23 Before Tea: a new challenge for runners in the Lakes

What started out as a silly idea in the pub, has morphed into a new challenge for runners in the lakes.

Back in Elterwater after too long away from the fells, sitting in the Britannia Inn, with a mate and a pint of Bluebird, Paul Tierney’s record-breaking run around all the Wainwrights (which we’d helped support as the Hostel) seemed such an incredible feat; it was somehow both out of reach for mere mortals, and something to be emulated – what an adventure!

Route planning and pints!

Pouring over a map of Paul’s route, thinking about the best routes between peaks, an idea began to emerge. How many could we do? Certainly not all 200+ Wainwrights, but there were 23 that seemed within reach of the Elterwater Hostel, whatever “within reach” meant.

There were other peaks, even bigger peaks, further away, but something about these 23 seemed enticing – all within an entirely arbitrary rectangle on the map, they showcased some of our favourites, and linking them up presented exactly the antidote to our awe for Paul’s superhuman effort. A challenge to be sure, but one that at least felt doable from the comfort of the pub!

Would it be possible though in the cold light of day, to link them all together, run over all of them, and get back to the hostel in a day?

So a few weeks later, ill-trained and not really sure of our best route, we tried it. Unfortunately, we were defeated by the sheer amount of ascent and descent, a gammy ankle, and frankly the fact that we weren’t fit enough. To link all those 23 required doing valley-floor to top-of-Wainwright at least four times. Still, we pressed on, ankle and all, managing 14 peaks and getting back to the Hostel just within the 12-hour mark; 14 peaks and home for tea felt like a pretty good achievement, all told.

we've done 11 out of 23b4T
Eleven down and still smiling – ish!

By the power of social media, the attempt had acquired a name, “23 Before Tea”, and a couple of other (better) runners were making noises about giving it a go.

Up stepped “Little” Dave Cumins who’d heard about it from a friend of ours, Eileen. Little Dave says: “I kept in touch with Eileen mainly because she owed me a pint of Old Peculiar that had been promised but not produced at the as I ran past the Swinside Inn on a Bob Graham support. Somehow, I seemed to blag that I know a lot about the Lakes and have a good knowledge of the mountains, and I got talked into having another look at the map.”

The man who could do 23b4T
Little Dave Cumins

The name had a nice ring to it, but since there were, as yet, no clear rules, Little Dave made some slight alterations to the route that we’d tried at first: “I didn’t realise at first that the 23 was open to discussion, so now I came up with a list of 23 that are all in the Elterwater catchment, and it’s got some classic fell race lines, and follows Tierney’s route for a lot of it. I think following Paul’s route is important, for it all started as a celebration of what Paul achieved.”

In true in fell running tradition Little Dave was “cagey” and kept details quiet, but we knew the route had 23 Wainwrights, centered around Elterwater, and was just short of 40 miles with about 15,000ft elevation. A date was set to test the route in April 2020, but then along came lockdown, and it wasn’t until September that Little Dave, with James “Pup” Harris, was able to try it out.

This was meant to be Little Dave’s 50th birthday celebration with lots of friends, but the “rule of six” meant that only a handful of supporters could be involved: Rachel Platt and Sandra Williams, Simon Franklin, Carol Morgan and Victoria Miller.

Dream team for 23b4T
Dream team: Little Dave and James “Pup” Harris

Little Dave says: “I was happy with about 85% of the route and I was working on the other 15%. Conversations with Paul Tierney regarding some of his routing and a couple of recces meant I learnt exactly what routes not to take thanks to forestry work and bracken. I sent the route to a couple of trusted friends for their perusal and comment. It was becoming a reality, but could I do it in 12 hours?”

He and James set off from the hostel at 6am on Tuesday September 15, a day of perfect, maybe just too warm, weather. Says Little Dave: “Pup Harris and I have a long history of fell running together. For years we were inseparable on the fells; many folk thought that I was his uncle. We have completed many challenges and races together, spent hours on the fells and probably as many hours in Pup’s kitchen drinking and talking about fells and running. Pup is also the most enthusiastic, motivated and smiling person I have ever met. He is the best morale booster and an essential item of kit for a fell adventure.”

On their way to 23b4T
Descending Harrison Stickle

Rachel and Sandra drove round to the support points to provide supplies; Simon joined the runners on the fells for one leg;  Victoria ran the last section with them over Loughrigg, and Eileen even turned up at the end with the pint of Old Peculier – at last.

They were back in time for a rather late cup of tea, taking 14 hours 50 minutes. Says Little Dave: “I’m not the fastest of runners, and I didn’t have the distance, or the climbing, in my legs after a six-month lay-off from the mountains (he lives near Brighton). I think it would be possible to create two shorter runs in the future, sort of two slices of the cake, for those wanting a shorter day out, but I was a bit obsessed with the whole original 23 before tea concept. I reckon decent Lakes runners could do it in 8 hours.”

They did 23b4T
With support crew Rachel and Sandra back at Elterwater

So, here’s the challenge – anyone who can break the record, currently Little Dave’s time of 14hrs 50mins, will earn a 2-night stay for two at Elterwater Hostel, and we’ll throw in a couple of beers too – you’ll deserve them! Runners can log their attempts, and get added to our leaderboard, through this link. Don’t forget to tag @ElterwaterHostel and #elterwater23beforetea

Anyone who wants to have a go, can let us know in advance by emailing – we’ll make make sure there’s tea and flapkacks on hand for your return. Why not stay with us for your attempt? We’ve got the closest showers to the finish line!

By Adrian Thomas


The route details, and Little Dave’s schedule for a potential 12-hour circuit:

Little Dave’s schedule for a possible 12 hour circuit