A hundred miles is a long way that’s for sure! To complement The Lakeland 100 my race report is also of epic proportions but with so many memories from a truly stunning course it’s hardly surprising I guess.
A lot of people wonder why I bother with these reports, which can become ultra writing efforts in their own right. Like many I hope it may prove useful to future athletes considering The Lakeland 100 as a race, while also giving me something to look back on in later life as the memories fade. My main reason however is that I find writing an invaluable way to mentally cleanse myself – in a good way -after the event. For me, reliving the memories step by step almost acts as a ‘full stop’ to the race. Only once this process is complete do I feel ready to put the race on the shelf and move onto my next challenge.
So with that in mind let’s get into it. As usual I’ll start with a quick summary for those who don’t have the time to read the report in full:
- I completed The Lakeland 100 in a time of 34:05:45, finishing in 106th place out of 345 starters.
- I ran the entire race with Andrew Haworth. Henry joined us from Braithwaite onwards, before legging it for the finish at Tiberthwaite.
- Neither Andy or myself had the best of builds into the race and had dropped our original sub 30 hour goals for more realistic options.
- I managed to meet all of my revised pre-race goals.
- Stomach and foot issues really dictated our pace from dawn on the Saturday onwards.
- While physically I felt strong throughout the race, the fatigue took its toll after Ambleside and it all became a little emotional at times.
- The Lakeland 100 has to be the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever done and I felt like I was in shock for the first 24 hours after completing it.
- I guess like many people who run The Lakeland 100, I believe I can go faster and am chomping at the bit to come back for another crack at the course 🙂
So there are the highlights, now let’s get into the detail.
In an attempt to try to make this more manageable I’ve broken the report into two sections. Part 1 is below and covers the first half of the race to Dalemain. Part 2 will follow shortly.
Heading to The Lakes
Lakeland 100 week finally arrived. Not quite the way I’d envisaged all those months ago when I entered the race but I managed to get myself into some semblance of shape and headed north to discover my fate.
I travelled north with John Reynolds on the Thursday, slightly earlier than I’d originally planned but the offer of a hotel room and shared transport was too good an opportunity to turn down – thanks John! While this was my first attempt at the race, it was John’s second and discussion on the drive up soon turned to the race as I picked John’s brains for any last minute hints and tips.
The weather was poor but the forecast was set fair for the weekend and we made good time, arriving in Coniston mid afternoon and we quickly carried our mountain of kit up to our room. We had come prepared to share a double bed but we were surprised to find we had a four poster bed in our room. How romantic!
My main decision of the day was which pack to use for the race. My original plan was to use the Ultimate Direction AK Vest 3.0, which was packed and ready to go for kit check in the morning. Being an indecisive fellow, I had also packed the slightly larger PB Adventure Vest as well, as the Cub Scout motto says “be prepared!”.
After trying the pack on John observed it look quite tight, so after switching kit between the two and repeatedly trying them on I eventually opted for the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 instead. This seemed a more comfortable fit and would be easier to get things in and out of the pockets while running. Pack indecision seems to have been a running theme in 2016 for me and I hoped I wouldn’t come to regret it come the race.
We hooked up with some of Johns friends – who were also doing the 100 and 50 races – for dinner, drinks and pre-race banter and then with our sensible heads on it was off to bed for what we hoped would be a good nights sleep, our last before Sunday!
So much for a good nights sleep! A soft bed and restless mind made it less than perfect and while I did sleep it was frequently broken and I awoke in the morning wishing for more.Oh well not a lot could be done now, so after a quick breakfast we headed down to John Ruskin High School for registration, kit check and weigh-in.
The first of many great tips from John was to get down to the school early, get the admin out of the way and avoid the queues that form as the day goes on. Queues were minimal on arrival and we were quickly through the process and re-packing our bags for the walk back to the hotel.
On the way out I managed to catch up with a few friends that were also at the start, picking their brains for further tips. It was then a leisurely walk back to the hotel to get our feet up and while away the next 8 hours until the race began.
Pre-race nerves were starting to kick in and I was feeling a little nauseous as we got back. My right knee was also causing me quite a bit of discomfort. This is a regular occurrence for me during a taper or after a period off running but was more pronounced than usual.
Again John was a massive help and quickly diagnosed a tight hip that was referring to my knee. A day sitting in the car was probably the chief cause and some foam rolling and stretches were quickly prescribed, along with an offer to tape my knee up before the race. It always pays to have a Sports Therapist as a room mate before a race if you ask me 🙂
The drop bag was the next thing to sort out. I was sending far too much stuff to Dalemain but it being my first running of the race I wanted to cover most eventualities. In addition to replacement nutrition I was also sending a full change of clothes and a spare pair of shoes, half a size bigger than those I would start the run in. I had also included a battery pack with cables, ready and waiting for my watch and phone so they could have a quick boost as soon as I arrived. Finally there were some wet wipes, tooth brush and toothpaste for a quick freshen up and some sun cream if the weather looked good.The rest of the day was spent in a combination of rolling my hips, lazing around, eating and trying to conserve as much energy as possible.
Emotionally it was a roller coaster of a ride. One minute apprehensive about what lay ahead, the next gunning to get running and being frustrated about waiting around.
Food wise I decided to try and keep it as normal as possible. Loading up on food would be counter productive and I knew I’d end up standing on the start line feeling sluggish and leaden. Instead I ate a slightly larger breakfast and lunch and sipped on a bottle of Mountain Fuel during the afternoon. At 3pm I had a pot of rice pudding and a banana, my usual pre-race breakfast, and left it at that.
I dashed out at lunchtime to quickly grab some ginger biscuits. I’d had stomach issues since coming off the antibiotics two weeks earlier, culminating in me seeking advice from my GP earlier in the week. Tests were taken and I was given the all clear to run (my doctors always surprise me in how supportive they are of my running, thanks guys!) but was told to simplify my diet and take all the healthy stuff out. It worked and my stomach had settled quite quickly but I was still a little paranoid about it.
Ginger biscuits had been recommended to help with the nausea, so I wanted to carry a few just in case and have some in my drop bag as well. Three satsumas would also be waiting for me at Dalemain, which have helped me in past ultras when I’ve had stomach issues.
The race briefing was at 5pm, so just after 3pm we got changed and started to get our kit together ready for the walk back to the school. It was all very calm and none of the usual pre-race nerves, with a certain inevitability about what was about to come.
By now the day was pretty warm and the clouds had cleared for what looked like it was going to be a lovely evening. I’d decided not to wear sun screen at the start and to also run with my orange lens in my glasses but worried briefly if that would be such a wise move. I’d also toyed with only carrying 500ml of fluid to the first checkpoint to save weight on the climb up Walna Scar road but with the increasing temperatures I opted to go with a full litre just in case.The school was far busier than when we were last here, with racers, families and supporters everywhere and the barriers going up ready for the starting pen. I hooked up with Andrew Haworth who I’d run with at The Fellsman and Cumbria Way Ultra for a pre-race chat. We’d both had a less than impressive build into the race, so compared notes and agreed to hook up at the start.
Before we knew it it was 4:30pm and we filed into the hall for the race briefing where I was lucky to bag a chair to sit on. I’d heard previously how entertaining Marc Laithwaite’s briefs were and we weren’t disappointing with some nice jibes about the our reactions to the changes to mandatory kit and medals. We were told the forecast was good and the ground underfoot not too bad, so a high completion rate was frankly expected by Marc and the team, I hoped I’d be back here on Sunday with a finishers t-shirt on.Marc also made some excellent points about how most of us would be feeling less than prepared with illness, injury work commitments being many of the reasons we’d wish we’d done more. Completion had to be our number one priority and anything else was a nice to have. This married up with my own pre-race objectives and made me realise I was probably better prepared than I feared. Time to stop worrying about the past and focus on the race to come!
I quickly made a call home to speak to the family and exchange last messages of good luck. They would be watching me from afar through the tracker, which would update them of my progress as I passed through the checkpoints. I knew this can be worrying thing to do, with hours of silence between updates. I was also aware of the sacrifices they’d made over the last few months to support my training and the race itself. I just hoped I could make them proud!
By now we were being called into the start pen which was in the blazing sun. With nearly 30 minutes to go I was happy to stay in the shade but John decided to head in, so I said I’d catch him up on the course and hung back.With fifteen minutes to go Andy arrived and I joined him in the pen, saying hello to his family and looking around at the other athletes. I could see John on the far side of the pen, so knew he’d be in front of me at the start.
I was surprised how calm I felt, having expected nerves or even fear about the journey ahead. Instead there was a steely determination to get out on the course and get this done. Focus checkpoint to checkpoint. Remember it takes you 40km to get into your grove. Relax and enjoy it, this is what the last eleven months have been all about!
Lakeland 100 Nessun Dorma video courtesy of Alex Mason.
It was warm standing in the sun and as the clock slowly ticked towards 18:00 we enjoyed the traditional rendition of Nessun Dorma (translation: none shall sleep). Once finished there was a hum of anticipation from the 345 runners and following a count down from ten we were on our way.
105 miles and 22,500ft of ascent – 170km and 7500m in new money – lay in front of us before we’d return here to the finish, hopefully within the 40 hour cut off!
Leg 1: Coniston to Seathwaite
We walked initially but soon broke into a run as we passed under the gantry and out onto the road towards the centre of Coniston. The crowds were amazing, cheering and ringing cow bells as we passed, and you could see them lining either side of the road up into the village.
As we ran I became aware of my right pole becoming loose on my pack and I tried to secure it. I heard someone shout my name and turning my head to try and pick them out in the crowd I was away of my pole spinning up into the air away from me. I instinctively caught it like a majorette impressing myself and without breaking my stride I continued to run. I’m not sure who had called my name but thanks anyway!
Lakeland 100 race start video courtesy of Alex Mason.
As we ran through the village the crowds continued, eventually thinning out as we headed up Silver Bank towards the old mines at the foot of The Old Man of Coniston. As the road angle eased upwards many of us dropped to a walk, conscious of the climbing yet to come.
There was a small bottle neck as we queued for the gate to join the footpath after The Miners Bridge but we were soon climbing in single file towards the track that would take us southwards behind The Bell and towards the Walna Scar Road.
The views opened up before us and to our right we got our first sight of the final descent back to Coniston. Less than a mile away as the crow flies but over a hundred would pass beneath our feet before we saw it again.I was running with Andy and could see John thirty metres or so ahead of us, so was confident we’d catch him at some point before the first checkpoint at in The Duddon Valley at Seathwaite.
The climb to the summit of the Walna Scar road was long – in fact it was one of the biggest on the entire course – but was pretty easy going and a great way to ease us into the race. My plan was to take it easy through the first few checkpoints and let my legs come to me. Andy and I had discussed a high level race strategy and ideally we wanted to still feel pretty fresh when we arrived at Dalemain, ready for the second half. There was a long night ahead and it would be stupid to smash our legs this early in the race.
As we walked and ran memories came flooding back of previous trips up into the Coniston Fells, although I realised it had been ten years since I’d last stepped foot on the Walna Scar Road. The field was stretching out and we wondered whether the leaders were already in the Duddon valley. With one final cheeky kick we reached the summit and the beautiful sunset appeared before us. As we ran I could easily pick out our route for the next few hours, through Duddon, Eskdale, Wasdale and on towards Buttermere.I stopped to take a few photos and then started the run down towards Seathwaite and the first checkpoint. It’s was great fun, a nice runnable trail but again I tried to resist the urge to totally let fly and smash my quads ahead of the climbs to come.
Andy flew ahead and I finally caught up with John and together we ran into the valley. It was still quite warm but there was a cooling breeze and as I finished my first 500ml flask of fluid, I realised my earlier plan to run with only a single flask had been a good one and I’d lugged an additional 500g from Coniston.
As we hit the road I retrieved a bag of Mountain Fuel from my vest and attempted to decant it into my soft flask. Back in Coniston I’d decided to ditch the packets the powder came in and put them into smaller freezer bags. While reducing their bulk it then made it a total pain to open and I proceeded to get powder everywhere, with more over me than in the flask itself. I eventually gave up and ran into the checkpoint carrying the flask and half full bag. Another lesson learned for next time.As we approached the checkpoint we passed a number of crags where many years ago my wife and I had enjoyed our first rock climbs together. It was great to see them once again and there was a twinge of sadness that my wife wasn’t here to enjoy this with me. The first few valleys we’d pass through on The Lakeland 100 are amongst our favourites in the Lakes, and there were so many memories that came back as we ran through them.
Eventually we arrived at the checkpoint, with 11 kilometres and 1:41 on the clock. The plan was a quick splash and dash, although this was delayed as I attempted to fill my bottle and clean the mess I’d made with the powder up. With a few custard creams in my hand we were soon on the road. One checkpoint down, only 13 more to go!
Leg 2: Seathwaite to Boot
As is usually the case I’d made a timing card for the race, with details about each of the checkpoints, the cut off times, plus the times associated with a 35 hour pace. I’d got the later from the climbers.net website, which used data from the 2010 race to calculate the timings.
Despite feeling pretty good the card showed we were already ten minutes behind 35 hour pace, which seemed strange as it didn’t feel like we were going particularly slowly. It was early days though and my number one objective was to finish, so I shoved the card back into my vest and got stuck into my biscuits and the next leg.
The early stages of this leg were quite runnable along the valley floor and past more rock climbing routes from my past. We climbed up past Wallowbarrow Crag before heading across towards Harter Fell and the climb up Grassguards to the pass into Eskdale. The ground at this point became extremely boggy and unbeknown to me the damage to my feet began here as my feet became soaked.
Progress was slow on the climb up and over into Eskdale, stuck in a long queue of runners and only able to go at the pace of the group. This dropped considerably on the rocky and boggy descent down into Eskdale and while initially frustrating I took the opportunity to take photos and reassured myself that an easier pace now would be beneficial at the tail end of the race.
On the climb out of Duddon John had dropped behind slightly and was in a group slightly further back. Once on the valley floor Andy and I were able to move towards the front of the group we were in and made good progress towards the next checkpoint, catching and passing a number of runners.In my head I wanted to get as close to Wasdale as possible before putting my headtorch on. The sun had now set and the light was fading but I still had hopes we could make it to Burnmoor Tarnbefore the torch was necessary.
We crossed the valley and ran past the two pubs into Boot, with people outside enjoying a Friday evening pint and cheering us on. Around the final corner and the checkpoint appeared at the end of the road.
22.5 kilometres ticked off and 3:33 on the clock and now nearly 40 minutes behind 35 hour pace according to my route card. Bottles were topped, biscuits grabbed but with the light fading we were keen to get on our way. Next stop Wasdale!
Leg 3: Boot to Wasdale
We headed up the track away from Boot and towards Burnmoor Tarn, nestling in the col between Scafell and Illgill Head. The light was fading fast but we could still see where we were putting our feet, so pushed on. The stone track soon gave way to open fell and more boggy ground but on we pushed.
The short story is we made it to the tarn before head torches had to come on. In reality they probably should have come on sooner, demonstrated by the fact that as soon as the tarn appeared before us we immediately stopped to grab our torches. Some slight difficulty from me retrieving Andy’s from his pack meant that a whole group of people we’d either overtaken at the checkpoint or passed on the climb to the tarn came streaming back past us.Wasdale Head Inn in the valley below. A quick check of our watch and I joked we could just about make last orders and on we pushed.
We followed a rocky runnable path for the descent into the valley, before picking up the tarmac road for a short while and finally a path to bring us behind the Inn and to the Strollers Disco checkpoint in the barn next door. It was slightly surreal being greeted by David Bowie as we crossed the bridge into the barn but it was great to have another checkpoint ticked off.
31 kilometres completed in a time of 5:02. Our feet were wet, head torches were on but spirits were high as we faced the climbs to come. Last orders had just been missed, oh well maybe next time.
Leg 4: Wasdale to Buttermere
Mentally I’d broken the race down into six distinct sections. The first section was now compete, from Coniston to Wasdale and was all about easing into race and getting as far as we could before it was totally dark. The next was Wasdale to Braithwaite and involved some of the hardest climbing of the race, with 3 passes to cross before dawn.
The third section was from Braithwaite to our bag drop at Dalemain, during which the elevation should be slightly less aggressive and dawn would arrive at some point. From there is was onto Mardale Head, which would include the second longest leg of the race and the final major climb of High Kop via Fusedale, followed by the long drag back along the banks of Haweswater. The fifth section would be to Ambleside, starting with the short sharp climb out of Mardale Head up Gatescarth Pass, before more rolling terrain through to Kentmere and onto Ambleside. The sixth and final section was from Ambleside to the finish in Coniston, the tail end of the race and the point at which I was expecting the real pain to kick in.
Much as I was managing the race checkpoint to checkpoint, I was also using these sections as slightly larger goals towards the key objective of a successful return to Coniston. Each of them distinctly different, with their own challenges and it was great to be able to tick the first one off.
This next section would see the serious climbing begin and would probably be the hardest section of the course. The key here was to continue to take it steady and to make sure I didn’t trash my legs by the time we arrived at Braithwaite.
I’d walked through these fells many years before and like the majority of the course was able to visualise the journey and my position from map memory. Andy had recently run these sections in daylight, so had a good handle on the route and I was happy to let him take the lead while I focused on my pacing.
Sandwiches and hot drinks were on offer at Wasdale but we didn’t want to hang around, so after filling my bottle – only 500ml drank again since Boot – I quickly grabbed a sandwich and packet of crisps and we headed out into the night. Time to get some food onboard for the climbs ahead.
The climb to Black Sail Pass started gently as we headed up Mosedale, giving us time to eat our food. Although it was now dark the air was still fairly warm and I was comfortable in my shorts and t-shirt.
I always prefer to not stop on climbs and just tap out a steady pace before dropping into a gentle run over the summit. I have a steady but fairly brisk plod, honed from a previous life of winter and alpine mountaineering, which I easily drop into. The poles really helped with this, bringing back fond memories of the trudge to the foot of the north face of Ben Nevis or to huts in the Swiss Alps.
Head torches stretched out below us back into the valley and descending from Burnmoor Tarn beyond. Ahead appeared dark but occasionally you’d see a light as runners would turn to look back or round a corner. This was an interesting feature throughout the night, where you’d always feel like you were at the head of a very long train of runners, when in fact there were scores of people ahead you hidden in the night.
There were a variety of lines you could choose here as the path became a bit vague. Again Andy’s route knowledge was useful as we held a line to the right and followed the stream down towards the valley floor and despite the ground being tricky, we made short work of the descent.
We eventually hit the valley floor and found the footbridge across the River Liza. The youth hostel appeared and as quickly disappeared into the night as we followed the path down the valley before heading up our second climb of this leg to Scarth Gap Pass.
At this point I broke into my zip bag of biltong for the first time during the race. Although I’d used it in training, this was the first time I’d carried it with me during and event and I was hoping it would make a nice savoury alternative to my usual race fuel of choice, Nakd bars. It was great and a large handful would last for ages, making for a pleasant distraction during the climbs.
I got my head down and poles back out but before we knew it the summit arrived, far quicker than I expected. From here it was a traversing descent towards Buttermere, crossing rough ground at first and following large cairns to hit the lower hole in the wall. I was conscious that this was the point that John fell last year, so took my time and we were soon over the worst and following the path down to the lake.
A momentary lapse in concentration saw Andy and I turn back towards the lake but we soon realised our mistake and were back on track running into the village past the now closed pub.
Despite the climbing my legs felt great and I was really pleased to get two of the three climbs between here and Braithwaite ticked off. We dibbed our timing chips in at the door and entered the village hall to the smell of hot dogs and a large group of runners sat around the wall.
Andy needed a loo stop, so I took my time filling my bottles and grabbing some flat coke and milkshake that was available on the table. I was keen to get going but Andy suggested some soup, which seemed like a great idea and after adding some salt we quickly drank it and headed back out into the night.
It looked like a lot of people were using this checkpoint as an opportunity for a prolonged stop but we were keen to get moving to get as far as we could before dawn arrived.
Leg 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite
We headed off once more into the night, with Sail Pass our next objective, the final climb of section two. Heading up through some trees initially we soon broke out onto the bracken laden fell.
This leg had some tricky junctions on it that were important to catch and had been highlighted during the pre-race brief. Andy took the lead and I was happy to let him do so, as he’d previously run this section and was confident of knowing the route. Some other runners hooked joined us as we climbed and as a group of five or six we continued into the night.
After a while the guys behind asked if we knew where we were going and I joked back that Andy reckoned he did. Famous last words as moments later we’d all stopped and were busy checking maps and GPS tracks to see if we’d missed the first turn.
We convinced ourselves we hadn’t and pushed onwards, however moments later we saw torchlight above us and realised we’d definitely missed the turn. Checking the track it now showed us off the correct path, although only just below it. Off we set bashing our way straight up the slope through the bracken, to eventually join the path some twenty metres above us.
It was frustrating but only a minor detour in the grand scheme of things, with nothing major lost other than our pride. In Andy’s defence it was a little lame of me to leave the nav of this section down to him and I could have been more supportive by checking the road book as we went – sorry Andy!
By now I was at the back of the group and behind someone who was wearing road shoes and obviously struggling with fatigue. The pace slowed accordingly and there was no way past, with the path now single track through thick bracken. This ground made it frustrating to use poles, totally impossible where the bracken was at its thickest. Just as I’d think about putting them away it would clear out a little and I’d push on with them, only for the bracken to return. And so this pattern repeated.
On and on we went, upwards and upwards through the bracken. At a stream crossing the guy in front paused, so I took the opportunity to nip past and was off on my own pushing onwards. Looking down into the valley far below we could see three head torches looking up at us. They had obviously made the same mistake we had but had continued on for a mile or so up the valley to now see the rest of the field a couple of hundred metres above them. Another runner nearby summed it up perfectly when he said “there are three people having less fun than we are at the moment!”.
It was about this time I began to feel sick. Not the hold your hats here it comes kind of sick but a steady sense of nausea that grew in my stomach and the back of my mouth as we climbed. With the frustration of the bracken and the sickness now in my stomach, my frustration grew and for the first time in the race I was no longer having fun.
On I climbed, up and up, with no real sense of how much further I had to go to Sail Pass. All I knew was that the further we climbed the sicker I felt and I longed for it to be over. Andy was somewhere behind me and there were a few runners ahead but I was effectively on my own, with my thoughts, stomach and pool of torchlight for company.
Even so the gradient wasn’t too extreme and I was still making good progress, using my alpine plod for the steeper bits and breaking into a run where the gradient eased, even if only for a few metres. Suddenly I felt the wind increase in my face and knew this meant the top was close and moments later the ground eased back and we’d finally reached the top of Sail Pass – hurray!
I took a moment to look around, taking in the line of torches stretching into the distance behind us and the faint glow of Keswick still hidden behind the hills before us. I took a mouthful of water and a bite of food to try and ease my stomach. The runners ahead of me pushed on down the descent, including Andy and a few others who’d been behind me.
I held back to stow my poles and get myself sorted. Soon I was also running down, eating as I ran and quickly catching and joining the group and enjoying the descent.
Andy had raved about how runnable this next section was and he pushed on. I continued to hold back, fearful of upsetting my stomach which was now easing a little, and not wanting to smash my quads too badly on the descent.
The lights of Braithwaite could be seen below and they quickly rose towards us as we ran down through Barrow Door and were soon running through the silent streets of the village, just as the very faintest hints of dawn started to appear on the eastern horizon.
It would be light in an hour or so but it was a great feeling to get the second of my six race sections mentally ticked off and some of the hardest climbing out of the way. Of the three it was the last climb I’d found the hardest, which surprised me if I’m honest. On reflection the frustration with the minor detour, the battle with the bracken and the sickness all played their part in this feeling, although the fabulous descent helped take the edge off a little.
The checkpoint was an oasis of light and on entering there were runners everywhere sitting at the tables eating food and drinking hot drinks. I went on the search for something to ease my stomach, remembering rice pudding was on offer here, which I duly found along with a lovely slice of peach to go with it. This was demolished, followed by a pot of custard and a few other bits and pieces.
As usual, I avoided sitting down as I didn’t want to get comfortable. Andy was already in the checkpoint smiling and asking if I’d enjoyed the descent. We both obviously had the same unspoken plan, namely to get what we needed but get back on the road ASAP.
I took the opportunity to quickly grab a cup of tea, my ultra drink of choice, although strangely I don’t drink it at any other time. With a few other choice bits of food placed in my zip lock bag and the cup of tea in my hand, we gave our goodbyes and headed out into the final throws of Friday night.
52.5 kilometres down in 9:35. Next stop Blencathra Centre and Little Dave’s Mums cake!
Leg 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra
We walked initially as I drank my tea but as we left the village and hit the main road I packed my cup away and we started to run. This leg was a fairly runnable section following the main road and then old railway line down to the outskirts of Keswick, before climbing around Latrigg and briefly into The Northern Fells.
It was around here that I really started to notice how sore the underside of my feet were, not painful just sore. I was later to discover this was due to sodden feet from early in the race being tenderised by the pounding over the hills. By the end I’d have a case of trench foot, not that I knew it at this point. Dry socks were waiting for me at Dalemain but looking back it would have made sense to carry a spare set and change them at Buttermere or even Wasdale. Hindsight is a wonderful thing as always!
As we left the checkpoint another runner followed us out and was running behind us as we headed down the road. We introduced ourselves and Henry (our new companion) said he was keen to hook up with some people who looked like they knew what they were doing. God only knows why he chose us two and I guess he was probably a little disappointed to discover this was not only our first running of the Lakeland 100 but any hundred mile event.
We made good pace along the main road, chatting as we ran, enjoying the easy running and pleased the initial climbs were now behind us. We caught a couple of other runners and passed a local drunk, who’d obviously enjoyed himself in Keswick a little too much that evening! We turned onto the old railway line, ran past the graveyard and were soon climbing back away from Keswick towards Latrigg.
Even though it was 4am there were still supporters out on the road, which was a pleasant surprise. The sky was really starting to brighten and dawn would soon be on us as we headed up the track. Head torches wouldn’t be needed for much longer.
As we approached the car park at the top a head torch could be seen running back towards us. Strange to see and a little confusing at first because surely a local wouldn’t be out running this early would they!?
The runner pulled to one side and as we approached they gave us some encouragement and I immediately recognised the voice as John Kynaston Having followed John’s blog for years and watched all of his Lakeland 100 Reccie videos, it felt like I was meeting an old friend and I stepped forward saying “Oh it’s you! Hi John, great to meet you!”. John was gracious enough to shake my hand, although I realised afterwards he didn’t know me from Adam and was probably a quite confused by my greeting.
We all chatted briefly with John before saying goodbye and pushing on for the car park. As we left the car park we finally turned off our head torches and a couple of other runners caught us up.
On the climb to the car park, my sickness had returned once again and Andy was also complaining of an upset stomach. I sipped some water to try and settle mine and avoided eating food. Andy was keen to get to the toilets at Blencathra Centre so we pushed on.
The ground was fairly runnable and we were soon at the first self-dib on the sheepfold in Glenderaterra. It was nice to be back on familiar ground, with the route out of Keswick following the Cumbria Way, which Andy and I had covered in the previous years Cumbria Way Ultra. Once dibbed we turned off the track onto less familiar ground, completing the loop out of The Northern Fells down to the next checkpoint.My sickness was easing a little but Andy’s stomach was really playing up, with running seeming to make it worse, which wasn’t a great sign. The sun was now rising and creating some stunning light across the Fells before us, prompting numerous photo stops as we descended towards Blencathra Centre.
The clock was ticking and the lure of the toilets and Little Dave’s Mums Chocolate cake was too strong, so we pushed on and soon dropped into the woods and the checkpoint.
The first order of priority on arrival after checking in was to sign the card for Little Dave’s Mum, something we’d all been briefed about before the race. I’d already decided not to eat at this checkpoint but still picked up a couple of bits for my zip lock bag just in case, including some of Little Dave’s Mum chocolate cake which I’d been looking forward to all night. Hopefully at some point I’d feel well enough to enjoy it.
Some watermelon caught my eye so I quickly broke my rule and ate a couple of pieces. In the past ultras fruit has helped when I’ve stomach issues, especially oranges. I had three satsumas waiting for me in my bag drop but until then hopefully the water melon would do the trick.
With head torches packed away, bottles refilled and loo stops made we once again grabbed our kit and headed out ready for the next leg to Dockray.
66 kilometres ticked off in 11:53, the half way point was looming on the horizon!
Leg 7: Blencathra to Dockray
As we left Blencathra we bumped into Henry’s family who were walking up the road to greet him. After some quick hello’s we walked then ran on and had gathered up three other runners by the time we’d reached Threlkeld. It was a band of six of us that therefore joined the path along the main road and down into the woods to the second self-dibber.
Momentary confusion by two runners as they climbed out of the woods saw them head off in the wrong direction. Fortunately as we were about to follow them, a spectator further up the road called us back. We shouted after the others and it was a very relieved group that headed off together in the right direction.
Back on the disused railway line once again, we headed east before picking up the lane south climbing south toward our next objective. The tarmac was hard going on my feet and I was strangely relieved to leave this and head onto boggy ground for the final climb to The Old Coach Road.It was a wet slog and while not overly steep, the nauseousness returned as we climbed, and as we hit the coach road I was feeling pretty rough. Everyone else in the group was pleased to be back on runnable ground and picked up the pace. While I was running I was soon off the back and battling with my stomach, trying to get my head back into the game. I grabbed a couple of ginger nuts from my pack and slowly munched on them, hoping they’d help settle things down.
From here it was six kilometres of fairly easy running along the rough track to the next checkpoint. Navigation was not an issue and it was just a case of getting my head down and tapping out the miles. My feet felt sore, my stomach ached and I was in a dark place. I tried some biltong as well and found the saltiness soothed my stomach some-what. The chewing required also acted as a pleasant distraction.
Ahead I could see Andy slowing and I eventually caught him. He was in a worse place than I was with constant stomach issues requiring sudden dashes into the bracken for relief.
Henry was holding back and I caught him. We walked waiting for Andy to catch up and as a three we pushed on eastwards, with the rest of our band of Lakeland brothers and sisters stretching out along the track ahead of us.
I was doing some mental arithmetic as we ran. One of my pre-race objectives was to leave Dalemain before the 50 mile runners started their race. It was now 07:30. Could we cover the 14 miles to Dalemain and get back out again before the 50 mile race started at 11:30?
According to my pace card we were now over an hour behind 35 hour pace which still felt wrong as we seemed to be making good time. For now it was all about the mini-goals, get to the next checkpoint, get to the bag-drop and take it from there.
As we ran Andy and I compared notes and he voiced his concerns that it may be Mountain Fuel causing his stomach issues. I was using Mountain Fuel as well and while I’d not previously had issues with it, my stomach problems prior to the race came back to mind and I wondered too whether my digestive system was still too sensitive to cope with it in a race situation.
I remembered my doctors instructions to bung myself up and I decided to lay off Mountain Fuel for a while and get some bread down me at the next checkpoint. Andy also planned to drop Mountain Fuel to see if that helped and with that in mind we pushed on.
As the kilometres passed my stomach eased, although unfortunately it wasn’t the same for Andy who had to keep taking impromptu trips off-road. Despite our stop start progress we managed to keep up and ok pace and as the clock ticked to 8am we ran into the Dockray checkpoint.
With my new nutrition plan in mind I grabbed a ham and pickle sandwich and packet of crisps. While my bottle was being refilled, minus Mountain Fuel, I enquired what time the leaders had been through. I was stunned to hear 3am, 5 hours before and when we’d probably been somewhere between Buttermere and Braithwaite. An incredible pace!
With the longest leg ahead of us we were determined to push on. So with another sandwich in hand and crisps safely stowed in my pack we headed off down the road towards Dockray village.
Interesting fact (!?) is that those crisps would actually remain in my pack all the way to the finish and would be consumed in Coniston the next day. This wasn’t planned but by Ambleside I felt a strange sort of attachment to them and decided to carry them to the finish. I blame the lack of sleep myself!!
78.5 kilometres down, 90.5 left to go and 13:59 on the clock. Almost half way!
Leg 8: Dockray to Dalemain
Henry, Andy and I left the checkpoint in good spirits. My stomach had eased during the run along the Old Coach Road and having dropped the Mountain Fuel I felt like I had a working plan moving forward.
It was an easy descent along the road into the village and while my feet were sore we were keen to keep the pace up. It was eleven miles to the next checkpoint but long before we got there we’d pass the half way point, that all important psychological milestone. If we could keep this pace up we estimated we’d be in there by 10:30, an hour before the 50 milers left and the first of my pre-race objectives ticked off.
Once through the village we left the road and descended through Aira Force, bringing back memories of our family visit the previous year while on holiday.
As we started the climb up and around Gowbarrow Fell Andy’s stomach kicked off once more and he had a torrid few miles along the slopes above Ullswater.
I heard from many how stunning this section of the course would be, with Ullswater laid out beneath the Helvellyn Range along with Fuesdale and High Kop, our next big climb which we’d be battling with later in the day. It was still quite overcast and while pretty I was a little underwhelmed with the view if I’m honest. That said we’d been spoilt with the stunning sunset the previous night, which probably took some beating.On we ran, up across the fell before dropping down through what had been a wood but was now open ground after felling operations had done their work. What followed were some lovely runnable meadows, pleasant relief for my aching feet, before a longish road section to Dacre and the entrance to Dalemain House estate.
By now we were starting to feel tired. So much for arriving at Dalemain feeling fresh! Andy was struggling and for the first time voiced concerns he may not be able to continue. I reassured as best I could and suggested we get to Dalemain, have a decent stop and take stock there.
As the road dragged on we switched to a run walk strategy to keep the pace up, taking turns to pick the next point to run too. Jessica caught us and was keen to join the fun, and in the run into Dalemain we recruited a few more to our run walk party. Spirits were high as we were all pleased to be over the half way point and looking forward to getting our hands on our drop bags.
As we entered the estate I pushed on off the front of the group with another guy who’s name I can’t recall – sorry! – but who’d run the course before and was familiar with Dalemain.
There was still just over a mile to go to the house but we were now on the 4 mile loop around the estate used at the start of the Lakeland 50. As we ran my companion pointed out where the 50 course went. It looked like a brutal way to start a race, with some tough climbing through various fields before the long flat run we were now on back to the start area.
The time was now 10:30 and although a fraction behind what we’d guesstimated as we left Dockray, we’d still hopefully be in and out before the 50 mile race started which was a real morale boost.As we approached the estate numerous families and supporters clapped us in, which was a further boost to spirits. However what happened next would lift us sky high!
We rounded the corner to be met by hundreds of fifty mile runners who’d just arrived on the coaches from Coniston. On seeing us the place erupted with applause and cheers as we ran through the crowds towards the checkpoint marquee. It was an extremely humbling experience and probably the closest I’ll get to feeling what it is like to score a goal in a premier league match.
I waved and thanked people as we ran through, not really knowing where to look. I eventually gave a mock bow – god knows why! – which drew a laugh and I heard a few people shout my name. I’m not sure if I knew them or if they just read my name off my race number but I waved and thanked them as we covered the final few metres to the marquee and the half way (and a bit) checkpoint.
95 kilometres completed (59 miles) in a time of 16:45. Only (!?) 74 kilometres or 46 miles left to go!
We were all totally buzzing after the reception we’d received on our run in and grabbed our drop bags and sorted out somewhere to sit. Chairs were on offer but I opted for the grass against a fence, sticking to my ultra rule of avoiding chairs and figuring sitting on the ground didn’t really count 🙂
I opened my drop bag and immediately plugged my phone and watch into the waiting battery pack. First job ticked off. Next I grabbed and drained my carton of mango coconut water which was divine. I had an espresso one too but opted to leave that as I didn’t feel sleepy and was also concerned coffee may kick my stomach off once more.
Food and hot drink was offered by the friendly and attentive staff, with my bottles quickly filled. Andy’s family were there to see him and while it made me miss my own it was great to see some familiar faces and receive encouragement. I switched my phone out of airplane mode to see if I had any messages from home but alas no signal. Typical!
I took the opportunity to change my socks and inspect my feet which were sore. No blisters but the soles were wrinkled from being so wet, so I applied some foot powder and put on a fresh pair of socks. Heaven!
I changed my top, visor and had a quick freshen up with wet wipes and felt like a new man. The beef stew on offer was amazing so I asked for and demolished a second portion with some bread, in preference to the cake and custard pudding.
A second cup of tea was consumed and I ditched the remaining Mountain Fuel from my pack. My stomach had settled over the last leg which was great and I was now convinced that my weaken stomach following my recent illness was just unable to cope with Mountain Fuel and the stress of running. I was therefore happy to proceed without it and use the food on offer at the checkpoints as my source of nutrition.
I considered whether to change my shoes to the larger pair in my drop bag but as my feet didn’t seem swollen and there was still plenty of space in my existing shoes, I opted to run with my current pair to the finish. Andy and I’d obviously forgotten to exchange the pre-race memo on dress code, as we’d both changed into exactly the same top for the second half of the race, something which had caused some laughs with his family.
I topped up my ginger biscuits and biltong bag just in case, quickly brushed my teeth and was ready to go. At 11:20 after a long but necessary 35 minute stop, we made our farewells and Andy, Henry and I ran out of the checkpoint feeling like new men.
Coniston here we come!
Part 2 – The Crawl to Coniston
Part two of this race report is already ready and waiting for you. So if you want to read on and see how we get on, head over to Lakeland 100 Race Report – Part 2: The Crawl to Coniston.