April’s Rate the Route: Kirsty Reade’s experience of the Northern Traverse 300km

April 25, 2023 5 min read

April’s Rate the Route:  Kirsty Reade’s experience of the Northern Traverse 300km

April’s Rate the Route:  Kirsty Reade’s experience of the Northern Traverse 300km

Our Commissioning Editor, Kirsty, earlier this month CRUSHED the SILVA Northern Traverse Ultra Race - one of the world's most spectacular ultra races! 🏃‍♀️💪 Ever wondered what it's like behind the scenes of an ultra? How to start out? Read on to find out!

Race number:    81

Start time:          Saturday 1st April 2023 8.30am

Finish time:        Tuesday 4th April 2023 10.06am

Total time :         73 hours 36 minutes and 1 second

Total Ascent:     6500 m

Finishing place: 1st f50-59 / 4th women overall


What is the Northern Traverse 300km?

 It is a 300k race following the Wainwrights Coast to Coast route from St Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood's Bay on the east. Participants have 5 days to complete it but the clock never stops, so you have to judge how long to stop and eat and sleep. There are checkpoints along the way where you can do both of those things, but they are roughly 50k apart, so you have to carry quite a lot of food with you. I favoured flapjacks, sandwiches, gels, bars and the odd treat to look forward to like mini battenburgs and jaffa cake bars.


What is the route like?

 The route is really varied but highlights included the climb to Grisedale Tarn, Nine Standards in the sunshine, the section of the Cleveland Way after Lord Stones and finally reaching the sea at Hawsker. Low points were a rainy windy Kidsy Pike on night one, other night sections on cold, claggy moors and an old railway line that I thought would never end, and many, many bogs.


How many times did you stop to sleep?

I stopped three times to try to sleep, managing it successfully the first two times, but failing the third, so I had just over two hours in total. Going through the third night on very little sleep was definitely one of the strangest experiences I've ever had, and I don't recommend it. I do however recommend the race, if you're prepared to make a big commitment to training. The organisers, Ourea Events, think of everything and you'll be really well looked after.


What kept you going when it got tough?

 A mix of singing, messages from friends and knowing that people were watching my dot. My mum had died in January and I thought about her a lot. It proved a useful way to try to understand and process grief. Most of all the thought that I was very lucky to be on this big adventure and it would be something I would remember forever.


How did you train for the race?

I've been running ultras for a long time now, so all that training builds up over time. But during the months before I did a lot of longer days out in the hills, some of which were on the route so I could recce it, and that included back-to-back long weekend runs so my legs were familiar with what it felt like to carry on running when they were tired. I did a lot of longer weekend runs with friends (and VP authors), which was just really enjoyable and didn't feel like training. 


How did you navigate?

The organisers produce a specific 1:40,000 paper map for the event, and I used a mix of that, plus my GPS watch (Garmin Fenix 7, which has good maps) with the route on, plus a back-up of the route on an app on my phone. I'd say I primarily used my watch when I just needed to know the general direction, I used the paper map for fiddly bits (also GPX sometimes 'straight lines' so you can't always see which side of a hedge you need to be, or where you leave a path, so a map can be more useful), and probably only looked at my phone a few times.


How did you keep your watch charged?

Keeping things charged - and it was head torch and phone too - was a big consideration. Fortunately my watch has a really good battery life, so I just kept topping up the charge with battery packs when I had access to my drop bag. There were also some plug sockets in the aid stations. I kept my phone on flight mode and turned off all features I wasn't using on the watch to preserve battery. It was basically a matter of putting everything on to charge whenever I stopped to eat or sleep. The head torch was the biggest problem for me. I had spare battery packs, which usually last all night, but because of the cold two of them died within a few hours on the third night. So I spent a good few hours running with just the light of a tiny emergency Petzl e-lite, which was sub-optimal!


Which would you recommend for a newbie someone looking to get into running ultra races? 

I'd highly recommend a gentle introduction rather than going straight in for really long ultras or really popular races. There are so many really friendly and inclusive race companies putting on great events in lovely locations now. My first ultra was the Downland Ultra, a 30 mile race on the South Downs, and I loved it and just kept going up in distance slowly (I did a 40 mile race next, then a 50) until I got to the very long stuff. Training for a 30 or 40 miler doesn't require much more time commitment than a marathon and you're less likely to get injured and more likely to actually enjoy it if you don't go too crazy, too soon.


Have you got any more races in the pipeline?

I'm doing the Lakeland 100 in July and The Autumn 100 in October.


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A bit of history about Wainwrights C2C (Which features in Big Trails : Great Britain and Ireland)

 Alfred Wainwright, the great Lakeland fellwalker devised a Coast to Coast route across Cumbria and Yorkshire , designed to take you through the very best countryside that England has to offer. Wainwright suggested a route and over the years signpost and maps have established something more of a trail, but the philosophy behind the Coast to Coast is that walkers should pick the paths that they want to follow. Most traverse from west to east, partly to keep the wind and rain at their back. 


Interesting facts about the Wainwrights Coast To Coast

In 2021 VP Author Damian Hall ran the Wainwrights Coast to Coast in  a time of 39 hours and 18 mins , beating the record of Mike Hartley who set the record time of 39 hours and 36 mins in 1991.