Behind the scenes at the GL3D - Interview

Behind the scenes at the GL3D - Interview

Spine Race 2023 - Interview with Dougie Zinis Reading Behind the scenes at the GL3D - Interview 12 minutes Next Crampons | Guide

Scarpa are proud to be the sponsor of Great Lakeland 3 Day 2023. The GL3D is a unique festival of running held in the beautiful Lake District over the early May bank holiday weekend .

We are excited about heading to the Lakes again this year, so we thought we would get the behind the scenes scoop from two of the people who help make the GL3D happen.

Behind the scenes at the GL3D

We spoke to Graham Gristwood and Tom Hecht from Ourea events who plan and organise the GL3D along with other running events like the Dragon’s Back and Cape Wraith Ultra.

Tell us about your role at GL3D

Graham: I am the Course Director. I am responsible for planning the courses, arranging all the permissions and environmental consents, and then delivering the courses over the weekend.

During the event I manage various event team members including Race Control and the Start/Finish Team, and those working away from the Event Centre and Overnight Camp, such as our Course Operations team (who put out and collect all the checkpoints, caution runner signs, and carry out countless other tasks) and our Response Teams (who ensure the safety of the participants during the event).

Tom: A good 6 months out from the event I can be found keenly plotting routes (for generally the easier courses) in online mapping for Dave and Graham to offer comment on. Nearer the event, if I’ve been particularly well behaved, I get let out of the office to sense check these and do any last bits of course proofing to try and ensure there are no surprises come May.

During the event my role is varied; I’m mainly back of house helping ensure that event tech is working but also overseeing that the handover from the office admin to ‘event live’ goes to plan. I’m the go-between for our event safety management and GPS tracking solution, and keeping online channels for race control alive and working smoothly.

You’ll also find me front of house chatting to participants to hear how their days went, often combined with an excuse to grab a slice of cake. It’s always a delight to speak to both new and familiar faces and hear about their experiences out on the course that day.

How do you decide the locations for the events?

Graham: As the event has grown over the past decade, it has become more and more difficult to find suitable venues for Event Centres and Overnight Camps. We need to find suitable fields for the Event Centre that are big enough to park enough cars for 1000 participants plus event team members, camping for the Friday night for a large proportion of them, space for marquees and tents for catering and registration, and that are both weather-resistant (so vehicles can get in and out even in poor weather) and that are not too far away from nice places to walk and run! The Overnight Camp needs to be big enough for 1000 people to camp, and have plenty of space for event team vehicles, marquees, and caterers, and it also needs to be close enough to the other venues so that the courses are not too long.

The courses are very much guided by what venues we can find, and May is also the time of year for lambing, so many farmers are not willing to let us use their fields at that critical time for them.

As a general rule, we try to move to a different section of the Lakes each year, but often (especially for the longer courses) there is an overlap with previous years. We try to make sure that people returning will still have a great experience, and even if they visit the same hills, it will be from a different direction – and they are beautiful no matter how many times you visit them!

We do re-visit favourite previous venues occasionally, such as the Overnight Camp close to Buttermere (albeit in a different field), but we try to give people as much variety as possible – and the two times we used that Camp, we had very different Event Centres (Ennerdale and Keswick).

Basically we start with some ideas, and then spend days or weeks with phone calls and in-person visits to see which fields are available, and take it from there!

Behind the scenes at the GL3D
Scarpa Athlete Howard Dracup at the 2022 GL3D

With so many courses how do you find getting a suitable location to meet the differing abilities?

Graham: As mentioned above, the problems with getting suitable locations are not just related to the courses, but obviously that is crucial as well. The Café course is always where we start – if we can plan a good Café course with the available venues, then we are generally confident that we can plan the other courses. If the venues are too close or too far apart, then it becomes impossible to plan the shortest courses – and above all the Café course has to go past plenty of cafes or pubs!

It is generally relatively easy to plan the longest courses such as the Fellrunner and Extreme. Another factor is making sure that there isn’t ‘congestion’ at checkpoints – especially early on or later in the day each day – this is solved by having a variety of routes in and out of the venues, and making sure that courses are all spread out as much as possible – there are a lot of things to juggle.

How do you plan the courses?

Graham: Course planning is undertaken by a small team comprising myself, Tom Hecht and Littledave Cumins. Dave and Tom have an intimate knowledge of the fells and hotspots of the Lakes, and generally my job is to make sure that the courses that they suggest are suitable in length and ascent, and that they work together as a whole – i.e. that not all the courses start in the same direction, or will criss-cross protected sites such as SSSIs. I also liaise with the landowners and various other stakeholders such as Natural England during the planning process to ensure that everyone is happy.

Until 2019 there were only 3 courses – in 2021 we added a 4th course, and in 2023 we have increased it to 6. We know that the majority of participants will take part in the shorter courses – we are expecting the most popular courses to be the Café, Herdwick and Wainwright courses, and so our initial planning often focuses on making sure these are as good as possible. The Fellrunner and Extreme courses are generally the easiest to plan, and are likely to also be the smallest classes – the Lakes terrain is far more suited to these courses than the shorter ones. We also now have an ‘Adventure’ class, which is a bit like a 3-day score event – this is a totally new concept for this event, and it will be fascinating to see how many people take this on, and how they go about it! Hopefully we give people taking on this challenge plenty to think about, whether they are out to compete, or just for fun.

In general courses have to be suitable in length, amount of ascent, level of navigational challenge, level of physical challenge (i.e. not sending the Café course over rough scrambles!), fit together in such a way that courses don’t overlap too much and cause route congestion, and offer the possibility for participants to change course during the 3 days without too much repetition of routes. The courses also have to be safe, and we ground-check the vast majority of the routes that participants might take in the build-up to the event. We try to offer participants a ‘journey through the fells’.

Which has been your favourite location?

Graham: The Buttermere bankside Overnight Camp was pretty special, especially when the weather was superb.

Tom: Ditto! It was extra special as it was the 20th anniversary event (1998-2018) and the first double-up overnight camp since 2007, which went down a treat. Outside caterers were also invited onsite for the first time.

Behind the scenes at the GL3D
Buttermere bankside Overnight Camp from 2018. Credit Steve Ashworth

Which course is your favourite?

Graham: From a planning perspective, I have enjoyed planning the Wainwright and Expert/Extreme courses – trying to give participants the possibility to visit loads of summits, and also give some interesting route choice challenges through some beautiful terrain.

Tom: I would enjoy running the Wainwright course likely the most. As for planning, knowing how likely it is that those taking part in our easier courses are first-timers at the GL3D, I really enjoy making sure their introduction to the Lake District is the best it can be.

How do you operate over such a large area during the event?

Graham: This year we will have close to 60 checkpoints out in the terrain over a vast area. We will have about 10 people putting out and collecting them in during the event. We will have 2 Response Teams on hand to cover any incidents – these are made up of current Mountain Rescue team members. They are managed by our Race Control team who monitor the safety of the participants – both by watching the GPS tracking and offering a point of contact to any participants in need.

Give us a bit of history on GL3D and what makes it different from other events?

Tom: It’s quite unlike any other event you’ll enter. The key ingredient of your overnight bag being transported ahead to the campsite is a winner for those who don’t like sufferfests of carrying all their kit. The event is famous for its laidback, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It’s all about enjoying the beautiful scenery and some great mountain journeys, spending time with fellow runners and relaxing in camp.

The modern day GL3D is both miles apart (1000 participants) yet has stayed true to the original concept and ethos of the original Great Lakeland Trail Race event that was held for the first time in 1998 with just seven participants!

Behind the scenes at the GL3D
Participants in the first event held in 1998

What can people expect from the weekend?

Tom: We’re a friendly bunch. You’ll certainly meet like-minded people and make friends both out on the course and around the fire pit / picnic table /bar at the overnight camp. Expect to catch the bug and find that your early May bank holiday has the GL3D pencilled in for years to come.

Behind the scenes at the GL3D

What would your advice be for a first timer at GL3D?

Tom: I can’t do any better than signpost these two articles:

Link 1 – photo guide to the GL3D:

Link 2 – first timer’s guide to the GL3D:

Also the participant group here –

In need of a new pair of shoes for the Great Lakeland 3 Day? Take a look at some of our Trail Running shoes – perfect for a weekend of running in the Lake District.

Ribelle Run

The Ribelle Run trail running shoe is for those who are looking for absolute precision and high adaptability on any degree of difficulty or type of terrain. It is designed for short to medium distance trail and skyrunning.

This lightweight, high performance shoe is perfect for athletes who are seeking sensitivity and precision on rough, technical terrain.

Spin Infinity

The Spin Infinity is a Trail Running shoe dedicated to long distance. Exceptional cushioning, stability and control features make it perfect for the Ultra Trail for those who require stability and comfort.

Golden Gate Kima RT

The Golden Gate Kima RT is a technical fell running shoe designed to reduce fatigue. The carbon plate enclosed in new-generation foam heightens the elastic response of the arch of the foot, reducing the physical effort of running without compromising precision on uneven terrain.