What is the Lakeland 50 & 100?
For those of you that know little or nothing about this event the Lakeland 50 is a 50 mile race round the Lake District and believe it or not it’s only the baby to the main event. The big daddy is the Lakeland 100, yes 100 miles, well in fact 105 miles! The Lakeland 100 starts and finishes in Coniston village and is one massive clockwise loop round the Lake District taking in many of the lakes and hills. The course is almost entirely on tracks and paths with hardly any tarmac roads used. It’s amazing how little traffic you see and in fact for much of the race you can’t even hear the usual hum of traffic in the distance. The 100 starts on Friday night at 6pm so very shortly after starting the runners are having to run through the whole of the night using a head torch on unlit, hilly and very difficult terrain.
The setup for the Lakeland 50 is that we are taken from Coniston on Saturday morning by coach, which is an experience on its own! With the train of coaches squeezing their way along the winding narrow Lake District lanes to our start at Dalemain House, north of Ulswater. This is the 50 mile and 8th checkpoint for the 100 runners. At Dalemain House whilst waiting for our start at 11:30am it was humbling to see the 100 runners passing through. The least we all could do was cheer them along. It was hard to comprehend they had been running for 17 hours, all through the night and still had to do what we were about to start.
The whole course isn’t marked, runners are provided with waterproof maps and have to navigate their own way. So the organisers can monitor where all the runners are up to, we are all issued with computer chips which are taped to our wrists. There are a series of check points 1to 14 for the 100 and check points 9 to 14 for the 50. We have to dip the chip in a reader at each check point or we would be disqualified.
The Lakeland 50 Start
After getting off the coach at Dalemain House and while I was waited for my race to start at 11:30am, I watched some of the 100 runners pass at check point 8. Most of the check points are set up under gazebos, manned and stocked up with an array of food and drinks. As I watched I thought it strange that it was set up like a military hospital with the marshals dressed in scrubs. In a way, I thought it was giving the tired 100 runners the wrong signal but I didn’t dwell on this too long. It came round to 11:30am and time for the Lakeland 50 to start. We all set off under the red inflatable gantry for a large lap around the Dalemain House Estate before heading across the Lake District on our epic journey.
The first 10 miles up to check point 9 consisted mainly of Lakeland farmland and lower fells, it was very undulating but I found it well within my capabilities and ran well. At this check point, all the marshals were dressed as cowboys and the penny dropped from my earlier thoughts, part of the event was that the marshals and helpers at each of the check points dressed up for fun with each check point having a different theme. I found the check point at Kentmere very amusing as all the helpers were dressed up as sheep! I must thank all the helpers they were so helpful and friendly making each of the check points mini oasis of respite from the miles of hills, mud and rocks.
Straight after check point 9 the terrain was a totally different story, as we started to climb and climb and climb. It seemed like it would never end! Nearly 2000ft and then boggy land on the top that was no easier to negotiate and neither was the following awkward decent down to Haweswater. I was running in the company of a young lady called Jodie who had run the event before and kindly shared her knowledge of the route with me which helped pass the time and take my mind off this tough hill section. I had now started to experience why the Lakeland 50 was such a tough challenge.
Catching up some of the Lakeland 100 runners was so humbling. I was tired after only 15 miles and to think they had run 50 miles more than me, through the whole of Friday night while I had been asleep gave me so much respect for what immense effort and pain they must have been putting themselves through. I stumbled across one of the 100 runners and realised it was Marcus, a friend of mine from Bolton, I had no idea he was even in the event. It was lovely to talk to him for a few minutes and hopefully I gave him a bit of encouragement before I pushed on.
Check point 10 was at the far end of Haweswater, It was nice to bump into Paul Brown and have a short chat over a cup of lovely warm potato and leek soup before moving on and yes you guessed it, uphill once again! During this next steep long climb I met up with brothers Phil and Shaun who had experience of the event and were good company for next few miles.
After check point 11 in the very picturesque village of Kentmere there was a smaller hill before dropping down into Troutbeck, another equally beautiful Lakeland village. Then you guessed it another uphill. It seems this course only had 2 directions up or down! When I got to the top I saw the very familiar sight of Lake Windermere, this gave me some comfort and I knew I was a short distance from Ambleside. Down through some pretty deciduous woodland and out onto a tarmac road and along the main street of Ambleside. It was uplifting to not only have a small crowd cheering but to see Yuk-Lam, Abbey and Lucas cheering at the side of the road.
Check point 12 was at the far side of Ambleside in the town’s park. I filled my bottles and had a handful of biscuits before crossing the park, over a river and you guessed it, once again started climbing up hill. I had been doing some maths in my head. I had been going 8.5 hours and covered 35 miles. This meant I had 3.5 hours to do 15 miles, to complete the race in under 12 hours, how hard could that be?
After the ascent out of Ambleside the descent took me into the Great Langdale valley and the course took us past Elter Water and along a river called the Great Langdale Beck. After the last several slow miles with lots of walking due to the steep climbs it was nice to get back to running and I was pleased to knock out a full mile of decent paced running. Well that is what I thought it was until I looked at my watch which said 10 minutes 57 seconds for the last mile! Near the end of the valley we came across a camp site and Check Point 13 and the chance for a short rest, food and drink. Sadly at the end of the valley came another steep rocky climb, my quads were now smashed and I struggled to get up. 42 miles were done but I knew I had nothing left in my quads and any more up hills were going to be sheer mind over matter. The light was fading and I got my head torch out ready for use.
Into the Dark
To my relief I finally got to the top of the climb, the day light had almost completely disappeared and I donned my head torch. This was a first for me to be running in the dark on rough, rocky, rugged terrain. I had a quality powerful head touch and it worked well as I negotiated the rocky obstacles. My legs were so heavy. I had caught up with brothers Phil and Shaun and it helped to follow them and their head touch beams. In the complete darkness, I found it quite a surprise when we came across a group of campers all huddled round a camp fire and some more with dance music playing, something I wasn’t expecting out here in the middle of nowhere.
We left the partying campers behind and again became consumed by the dark. Slowly I followed the brothers across the hill side as we tried to find and follow a path which increasingly became more difficult. I was finding it very hard to keep lifting my legs, my quads simply didn’t want to move any more. Finally, to my relief we came upon a road and I saw the runners in front of me stop at a telegraph pole, I wondered why. Then it occurred to me they were at an unmanned check point and tied to the post was one of the electronic gizmos that we had to dib our chips into. If I hadn’t of had the other runners around me then I’m sure I’d have never found this.
We followed the road down hill, even this was now hard for me and I had to let the brothers go ahead. I didn’t really want to do this as they had been great company and also knew a lot of the route but my tired legs gave me no choice. I started to think I might spend much of the last section of the course alone but then a runner, who I hadn’t realised had been following me, called Anthony came along side. Apparently he had been following for some time and we paired up to support each other. We turned right off the road onto a track which winded its way up yet another hillside in the dark. I looked around but couldn’t see any other head torch lights either in front or behind and started to wonder if we were going the right way. It would be horrific to imagine going the wrong way at this point of the race in the dark and feeling so exhausted. Anthony was confident we were going the right way and I trusted his judgment. I was actually relieved when two lady runners caught us up and over took us, at least I knew we were definitely going the right way.
A little further on in pitch dark when it was only me and Anthony and we couldn’t see anyone else, I thought I started to hallucinate. Coming out of the dark very close to me at the side of the path I saw a huge long haired, light brown bull with large horns and a mean looking expression as it stared at me out of the darkness. As we heaved ourselves up the stoney path past him I just hoped he didn’t come at us, I was in no fit state to run away. Just a few yards further on we came across another and then another and another. All of them identical and staring at us. So surreal I asked Anthony did he see them or was I hallucinating, I was so relieved when he confirmed he saw them too.
The final Check Point
With only 4 miles to go we were back on tarmac and I could see the final Check Point in the distance. I could see a few head torch lights showing the way towards the Check Point and then a line of them going at about 60 degrees upwards. Anthony informed me there was a really steep hill straight after the Check Point. Surely not, I couldn’t imagine my legs coping with another hill. At the Check Point I only had a small drink and a few crisps, I didn’t fancy much and knew there was less than 4 miles to go, although I was coming to terms with the fact they weren’t going to be easy.
Straight out of the Check Point a couple of lanterns lit up the first of many uneven stone steps that showed the route up the final hill. I can’t find the words to describe how my quads felt at this point, they have never been so sore or weak. I think Anthony was feeling exactly the same. We hauled ourselves up a few hundred yards then collapsed in the heather while we caught our breath back. I knew all my thoughts back in Ambleside of a sub 12 hour run were going out of the window very quickly (unlike my running). Sitting in the dark, Ambleside and seeing my family seemed so long ago. I also knew Yuk-Lam would be waiting for me at the finish but hadn’t got the power to move any faster. I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep but knew I needed to push on. Anthony and I worked together to keep ourselves going. It was great team work under extraordinary and extreme circumstances. As we climbed over rocks, using our hands in places I could hear the sound of rushing water to our right, we must have been near a stream rushing down the hill side but in the dark using the head touches it was out of sight but sounded close. This was a little bit unnerving, I imagined us falling down a hidden ravine, luckily this didn’t happen and shortly after wards we were bobbing along some flatter grassy hill tops.
The final Descent
With about 1 mile left to go we started to descend into Coniston and on to a tarmac road which I recognised from running around Coniston Old Man some years ago. The legs were complaining even though I was going down hill but I was so pleased to know I was nearly back in Coniston. We dropped down through the centre of the village and back to where the whole day had started, at the John Ruskin high school and the finish. Even though it had gone midnight there were plenty of people there, including my friend Chris who had helped out all day and the wonderful welcome site of Yuk-Lam. Into the marquee to hand in my chip and collect my medal before having a little lie on the ground before Yuk-Lam so kindly took me back to Brathay Hall for a shower and a sleep.
This event has been the most exhausting single day event I’ve ever do in my whole life. My legs have never been so sore after a race, my quads were completely smashed. My shoulders are hurting from the back pack and I have a graze going down my back from where it has been lightly rubbing for many hours. Even my left forearm is sore and I have completely no idea why. Calves are fine like normal but my feet have taken a massive battering from the tough wet, muddy and rocky terrain. The grit in my socks had been wearing away at the soles of my feet like sand paper, I’m surprised not to have a blister. I lost count how many times I kicked or tripped over rocks. At times I felt like I could have done with my steel toe caps from work!
The course was fantastic, everything I had hoped for and much, much more. It guided us round the wonderful Lakeland scenery, hills, lakes, woods, fields of ferns, streams and over little bridges just to mention a few. Virtually all the time we were kept away from tarmac roads and traffic. It was a love way of getting away from modern life for a day. I’ve never experienced such a severe course, the hills, terrain with rocky, muddy and wet paths were relentless but fantastic all at the same time.
My eventual finishing time was 12 hours 38 minutes 25 seconds, 209th place out of 662 finishers. A position I can be pleased with, considering I only decided to run in the event 3 days prior to the race and with no specific training or preparation. Considering all my left knee injury problems this year I am so pleased to have made the late decision to participate and manage to complete the race without any further problems to the knee.
The day before the event I was kindly sent a test sample of Super Hydrate the new product from Pura. It will be available to buy early next year. It was the new raspberry and lime flavour which sounded an interesting flavour combination so I decided to take a risk and trial it during the Lakeland 50. Maybe not the most sensible idea but, I trust Pura and their products and believed it was worth taking the risk. I found the Raspberry and lime flavour was both fruity and refreshing as well as pleasant on my stomach. It worked really well and I’m going to enjoy using it at future races and can’t wait for it to be on general sale. It is certainly a hydration drink I’ll continue to use and would recommend and I’m sure it will do really well for Pura. My thanks to Pura and I look forward to using it at many races in the future.