Keswick to Barrow 2011: Completed and personal best achieved! YES!

8 May

UPDATE: The results came out yesterday and my position was 64’th out of 2014. Quite happy with that, but could I do better? Should I retire knowning I’ve acheived my goal of sub 7 hours or try again next year? humm?

The day after the day before

I’m sat here in a nice warm quiet conservatory with my aching feet up, and hot cup of tea and my laptop. Rewind few hours and I was in my running vest and shorts in the middle of the lake district with the rain lashing down. The former awesome and the latter a nightmare? Probably, but the lake district is well known for its unpredictable weather and once you accept that and just enjoy the spectacular environment its pretty awesome! Lets face, your not in a situation where getting cold and wet will be a life or death issue. There is plenty of people and friendly support around if you get into trouble. It might be uncomfortable for some, but hey its good to get out of your comfort zone sometimes. ‘Character building’ some might say. Strange, as I write this and look out of the window across a sunny Morecambe bay it seems a world away.

So, the 2011 Keswick to Barrow (K to B to its friends) started in a rain storm, nothing new there! Our team arrived at the Keswick start line just after the 05:30am start time. That’s damn early considering to get there at that time most people were up at around 3am!

We quickly disembarked and made our way to the start line which was located in a already fairly populated field. The runners had just set off and the walkers were just making there way though the starting gate at the start of their 42 miles. There was the normal mix of people stood in that soggy field. Teams of walkers, runners, adults, teenagers, officials, friends and relatives seeing people off. I said goodbye to my team mates, who were walking, and wished them luck and went to the nearest dry stone wall to do my warm up – I definitely didn’t want to pull anything on this run!

By the time I was ready it was 05:45, warmed up (admittedly a bit rushed), Runkeeper started and iPhone wrapped in two zip lock bag and tucked safely in my running belt pocket, I was and ready to go!  I made my way to the start gate and swiped my identity tag at the terminal, there was a “beep” and off I went. Because I started a little later than hoped (05:30 being the optimum time for a runner) I had to wade my way though thick pockets of walkers. I had to dart about a bit, dodging my way past groups, with the occasional “sorry” and “excuse me”. I quickly realised that getting behind another runner and letting them carve a route though the walkers was the best bet. After a few miles the walkers started to thin out and I could set my pace and relax into the run. I discovered that the guy who I had used as a human shield through the walkers was doing a reasonable pace so I fell into line with him and we stayed together for the next few miles.

A few miles further on I remembered  looking east out over Thirlmere reservoir to see the clouds slowly drifting thought the forested hills, it was a pretty inspiring sight! Head down, solider on!

For some reason the first few miles weren’t as good as normal. When I normally run I noticed that the first two miles are normally quite ‘hard’ as my body gets going, after that I can relax a bit and enjoy the run. Today though something wasn’t quite right and it took me a good few miles to feel comfortable.

K to B broken down

I realised whilst thinking back at yesterdays run that I subconsciously split the K to B up into four sections. The first year I ran the K to B in 2009 I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was a really really really long way to walk or run. I soon learned that the route has a different ‘feel’ as you work your way along it. This has little to do with how the route is layed out, its actually more to do with how tired you get and your perception of the route as your body drains and tires.

Section 1: To Monks Car Park, Coniston

The first section is the ‘easy’ (when put in perspective of course) bit. This is the first 18 miles to Monks Car Park at the northern tip of Coniston. I have a theory that the excitement, expectation and adrenaline gives you an extra 5 – 10 miles for free. You’re not on fresh legs anymore and the adrenaline is wearing off.

Section 2: Coniston lake road to Lowick

The next section follows the winding road on the east side of Coniston Lake. The feeling of fatigue, the feeling you wish this was a 20 mile event! and the knowledge that you are not quite half way make a lethal mix and can seriously damage your resolve and determination. The road is an unchanging stretch of wood, bends and small hills for a number of miles. Don’t get me wrong its a ‘pretty’ road with trees and a great view of the lake and Coniston old man in the distance to the northwest, but its very monotonous and can soon wears you down as your energy level are slowly depleted.

After approximately six miles this road suddenly changes. The woods and lake are left behind and replaced with long straight sections with fields to either side. Again, very picturesque, but after walking/running 25+ miles can be a little depressing when you consider how far you still have to go, and whats to come!

This is the bit where I have struggled the most every time I have done the K to B. In fact I struggled so much last year (2010) I nearly threw in the towel at a moment of despair due to bad blister problem earlier on in the event after just 13 miles. Every little incline in the road seems to be a hill and your speed seriously decreases and your legs ache. All you can do is git your teeth, remind yourself why your doing this crazy thing, head down, solider on and get through it!

Section 3: Lowick to Kirby Moor

Section 3 is a killer (for me anyway – and I thought section 2 was bad!) but in a different way. Gone is the monotony of the previous section, instead replaced with hills, and big hills, wind turbines, beautiful views all around and the first sight that you are getting close to the end.

Lets review, you’ve done 27+ miles at this point. A pretty amazing achievement by any means, but then you have the dreaded climb from the small village of Lowick to the top of Kirby moor. Sounds OK? Well put it this way, its about 3+ miles up hill, steep in sections, and on tired legs and a real – well – pain! Most of the runners at this point slow to a walk, if they haven’t already. Some people revert to walking backwards to try and relive their burning leg muscles. I saw one guy this year throwing up half way up. Its a grueling climb, but at least you get the satisfaction, after looking at everyone else, that you’re not alone in this misery – a problem shared and all that! However, the climb has one more evil twist up its sleeve if you are a first timer! When you look ahead and see the road breaching the top of the hill you think ‘YES the top!’, then you reach that point and ARRGHHHHH!!! the hill carries on beyond the horizon! Its evil!

Section 4: Down from Kirby moor nearly home

Now the only way I can describe this is like cycling up a hill for hours and hours and then suddenly reaching the top and free wheeling down. Obvious not quite the same, as we don’t have wheels, but the relief you get when you realise you’re past the worst of the up hills and its pretty much down hill to Barrow is amazing! At this point you can’t fail! You mustn’t fail! You’re on the home stretch! The only problem at this stage is your legs may be pretty shot, so going down hill might not be as comfortable as you’d expect. You grit your teeth and go for it, the quicker its done and quicker you finish! – right?!

You pass through the village of Martin, then Dalton then the final 3 mile stretch stretch to Barrow. Nearly there! Then Abbey Road (which seems to go on forever) at this point its pure will power driving you on. Then, finally your home. Done and dusted! Well done! Waiting for your is a medal, a meal, a drink and a feeling of achievement that’s hard to beat! Well done! You made it!

So how did I do?

My first K to B was in 2009. Its funny to thinking back. From a basic level you just need to start walking/running until you get to the end, but you learn a lot especially as a runner on how to improve your performance. As I said before this is my third year and I’m still learning new things based on experience and advice about myself, preparation, what bits to tape up, what to wear, what not to wear, kit, fueling, what to take with you, what NOT to take with you, when to go faster, when to go slower, when to pace yourself, the list goes on.

In 2009 (my first year) I completed the K to B in 7 hours 47 minutes and 26 seconds. In 2010 I achieved 07:19:06. This year I wanted to come in under 7 hours. Why? No real reason, I just figured I wanted to knock another 20 minutes off the previous year since I had done so the previous year.

So how did I do in 2011? 06:33:16 comfortably beating my previous time and giving me a new personal best. I’m really please with the result as, to be honest, I would have been happy with 06:59:59.

Next Year?

hmm? – not sure about that yet, but I think I will have another go. I always said I would ‘retire’ from the K to B if I beat 7hrs but ‘unfortunately’ because I did a lot better than I thought this year I’ve now got that pesky sub 6 hours challenge! And I do like a challenge! Also, events like this can be very addictive! I’ve already heard from friends who did it for the first time yesterday and want to do it again next year, and do better! Good on them I say!


Anyone interested in the Runkeeper stats. Well according to the stats (not sure how accurate they are over this type of distance and terrain) I burned over 5000 calories, climbed over 4500 feet and had an average speed of 5.64 mph.

Foot note

Although doing an event such as the K to B can be grueling, tiring, emotional and a pain! (literally) there’s also nothing better than the feeling of completing it and beating the challenge! Beating the route! I’d like to say what an amazing atmosphere and how well organised the event is.

The friendly atmosphere, shouts of encouragement, applause not just from the people who organised the K to B (who are awesome by the way!) but also people you pass in the villages and towns on the course, make all the difference when you feel you’ve got nothing left to give.

It amazed me that on the last couple of miles though Dalton and Barrow people were beeping and shouting words of encouragement and clapping. It may not sound that amazing when you’ve never done an event like this, but when you’ve have you’ll understand. I must admit I had a lump in my throat a few times in the final stages purely from the emotion and the encouragement. Thanks everyone! And well done to everyone who took part!


4 Responses to “Keswick to Barrow 2011: Completed and personal best achieved! YES!”

  1. Lesley Wallace May 8, 2011 at 21:33 #

    Thank you for this very real account – reading it made me feel like I was walking it all over again!!! Well done for beating your best record and I’m sure with your determination and commitment you will knock time off it again next year too!!! Fantastic achievement!


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