The Lakeland 100


Date: Friday/Saturday 26/27 July 2013

Distance: 105 miles (measured 106.9 miles on my Garmin)

Elevation gain: 20,428 feet

Time to complete: 28 hours 15 mins

Finishing position: 25th out of 274 starters (124 finishers)

  T        

Pre-Race

The day had finally arrived after weeks and weeks of waiting and counting down slowly.  The Lakeland 100 Facebook page had reached increasing states of frenzy, with excitement and impatience growing in equal measure amongst fellow competitors being driven mad by tapering…..

My tapering had brought its own problems.  I’d been suffering from sharp pains, and aches around my knees which then spread into my quads, IT bands and hamstrings in the 10 days leading up to the event.  I’d had a good regime of stretching, and 2 visits to the physio confirmed no injury and not even any tightness in my muscles.  It seemed that my growing nerves about my first 100 mile race were causing this tension in my legs, and “phantom” pains which were leaving me increasingly paranoid.

In the final week I busied myself with preparing the multitude of kit required for the race, making final decisions on backpacks, shoes, race nutrition etc.  I also studied John Knyaston’s videos of the 4 legs on the course that I hadn’t reccied.  I managed to reccy about 75 miles of the 105 mile course, including a night reccy on the section I would run in the dark, and was pleased with that preparation.  As it turned out, the videos which John filmed from his own reccies of the full route in 2012 would be hugely helpful in keeping me on track.

I was raising money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the donations received were reaching levels which I could not believe.  I eventually raised £2,905.  I found this really inspirational and it certainly kept me going during some tough times out on the course.  But pre-race I also let it add pressure on me to complete the race.

The Lakeland 100 is an extremely tough race to choose for my first 100 miler.  As well as the 105 mile distance, it involves climbing 2/3 of the height of Everest, and running most of the route on rocky paths and scree which the Lake District is renowned for.  By all accounts this would be an amazing event, both for the stunning route, the organisation, fantastic checkpoints and the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the competitors – 300 or so doing the 100 mile course and another 700 running the 50 mile race.

The 100 mile race starts and finishes in Coniston, stopping at 14 other checkpoints along the route.  It starts at 6pm on Friday night, with the leaders finishing less than 24 hours later, but with others running through 2 nights and finishing as late as 10am on Sunday.  The toughness of the course is spelt out by the fact that less than half the competitors usually finish.  The 50 mile route starts at Dalemain at 11.30am on Saturday.

I was hugely naive and over ambitious in my assessment of what time I would aim for.  I’d had a great running year, finishing London marathon in a 7 minute PB, and recording my best ever results in local fell races.  But I hadn’t completed a 50 mile race since October 2012 and had never attempted a course like this.  The toughness of the terrain appealed to me with my fell running background, but I was seriously underprepared for the overall distance and ascent, with my longest training runs being only 33 miles.   Secretly I was thinking I could aim for 25 hours.  Bearing in mind all of the above, that was madness in my first 100 mile race….

I drove over to the Lakes from Sheffield with my wife Kate on Friday morning.  After a few fights with the Sat Nav we arrived in Ambleside and grabbed some lunch at Zefferellis – one of our favourite places to eat, but on this occasion it was all a bit rushed as I was eager to get over to Coniston.  We arrived at John Ruskin School at around 3pm, and I went straight in to be weighed, have my kit checked, register and pick up my race number.  That still left me well over 2 hours to relax and prepare myself.

It was a lovely sunny day.  Maybe a bit too hot to run 105 miles….but after a build up week filled with heavy rain, some thunderstorms and early forecasts of more storms, I was quite happy with that.  I put my headphones on and tried a short meditation to calm me down.  Not sure how effective it was with loads of people chattering in the background and walking past my head as I lay on the ground (must pick somewhere quieter next time….), but it did help relax me nicely.  A few stretches and it was soon time for the pre-race briefing.  In the hall I met my mate Matt from Newcastle, who I had done much of my race prep and reccying with.  Race organisers Marc Laithwaite and Terry Gilpin gave a great briefing with loads of important facts – half of which passed me by, as my mind began to race around and anxiety about the impending challenge started to grow again.

The briefing ended at 5pm, leaving an hour before the race.  I sprinted for the portaloos, before the queues built up, and got my race kit on.  I then met Kate again, just in time for her to lead me through some pre-race yoga (watched by a bemused Matt!).  I always try and do a bit of yoga before races, and this was really good to calm me, stretch my muscles and focus my energy.  I was feeling good and the anxiety was being replaced by excitement and determination.  I kissed Kate goodbye and headed towards the start.

Before getting to the start line we had to check in our electronic dibbers to register that we were at the start of the race.  After a bit of a wait and a brief chat to a few marshals, I was the first to dib myself in and found myself first onto the start line!  Whilst not wanting to start too fast, I also wanted a clear run and to stay out of the crowds, so was quite happy to be standing on the front row.  I had no intention of staying there when the race began.  The crowds were building outside the school.  The sense of anticipation went up another notch as the Nessum Dorma was blasted out.  Almost time to go……

Leg 1: Start (Coniston) to Seathwaite –  Here we go!

7 miles, 2,162 feet

14th position, 1 hour 12 mins 59 secs

                     

Photo by Michael Atkinson

As the music ended, Marc Laithwaite started the crowd counting down from 10, the hooter sounded and we were off, up the hill and round into Coniston.  Three guys went off at a blistering pace up front, while I was at the front of the next pack of runners.  It was great running through the sunny village past cheering crowds.  I blew a kiss to Kate, and was then focused on the massive task ahead.  It was hard to comprehend that I’d just started a run which would last for over 24 hours!?!

As we climbed out of Coniston on the road up to the Miner’s Bridge, I kept having to check my pace and slowed myself down a few times.  This theme continued on the steeper climbs up eventually to Walna Scar at around 2000 feet – I was surprised how many people were running up the hills.  I knew how easy it would be to go too fast early on and suffer later, and my plan was very much to walk up the hills, run the flat and downhill sections.  That said, it was very hard to hold myself back and let the other runners go – but I knew I had to run my own race.

The views around the Old Man of Coniston and surrounding hills were stunning on a beautiful summers evening.  This was going to be an amazing race.

              

All 3 photos by Adam Rose

Starting the long descent to Seathwaite. Photo by Adam Rose

We eventually summited Walna Scar and started the descent towards Seathwaite.  I let myself enjoy the downhills and overtook a number of runners on the way down.  I figured it was OK to go fairly fast downhill as long as I kept a relaxed form, with my priority being to avoid putting pressure on my quads by breaking too much.  Soon I was entering the village hall in Seathwaite and dibbing in at the first checkpoint.  A good feeling and it felt like the journey had really begun.

Leg 2: Seathwaite to Boot in Eskdale

7 miles, 1,263 feet; 14 miles overall

15th position, 2 hour 31 mins 56 secs

I took a while at the checkpoint to top up my waters , get my map for the next leg out and make my food accessible to eat on the move.  Others were coming and going far more quickly and I probably lost about 5 or 6 places at the checkpoint.  This bothered me a bit, but as the race went on I learnt that it was far more important to take time to re-group at checkpoints than to rush through them.

I enjoyed this leg, over fairly gentle hills and woodland.  I gradually regained some of those lost places and joined a group of 4 or 5 runners for the final descent towards Boot.

Descent into Eskdale. Photo by Adam Rose

As we approached Boot I pushed on strongly.  This checkpoint was the first one where race positions would be recorded on the race website, and I liked the idea of being in a good race position when family and friends checked my progress for the first time.  All quite pointless in the bigger scheme of things, but I enjoyed passing more runners and reaching Boot in 15th position.

Heading into Eskdale

Leg 3: Boot to Wasdale Head

5.4 miles,974 feet; 19.4 miles overall

18th position, 3 hour 32 mins 27 secs

Again I lost about 5 places during the checkpoint turnaround.  When I set off I was about 400 yards behind the group of runners who I’d run into Boot with.  I struggled to make ground on them.  In the main this is quite a runnable leg, climbing gently to pass Burnmoor Tarn and the group ahead were running quite strongly, including some of the uphills.  I started to feel frustrated and a bit fed up – it wasn’t that I was worried about race position, but I wanted to run in a group and felt that the company would help the miles pass more quickly and enjoyably.

After Burnmoor Tarn, I started the descent towards Wasdale Head.  Again I picked up speed on the downhill and gained ground, eventually catching the group before Wasdale campsite.   It was around 9.30pm, and Wast Water looked stunning in the fading dusk light.  We headed on for another mile to the checkpoint – I was struggling to keep up with the group and feeling that I might have pushed a bit too hard on this section and the one before.  A bit worrying with only 19 miles done and 86 to go…..

Leg 4: Wasdale Head to Buttermere – Fading fast

6.9 miles,2,188 feet; 26.3 miles overall

21st position, 5 hours 37 mins 11 secs

Arriving at the Wasdale Head checkpoint we were greeted by a man in a white suit with shades and an Afro wig, a woman in sparkling blue with white boots and blonde frizzy wig, flashing disco lights and 70s music…and several other members of the Sunderland Strollers running club (who were looking after this checkpoint) dressed in similar 70s disco gear.  It was the Stroller Disco checkpoint!  As well as giving us a great laugh, they were also incredibly helpful.  I took my time here, enjoying the fun, and a cup of butternut squash soup – just what I needed.  I also put on my headtorch with darkness approaching.  Again I lost places to people who were in and out more quickly than me, but I did need to sort myself out and get some hot food down me.

Sunder;and Strollers - the best checkpoint crew! Photo by Dan Anderson

Buoyed by the food and disco I left the checkpoint in better spirits.  I headed out of Wasdale and onto the fells feeling stronger for a while.  But as we started to climb more steeply up towards Blacksail Pass, I started to tire and felt weary.  When I crossed Gatherstone beck, I briefly lost the path and took a much steeper route for a short while before regaining the path towards Blacksail.  That steeper line away from the path sapped my energy further.  The remaining climb up to the Pass was very slow plodding.

From both a daytime and night time reccy this leg was my favourite part of the course, climbing the valley out of Wasdale, down into Ennerdale and then up, over and down to Buttermere.  But tonight I was not enjoying it.  I eventually topped out at Blacksail Pass and started the steep and very rocky descent into the next valley.  This is a tricky, technical descent in day time.  It was now getting dark (around 10.15pm) making the descent particularly difficult.  I picked my way down carefully, and was unhappy to be passed by another runner descending confidently.  I’m normally quite strong on the downhills and like the more technical stuff, but tonight’s struggle was typical of the way I was feeling.

In the end I reached the grassier banks and continued onwards, over the bridge at the bottom and past Black Sail Youth Hostel.  I started to feel a bit better as I climbed on up to Scarth Gap.  At one point I turned and looked back on the descent from Blacksail Pass – in the pitch blackness it was amazing to see a steady stream of small lights scattered along the hill, as other runners descended with their head torches on.

Having climbed Scarth Gap I began the long descent to Buttermere.  The first part of this descent is again very rocky and soon this was taking away all my energy again.  It seemed to take an age to negotiate the rocky path before I got down to the better paths near the lake.  I then started the 2km run round the lake to the checkpoint.  I was managing to run, but really having  to grind it out.  A few more runners passed me, including a couple of guys who I think were Greek who flew past at some speed (and must’ve kept it going judging by their ultimate 10th & 11th places).

I was feeling really low by now.  I couldn’t see any way of me completing another 80 miles.  But I couldn’t throw in the towel after just 26 miles.  So many people had sponsored me for this and I was in danger of bailing out after a quarter of the race.  The best I could think was to try and grind it out and see if I could get towards Dalemain – this would be 59 miles, my longest ever run.  That seemed a long way off…..

Leg 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite – Turning the corner?

6.5 miles,1,880 feet; 32.8 miles overall

28th position, 7 hours 33 mins 15 secs

Buttermere village hall was a welcome sight, but not as welcome as the cup of soup which was swiftly handed to me, with 2 helpings of salt to restore lost electrolytes.  I must have looked in a bad way, as the checkpoint staff offered me a seat indoors.  I realised I needed a while to get myself together and so took my time drinking 2 cups of soup and sorting out my bag.  I hadn’t lost as many places as I expected on the previous leg, mainly because 3-4 runners took a wrong turning and did an extra mile before Scarth Gap….  but I must have lost a number of places in the Buttermere checkpoint.  That didn’t matter – most importantly I left the checkpoint feeling a lot better.

I started off through the woods and onto the open fell before turning left for the short climb up onto the path contouring Whiteless Breast.  It was nice to pass a couple perched on the path offering support – presumably campers since it was around midnight.  The next mile or so involved contouring round 3 sections of hill, with short sharp drops to cross 3 becks and then short climbs to regain the paths on the hills.  I was running steadily and took time to take in the beautiful evening – an almost full moon and hundreds of bright stars decorating the sky.

A handful of runners passed me.  It didn’t bother me – although I was feeling a bit better my thoughts were still more about getting to Dalemain checkpoint at 59 miles, not finishing the whole race.  Interestingly, I learnt later that a number of these runners who passed me didn’t even reach Dalemain before dropping out…..

Soon after the 3rd stream the very steep ascent up to Sail Pass begins.  This a real test, close to 30 miles in.  I ground through this slowly but quite strongly.  I then began the initially steep and rocky drop down the other side before the path plateaus a little.  I was concentrating hard to make sure I picked up the correct path forking off to Barrow Door, having taken the wrong path in my previous reccy.  I was pleased to get on the right path which climbed gently up to Barrow Door before starting the long descent into Braithwaite.  I was feeling happy to have kept on track and was actually feeling quite strong again.  I took off past a guy who had edged in front of me and picked up the pace down the wide grassy path towards the village.  After a really enjoyable fast run down from Barrow Door, I was soon in Braithwaite and approaching the church hall and the next checkpoint, 33 miles in.

Leg 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre – Back on track!

8.5 miles,1,568 feet; 41.3 miles overall

29th position, 9 hours 39 mins 19 secs

The Braithwaite leg was a turning point for me.  I’d felt much stronger and happier as that leg progressed.  At the checkpoint I wolfed down 2 bowls of pasta and tomato sauce, with the obligatory sachets of salt.  This left me feeling stronger still.

I left the checkpoint at the same time as another couple of guys (Duncan and another guy whose name I can’t remember) from the group I’d run with in Legs 2 and 3.  They were strong runners, much more experienced in 100 milers – however they are from Devon and so had been unable to reccy the course.  So we teamed up, me helping them with the navigation, with their stronger running pulling me along at a decent pace.

The 2km stretch on the A66 passed quickly with some company.  As we headed on the track towards Keswick I took us on a wrong turn around the graveyard – a bit spooky at 4am!  I’d also done this on my night time reccy and used my knowledge from that to get us back on track with only a couple of minutes lost.

We headed up through Latrigg woods and onto the long stretch contouring the valley along and back to the Blencathra Centre.  This was a fairly long leg, at just over 8 miles.  On the whole I’d dealt with it well, with combination of steady running and fast walking.  I reached the checkpoint about the same time as 5 or 6 other runners, in 29th position.  41 miles done and feeling OK.  During this leg, I’d gradually come to the conclusion that 105 miles might be achievable, and started to discard my plan to drop out at Dalemain – during the next 2 legs, that plan was ditched completely and I was back on track!

Views from Blencathra leg later that morning - still dark when I was there. Photo by Adam Rose

Leg 7: Blencathra Centre to Dockray – Pairing up

7.7 miles,1,368 feet; 49 miles overall

30th position, 11 hours 29 mins 57 secs

I left the Blencathra Centre at the same time as another runner, Mark from Cornwall.  We started running together and paired up to work out the route – the next 2 legs were ones which I hadn’t reccied.  I ended up running with Mark for the next 7 hours, and this played a massive part in getting me through the race.

As we left the checkpoint daylight was starting to emerge.  This was a nice leg through some fields and wooded tracks, before a 6km stretch on a good, undulating track through to the next checkpoint at Dockray.

Mark started the leg running a bit stronger than me, but I managed to stay with him and this really helped my progress.  During the final few miles we worked out that we stood a good chance of getting to Dalemain, at mile 59, within 14 hours.  We talked about targeting 26 hours for the full race if we could get to Dalemain in that time.  That would give us 12 hours to do the final 46 miles – which felt possible if a little ambitious.  In the end it was too ambitious for me, although Mark finished in about 26 hours 24 mins.

We were surprised not to see any other runners during this leg.  Mark was a far more experienced 100 mile racer and was confident that we would gain places if we could keep going at this nice steady pace – a lot of runners had gone off fast and would probably suffer in the heat.  He was right, and ultimately gained a lot of ground to finish 14th – too strong for me in the end.

As we got closer to Dockray, the sun was rising above the hills – an impressive sight and the end to a beautiful starlit night.  We also saw a young deer bouncing up the hill – there was an impressive variety of animal sightings across this race.

We came into Dockray checkpoint in 29th and 30th places.  I was feeling good and enjoying it now.  I was up for the chase, I was racing and keen to press on to Dalemain in good time.

Leg 8: Dockray to Dalemain – Stunning views and a load of bull!!

10.1 miles,1,214 feet; 59.1 miles overall

25th position, 13 hours 45 mins 53 secs

More soup at the Dockray checkpoint, with a bread roll soaked in it – lovely.  We didn’t hang about too long and were soon off down the road towards the village of Dockray.  This was the longest leg of the race, at just over 10 miles, but there wasn’t too much climbing and if we could do it in a couple of hours then we’d reach Dalemain inside 14 hours, which was the target.

After a nice run through some shaded woods, we soon climbed up and started contouring Gowbarrow fell.  This was one of the highlights of the race for me.  The early morning views of Ullswater (at about 6.30am) were just stunning.  We were running parallel to the lake, looking down on it as the rising sun shone down on the water.  The photos below show the views a little later in the day (taken by another runner) – they are good but can’t fully capture the beauty of this sight.
         T   

 Photos both by Adam Rose                           

We dropped down off Gowbarrow and through more woodland, enjoying the shade.  The early morning sun was already strong and it was an ominous sign of how hot the day would be.  Soon we reached a series of 3 or 4 fields which we had to cross.  At the first one, a group of cows were blocking our way.  I’m scared of cows, having been chased and had a narrow escape during a run last year.  Closer inspection revealed that one of the cows was actually a bull.  I tried to contain my panic.  There were 4 of us at this stage, wondering what the best strategy was.  In the end Mark clapped his hands and shouted at the animals.  The bull took a step back, shook itself and seemed to square up to us….but then ran off with the other cows, leaving the way clear.  Hugely relieved I continued cautiously, with the other guys, across the fields.

The leg finishes with a few miles of road and then a good track after the farm, into the grounds of Dalemain House.  Mark and I had left the other runners behind and pushed on strongly.  We arrived at Dalemain in 13 hours and 45 minutes, inside our 14 hour target, in 25th and 26th position.  Dalemain is a significant landmark in the race – the only drop bag point and the start for the 50 mile.  It was a really good feeling to arrive here in pretty good shape, feeling positive.

Leg 9: Dalemain to Howtown  – Heating up

7.1 miles,965 feet; 66.2 miles overall

25th position, 15 hours 43 mins 15 secs

I had a good sort out at the checkpoint.  It was great to change my full kit.  I decided to get rid of my Skins compression shorts, and it felt great just to have normal shorts on, whilst a new pair of socks and shoes was also a huge comfort.  I had some tasty blisters developing on the undersoles of my feet and got these cleaned up and dried out with some powder.  A couple of bowls of soup and bread and I was ready to go.  Mark and I were on our way again by 8.10am, a 25 minute turnaround which was pretty good at this big checkpoint and with the 26 hour target in mind.

t                        

Soon after leaving Dalemain we had another bull problem.  We could see a group of cows and one bull blocking a gate at the end of the field we’d just entered.  A different route and a clamber over a barbed wire fence saw us past them with less incident than last time.  We ran through Pooley Bridge and started climbing the good path out of the village and back up onto the hills.  During this leg we passed the 100km mark.  All of this was uncharted territory for me, much longer than my previous longest ever run of 51 miles.

The day continued to warm up and I noticed that I was finding the going a little tougher.  Mark seemed to be running more strongly than me as we dropped down towards the side of Ullswater.  I dug in and just about managed to keep up with him.

Descent towards Ullswater. Photo by Amanda Seims

As we approached Howtown there were a number of placards with mantras written on them.  Here’s one very apt one:

Photo by Graeme Sinclair

The next mantra was more significant and stuck in my mind for the rest of the race.

Photo by Graeme Sinclair

Before Howtown we saw a red squirrel close by in the trees.  I’d never seen one before – the theme of fantastic scenery and nature on this amazing route continued.  Soon after, we were arriving at the Howtown checkpoint, still doing nicely in 24th and 25th places.  But it was getting very hot and I was feeling weary as I slumped into a chair in the checkpoint.

Leg 10: Howtown to Mardale Head –  Mad dogs and Englishmen….

9.4 miles,2,510 feet; 75.6 miles overall

24th position, 18 hours 36 mins 27 secs

This next leg well and truly did me in!  I sat in the checkpoint enjoying the shade and some lovely fresh cool pineapple.  I was struggling to drag myself out of the chair, knowing that the next leg is probably the toughest on the course.  It starts with a long arduous 2,000 foot climb over, through Fusedale and up to High Kop, the highest point on the course, and ends with a 5km undulating route around Haweswater on rocky paths – and I’d be doing this in the heat of the midday sun.

Mark must have got sick of waiting for me to move and set off on his own.  This stirred me to move and I dragged myself off up the path and soon caught him as we moved into Fusedale.

The climb up through Fusedale was as tough as I expected.  The heat was really hurting me.  I drained my 2 bottles very quickly and was relieved to find a stream to top up and also to soak my cap in and pour over me a couple of times – bliss!  I continued to grind my way up the grassy track.  I told Mark to push on, which he did, although I managed to keep him in sight which helped drag me along.

Climb up through Fusedale (no clouds when I was there...). Photo by Amanda Seims

Eventually I reached the top of the climb and felt better for doing so.  The middle section of this leg has some great running on a wide grassy track before the scenic descent to Haweswater.  I ran strongly in this section, feeling quite good and enjoying the running.  But as the descent started I lost the path, and had to cut down through some thick bracken which unnecessarily sapped more energy


The drop down to Haweswater.  Both photos by Amanda Seims

I wasn’t far behind Mark as I started the run around the edges of Haweswater to the next checkpoint at Mardale Head.  But this section was really tough and started to knock the stuffing out of me.  I managed to keep moving – but the path is rough and rarely allows steady running.  It is beautiful and I loved the views of Haweswater when I reccied this – but I was less appreciative today.  I thought I was progressing OK towards the end of the lake, but it is deceptive – what looks like the turning point at the top corner of the lake is actually just hiding the continuing path along the lake edge.  Eventually I saw Mark well ahead of me turning the corner of the lake and I watched him progress along the North shore, behind the woods and emerge on the other side near the checkpoint – he looked a tiny figure in the distance and it felt like miles to the checkpoint.  The heat was unrelenting and my morale was dropping.

I plodded on, and started to feel a little happier as I crossed the top end of the Lake and considered the prospect of a seat and some hot food.  Eventually I was dropping down the short hill, hearing the cow bells ringing to greet my arrival, and I was able to slump into a seat in the tent at Mardale Head.  Bizarrely I’d actually gained a place during this leg, climbing to 24th – no one passed me during this journey of close to 3 hours and presumably someone higher up the field had dropped out.  All quite irrelevant – I was just bothered about whether I could actually finish….and I was not sure about that.

75 miles done – and the toughest leg of the course complete.  A great achievement – but how much had it taken out of me, particularly with what lay ahead of me straight after this checkpoint……

Leg 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere – Almost broken

6.5 miles,1,677 feet; 82.1 miles overall

25th position, 20 hours 46 mins 56 secs

The start of the next leg is one of the toughest parts of the route.  75 miles in and we have to endure the steep climb of close to 1000 feet in under a mile, up from the checkpoint to Gatesgarth pass.  I saw Mark again when I arrived at the checkpoint – he stayed for a couple of minutes before heading off, wanting to get this killer climb out of the way.  I stayed a while longer, getting some soup down me and sorting out my bag, making food accessible etc.

After about 10 minutes I plucked up the courage to leave and face into the big climb.  It was still very hot, and I was moving very slowly up the rocky path, round one switchback after another.  But I eventually got to the top of the pass, feeling a good sense of achievement.  This soon disappeared as I started the long descent.  Most of the descent, for the next few miles, is on an awful track – a never ending mix of loose scree and small jagged rocks which batters the feet throughout.  This not only hurt my feet but it took all the energy out of my legs.  I started feeling pretty miserable, only lifted temporarily by the shouts of encouragement of walkers & cyclists going the other way – it’s a lovely feeling to keep being told “you’re amazing!”.  This type of support meant so much and was a great help, even if I didn’t believe what they were saying, and certainly didn’t feel amazing!

It was then time for another climb, up past Sadgill woods.  I underestimated how long this climb was and the realisation that it was as least twice as high as I’d thought was a sickener.  One big hill after another and it was sucking the life out of me.  This is the only leg of the course which I don’t like.  The scenery isn’t the prettiest, the middle stretch after Gatesgarth has the awful rocky path, and then the final hill is dull but energy sapping, 80 miles in.

I picked my way down the other side eventually arriving at the checkpoint in Kentmere.  At this point I couldn’t see myself finishing the race.

Leg 12: Kentmere  to Ambleside – Dropping out?

7.3 miles,1,611 feet; 89.4 miles overall

28th position, 23 hours 14 mins 05 secs

I sat in the hall feeling quite dejected.  I was spent.  I decided I would get to Ambleside (the next checkpoint) whatever happens, and would call my wife, Kate, to arrange to meet her there, with the expectation that I would pull out of the race at that point.  As a last throw of the dice I ate 2 bowls of pasta in the hope that this would give me the extra energy I so desperately needed.  Then I dragged myself up and headed on up the road.

Soon I was climbing Garburn pass.  Again it was a really rocky ascent, seemingly going on for ever.  I wasn’t feeling any stronger and couldn’t see any way I could continue.  Eventually I reached the top, and started the long descent to the A591.  I was telling myself that Ambleside would be 90 miles, and getting that far and giving up wasn’t so bad.  But another small voice in my head kept playing back the sign I’d seen before Howtown – “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever”.  Maybe I should keep going….but 15 miles after Ambleside would take 5 hours, possibly more – that seemed too long to suffer like this, especially as it probably meant going into a second night section.  No, I had to stop at Ambleside.

On the way down I called Kate and arranged to meet her at Ambleside.  She sounded a little surprised.  I was looking forward to seeing her.  But the phone call made it real.  I was going to pull out in a few miles.  This huge adventure which I had been preparing for, for months, would soon be over and would end in failure.  I would be letting down all the people who had sponsored me and who were supporting me.  As I headed down towards the A591, the tears started.

I plodded on slowly, crossing the main road and heading up through Troutbeck and then continuing the climb up Robin Lane out of the village.  At this point a look to the left gives stunning views across Windermere – not that I was in any mood to appreciate them.  A left turn at the top of the hill took me past the farm and through Skeghyll Woods, and onwards into Ambleside.  I’m not sure at what point this happened, but I was starting to move a little better.

I ran through the town, enjoying the cheers and shouts from the drinkers sat outside the White Lion.  A couple of minutes later I was headed down Vicarage Road towards the checkpoint.  The cheering crowds were a real inspiration here.  I saw Kate, and waved before heading into the checkpoint.  I reached Ambleside after 90 miles, at about 5.15pm, having been on the go for 23 hours and 14 minutes.

       t      
   Arriving at Ambleside Checkpoint.  Both photos by Paul Dobson.

After dibbing in and grabbing a couple of cups of soup I came out to talk to Kate.  I found myself saying that I was going to try and continue, that I’d try walking rather than running the next leg and one way or another I’d get to the finish.  When did I change my mind?  Hadn’t I decided to drop out here?  I don’t know what happened to change my plans…. The “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever” mantra had won the day.  Maybe it was the realisation that I was feeling a bit better on the final part of the section…. Maybe it was the cheering crowds in Ambleside… Probably it was all this.  I just couldn’t give up.  I could not run 90 out of 105 miles, only to leave this amazing adventure unfinished – I could not walk away from this fantastic event!

Still going! Getting ready to leave Ambleside.

Leg 13: Ambleside to Langdale  - Walking towards recovery

5.6 miles,768 feet; 95 miles overall

27th position, 25 hours 04 mins 45 secs

I chatted to Kate while I drank my soup, then headed back inside to collect my backpack etc.  Kate walked with me as I left the checkpoint and headed across Rothay Park.  I said goodbye at the start of the next climb up onto Loughrigg Fell.

I managed this climb pretty well.  After dropping down into Skelwith Bridge, I then joined the path alongside Elterwater for a couple of miles.  I stuck to my plan of walking this section, but managed to walk at a brisk pace, swinging my arms as I went.  This turned out to be a really good approach.  I slowly started to feel stronger, and probably moved almost as fast by walking as I would have with my tired running shuffle.  Looking back, I think walking and swinging my arms freely was releasing energy around my body, slowly giving me the boost I needed.

After the Wainwright Inn, I headed through the campsite at Langdale, which was buzzing with campers playing, drinking beer, preparing food and shouting encouragement – or in some cases just staring at these weird people, probably unaware that we’d been running for 95 miles and over 24 hours….

A tent in a field at Langdale represented the next checkpoint.  A welcome site.  Only 2 legs and 10 miles to go….

Leg 14: Chapel Stile to Tibberthwaite – Back in the game!

6.5 miles,1,270 feet; 101.5 miles overall

27th position, 27 hours 13 mins 17 secs

In the depths of despair and suffering before Ambleside, I lost 3 places which was when 3 runners passed me about 10 yards before the Ambleside checkpoint.  During my walking leg from Ambleside to Langdale, I actually gained a place taking me back to 27th overall.  I felt as though I had gone so slow over the last 30 miles and was amazed only to have lost a couple of places – a sign of how tough everyone else was finding it.

I’m not sure if this is my hazy memory, too long without sleep, but I seem to remember sitting on a nice comfy sofa inside the checkpoint tent at Langdale.  I enjoyed the music whilst tucking into some hot food.  I could have happily sat there a while longer but I had a job to do.  Off I plodded, onwards and upwards.

I carried on with the fast walking in the early part of this leg, through farmland in the Langdale valley.  I expected this leg to take a couple of hours, and needed to pace myself carefully.  I was definitely feeling stronger, and dealt with the climb up Side Pike well.  I was running again, at a reasonable speed, as I went around Blea Tarn, trying to gain ground on a couple of 50 mile runners ahead of me.  It was a good feeling to be running again, and I couldn’t quite believe that my strength had returned after feeling so weak for so long, a few hours earlier.

From Kentmere onwards I had been passed by a number of people running the 50 mile race.  The winner of the 50 miler, Ben Abdelnoor passed me at an incredible speed on the way down from Garburn Pass before Ambleside, giving me shouts of encouragement .  That was a continuing theme.  All of the L50 runners were amazing, giving so much encouragement as they passed me.  I was really moved and inspired by their support.  My only regret is that I don’t think I adequately returned that support – they too were completing an incredibly tough race too, and I wish I had been “with it” enough to pass on my encouragement to them.

After Blea Tarn I continued through rocky fells, dibbed in at the compulsory checkpoint, down the road and then up the path which would take me up and over to the Tibberthwaite checkpoint.  I was back to a strategy of running the flat and downhill sections and walking the ups.  At some point during the latter stages of this leg I passed the 100 mile mark in my run – WOW!

Approaching Blea Tarn in the fading light. Photo by Adam Rose

The light was fading, and clouds were increasing.  I had even heard distant thunder earlier in this leg.  I was feeling pretty good, although the path to Tibberthwaite felt as though it would go on forever, and at times I did start to worry whether I was on the right path.  Eventually I saw High Tibberthwaite Farm, which confirmed I was on track.  That gave me confidence to pick up speed for the half mile or so down the hill to the penultimate checkpoint.

Leg 15: Tibberthwaite to Coniston – Final charge!

3.5 miles,928 feet; 105 miles overall

25th position, 28 hours 15 mins 26 secs

I didn’t hang about at this checkpoint. Frustratingly I realised that I would need my head torch again during this final leg – the thought of using it again had never crossed my mind when I switched it off after Blencathra around 16 hours earlier….. but on it went before I left the checkpoint.  Once again the checkpoint staff were amazing – picking bottles off the floor to save me bending down, giving out fantastic encouragement and sending me on my way feeling great and raring to get this done with.

The final few miles of the race went amazingly well.  I pushed on strongly up the steep ascent from the checkpoint, feeling good and moving upwards at a reasonable pace.  Eventually the path started to level out and meandered alongside Crook Beck and then over open fell.  I ran the flatter parts, trying to keep some L50 runners in front of me in my sights, and setting myself a challenge of keeping ahead of the 50 mile runners behind me.

For a while I lost sight of the runners ahead.  I knew the route, but was too tired to really concentrate on navigation, and became nervous of going wrong so close to the finish.  After a few nervous minutes I was relieved to regain sight of head torches ahead of me – soon I was crossing the beck next to the  familiar lone tree, before the final gentle climb to the summit.

A couple of Sunderland Strollers, who were running the 50 race, caught me at the summit – passing on the usual fantastic encouragement.  I tried to race with them on the rocky descent.  I loved it!  I treated this like a fell race, often throwing caution to the wind as I leapt down from rocks and generally disengaged my brain in true fell running style!  One of the Strollers was well ahead by the time we reached the track to the bottom.  I raced along the track with the other Stroller, who I think finished as second lady in the L50 ace,, for the final mile or so into Coniston.  I really was racing, somehow managing to sprint flat out right through to the finish, overtaking a few 50 and 100 runners along the way.

With adrenalin pumping, I reached the T junction by the Black Bull and turned right into Coniston.  There were quite a few people out supporting, despite the late hour.  As I turned left onto the final road down to the finish the crowds increased.  It was the most fantastic feeling, to be finishing strongly at the end of my first 100 mile race.  I waved my arms about like an idiot, unable to contain by delight, before turning the corner into John Ruskin School, crossing the finish line and checking in my dibber for the final time.

Sprinting into the finish - bit of a blur!

My speed on this section was hard to comprehend, given the desperate state I was in earlier on.  I don’t know what happened but it was like an out of body experience.  Mile 105 was by far my fastest of the whole race!  Two of the runners who I passed near the end were L100 competitors who had passed me at Ambleside.  I ran the final section in just over an hour and gained around 15 minutes on those two runners during this 3 ½ mile leg.

Not long after 10.15pm I was led into the school hall, and announced – it was an amazing feeling to receive my finishers medal and T shirt and to enjoy the cheers of the runners and supporters in the hall.  The support of other runners, marshalls and support staff, and spectators throughout this amazing race was incredible – completely inspiring.

It was also so important to have Kate with me in the Lakes that weekend.  Having her close by really kept me going, and I think I may well have packed in at Ambleside had she not been there.  I soon found Kate outside the school – it was so good to see her again.  We were both so pleased that we were now celebrating in Coniston, 5 hours on from what seemed a probable early finish in Ambleside.

The final leaderboard in Coniston - 25th place

I checked the leaderboard in the hall and saw that I had finished in 25th place in 28 hours and 15 minutes.  This might have been well off my original target time for the race, but I didn’t care one bit.  I’d been completely naïve with my pre-race targets and really had underestimated the exhausting effect of running this distance, on rough terrain, and the constant climbs and descents which added up to over 20,000 feet of total ascending – especially in hot conditions.  I’ve learned a huge amount from this.  After coming so close to dropping out after 90 miles, I was completely over the moon.

Happy Boy!

What a fantastic day (and a bit)!  What an incredible race this is!


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply