Monday 27 September 2010

Great Langdale ½ Marathon

Friday night camp
On the day before the race we camped in the Langdale Valley at a beautiful, well hidden spot we haven't used for years and were pleased to find it hasn't changed one little bit.  The site is not on any map, nor is there any sign at the entrance. Even when you drive into the yard scattering the geese and assorted poultry there is no evidence of anywhere to camp. To find it you have to pass through another two gates into an east facing field that catches the early morning sun.  The sum total of facilities amounts to two loos and one very cold water tap. The cost is £3 pppn.  What more could we want?
The afternoon was spent walking one of the hillier parts of the race route, returning past a tranquil tarn dotted with waterfowl against a backdrop of  towering Langdale Pikes. Dusk fell as we fuelled our bodies with a delicious chicken risotto. Soon, a full moon was sailing across the sky, the Plough stood upright against the dark wall of night pointing to the Pole star, an owl hooted in the distance and the campsite dissolved into eerie silence.

Hard work up the 1 in 3 hill to Blea Tarn
We rose at 7.30am to find the field covered in white frost, but the sun was soon on our tent imparting a cosy warmth. Breakfast was a huge pan of porridge laced with sugar and sultanas for both instant and slow release energy. By 9.30 the tent was packed and we were on our way to the race venue outside the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel in Great Langdale where crowds were already gathering. We had two hours to psyche ourselves into a positive frame of mind to tackle the strenuous course, perhaps the toughest but most scenic ½ marathon road race in all England. At such times I gaze at the friendly hills and tell myself this is where I belong, this is my stage, this is where I was born to be, this is where I perfom.
We were surrounded by tall, craggy monoliths many of which I'd climbed on, or raced over, in bygone years - such giants as Raven Crag, Pavey Ark, Pike o' Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Bowfell, Pike o' Blisco, Gimmer Crag and Lingmoor - names that read like a litany to dedicated mountaineers and fell runners. Conditions were absolutely ideal for running, cloudless skies, brilliant sunshine, clear views and just a hint of cooling breeze - but not quite matching the organiser's description as rivalling the Atacama desert for one of the driest places on the planet!  Shortly before 12 noon nearly 550 runners crowded the narrow road for the start of the race, 385 of them in the ½ marathon, the brave remainder set to complete two circuits of the course for a full marathon. After a brief pep talk, which nobody heard, a whistle blew and we were on our way.
Having been officially named as 'the oldest runner ever to run this race' I settled into a steady pace near the rear of the field trying to establish a regular rhythm over the first flat mile. For many of the newcomers who didn't know the route the next ¾ mile of 1 in 3 ascent to the head of the Pass into Little Langdale came as a severe shock and generated one or two choice expletives! I alternated little runs with fast walks and made it to the top feeling reasonably fresh.
My wonderful partner finishing 1st LV60
Descending the other side I found myself running beside a man I vaguely recognized but didn't speak as we were both in the process of getting our second wind. The road here was pleasantly undulating and I was moving fairly easily, perhaps a little too easy, but I was very much aware of another challenging hill I'd sussed out the day before, one that went on for 1½ miles from Skelwith Bridge to High Close Youth Hostel, and also with a 1 in 3 gradient at the start. However, I'd tackled much nastier hills than this in my fell running days so, apart from the initial steep 50 metres or so, I managed to run the rest of it and emerged at the top feeling good and strong. All that was left now was a steep downhill mile and an undulating 2½ miles along the delectable Langdale valley. This area is one of the most popular in the Lake District so there was quite a lot of enthusiastic encouragement and support over those last miles.  Such was this race's reputation that I'd felt a little nervous about running it, wondering how I'd cope with the 2,000ft or so of ascent en route, but I was still feeling strong as I switched into overtaking mode to move up the placings over the finishing stages. I wondered whether I'd taken it too easy at the beginning, whether I could have run it faster if I hadn't been frightened by the race's reputation? Maybe not, for if I'd pushed it earlier I'd probably be wilting towards the finish. I like to think I judged it just right!
The dynamic Longwood duo after the race
I crossed the Finish line feeling quite happy with my time of 2.01.56 - 213th of 385 finishers. My Garmin watch registered 2,888ft of ascent - but I don't believe it! My Anquet mapping system is perhaps nearer the mark with 2,276ft. One of my prizes, a book, accidentally got left on top of the car while the wine was being stowed safely away. So if anyone found it lying in the road somewhere in the Langdale valley, it's mine! Oh, and to crown a truly magnificent day my wonderful Longwood partner completed a memorable double as she duly romped home 1st LV60 in 2.23.35 - thus further boosting our stores of wine!  It had been a very memorable day indeed when both of us were magically 'raised to more than we can be'.
N.B. The chap I vaguely recognized descending into Little Langdale was, as I thought, Andrew Edwards of BBC Radio Leeds whom I'd corresponded with in the past but never met. It's nice to put faces to names. We'd a brief chat at the Finish during which I was introduced to his attractive wife and a friend of theirs, Annette Fraser from 'flat as a pancake London', who'd tackled the hills bravely to clock a creditable 2.05.51.  The long-legged Andrew in his trademark yellow shorts was just behind in 2.07.10.
Full results here


  1. Well done, Gordon, terrific performance. 45% of the field behind you! Great stuff!

  2. Congrats to both of you! I am so impressed with both of your times, especially with those wicked hills and elevation! I want a half marathon that gives out bottles of wine:) Sorry about your book...I have done that before with some of my belongings:( Thanks for the lovely race report and nice pictures. I love the one of the two of you! You are such a cute couple:)

  3. Well done, both of you. It is a tough half but one to really enjoy - there can be no better location in England.

  4. congrats to you both - it looks like a magnificent run. Also, thanks a million for your advice on 'copping on' and eating well for long distance - it made the difference alright!

  5. well done ! a vivid race report - the campsite reminded me of our camping holidays in the 70s in Coniston - especially the COLD tap ! Congatulations to both f you !
    best wishes

  6. Way to go. Great race report as well.