Mountain marathons represent a fantastic running challenge, but sometimes that challenge can involve just a little bit too much discomfort for some. If only there was an event which involved all of the adventure, but without the ‘having to carry your tent on your back and shiver the night away in a too thin sleeping bag on a piece of bubble wrap’ bit. Well, the Silva Great Lakeland 3 Day is an event that believes that, after a hard day of running, you deserve a little bit of luxury.
The format for the Great Lakeland 3 Day (or GL3D) is that there are three levels of course: Café; Wainwright (long and short options); and Expert. They range from an average of 20k with 1000m of ascent each day up to 40k with 3000m. On registration you’re given a map of the area with numbered checkpoints marked on it, along with information about which checkpoints have to be visited each day for each course. The challenge is to navigate your way between those points and that challenge, as well as the distance and elevation, gets harder with each level of course. As you might have guessed from the fact that Silva sponsor the event, you’ll need basic compass skills.
So, while the running is very similar to traditional mountain marathons, there are a few aspects which make GL3D a different and special event. Firstly, you can chop and change courses each day depending on how you’re feeling. Secondly, you don’t have to carry all your own kit on your back, because the lovely people at Ourea Events will transport a drybag (there is a size and weight limit so don’t get excited about taking that luxury airbed) to the overnight camp for you. So, you can enjoy a degree of luxury with your own tent, food and a decent sleeping bag for those unpredictable Lake District nights. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the camp has a festival feel with food stands and a bar!
As the GL3D will take you into remote mountain environments you do need some navigation and mountain skills for all courses (more so, obviously, for the expert course), but, the big thing for me is that it’s such a great stepping stone to other events. If you’re looking for a test to see if you’re ready for harder mountain events, multi-days, self-navigated adventures or even a big round, GL3D has a lot to offer.
On the Café course you need to be comfortable with navigation, but the route is unlikely to be devious. You’ll be able to stick to clear paths and the distances between the checkpoints won’t be too far, so route choice should be pretty straightforward. But beware, there are no ‘easy’ days at the GL3D. Even the Café course requires three consecutive days of 20k runs (but it’s achievable at walking pace, too), with an average of 1000m of ascent. But the daily café checkpoint that gives the course its name will provide a nice break.
The Café course is an accessible gateway drug to bigger things. I spoke to mother and daughter Emma and Ethel Whyman, who were doing it for the first time this year. Emma started running five years ago and the GL3D has definitely widened her horizons. She said: “I’d heard about mountain marathons, which sounded amazing but also completely out of my league. I was introduced to the GL3D by my husband, who was set to run the Montane Dragon’s Back – organised by the same company – and he encouraged me to enter the GL3D. I did so in the heat of the moment and then spent the next four months worrying that I'd bitten off far more than I could chew...”
She admits that she was pretty terrified about the prospect of navigation and completing all three days, but long story short, “The whole experience was absolutely incredible and I am utterly hooked. To have the freedom and flexibility to navigate my own course, to push myself way beyond my expectations but always with the reassurance that I was never really that far from camp, gave me such confidence. I finished the event exhausted but elated. I'm already signed up for next year where I want to try harder level of routes and am beginning to believe that a middle-aged, very mediocre runner, can have the same experiences as those much faster, fitter and younger than me.”
‘The freedom and flexibility to navigate my own course, pushing beyond my expectations – but never being that far from camp – gave me such confidence’ - Emma Whyman
Ethel, who is 18, enjoys running with her family and local club but has recently started to explore more on her own, running her first ultra a few months ago. But, while she’s enjoying pushing her running boundaries, she’s tended to avoid big hills, until now. “Even the gentle slope at our local parkrun was a no-go area as far as I was concerned. So when my mum said that she had entered us in the GL3D event this year, I was, well, maybe apprehensive and a tiny bit cross... she knows I hate hills.
“The result? Turns out I love hills! Who knew? The utter brutality of some of the climbs was overwhelming and exhilarating all at the same time. I found I was able to climb pretty well and started to really embrace the pain. The views at the top, while I waited for my mum to surface, were just beyond incredible. It’s hard to explain but I literally felt on top of the world.”
This has done wonders for Ethel’s confidence and made her keen to try bigger challenges: “It’s made me realise that tougher challenges are within my reach and I shouldn’t avoid things I think I don’t like. It turns out that opening up your mind to new challenges is just so rewarding. Next steps? I’m not sure. But it will be wild and adventurous!”
So the message for runners who take on the Café course is ‘watch out!’ You never know where this experience might take you in the future.
BAGGING SOME WAINWRIGHTS
The two Wainwright courses will give even more of a test for those looking to build on their experience. They require a reasonable level of navigation plus mountain experience and runners will be on their feet for a full day in most cases, with a lot of elevation. But they will be a fantastic measure of what you might be capable of. The organisers of the GL3Dalso put on a couple of other events that you might have heard of: the Montane Dragon’s Back Race and the Cape Wrath Ultra. These six- and eight-day events are a huge test of fitness, navigation and self-management, which can’t be entered into lightly, and the GL3D is a perfect test of whether they might be within your grasp, or even be something that you might enjoy.
At this year’s event I met Lou, who was doing the Wainwright Long course each day. Having volunteered at Dragon’s Back, she is keen to do it herself in 2022, and the GL3D was an experiment in multi-day running for her. Lou has excellent mountain skills and fitness, spending long days in the hills as part of her job, but doing long runs day after day is the unknown factor for her, so the GL3D was the perfect test.
If the Wainwright courses represent three hard days out, then the expert courses are another level again. These courses combine big elevation and long distance and require excellent navigation skills, so are only for the experienced. But they’re an excellent test of whether you might be ready to take on Dragon’s Back, or a Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley or Charlie Ramsay Round.
If you’re not jumping at the opportunity to get back to a European running adventure any time soon, the GL3D is a great example of a UK event that will test your limits, wherever they lie. If you want to increase your navigation or mountain confidence, see how your legs fare on multi-day jaunts before committing to a bigger event, or if you just want a fun few days of running in beautiful scenery, this event is a brilliant option. And you’ll be glad of that decent food, cold beer and luxury camping set-up...
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