This is a guest blog by coached ultra runner, Tom Crossland. Tom used this 25k race as a preparation race in his build up for his main event later this summer - The Race To The Stones, a 60km Ultra Marathon. Tom has been coached by Rob Wilby since late 2015 in the build up to this Ultra marathon, and has shown great resilience and patience as the miles slowly built. He's kept on top of his daily 'prehab', as we decided to call it, and has successfully managed his body despite several long standing injury challenges. We're really looking forward to seeing him reap the rewards of his dedication come his A race!
The Keswick Mountain Festival has been somewhere I’ve wanted to get to for the last few years but have never managed to. So when Rob asked me to look for warm up races, during training for The Race to the Stones 100km race in July, I jumped on the opportunity and entered the 25km trail race.
The Keswick Mountain Festival has something for most endurance athletes with trail races from 5km to a 50km ultra, Sprint and Olympic triathlons, a Sportive and open water swimming all over one weekend of music and sports, based on the banks of Derwent Water in Crow Park, Keswick.
My journey to this point started after my first 100km ultra in September 2015, I was looking to my next one and wanted coaching towards the second one. I had to spend about six weeks recovering through September and October, then in November Rob and I started working together with about eight months of work ahead of us. Since then we have been slowly increasing weekly volume and trying to squeeze in training around life. During much of this time I was also working towards my Mountain Leader (Summer) assessment in April, which meant frequent disruptions to training due to weekends spent driving from Berkshire to North Wales to spend time playing in the Mountains, but Rob has been a constant source of confidence and reassurance that the lost long runs were not a problem and that time on my feet was all good training.
So as the weeks and months past and everything was going well the first test of the training got closer, then in April I had to back of for a few weeks due to ITB/Vastus Latralus flare up after an Easter bank holiday weekend spent wild camping and walking around the Carneddua. I felt frustrated, but luckily we had already planned a break due to a weeks holiday in Florida. By the time I got back my knee had settled only two weeks after the onset and I was back into training getting ready for the 25km race at the end of May.
After about two weeks of build the a week of taper I felt good and was ready to spend a few hours running around Derwent. My plan was to arrive Friday night, set my tent up in the festival campsite and then spend a relaxing morning heading over the festival village and registering. This was not to be, the M6 had other ideas, so I spent the night in a service station hotel and headed up early Saturday morning, I still had time to set up camp and look around because the race did not start until 11am.
The morning seemed ideal, cool and dry but as the race start approached the rain closed in and was hammering down on the marquee during the race briefing. Since this was just a warm up race, my plan was take it really easy and enjoy the route trying not to get dragged along with the mad rush in the first few kilometers. This meant I could stay dry in the marquee next to start until the race started, however, this did mean I was near the back for the start. This would not normally have been any problem, but unknown to me at that time the first few kilometers struggled to cope with the increase in numbers since the first year the race had run. The first race four years ago had about 100 runners this years had 500 runners.
This increase in runners meant that there was a long wait at the first road crossing. It took me about 15 minutes to get across the road which meant the first kilometer took about 20 minutes. If I had been running for a time this would have been upsetting, but as it was it meant that the start was relatively calm.
For someone who lives in Berkshire and doesn’t run in the mountain the course was challenging but fun, with most of the climbing coming in the first half of the race. The aim was to leave enough in the legs for the final 10 km run along the shore line of Derwent. The route climbs out of Keswick through Great Wood and then skirts the edge of Castellrigg Fell, climbs over Grange Fell drops down into Rosthwaite and then follows the Cumbrian way back to Crow Park.
By the time I was climbing out of Keswick the weather had cleared up and I was eager to get of the woods as there promised to be great views across Derwent and the Borrowdale valley. The views did not disappoint at all and I found myself thinking how lucky I was and really spent time taking in the whole experience and this route kept throwing up lots of surprises. The next one was crossing the beck. No problems for me, and it was quickly back to single track running along the bank of the river. I was feeling good (and wet) and started to push on a little when I could. The challenge of starting at the back of the field on single tracks is that you end up spending time behind people moving a lot slower, but again this was a blessing since it kept my pace restrained.
Then came the steady climb over Grange Fell with the increasingly amazing views across to the Derwent Fells. Once Grange Fell has been crested, the route losses all the height gained so far and drops down into Rosthwaite, and the second aid station. The trail leads down hill for about 2km which is a rare experience for me since although the Chilterns are rolling it is rare to have a continuous downhill for this long. I let my legs take me and over took other people being more sensible and picking their way down.
Rosthwaite is about half way, I was feeling good and felt ready for the second half, which I had planned to negative split. I topped up with water, and got moving again. Thinking back on this second half the word that pops into my mind is grind. The second half is relatively flat and on wide easy trails. The sun had come out and the temperature was increasing steadily. My plan was to run 9 minutes walk 1 minute and that is what I did.
Its odd, but writing this post has made me realize how few memories I have from the second half. The things that stuck in my mind are the other people around me, there was a couple of Irish guys that seemed to also be on a run/walk strategy but not the same one as me so we kept leap frogging each other (hi again).
The other thing that really sticks in my mind is arriving at the final aid station and being told that they have run out of water and that there is more coming in about 15 minutes. I just kept going, it was only 4.5k to the end so not far really. I was going to pay for this, I had not got any more fluid left with me and was expecting to refill and have a drink. As the last 4k unwound the wheels began to fall of the wagon and the last 15 minutes felt long and hard. Although looking at the splits the last four km where the quickest of the race, so negative split achieved but in the moment it felt slow.
The finish is in the festival village which was by now busy with people enjoying the various activities offered. Once across the line, it was just a case of getting my kit from the bag drop and then I had expected to be able to grab some food, however, I did not have any cash and so food was off the cards, which was bad news. After a long run, I need to eat quite a lot pretty much straight away otherwise I feel rough, so note to self, take post race food or cash.
I must say I was very impressed with the overall organization and communication. I feel that with the concert ticket and festival entry included in the entry cost the race is excellent value and the route is stunning, challenging and yet eminently doable for someone who does not train in the mountains. I would totally recommend this to anyone who is looking at it.
And as for my race, how did I do? I always think that it is hard to know how your training is going based on a warm up race. I felt good and strong and probably went to hard on the climbs and descents but it was fun and that is always my goal from any run. It was good to test out nutrition and pacing strategy, and it is always a joy to explore new trails. Following this run, there was a recovery week and then seven short weeks until The Race to the Stones. Working with Rob has freed up so much time since he does all the thinking about what to do when and has been the solid base that has allowed me to build volume and intensity safely.
I must also give a mention to Rick Weatherall, my Osteopath (Rick can be found on LinkedIn) who has kept my legs loose and helped treat any small niggles that have popped up during the training.