The Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra

Just when you think the Lake District trail running race landscape couldn’t get any bigger…..along comes the inaugural 13 Valleys Ultra crashing onto the scene!

A few weekends ago saw the first staging of the 13 Valleys Ultra. An epic ultra-marathon event through the stunning landscape of the Lake District National Park. Taking place across three days from Friday to Sunday, the challenging course linked all 13 valleys of the UNESCO World Heritage Site together for the first time.  

Over 1000 runners signed up to take on one of three ultra distances – 180km, 100km or 55km – or the 20km trail distance. 

Each course provided spectacular trail and mountain running over the fells, around the magnificent lakes and through the unique valleys of the Lake District National Park. 

Runners in the full 13 Valleys distance set off at 6pm on the Friday and competed through the night. The other race distances set off at 6am for the 100km, 8am for the 55km and 10am for the 20km. 

All the distances had generous cutoffs, so there was something for all abilities. 

The Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra - a large group of people ready to start a race in a tree lined street

The start of the Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra in Ambleside

My Race

Speaking of all abilities…..I was all signed up for the full 180km, but after having to rehab my knee post Summer Spine Challenger North, I sheepishly requested that my race be swapped to the 55km race (which the organisers very kindly did).

I did consider the 100km but somehow in my old age I’m becoming more sensible! Or maybe I just knew that 100km of the Lake District would be enough to set my knee back again after all the hard work I’ve done to get it back up and running consistently. 

But enough of my excuses…..This race is great and I’m convinced that it will very quickly become a staple for ultra runners every autumn. I mean what’s not to love? You get to see all 13 valleys of the Lake District. Essentially you do a giant loop of the whole thing, like a Bob Graham on steroids! 

The Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra A rocky path shown going up hill with a pink directional marker showing the say

5 Valleys

Although I was slightly gutted that I didn’t do the full distance, I was more than happy to be running the Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra route. 

Having not raced a lot in the Lakes, I’m always happy to find new routes and see stuff I’ve not seen before. Although I am familiar with the section up and around Helvellyn, a lot of the route was new to me and I loved it. 

As usual with the Lakes, the ground underfoot was very wet, which made descending some sections difficult. Personally I went “A over T” 3 times just in the first downhill section! 

This is normal and if you’re in the Lakes then it’s to be expected at certain times of the year. It didn’t stop me from having fun, which I had in buckets! (Pun intended)

The Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra Map showing the bad weather route

A Change Of Route

As well as the rain that’s expected almost every day in the Lake District, there’s also always the possibility of harsher weather. 

Full credit to the race organisers on this point. Apparently during the night while we were all sleeping, the weather was due to get a bit hairy. So the race organisers decided to alter part of the route. This change diverted us in the 55k at the start to avoid the winds on High Street. This was obviously later on for 13 and 7 valley racers so not much of an issue with rerouting for them. 

For us it meant issuing an altered GPX file and adjusting the physical maps in the early hours of race day. 

It was such short notice for the organisers, that I caught up with the chap out doing the course marking. 

He apologised for the inconvenience but I assured him he was doing a great job and continued on my way. 

Organisation

In fact, while we’re on the subject of organisation, the race deserves a pat on the back. To pull off a major ultra, over 4 distances and over such terrain, straight out of the box is a great achievement. 

True there was the odd grumble about the course etc, but for an inaugural event they got a lot more right than they did wrong! 

The Inaugural 13 Valleys 55km Ultra a black and white image showing a cloudy Lake District valley

Moody

My Race Continues

Having gone into this race unsure of my fitness and knee reliability, I was happy to get around unscathed. Minus a few scratches and mud splatters obviously. 

The only issue I seemed to have was that my quads took quite a bashing with not having many mountain hours in them this year. Which is a hell of a lot better than having a sore knee! 

This race rewards your climbing with spectacular views, if only briefly before you hammer said quads back down to the valley (the clues in the name 13 Valleys)

A man standing in front of a Lake District valley holding his poles up in the air and smiling

Sam in the final valley, between Blencathra and Skiddaw

Final Thoughts

I’m so glad I had a part in the first outing of this soon to be iconic race. The organisers, volunteers and fellow runners were all spot on and made me feel most welcomed at all stages of the event. 

It’s also nice to not see race T-shirts being handed out, with someone having the genius idea rather to give out coffee (or tea) coasters made of slate as race medals! So rather than hanging another bit of metal on my medal rack, I can now think of this great race every time I make a brew at work! 

Cheers to 13 Valleys! 

Samuel Hill

The Inaugural 13 Valleys Ultra
new king of the fells crowned
New King of the Fells Crowned

"I’m so glad I had a part in the first outing of this soon to be iconic race"

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