Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ashmei Ullswater 9 & 20 mile trail runs, 2014

CavemanClarke and new run buddy Paul Yeoman
Not too long ago, I had a fantastic weekend trail running in The Lakes. Pooley Bridge, a small village situated by the quietly lapping waters-edge of Ullswater was to host the 2014 Ashmei 9 and 20 mile trail runs. Thirty and a half miles later (more about that in a minute!), a few new friends and with fun tales to tell, I fondly look back at what turned out to be a really great event.

It all started early Friday morning, packing my new favourite toy. After much consideration and saving, my wife and I decided to invest in a comfortable way to travel and stay all over the UK without having to slum it in a tent or pay through the nose for a B&B. So we bought ourselves a campervan; a Mazda Bongo to be exact. After shuddering at the weather forecast, carefully remembering everything on the race kit list, and not forgetting the espresso maker, (after all, we are glamping now!) we headed off on the 4.5h journey to Ullswater. Upon arriving we pitched up in a lovely spot with all the other campers staying for the weekend and sat back to ponder what the weekend would bring. Ashmei events had set up a huge tent-marquee with race registration, chill-out area, food section and shop selling their merino wool run clothing and merchandise. A fire pit was smouldering away and an inspirational running movie was playing on a big screen. Nice!

Much more comfy than a tent!

Home from home
Coffee for the morning

The 9 miler

Ready for the start of the race
I awoke Saturday morning to glorious sunshine for the 9 mile trail run. Note to self: never believe your iPhone weather App! Meeting and greeting the group of runners from all backgrounds and abilities is always a pleasure at races. Comparing shoes, hydration systems, GPS watches and talking all things running is always a highlight for a gear-geek like me. And to top it off, some of them had even read my reviews in the past! Lining up and bearing in mind that I was running this 9 miler as a 'warm-up' for the 20 miler the next day, the race started and the super-fit bounded off into the distance leaving all the 'normal' folk like me in the main pack. The course was a double loop of 4.5 miles, and began by climbing a relentless and energy sapping hill up onto the fell. Once on top it stayed there, winding through rocky paths and heather-clad trails until it worked its way steeply back downhill to the start/finish. A quick glug of water and a couple of helpless jelly babies and it was back up the thigh-burning hill for the second loop. It was at this point that I realised my Cambridge-born weakness; uphill! "Must train harder" I said aloud to myself at one point. But every cloud has a silver lining. A group of lads who overtook me on the hill and left my site in no time were not to beat me! This is where I discovered my strength! Hours of admiring Kilian Jornet's downhill technique would pay off, and flying down the steep rocky paths I overtook them just before the finish. "Where did you come from?" was their surprised gasp as I passed them on the home straight! 

The 20 miler (aka The 21.5 miler!)

20 mile briefing
Reading the map of the route
The next day, after a chilled out afternoon post 9 miler the previous day at the local pub in Pooley Bridge it was time to conquer the 20 mile single loop of the Ullswater Lake. Once again, the iPhone-predicted thunder and rain was nowhere to be seen and the sun shone blisteringly hot on the 50-something runners ready for a good trail run. I teamed up with a new-found friend Paul Yeoman from the day before, and we agreed to stick together, as he had never before run the distance and I had been out of training due to an irritating ankle injury that just won't shift. At just after 8:00 in the morning the race was under way. 

Now, I'll get this off my chest straight away; the 20 miler soon turned into a 21.5 mile race, partly due to local youths moving some of the signs, sending the whole pack in a loop through a forest, and partly due to a large proportion of runners missing a signpost and having to take an extended pathway to rejoin the route! Imagining those youths standing at the finish line of the run certainly helped with the sprint finish, believe me!!!

The route was spectacular. It looped the entire lake and provided some of the most breathtaking views I had seen in months! I love the Lakes. It is like Heaven on earth for me. It can also be like hell on earth when you are attempting to run up some of the mountains and hills! It turned out that Paul did most of the waiting for me, especially on the uphill sections. Together, we made our way along the beautiful trails, taking in glorious views, sunshine and lush green scenery as we ran. Comradery between runners was much appreciated by all, with constant support and friendly chatter the entire way to the finish line. Also, the two aid stations along the route were well stocked with energy gels, water, squash, cola, sweets, flapjack and crisps!

What is important to learn.....
After what I had found 'one of the hardest trails to date' due to my lack of training, hills and the heat of the day, the finish line was a welcome sight to all. With crystallized sweat dripping from eyebrows, empty water bottles and energy tanks, and a great new sun tan it was a sprint to the finish line. Paul had stuck with me all the way, and could have finished quite a long way in front of me had he run solo, but he was there beside me. A guy I had only met the previous day on the 9 miler. 

This is what trail running is all about; not just keeping active, moving across beautiful landscapes at pace or pushing your limits in the great outdoors, but also making new friends and supporting one-another all the way. This is why I love trail running so much. 

If you are angry and over-competitive, trying to prove yourself or constantly beat others, take up another sport. Yes trail running has a competitive aspect at the higher levels, and this is healthy, but deep down in every true trail runner is the desire to get outside, enjoy pure freedom and share this experience with like-minded runners, encouraging and supporting all the way. Thanks Paul for showing this spirit in all its glory!

CavemanClarke and Paul Yeoman approaching the finish line of the 20 miler
Ashmei 20 miler finish line
A huge thank you and well done to Ashmei for organising and running this event. It was a great weekend and a fantastic trail running experience. I hope to be back next year :-)

Happy running everyone

Paul Yeoman has just completed running at least 1 mile a day (many more most days!) in remembrance of his Mum who sadly died of cancer a few years ago. He has decided to continue this to 1001 days running in a row. He is raising money for Cancer Research UK and if you would like to sponsor him please go to and help to save lives!

Disclaimer: Pictures courtesy of and thanks to Ashmei (, Paul Yeoman and Hannah Clarke

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