Helm Hill Winter League


A whelp escapes my breath as cold peat envelopes my knee. My heart absorbs my frustration at being a ruddy girl. Defeat spreads from my swamped ankle towards my head. “POSITIVE!” I scream in my thoughts and pull my leg out of the bog.

It finds an energy-sapping soft landing in more mud and moss but the breath of the runner behind spurs me on. It’s the only sound I can hear, the only one that matters, so deafening in my head I can almost feel it on my neck. He’ll exploit any second of weakness (because that’s what I’d do). He’s not getting past me.

Whitestones is 4 miles of bog near Newby Bridge and at 510ft of ascent, it’s one of the less hilly Winter League races organised every Sunday from January by Helm Hill Fell Running club in Kendal.

Normally, I’d say I wouldn’t get out of bed for 4 miles but training for long distance running means doing some short blasts of high intensity running and I fully expect to feel utterly destroyed within 40 minutes of the insulated-jacket-clad starter casually saying “alright, off you go”.  Plus at £3 it’s probably one of the cheapest exercise classes you’ll find…

I have absolutely no idea where we went. I saw very little but trainers in mud. I ran so hard I didn’t know whether I was going to throw up, pass out or er, something rather more embarrassing. I think getting to the end without humiliating yourself in this way is an achievement in itself. But at the time I was sure if I didn’t run this hard, I’d be mown down by the stampede at my heels on a narrow single track, which means the only sensible option is to leg it.

“I’d never push myself that hard on my own. This’ll get you fit.” – the runner in front of me says as we chat at the finish.

He’s absolutely right. He’s another Helm runner and he’s a good one, which is why I’d decided I was going to lodge myself behind him, careering out of control down mud with some fantastically technical running, thinking only about the next foot placement on rock, mud or tussock. The breathing behind me thunders. I’m sure mine is too. I run as fast as I can and collapse, hands on thighs as soon as I’ve funnelled through the narrow finish channel.

Later I decide cleaning the whole shower is the perfect excuse to stay in it a little longer. How did I manage to get mud on the walls?



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