Lakeland 100


Lakes 100In July 2014 I had travelled up to Cumbria for the Lakeland 100, the big daddy of single-stage ultra running in the UK. At 105 miles and 22500 feet of ascent (and descent), it is a considerable challenge, one that in an average year only 50% of entrants complete within the allowed 40 hours, and I had struggled. The weather had been unnaturally roasting, the heat had taken its toll on me, and only a serious talking-to from Caroline at half-way had ensured I finished, having thrown up over a marshall at an early checkpoint and been able to eat very little for the duration of the event. Though pleased as always to finish, I was a bit disappointed with a time of 36:52 and sure enough determined to return the next year to do better. There was unfinished business…..

This year I cadged a lift up to the Lakes with fellow Ludlow runner Stephen Greenhalgh, we arrived in good time and  set up tent in the school field in Coniston prior to the rigorous kit-check, always a relief to get through that, and the pre-race briefing which featured an inspirational quote from philosopher Ferris Bueller’s 1980s film encouraging us to live in the moment and make sure we didn’t just slog round but enjoyed the whole experience. A blast of Nessun Dorma sung live and then we were off.

The race starts at 6pm on Friday night from Coniston and takes a clockwise circle around and through the Lake District, passing through Wasdale Head, Buttermere, close to Keswick and Blencathra before hitting the halfway point at Dalemain. From here it heads out along the south of Ullswater, over the top to Hawes Water, then over to Ambleside before returning along Langdale and finally back over to Coniston. It doesn’t take in any summits as such, but there are several steep and hard climbs up to high passes, and some technical descents which mean that going down is no quicker than going up. There are checkpoints every 7 miles or so, manned by volunteers and all with their own theme – 70s roller disco, wild west at howtown etc – which are great fun and contribute hugely to the feel of the event. There is also a shorter sharper race, the Lakeland 50, which starts from Dalemain (the halfway point for the 100) on Saturday morning and follows the same route as the back half of the 100.

This year the weather on Friday was perfect for running – cool, just cloudy enough and with a cool breeze. We had tremendous views and were treated to a beautiful sunset casting red glow on to the rocky hillsides below Scafell Pike. I started at a decent steady pace and managed to get past Wasdale Head without throwing up on a marshall this time, much to everyone’s relief! On with the head torch and up and over Black Sail Pass to Buttermere and beyond. By the time the sun came up I was at Blencathra, and kept up a good pace into Dalemain at halfway for 9am, 4 hours ahead of last year. In 2014 I had fallen asleep here and had to be cajoled into continuing. Not this time – up and out fairly quick, though by now the sun was well and truly out and the mercury was rising, along with the altitude with the hardest climb of the route from Howtown up and over to Hawes Water. I was struggling again now, stopping at every beck to immerse my head in the ice cold water, but by the next checkpoint felt too nauseous to eat. The marshalls suggested I needed salt, which I managed to take in the form of crisps dunked in cold milk, surprisingly tasty! Up and over another sharp pass, past the fruit smoothies of Kentmere and on into Ambleside where the streets were full of supporters cheering encouragement.

In Ambleside I finally collapsed into the checkpoint over-heated, where I was ushered into their sick bay and rather surreally sat next to a 50-miler in a sleeping bag with woolly hat gloves and puffer jacket on to keep warm, while I stripped and had ice and cold fan applied to me for the total opposite of what he was suffering from. Iced down and refreshed by the cool of the evening, I was able to pick up pace again and push hard for the last 15 miles. The last 7 or 8 required the head torch again, and after a difficult rocky descent into Coniston managed to sprint through the town to the finish at the school in 29:33, amazingly more than 7 hours quicker than last year.Lakes 100 again

My aims for this weekend had been firstly to finish (always the most important goal for any ultra), secondly to improve on my time and third to enjoy it. I had thought before that if things went well I might sneak 32 hours, so to go under 30 was unbelievable and laid many ghosts to rest from 2014. Over and above that, I was able to enjoy the race so much more than the year before – the scenery, the checkpoints, the company of fellow runners – through not being so brain-frazzled. Steve also enjoyed a good race, finishing 3.5 hours quicker than last year, and we were up and about the next morning for the presentation ceremony where a special award went to the oldest ever finisher of the Lakeland 50, at 80 years old! – pretty inspirational stuff.

All in all, a fantastic weekend – hard route, beautiful surroundings, great camaraderie – the Lakeland 100 sells out in minutes when entries open in September, but it fully deserves its reputation as one of the top ultras in the UK. One day we will return…..

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