Coledale Horseshoe – 8.5 miles / 3002ft – 9th April 2016
No one could ever accuse Belinda and I of being organised. I hear some runners have a calendar with their races inked in, whereas we, on the other hand, make it up as we go along. After umming and erring over what to do all week, we were sat eating our Friday night meal over maps of the weekends races while tapping away at google maps and estimating driving times. At the eleventh hour – possibly literally – Belinda found Borrowdale YHA had a cheap double room going and that settled it: we were off to the Lakes.
We’ve had our eye on Coledale since last year when I didn’t run Duddon. On that day, after leaving “the other Seathwaite” we went straight to a walkers’ cafe and bought a small guidebook of walks in the High Fells. Feeling like I was missing out on a full Lakes day out, I chose the longest, hardest walk in the book to run. The walk was Coledale Horseshoe and is was much further and tougher than anything Belinda had done before. Belinda hadn’t been due to run Duddon but didn’t want to sit around all day and argued for something softer, “it’s fine” I said, “we’ll take it easy”. The run almost finished Belinda and if looks could kill, it would have been the end of me too. Still, she survived and liked it enough to try Addingham Gala, which led to Crowden Horseshoe, which in turn piqued her competitive streak, and the rest is history.
So a little under a year later we found ourselves back in Braithwaite ready to race: I was in the right village and Belinda was well on her way to becoming a fully fledged fell runner. We bumped into Steph in the car park, who was smiling as usual, and had a chat with Neil Armitage at the start line, who was raring to go as usual. John Heneghan was spotted with the fast lads, the sun was out, so everything was in its right place. The great and the good of the Salomon Team had been testing their wares during the previous week so there was also an air of celebrity spotting from the international mountain running world. The skies were clear and there was a light dusting of snow on the tops, yet not enough to bring in the bad weather route. In contrast, most of the discussion in the pre-race buzz was about layers: yes, no, and if so how long are the sleeves.
The race starts through the village and goes straight up Grizedale Pike, which is a long yet mostly runnable climb. After avoiding most of the bottleneck before the steps I got into my rhythm and the hill felt much more comfortable than our outing the previous year. Neil had a great start and I saw him disappear over the top ahead of me, John was well gone. From the top, the race skirts Sand Hill into Coledale Hause. Views of the snow covered tops were stunningly beautiful and the snowy scramble up Eel crag was great fun. I’ve been told that once on the top of Eel crag, a quick glance behind gave the best views of the day but I had no time for that.
From Eel crag we crunched through the snow and jumped down towards Sail. I felt strong and tried running these rocky bits as fast as I could. I managed to catch Neil around Sail and was so surprised that I almost tripped on the small downhill scramble. After a quick chat I was on my way. What follows is a fast runnable descent on stony tracks, those runners keen on getting home in good time are well advised to bear right and avoid a scenic route that takes in Outerside. Some runners seemed to think the detour worthwhile.
The race finishes after a brief jaunt up Barrow. I’d been with a couple of runners all the way round and worked hard to make sure they didn’t drop me. From the checkpoint, the fastest line skirts left into the finish. Again, some runners apparently decided that the clear weather would be the perfect time to take in the extra climb. The final descent to the finish is fast and grassy, I took a good line and got in front of the runners around me. The rain that fell the previous week made it slippy underfoot and a moment of hesitation gave them just enough to get past me again. I’ll put that one down to experience and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Having said that, I was very happy to get back in under an hour and half.
There was a good crowd at the finish. Most of the Salomon Team had finished and had immediately headed back on the hill to cheer on the other runners. I went back out in search of some Pudsey vests to cheer into the finish. Just as I got through the gate I saw Neil fly past from an unexpected angle, perhaps he had taken the scenic route? I got up to Barrow and saw Steph run past, still smiling. She had a strong run, coming in just outside her time the previous year, which was run on the shorter bad weather course! She told me Belinda wasn’t too far behind so I ran up to make sure Belinda was well informed of the faster line. Belinda soon came flying past and I barked the fast line instructions to her in Spanish to make sure the others didn’t get the insight. It wasn’t needed as she easily distanced the runners around her in the final descent. By then the Salomon Team had gathered by the gate and were enthusiastically cheering the finishers. I heard them cheering Belinda from almost half-way up the hill. “She’s flying!” shouted one of them as Belinda went past, which is not something Belinda will forget in a hurry!
After the presentations and saying our farewells we went for fish and chips in Keswick just as the rain came in. This meant Belinda could add “fish and chips in the rain” to her growing list of essential British experiences. As we drove to the hostel we reflected on the day, the highs and lows of the race, the weather, my nasty sunburn, the breathtaking views, strong runs, and hesitations on the descent. All these reasons why we love running and racing in the fells. Throw in a scenic recovery run the following day and it was a great weekend.
We should organise something like this again but, knowing us, there’s no chance of that.
— Matthew Seddon
John Heneghan 9th 01:17:23. Matthew Seddon 56th 01:29:24. Neil Armitage 103rd 01:38:22. Steph Wilson 202nd 01:58:10. Belinda Baquero 213th 02:02:29. (Full Results)