It was the second race in the Skyrunner UK and Ireland 2019 series at the weekend: the Lakes Sky Ultra. In addition it was the inaugural Pinnacle Ridge Extreme Race, a new race requiring strong scrambling and climbing skills.
Lakes Sky Ultra 2019
The Lakes Sky Ultra is a 60km Skyrunning race that isn’t for the faint-hearted. It has 5,000m of ascent on some very rough terrain, and requires the runners to be competent in scrambling and traversing ridges. This year they also added some ‘king of the mountain’ super stages, with prizes, to add an extra challenge.
Delivered by the team from the Lake District Sky Trails office (who are based in the heart of the UNESCO status English Lake District at Glenridding) the new events centre at Patterdale Hall offered awesome and jaw-dropping views of the surrounding fells. Runners from all over the world, including Canada, the US, Lithuania, Austria and Sweden, arrived on Friday evening to register for one of the toughest races of its kind in the UK.
Sophie Grant dominated the women’s race from the start, with Polish runner Kasia Osipowicz, offering a challenge in the first half, but Grant pulled away to create a gap that Osipowicz couldn’t close. Grant, who finished 9th at Lavaredo just two weeks before, said at the finish; “I thought I had a race on my hands in the first half, but with opening the gap I quickly realised 1st place was in the bag”. Hannah Walsh put in a fantastic effort to take the 3rd place in the Lakes Sky Ultra 2019.
The men’s race was dominated in the first half by Andy Berry, who won the event in 2017 and took 3rd place last year. Berry was going all out to either take the win or crash and burn. It seemed that the humidity and heat of the day got the better of Berry around Kirkstone Pass and Andy Bryce from Scotland took control of the race and opened a gap on the ascent to the summit of Red Screes. Bryce, who finished 3rd in 2017 was on a one-week return to home from the Middle East and seemed to cope well with the heat. Bryce continued to dominate the second half of the race taking the win in a time of 08:46:18.
Phillip Rutter and Andy Berry raced hard against each other jostling for 2nd and 3rd places, but with Rutter pushing harder than Berry could match, he was close to catching Bryce, and crossed the line in 08:49:05 only 3 minutes down. Rutter said, “It was the first race of this type I’ve done and I loved every minute of it, the course was awesome and extremely hard”. Berry fought the heat to finish in 3rd place in 08:57:03. Berry is becoming something of a legend in these parts, supporting people’s Bob Graham Rounds most weekends. He may just be the nicest man in fell running.
Although the race started at 6am under grey skies runners soon found the conditions close and muggy, with dehydration and heat exhaustion becoming a serious battle in itself as the roller coaster course unfolded, bringing ascent after ascent to batter the runners into submission.
Charlie Sproson, the race creator and director was quoted saying, “We didn’t feel the heat of the day at 06:00 when the race started, but it soon became evident that the air was stiflingly close for the runners and events team alike”.
The race was originally started in Ambleside and did have technical climbing sections, however with a re-design, taking the climbing sections out but still keeping some highly technical terrain, the Lakes Sky Ultra will now appeal to runners operating in the classification of “Sky Ultra” alongside races, such as the famous Zegama Aizkorri in the Pyrenees, Trail du Besso in Switzerland, Audi Power of Four Trail 50km and other European sky ultra distance races, plus hard mountain races like the CCC and TDS in the Chamonix Valley.
This is now a ‘true’ mountain skyrunning ultra and starting in the valley of Patterdale, where the race director lives, offered a wonderful ‘mountain’ feel to this extremely tough course. Sproson said, “We had always wanted to start the race in the Patterdale Valley so we made the move knowing the competitors would appreciate the awesome surroundings of the fells in this valley. Patterdale Hall offered the right vibe and we look forward to delivering the race from this location for many years to come”
When Sproson was asked why the LDST team removed the climbing sections, Sproson replied, “We found that many runners wanting the distance and ascent profile, didn’t actually possess the ‘climbing skills’ necessary to complete the route safely, so we removed these and created a new EXTREME race, called Pinnacle Ridge Extreme and kept the main element of the ultra sky distance for Lakes Sky Ultra”
Pinnacle Ridge Extreme 2019
At the same time as the LSU 2019 was played out, the LDST team delivered the inaugural Pinnacle Ridge Extreme to a field of 45 seriously skilled sky runners. The name of the race gives you a pretty good idea of what’s in store and this is one seriously extreme race. Pinnacle Ridge Extreme has 4 graded scrambling sections from Grade 0.5 to Grade III comprising of roped sections on the ascents, highly technical descents and is played out over 28km of the Lakeland Central Fells with a whopping 2700m of ascent thrown in for good measure.
Sproson, the race creator and director, says; “This course is one serious race, not only do you need to prove your climbing skills through a vetting process, you need to have a steady head, nerves of steel and legs of iron”, he continued with; “This is everything we wanted to show case extreme mountain running in the Lakes. We have a history of combining running with rock climbing and the PRE ticks every box there is going. Hard single track trails, wild and inviting hands on rock ascents and severely technical descents often involving fast and exciting screes. We challenge the worlds best to come and enjoy this mind-bending course”.
Runners represented 8 nations, these being Scotland, England, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Germany, South Africa, the USA and Canada to pit themselves against this highly technical and extreme course.
Ursula Moore dominated the women’s race pushing exceedingly hard to take 1st place in 5:45:13, with local Catherine Evans picking up the 2nd place not far behind in a time of 6:01:44. Visiting Scottish skyrunner, Keri Wallace from Girls on Hills, was hot on her heels in a time of 6:03:30 to complete the podium trio.
Rob Sinclair, winner of the LSU in 2018, took the lead from the start literally tearing up the course as he floated his way up the scrambles to take the win in a unbelievable time of 3:57:02. Ayron Comber and Colin Smith to 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Sinclair said, “The course is just wild, wild and awesome. The climbing was unreal and its just ascent after ascent”
Find out more about the Lakes Sky Ultra HERE.
Find out more about Pinnacle Ridge Extreme HERE.
Header image copyright Paul Mitchell Photography