2018 marks my third year travelling to Coniston and starting Lakeland 100. With one successful completion under my belt in 2016 and a DNF due to a hip injury in 2017, it was one all on the score sheet and I was keen to make amends for last year and move 2-1 up.
I had entered Lakeland before receiving my full diagnosis of a stress fracture in my pelvis. After months of rest and rehab, I finally returned to running in March 2018 and my participation in Lakeland was uncertain. I was pretty laid back about it, focused on my rehab and after a successful run at Race to The Tower in June, I was happy to commit to Lakeland and the excitement started to build.
As always seems to be the case with my races, the final few weeks threw in some curve balls, which I covered in my recent post on my pre-race thoughts and objectives for Lakeland 100. I had set myself some conservative and stretch goals but as race day drew closer, I found I was putting myself under increasing pressure and was actually getting quite nervous.
We travelled to The Lakes on the Thursday as a family, staying like last year in Kendal the night before the race. Having my family there was a new but nice distraction and we also bumped into a couple of friends while out for dinner, which helped relieve some of the tension I was feeling.
I managed an okay nights sleep considering but was awake early on the Friday morning, although with the heat we’d been experiencing all week in the south east, a settled nights sleep was a distant memory. I took the chance to do a short yoga session in the corner of the room to stretch out my tight muscles and joints after a day on the motorway. My wife kindly helped me apply to various strips of kinesio tape to my legs, hopefully to help ease the various aches and pains I had been experiencing during my recovery and to give the tape plenty of time to settle in, before we started at 6pm that evening.
As a family, we took full advantage (and then some) of the hotel breakfast buffet. I am not a massive breakfast eater and this, combined with pre-race nerves made it hard work but I got a decent amount down to to start loading the calories. Breakfast and kit sorted, we jumped back in the car for the short drive to Coniston, arriving around 11:30 to bright blue skies and gathering crowds.
This year, my wife Lea was also running The Lakeland 50. With the boys in tow we headed into the marquee for registration, kit check, weigh in and to receive our dibbers and trackers. I was pleasantly surprised to tip the scales at 77.3 kilograms, a whole five kilograms lighter than last year and three lighter than 2016 when I had completed the race. I had worked a lot on my diet in the last few months, to try and get my weight down and it was pleasing to see the hard work had paid off, even with the massive breakfast I had eaten that morning.
Cup gate was in full swing, with my collapsing cup initially rejected, while friends were told they could use theirs. I double checked and after a quick check with the race director, was told I was clear to use my first choice and could leave the plastic beaker I had as back-up behind. Result!
I caught up with Rupert from Mountain Fuel and a few other friends but was keen to escape the heat of the marquee. The film crew from Summit Fever Media had asked to interview me, so I quickly did that and then we escaped to our cottage a hundred yards from the school, unloaded the car and tried to relax.
My nerves were getting the better of me, worse than the previous two times I had run this race, which was a surprise as last year I had stood on the start line carrying an injury. To help clear my head, I had, at Lea’s suggestion, written out a plan for the day covering exactly what I needed to do and eat and when I wanted to do it. This helped keep me focused and before I knew it, it was time to head over to the school and dib into the start pen.
The sun was beating down, so I was in no rush to get into the pen. I found some space on the field, did a quick warm-up and checked messages on my phone before switching it into airplane mode. Andy Haworth, who I had run my previous two Lakelands with, came to find me for a quick chat. He was not running this year but had come up to support friends. It was great to see him and helped to further calm my nerves.
My sister and brother-in-law had arrived shortly before we headed over to the school, so after some final hugs and kisses, I made my way to the back of the start pen to check in. My original plan had been to make my way towards the front of the pen, to try and get ahead of the crowds before we reached the bottleneck at the miners bridge just outside of the village. However my laid back approach to entering the pen had backfired on me and I was unable to even get into the pen itself and had to just settle in and wait until the race began.
This didn’t overly concern me and in fact as the start approached my nerves were easing and I was just keen to get going. I had been saying to Lea for days that I just wanted to get started and I knew once we began I would quickly relax. The final few minutes quickly passed and after the traditional singing of Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), we were sent on our way out into the streets of Coniston. Ahead lay 105 miles of some of the best trail in The Lake District and I hoped my body would hold together and, with a sprinkling of luck, I would make it back to Coniston at some point over the weekend, under my own steam.
Leg 1: Coniston to Seathwaite
Being at the back meant the start went something like this: shuffle, walk, run, stop! shuffle, walk, shuffle, walk and finally run. The crowds are always great at the start and I was pleased to be able to find Lea and the boys and share a high five as I went past. It was great to be going and as space opened up in front of me I made my way up through the crowds, not pushing the pace, just running at my natural cadence and trying to get nearer to the front.
As always, we soon eased to a walk at the first climb out of the village. First impressions were how hot and humid it was. The forecast had been changing day to day as the week progressed but one thing was sure, we were going to get some rain overnight and cooler showery conditions on Saturday. Until that point, we had to make do with the high humidity.
I had opted to run with just 500ml of Mountain Fuel to the first checkpoint, with my second flash already pre-loaded with powder to make up a second 500ml of Mountain Fuel to see me to checkpoint two at Boot. I was already well hydrated from drinking throughout the day but the humidity meant I was sweating a lot and I wished I’d carried a second full bottle just in case.
I made good progress and was surprised easily get through the gate and onto the single track path. In previous years, this has always been the scene of a 5-10 minute delay but this year I passed quickly through. I dropped in behind Stephen Braithwaite who I had met in Kendal the night before and was an old hand at Lakeland. Time wise, I knew he was probably aiming for around the thirty hour mark, so I knew as long as I was in and around him for the first climb I was probably pacing it ok.
As we climbed the Walna Scar road the sun went in, which took the edge off the heat a little but the humidity remained. We longed for some breeze and finally as we reached the summit it arrived and we plunged down into the Duddon Valley and the first checkpoint at Seathwaite.
I love this descent, along a nice flowing track which is very runnable. Before the race I had worried that my lack of hill fitness would tell but I put this to the back of my mind and enjoyed the descent. Hitting the tarmac at the bottom I soon regretted this as my legs felt a little wobbly and I worried I had gone too hard too soon. I eased back on the run to the checkpoint and arrived at 19:34, eight minutes up on my previous time and sub-30 hour pace.
Leg 2: Seathwaite to Boot
I had drained my first bottle on the final run down the road, so refilled the other, ate a few slices of watermelon, grabbed some biscuits and was quickly on my way.
As we descended into the valley you could feel the temperature rising and I was keen to get back out onto the open fell and up over towards Eskdale. This next section up through Grassguards is notoriously wet but I was hopeful that after the drought of previous weeks, it would be drier underfoot this year. I was not wrong and we were able to make good progress, dodging around any remaining wet sections, which were blissfully few and far between.
The sun was in and my glasses were steaming up in the humidity, so I took the opportunity to drop to a walk and switch my lens for clear ones, in preparation for the night. Once this was sorted I soon caught up with a group in front and together we began our descent towards Eskdale.
Again, it would seem my luck was in this year and I didn’t get held up too much coming down the steep descent into Eskdale by the fence line. I was however conscious of some rubbing on my back and realised that the combination of heart rate strap, heat/sweat and backpack was starting to generate a sore spot. I have had this before after races but at only ten miles in to a hundred mile event, drastic action was required and I removed the strap and stashed it to save my back. Fortunately the Garmin Forerunner 935 I was wearing has an optical heart rate sensor, so that could pick up the slack.
Before long we were running along the valley towards Boot, where I chatted with another runner and helped him retrieve his bottle of Vimto from his pack. He kindly shared this with me and I have to say it tasted amazing, a real blast from my youth.
Ahead of us was the checkpoint and I arrived with 3:06 on the clock, nearly half an hour up on my previous best time and also ahead of my planned sub-30 hour pace. I was feeling great, running by feel and not overextending myself.
Leg 3: Boot to Wasdale
I refilled one of my bottles with Mountain Fuel, drank a cup of coke, grabbed some more biscuits and was once again quickly on my way, keen to make as much progress as I could before nightfall.
Last year I had been in a lot of pain at this point and had even considered stopping but pushed on using my poles to see if that aided progress. Alas it did not and I ultimately stopped at Wasdale but I remembered the benefit the poles had brought, so decided to get them out for the climb up onto the fell side and across to Burnmoor Tarn.
I was soon in a good rhythm as I climbed back out onto the open fell. The light was fading but there was still enough to see and I knew from past races, I could probably make it around the tarn before needing my head torch. Looking back I could see the dark rain clouds coming up the valley behind us, so knew it wouldn’t be long before we got wet. I hoped that the rain would bring cooler temperates.
We rounded the tarn and were able to cross the outlet stream using rocks, again keeping our feet dry. In previous years my feet have been sodden by this point, so it was a real novelty to be beginning our descent into Wasdale with dry feet. As we reached the col to begin our descent, I stopped to take out my head torch. It had got to that point where while I could see to run, it felt risky to do so. I would be so annoyed to twist an ankle at this point, so forced myself to stop.
Others did the same around me and soon I was flying down the track towards the valley floor, a refreshing change to my limping descent the previous year, every step causing a spasm of pain in my hips.
My stomach was starting to feel quite gassy, something I had experienced during The Race to The Tower back in June and had wrecked the first forty miles of that race. This was a concern and I wracked my brains to think what could possibly be causing this. The coke consumed back in Boot was the obvious candidate, something I had drank during Race to The Tower and other races as well. I immediately decided to avoid this for the rest of the race and this proved to be the correct decision as the gas quickly disappeared as a result. Lesson learned that coke and I don’t mix well!
Again, as we descended into the valley the temperature rose considerably. I also felt the first spots of rain but it was not enough to need a jacket and brought a little relief to the temperatures. It was completely dark as I hit the road and as I turned towards Wasdale Head I stole a look backwards to take in the stream of lights coming down the valley behind me, one of those magical views on every Lakeland.
Soon the noise of drinkers at Wasdale Head Inn could be heard in the distance, along with the laughs and cheers coming from the checkpoint. The checkpoint run by Sunderland Strollers is always one of the highlights of the race and I was looking forward to seeing this years theme.
We crossed the small bridge and entered the checkpoint. Ah super heroes this year! I dibbed in with 4:22 on the clock, nearly forty minutes up on my previous best time to this point and twenty on sub-30 hour pace.
Its worth clarifying at this point that I was using John Kynaston’s planned times for his run in the 2015 Lakeland 100, as the basis for my sub-30 hour pace calculations. John is someone who I have followed for ages on social media and like a lot of people, have used his videos of the Lakeland course to familiarise ourselves with the route. John paced his 2015 effort perfectly and took an approach I was familiar with, keeping the effort levels low (by heart rate) and building into the race.
While I wasn’t being a slave to my timecard and only checked it on leaving checkpoints, his times acted as a useful gauge on my progress. I also wasn’t focussing on my heart rate and was instead running by feel, trying to keep within myself and let the race come to me. I was delighted to have John reach out to me on social media before the race and wish me luck, a gesture which was very much appreciated, thanks John.
That said, this schedule had me finishing a minute under 30 hours, so additional time in the bank now was a good thing to have.
Leg 4: Wasdale to Buttermere
With nearly twenty miles in my legs and well ahead of schedule, I opted to take a little longer at this checkpoint. I had both bottles filled, one with Mountain Fuel and another with Nuun, conscious of the big climbs over Black Sail Pass and Scarth Gap to come. Also, on the descent into Wasdale, I had eaten my first Mountain Fuel Sports Jelly, hoping this would give me a much needed energy boost on the climb to come.
I took the opportunity to have a cup of soup and then almost let out a whoop of joy when I found some small pots of rice pudding, which I quickly demolished. A final search of the table showed a lot of sandwiches but as I was trying to avoid bread I gave them a miss. I found some pork pie, grabbed a couple of pieces and shouting my thanks and farewell to The Strollers, I headed back out into the night.
Ahead lay the first significant climb of the course. Mentally I break the Lakeland route down into five sections. The first, Coniston to Wasdale is fairly straight forward and just a question of easing yourself into the race. Ahead was the second, from Wasdale to Braithwaite, which had a lot of climbing and descending, over some technical ground in places and made all the worse for being in the dark. The third would be Braithwaite to Dalemain, again more runnable and with dawn at some point as well, a double mental lift for making it over the climbs and into a new day. The final two were Dalemain to Ambleside and Ambleside to the finish but I was a long way from having to worry about those.
The ground soon kicked up in gradient and as we broke out onto the open fell the heavens opened and the first major downpour of the night was upon us. I considered continuing without a jacket but decided against it and stopped to quickly pull mine on. Knowing the rain was coming, I had put my jacket in the mesh pocket on the back of the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0, so it was easily accessible.
I had opted to carry my newest and lightest weight waterproof jacket, the new Berghaus Hyper 100, which I had only received a few weeks before. I was breaking one of the cardinal rules of ultra running as I had never tried this jacket. Keen to keep the weight down as much as possible, I had decided to take the risk but had sent another jacket ahead to Dalemain in case it proved to be a mistake. In reality it was the best decision I have every made and the Berghaus Hyper 100 performed superbly throughout the race.
As I climbed, I passed the Summit Fever Media film team descending back into the valley but by now it was raining so hard, there was only time to say a quick hello as they rushed towards the shelter of the valley and I climbed on.
As we climbed I fell in with Ian Garnett and we chatted as we walked, swapping past experiences of the race and running in general and sharing our hopes for the coming hours. Ian would eventually go on to finish strongly in under 30 hours and you can read more about his race over on his website irunthehills.com. Congratulations Ian, a cracking run and I enjoyed our chat as we climbed in the dark.
The rain soon eased and with it the need for a waterproof, as I was now boiling in the humidity. I stopped briefly to remove it after crossing the stream but was soon back climbing towards Black Sail Pass. The summit arriving shortly and with it a freshening breeze, which was a welcome relief.
The descent into Ennerdale is always an interesting experience of loose rock and soft ground, trying to find the best line and ultimately hit the bridge across the river at the bottom. I descended with a group of about five other runners in or around me and generally made good time.
It was as the angle of the ground eased up, as we approached the valley floor, that I took my first stumble. As I flew forward I felt my left calf go into a spasm of cramp and rolled onto my back on the soft ground. Two runners behind me immediately rushed forward to check if I was ok.
“My foot”, I shouted, “my foot!”
“Eh?”, they replied, both looking at me with confusion.
“I have cramp”, I explained, “quickly, push my foot towards me.”
One of them kindly grabbed my foot, which I had thrust up into the air and gently pushed it forward, the cramp melting as quickly as it arrived. I thanked them for helping, pulled myself to my feet, brushed myself down and continued on my journey.
Cramp was a concern, something I tend to suffer from time to time during the night but have yet to experience during a race. Maybe I had been too optimistic in carrying less fluid from the start and I quickly drank some more of my Nuun to get electrolytes into me. I also took the chance on easier ground to have my second Mountain Fuel Sports Jelly, ready for the climb to Scarth Gap ahead of us.
We found and crossed the bridge and passed the darkened Youth Hostel to quiet applause from the warden sitting outside. The ascent to Scarth Gap soon arrived, shorter than the previous climb but with the longer and rougher descent to Buttermere beyond.
I got my poles out again and focussed on getting into a good rhythm to the top. Within a few minutes though I could feel the tell tale spasms of cramp coming from both my adductors this time. My left adductors had been causing me considerable trouble since returning from injury and had even stopped me running last autumn before the stress fracture was officially diagnosed. Those that read my pre-race thoughts will know I had had further issues with these in the weeks before the race and as a result was wearing a lot of kinesio tape to give them some added protection.
Was this my adductors throwing in the towel? Was my race done before it had even got started?
The next thing I knew both sets of adductors spasmed with cramp and locked out and I was left standing spread eagled across the trail leaning on my poles. I wasn’t sure what to do and gently rocked from side to side, trying to stretch them out. At that point the weather gods decided to turn on the rain tap once again and I took the opportunity to pull on my jacket, seeing as I couldn’t physically move my legs.
This added delay proved invaluable and by the time I had my jacket and pack back on, my adductors had both eased. Gingerly I took a deep breath and stepped forward, expecting them to explode once again but despite the odd twinge they seemed to want to play ball. I took it easy on the rest of the short climb up to Scarth Gap and then on the loose, wet rocky descent towards Buttermere, keen to let my legs recover and toxins wash away.
Fortunately that was the last issue I was to have with cramp. I can only guess I had just nosed over the red line in terms of salt intake and my consumption of the Sports Jellies, Nuun and Mountain Fuel had pulled it back. It was a narrow escape but in future I will look to pay more attention to my fluid intake when running in such humidity.
My evenings entertainment was not quite over. You know what they say about bad things coming in threes? Well they are right!
About two thirds of the way down towards Buttermere and over the worst of the ground, a runner came up behind me who was obviously in a hurry. I heard him ask to pass a runner further back up the trail and soon he was behind me, asking to come by. I stepped right to give him space and as he come past, I instinctively turned to watch where he was going, taking my eyes off my own feet. Without warning my feet slipped out from under me and I slammed down onto my backside, smashing my right forearm hard onto a rocky slab.
It happened so quickly I was in shock and the pain from my arm was so bad I initially feared it was broken. Again runners around me enquired if I was ok. I mumbled back about my arm which I was cradling to my chest and they all moved on, seemingly happy I was in one piece.
I sat there in a daze alone in my own torchlight. Tentatively I poked my arm and there weren’t any tell tale lumps or dodgy shapes under my jacket. Another runner stopped and asked if I was ok. I explained what had happened and slowly pulled my jacket up to try and survey the damage. A huge red scar and bruising appeared along my forearm but otherwise it seemed to be in one piece and I could move my hand without any discomfort. Gingerly I climbed to my feet and lent on my poles. I seemed to be able to take weight through my arm, so fingers crossed it was nothing more than a really bad bruise – which is what it ultimately was!
I thanked the other runner for stopping – sorry I never got your name – and gingerly headed towards the valley floor, taking it steady now and relived to still be moving. As I reached the lakeside, I stopped to stow my poles and remove my jacket once again. On easier ground my confidence returned and I was soon running and enjoying the undulating path through the trees.
As we approached the village, I came up behind Stephen Braithwaite, who was surprised to see me and had obviously passed me during my tumbles or cramping over the last hour or so. Together we ran into Buttermere, chatting and comparing recent race experiences, wishing the heat would ease and the cooler weather would arrive.
Finally the checkpoint arrived and I dibbed in with 6:59 on the clock, half an hour ahead of my previous best but now bang on my sub-30 pace. My falls and issues with cramp had obviously cost me some time but it was good to still be moving forward and with just the climb to Sails Pass between me and the end of this section of the course, I had renewed confidence.
Leg 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite
The first job was to sort some chaffing, which had started in rather a sensitive area. Fortunately I had packed my Body Glide in a handy location, so dived into the Portaloo to apply. That problem sorted, and hands cleaned, it was onto the job sorting out fluids and fuel.
My water bottles were quickly replenished by the excellent checkpoint staff, a constant theme throughout the race and many thanks to all who staffed the checkpoints. Heroes one and all! I had drank both bottles on the journey from Wasdale and reloaded again with a bottle of Mountain Fuel and another of Nuun.
The checkpoint at Buttermere is famous for its hot dogs and milkshakes. However, the last time I had made it this far, my stomach had not taken too kindly to the milkshakes, so I opted to give those a miss, delicious though they were.
Stephen was leaving as I headed into the door to check what food was on offer. There were a lot of sandwiches, which were not ideal as I was trying to avoid bread. A number of the chesse ones had fallen apart though, so I grabbed the cheese and left the bread. Crisps were in plentiful supply, so I shoved some in my mouth, threw a couple of handfuls into my zip lock bag and headed out the door, keen to keep moving, get the next climb ticked off and the second stage of my race in the bag.
This was the section I was most nervous about, having missed the first tricky turn up the fell side back in 2016, resulting in a minute or twos bracken bashing to regain the path. No major damage done then but it played on my mind none the less. Two other tricky path junctions had to also be navigated in the dark before we would be successfully delivered to the next checkpoint in Braithwaite.
Even though I have run this section before, I had spent a lot of time in the run up to the race, reviewing the map and road book for this section, visualising the lay of the ground to and beyond Sail Pass. In the end I was pleasantly surprised how well it went and I was able to pick out the first two junctions from memory alone, without the need to resort to the map or road book.
In truth the climb to Sail Pass is my favourite of the three climbs we do from Wasdale. Yes, the climb goes on and on but there are some nice runnable sections and changes in gradient within it, to break up the monotony and I find I can get a good tempo up, to help tick off the metres of ascent.
I caught and passed Stephen at some point on the climb to Sail Pass. The air temperature was finally starting to drop and the wind was increasing, making it a more pleasant running environment. Ahead I could see the column of head torches going up and up and before I knew it I was cresting the top of Sail Pass and beginning my descent beneath the the crags.
Down I ran on a wider track now, only stopping momentarily to check the map when a path branched off to the left. The lights ahead suggested this was not the one to take but I wanted to be sure, as the wrong choice would mean a significant detour to get to the checkpoint.
Stephen appeared from behind and reassured me it was the next one and together we ran into the next checkpoint, chatting away and hopeful for the day ahead.
We entered the warm glow of the Braithwaite checkpoint, just under two hours after leaving Buttermere and with 8:58 on the clock. Still bang on my sub-30 pace and now nearly forty minutes up on my previous best. My second section of the route was now complete and ahead lay more runnable ground to Dalemain and the prospect of dawn and a new day. Things were looking positive and I was in good spirits.
Leg 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra
I lingered longer than I planned at Braithwaite, making the most of the food on offer and having my first black coffee of the trip. This was new for me, as I usually drink tea during ultras, although not at any other time. After my decision to stop drinking coke, I decided I needed another way to get a caffeine fix and my usual tipple of choice, black coffee, seemed like the best option.
After about ten minutes I realised I was faffing and with Stephen appearing to be settled in for a while, I decided to push on, keen to get as far as possible before dawn. I grabbed some fruit cake for the journey, told Stephen of my plans and headed out the door, sure we would see each other again shortly.
Initially I walked to let my food settle, dropping in with another runner whose name I am not 100% sure of but I think was Andrew – apologies if I got that wrong. We walked and talked until I pointed out we should be running, so broke into a gentle run along the side of the main road towards Keswick.
The chatting broke up the monotony of this section and we were soon turning off the road and onto the path, towards the cemetery and school. At this point I pulled ahead of my companion and was feeling good, so kept running. As I reached the outskirts of Keswick a larger group of runners appeared before me and as we turned onto the track up Latrigg I passed through them and quickly pulled ahead.
I was feeling good and a man on mission, so got my poles out and into the climb up to the Latrigg car park. The eastern sky was starting to get lighter, so dawn was not far away and eventually came as I climbed up Glenderaterra.
The self dib point was soon found and with my head torch now off, I turned for the run back down the valley to the checkpoint at Blencathra Centre, catching and chatting with another runner. Together we arrived just after 5am with 11:13 on the clock. 50 minutes up on my previous best now and slightly ahead of sub-30 pace.
Leg 7: Blencathra to Dockray
My chaffing had returned, so after quickly loading my bottles again, grabbing some water melon, oranges, cheese and crisps, I dived into the loo to reapply some Body Glide before heading across the fields and onto the lane down towards Threlkeld.
I was in high spirits. The sun was now up, the weather had cooled, I was making good time and felt great. It was all a far cry from last years race, as I trudged painfully off the course at Wasdale Head. As I walked down the lane towards the village, I sent a text update to my wife and sister and also posted a short social media message to keep friends updated on my progress and how I was feeling. As it turned out, despite the early hour (05:20), my wife was up getting ready for Lakeland 50, so we exchanged texts. She soon sent me packing though with a “you’re doing great, now get running!” message and I stowed my phone and jogged down the road.
A quick check into the compulsory dibber under the A66 and I was soon on the old railway line heading east towards the climb up to the Old Coach Road (OCR). I’ll be honest, like many, I am not a massive fan of this section of the course but my good mood combined with chatting to a couple of other runners during the early part of this leg, made the climb onto the OCR pass quickly. As with Grassguards earlier in the race, this stretch can be notoriously boggy but this year I was able to pick a comparatively good line towards OCR, arriving with dry feet.
The wind had increased noticeably and it was definitely cooler than the previous night, with threatening clouds gathering in the sky. I turned my phone off airplane mode and quickly sent another text to my wife warning her of this, so she could dress accordingly before departing Coniston. I felt the need for some mental distraction, so for the first time in many years, broke out my headphones during a race and listened to TalkUltra’s interview with Kilian Jornet (episode 159) about his recent record breaking Bob Graham Round.
Repair work was underway at various points along the OCR but other than that it was a fairly uneventful run for the six kilometres to the checkpoint at Dockray. I made good time, passing a few more runners and arrived at the tented checkpoint at the end of the Old Coach Road at 07:08am, nearly an hour up on my previous best and inching slowly ahead of my sub-30 plan.
Leg 8: Dockray to Dalemain
I took a little more time here than at Blencathra, conscious it was a longer leg ahead and took the chance to have some more soup and reload my bottles with my final packet of Mountain Fuel. I was complimented on my choice of socks by some of the checkpoint team, to whom I explained that I find comedy socks always lift my spirits, even in the darkest moments.
A quick scan of the food table turned up checkpoint gold, tinned peaches in 80’s style plastic champagne glasses. I quickly downed one of these and ate half a banana before grabbing my poles and walking down the road towards the village of Dockray, carrying a cup of black coffee.
Coffee quickly consumed, I stowed my cup and took advantage of the downhill section to get into the longest leg of the race, making good time through the village towards Aira Force and our first sight of Ullswater through the trees.
This section is renowned for its stunning views but as I climbed the heavens opened and I quickly dived back into my waterproof jacket. This was no passing shower and the rain would escort me all the way to Dalemain. My new Berghaus Hyper 100 jacket was providing excellent protection from the elements though. I still felt good and was looking forward to getting to Dalemain, their meat stew, my drop bag and the physiological half way point in the race.
For the next few miles I was running in and around another runner (sorry I never got your name) and we eventually came together, chatting as we hit the long and tedious road section towards Dacre and Dalemain. Last time I came through here I remembered feeling really tired and ended up using a run walk strategy with a group of other runners, to get to the checkpoint. This time it seemed to fly by and short of walking the occasional uphill stretch, I ran the whole way to Dalemain.
As we approached Dalemain my companion dropped back to eat a butty and I pulled ahead, passing Ian Garnett who I hadn’t seen since Black Sail Pass the night before. Again the track into Dalemain is a long one but this year I ran it all, feeling great and excited to be reaching the checkpoint in such high spirits.
As I turned into the car park it was a wet and empty scene before me, a far cry from the sun and cheering fifty mile runners that had greeted me last time, one of the downsides of making good progress I guess. I rounded the corner and to the cheers and applause of a handful of spectators, ran into the marquee for hundred runners as the heavens really opened!
I had arrived at Dalemain at 09:31, well over half way distance wise at just shy of 60 miles but usually half way time wise for most runners. Time wise I was now an hour and a quarter up on my time from 2016 and nearly 25 minutes up on my sub-30 plan. All was going well and I was looking forward to the second half back to Coniston.
Leg 9: Dalemain to Howtown
I had devised a plan before the race for my time at Dalemain and even had a checklist in my drop bag to help keep me focussed. The bad weather meant there were a lot of people crammed in the marquee and space was at a premium. This, combined with mental fatigue, meant that I spent far longer in the checkpoint than I should. The torrential downpour that came while I sat there also provided a useful excuse to delay my departure further.
I got stuck into the jobs in hand, while eating some food (two portions of meat stew minus the bread and two portions of rice pudding) and drinking a Mountain Fuel Recovery shake. My watch and phone were both put onto charge as I quickly switched batteries on my head torch. I then turned my attention to my feet.
My Inov-8 Race Ultras were doing a fine job, so I decided to just change my socks, which were now soaked after a couple of hours running in the rain. The undersides of each foot were showing the effects from being wet, so I dried them and rubbed a generous amount of Gurney Goo in, before putting on a second set of dry socks with foot powder inside. The kineseo tape that I had applied to my right shin was peeling off my foot under my sock. Rather than leave it I decided to rip it off, figuring it was probably not doing much good anyway, a decision I would come to regret!
It was cooler than I expected and I was kicking myself for not having sent a long sleeve base layer in my drop bag. Annoyingly I had one in there but removed it on the Wednesday evening as I tried to slim my drop bag down. Instead I had a short sleeve Salomon top. I improvised and decided to put this on next to my skin, with my damp X-bionic top and arm warmers back on over the top. Hopefully this would provide some additional warmth, as the temperatures cooled and the fatigue built.
I brushed my teeth, another first for me in hundred mile events but I had heard so many people rave about how great it made them feel, I figured there was nothing to be lost. With my bottles reloaded and fresh packets of Mountain Fuel powder, Sport Jellies and Nakd bars loaded into my pack, at last I felt ready to go.
I had been constantly busy since arriving at the checkpoint but somehow I had been there for almost 30 minutes and was frustrated with myself. The rain had stopped and the sun had broken through, so I consoled myself that I was keeping my fresh kit dry as I bade my farewells and headed out across the meadows towards Pooley Bridge.
I had fond memories of this section from 2016. In that race we had arrived as broken men but after a similar length stay had left with a new lease of life and practically flew to Howtown. The fact we were being chased by the lead fifty mile runners added to our energy as well.
As I approached the A592 I caught up with my running companion from before Dalemain, who had obviously passed through the checkpoint far quicker than me. He was unsure on the correct route down to the road, so I pointed it out and led the way, soon pulling ahead through the riverside fields and woodland on the approach to Pooley Bridge.
I crossed the temporary bridge, passed through the village and started the climb up onto Arkham Fell, passing a couple of other runners on the way. My shin however was starting to bother me. After causing me no problems at all in the first sixty miles, now the k-tape was removed, it was feeling quite sore and I kicked myself for being so quick to rip it off back at the checkpoint. I was carrying pre-cut spare tape in my pack, so decided to stop at a boulder on the side of the road and apply some fresh tape.
This proved a futile effort and wasted another ten minutes as I tried in vain to get the tape to stick to my now damp feet and legs, eventually having to give up and continue without it. As it turned out the shin didn’t really cause me any issues after that and all I achieved was wasting more time and loosing the places I had gained since Dalemain.
I strode up the hill, determined to make up for lost time and soon regained the places that I lost. The long runnable descent across Barton Fell towards Howtown dragged on longer than I remembered, only broken by the need to stop and put on and then take off my waterproof, as squally showers passed over me.
Leg 10: Howtown to Mardale Head
Ahead lay the second longest but probably hardest leg of the race, especially with over 65 miles in my legs. The route started with the infamous climb up Fusedale onto High Kop, before a run along the ridge towards Low Kop and descent to the shores of Haweswater just up before the dam. From here our work was not done, with a run of around five kilometres back onlong the shore line of the reservoir to the checkpoint at Mardale Head at the top of the valley.
Last time I had run this with Andy and surrounded by fifty mile runners but this time I stood at the start of this leg alone and to be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to it. The checkpoint was deserted apart from the marshals and another runner. I dallied, refilling my bottles and using the toilet, a good sign I was hydrated. I checked out the food table inside and grabbed some nuts and banana for the run ahead. Eventually I could no longer put off the inevitable and headed out of the checkpoint under clearing skies and warm sunshine.
Even though I wasn’t looking forward to it, I knew that once this section was completed, the back of the race would be broken and comparatively easier ground would lay between myself and the finish. So I got my head down and started the climb up Fusedale, with a couple of runners ahead of me in the distance.
As morning passed to afternoon the clouds began to gather and the wind seemed to increase a little. Last time I had climbed Fusedale I had been surrounded by fresh legged fifty mile runners, streaming passed. The valley felt deserted in comparison and I plugged my headphones in and focused on keeping up a good rhythm all the way to the summit of High Kop.
The weather had another idea and as I approached the half way point and false summit on the climb, the first spits of rain came in and the sun disappeared. Shortly afterwards I stopped to pull on my jacket, with the rain increasing and looking like it was settling in to stay.
On I climbed, slowly catching the pair of runners ahead of me and passing a couple of others. The higher we got the worse the weather became and by the time we reached High Kop it felt like it was blowing a gale and hail started to fall.
The only blessing was that the wind was coming from behind us as we pushed on along the ridge. I have been in far worse weather conditions in the UK mountains but not while wearing such little clothing. I debated stopping to pull on my waterproof trousers but decided that keeping moving was the better course of action, as I would get dangerously cold if I stopped. Once again I cursed my oversight, not putting a long sleeve base layer in my drop bag.
I passed over Low Kop and began my descent, catching the runners in front. They were momentarily confused about which was to go and I pointed them down the correct path, amazing myself that I could do this from memory. I could feel my body chilling now from even a moments inactivity and was keen to escape to the valley below, where hopefully the weather would be kinder.
Down we flew towards the bridge and deer fence. As we descended, I became aware that my shoes were loose and was forced to stop, untie and re-tie my laces, a tricky and time consuming operation with numb fingers. I ran hard to warm up and soon caught up with the others and finally we made the perceived safety of the waterside path.
My assumption that the weather would be kinder in the valley was short lived and if anything it was blowing harder. Worse still, we now had to run into the teeth of the storm all the way up the valley to the checkpoint. There was nothing for it but to pull the hood tight and get stuck into it.
I’m not sure whether it was the weather or my fatigue but the time seemed to pass quickly and before long we were approaching the head of the valley. At this point the leading fifty mile runners came skipping past, the lead runner just wearing shorts and a running vest. I was amazed how he had managed to stay warm when coming over High Kop but he was obviously a man on a mission.
As always, the trudge around the head of the valley seems to go on forever but eventually a very cold, wet and demoralised Giles jogged into the Mardale Head checkpoint. It had taken me three hours to travel the nine miles from Howtown and I was certain that my sub-30 plan had to be off now.
Leg 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere
My primary concern was to get warm and I sank into a chair and gratefully accepted a black coffee from the marshals. There were only a handful of us in the checkpoint, with half the staff hanging off the marquee, trying to stop it being blown down the valley.
I needed to get more clothes on but had limited options left, so threw on my windproof jacket under my Hyper 100 waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers with calf guards, which I had packed in case my shins gave me trouble. The calf guards required me to remove my shoes, so not the wisest choice time wise but I figured every little helped. Finally a pair of gloves and my buff went on as well just in case.
The weather was not very inviting and to be honest I wasn’t getting any warmer. I had my bottles topped up, which I hadn’t finished in the mad dash across from Howtown. In my disorientated state I did not think to add any more powder to them, so ran with diluted versions of what was already there, another decision I would come to regret later.
Other runners were leaving, so I dragged myself to my feet and headed out, figuring the climb up Gatescarth Pass would get the blood flowing again. Despite my previous confidence that reaching Mardale Head would break the back of the race, I wasn’t feeling very positive as I disconsolately trudged up the track and away from Haweswater.
The climb did little to lift my core temperature but as I reached the top, the sun came out and the long running descent towards Sadgill did the trick and on hitting the valley floor I had to stop and remove all the layers I had added at Mardale Head, as I was now overheating. Spirits restored and with more and more fifty mile runners now coming past congratulating me on still moving so well, it was a more positive Giles that turned for the climb up and over to Kentmere.
We were now into more rolling terrain. The short climb away from Sadgill was soon dispatched and I was into the dreaded walls and stiles on the approach to Kentmere. These didn’t prove to be too problematic and I overtook a few more hundred runners before finally running into a sun bathed Kentmere and the welcoming checkpoint run by the Mountain Fuel Team.
Leg 12: Kentmere to Ambleside
I had decided to spend a little more time in Kentmere and eat some warm food before heading onto Ambleside. It was just before 17:00, so it seemed the right time to eat a larger meal. The staff were really attentive and I had a good chat with Rupert, who I know from my role as a Running Ambassador for Mountain Fuel. The weather outside was the polar opposite to what we had experienced four hours before and I was keen to get moving and make the most of it.
I checked my route card and was astounded to see that I was not only two hours up on my previous best time to Kentmere but was also now ten minutes up on my sub-30 hour plan. I was amazed, as I had been convinced I had fallen off my sub-30 pace, with the dithering and delays through Dalemain, onto Howtown and the storm running to Mardale Head.
With renewed vigour I quickly gathered my stuff and prepared to leave. I emptied my zip lock bag, which has a mess of cheese, nuts and bananas in it from various checkpoints over the last twelve hours. One of the checkpoint staff kindly took pity on me and washed and dried the bag – thanks ever so much! I ate some water melon and oranges to wash down the two small bowls of pasta I had already eaten. I took a quick dash to the loo for a comfort break and to apply some more Body Glide and I was on my way.
I was on my own again but delighted to still be moving so strongly, able to really stride out on the climbs and run the descents. The short climb to Garburn Pass was soon dispatched and I got into the long runnable descent down towards Troutbeck. I decided I needed some music, so once again plugged my headphones in and started playing The Greatest Showman soundtrack – cough!
Not the coolest of music I know but uplifting and it always brings a smile to my face knowing how much our boys love it and with memories of a drunken night singing along to it with good friends. This would ultimately be my soundtrack to the race and I would listen to this on repeat on and off all the way to the finish.
As I descended more and more fifty runners came past, many slowing for a chat and complementing me on looking so strong. Apparently there were people in a far worse state behind me. This obviously helped lift my already high spirits and for the first time I genuinely started to believe that a sub-30 finish could be on. Maybe I could smash all my pre-race objectives, including my stretch goal. I planned ahead, thinking that a quick stop in Ambleside, with a longer one for food at Chapel Stile was probably the best strategy to keep me moving like this all the way to the finish.
I started the climb out of Troutbeck and a couple of fifty runners pulled alongside, once again effusive in their praise. I thanked them and chatted for a bit before they pulled ahead and once again I was alone with my thoughts, slowly tapping out the climb.
I glanced at my watch and realised it was just after 6pm. I had been running now for just over 24 hours and was approaching the ninety mile mark. The key word was running. After the last twelve months with injury I was astounded that I was still moving so well and, I am not ashamed to say, I got quite emotional and started to cry. It was a joyful cry though and I sobbed for the next five minutes, grateful that there was nobody around me and I could let the emotion of the last year come flooding out.
Eventually I pulled myself together and entered the woods above Waterhead for the final run around and down into Ambleside. This was one of the highlights of our race in 2016, with people clapping and cheering you through. I remember the approach to Ambleside being quite long then but like many times before this year, it flew by and before I knew it I was running up the road into the centre of Ambleside. I was not 100% sure but was hopeful that my sister, brother-in-law would be there with my two sons and was looking forward to seeing them all.
The applause was uplifting and much appreciated, putting an extra spring in my step and probably making me run harder than I should. At one point a guy ran up alongside me congratulating me and saying what an inspiration I was. I thanked him and expected him to pull ahead and instead he dropped back. He wasn’t another runner, rather somebody from one of the pubs who had chased up the street after me.
I descended down the road towards the checkpoint to more applause. Unfortunately there was nobody stopping the traffic this year, so I weaved my way through and headed towards the park. And there they were, my two sons with Matt waiting to escort me into the checkpoint which was a real treat.
Also, I was chuffed to see Andy Haworth waiting as well, who I high fived as I ran past and into the checkpoint just after 19:00. I was now nearly two and a half hours up on my previous best time and slightly ahead of sub-30 pace.
Sub-30 was on … or was it?
Leg 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile
I checked in and Andy came across and we chatted, talking about the route, how I felt and how well it seemed to be going. Having run the race twice himself he knew what I had been through and it was good to hear him say how well it was going and fresh I was looking.
My family held back initially but came across and it was great to see them and also hear that my wife Lea had made it safely through Mardale Head and was on her way to Kentmere in the fifty mile race.
And then it happened. I am not sure whether it was the fact I did not eat much from Howtown to Kentmere or the fact I had run harder than I should through the crowds in Ambleside but I suddenly felt really faint and sick. I recognised the symptoms straight away, having suffered something similar at the end of the Cumbria Way Ultra. My blood pressure was dropping and I quickly sat down.
My sister was immediately concerned having never seen me like this before and the marshals sprung into action, offering soup and food. I took some soup but struggled to drink it. The paramedic looked on but didn’t seem to have much to suggest, which was fine as I already knew what the issue was.
From previous experience I knew that lying down was the solution and others tried to encourage me indoors to do so. I also knew that that would be a torpedo in my race and that if I headed indoors I could be here for hours. Instead, I headed towards the toilet but they were all in use so after five minutes waiting I headed back to my chair, feeling sorry for myself.
Andy came across and gave me a pep talk and then Stephen Braithwaite arrived in the checkpoint, who I had not seen since Braithwaite. He was surprised to see me there, expecting me to be miles up the road, which I guess I should have been. He wished me luck and told me to tick off the miles and get Coniston, before heading out himself.
At no point was I considering stopping, as I knew I had loads of time in the bag and could practically crawl to the finish from here. I did realise that in those few minutes my sub-30 plan was getting away from me. I was getting cold and starting to tighten up and Andy told me that I was best to get moving. I knew he was right and so I slowly got to my feet and pulled my pack on.
There were faces of concern around me from my family and a look of determination from Andy as he practically pushed me into the park and sent me on my way. He was right to do so and speaking to my family afterwards they said it was reassuring to hear the plain speaking, no nonsense encouragement from both Andy and Stephen. While they were worried about me, this reassured them that I was doing the right thing and I tried to do my best walk/shuffle across the park and give them confidence I would be ok on the climb to Loughrigg.
Ahead of me were a few runners, including Antonio Condina, a fellow hundred runner. We fell in with each other on the climb back onto the fells and chatted as we walked, which proved a nice distraction. I was warming up but still felt quite sick and my muscles had all started to stiffen up. In all, I had spent 35 minutes in the Ambleside checkpoint, significantly longer than the few minutes I had originally planned.
As the ground eased away Antonio ran on ahead and I tried to slip into a run. Gone was the easy running of before and I was down to a slow shuffle. I was still moving at least and was confident I would get to the finish, maybe even still grabbing a PB in the process. I was disappointed to have the sub-30 plan slip away though, just as it seemed to be coming together and I consoled myself with listening to more Greatest Showman to try and lift my spirits.
My family were waiting for me at Skelwith Bridge and I assured them I was okay and that I would see them at the finish. Waving goodbye I headed on through one of the most familiar parts of the Lakeland course for me, the run into Langdale.
My feet were starting to get sore and the pitched paths around Chapel Stile and Elterwater were not the most comfortable underfoot and did not help to lift my mood. However it was still light as the Chapel Stile checkpoint came into view, which was a positive.
I had changed my plans and decided to quickly pass through this checkpoint, worried that another stop could see my blood pressure drop again. I dived into the portaloo on the way past before heading to the checkpoint to check in. Hot food and drink was offered but I politely declined, saying I intended to move on quickly.
As I approached the marquee door, I bumped into Stephen coming out, who was surprised but pleased to see me. He later said it was like seeing Lazarus rise from the dead, which was an interesting but probably accurate description considering how I had felt in Ambleside.
Inside the marquee there were crowds of people sitting at benches eating and drinking. I moved to the food table, found some oranges and ate a few. I also grabbed some Rich Tea biscuits, figuring they were quite plain and should my stomach sort itself out, they would be easy to get down.
With that I left, keen to get moving and make the most of the remaining light. I knew I was going to finish, the question now was how far past rather than before midnight it would be.
I didn’t check my pace card at this point or again during the race but looking back I arrived at Chapel Stile at 21:14. At that stage I was still over two hours up on my previous best but half an hour behind my sub-30 plan. My assumption was correct that my delay in Ambleside and slow progress on the leg to Langdale, had lost all my time gains and put me behind my sub-30 schedule.
Leg 14: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite
The light was starting to fade, so I got into a good stride, hoping to get as far as I could before I needed my headtorch. I was familiar with this part of the course, having run and climbed in The Langdales for decades, so I tried to run where possible, although this was still tough as I felt weak and tight.
I was on my own but still making good time, able to move at a brisk walk. Fifty runners were coming past me and I was in and around Alex Copley another hundred runner who I had been close to and chatted briefly with on and off since Fusedale.
We descended towards the river and began our traverse along the side of the valley behind the campsite as we started to loose the light. The high stiles across the walls were their usual joy and I even managed to get my poles caught in one of the fences. As the climb to Blea Tarn approached, I took a risk and quickly had my penultimate Mountain Fuel Sports Jelly to try and give myself an energy kick.
I started the climb and let a fifty mile runner behind me pass, telling him I didn’t want to hold him up. This climb is short, sharp and normally passes really quickly but this time it seemed to drag and for the first time I felt weak and low on energy. My nausea returned and eventually I felt the need to stop and sit on the side of the path and gather myself. Another first in the race.
By now it was dark and head torches were on and the runners behind me streamed past enquiring on my welfare. I was soon alone in the dark and realised Coniston would not get any closer sitting here, so with a deep breath I dragged myself to my feet and climbed to the road crossing at the top of the pass.
On easier ground now to Blea Tarn, the nausea subsided and I caught and fell in with Alex Copley, chatting as we walked and ran down and around the tarn.
Ahead lay the tricky traverse of Blea Moss, to the compulsory dibber on the Wrynose Pass road. In 2016 I had been wary of this section, as it was unfamiliar ground. Back then I was tired and the road book made no sense to me and I just clung onto those in front. Since then I have run this section with my wife in daylight, had a much better feel for the topography of the ground and the route to the road.
I set out confidently from the gate at the end of the tarn following the path along the wall and then a line up and around the side of Blea Moss. A group of runners had dropped in behind me but I focussed on myself and keeping a good steady pace.
Suddenly a small blue flag appeared before me. I knew that we were approaching the point that we need to cut across to the road and decided to take a chance and followed them out into the open ground. I had my Petzl Nao on its lowest 12 hour setting but could just make out the next flag at the edge of my light and was delighted to find them leading me across the ground to the road and the dibber. Thank you to whoever placed those, it was much appreciated.
The final compulsory dibber checked and what lay ahead was the tedious run to Tilberthwaite before the races sting in its tail, the climb up and over the fells back to Coniston. This has to be my least favourite stretch of the race, with the route initially descending on road before taking a track up and out of Little Langdale and through to Tilberthwaite. In your mind its only just around the corner but in reality its five kilometres, and hard work underfoot across rocky slabs and loose rock.
I was feeling hungry now, so decided to try the rich tea biscuits I had brought with me from Chapel Stile, which went down fairly well. A group of fifty runners came passed as I walked down the road to save my feet and eat my biscuits. They were in extremely high spirits, obviously happy to be heading towards the finish and one of the women sang “Giles, Giles, He runs Miles and Miles” as she came past, which put a smile on my face for the first time in a few hours.
I was alone again in the dark and once my biscuits were finished I broke into a gentle jog and soon caught up with Alex, who had overtaken me as I walked. Together we tackled the journey to the final checkpoint, chatting occasionally but mostly in silence, keen to just get the final miles done and get to Coniston. On and on the track went until finally we could see the lights of the checkpoint in the distance and the line of head torches snaking up above it, as runners headed up through the mines towards Coniston.
I could feel my strength returning and took the opportunity to have my final Sports Jelly with caffeine to hopefully give me a kick to the finish. We had already passed through a hundred miles now and as we hit the road, I broke into a gentle run, rounded the corner and crossed the car park into the final checkpoint of the race.
I remember checking my watch and seeing it was just before 23:30. Again I was frustrated to miss out on my sub-30 but knew I could get to Coniston in around 90 minutes, so I was well on for a PB. Checking my pace card after the race I was now forty minutes behind my sub-30 pace but two and a half hours up on my previous best time.
Coniston here we come!
Leg 15: Tilberthwaite to Coniston and The Finish
I was feeling stronger and with the finish line just a few miles away, I was keen to push on and see how close to midnight I could finish.
As I entered the checkpoint, somebody shouted “Giles!” And I turned to see one of the Summit Fever Media Film Team standing in front of me smiling. It was great to see a familiar face and I was initially confused, thinking that they were volunteering at the checkpoint.
He asked if there was anything I needed and I took the chance to have another cup of black coffee, which was quickly delivered. It turns out Summit Fever had been chasing me on the tracker since Kentmere earlier in the afternoon but I had been moving so quickly they kept missing me. I was asked if I would be happy to do a quick interview and I agreed, feeling in good spirits and happy to take the chance to sit down and drink my coffee.
It was a surreal experience, being interviewed sitting in the dark with a torch in my face but I rambled on about how I felt, the issues I had been having and weather we had experienced as we travelled to Mardale Head. I obviously made some sense, as some of my ramblings made it into the final cut, which you can see in the video below and at the end of this report.
I got to my feet, packed my cup and headed into the tent to see what food was on offer. I grabbed some more biscuits, eating a couple and stashing a few more in my zip lock bag just in case.
As I was preparing to leave I remembered the toll. The steps this year had been renamed Jacobs Ladder, in tribute to the small boy who had started the race all those hours ago and they were charging a voluntary toll to raise money for charity. I couldn’t see where we paid, so asked a Marshall who pointed me to the bucket. I handed him my money and got myself ready to leave.
There was a steady stream of runners coming through and I was keen to join the queue and get into the climb above. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the steps. Right, lets get this done!
Up I climbed, passing the film crew , thanking them and saying I would see them at the finish. I was then alone in the darkness, so plugged my headphones in one final time, turned up the volume on The Greatest Showman, got my head down and into the final climb.
Ahead were a couple of fifty mile runners, who were moving at a good pace and I decided to try and stick with them if I could. Up we went, weaving through the mines and path junctions and out onto the open fell above. In the distance we could see the long line of head torches stretching out before us up to the pass before the final descent into the Coniston and the finish line. We were moving quickly but I was feeling stronger by the moment and was able to stick with the group in front, passing a few others as well along the way.
Up and up we went, the climb seeming to drag without the visual references you have in daylight. As usual I eventually felt the gradient easing back beneath my feet and the wind increasing, a sure tell that the end of the climb was approaching. And then we were there, the final climb completed and ahead lay the descent into the Coppermines Valley and Coniston beyond.
In 2016 this section had been painful under my trench-foot ridden feet, each step down feeling like knife blades being shoved into my soles. My feet felt sore but no way near as bad but I was happy to sit in behind the group I had followed up the climb as we weaved our way down.
As we descended their pace dropped right off. They were obviously struggling and we were now making very slow progress. I toyed with pushing past but the path was narrow and loose and I was concerned about stumbling, so sat in and slowly we came down.
Other fifty mile runners were catching and passing us and my frustration grew. Finally the path widened slightly and as another fifty mile runner appeared from behind asking to come by, I saw my chance and followed them through. Suddenly I was clear of the group and able to open my legs.
The fifty mile runner who had passed from behind was moving at a good strong pace, running in the main. I was able to stay with them and together we literally flew down into the valley and hit the track towards the village.
A car appeared from behind but that didn’t slow us. My strength had returned and I was feeling my normal self once again and so pushed the pace into the village, passing a couple of fifty mile runners as we went.
All was quiet as I ran into the village, which was no surprise as it was now well past midnight. Into the centre of Coniston I ran, past the marshals and over the bridge. Ahead of me two fifty runners were running hard and I wondered if they thought I was another fifty runner trying to catch them. I left them to it, happy to tick along behind them and enjoy the final few moments on the course.
Before I knew it I was turning onto the lake road, which we had run up on the Friday evening and entering the final few hundred metres down to the school. To a smattering of applause from families gathered to welcome their loved ones home, I turned into the school and ran under the arch way and across the finish line!
I had done it! My second Lakeland 100 was in the bag, stopping the clock at 30:50 and covering the final section in just over an hour. I was elated, so happy to have rallied at the end and be able to finish strongly. My sister appeared from the darkness and embraced me, an obvious sense of relief on her face after she had seen me falling apart at Ambleside.
We stood and chatted a bit under the archway, unsure what would happen next. There were marshall’s there but nobody seemed in any rush to take us to the marquee, I am guessing they figured I just wanted to chat.
The entry at the finish is always a highlight, although both times I have been lucky enough to experience it, it has been a sensory overload with the cheering, bright lights and sea of faces before you. As I entered the marquee and rounded the corner, I was surprised but really pleased to see Andy Haworth waiting for me with a huge smile on his face and my medal in his hands to hang around my neck. It was great to see him and we embraced, as he congratulated me on my recovery, saying he had been following me on the tracker and willing me up and over the final climb.
A change for this year was the finish line photo and I was ushered before the camera. I was in a daze and not sure what to do or how to stand but I threw my best catalogue pose and tried my best to smile and look human into the bright light.
After that I could feel the nausea and faintness from Ambleside returning, so I tried to find a seat with my sisters help. This time I did take the opportunity to lay down, lifting my feet up onto the seat and trying to relax.
And there I stayed for the next half an hour as the colour (apparently) returned to my cheeks, happily chatting with my sister. The medic came and checked me over and a warm cup of tea was provided, which helped. I felt shattered and not really hungry, so was eventually keen to head home to bed.
As soon as I felt able I got to my feet and shuffled back to our cottage. More laying on the floor followed before I eventually just crashed onto the top of our bed, in full race kit and fell asleep.
So there we have it. Another successful Lakeland weekend, marking the end of twelve months of injury frustration and returning to Coniston to put right the wrong of 2017 – not “wrong the right” as I said in my interview in the race film by Summit Fever Media – doh!
At this stage in every report, I like to look back and see what I can learn from the experience and take forward to the next one.
So, in no particular order I have:
- The effort I put in to drop a few kilograms in body weight before the race definitely had a positive impact and if nothing else, reduced the load on my hips and legs
- I need to be on the ball more with my nutrition, especially in the later stages of the race when mental fatigue sets in. I nailed my Mountain Fuel to Dalemain but used less than half of it in the second half of the race, something I am sure contributed to my issues at Ambleside
- Coke and I don’t mix well in races and should be avoided in the future
- If it is hot and humid, carry more fluid and electrolytes or risk cramp!
- The new Mountain Fuel Sports Jellies are amazing and really gave me the energy boost I needed at key points in the race
- The Greatest Showman really can lift your mood and drive you forward. Fact!
- Put the work in, especially with core strength, believe in yourself and anything is possible
Kit and nutrition
I haven’t gone on too much about the kit I used in this post but I did try a few new things for this race, most notably the way I carried my poles, the pack I used and my jacket. Rather than go into that in detail here, I will attempt to write a separate post on this in the coming weeks.
Also, a number of people have asked me for more detail on the way I approached my nutrition before and during this race. I was also keen to look back and see if I could identify where things went wrong and how I ended up in the situation I did at Ambleside.
To that end, Lea and I have jointly written a separate article here on my website, where we go into our nutrition strategies for both the fifty and hundred mile events. If food is your thing, why not pop over there now and read all about it.
As the days passed I’ll admit to mixed feelings about how my race unfolded. Pride that I have been able to come back and put in such a strong run after my injury and improve my previous best time by nearly three and a half hours. There is however an element of frustration that I came so close to achieving all my pre-race objectives and gaining the sub-30 finish that I know I am more than capable of.
Looking back it’s difficult to put my finger on the exact cause of my blood pressure issues in Ambleside. Was it the lack of food I ate between Howtown and Kentmere that caught up with me? Was it the fact that while so diligent in drinking my Mountain Fuel in the first half of the race, I was the polar opposite in the second half, having 2.5 litres worth of powder left at the finish? Was it that I pushed too hard as I ran through Ambleside or a lack of fitness for hundred mile events, considering I only returned to running in March 2018?
In truth it’s probably a combination of all of those things that sent me off the rails and ultimately saw me fall fifty minutes short of my sub-30 hour stretch goal. But that is ultra running for you. Most people generally have at least one low point during races and I was lucky to make it ninety miles before mine struck.
I know I should count myself lucky and take the positives from this race. With only a fifty percent success rate this year, one of the lowest for a while, I am one of the fortunate few who made it all the way around and back to Coniston. To be able to remain in such high spirits for so long and be able to come away having smashed my previous time around the course, especially considering the extremes of weather we faced, is a superb achievement.
Finally and most importantly, after having been told in January that there was a strong possibility I would never run races of this kind of distance again, it’s a triumph and fingers in the air to the small group of medical professionals that doubted this was possible. Lakeland and races like it are what I love to do and to be able to come back to them after the injury ridden year I have had is brilliant. For that I will always be eternally grateful and have fond and positive memories of this race.
Besides, missing out on a sub-30 finish does at least give me a good excuse to return and try again. If I can get three successful completions under my belt then it would be rude not to try and get five and become a 500 Legend 🙂
Entries open on the 1st September for next years event and I am in two minds as to whether I return to Lakeland in 2019. My heart wants to but my head knows that after (hopefully) completing The Dragons Back next May, the chance of recovering well enough to be able to run Lakeland 100 at the end of July is questionable at best. Still, never say never and if I can make it happen I am sure I will be there.
As always before I close lout, I have loads of people to thank.
The Lakeland Race Directors, Marc and Terry of course, for putting on such a superb event and weekend. The marshall’s, checkpoint teams and all the support staff who help us before, during and after the race. People talk about the runners as legends but these are the true legends, giving up their time freely to support others in chasing their dreams, at all times of the day and night and in appalling weather. Thank you one and all!
My fellow runners, both those that I ran and chatted with throughout the weekend and the fifty runners who gave us such encouragement as they passed us in the second half of the race. Also, to the friends and family of those runners and total strangers, who offered support as we travelled around the course, at all times of the day and night, many thanks. It was always greatly appreciated.
To Ellie and The Summit Fever Media Team, thanks for your support and the opportunity to take part in the excellent short film about the event. It was great fun and apologies for moving too quickly and proving difficult to catch 🙂
To Christiaan at No Limits Photography for the superb photos you managed to capture around the course.
To John Reynolds, Bev Wing and Carl Ward, whose hands on help allowed me to get my body back in shape and to the start line stronger than ever before. Special mention to JR as always, for his friendship and wise counsel as well. Always happy to listen to me moan and groan when at my lowest and help pick me back up. Cheers buddy!
To my friends and family who provided me with messages of love and support both before and during the race, thanks ever so much. It meant a lot to know people were tracking me from afar and drove me onwards, hoping to make you all proud of me.
Special mention to my good running friend Andy Haworth, who came up to The Lakes to support me and others in person. It meant a lot to see you there and your support in Ambleside was greatly appreciated and helped me save my race – although I still question if you drugged me to slow me down and get me to come back and go for sub-30 together 😉 Seeing you at the finish and having you give me my medal was a real highlight for me. Thanks mate, you’re a legend!
To my Sister and Brother-in-law, Gemma and Matt, for coming to The Lakes to look after our boys and support Lea and I while we raced. Thanks so much, it meant the world to us all and I apologise if I caused you undue concern with my “funny turn” at Ambleside.
Finally to Lea and the boys for their love, support and enthusiasm, both in my return from injury and the Lakeland weekend as a whole. Being able to share this with you is one of the best things about this weekend and seeing the excitement on the boys faces is pure joy. Lea I am so proud of you in all you have achieved and seeing you complete the Lakeland 50 was another real highlight of the weekend for me. One day we will run the hundred together, I am sure!
So there we have it for another year. Congratulations once again to all those who took part this years and to all involved in the race in whatever capacity. It really was The Greatest Show!
For one final time, here is the short film that Summit Fever Media pulled together in record time. This gives a far broader view of the race than my report, my ramblings aside, and hopefully will inspire many others to attempt this epic journey around The Lake District in future years.