For 10 years Lakeland 100 have been sending runners wishing to challenge themselves on 100 mile and 50 mile tours of the Lake District. The fastest runners completing the 100 mile and 50 mile courses in less than 21hrs and 8hrs respectively – no mean feat.
After finding out a mate was doing the “50” in 2016 I decided I wanted to have a crack at it but being impatient wanted to go straight for the “100” only to find you have to complete the “50” in under 16 hours first and 2017 was already sold out. My plans were set back two years.
2017 came around and I had entries for a couple of events but my training was poor and I knew they’d both be a struggle. Then, out of the blue I was presented with the possibility of a late entry for the “50” – who could say no? A couple of weeks passed and it became a reality and put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Without enough training and with no knowledge of that area of The Lakes I was very underprepared. The week before L50 I was set to take part in a 24hr endurance event which was going to be my biggest effort of the year but plans had to change. With focus on L50 this event was relegated to being a testing ground to see what my body could handle without pushing too hard and to get accustomed to carrying full L50 mandatory kit. It unearthed a couple of niggles but nothing that worried me too much and I thought I’d shake off before the big day.
L50 weekend came around quickly. Arriving in Coniston early evening and having pitched my tent there weren’t many things left to do other than give the “100” runners a good send-off into the night before our own race briefing and kit inspection. The comparatively small number of 100 entrants and supporters gave the start quite an intimate feel accompanied by the always rousing notes of Nessun Dorma. I gave my mates Craig and David a shout but they were to giddy in the moment to hear me. To much cheering and words of encouragement they were off. I was in awe of the challenge that lay ahead of them and thought it strange that I’d be seeing some of them on the course even 30hrs later. For now, at least the weather was holding out for them but only a couple of hours later a heavy and relentless downpour began and my thoughts turned to those battling away in the dark and rain on the hill with so many miles still ahead of them. Ear plugs in, it was time for some sleep.
Saturday morning and the rain had cleared. Following my normal pre-race breakfast of rice pudding it was time for our compulsory race briefing. The mood was light but serious.
I picked up my packed lunch and did one final kit check before embarking on a coach to the Dalemain Estate – half way point for the “100” and start of the Lakeland 50. The coach ride provided a last chance to get some early lunch down before an 11:30 start. I wanted to continue getting fluids down charged with Mountain Fuel but needed a pee so badly. It took all my concentration to hold on until Dalemain.
Waiting for our start we watched “100” runners coming through. Despite a long night most looked surprisingly fresh.
Our start, in comparison to the “100” felt more like something I am used to. Not exactly a mass participation event but the larger numbers and PA pumping out AC/DC’s Thunderstruck drew some comparisons. The vibe was friendly and still quite low key and didn’t feel overly organised so quite relaxed. Light rain began before the start but soon cleared up once underway so the waterproof came off and thankfully wasn’t needed again for quite some time.
The entire event is very well put together and much effort goes into making it an incredible experience. Fun themes are adopted at checkpoints which do a sterling job to lift spirits of the weary. During the “50” I experienced Cowboys and Indians at Howtown, Sparta at Mardale Head, wooly sheep at Kentmere and a circus at Ennerdale. In addition, the “100” runners stumbled upon a disco, an American diner, pirates and a scene from from M*A*S*H! Checkpoints supplied a variety of food and drink to replenish the runners – Custard Creams, Chia charge, Mountain Fuel, Pasta, Soup, Sandwiches, Stew, tea, coffee, cola. The list goes on. Needless to say runners don’t go wanting. It’s said that Ultra Marathons are eating contests and this event lived up to that.
Progress was at a comfortable pace, eating on the hilly climbs out of the checkpoints and feeling OK but then descending from Gatescarth Pass after the second checkpoint, pain in my big toe flared up and descending from here was restrained until the finish.
By Kentmere, I was still feeling generally good, and checking my watch thought I might be on for sub 14 hrs and would definitely be in Ennerdale before dark.
The cheers and applause through Ennedale were fantastic and a real motivation ahead of the final stages. The welcome at Ennerdale checkpoint was equally good and they couldn’t do enough to help, filling bottles and handing out tomato soup that really hit the spot. With light fading fast I left Ennerdale alone, checking my route guide carefully to avoid any costly navigational errors. On the small climb out of Ennerdale I caught a couple of runners and was caught myself by a couple too. We continued together on and off as an ad-hoc group picking up others now and again on route to the penultimate checkpoint. It was clear during this leg that my progress was beginning to slow and sub 14hrs was slipping away. My lack of mileage through the year was beginning to tell. The legs towards the end are significantly shorter but in the darkness seemed to take an age to tick off.
The welcome from the Howard family running Checkpoint 5 at Chapel Stile was lovely and the stew just what I needed. Surrounded by sofas, armchairs and wood fire it could be easy to be seduced. Time to go.
The leg to Checkpoint 6 at Tilberthwaite passed a little quicker. No time to hang around, one last push and my first L50 would be complete. A quick photo with Jamie with whom I’d run the previous leg and we were off to face the final climb.
Checkpoint 6 is named “Stairway to Heaven” and with good reason. I’m not sure if ‘heaven’ refers to the finish but it’s somewhat ironic. The climb out of Tilberthwaite is short but steep. Tired and in the dark it seemed to go on forever and I could feel time dribbling away. I thought again about the “100” runners and how I would feel tackling this in their shoes.
Over a flattish section on the top jackets went on, the heavens opened just in time for the rocky descent I’d heard about so many times on the way around. I had by now blocked out all but a little of the pain in my toe but for the fear of taking out other runners I would have attacked this section harder as it turned out to be exactly the sort of technical trail I love. There was no point rushing and taking a tumble now – sub 14hrs had gone out of the window but sub 16 was well and truly in the bag short of a catastrophe.
The final section of descent was on tarmac road which I’ll admit to not enjoying. I don’t like road running at the best of times but after a little over 14hrs it did a good job of emphasising which bits of me hurt. That with the rain and I was soon fed up and looking forward to the finish. Passing the petrol station and approaching the last corner hearing the sounds of the finish spurred me on to push the pace one last time. Turning the corner and seeing the lights of the school – the finish – was incredible. Crossing the line was even better. 14h 33m, roll on 2018!
Thank you to all the LL100/50 team out on course and at race HQ who looked after me and all the other runners – day and night, at times in torrential rain.
Lakeland 50 winning male and female: Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn and Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn.
Lakeland 100 winning male and female: Michael Jones and Sabrina Verjee.
Lakeland 50 and 100 winners show off their trophies: Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn, Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, Michael Jones and Sabrina Verjee.
Special thanks to Montane for making my experience possible. Montane’s kit is genuinely the best I’ve ever run in. It really did help me go #FurtherFaster