The St.Bega's Ultra is a beautiful race which starts in Dodd Woods, near Keswick, meanders down to the plain between Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwentwater before climbing over Honister Pass, one of the Lake District’s renowned peaks (writes Sarah Briggs). You're not yet at halfway but Honister Slate Mine provides a great vantage point for watching the runners tackling the hill. It’s then over into beautiful, unspoilt Ennerdale before going on towards the sea and finishing in the grounds of St Bee’s school.
Perfect for first time-ultra runners, the 35-36mile course offers a huge variety of terrain and every finisher not only is provided with a generous goody bag (this year - a meal token, beer token, technical or cotton t-shirt, merino wool socks and various money off vouchers) but also a slate plaque referencing that the run has passed up and over the slate mine. The number of entrants (143 for last Saturday’s race - August 27) is limited deliberately by race director Jon Raymond, meaning the field, while being close together at the beginning, tend to cross the finish line individually.
This allows each competitor the chance to make of the course what they will, and how the race is known to be 'as tough as you want it'. Some runners will stop for long breaks; some walk round most of the route rather than running it; all will want a chance to admire the stunning views along the way.
With such a small field, there’s a real family-and-friends feel to the race, and Jon is there at the end to greet each finisher personally. It attracts people from all over the country: this year there were at least three runners who had travelled up from Cornwall. What was also of note was that of the first 16 finishers, only 6 were under 40 while the rest were older.
There is a cut-off time of 12 hours but the quickest runners manage it in less than half this time. This year’s winner was local man Alan Bowness (M51) who achieved a time of 5:24:40. It was the first time he had run the race and whilst he’s not normally an ultra-runner he came close to beating the course record. First lady was Joanne Pemberton (F47) (15th overall) with a time of 7:03:23.
It would take someone very convincing and a stunningly beautiful, off-road, course to get me to run an ultra-marathon. Jon Raymond may just, perhaps, have persuaded me to give it a go next year.