The Lap (a Lake District ultra) takes place in the same week as the famed Tor des Géants in the Alps, but it is rather more modest in its mountains – a Tor des ‘Obbits, perhaps. Nonetheless, at 74km with 2,500m of ascent, it’s a good day out. The racing snakes get it done in under 9 hours. It took me – a moderately experienced but now slightly creaky ultra runner - a bit over 13 hours
The lap in question is a circuit of Windermere, beginning and ending at a YMCA near the south end of the lake. In addition to the September, clockwise event, there’s also an anticlockwise version in May. The course generally sits well back from the lake, to take in the surrounding summits. Wansfell Pike and Loughrigg Fell are the largest amongst them, bracketing Ambleside at the north end of the lake. Wansfell Pike in particular gives a very satisfying view back over how far you have come – spoilt only slightly by also being a view of how far you still have to go.
That said, most of the course is pretty rather than panoramic. Much of it is in woodland, or through fields. There was no shortage of assertive livestock. One herd of cows was bellowing so loudly at the passing runners that I began to yearn for the peace and quiet of the city.
The trail itself is mostly very runnable, with packed earth or grassy paths. There are also a few stretches of very quiet road. However, on the Pike and the Fell in particular there are some steep and technical descents. I had not practiced on anything like this (Oxfordshire is a bit short of fells), and did more sweary falling over than I’m used to in a race.
The event was mostly well-organised and the volunteers were cheerful. (I have amended the cardinal rule about not dawdling at aid stations to add “unless volunteers have provided freshly-picked blackberries”). However, the claim that the route is the best marked in the world is a bit optimistic. More than once, I joined other runners in impromptu navigation committees trying to figure out the signage. The GPX provided also included an extra 2km at the end that wasn’t actually part of the course, so we blundered through the finish arch thinking we still had a way to go. But these are small complaints.
On practical matters, the required kit list is a bit longer (and heavier) than that I’m used to for flatter runs in the south, but even on a sunny day there were hints of mountain weather that meant we could see the logic in being prepared. Trail shoes are definitely a must – we wanted them even in the dry, and they’d be critical if it were wet.
For accommodation, it is well worth staying at the YMCA where the race is based. The race has an early start (5.50am) and it was great to be able to roll out of bed and be there. But book early, there aren’t so many rooms.