And so our journey continues!
For those that haven’t already read it, you can catch-up with our exploits during the first half of the 2016 edition of The Lakeland 100 in part one of my race report. For those that are already up to speed lets get back to the action with our intrepid heroes leaving the Dalemain checkpoint.
Leg 9: Dalemain to Howtown
The route away from the checkpoint eased us back into the race, across rolling fields and meadows before crossing the road and more meadows, before picking up the riverside path into Pooley Bridge.
As we ran through the meadows, we caught Jessica who’d been a long term member of our run-walk party on the final stretch into Dalemain. She’d been struggling with her feet and back before the stop, for which she’d been given some heavy duty taping by the staff at the checkpoint. Her objective now was all about completing the race, which she duly did, and we wished her luck as we pushed on towards Pooley Bridge.
We’d left ten minutes before the 50 mile race began and with a four mile loop for them first to cover around the estate, I figured we had around a forty minute head start before the quickest 50 mile runners were away from Dalemain and after us.
I was keen that we got as far as we could before they caught us, ideally through Pooley Bridge, figuring it would be easier to allow people to pass us on the track beyond to Howtown. I voiced this to Henry and Andy, who agreed and I pushed on keeping up a good pace along the river.
It was great to be getting into the second half of the course and the fourth section of my own mental breakdown of the race. This section to Mardale Head included the last of the four most significants climbs on the course – High Kop via Fusedale – followed by the long drag back along the banks of Haweswater to the Mardale Head checkpoint. I felt like a totally different person after the stop, was running strongly and for the first time started to think about completing the race.
I’d been warned by a friend before the start that the run alongside Haweswater was particularly narrow. As a hundred runner, if you could get to Mardale Head before the fifty mile runners caught you, you were doing well, as you wouldn’t need to be constantly stopping to let faster runners pass from behind. This was impossible now, as in all likelihood they would be on us before we got to the Howtown checkpoint. But how far could we get, that was the question?
We soon arrived into the car park by Pooley Bridge and crossed the temporary bridge over the river, replacing the old stone bridge that was washed away in the last winters Storm Desmond. There were holiday makers everywhere giving us strange looks and a smattering of supporters cheering us on, including Henry’s family who had dashed down from Dalemain to see us through.
Both Andy and Henry had previously run the fifty mile race, so they were on familiar ground. I ran at the front and they pointed out the right hand junction by the church, and soon the village was behind us and we were on the climb up to Barton Fell.
The tarmac road eventually gave way to track as we climbed out above the trees, with Ullswater shimmering away to our right and this mornings running above it clearly visible.
Supporters were gathering along the side of the track, obviously keen to see the fifty mile runners come through. Amongst them was John Kinston again, who we stopped to chat to briefly and I took the opportunity to apologise to him for my forthright introduction back near Latrigg all those hours ago. We also saw some friends of Andy’s from his running club and with encouragement from everybody we reached the top of the climb and turned westwards for the rolling 5-6 kilometre descent to Howtown.
We had a clear view behind us of the track out of Pooley Bridge and I kept checking back expecting to see a long line of runners climbing towards us at any moment. By our calculations, the runners would now be on their way from Dalemain and it was just a question of how quickly they were moving.
It became a game of cat and mouse and I for one was keen to see how far we could get before they caught us. Could we even make it all the way to Howtown?
I was feeling great and I pushed the pace, walking on the uphills and running the flats and downhills, which were increasingly regular as we dropped back towards the lake. On reflection I probably should have checked with Andy and Henry if they were happy with this as I may have pushed us a little too hard. I was selfishly driving myself on in my mental game of cat and mouse and while they both seemed ok with it, it would have been polite to check – apologies Gents!
It was fun running downhill, with lots of other people out on the trail, including another runner who was out for a quiet Saturday run in the fells. I caught up with him and we chatted briefly. He was surprised to hear we’d been running since 6pm the previous night and shot off up the trail as soon as I explained that hundreds of other runners would be coming up behind us shortly.
As we descended back towards the Lake we caught a number of other hundred mile runners and passed more families and groups out for a stroll in the sunshine. One large group stood to one side and the children all held their hands out for high fives as we ran past, a nice touch!
By now the visibility behind us had gone as we dropped back towards the tree line and into the bracken. Howtown was still a mile or so away and I was just beginning to think we would make it when the lead fifty mile runner came flying into view. We dived aside to let him through, applauding him as he went. It made a nice change to be cheering other runners and all the fifty mile leaders were equal in their encouragement back to us and praise for our efforts.
The lead runner was soon followed by the chasing pack and as we continued on our run into the checkpoint more came past. We pushed on, only pulling to one side when the runners were not able to easily pass us. Ahead of us I could see runners coming back up the hill from the checkpoint, so knew we were nearly there.
We hit the tarmac road and turned right for the short run down the hill to the lakeside and the Chia Charge cowboy themed checkpoint. The lead fifty mile runners were coming back up the hill past us, some walking but many running – amazing!
In short order we reached the bottom of the hill and turned into the checkpoint. Our bottles were quickly topped up by the attentive staff and I took the chance to drink a couple of cups of flat coke. I spotted some fudge on the table, something I’d toyed with buying in Coniston prior to the race. This was flaked into small pieces and they’d also kindly bagged some up so we could take it with us. I grabbed a bag and shoved it into my pack as a treat for later in the race. A few biscuits in my hand and we were once more on our way.
106 kilometres now ticked off with 18:59 on the clock. We hadn’t managed to beat the fifty runners to the checkpoint but amazingly we’d covered the 11 kilometres to Howtown in just over 1:30. While not exactly setting the world alight we were pretty pleased with this, considering the running in our legs and how we’d all felt before the Dalemain stop.
Ahead lay the longest leg of the race and the fourth of the four major climbs in the race. The day was warming up and the course was becoming crowded but we were all in high spirits as we walked out of the checkpoint and turned back uphill.
Next stop Mardale Head!
Leg 10: Howtown to Mardale Head
The leg started initially on road as we headed into Fusedale, passing runners coming down towards the checkpoint. We soon left the road for a single track path through the bracken and the fun began.
Fifty mile runners were coming up behind us thick and fast, all politely waiting to be let through or asking to pass. As they did every single one was enthusiastic in their encouragement of our efforts as hundred milers, to the point it became quite embarrassing although still massively appreciated.
While many of the fifty runners were running up the hill, we were walking all be it briskly. As before we got ourselves into a good rhythm and paced out the climb, aiming to get to the top as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As we climbed we came along a number of balloons, pinned to the side of the path with encouraging messages written on them, my favourite being “don’t be shit!”. Above then a lady was shouting encouragement and applauding everyone who came through and as we passed she recognised we were hundred mile runners from our race numbers and gave us an extra loud cheer. Apparently we were allowed to feel a little bit shitty if we were running 100 miles!
I was at the front of our small group and leading the climb, happy to see that my sickness hadn’t returned. As we climbed I realised that I’d totally forgotten to eat or grab the satsumas I’d carefully packed in my spare shoes while at Dalemain. I hoped I wouldn’t come to regret this later on.
As we reached the half way point of the climb we closed up on the back of another group of hundred milers who were travelling a little bit slower than we were. Their pace was still good, so I decided to drop in behind them, grateful for a break from being at the front.
Together as a group we continued to the top, the fifty runners still streaming past giving us encouragement, sometimes using our christian names which were printed on our race numbers. Little Dave who’d ran the Blencathra checkpoint appeared beside us. The checkpoint was now closed and he was running the fifty mile race dressed in the pink leotard he’d worn at the checkpoint. He slowed to chat with us before running on ahead up the climb. I wasn’t sure I could have managed that on fresh legs, let alone with 70 hilly miles in my legs!
Alistair Flowers also slowed for a chat as he ran past. We’d first met back in 2014 on our very first ultras, the Grimreaper 40. It had been great to catch-up with him at Coniston before the race and it was nice to see a friendly face out on the course. Ali went onto have a great fifty mile race finishing in 10:32 and I’m now really looking forward to seeing how he goes at UTMB TDS later this month, good luck Alistair!
As we climbed I glanced at my watch and was pleased to see my heart rate sitting comfortably in the low 120’s. This was the first time I’d really noticed my heart rate since we’d started, despite it having been visible on my watch for the last 20 hours. I’d been running the race entirely by feel and it was great to see that despite our efforts it was sitting nice and low within my aerobic zone. Hopefully this boded well for later in the race.
Eventually we reached the summit of High Kop and the ground levelled out before dropping slowly away towards Low Kop. We broke into run or rather I tried to but my hips felt extremely tight following the climb and my running muscles just did not want to work. Having battled and beaten my sickness were my running legs going to fail me now?
I pushed on and as I ran or rather shuffled they started to ease and after a few hundred metres or so things improved and my running legs returned. This was to be a repeating pattern of the race from now on, with the smooth transition from climbing to running gone and it taking a few minutes to get the correct muscles firing once more, which they eventually did – fortunately!
As we reached Low Kop the sun was out and quite strong as we turned to the south east and began our descent to the reservoir, with the dam clearly visible beneath us. The descent was hard going with my feet, now really sore and for the first time I was using my poles to try and take some of the load off as we descended.
We weaved our way down through the bracken, crossing the foot bridge and on towards the path along the banks of the reservoir. As we rounded one corner we found a runner laying asleep in the sun on a rock. He seemed okay and assuming he was a hundred mile runner taking the opportunity for a power nap we moved on.
At the bottom I stopped to wait for Andy and Henry to catch me up and got chatting to a family waiting for a family member to come through. As with pretty much everybody we met during the race they were generous in their praise for what we were doing and shocked at how fresh and happy I looked after being on the go for so many hours. I assured them that my feet were anything but and thanked them for the their support as Henry and Andy arrived and we started our run along the reservoir towards the next checkpoint.
This was the section of the race I was least looking forward to and had read many negative accounts of it from previous hundred mile runners. What lay ahead was nearly 6 kilometres of single track all the way to the head of the reservoir and the Mardale Head checkpoint. After the tedium and frustration of running around Derwentwater on the Cumbria Way Ultra last year, I was keen to get this ticked off as quickly as possible.
We set off at an easy pace, walking any uphill stretches and running the flats and downhills. As I’d be warned, fifty mile runners were coming up behind us thick and fast and we tried to pull over as often as we could to let them passed.
As we continued along the path my body warmed into the running and got into a groove. Fifty runners were still coming passed but eventually a group came by that then slowed in front of us and started to slow us up. As we hit a short rocky section they slowed even more and with our eyes and feet well attuned to this type of ground by now, we quickly moved around them and pulled away.
Now well in the running groove we caught another group of fifty runners ahead and I was happy to sit in behind them running along. Looking back we were in quite a long train of runners now but with fifty mile runners ahead I didn’t see any point in letting those behind pass unless they asked so ran on. This approach really helped and the miles quickly slipped by as we made good progress along the side of Haweswater.
As we approached the head of the reservoir we reached the summit of a small rise overlooking the water and I decided to step aside and wait for Andy and Henry further back in the line to see how we all were doing. We all felt good and were keen to get to the checkpoint, so we rejoined the path and continued on.
By now we could hear the whistles and cheers coming from the Spartans running the Mardale Head checkpoint on the far side of the water. As we crested the short climb behind The Rigg the checkpoint finally came into view and after a short run we reached Mardale Head.
121 kilometres completed and less than 50 to go, with 22:05 on the clock, with the second longest and probably toughest leg of the course safely in the bag. The next objective was to try and reach Ambleside before it was dark and at the pace we were maintaining we were confident we could do this.
Having practically run through Howtown we decided to take a slightly longer break here and use the toilets and grab some food. There was a gazebo setup with chairs under it, which were all full of runners taking a rest. Around us in the car park many others sat against walls but spirits seemed high amongst most people here. As before I refused to sit down and grabbed myself some sandwiches, a few handful of crisps and drank plenty of water.
With our second sunset around six hours away, we were keen to get moving. So we threw our packs back on our backs and headed out to tackle the short sharp climb up Gatescarth pass and onto the next checkpoint at Kentmere.
Leg 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere
It’s just a short sharp climb I kept telling myself as we once more headed uphill away from a checkpoint. My poles were back out, in fact they were permanently out now, with me just opting to carry them in my hand when I ran. My feet were extremely sore and the hard ground under foot didn’t help, every step uncomfortable, with the downhills the worst.
The track ahead of us was packed with runners, which probably ruined a group of mountain bikers day slightly as they attempted to come blasting down the hill. The climb seemed to go on and on, with an initial false summit leading to another, so much for short and sharp I thought.
Eventually we reached the top of Gatescarth pass and as expected, we could see the valley dropping away before us, with what looked like a quite runnable track all the way to Sadgill some three kilometres away.
Memories came flooding back of the time I’d spent in this valley 26 years ago, as a young school boy doing his silver Duke of Edinburghshire Award expedition. It was 1990 and England were playing Germany in the World Cup semi-finals. The weather was horrific, with a storm blowing and as our tent leaked my sleeping bag was getting soaked. I was cold and miserable. My best friend poked his head out of his sleeping bag where he was trying to listen to a radio, to let me know that Gaza was crying. I don’t give a f$!k about Gaza was my brief reply. Oh happy days!
As before, when we tried running after a climb it took a while for my running muscles to kick in but they eventually did. The pain from my feet was the main controlling factor in my descent with the slabs of rock underfoot a torture.
The whole enormity of the race was difficult to get my head around. With each leg distinctly different, it felt like loads of mini runs, rather than one long one. It was as if Andy and I had gone for run near Wasdale last night, had had another run near Blencathra this morning and then here we were out running this afternoon near Kentmere. It’s really strange how your brain processes challenges like this but I guess that’s also the beauty of the course, each section unique from the next, with their own challenges and memories.
Back in the here and now and Andy’s stomach was still playing up and our descent to Sadgill was controlled by his need to dash off and “explore the surrounding countryside”. Runners were coming past us and the enthusiasm was still high and we even started leap frogging a group of fifty milers who joked about how fresh we looked.
At Sadgill we started the short climb up out of the valley and over to Kentmere. I was starting to develop some hot spots on the heel of each foot, so stopped to quickly examine them. Nothing was apparent, so rather than try and resolve it there on the wet track, I pulled my socks back on and decided to push on and see how they went. If it was still an issue at the next checkpoint I’d apply some compede or similar there.
As we crested the climb Andy was once again struggling and I ran on to catch up with Henry and give him some space. As I passed a group of fifty runners I heard one say to his mate, “I bet he won’t be running for much longer!”. It was a surprise to hear something negative said about us and while probably factually correct I felt a little aggrieved. Just because he was walking why should he assume we all should be?
We were on the downward leg into the checkpoint now and while my feet hurt my legs felt good and so on I ran, collecting Henry on the way and pushing on. Inside I was determined to not give that guy the satisfaction of seeing us walk, so we ran until he was well out of sight and we found a logical place to wait for Andy by a stile crossing.
Looking back I can see that this was really petty and probably a total overreaction to what was a harmless comment but after 25 plus hours of running I think we can be forgiven that.
Andy caught us and on we ran, crossing fields and climbing stone stile after stone stile, some of them coming back to back. I suggested again that Andy take some Imodium I was carrying, having offered it earlier in the race. Again he was reluctant, so I encouraged him to have a chat with the staff at the next checkpoint to get their advice.
Kentmere arrived and after running around the church clad in scaffolding the checkpoint appeared before us. In we ran as the clock ticked to 24:48 we had less than a marathon to go or 37 kilometres to be precise, with 132 already in our legs.
As we entered I noticed the Harry Potter theme, which again made me homesick as I thought of our eldest son who is a huge Potter fan. Once my bottles were sorted I quickly grabbed some photos which I could share with him later and then grabbed a chair, my first of the race, to try and sort my feet out. Again nothing was apparent but I applied some precautionary compede and zinc tape to each foot just in case. After that I went off in search of the smoothies that the Kentmere checkpoint was renowned for, enjoying two in quick succession.
On leaving the checkpoint I spied Natalie Ebbs sitting by the road getting ready leave. I’d been keeping an eye open for her since we’d left Howtown as she was running the fifty mile race but was convinced I’d missed her. She was having a fabulous race, her enthusiasm was infectious and it was great to see her. It was also great to hear that Richard (her husband) was also having a great hundred mile race and was well on his way to Chapel Stile. Great result Richard and one I can only dream of replicating in the future.
I waved Natalie off wishing her luck and after a quick catch up with Henry’s family who were there to see us we too hit the road.
Next target to get to Ambleside before dark!
Leg 12: Kentmere to Ambleside
Two climbs lay before us. The first up and over to Troutbeck with a long traversing descent down into the valley. From there it was a fairly straight forward climb up and over to the woods above Ambleside and down into the checkpoint. This route was the reverse of my silver Duke of Edinburghs award expedition from 26 years ago and while the opposite direction memories came flooding back as we ran.
Andy had got some good advice at the checkpoint about his stomach but as we climbed away from Kentmere it once again started to play up and as we crested the first climb he decided enough was enough. We stopped to get the Imodium out and he took the first dose before we pushed on down the long and rocky descent.
Lake Windermere was now visible and as were the Coniston Fells in the distance, bathed in the evening sun. For the first time it really stated to dawn on me how far we’d run and, more importantly, how close the finish now was.
We eventually hit the bottom of the valley and walked the steep road section through Troutbeck, before starting the climb up Robins Lane. I checked the road book and distance on my watch. 2.5 kilometres to the path junction, so off we set.
My eyes were starting to feel dry and I wondered if I had the start of hayfever. It was only when Andy commented a few moments later how his eyes felt really tired that I realised that must be what I was feeling. It was almost like a mental switch had been flicked and I started to notice fatigue everywhere. My legs felt heavy and so did my head. I didn’t feel like I needed to stop and sleep, something I’d expected to experience but I could sense the signs of tiredness everywhere.
As we ran down towards the woods I got the road book out to check the route through the forest. Despite the fact that both Henry and Andy had previously run the fifty miler, I felt the sudden need to explain the route and what they would see when they got to Ambleside like they’d never been there before. Apologies Guys, the brain must have been starting to shut down!!
Into the woods we ran, now gloomy in the evening light. As we descended over some rocks, Andy slipped and fell with a loud cry of pain and we rushed towards him fearing the worst. To have come this far and suffer a race ending injury would have been horrific!
Fortunately he was ok, just a little bruised and we helped him to his feet before carefully moving on our way.
We left the woods joining a lane, which frustratingly looped away from the main road just below us before returning to it further into town. I was desperate to get to the checkpoint, tick off my next pre-race objective and also finish my penultimate section of the race.
Checking the watch we realised we’d have about half an hour or so of light left once we arrived at the checkpoint, so planned to be as quick as we could to maximise the light on the climb towards Loughrigg Fell.
I’d read reports of the reception runners received through Ambleside but was totally unprepared for the one we got. As we ran down the streets pedestrians applauded us, while the pubs whooped and cheered as we passed. I expected this to stop as we ran down the alleyway toward the cinema but it continued and felt like we were riding a wave of noise as we crossed the road, passed the chip shop and started down the lane towards the checkpoint.
Both Andy and Henry’s families were here cheering us on, along with some of John’s friends from Coniston, who were great to see. Someone called out “well done Giles!” and obviously knew me as they couldn’t yet see my name on my race number. Although I looked and smiled at them I had no idea who they were, my cognitive processes obviously slowing now due to fatigue. Apologies to whoever it was, your encouragement was still very much appreciated!
No sooner had I dibbed in that Gaynor Prior was straight over to congratulate me and ask if there was anything I needed. Gaynor is the race director for the Cumbria Way Ultra, which was how we met last year. I knew she was going to be at the checkpoint along with Aleks and had planned to seek them out and say hi but was still surprised that Gaynor recognised me so quickly.She waited on me hand and foot, happy to solve any issue and even hurrying off to rustle me up a cup of tea when they’d run out at the roadside. At all the checkpoints the staff were amazing but with Gaynor this was the first person I’d had contact with during the race who I knew personally. It was the closest I felt to having family there to cheer me on and really lifted my spirits, thanks ever so much Gaynor!
I suggested to Andy and Henry we got our head torches ready before we left, not wanting to risk a turned ankle by repeating last nights efforts of stubbornly refusing to stop as it got dark.
Before we departed I quickly went to see Aleks, enquire how his foot was which he injured on the previous weekends Lakes Sky Ultra – Aleks runs barefoot – and to wish him luck on his upcoming E1 trail run down the length of Europe. An amazing challenge!
A final chat with Andy and Henry’s family and with the light fading fast we said farewell once again and headed off into the park. Just 25 kilometres to be precise, with 144 already in our legs in a time of 27:30.
Coniston, here we come!
Leg 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile
We broke into a run across the park, figuring we should at least look like we’re a running race for the friends and family watching us. Our spirits were high as with only 16 miles to go and over 12 hours to the cut off. Baring serious injury we knew we were going to make it.
Even better news was that Andy’s stomach while still not great had calmed with the Imodium, which was obviously a relief for him. I’m still in total awe as I write this of how he managed to carry on for so long in so much discomfort. Top job Andy!
This next section to Chapel Stile was the section I knew the most, having holidayed in the area for the last two years and run various elements of this section a number of times.
I knew the stretch from Skelwith Bridge to Elterwater was going to be largely runnable but on hard packed trail which would destroy my long suffering feet. Before we got there though we had the climb up to the foot of Loughrigg Fell to content with and we set off into the growing gloom up the road through the trees.
Once into the trees the light failed immediately, so I was pleased we taken the time to put our head torches on before we left. On we walked up and up, the climb lasting far longer than I remembered. Once again I was explaining what was to come to Andy and Henry, when clearly they’d run this section before. Apologies again Gents!
The last time I’d run this section it taken me just over 20 minutes to run to Skelwith Bridge and around the same again onto Chapel Stile. Tonight it was going to take considerably longer than that, that was sure!
As we cleared the trees the light returned and we turned off our lights and continued upward, running when we could but walking mostly. The ground was rocky and loose in places, so we hunted out more comfortable lines alongside the track in the grass to ease our feet. I turned my headtorch back on, a twisted ankle would not be welcome at this stage.
Darkness fell as we reached the highest point, and we crossed the stream and began to run as we swept around Loughrigg Fell towards the road down to Skelwith Bridge. The rocks were pounding my feet but it was good to be back on familiar ground.
Something changed for me though during the next few miles. Was it the lack of sleep? Was it missing my family by running passed so many memories from our holidays? Was it a dread of the dull flat foot pounding to come on the run into Elterwater? Was it the fact we were entering our second night? In reality it was probably a combination of all of those points but as we walked and ran towards Elterwater we were all largely quiet, locked into the beam of light from our head torches.
I could really feel the lack of sleep starting to take its toll now and could feel myself stumbling occasionally and was glad of having my poles to hand for extra support. Finally the car park at Elterwater arrived and we climbed up through the mines before descending back to the river, passing the Wainwrights Inn which was still open, with a handful of drinkers outside cheering us on.
We turned off the road and down the track for the cut through to the campsite. In my mind I had the checkpoint near the entrance to the campsite, when in actual fact – and quite logically – it was at the far end away from all the campers.
As we entered the campsite a couple who were waiting for friends and family to run through applauded us in. As we passed the gentleman spotted we were hundred mile runners and said “congratulations guys, you should be really proud of what you’ve achieved”.
On hearing those words I practically burst into tears! For those that know me that is a pretty rare occurrence with tears coming from me like blood from a stone. I immediately knew I was in a pretty low place and while physically fine, with the exception of sore feet, emotionally I was falling to pieces. There was no option but for me to take a moment at the next checkpoint to pull myself together.
I explained the situation to Henry and Andy who didn’t object, although I’ll never know if this news frustrated them or not. There was never any doubt I was going to finish the event, dropping was never an option. With amazing clarity considering the mental fatigue, I knew I just needed to take this opportunity to gather myself before moving on. The track to the checkpoint seemed to go on for ever but finally the lights of the marquee came into view in the distance and we ran towards it.
The Chapel Stile checkpoint is legendary, with a warm fire and sofas to tempt tired runners. We dibbed in and I immediately headed for a chair, avoiding the sofas and instead seeking out a less comfortable plastic option. Ultra running rules be dammed, a chair was needed for this stop to allow me to gather my thoughts.
I sat and the checkpoint staff spun into action. Water bottles were refilled and food and drink was offered. Although we were close to home now I opted to get some food in, hoping it would help lift my mood. The same stew was on offer that we’d had at Dalemain and I quickly ate a first helping before asking for more, hopefully it would fire me up as it had done twelve hours ago.
As I ate I gave myself a good talking too mentally. There was no panic or sense of failure, instead a real sense of calm which was quite soothing. I reminded myself how much I’d wanted to do this race last year and how excited I’d been when I booked my place. I remembered all the training I’d put in over the last six months and the sacrifices me and I family had made. I told myself that it was these moments that I was looking for in this race. If it was easy everybody would do it and this is what the Lakeland 100 was all about. You want this Giles, you want this!
The staff were brilliant, I was open with them about what I was thinking and where I was, and they flew around providing all we needed, along with words of support and encouragement.
Despite the hot food and drink the night air was chilling me and I regretted not taking the extra long sleeve base layer from Dalemain, which I’d packed in preparation for a colder second night and the growing fatigue. I knew I needed to get moving and could see that Andy and Henry agreed as we finished our food and pulled on the extra layers we had with us. Andy had gone for the sofas which I was impressed with, a far braver man than I was.
We got to our feet and I quickly slugged down a couple of cups of flat coke, grabbed some biscuits and with a heartfelt goodbye we headed out into the night.
Just 16 kilometres or 10 miles stood between us and the finish. 153 kilometres completed in 29:25.
Leg 14: Chapel Stile to Tiberthwaite
I was really cold as we started and getting colder all the time, so set off at a determined but steady pace.
The one benefit of the checkpoint being at the end of the campsite was that we were soon back on the path and heading towards the end of the Langdale valley. This was very familiar ground, one of my favourite runs and an area I’d visited for many years. Despite being dark I could easily visualise where I was in the valley and was happy to walk at a steady pace up to the fell wall and the descent back down to the valley floor.
As we walked another runner joined me at the front. I asked if he wanted to come by, not wanted to hold up a fifty mile runner. It turned out to be Tony, another hundred runner who’d we seen on and off during the race. He said he was happy with the pace but ducked past me to take a turn at the front and together we walked on.
By now I was feeling warmer and much more positive mentally. Tony and I chatted as we mostly walked, with the occasional short run. We swapped notes on the race itself, our journeys to it and previous events. Between us we had a good picture of the route up the valley and navigated from memory.
As we crossed a stile I looked back to see we were leading a huge train of twenty or even thirty runners up Langdale, all obviously happy to tuck in and let us lead. I’m sure they’d be less comfortable if they knew we were fatigued hundred runners navigating from memory in the dark!
By now we were passing behind the Great Langdale campsite and I knew we’d soon be turning uphill toward the pass out of the valley and onto Blea Tarn. A fork in the path appeared and Tony and I stopped to compare notes. The left fork looked like it was heading up but my gut feel was to take the right as from memory the path up should be a hard left at the wall. Tony decided to widen the discussion and shouted back to see of anybody had any experience of the left hand path. After much discussion, which I’m sure the campers in the trees below appreciated, we opted to take the left path and up we headed.
This proved to be a good choice and quickly we fed onto the main path and turned left for a steady climb up to the pass. With my waterproof jacket on I was keen to keep the pace steady, so as not to overheat or generate too much sweat. As we climbed the group stretched out but soon we were at the top, over the road and on the path down to Blea Tarn. I mentioned to runners around me how this stretch was pretty runnable and off they all shot.
Henry, Andy and myself regrouped and on we ran, towards the back of the group now as we headed down towards Blea Tarn. I was really warm following the climb, so stopped to remove my jacket and was soon on my own in the dark. It was so peaceful and for a moment I looked around taking the silence in.
On I ran and soon caught up with the back of our group as we entered the woods by the tarn. There was very little talking now as we all struggled with fatigue. At this point I heard music and saw flashing lights above us in the trees and it looked like some campers were having a mini rave, unaware of us passing beneath them. Looking back at this now I’m not sure whether this was actually a hallucination or not. It seemed very real but as I didn’t discuss it with anyone at the time it could have been my sleep deprived mind playing tricks.
We reached the end of the tarn and headed through the gate and back out onto the open fell. We were now moving onto ground I was unfamiliar with and this section required some tricky navigation around the valley to reach the final self-dib on the Wyrnose Pass road on the far side of the bogs.
I had the road book out and was navigating from it from the front, with a group of ten or so runners happy to follow behind. As we reached the turn off point I stopped and asked of anybody had run this section before, as I was running from the road book and it would be quicker if someone knew where they were going. A guy came forward, sorry never got your name, and said he’d run it recently and proceeded confidently off up the path.
Although we were heading off route that was described by the road book, I was happy to follow, hoping local knowledge would help keep our feet dry and avoid the bogs.
Disaster suddenly struck as my head torch started flashing, the low battery warning! The question was now long did I have before it died, was there enough juice left to see me to the road?
The answer was no and as the head torch died a minute later I called for a stop so I could quickly swap the battery pack. Henry and Andy stopped but everyone else headed on into the night. I quickly removed pack and had the new battery attached in a few seconds and was ready to push on. My main concern now was we were not just off the road book but also without our guide, with the dibber not yet in sight.
I was frustrated. Frustrated at myself for not changing the battery at the last checkpoint or even Dalemain. Frustrated at the others for leaving us after they’d been happy to follow since Chapel Stile. The later was pretty stupid as we all had our own races to run and they were not there to babysit or guide others around the course.
Fortunately we were practically there and after a short climb up the path we could see the other runners arriving at the dibber ahead of us. A quick wade through the heather and a dodge around some final bogs and we were onto the tarmac and checking in ourselves.
From here it was downhill on the road before picking the track up across the valley and the short climb up and over to the final checkpoint at Tiberthwaite. As we ran the road was torturous on my feet. The wind had also picked up and I was once again feeling cold. I stopped to put my jacket back on, telling Andy and Henry to push on and keep the others in sight. I don’t know why I was being so bossy and I apologise once again to Henry and Andy for that, sorry guys!
I could feel myself starting to waver again emotionally, not as bad as Chapel Stile but for some reason I craved company and the false sense of navigational security it gave. Looking back now I’m not sure why as I’d run this bit before, as had Andy and Henry, so we all knew where we were going.
This was the fatigue really starting to drag me down. I easily ran to catch up with Andy and Henry, so physically was fine. Mentally I was struggling and was worried about it getting worse. Food and a mental chat at the last checkpoint had sorted me out, so I vowed to do the same at the final checkpoint ahead.
We hit the junction and took the turning up towards Tiberthwaite, carefully negotiating the rock slabs. It was around here that we ticked over the hundred mile mark, a milestone we celebrated with muted enthusiasm.
Over the top and we began the descent down towards the Inn, hitting the road once more and on towards the checkpoint. This section really seemed to drag but eventually the lights appeared on the far side of the valley with the lantern lit steps clearly visible behind it, along with the torches of runners above making the final climb back to Coniston.
It seemed miles away but Andy was obviously on a mission and I got my head down behind him as we ran on, staring and the pool of torchlight in front of me. When I next looked up the checkpoint was just ten metres away, the lights obviously playing tricks on my fatigued mind, and we ran in to dib for one final time.
I think Andy and Henry were all for pushing straight through, with just six kilometres and one last climb between us and the finish. I however needed to grab my moment, have quick drink and another mental chat and said so to them both. They didn’t complain as I lumped down into a chair and asked for a drink but I could tell they were restless.
One of the checkpoint staff checked how I was and the look of concern on her face worried me. I reassured her I was fine but still she looked concerned so I quickly got to my feet, drained a final cup of coke and with a cry of “right lets do this!” we left the checkpoint for the final run home.
Only 6 kilometres to go, with 164 on the board in 32:30.
Next stop John Ruskin School and The Finish!
Leg 15: Tiberthwaite to Coniston and The Finish!
The fact that I’d been holding Andy and Henry back was immediately apparent as they both shot up the stone steps behind the checkpoint at a blistering pace and I was soon dropping behind.
Ahead I could see Henry disappearing up the path with a gap back to Andy and another onto me. I was focused on not getting left behind but was also comfortable to wait as my body got back into a groove, confident I had the physical strength in my legs and would soon catch back up to Andy.
The stone steps I’d read so much about didn’t seem that bad and were soon over as we turned right and headed up the narrow path, with the deep quarry and gully hidden on either side of us in the dark.
My pace was coming back to me and I was no longer getting dropped by Andy but Henry had disappeared up the hill. That was in fact to be the last we’d ever see of him. As quietly as he’d joined us nearly 23 hours earlier he slipped off into the night without a goodbye.
Despite only finishing 15 minutes ahead of us there was no sign of him at the finish either and after sharing so much of the journey with him it seemed strange and a little sad to end it this way. Oh well, that was obviously the way he wanted it. Goodbye and thanks Henry, it was a pleasure!
Back to the dark fells and I was slowly reeling Andy back in as we climbed up away from the quarries, with some rocky scrambling in places. As we crossed the stream and headed out onto the open fell I finally caught him and we exchanged a few words but in the main were quiet focusing on our steps up into the darkness.
Higher we climbed and ahead I could see the lights of two runners probably fifty or so metres ahead. Andy paused to have a comfort break and I moved ahead keeping a steady pace.
The wind increased, signalling we were nearing the top and I could also hear a stream bubbling and cascading to our right. Ahead I could see from the light of the torches of the other runners that we were passing through a narrow gap on the ridge and as they disappeared from sight I sensed we’d reached the top of our final climb.
Andy was about twenty metres behind me and I kept moving onto the descent. All downhill from here!
It was a brutal descent with sore feet, on loose rocky ground that weaved left, right and steeply down through the bracken. I was using my poles again to try and save my feet, and could see from the lights ahead I was on the right path.
Down and down we plunged for what seemed forever before we eventually hit a wider track and followed this down into the valley floor and headed back towards the village.
Andy had now caught me up and while we talked about running we walked all the way down, our feet pummelled into submission by the brutal descent.As we entered the village I heard the church clock strike 4am, a welcome chime home. We crossed the road to use the footbridge and some supporters called out to us, confused and thinking we were taking a wrong turn, when instead we were just following what the road book to the letter. Pretty pointless at 4am with no traffic around!
We got to the BP garage and Andy suggested we run, so off we set, one final short uphill bit before the downhill short dash to the finish. As we rounded the final corner we practically ran into Andy’s brother Matt, who was running out to meet us. With cheery greetings we all turned and ran down the final hill together, retracing our steps from Friday evening which now seemed a lifetime and world away from this point.
We turned the corner into the John Ruskin School, under the banner and that was it. At a fraction after 4am on Sunday morning we’d beaten our second dawn home and had both become Lakeland Legends in a time of 34:05:45!
After dibbing in we were lead into the school hall and introduced to the waiting crowd as hundred mile finishers, for which a loud cheer went up. The waiting team were really efficient, our timing chip was swiftly removed and medal and race t-shirt awarded.We congratulated each other with hugs and handshakes, chatting with Andy’s family who were all there to welcome us home.
I’ll admit to being quite overwhelmed by the whole situation. Relieved to have finished but also in a little bit of mental shock by what we’d just accomplished. I was also pretty tired as well, which was all making for quite a heady cocktail!
My immediate concern was to find out John’s whereabouts, so I could decide whether to wait for him or head back to our hotel. I checked with the race team and was given the sad news he’d been timed out at Kentmere at 1am.
I was gutted as I knew how much this race meant to him and tried to confirm if he’d been bused back to the finish yet. After speaking to a couple of people it was confirmed he was definitely back in Coniston, so I rang his mobile to find he was camped out on the landing of our hotel waiting my return.
I quickly drank a final cup of tea, turning down the offer of food as it generally makes me feel ill in the first few hours following a race. Andy’s family kindly offered to drive me back to my hotel, which they duly did and I rescued John from his chair on the landing.
A quick shower and bed was calling, however after few hours the legs were stiffening up and the pain was kicking in, so we both got up for breakfast and the first of many race debriefs.
John’s friend Nigel Harrison and Gemma also joined us, who’d finished his 5th 100 just before me – congratulations Nigel! – and as we ate a small mountain of food, we watched the final few hundred mile runners coming passed our hotel and heading towards the finish.
I was keen to go the the awards ceremony, to soak up the atmosphere and also to catchup with Andy and others. John decided to head back to bed, so I made the slow walk/shuffle up the road to the school.
My hips were tight but my feet were extremely sore, with a dose of trench foot on each of them from the soaking I’d given them on Friday evening. I’d definitely need a plan for coping better with that in future races.
The awards ceremony was great, especially watching the video (see below) that had been produced over the course of weekend, bringing all the memories flooding back. I was late arriving, so didn’t get a chair, which wasn’t great and I had to keep sitting on the floor to try and get some relief for my feet.
What followed was a lazy day, chatting with John, catching up with others, eating and drinking. The common question people kept asking me was would I do it again? I couldn’t give them a straight answer. While I’d loved the race and was proud of what we’d achieved, I was still coming to terms with the whole thing and couldn’t contemplate running it again.
That all changed at 4am the next morning as I lay awake in the hotel listening to the church bells chime and reliving the memories of our return to Coniston 24 hours earlier. It was at that point I knew for sure, The Lakeland 100 had stolen my heart. I like so many before me, had unfinished business with this course and I’d definitely be back for more!
While not everyones first choice or even recommendation for a first hundred miler, it was the logical option for me. It is both brutal and beautiful in equal measure and definitely lives up to its name as The Ultimate Tour of the Lake District, a part of the world that I love so much and is full of so many great memories for me.
I’ll return with a final post outlining the lessons I learned during this amazing race, of which there are so many. Suffice to say I got everything and more that I hoped out of this race.
My final words for now though are those of thanks. Thanks to Marc, Terry and all the team for putting on such a great race, smoothly run and I couldn’t fault anything across the weekend. To the checkpoint staff who were all enthusiastic, supportive and couldn’t do enough for us during the race.
To Andy’s family and friends, and all the other familiar faces we saw around the course. Your support was really appreciated throughout all hours of the day and night.
To my family for their love, support and patience, not just during the race but throughout the weeks and months of training before. Although not able to be there in person, I carried you with me around the course in my heart and love you all dearly.
And finally to my running buddies.
Thanks to Andy for his companionship throughout the race, always a pleasure! Your presence helped me through my darker times and I hope I was able to assist you a little in return. Thanks also to John for his company, sage advice and support across the entire weekend, not to mention his generous hospitality in sharing his hotel room. Cheers mate, great company as always!
Always a pleasure Gents and am sure we’ll return for more!