Lakes in a Day Ultra Marathon

I entered Lakes in a Day after watching aerial clips from a previous year on Facebook. The runners were crossing the mountain ridges in brilliant sunshine with outstanding views. I had heard it was bad weather last year and knew that the weather could turn out to be vary changeable in the Lakes just like here. I hadn’t noticed how much elevation was involved in the race though, and realised quite far into the training that I’d have to get far more hill ascents done before the race to avoid a nasty shock on the day. Luckily the Pentlands helped me out there and I hoped I had just done enough to get me through, as the 50 mile course has 4,000 metres ascent (13,100 feet).

Looking at the elevation I knew my time would be affected greatly by the number of hills in the fist 29 miles of the course to Ambleside. The race then changes from a fell run into trails along the lake sides. The organisers offer a shoe change at Ambleside which is a great idea. I had missed quite a bit of training and just hoped to finish within cut off times, but I still was holding out for hopefully finishing by possibly midnight. The race starts at 8:00am from Caldbeck in the very north of the national park. The vast majority of runners stay at the end of the race which is in the very south in Cartmel, and get a race organised buses up to Caldbeck at 5:45am, which took about 1 hour 20 minutes.


Any hopes of good weather had long gone as we drove down to the lakes during Storm Callum in lashing rain and high winds. Jan dropped me off at Cartmel Race course where I’d booked camping before the race, and I could also stay another night as I’d be back late from the run. I was soaked by the time I got my tent up. Jan and the kids headed off to the holiday caravan site as we were making a week of our trip down there. I didn’t get much sleep just listening to the lashing rain all night and wondering if I was totally mad to actually even start the race in this? I set my alarm but this wasn’t needed and was up well before it. I had plenty of time to get organised and head up to the buses to Caldbeck.

The rain and wind had calmed down a bit by the time the race started at 8:00. There were some great views as we headed up the first set of quite gentle hills, and then down to the river crossing which we had been told there was a rope placed because of the high water levels. This was great as we all crossed and then got further up into the hills. There was then the thought of getting the right route for doing the recommended course which went over the ridge at Blencathra. I wanted to do this and not the diverted version for those who wanted to avoid the ridge. It turned out there was a marshal at the top diverting people to which version they wanted to do. With it being so wet, the rocks were really slippery and my Inov8s slid like I was on ice when I wasn’t careful, so I took it easy on the way down. A guy took a bad tumble right in front of me and was lucky not to hit his head as he went right down over onto the rocks. It had now started raining a lot and I was now drenched but the wind wasn’t too bad at this point. The views were brilliantly moody on this section and I stopped to take a few pictures.

The first feed station is roughly ten miles in at Threlkeld and they had an outstanding amount of great savoury and sweet food as well as coffee and tea. I had a baguette and coffee and then filled up my water for the longest stretch from there to Ambleside. This is over the most hilly section covering Clough Head, The Dodds, Helvellyn, Grisedale Tarn and Fairfield and taking us to 29 miles into the race. This section would be the navigational test. I was very pleased to have done two Munros in really bad weather with my GPS and map as a tester just two weeks beforehand, and was confident now all should be okay. I was still a bit worried about taking a wrong turning and adding miles onto tired legs though. The first section had taken longer than normal with the wet slippery rocks coming down off the ridge. I was a bit worried about slowing down considerably after 30 miles, so I had to keep it going so I could take it easy if needed on the last section without any thoughts of being timed out. I met Sharon Hassan at the feed station who I had ran part of the Ochil Ultra with, so I ran with her and her friend Paul for a while. It was great to chat a while on route. I had to stop so many times to check my GPS against the map as the weather had come in really heavy by now with very high winds and little visibility and I was getting blown over at points. Clough Head was exhausting to get up, really steep! It was great to finally get to the top and again take a bearing to know what direction to head off in next.

There was a part in the route where some runners missed out a peak and headed to the right of the trail. I wasn’t sure if a required peak would be getting missed, so I headed up to do Great Dodd. After looking at the map again I saw they were right and I didn’t need to have done it. I am a bit of a bagger and was pleased to have included it, and it wasn’t that much further to do. It was very misty now and nobody else was in sights, so I took another bearing and was pleased to see I was correctly on route. This went on for ages and I eventually started to descend towards a lochán after getting bashed all over the place by 80 mile an hour winds. At one point I shouted at the brutal weather, “Is that the best you can do!” as I took two steps forward and one step back! My map holder was getting really quickly thrust round and round me, so it was quite tight and restricting my movement, so I regularly was having to untangle myself from it as well as avoiding it battering me in the face!

Most of the hills had been done by now and I had one last push to get up Fairfield, which was a great rocky hill. I realised I had left putting my gloves on till a bit too late as it was quite warm till then. I crouched down to get all the stuff out of my hands, such as GPS and map etc, and get myself sorted out as I was getting quite tired. Three young guys from St Andrews called back to me to see if I was okay. They helped me get my gloves out of my backpack without having to take it off. Sounds like an easy exercise but I get raynauds, so my fingers turn to death claws when they get cold. They were in the race just to finish like myself in these conditions, so I ran with them for the rest of the race. We were delighted to get the last mountain done, but it was starting to get dark and we wanted to get down to Ambleside as quickly as possible. We got our head torches out and headed down the slippery rocks in heavy rain and strong winds. There was a bit of scrambling down over boulders required here, but not too bad.  Unfortunately there was a poor person getting medical aid as we passed. I hoped it wasn’t as bad as it looked, as they had to cover them completely to shield them from the elements. We headed down a trail next to a fence and it was never ending till we saw the street lights of the town. We had trouble locating the feed station from the map we had, but got there after asking some locals. The food was brilliant here at Ambleside with pasta and pizza! We got our change of shoes for the change in terrain to more trail running. I had packed in my back pack a change of top and running tights too which were so good to change into. We had spent a bit of time here, but we headed off now thinking that that’s the tough part done, it’ll be normal trails from here on. We hadn’t taken into consideration the amount of water that was gushing down off the hills and had now flooded most of the trails, as we made our way over and along rivers that had burst their banks and the lakes that were now considerably higher than normal, and were now covering the trail right up to the top of my legs!


We were in quite good spirits though as we just treated the race more like an endurance test rather than an actual race. I’ve never ran in anything quite like it. The race however is brilliantly organised and the three feed stations with great food and support kept us going. This last 21 miles is over lowland trails and so was out of the wind now. The rain was still quite heavy but it eased towards the end section. I was wanting to not get totally drenched again as it was getting colder now with it being night time. I was taking care not to trip fully into the lake as my feet hit roots and stones below, which I couldn’t see as my legs were totally submerged. This went on in some sections for some time before going along muddy trails and then back into the lake. As we approached the last feed station at Finsthwaite I was thinking how good this would be if this was the end. Giving up however wasn’t an option, and so we sat down to get some hot soup from the brilliant marshals and I got some cake too. We didn’t hang around here too long but had a good chat with the helpers there. It was very late now but we had hours of cut off time left so were very confidant of finishing fine eventually. The marshal told us that this year’s weather was far worse than last years bad weather. It was windy till mid day last year and then fine without the rain too.

We headed off for the last section, just under 8 miles. There was very little running possible. We were all very knackered at this point and just digging deep to finish. The wind over the hills in the first 29 miles had taken it out of me quite a bit, but I was pleased to have managed the most elevation I’d ever done in one day. There’s not too much I remember about this section other than it was very dark, muddy and slippy and I was thinking night running really isn’t for me. We still were fine though as we talked about other races we had done and wanted to do, as well as places we’d travelled to. With this the eight miles passed and we were eventually coming down off a muddy hill into Cartmel at last! As we approached the finish line we held our hands up together and the four of us went over at the same time. There was a photographer here as well as other various points in the course. These shots were all free to download a few days later. There was a meal token handed to us as well as our medal and I had a fantastic lamb stew. We then picked up our bags in the hall and I headed back to my tent. I had heard the Race Course had since been flooded, so I was very worried on my walk back there, but was pleased to see the area where the tents were, were okay.

Jan and the kids picked me up in the morning and I chucked my sodding tent into the roof box and Jan made me a full English breakfast back at the warm caravan which was fantastic. I had about 5 hours sleep and then went out for a family pub dinner in Cartmel which was brilliant.

A superbly organised race. Just really pleased to have finished, even if it was about five and a half hours later than I was expecting! I took comfort in the fact that I had finished and not got lost like so many had done. Finished at 5:26am, so 2 hours and 34 minutes within cut off time. There were 238 finishers with over a third of runners dropping out with 139 retiring.

Finish time: 21:26:06….. Ooofff!

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8 comments on Lakes in a Day Ultra Marathon

  1. David Cairns says:

    I’m humbled by your report Mark. While you were battling the elements & the course in the Lakes I was officiating at the East District XC relays at Glamis, where it was also rather damp but none of the conditions you describe. I must question your sanity but have the greatest admiration of your commitment and mental strength. Great report and achievement, well done. (PS Raised blood pressure medication cured my Reynauds).

    • Mark Dawson says:

      Thanks, it was quite an adventure! At the low times it was brutal and at others, the race that just kept on giving. I’d recommend it as the weather would normally not be as bad as running during a storm. I fancy doing a couple of Borders East District runs this year after Glen Ogle 33 is done.

  2. Bill Bennet says:

    What a fantastic report of a fantastic day’s running Mark. I’ve had a wee look at the route on the OS maps and you faced and won a real challenge. The Lakeland Fells are real hills and it’s rough country. CONGRATULATIONS.

    • Mark Dawson says:

      It was a brilliant event. Ijust hadn’t trained in such terrible weather so was just pleased to finish. My navigation was just good enough to get through, a bit of a worry when it got dark on the last mountain. Great there’s some navigation training soon within the club. See you at hill reps after my legs recover after Glen Ogle 33.

  3. Jan says:

    Well done Mr! Very proud of you for finishing despite the odds. So many people got hopelessly lost. The rain was battering off the caravan roof while I checked the tracker every 5 minutes over night! I’ll turn a blind eye to all the fancy kit purchases in the future, sounds like they were worth it 😉

    • Mark Dawson says:

      Thanks Mrs. Very impressed you were tracking me till the very end. Brilliant breakfast in the morning too! On fancy kit, I may have ordered a better GPS, looks great.

  4. Gill Cairns says:

    Wow! So well done Mark, that sounds amazing but frankly brutal!! That you completed it in that time with the crazy weather and flooding is just brilliant. Well done too for bagging an extra hill

    • Mark Dawson says:

      Thanks, it was an epic adventure! Best to take it easy and safe in those conditions. Always good to bag another hill, looking at the route later there were a few others I could have added on route, but I really couldn’t see anything in that weather so best to keep for a better day some time. At that point I had no idea I’d be finishing at 5:26am, so very glad I didn’t now 🙂

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