter series is Arant Haw, 7.5km with 600m elevation. The route is a great mix of hard climbs and technical descents, starting from the Sedbergh People's Hall.

Lining up on the start line, there was a clear optimal line across the field to join the road. Luckily the front runners created a curved start line, there was a short briefing and we were off. No countdown or time to set the watches ready. A quick stampede across the field and we were soon starting the first section of climbing. After leading to the road I was soon overtaken by a runner in full Adidas Terrex kit. I'd never seen him before but my word was he off like a firecracker. I wondered if he knew how far the route was, surely that pace wasn't sustainable? Passing Billy at the farm he yelled "that's an exciting pace!" Exciting for the runner in front, but all hopes of securing a victory lap were dashed for me. If I kept pushing I hoped he would crack and maybe I'd be able to catch him before the finish.

A quick descent to Crosdale beck, almost falling straight in as the bank suddenly disappeared, I looked up at the runner in front and knew there was no way I'd be catching him. He was bounding up the steep climb in front and the gap growing increasingly. Cresting the ridge I could see he was almost at the top of Arant Haw and untouchable. Chasing him had created a good gap behind me too, so I knew I had second place secured. I enjoyed the fine running off the summit to Winder, had a quick exchange with Jack who was cheering me on and reassured me I was not catching first place, but that I could relax as Lewis was a couple of minutes behind me.

The descent off Winder is best described as, steep. Runnable, but you are just focusing on staying upright and not gaining too much momentum. Flying down towards the farm, Becky had positioned herself in front of a small wall. A few close calls of runners almost barrelling into her, but she managed to get some great shots so worth the risk!

Hot and tired I crossed the finish line, to be greeted by Matthew Knowles, a GB mountain runner, who had finished and had time to take his shoes off and relax before I crossed the line 2 minutes behind. It was great to be humbled by such a great runner and shown just how good the top level athletes are in our sport.

Finally, it was time to enjoy the cake sale and collect our prizes. If you had told me I would be collecting the trophy for winning the Kendal winter league back in January I'd have laughed at you. But over the past 8 races I've had some great battles, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

A big thank you to all the organisers, Becky Willoughby, Laurie Kearsey and Stephen Wilson for the pictures, Jack, Hannah, Bailey and my sister for the cheer squad, Sam and Lewis for the close battles and Corrin for her amazing support and analysis of the points table.

Thanks for reading, see you on the fells!

1 comment

1 Comment

Apr 28, 2023

Great report. The final picture of three Marshalls embraces the joy of the Winter League well.

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