Skip Navigation | Using this site

Tour de Helvellyn

2nd Try..

To summarise this day out I’d say frustration, surprise, exhilaration, emotional, disappointment.  This 38 mile epic defeated me in 2011.. perhaps naievely I then thought my stubborness would get me around this event, however within 9 miles my blood sugars were heading south and to be honest my fitness was not really up for it.

This time I was back with a plan of attack, my objective was quite simple – to get around!!  I’d not done any specific training but each month done a few long distance treks / runs.  So whilst I think I would have benefitted from being lighter, I felt my objective was one I could pull off.

In the previous few months I’d worked out that when my heart rate goes much above 150 my blood sugars come down quickly.  Hence for this event I’d aim to keep them between 120 and 150.  At times this was frustrating especially being passed going up hill but a good strategy regardless of the diabetes for such a long event.


I’d also worked out very roughly that whilst out running I needed about 20g of carbohydrate every hour to keep the sugars stable.  So I meticulously planned what I would eat every 30 mins and packed 3hr bags of food.  It seems a lot but each item was really only a mouthful.

I’m wise enough to know that variety is the key and even with this list I wished I had more. Must admit struggled to stomach the nutrigrain / brownie and choc chip cookies soon after the start.  But I did keep up the plan pretty much until the wheels fell off.  The 1/2 roll was laden with peanut butter aka rocket fuel.

As it turned at the 1/2 roll lined up nicely with the 3 key manned checkpoints, so accessing them out of the rucksac was easy and I was able to swap food bags.

I headed over the night before and had some quality food at the Tebay service station.  They do serve good food here, was able to do some work on the laptop before heading over to Askham.  Registered and set up my nest in the hall.. was fearful that someone would snore and I would only get a fit ful nights sleep but as it was the corner I’d found was pretty cold and spent half the night going to the loo.

I suspect the cold was why my blood sugars were only at 7.3 in the morning.. was hoping be more like 10.  Hey hoo was up in good time and out the door before anyone else.  In my head the first 8 miles or so to Patterdale was a walk to the start line.  I needed to get there in the best condition possible, relaxed and ready to take on the lap around Helvellyn.

TDH (from East to west - outbound and west to east on the way back well that was the plan) MAP 1

TDH (from East to west – outbound and west to east on the way back well that was the plan) MAP 1

The crossing across Askham fell was as tricky as last time.  There are serious advantages in doing this in the daylight rather than in the dark with the cold and rain – effectively I had about 5m visability and managed to make a school boy error right at the start by following the wrong track.  Still the measure of a good navigator is how fast you can get yourself back on track.  And I was all good – even better for wearing the seal skinz socks from Castleberg outdoors it was cold but with the good pace I felt comfortable and enjoying the experience.

TDH from east to west and north of Helvellyn (MAP 2)

TDH from east to west and north of Helvellyn (MAP 2)

Going up to Boredale Hause I was getting concerned that no one was behind me.. surely Joes’ not canned it.  I know its cold but it aint that bad.  Descending the other side another runner has sneaked up on me and we arrived at Patterdale together at 9.29.. spot on and the first to arrive.

Here it became clear I was going to struggle manage checking my blood sugars.  Certainly outside of transitions.  I knew it would be too cold for the meter to work so had to ask for it to be put on the stove.  I swapped my food around and eventually the meter sparked in to life.  It was 7.1 last time I was here last year it was 4.8.. (need to be above 5 to drive) happy days still it was chucking down with rain.

TDH 1_0038

Heading up over Sticks pass is where the masses overtook me.  Stuart Smith was near the top managing his little checkpoint, before we crunched through patches of ice and snow. Going down the other side it was pretty steep and glad I my fell shoes on.. it was steep but fun.  A minor path to Swirls carpark where another manned checkpoint was checking on competitors.  Fortunately a marshal let me put my meter on her heated seat in her car?? whilst she looked at me in alarm as I injected 3 units of back ground insulin (usually 10).

TDH anticlockwise MAP3

It was a dull trod along the forestry tracks before heading back over to Grisedale.  On reflection I made a mistake here and headed off piste straight up the fell (bit of a shortcut).     I should have followed the main path definitely cost me time.


The trod over the top was slow and my heart rate was going down (see above about 1400), with it I started getting cold.  I also seem to be lacking my downhill running zip.  I still had a long way to go..  Just as stepped on to the long tarmac road I bumped in to John Allen, we sauntered together down to Patterdale.

photo by Clare Maxted

photo by Clare Maxted

Must admit I was thinking that I didn’t have the where-for-all to take on the next stage.  John said he would stick with me and with a peanut butter sarnie I was feeling back on form.  Blood sugar a good 8.5

Going up Boredale Hause I felt good steady away and was happy to jog down the other side.  As we got to the bottom I remember commenting to John that my heart rate was low (110) and for the life of me I couldn’t seem to must the energy to speed up.

As we descended down down in to Howtown I was feeling more and more disorientated, and increasingly feeling cold.  Its a bit of a blur but I remember directing John the shelter at the pier.. needed to check my bloods and were not going to do it out here in this weather.

We stumbled in to the shelter and I knew then that I was in no fit state to go on over Askham fell.  I was confused as to why I had deteriorated so quickly.. it felt like I had low blood sugar but the meter said 5.8

Whatever the story I was struggling to hold myself together, what was the matter with me.  John waved down a car and by the grace of god this fella was from the Howtown hotel.  He shuttled us to the hotel (closed in the winter) hot tea with sugar and a really HOT heater I was in a better place than out on the fell.

I’m sorry to John who had also trekked 34 of the 38 miles to pull out so close to the finish.  Also putting Joe and his team out to come and pick us up from Howtown.

Back in Askham – the thought of food was NOT high on the list.. shower and get myself together.  Blood sugars still oddly rising.  Kind words of encouragement from Joe and I was off to find Lisa and the kids.

So what happened.. I honestly don’t know.

  • was it mild hypothermia
  • did I not have enough insulin on board to make my muscles work
  • had my liver released its emergency glycogen stores
  • was the reading when i was feel ill right (5.8) did I have sugar on my fingers from the shotblox.

For this day out I did make a fundamental mistake, I was not carrying enough clothing.  I was warm enough when my heart rate was up in the 130’s but when it dropped I got cold and to be honest I didn’t have enough clothing in such weather.  The prospect had I stopped in some of those really exposed locations doesn’t bare thinking about.   That said I’m not sure 50% of the competitors had enough kit if they had to stop (e.g broken ankle) on one of the passes.

On reflection I should have taken a bigger rucksac, with maybe a primaloft jacket and a better hat (I had a couple of buffs and a peaked cap).  My jacket was great, even in the foul weather this new paclight jacket from adidas was top notch I was dry when I stopped in Howtown.. even if I was cold.

I do need to find a way of keeping the meter warm.. in the ideal world the best solution has to be Continuous Glucose Meter.  Mucking around with strips and getting blood out of my fingers in such cold weather is not fun.  As it was my hands had swollen up so it was becoming increasingly difficult to get my gloves on and off.

We were heading down to see Lisa’s mum with the kids sorry to say I didn’t partake in the 5 hr driving epic I slept most of it and then when I did find a bed didn’t wake up till 9.30 a ridiculous 10 hrs sleep.  My blood sugars also rocketed to 15.8 before I went to sleep which was after a chicken burger.

Needless to say I hope to be back next year.. I really do need to complete this event.


This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.