Bassenthwaite to St Bees, Running the St Begas Way.

SBU35 – The St. Begas Ultra, August 2015

Three years since I started running and four weeks since my longest run and although I can almost remember when I first started running I can definitely remember the run from a few weeks ago…

“Beep, buzz, beep, buzz”, surely it can’t be time to get up already, it’s still dark for Gods sake… and then my brain wakes up and it’s action stations, today is the day I’m going to run my first “Ultra”, SBU35 (The St. Begas Ultra)

Registration was only a 10 minute walk away from the hotel so all that was needed was to quickly double check I’ve got everything while Wendy tried to keep me calm and also make sure I’ve not forgotten anything even though we both checked it repeatedly last night. I got dressed into my running gear with some long pants and a sweatshirt over the top as not only was it still dark, it was also quiet chilly at stupid o’clock in the morning and after eating my porridge and drinking a coffee we gave up trying to relax in the room so walked down to St Bees School for registration.

It was 5:30am and the place was already filling up as I picked up my number, road book and map, went through the kit check to make sure I’ve got everything needed and then dumped my halfway snacks and supplies at the bag drop where they’ll be transported to checkpoint 2 for me to use later in the day.

There’s was a bit of time to spare for another toilet break but not enough that I could start to worry about anything and after a quick pre coach journey brief from Jon, the organiser and race director I left Wendy behind and boarded the coach for the hour long trip to the start. The journey was thankfully uneventful and I chatted to a few people who’d recced the route and gave out some good pointers as well as a few others that were also new to the distance.

Nearly time to go... the start at Bassenthwaite
Nearly time to go… the start at Bassenthwaite

The sun had risen properly by the time we got to Bassenthwaite and we made our way up to the start area to be given final instructions by Jon, mainly about ‘dibbing in’ your Si Entries Card at the start, the checkpoints and the finish, these are what are used to track the runners and not only are they used for your results but are an essential safety check on our whereabouts.

Everybody ‘dibbed’ at the start and waited for the signal to start…

Had I done enough?
Could I do it?
Could I run over 35 miles in one go?

Only one way to find out, the tape was broken and the race was on.

As seems to be the norm. for trail races the run started uphill. Nothing to serious and just enough elevation to stop me going off to fast in the excitement. I chatted to a few other runners as we eased our way into the run until a fairly steep downhill, down and over a main road we then followed a few paths alongside the River Derwent to Derwent Water. The trails continued alongside the lake as the weather brightened up and I ended up running with Anette, an experienced ultra runner who had completed the Lakeland 50 only a few weeks previously.

Sticking together we made good time following the river further south, through Barrowdale where we arrived at the first checkpoint, Rosthwaite, in just under 2 hours, approximately 11 miles into the race. Staying just long enough for a toilet break and to fill up our water, I grabbed some flapjack as we left the very helpful and happy marshals behind.

We made our only navigational error at this point, probably because we were eating and chatting and ended up going up the wrong street in Rosthwaite but it didn’t cost us much time or distance compared to the 36 miles we were running.

Back on course we headed southwest towards then through Seatoller where we got our first proper view of the biggest climb of the race. From the bottom the top of Honnister Slate Mine looked a very, very long way up.

The climb to the slate mine
The climb to the slate mine

Keeping it nice and steady we made our way up through Little Gatesgarthdale to the slate mine car park where I was met by Wendy who had been cheering everyone though. The climb to that point was tough but seeing the smile on Wendy’s face more than made up for it. To see the proud look in her eyes I would run up and down a thousand mountains, I was recharged for the push from the car park to Hopper Quarry up a path that was far to steep to run.

That's a lot of up... from Honnister Slate Mine
That’s a lot of up… from Honnister Slate Mine (a bit blurred as I was trying to breath)
Looking down on Honnister Slate Mine
Looking down on Honnister Slate Mine

Greeted at the top by a couple of cheery marshals dressed as Elvis we made our way southwest over Fleetwith where the views northwest towards Buttermere were spectacular. I got a few photos before the weather came down just enough to warrant quickly putting on a waterproof top.

This is why we run the trails... Buttermere and Crummock Water
This is why we run the trails… Buttermere and Crummock Water

Thankfully we were on our way down, it must have been a little unpleasant on the top with horizontal rain and limited visibility.

After a long, slow and very steep decent following Loft Beck, made a bit more tricky by the wet weather we joined the main bridle way going west through Ennerdale. With the rain clearing and good footing the pace gradually increased as we passed the Black Sail Hut youth hostel. About four miles of easy running later we arrived at Low Gillerwaite Field Centre, checkpoint 2, after a total time of 4¼ hours and a distance of approx. 22 miles.

Rounding the corner we were treated my a Mexican carnival atmosphere as the marshals cheered us in, offered us all sorts of snacks, located our drop bags and filled the water. It was the boost we needed to set us going for the next part of the run.

Rejoining the bridle way the valley opened out as we skirted the northern side of Ennerdale Water. The lake was beautifully calm with hardly a ripple as we ran past, my thoughts on the run so far and what was to come. I felt relatively strong as I went through the 26th mile, my longest run to date, and after leaving the lake we headed west towards Ennerdale Bridge.

We slowed slightly as we passed a group of supporters and once more there was Wendy, cheering us and our fellow runners on. It was fantastic to see her as it seemed an age since Honnister but now we were on the home straight, about 8 miles to go, the small matter of the climb to the top of Dent Hill (or Bummer as it’s named by local runners) and the finish was within our grasp.

A couple of miles of gentle uphill as we skirted the eastern edge of Flat Fell and then it was time for the climb from hell known as Bummer, and it was nasty. The track zig zagged uphill through the forest and it was the sort of climb that every time you thought the top was in sight you’d round a corner only to realise that what you thought was the top was only a slight rise.

Black How, the end of the decent from Dent
Black How, the end of the decent from Dent

After this leg sapping climb the gradient eased until we were on the top of Dent then it was time for the last major decent as we left Cleator Moor towards Black How, a few more tracks, over a main road and we arrived at checkpoint 3 to check in 6 hours 50 after we started, only 5 miles to go!

A brief stop to fill up bottles and the trail continued for half a mile then joined a discussed railway track for a couple of miles. Getting tired now this part of the run started to drag and with the surface underfoot being hard took its toll on already tired legs so it was with a bit of relief that we left the track and made our way across a field to a rail line where, turning south we ran the final mile and a half to St Bees School.

Although I didn’t want to leave Annette she pushed me to increase my pace for the final section of the run as she was finally tiring and with only a short distance left I finally gave in to her suggestions that I ‘go on ahead as it was my first ultra’.

The final 'dib'
The final ‘dib’

One style left and it was follow the flags over the playing field to the finish. The welcome was brilliant, music blasting out as I went under the finish gantry and ‘dibbed in’ for the final time. 36 miles and my first ultra done.

My final time was 7:46:08 and I came in 33rd out of 115 starters, I was more than pleased as my target time was any time between 7:30 and 8:30.

I choose my medal from the table, a piece of slate stamped with SBU35 from Honnister, grabbed some other goodies including a beer token then looked round and there was Wendy… In my eyes the star of the day, without her all that I’d done would have been impossible. After the best hug ever I exchanged my token for a pint of bitter from the Ennerdale brewery, cheered Annette through the finish then sat for a while, consuming everything in sight and cheering the runners thought the finish.

Great shirt and lump of slate medal
Great shirt and lump of slate medal

After a while spent just sitting in the afternoon sun we made our way back to the finish tent and after a few words with Jon, thanking him for an excellent event we made our way back to the hotel where I dumped all my gear, had a shower and got changed before leaving to find some proper food.

The finish at St. Bees School
The finish at St. Bees School

After a fantastic lasagne at a local restaurant in St Bees., Lulus Bistro, we made our way back to St Bees School to welcome the final finishers and join the organisers and marshals for a bit more food and a chat. As the sun set, after thanking everyone for an amazing day we made our way back to the hotel, a short 10 minute walk away, to fall into a deep, satisfied sleep until it was time to leave the following morning after a great cooked breakfast.

Would I do it again?

Yes! The organisation, checkpoints, marshalls, in fact everything was great. The distance was perfect as a first step up from the 26.2 miles of a marathon and the route across the western edge of the Lake District was beautiful, not extreme but certainly challenging in places with enough opportunity for ‘speedsters’ to make an impact but also doable within the cut-off times for the slower runner.

It’s been a while now since I did the race but I’m looking at the next couple of years to see what ultras are available around the fifty mile distance, I’ve a couple in mind but I need to plan a few things before I commit to anything.

SBU35 Training – St. Begas Ultra

This is how I trained for SBU35, it’s not what everyone would do and probably a bit ‘light’ for some people but it worked for me. The schedule assumes good overall fitness and no injuries after TMW2015 and only notes the weekend runs, I also went out at least once during the week for as short fast run and a 10 mile+ bike ride.

W/end Miles (km) Activity Route
June 20 26.2 (42) Trail Marathon Wales  TMW2015
June 21 6 (10) Trail Marathon Wales shakedown  TMW2015 shakedown
June 28 10 (16) Boatyard out marsh loop, flat but rough ground
July 4 6 (10) Flat local road loop
July 5 10 (16.2) Cerrig Y Barcud to Newborough Forest and back  CYB > Newborough
July 11 22 (35.6) Cerrig Y Barcud > Llanddwyn with Newborough forest  CYB > llanddwyn + Newborough
July 12 11 (17.2) Newborough commonwealth trail plus bits  Newborough Commonwealth + 
July 18 11 (17.6) Boatyard > Outmarsh loop plus bit
July 19 8 (13) Local farm tracks and river bank
July 25 12 (21) Tarleton, boatyard, outmarsh loop
July 26 24 (38) Most of the Rivington Marathon route Rivi Mara
July 30 13 (21) Tarleton, boatyard, outmarsh loop
July 31 8 (13) Local farm tracks and river bank
Aug 8 13 (21) parkrun Cuerden Valley 5k + round the bank 8k x 2
Aug 9 17 (33) Most of Rivi marathon round missing Darwen Tower. Should have been longer but def. starting to feel the adverse affects of the back to back, really wasn’t up for it, it was a struggle  2/3 Rivi Mara
Aug 14 8 (14) road loop, hundred end to Tarleton
Aug 15 13 (21) Tarleton, boatyard, outmarsh loop
Aug 22 3 (5) parkrun Cuerden Valley
Aug 23 10 (17) Round the Rivington reservoirs, easy pace Easy Rivi 10m
Aug 29 36 (58) RACE DAY  SBU35


  1. Jon said:

    Hi Stuart. What a great write up and great credit to you and Wendy. What a team! Thanks for choosing the SBU35 as your first foray and good luck with everything that you choose from here.

    September 22, 2015
    • Stu said:

      Thanks Jon, over a month later and I’m still smiling. It was great

      October 24, 2015

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