Cross the UK: Review of the Lyke Wake Challenge 2018

After the Beast from the East halted my Hardmoors 55 attempt I sat contemplating whether an ultramarthon was really what I wanted to do.  After hearing about the Lyke Wake Challenge from a friend I felt I had to give an ultra another go.  Surely a run in July wouldn’t be impeded by adverse weather!

The Lyke Wake Challenge is a 40 mile ultramarathon starting from near Osmotherley and finishing in Ravenscar village.  The event see’s runners and (fast) walkers attempt to complete the course in twelve hours or less.  The course is based on the popular Lyke Wake Walk which was established by Bill Cowley in 1955 even has it’s own club for anyone who successfully completes the walk in a time of 24 hours or less.

The challenge is held on a handicap basis allocated on previous run times over the Lyke Wake route and/or participant’s own estimates. All participants are expected to be fully aware of the Lyke Wake route and should complete the event in a time of twelve hours or less. The challenge itself is organised by the Quakers running club who are renowned for being the friendliest running club in the North East and I have to say it was superbly organised from start to finish.

Lyke Wake Challenge GPX file

Download file for GPS

In training for the event I had recce’d the route in two sections.  Osmotherley to the Lion Inn one weekend and the Lion Inn to Ravenscar the next.  The weather was warm but comfortable for both the training runs and was set to be similar for the main event.  The pre event email drifted into my inbox with a friendly update on the weather.  It was going to be hot!  We we’re dutifully reminded that this was a challenge and not a race (although try telling that to the machine that is Jayson Cavill).

The event begins at the Sheepwash car park in Osmotherley and I attended my allotted start time of 6.50AM.  “That’s early” you may think but as some individuals have a start time of 4.00 AM then I was pleased with a later start.  The handicap system is a great feature which in theory means that most of the competitors finish around the same time.  This makes awarding ceremonies and joint celebrations from those completing the challenge possible and I really liked this as it is often disappointing when the awards are given out whilst half the runners are still on the course.  We then set off across the familiar route of the Cleveland Way heading over Cartlton Bank.  In training I’d run across the top of the hills (including the might Wainstones) but in a number of pre run discussions on Facebook there was lots of advice to follow the lower tracks as it did not matter how you got to the next check point (i.e. don’t climb a ruddy great hill unless you have to).  I decided to take this advice and noted that this was the same for most (but not all runners).  As the distance was the challenge for me I didn’t feel to guilty and it’s fair to say it didn’t disturb my sleeping that evening!  I was feeling good as I climbed out onto Blowarth and I knew that the next water and food stop was near.  I had found a pace that I was comfortable with and had gathered into a loose ‘pack’ of runners that were heading across the moors at a similar pace.  Water and food stations were very well distributed with friendly marshalls who would fill you water and provide sustenance and motivation. As I got to the Lion Inn I flopped into a chair, “You want to be careful” said one marshall… “If you sit down you might not got back up!”

The start, finish and 7 checkpoints are shown below and get punched on arrival.  I did finish by the way just didn’t get punched (honestly)!

Lyke Wake Challenge Race Checkpoints
Lyke Wake Challenge Race Checkpoints

He had a point.  I was near enough half way but mile 18 proved to be mentally quite tough as I just hadn’t got my comfortable with my eating on the go and the sun was high and hot.  I needed to sit and sort my head out.  Three things made me get back up out of the seat.  The first and most important was the thought I was lucky to be out doing this.  The sad news about the death of Tony Holland had inspired lots of people to go out and #runfortony.  From meeting him a few times in the shop I knew that this event would have been something he would have loved to have been there doing so I really needed to have a very good excuse to stop.  As soon as the thought entered my head a runner came in with the above hashtag written on his race number, it seemed like a clear sign!  Secondly as I was mulling things over with my head lowered, a large and familiar calf muscle entered my eyesight.  It was that of Jon Steele and he was directing the last ultra that I hadn’t finished! This also seemed like a reminder not to stop.  As my will returned I was greeted by the final sign.  An old school dinner favourite of rice pudding and peaches which settled nicely and set me up for the second half.

Having well and truly stacked it on my reconnaissance of the second half of the route I knew I would have to be careful with tired legs.  The second part of the route follows some very overgrown paths with rocks sticking out of the ground (but concealed) on lots of angles.  I’m not generally clumsy but you really have to watch you foot placement.  A series of loud swear words followed me on the track for two miles as the runner behind me had the same issue of stubbed toes that I had faced in training.  Luckily I was more prepared for them this time but this didn’t mean that I wasn’t caught out by the odd toe clipping cobble.  A welcome rest station on the road across Wheeldale Moor meant I could top up the water to take me on to Ellerbeck a few miles further.  A slow steady climb from Ellerbeck was going to bring me out onto Burn Howe Rigg and provide the first glimpse of the coast.  As the uphill sections had long since turned into slow walks I succumbed to the need to drown out my thoughts with some music.  I don’t often wear headphones when running but I needed to focus on something other than my own thoughts!

The final sections have a number of slow steep climbs.  It’s truly heart warming to see younger, fitter athletes climbing these like gazelle… okay it’s not but after swearing as they pass you it is hard not be impressed with their stamina whilst you briefly imagine you are no longer in the shire horse category and could one day emulate their achievements #notbitter.

After reaching the mast on top of Howdale Moor you know you are nearly home.  I opted for the road as I saw a muddle of confused and weary athletes looking for the bridlepath but it’s truly not to difficult to find if you want to.  As you come into Ravenscar you are greeted by supported lining the street as you progress towards Raven Hall and long awaited finish line.

The Lyke Wake challenge was an extremely well organised event with a wonderful set of marshalls and competitors.  The Quakers Running club definitely is very friendly and supportive and deserves it’s reputation.  Whilst a 40 mile ultra marathon isn’t for everyone I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to complete an ultra.  The views are stunning, the marshalls are amazing and the handicap system really helps you out mentally as it is nice to finish at the same time as others and not not feel like your the last one in alone.  I hope to return next year to complete this again where (fingers crossed) I will be more slender and gazelle like so that I can improve upon my time.

Mick Fenwick

Mountain Leader, D of E Co-Ordinator, Deputy Headteacher

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