It seems like a million years ago that I was hunched over my computer and submitting my entry in to the Lakeland 50. In reality it was only 1st September 2014 and maybe naively at the time I successfully managed to get a place. At that time I had only run one marathon and although I had a place in a local 33.4 mile ultra I had convinced myself that 50 miles of Lake District fells was a good idea.
My first ultra in September 2014 was a real wakeup call and I was woefully under prepared. In any event I dug in and finished in glorious last place! Not perturbed I secured a spot in the North Downs Way 50 in May of 2015 and I set about increasing my mileage accordingly. The first part of 2015 saw me complete 6 marathons, 2 half’s and a ten miler in preparation and I successfully completed the NDW50 squeaking in just under the 13 hour cut off. A trip to the Lakes was an increasing reality.
A further trail marathon, 29 miles of pacing duties for my good friend Shawn Timmons on the South Downs Way 100 and increased weekly mileage with hilly double day commutes to work and everything seemed to be falling into place. Fortunately living in the South Downs National Park I don’t have far to go to find hills to train on, even if by Lakeland standards they are a little lacking in vertical!
Race weekend soon arrived and the wife (Carin) and I made our way up to Coniston in an epic 8 hour drive crawling north with numerous others embarking on their summer holidays. Fortunately we arrived in time to see off the 100 mile runners from the John Ruskin School and race HQ for the weekend. Our hotel ‘The Waterhead’ was a stone’s throw away so we checked in there after wishing the runners well and headed back to HQ for registration and kit check.
The initial que was pretty horrendous so we opted to join the slightly shorter que at the Fish & Chip shop first. On return to HQ it was moving much quicker. A seamless kit check, race pack issue and weigh in was soon complete. We made our way back to the hotel where I perused the road book and route map supplied at registration, along with some appropriate hydration.
I would be using a handheld Garmin GPSMAP 64 to navigate and was hoping to keep map reading to a minimum. I coughed a little at the elevation figures between the checkpoints. 965ft, 2510ft, 1677ft, 1611ft. This was going to be a tough day out.
An early night was in order and I actually slept really well. A 7am alarm and a short walk later and I was back at HQ for the race briefing. The briefing commenced with race director Terry Gilpin going through the serious stuff. Marc Laithwaite concluded things with a more light hearted look at the event. I appreciated Marc’s takeaway message from the movie Ferris Buellers day off. “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” Essentially, don’t forget to enjoy yourselves!
We filed out of the school hall and onto 13 coaches for the trip to the race start at Dalemain Estate. I said goodbye to Carin, promising to be careful and with real expectation as to what the time would be when I’d return. It was a journey of two halves to be fair. The first quite noisy and in high spirits, the second somewhat quieter as the start line approached and the nerves kicked in. I kept myself to myself reflecting on what I was about to take on and I found myself reminiscing about school coach trips as the as the smell of burning rubber filtered its way through the air conditioning system bringing old memories flooding back.
Dalemain was busy with 50 mile runners preparing for the start and the 100 mile runners coming through to their 8th aid station. I made the most of the weather finding a quiet spot to enjoy the sun and to collect my thoughts. I cracked a wry smile as the PA system started playing ACDC’s Highway to Hell.
We were soon called into the start pen, dibbing our timing chips as we collected together and we were off! A flat 4 mile loop around the Dalemain Estate and then we headed off towards Pooley Bridge. After a short section alongside the river, over Pooley Bridge itself and through the High Street we started on our first climb up Elder Beck with an impressive view toward Ullswater.
The climb was steady and was actually runnable. I stuck to plan and walked however not wishing to burn too much energy. I ran the flat and downhill section to our first aid station at the wild west themed Howtown. I didn’t linger long stopping long enough to drink some coke and refill my water bottles. I was fuelling with black olives and taking an S-cap every hour. I headed out following others for the brutal climb to High Kop. It was never ending, and just kept getting steeper. I had poles strapped to my race vest but I was determined to leave them there until I felt I needed them. I felt that if I used them it would encourage me to go at the up hills too quickly and I was concerned that I’d burn out as a result. That may be utter rubbish but it made sense to me at the time and hands on knees I puffed and grunted, from multiple orifices, to the top. There are no words I can think of that could ever do the view from High Kop justice. Indeed the photos don’t do it justice either. You really did have to be there, and anyone that has been there will know what I mean.
From High Kop we headed down to Low Kop and into the Haweswater valley. This section was awkward underfoot and narrow. Passing was difficult as was any sort of steady pace. It was also a very sheltered and warm section of the route. Aid station 2 at Mardale Head was a welcome relief after such an intense few miles. I filled up with water, drank a fair bit of coke and delighted in the finest ham and pickle sandwiches I have eaten for years! Again I didn’t stick around for long as the climb up Gatesgarth Pass was waiting as was the next 6.5 miles onto Kentmere. Seeing what laid ahead I opted to get the poles out and use them on the climb. Just over 20 miles in at this point I was feeling the terrain a bit. There were still plenty of others around so navigation wasn’t a problem as following the masses was the best option.
This was possibly my favourite section of the route. Despite the brutal climb and equally steep descent into Sadgill the route alongside the River Sprint and the views up to the impressive rocks made you really appreciate the majesty of the landscape. It’s easy to get all romantic and nostalgic about the scenery but it really was impressive. A stark contrast from the South Downs with such aggressive rock formations mixed with lush green grass and bracken punctuated by silver ribbons of water trickling down. I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture!
The rock stars at Kentmere aid station had a made a real effort and were playing some great tunes. I sat for 5 minutes taking on some pasta, more coke and water. I left Kentmere following others on the climb to Garburn Pass. On the route down into Troutbeck I got talking with Stephen Best and we agreed to buddy up and see the rest of the route through together. We walked on at a reasonable pace through to Ambleside making good progress and arriving before it was dark enough for headtorches. We received a great welcome from the circus themed aid station where I took on more coke and sandwiches. We didn’t hang around too long before were off again with headtorches on and heading off through Skelwith Bridge and Elterwater to the next aid station at Langdale. It started to rain on this section quite heavily so it was waterproofs on, hoods up and heads down. Langdale soon arrived and following more coke and bread and butter we left with others into the dark and onto an unmanned checkpoint at Castle Howe. This section was a quiet and steady trudge through some wet conditions. My feet repeatedly sinking into wet bog. My lower legs and particularly my shins were starting to ache now. From Castle Howe there is a short and steep descent on the road which was really making me feel sick with discomfort. I apologised to Steve as he held a gate open for me as I was starting to lag behind a little. He wasn’t concerned and we pushed on over more narrow paths, rocky climbs and bog to the final aid station at Tilberthwaite. Had there been a taxi waiting there I’d quite happily of got in it. It was really starting to hurt everywhere and I was getting really tired, it was 03.40 and I knew we had little over 3 miles to go.
One of the most endearing memories I will take from this is the trail of bright white lights from the headtorches of the runners in front. On the way into Tilberthwaite you could see the trail stretching up the steep climb from the aid station. It was beautiful to see but disconcerting as you knew you’d be battling your way up soon enough. Carin had been getting the update texts from the aid stations so knew I was nearly there. I text her to say I’d be another 90 minutes to 2 hours before we were done.
From the aid station are some steep steps cut into the stone which were lit with tea lights. After another rocky and uneven ascent we levelled out a little across more boggy ground. It was now light enough to see and headtorches off we rounded the summit to see Coniston in the distance. The mist hung over Conistion Water and it was good to know that the finish was in sight.
The next couple of miles took forever. The descent was so steep it hurt like hell and Steve got way ahead. He waited for me at the bottom with the news that having conducted a straw poll none of the runners in between us would do this again, and we were both inclined to agree. We continued into the village and agreed that we couldn’t be seen to walk over the line so made the effort to jog in the last 100yds. Job done in 18hrs and 8 seconds. We were ushered into the school to a fantastic round of applause. Our timing chips were removed and we were given our medals and finishers t-shirts. I said my goodbyes and thanks to Steve as I headed back to the hotel to meet Carin who was walking up to meet me.
As I walked out into the morning and away from the hustle behind me I was pretty overcome with emotion. I had a good cry when I saw Carin and we made our way back to the hotel for a much needed bath and a power knap and some breakfast. I slept on and off for most of the day and felt pretty refreshed come Monday morning.
Having sworn blind that I wouldn’t do this event again I soon changed my mind. There is something about the Lakeland that gets under your skin. Maybe it’s the scenery, maybe it’s the utter battering your body gets or maybe it’s just the sense of achievement associated with such a tough event. I can’t understate how hard this is. Hats off to all and especially those taking on the 100. That is serious hardcore!
There is little more to say other than that. There weren’t really any lessons learnt as I had been sure to practice everything in training. There were no nasty surprises other than the hills. I will never complain about hilly events again. I am pleased I ran in my Inov8 trailoc as they gave me ample support and cushioning whilst drying out quickly. I got through the whole thing with no blisters, just very dirty feet! They gave me more room than my speedcross although I did miss the protection on the front having stubbed my right foot a few times.
So in all a tough yet enjoyable day out in the Lakes. What will I be doing when entries go live? I think it’s a forgone conclusion really!
The only question is over the distance, 50 or 100………….
Peace and love xx