Friday, 17 June 2011


The Kentmere Challenge is a 17km race from the village of Staveley in Cumbria. The website promised some of the most scenic countryside in the UK including ‘idyllic tarns’, ‘ancient woodland’ and a hill called Reston Scar. It all sounded rather magical so, despite the slightly expensive entry fee, I signed up for the Challenge event. The Challenge was billed as a somewhat more relaxed affair with a longer time limit than the race proper. I was in half a mind to sign up for the race but decided that I might want to take it easy and opted for the Challenge.

I had agreed to meet up with a friend the night before and it was decided that he would accompany me to the race. We drank a couple too many large whiskeys in the evening and as a result I felt like a pig had shat in my head upon waking. Luckily the race was to start in the afternoon so there was plenty of time to rehydrate and recover. We left the stink and grey of the motorway and were soon driving through beautiful rolling countryside. Soon enough we arrived in good time to relax and take in the sights, sounds and sunshine of Staveley. I resisted the lure of the little cake stall and started the routine of getting myself ready to race. With all that out the way I contented myself with sitting on the village green to relax and focus. My accomplice for the day was not racing and was enjoying a snooze in an effort to ward off the still lingering hangover. Needless to say, we were both unimpressed when the Kookaburra All Stars samba drumming band started up. Hangovers and drumming just don’t go together.

We were soon off and running through the narrow streets of Staveley away from the crashing crescendo of drums. The route quickly turned uphill and it wasn’t long before the road quickly petered out to a rough stone track. It was all quite enjoyable but rather hard work as I ran steadily up Staveley Head Fell. I feel much more comfortable on the trails these days and relish rather than dread the challenge of a good hill. The view stretched northwards down Staveley valley towards Kentmere and was lovely in the crisp, clear sunshine. The weather was a little on the hot side but this was interrupted frequently by gusts of cooling wind. I was working very hard by the time I got to the top and was glad of the descent down the side of Millrigg Knot. The path here was very rough but I kept the brakes off and flew down to join the tarmac road that would lead along the valley.

Along the flat of the valley floor I started to struggle a little. Rather than recuperate on the downhill I had gone all out and was now paying the price. Down in the shelter of the trees the cooling wind had been replaced by a stifling stillness which was also taking its toll. I was also aware of the steeper climbs that lay ahead. So, I rather sensibly backed off.

Upon reaching Kentmere the trail switched back on itself and started to ascend the fells to the west of the valley. The climb was quite steep in places and lasted for about a mile. I opted for a brisk, steady walk to the top. After the climb I was puffed and red-faced but fresh enough to up the pace as the route turned south. The path was undulating but I still felt good and took great pleasure in splashing through muddy puddles to cool my feet. I was starting to get quite hot. After a short spell on the road the route had a final sting in the tail. We ascended the side of Hugill Fell through long, grassy fields to the top of Reston Scar.

This was the hardest part of the race for me. I walked the steep bit and plodded where I could. It was a blessed relief to reach the top and begin the descent back to Staveley. However, I was all out of puff and couldn’t descend with the dramatic abandon I had earlier in the race. Once the descent was over there was a winding and tortuous few hundred yards to the finish line where I performed the most meagre of sprint finishes.

My finishing time was one hour 47 minutes and 43 seconds. I didn’t go into this race with any aspirations or time goals but I am pleased that I got round in less than one hour 50 minutes. I struggled at points but ran by feel and had a great time in beautiful scenery. My legs felt pretty good both during and after the race. I just ran out of puff. I think that drinking whiskey is not the best preparation for any race and with a fresher head I might have got round a bit quicker. But hey, they can’t all be studied and serious PB attempts. I had a great time.

The event itself was brilliantly organised with friendly and encouraging marshals at every turn. The start/finish area had a great atmosphere and my only regret is that I couldn’t have stayed around afterwards for drinks and cake but, I needed to hit the road. Back home I rounded off the day with several donuts and a big plate of curry all washed down with Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. Outside, rain began to tap on the window and I sat there with the satisfaction of a good days work.


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