Saturday 25th July at 22:31
took a moment to pause and look behind me as I reached for my head torch. I had resisted the urge to use the torch for as long as possible but darkness had finally succumbed and all the way down the trail to Tiberthwaite you could see a steady stream of light illuminating the way up. At least I would only have to wear it for 45 minutes or so. I had set myself one goal for this race. Get as far as possible on the Saturday before you need to use your head torch. Having passed through the final checkpoint at twilight, I considered this goal well and truly achieved.
There was a light then footsteps and a voice shouted out
“Well done Darren, are you going for a sub 29 finish?”
It was a 100 runner, you could tell by the yellow race number affixed to his running pack. By the time I replied he had already shot past.
“Is there enough time to finish in under 29 hours?”
“If you push hard up the remainder of the hill, then throw yourself down the technical section on the other side and hammer it on the road then there is!”
I looked at my watch, it was 22:31. I was comfortably going to nail a sub 30 finish. Could I really do a sub 29 finish? Did I really want a sub 29 finish? It was decision time.
36 Hours earlier
Having decided to drive from Scotland to my parents in Manchester the previous evening to deposit the dogs, we were finally heading up the M6 towards the Lake District for my main race of the year. Like all best laid plans, things had got off to a rocky start when pizza hut forgot to deliver our order which meant a delay in setting off which consequently meant we lost another hour due to missing the 22:00 cut off on the M6 where the entire southbound carriageway was closed at Junction 34. We finally arrived at my parents in the early hours but a good night’s sleep recharged the batteries and when I woke up Friday morning, I was raring to go.
The plan was for Emma to drive us to Coniston, watch me set off then head back to my parents. She would then meet me sometime the following day and support me at a couple of locations from Ambleside onwards. I was upbeat and felt good coming into the event. Training had gone really well and I was confident I could finish the race comfortably.
We went through the efficient registering process. Kit check, show id, get race dibber and then the dreaded scales. With registration complete we went to the café area for a cup of coffee and a quick snack. Last year I had marshalled and it was great to see some of the faces again; Stephen, Emiko and Martin amongst others. We all talked ultra for a while. The Spine, Ring of Fire, you name it! It was good to take my mind off things and relax before the start.
All that remained was to attend the pre-race debrief, pack my drop bag and get to the start pen. Compared to some of the other competitors who seemed to have packed everything but the kitchen sink, my drop bag contained just a pair of Hoka’s, a replacement top, a can of red bull and some cereal bars. I guess if I did have a concern it was the food situation. Unlike the West Highland Way Race where your crew provide you with food, the Lakeland 100 does not allow you to receive any outside assistance. Meaning you either carry your own food, place some in the one drop bag you are allowed or eat the food provided at the checkpoints. No issue back in 2011 but for the past few years I have followed a vegan diet so that would rule quite a bit off the checkpoint menu. I decided the best plan would be to carry as much food as I could in the form of homemade cereal bars and flapjack and manage the best I could at the checkpoints.
With the drop bag packed, I made my way to the start pen, dibbed in and positioned myself near the back. It was Show Time!
Section 01: Coniston to Buttermere
|Leg Name||Leg Distance||Leg Time||Leg Position||Overall Distance||Overall Time||Overall Position|
|Coniston to Seathwaite||7 miles||1:45:06||245||7 miles||1:45:06||245|
|Seathwaite to Boot||7 miles||1:42:39||168||14 miles||3:27:45||196|
|Boot to Wasdale Head||5.4 miles||1:26:25||150||19.4 miles||4:54:10||182|
|Wasdale Head to Buttermere||6.9 miles||2:21:29||90||26.3 miles||7:15:39||155|
There is a story that a few years back a competitor was heading through Chapel Stile (or somewhere) and he passed Paul Potts (yes him of Britain’s Got Talent fame) who was whistling the tune of ‘Nessun Dorma’. Whether this is Lakeland folklore or not, Marc (the organiser) recites this tale on a regular basis. Every year Marc now hires a singer to knock out ‘Nessun Dorma’ just before the start of the race. Interestingly, the translation of ‘Nessun Dorma’ is ‘None shall sleep’. Kind of appropriate for a hundred mile race where some people will run through two entire nights. I will be the first to admit that this is not my kind of music but you could not get away from how powerful it was as all the runners waited nervously to set off.
My strategy from the start was simple. Slower than slow. I am of the opinion that people set off way too fast on ultras (I have been guilty of this myself in the past) and pay for it later on. One hundred miles is a long way and my logic was if I could get past half way and still be running the flats and downhills then I am going to pick up places. So I decided to walk from the start at John Ruskin Hill all the way through the town centre. It takes a lot of discipline to walk then people are flying past your right, left and centre. By the time I was a couple of hundred metres outside the gates, I was already 7th from last. Holy smokes, at this rate I will be dead last in no time at all! Fortunately, this indignation was saved by the fact that other people were also walking.
I walked all the way to the Black Bull Inn and by the time we all headed up the path to the Miners Bridge I was second from last. I dropped into a power hike and slowly starting overtaking people. By the time I arrived at the top of Walna Scar, I was in a good rhythm and making steady progress. I took my time descending and unlike on the GL3D where Caroline and I took a direct ‘cross country’ line to Long House Gill, I stuck to the path. There was a minor tarmac section before I passed Turner Hall Farm Campsite to the first checkpoint at Seathwaite in a time of 1 hour 45 minutes. I was in 245th position. It was a quick in and out at the checkpoint. Grab a cup of coke, drink then carry on.
The next section to Boot is a nice little section that takes you through a variety of wooded areas, open moorland and boggy sections. There was a couple of rocky descents but nothing that caused any major issues but it was good to arrive at Penny Hill Farm none the less where I knew there was a decent runnable section all the way to the second checkpoint at Boot. By now little groups had formed and I was tagging onto a group of three or four people who were all travelling about the same speed. One of the people in this group was John Kynaston and I spent a pleasant ten minutes or so chatting about his recent trip to Indonesia to visit his daughter and grandchild. I arrived at the second checkpoint in a time of 3 hours 27 minutes. I had now moved up to 196th position.
I had been snacking on cereal bars since the start so I just filled up my water bottles, nailed more coke and quickly left so that I could continue running with the same people as before. I knew that if there was going to be any navigation hiccups then it would be either crossing Eskdale Moor or the section between Buttermere and Braithwaite. It made total sense to utilise other people for these sections and remove the stress of navigating. I sat in behind the group and just plodded along. It was good to be making steady progress and listen to other people chatting away. We made it across the moor with no issues and by the time we came to drop down to Wast Water it was dark. A short run down the road and I arrived at the third checkpoint, Wasdale Head, in a time of 4 hours 54 minutes. I was now in 182nd position.
Wasdale Head checkpoint was being manned by the Sunderland Strollers and they had done an amazing job of creating an 80’s disco theme. I seem to remember “The only way is up!” by Yazz was belting out as I ran through. I decided to take on some solid food at this checkpoint. Two rounds of bread with as many crisps as I could fit in between. A crisp butty – nothing beats it! I quick top up of my water bottles and I was out and ready for the climb up Black Sail Pass. It is about 450 metres of ascent to the col and I was really looking forward to it. The field had stretched out now so there was no overtaking just a steady pace all the way to the top. I stopped half way up and looked back. The line of head torches ascending up from Wasdale Head looked amazing. I continued the climb to the top. So far so good, I was feeling strong on the climbs.
It may have been an orderly line on the climb up but on the descent it was a free for all. People were taking all sorts of different lines down to Black Sail Hut. I remembered someone saying that on the descent if you keep Sail Beck is on your right and you can hear the water then you are taking the correct route down. So that is what I did and although there was a couple of minor tumbles, I got to the bottom in one piece. From here it was past the YHA and then up to the summit of Scarth Gap. Another rocky descent and I was at the lakeside where I could run steady to the checkpoint at Buttermere in a time of 7 hours and 15 minutes. I was now in 155th position.
Section 02: Buttermere to Dalemain
|Leg Name||Leg Distance||Leg Time||Leg Position||Overall Distance||Overall Time||Overall Position|
|Buttermere to Braithwaite||6.5 miles||2:18:44||164||32.8 miles||9:34:23||155|
|Braithwaite to Blencathra||8.5 miles||2:06:21||44||41.3 miles||11:40:44||136|
|Blencathra to Dockray||7.7 miles||1:56:11||66||49 miles||13:36:55||116|
|Dockray to Dalemain||10.1 miles||2:17:38||44||59.1 miles||15:54:33||103|
It was another quick pit stop at the Buttermere checkpoint. So far I had no spent longer than a couple of minutes at each checkpoint which was great news. I was eager to push on and get to Braithwaite where I knew I would have a period of sustained running. I guess if there was going to be a disaster then it would be on this leg. When Scott and I did a recce back in January we managed to miss a turning on the climb up. I needed to be ‘on the ball’ here. It was going to be dark and I did not want a repeat performance. I set off from the checkpoint and headed up Ghyll Wood. I was feeling really strong and soon starting overtaking people. There was nothing to worry about from a navigation point of view. The steady stream of head torches could be seen heading up the narrow path. I was keeping my pace steady and I must have overtaken a good dozen of people as I arrived at the col at Sail Pass.
I relaxed and opened up my legs, overtaking more people on the descent down towards Barrow Door. I remembered running past a guy with a pink wearing a pint Tutu (it turned out to be Nick Ham). I am not sure what happened next but all that I remember is that there was four of us and we were running in a group. We were making good progress and descending rapidly but something did not feel right. We were isolated and there was no one else around. I looked back. Nothing. Then back and up. High up there was a line of head torches but they were no heading down. We had taken the wrong turning.
It clicked then. The fork just after the cairn about a kilometre from Sail Pass. The fork where we should have left the main path. The fork that I had made a mental note whilst doing the recce not to miss. That damn fork! I have made navigation errors during mountain marathons and cocked up on recee’s but this took the biscuit. The simple fact was because I had managed to navigate up to Sail Pass without any issues, I had let my guard down and FUBAR’d big time. Decision time. Back up the path or a cross-country approach and pick up the path near Barrow Door. The guy in front of me (it turned out to be John Kynaston) decided the cross country route was the best choice. Not sure about the guys behind because I did not stop and look. I followed John through thick heather, stumbling, falling and cursing. This was just not good, it was taking an age to make progress. John was quite a bit in front of me but I took a different line and managed to come out on the trail just a bit in front of him near Barrow Door.
All the people I had overtaken were gone. All that hard work, down the drain. To say I was disappointed was a total understatement. Having found the trail I made fast progress, probably due to anger, down into Braithwaite. I somehow managed to miss the turning and did a little loop around the town centre before eventually stumbling into the checkpoint in a time of 9 hours and 23 minutes. I was still in 155th position.
I took five minutes at the checkpoint. I had some lovely pasta, crisps and coke. I needed to put the mistake behind me. It could have been worse. Ok, so I lost thirty minutes of time but in the grand scheme of things this was nothing. Do not do anything silly, just stick to the plan and carry on. This was the theory but I just could not get the negative thoughts out of my mind. Everything came to a head when I was running on the grass verge alongside the A66. I remembered that as you run on the inside of the metal barrier you take a path down that drops down from the verge onto the old railway line. But where the bloody hell is the path? I looked around, nothing. I had reached the end of the metal barrier. I am sure you did not run to the end. I looked again to the right. There it is, the path down. But it was not the path down. I took a step and next thing I was sliding down a banking on my backside into a load of brambles. Oh FFS! I must have looked a right picture as I dragged myself out of the bushes on my hands and kness. As luck would have it another runner was coming.
“If you are looking for the path mate, it is here!”
Errr yep. You could say I am looking for path. Apart from some scratches on my arms and legs, I was no worse for wear after my tumble but it did make me realise that it was time to get a grip, get my mind back in the game and put the navigation issue behind me. I was happy to say that was the last I thought about the mistake and by the time I had hiked up through Gale Ghyll Woods to the car park it was light enough to remove the head torch.
After all the drama of the previous couple of hours, it was good to get back into the rhythm of running again. I was back in the groove. Running all the flats and downhills and power hiking the uphills. I dibbed in at the unmanned checkpoint near the stone ruin, headed over Roughten Gill and back down the track towards Blencathra. I was slowly pulling back places and by the time I reached the checkpoint I guessed I had overtaken about a dozen people. In fact I had moved up to 136th place in a time of 11 hours and 40 minutes.
There was a good seven or eight people sat down at the checkpoint. This would be a good opportunity to jump a few places without even trying. I dibbed in grabbed a cup of coffee and nailed it. I reckon I was in and out in less than a minute. I loved the next section, there was no around at all. I was just running on my own. The sun was coming up and the sky was blue. I felt strong and was looking forward to the long stretch along the Old Coach Road. Just after the tunnel, there was another runner coming in the opposite direction. If he is running the race then he is going in the wrong direction! Hold on, he looks familiar. It was one of my mates from Cumbria, Scott. He had been watching the tracker overnight and had decided to come out for a quick run before he started work. It was great to see a friendly face and have a quick discussion about the race. I love the Old Coach Road but hate the climb up from Newsham to Husewell Brow. It just seems a slog. Once on the Old Coach Road I made great progress, covering the 6km in 45 minutes. I arrived at Dockray checkpoint in a time of 13 hours and 36 minutes. I had moved up to 116th place.
It was midge city at the checkpoint. This was not the place to hang about although it was at this checkpoint that I started my love affair with soup and bread. A big cup of soup, a round of bread and a coffee. This would be my checkpoint choice of food until the end of the race. As I set off I realised that I had not been eating much in between checkpoints. Earlier on I had religiously been eating every thirty minutes or so but now I just did not feel like it. I was doing ok at the checkpoints though so I did not worry too much.
The next section around Gowbarrow Park is probably my favourite section of the race. I love the single track and the views across Ullswater. I had passed the fifty mile mark and was still feeling good. No aches or pains, no feelings of sickness. As I climbed up from the Memorial Seat I caught up to another runner. The name on her race number was Sarah Kirsty. That name rang a bell with me but I could not think why. I racked my brains and then it clicked. A few weeks back whilst running the Glencoe Round I had bumped into another runner on the Devil’s Staircase. We chatted for a while and it turned out that her daughter was also running the Lakeland 100 in addition to the West Highland Way Race and the UTMB. Her daughter was Sarah Kirsty and she was immediately in front of me. I introduced myself and we chatted for a good ten minutes. By the time I reached the forest area, Kirsty was a little behind so I left her and pushed on.
If the climb around Gowbarrow Park is one of the best sections of the course then the tarmac section to Dalemain is probably the worse. I did have my drop bag to look forward to and by this time in the morning both Emma and my mate Kev were up and monitoring the tracker and live scores. I was getting regular texts through now and for the first time I was made aware of my race position; 116th place at Dockray. This news gave me a huge morale boost and I knew that if I could maintain this pace then I should be able to comfortably come in the top 100. It took me about three quarters of an hour to navigate the tarmac section to the checkpoint in Dalemain. The two kilometres through the grounds was a bit of a sting in the tail but I arrived in a time of 15 hours and 54 minutes. I had moved up to 103rd place.
Section 03: Dalemain to Ambleside
|Leg Name||Leg Distance||Leg Time||Leg Position||Overall Distance||Overall Time||Overall Position|
|Dalemain to Howtown||7.1 miles||1:42:31||11||66.2 miles||17:37:04||74|
|Howtown to Mardale Head||9.4 miles||2:59:18||56||75.6 miles||20:36:22||75|
|Maredale Head to Kentmere||6.5 miles||1:50:05||15||82.1 miles||22:26:27||68|
|Kentmere to Ambleside||7.3 miles||2:06:08||32||89.4 miles||24:32:35||57|
It was a great feeling to arrive at Dalemain. Psychologically, I had broken the back of the race and all I had to do now was run the Lakeland 50 (minus the loop around the estate). Only! I had also arrived at the checkpoint well in advance of the start of the 50 race, which was a morale boost. I wondered how far I could get before the first 50 runners would overtake me. More immediate though was the decision of whether to change my shoes or not. I had run the first half of the race in my trusty Salamon S-Lab’s and they had not let me down but they were soaked. I had a pair of Hoka’s in my drop bag. The thought of dry socks and shoes was appealing though. I would have probably stuck with my Salamon S-Lab’s but dry feet won so I changed my shoes and swapped my t-shirt for a running vest then ate some food. There was loads of confectionary available, it was like being in a sweet shop. I grabbed a bag, filled it up and left. I guess I was at Dalemain no more than ten minutes maximum.
It is amazing what a change of clothes, dry socks and shoes does for your morale. I felt great as I ran through the estate, along the side of the river and up through Pooley Bridge. From here it was onto the open fell and then down the amazing path towards Howtown. I was flying down the path and probably felt the best I had done all race. I arrived into Howtown checkpoint in a time of 17 hours and 37 minutes. My quick pit stop at Dalemain and a fast run to Howtown had moved me up into 74th position. I was feeling good and also had the bonus of meeting up with Jane (I had met Jane on a recee of the Hardmoors 55 route back in January) who was marshalling at this checkpoint. As usual there was an abundance of food to choose from but I kept it simple and left within five minutes after a brief chat with Jane.
It is strange how things can flip so quick in an ultra. I had felt amazing running into the Howtown checkpoint but within ten minutes of leaving I had my worse patch of the race so far. For the first time I felt slightly nauseous. It was midday and there was no cloud cover which made it baking hot. It was going to be fun and games slogging it up Fusedale. I decided the best strategy would be to slow the pace and try and keep the momentum going rather than blast it and have rest breaks. I filled my baseball cap with water from a stream and tipped it over my head. The cold water felt amazing. I slowly plodded up the hill and chatted to a runner called Thomas. He also was having a rough time of it on the ascent and paused half way to rest. I kept going and it took one hour and ten minutes to get from the valley to the summit of High Cop. There was a breeze blowing and it was cooler. Thank god for that!
I am not sure what happened next but somehow I managed to make another navigation error. I had recced this section quite recently and thought it was clear in my mind but somehow on the descent to Haweswater I came off the path and headed east. Fortunately some hikers pointed out my error and I only lost five minutes or so but it was frustrating none the less. Also, the heel on my right foot was beginning to hurt. I was going to have to address that soon. I decided to get down the lake side and then stop and sort my foot out. I cut across the hillside and got myself back on the path. I then headed down and crossed the footbridge and sat down. I examined my sore foot. There was some hard skin on my heel that had cracked so I put a Compeed over the top and then some rock tape over the Compeed. Not perfect but it provided some padding and felt a little better.
I was back running on my own again. I had overtaken a few runners on the top but had lost my position to them when I had gone off course on the descent. I was still feeling rough and for the first time in the race, I had negative thoughts. Visions of a death march from Kentmere, or even worse, DNFing at Tiberthwaite went through my mind. I plodded on along the undulating trail, I seemed to remember that it was about 6km to Mardale Head but it did not seem to be getting any nearer. I was having to force myself to run the flats and downhills.
At that point I heard a noise and a runner shouted out to me
Great effort Darren. Fantastic job. Keep going!
It was the male leader of the 50 Race. The speed he was flying over the rocks was unbelievable. By the time I shouted out thanks he had gone. That short sentence, that one piece of encouragement brought me back to my senses. It was time to get a grip. Step up the game and get to the next checkpoint. I got myself back in a rhythm and upped the pace. Just focus on the checkpoint. Run the flats and downhills, walk the uphills. With my glass now half full rather than half empty, I started to make better progress and closed in on runners in front. Over the course of the next thirty minutes, more 50 runners passed me, including the first female runner. By the time I arrived at the checkpoint, to a thunderous cheer from the marshals, I was already feeling tons better. I grabbed my usual cup of soup and made up a crisp butty whilst a marshal filled my water bottles.
Although I had been steadily overtaking people on route, the majority of place gains were made at the checkpoints. Every checkpoint I visited there would be at least half a dozen people that had arrived before me but were still there when I left. On last year’s West Highland Way Race I had spent at least ten minutes at each checkpoint. On the Hardmoors 55 I had spent even longer at some of them. During this race I had tried to be as fast as possible and I was really happy with the speed I was turning things around. It was probably this eagerness to leave that lead to my third mistake of the day. I left the checkpoint and headed up Gatescarth. The food had done the trick. I was climbing well and feeling good. Two hundred metres up, I went to grab my drink and realised that I had left one of my soft flasks at the checkpoint. Unfortunately it was the big one (400 ml). I had another soft flask but it only held 200 ml. I tried to think if there was anywhere I could fill it up on the way to Kentmere. Would 200 ml be enough to keep me going? I looked back down to the checkpoint. Screw that, there is no way I am going down only to have to hump it back up again. I would just have to manage.
It took me 25 minutes to get to the col. Hard work done but the descent is rough and rocky and nearer the bottom the rocks are placed perpendicular and are really uncomfortable to run on. I managed to get down to the bottom and picked up the great path to Sadgill. The remaining journey to Kentmere was uneventful. Although more 50 runners were passing me the good news was that I was not overtaken by any 100 runners. I was hoping my prediction that some of the 100 runners who had set off a lot faster than me would be ‘feeling it’ now would be true and it certainly did seem the case as I picked up another seven places on the way to Kentmere. As I approached the checkpoint, I bumped into John Kynaston again. I had not seen John since the navigation error all the way back on the Buttermere to Braithwaite leg. John mentioned to me that he had splits for a sub 30 hour race and currently his time was 30 minutes inside them. Could a sub 30 be on? It was just approaching 16:30 and I calculated it was about 23 miles from Kentmere to the finish in Conistion. Definitely doable but I decided to push these thoughts out of my mind and concentrate on getting through the checkpoint and over Garburn Pass to Ambleside where Emma would be waiting. I arrived at the checkpoint in a time of 22 hours and 26 minutes. I had moved up to 68th position.
On the L50 I had felt dog rough at this checkpoint and whilst Scot had been eating food like it was going out of fashion, I was nearly throwing up. Fortunately my appetite had been great at the checkpoints and I tucked into a huge bowl of pasta and a couple of the most amazing fruit smoothies I have ever tasted. There was a guy who was speaking to the marshals. He had just thrown the towel in. I felt so sorry for him. He had managed 82 miles but somehow he felt so bad that he could not continue less than a marathon distance to the end.
I resisted the urge to spend longer than necessary at the checkpoint. It was tempting though. It had been themed on ‘rockers’ and with loud heavy metal music banging out and the marshals all dressed up accordingly. It had a great atmosphere. As far as I was concerned, Garburn Pass was the last major climb of the day. Ok, so there are other climbs including the last climb up the Stairway to Heaven but this was the last ‘biggy’ and I was looking forward to the long descent on the other side. A 50 runner asked if I minded if he walked with me for a while. Of course not. We had a great chat but after a while he realised he could ascend quicker than me and he left. I caught up with Thomas (from Fuesdale) and we had a great chat all the way to the top. Thomas was looking in great shape but he said he was struggling in the heat on some of the climbs. At the top I left Thomas and enjoyed the long run down to the A592.
I had been getting regular text messages from Emma letting me know how I was progressing. My mate Kev had been glued to the satellite tracker all day and had been feeding Emma information and in conjunction with the SportIdent information had been calculating times into checkpoints and estimating what position I would be in. With the exception of the two bad legs (Buttermere to Braithwaite and Howtown to Mardale Head) I had been steadily climbing the leaderboard. I was on a mission now. Whenever I saw a person running with a yellow number I would work as hard as I could to get past them. It gave me something to think about and focus on. As I headed through Skelghyll Wood I sent Emma a quick text to say I was not that far from the checkpoint. Running through Ambleside is a great experience. People cheer and shout your name, it is awesome. I pelted it down vicarage road to the checkpoint and arrived in a time of 24 hours and 32 minutes. I was now in 57th place.
Section 04: Ambleside to Coniston
|Leg Name||Leg Distance||Leg Time||Leg Position||Overall Distance||Overall Time||Overall Position|
|Ambleside to Chapel Stile||5.6 miles||1:25:39||33||95 miles||25:58:14||52|
|Chapel stile to Tiberthwaite||6.5 miles||1:49:00||23||101.5 miles||27:47:14||48|
|Tiberthwaite to Coniston||3.5 miles||1:05:50||41||105 miles||28:53:04||49|
I was greeted at the checkpoint by a clown in a bright red wig who dibbed me in. The checkpoint was amazing and the whole place was buzzing. I grabbed a cup of soup and made up a crisp butty (no suprise there!). I went down to chat to Emma whilst I ate my food. It was 18:30 and that meant that if I could crack the remaining 15.6 miles in five and a half hours then I would achieve a sub 30 finish. I know some people like to set different goals before races but I do not tend to do that, there are just too many variables on a long ultra and I would hate to have a goal in mind and feel disappointed if I did not meet it. There is only one goal in an ultra. Get round before the cut-off! During a race I will set myself little challenges and as I had trained well for this event and was running well I felt I could get close to the sub 30 hour mark.
With this in mind I said to Emma that I was going to push as quickly as possible and attempt to get under 30 hours. In reality, I knew that all I needed to do was not make any navigational mistakes and just keep going like I had done for the entire race. At this stage the only issue I had was my sore heels (in addition to my right heel, my left was also beginning to feel painful now). For the time being, I put this behind me and pushed on through the park and up the Bridleway to Loughrigg Fell. When I did the L50 back in 2011 the wheels had fell off big time on this section but it was dark then. No such issue this time. It was as lovely evening, clear skies and the temperature had dropped enough to make for perfect running conditions.
I dropped down to Skelwith Bridge Hotel, said a quick hello to Emma who was waiting and carried on. From here I picked the Cumbria Way towards Elterwater. The path was really smooth and compared to the rocky trails, it was like running on carpet. I arrived at Elterwater where Emma was waiting once again and decided to sort my feet out. I taped up my heels with a combination of Compeed plasters and Rock Tape and said goodbye. I would not see Emma now until the end of the race and I felt kind of guilty that she had waited at three locations for me but I had hardly spent more than a couple of minutes at any of them.
It was plain sailing to the checkpoint at Chapel Stile and I arrived in a time of 25 hours and 58 minutes. I had moved up 52nd place. Once again I kept my time at a minimum going through. Emma had texted to say that Kev had said that if I came in the top 50 then he was going to bring a special malt whisky on our next mountain trip. Better get my skates on then. I continued along the Cumbria Way and across a field just near a farm. There was a large, ferocious looking cow stood next to the path. He was certainly unimpressed about something as he was making a proper racket. A 50 runner in front of me decided the best course of action was to just blitz past at full speed. The last thing I wanted was a standoff with the beast at this stage of the race so I just put my head down and followed the 50 runner. I must have passed within a metre but he stood his ground and I will not deny it was a little nervy. With the cow safely avoided it was up the summit of Side Pike Pass, around to Blea Tarn, then over Blea Moss to the compulsory check point on the wooden gate.
All that remained was a couple of kilometres to the checkpoint at Tiberthwaite and I would be on the final stretch. As I ran down towards Pell Foot Farm there was plumes of thick, acrid smoke bellowing up into the sky. At first I thought the farm house was on fire but it was actually something burning in the yard. Was it a tractor on fire? I am not sure but it was not pleasant running through the smoke.
It was 21:45 as I approached the final checkpoint at Tiberthwaite. Although it was still light, the darkness was approaching rapidly and I knew that I would be having to use the head torch on the final leg. As usual the checkpoint marshals were jovial and I was told in no uncertain terms that my stay would be five minutes maximum then I would be ‘booted out’ and send packing up the Stairway to Heaven. I looked at the food on offer. OMG, loads of fresh fruit. How amazing is that? I grabbed a big handful of orange segments. Unbelievable! I decided a caffeine boost was of the order for the final leg. One cup of coffee, three heaped teaspoons of Nescafe, half cold water, half hot. It tasted disgusting but I did manage to nail it one go and it was dynamite. Good stuff!
It was beginning to get chilly so I decided to change my running vest for a long sleeved top. Getting the thing off was a little problematic though. It was so sweaty, it had stuck to my skin. Fair play to the marshal who assisted me in removing it. Cannot say I would of liked to handle someone else’s clothing in that state but typical of how amazing all the marshals had been all day, she just got stuck in.
Feeling high after my caffeine intake I said goodbye to the checkpoint staff and ascended the steps up to the Stairway to Heaven. There was no one in sight and it was amazing to be climbing up just as last remnants of light faded away. As I ascended higher I looked back and could see the head torches of other runners climbing up. I resisted the urge to light my head torch. I could just about see and I wanted to enjoy the natural light for as long as possible. As I crossed the open fell I looked at my watch. It was 22.31. There was no way I was not going to finish now and I knew that bar some major disaster, I would be comfortably under 30 hours.
It was at this point that the trail lit up and I heard footsteps. A runner approached and he was on a mission. He asked if I was going for a sub 29 hour finish. It took me a second to comprehend. Was a sub 29 hour finish possible? According to the runner it was. Just push hard, throw yourself down the technical section and then hammer it on the road. Did I really want a sub 29 hour finish? There was no reason to push for a sub 29 finish but there is something about a challenge, especially when the margins are so fine. Sub 29 it is, Game on!
I started running, pushing up the Hole Rake Path to the summit. Over the top and down the rocky, technical section. It is a rough section with different paths to take and lots of loose rocks. I am not the best descender but somehow I managed to avoid slowing down or walking. I remembered that on the L50 my quads were so sore I was having to descend some of this backwards. As I got lower, I could hear music coming from the YHA. Someone was having fun! The path zigzagged and finally came out onto the main track that leads down past Levers Water Beck. It was now 22:43.
I guess it was just a kilometre or so to the end but the path was perfect for running. I blitzed down the trail, past the Miners Bridge and out onto the tarmac road. It was close to last orders as I passed the Black Bull Inn to a chorus of cheers from the punters sat outside enjoying a beer. Over the bridge then down the road to the finish. I crossed the finish line in a time of 28 hours and 53 minutes. I had finished in 49th position. As an added bonus I was ‘announced’ into the hall by Martin who I had spent all weekend marshalling with last year. Lakeland 100 done!
Post Race Reflection
I think it is fair to say that from a performance point of view, this was the best race I have ran. Putting aside the navigation error between Buttermere and Braithwaite, I only had one bad patch and managed to run pretty much all the flats and downhills from start to finish. I think experience counts for a lot in the big ultra-races and running the West Highland Way Race last year was invaluable from that point of view.
From a training point of view, I think my strategy of focusing of elevation rather than distance really reaped dividends. Running the Cairngorm 4000s and the Glencoe Round with a blast up and down Ben Lomond in between (total ascent over 8000 metres) as my final big training week was invaluable for me legs and mental state.
Of course, anything can happen on a big race and no matter who you are, you will definitely have a couple of ‘bad patches’. I guess I dwelt on the navigational error a little too much but apart from that I think I managed to overcome the other bad patch I had ok. Nutrition was a worry especially as I am vegan and you are not allowed outside assistance but the food at the checkpoints was amazing so I cannot complain.
Marc and the team have created an amazing race and I am proud to have experienced both the 50 and 100 in addition to marshalling. A massive shout has to go to the marshals. Totally amazing. Thank you guys. Finally a big thank you to my wife who puts up with this nonsense and my two top mates; Kev who once again did a sterling job analysing all my splits and and Scott who I share lots of running adventures with.
So what next? I will hopefully be back next year but as a marshal. As I have said on many occasions, there are so many good races what is the point of running your A Race twice. Short term it is the White Rose Ultra 100 mile race in November. That will give me enough points to enter the ballot for the UTMB. I guess it will be a case of fingers crossed but if I do not make it through the UTMB ballot then the Ring of Fire looks a great alternative!