Before the race
Alan and I drove down Friday morning and pitched our tent in the event campsite, it was already very hot. As we had been driving down I watched nervously as the car thermometer climbed degree by degree as we got further south. As we pitched the tent it was 27 degrees and I was starting to get worried, I don’t really do heat. Once pitched we headed up to the marquees to get through kit check and registration. The temperature was even higher in here and I joined the end of the queue – slowly we went through the different stages from ID check, kit check, registration, tracker, by the time I got my photograph taken to go on the open track website I was par boiled!
The briefing was at 4.30pm so we had a few hours to get something to eat and pack my kit and I hoped to get a bit of a sleep or at least lie down and just relax, unfortunately when we got back to the tent it was stifling, I tried to lie down and rest but it was too hot and I couldn’t breathe even with all doors open, I organised my kit but was restless and starting to stress there was no shade and no wind and I had no where to go and rest, Alan suggested the car, but I tried that and it was still to hot. I went for a walk under some trees and dunked my feet in a river worrying that this was not the preparation I needed for a long hard race.
I started getting ready and then went up for the briefing which was in the school hall, luckily it was slightly cooler than the marquee. At the briefing we were told about any changes to the route, to make sure we were hydrated and that it was going to be hot, very hot. One of the things they do at the briefing is ask you to turn to the person next to you, introduce yourself and tell them a bit about yourself, then after this Marc the RD says the Lakeland 100 has a 50% drop out rate so to turn back to that person you were just talking to and decide which one of you would finish! Well the person I was talking to was a multiple finisher and I had to finish, so it must be the 2 guys in front of us who were going to be the dnf’ers!
We congregated at the start area and filed through the tracker gateway into the start pen, I felt so unready for this. I was already too hot, my body sweaty and my hair sticking to my scalp, I had not got my planned rest and that made me nervous as I knew i was going to be out for 2 nights. The start of the Lakeland 100 is preceded by an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma (none shall sleep- very apt for this race!) As the singing began I knew it was going to be a tough road ahead but I was ready for this and there was no way I was not finishing.
The start of this race is one of the most exciting and incredible starts I have ever had the privilege of running in, as the runners come under the start gantry up the road all the way up to Coniston town centre the pavements and roads are packed either side with cheering, bell clanging, clapping crowds willing you on, I had watched it in 2019 but this year I was part of the running throng and it felt amazing.
As we left the village we turned up towards the Coniston mines, the runners were packed close together and we were marching up the hill, I did not appreciate how long we would be a big conga line for, most races have had the runners strung out much quicker but because of the climbs it kept everyone bunched up for much longer, I was feeling so hot and on and on we climbed I was starting to feel nauseous which is not something I really suffer with but it kept coming in waves and I just tried sipping on my water and trying not to worry about it or think about it. This got harder as people around me were either being sick or retching this became a theme for most of the first night! I have never seen so many people being sick in a race. I soon settled into a nice easy pace and was very conscious about pushing too much early on, I had run this section in a recce so was mentally picturing the route remembering where the climbs or tricky sections were and just soaking up the scenery and atmosphere, there were a few people chatting with each other but I was just concentrating on pushing on and finding my own pace.
As the sun began to set we had a beautiful sunset ahead of us as the sun dipped behind the hills. Shortly after the sun set we got treated to the most amazing red moon, as I looked back to the climb I had just come up was a snake of headtorch lights with the most incredible moon and sky, it really was magical. Even though it was now dark, it was still incredibly warm, when we were on the tops of the hills it was cooler with a slight breeze but as we dropped down it was still like an oven, I wore my vest all evening and never at any point felt any chill at all. I really enjoy running in the dark there is something quite special about it, especially with a full moon, a sky filled with stars and the lake reflecting it all with a little trail of head torches bobbing along in front and behind me.
We soon came to Black Sail Pass descent which I had been nervously anticipating, when I came down this section on a recce it was slick with mud and multiple sharp rocks and I slid and slided all the way down and that was in daylight when I could see, but as it was so dry I thankfully navigated my way down quickly without any incidents the route then passes the beautiful Black Sail Youth Hostel, there were a few tents dotted about and a couple of runners were taking a nap on the benches outside. Up Scarth Gap and another rocky descent and a lovely run along the side of a lake with bats swooping down and catching moths that were attracted to our headtorch lights.
As the sun came up and I made my way through some more checkpoints I started chatting to the other runners, there are some incredible people running and listening to their stories and being part of their journey is quite special. I had covered most of the route on either recces or when doing the 50 but I had not covered the section between Buttermere and Dalemain so it was really nice running on parts that I didn’t know, and coming across unexpected climbs, well you know there is going to a climb you just don’t know how long or how steep!
As we were coming into the Keswick area (about 50 miles) the route became much more runnable with steep rocky climbs and descents and rough tracks giving way to cycle paths and some country roads, unfortunately my feet were starting to really ache, all runners love to discuss “what shoes should I wear” and I possibly made the wrong decision for race day. I had on my Salomon Speedcross for the first half and was planning on changing into my Altras at Dalemain where we had a drop bag. Although I have worn my Speedcross up to 50 miles with no problems before, today was not that day. I wore them as there are some boggy sections and a couple of tricky descents that can be muddy but the incredibly dry hard ground and rocks pummelling my feet were just too much and my soles were taking the brunt of it. Bits I could and should have been running I was walking however I met up with a great group of runners and we joined forces and ran/marched/walked together for a number of checkpoints. As we hit 60 miles we arrived at Dalemain where the 50 runners started at 11am, they do a 4 mile loop in the Estate and then continue on the main route, we missed the main body of the runners but caught up with the walkers and as we ran past them we got cheered and shouts of “hundred runners coming through” and the path of walkers would clear in front of us with everyone clapping and telling us how amazing we were – it certainly boosted the ego!
Coming into Dalemain was such a relief, I could change my socks and shoes and T-shirt, freshen up and brush my teeth. I sat in the grass with some food and bare feet for about 10 mins and it was absolute bliss! I did not want to hang around for long though so new shoes on and now using poles, I hoped that would be the end of my foot issues. I was now on known territory again, it was still hot on the Saturday but not as hot as Friday but I knew there were some climbs coming and in the heat and with miles in my legs they would not be easy. One of the first climbs after this checkpoint just outside Pooley Bridge were a couple of ladies sitting on a rock guessing if runners were 100 runners or 50 runners, they were deciding this on how dirty their legs were. They guessed right with me.
The little group I had been running with before started to reform as we all caught up with each other. I was glad of the company of Rachel as we faced Fusedale, it’s not known as the furnace for nothing and as we climbed we dunked our buffs and hats in any water we could find, at one point Rachel got right in and sat in a stream of water right up past her waist. I was tempted but was worried about chaffing so just emptied handfuls of water over my head and neck and soaked another buff. We soon reached the top but there were quite a few 50 runners/walkers coming back down, I think they must have decided that their race was over and their day was done. At the top of Fusedale we met some more of our running group and we continued on.
The descent and path to Mardale Head seemed to take for ever, the rocky path was painful on my feet and it was obvious that the change of shoes had not completely solved my issues and that the damage was already done. It was a slow march along the waters edge willing Mardale Head into sight, it felt like it was never going to appear, eventually we arrived, filled up on soup and jam sandwiches and readied ourself for the next climb, Gatescarth Pass. The climb is steep, and rocky (are you sensing a theme here?) but it’s the descent I find much harder, it is a real thigh burner and there is lots of loose stones on rock so I never feel particularly confident about running down, and today that was just out of the question, further down there is a lovely picturesque scene of a winding track, high stone walls, rolling fields, livestock and pretty farms but i spend so much time watching my feet and trying to find the easiest smoothest path I never get to look at it. It was also starting to get dark and the midges were out and I had no insect repellent and was getting bitten all over.
It was dusk as we arrived at Kentmere and just before the checkpoint there are a number of incredible stiles that I have only seen in the Lakes, steps jutting out of the stone walls like a ladder never easy at the best of times but definitely not when you have 80 odd miles in your legs. As we came down our group had splintered a bit, so Martin and I came in a bit behind the others (we were searching for a lost charging cable which turned up in a pocket). There was pasta on the go at Kentmere but unfortunately they had just finished the last batch as I arrived and were waiting on more cooking, I ummed and awed about waiting the 5 mins I was told it would take to cook or to just have a sandwich but I thought I needed some hot food in me so waited. By the time the pasta was ready some of our group were getting a bit stiff so needed to get moving, so thinking we might catch up off they went. Martin and I ate our pasta, got some extra layers on, dug out our head torches and off we set. Not much running. Sore feet. Strange hallucinations – neon dancing penguin anyone? No just me then! Luckily chatting to Martin made the miles pass easily and I knew I had a secret weapon at the next checkpoint, Ambleside.
When I first signed up to Lakeland, I said to Alan it would be a fab weekend for him, there is a brilliant set up, event campsite, marquees, live music, bars, food court. After the 100 sets of there is a kids race, the Lakeland 1. He could go swimming, chill out and enjoy the atmosphere, however friends of ours who were in charge of one of the checkpoints contacted Alan – the pingdemic had hit the volunteers and they were short, would he help out? Of course he said yes, so he would now be volunteering at Ambleside with Jeni and Sharon from 9am Saturday morning til it closed on Sunday morning at 4am! Now that’s some shift! Huge respect and kudos to all the amazing volunteers at these events, without them us runners would have no races. I have volunteered myself so know it is a very long, exhausting day but I have never had to put in those kind of hours.
As we arrived into Ambleside there were so many familiar friendly faces, it really lifted my spirits and of course Alan was there and it was so good to see him, I told him about my feet and he asked if I wanted to dnf. No chance, I said, I need to finish this so I don’t have to come back and do it again! With that soup, tea and jam sandwiches appeared, we sat inside for 5 mins and whilst there our friend Noanie and her dad, Brian appeared. Noanie had been in charge of the first checkpoint of the 100 and was then walking the 50 with her Dad, we kept bumping into each other at checkpoints with them arriving as we left. There was a special surprise for Brian at Ambleside, it was 1am and now his birthday so he was treated to a rendition of us singing happy birthday to him with Sharon on the fiddle!
We had 15 more miles so needed to keep pushing on, we were finishing this. We got a bit of pace up for the next section but my feet were really hurting however there were more smoother sections here so we made up as much ground as we could while we could. As we were leaving the next checkpoint of Chapel Stile we bumped into Noanie again, she asked how I was doing and I said fine apart from my feet. Have you got any painkillers? she asked, em yes I replied, lots. Mmmm why don’t you try taking them! Doh! Of course, that would be a good idea! I had enough paracetamol to OD on, but it had not crossed my mind to take any. I popped a couple and as we left the sun was coming up. With the combination of pain killers and daylight we got a fresh boost and ran all the next section passing lots of other runners. Unfortunately just before the last checkpoint my foot started feeling wet, I looked down and could see a big stain on my shoe – a blister I had on my little toe had burst, I tried to keep running but I could feel it was not right, I had to stop and fix it. It was a bit of a field patch job but it enabled us to keep moving. Final checkpoint, 3.5 miles to go. We had one final climb then a bit of a steep tricky descent then we were back in Coniston coming down into the village, it was nearly 9am and there were people dotted around cheering us on, it felt really emotional, we ran downhill into the school under the finish gantry and we were finished! I was now a Lakeland Legend!
Distance: 105 miles
Elevation: 22,500 ft
Finish time: 38.43.56
Once finished and given my medal and photo Alan and Ross, who had run the 50, were waiting for me, it was so good to see them. My first stop was the medics to try and sort out my foot and field dressing (I will spare you the details!) then it was beer time! Who says 9am is too early 🙂 It was so good to sit down and stop and relax at last. I wanted to stay for the award ceremony as I had missed it last time I was here and I knew it was a bit of an event in itself. After a shower and a bit of sleep we found ourself a patch on the grass in the sun and waited for it to begin. Music was blaring, (the theme for the whole weekend was “getting the band back together” from the Blues Brothers as we had all missed last year so the music was really bouncing) the volunteers were dancing it felt like a real party atmosphere. The winners and VIP’s were in a little VIP area with fresh fruit and drinks and then there was a double line of dancing volunteers lining the route to the stage, each winning group that was announced came down the aisle, frequently running or racing each other, of clapping, dancing, cheering volunteers to massive cheers and were given their awards on stage. As well as age group winners for the 50 and 100, there were awards for the youngest and oldest competitors, special slate awards for 500 Legends, those that had completed the 100 course 5 times! Then there were the overall winners which included Nicola Duncan who came 2nd in the 50, she obviously got our biggest cheer of the day.
The Lakeland 50 & 100 races are not easy, they are certainly the toughest ones I have done and the high DNF rates reflect this, it’s physically gruelling but it’s also mentally challenging, you don’t have the support crew you have with the West Highland Way to look out for you and pull you through, and preempt any issues, you don’t have anyone telling you to eat, or drink, or take painkillers! But you do have the most amazing checkpoints, all themed with fancy dressed volunteers with big smiles and welcomes who look after you and feed and water you and send you on your way and of course you have most incredible runners on the course who all pull each other through and look out for each other.
Big thanks to Martin, Rachel, Jon and Ross who made the miles pass quicker, took my mind of the sore bits and kept me sane wondering if Mardale Head would ever appear.