Here’s my story of the Lakeland 100 race I competed in recently, all I can say is your best off getting a cuppa and making yourself comfortable as it goes on a while!
I arrived in Coniston around 1pm on Friday 23rd August and met up with my brother who was competing in the 50-mile race, off we went to get weighed then get our kit checked and pick up all the items we needed from registration. It’s a really good event as you get an excellent road book describing each stage and a fully marked map; both are fairly waterproof and not at all bulky items, which was a bit of a concern to me beforehand. After putting our tent up it was off into the village for a spot of lunch before I headed off to the 100-mile race briefing. A fairly normal briefing explaining about the event and all the things we needed to know including a slight change of route at Wasdale which made things a little easier, then a few words from a superstar of the fell running world Joss Naylor who would be starting our race. It was then time for final checks and time to start worrying about what lay ahead.
Stage 1 Coniston to Seathwaite 6.4 miles 642m accent 594m decent
At around 5.30 Joss sets us on our way and we shuffle our way through the village and out onto the miners track where we are reduced to a walk. It’s a case of walking and running up the track where it levels slightly before crossing the river and continuing up the fell side around Coniston old man, a good decent then onto Walna scar road for the long climb to Walna scar pass. I’m going pretty well up here and have passed a large amount of the field without overdoing it, I have to stop at the pass to pull my socks up as they have almost come off my feet!! I spend the decent chatting to a bloke that finished in 37 hours last year and has done all sorts of races including the Ultra Mont Blanc, he runs away when we hit the tarmac but I’m happy to let him go as I’m already a good 10 minutes up on my fastest predicted time!! Another bloke comes past on the way to the checkpoint but I get there in 17th place in 1.21, after picking up a banana and some malt loaf I’m back on track again.
Stage 2 Seathwaite to Boot 6.7miles 355m accent 410m decent
The track along this route is very boggy indeed after the recent rain which makes it very hard going, when I reccy’d it a few weeks earlier it was bone dry and I was flying along but tonight it’s like running through treacle! There is only one tough climb that reduces me to walking pace but I have to walk a few other sections because of the state of the track and it’s at this point where I’m beginning to wonder if I will get round this course, not a good state to be in this early on. The bracken has also sprouted up in the last few weeks making it difficult to see the path below and avoid the rocks, just to make things a little more interesting a sheep has decided to die on the path too!! I’m just happy to have seen it in time and manage to leap over, I only hope everyone else will be as lucky. When I get back onto the hard track I feel like I’m going ok and although I have slowed slightly I’m still ahead of schedule for the next check, it seems a rather large group has caught me up as well so I may have a little bit of company for a while as we hit the Boot checkpoint to the applause of the folk in the pub beer garden. 17th place 2.56.
Stage 3 Boot to Wasdale 5.4 miles 276m accent 249m decent
This should be a fairly easy stage, not too long and with little climbing but as I set off with my slice of cake I soon realise this is not the case, the group of runners that caught me before the check slowly come past as I struggle over the boggy ground around Burnmoor tarn, I’m feeling quite tired now as the light is fading so I have a gel to try and bring me round. I seem to be catching a bloke that passed me earlier as we head down to Wastwater so this gives me a little bit of a boost but as I hit the road he seems to have disappeared. The other thing that gets me is there is folk walking along the road seemingly oblivious to what’s going on and therefore not giving anyone any encouragement; it’s strange how such little things play on your mind at times like these. I arrive at the check just as the group in front are leaving so it seems they have spent a bit of time here, I get my bottle filled with coffee, grab a cup of coke and a few sweets then it’s back on the go. I’m now 24th and have been going for 4.13 so well up on schedule (although I don’t realise).
Stage 4 Wasdale to Buttermere 6.8 miles 743m accent 703m decent
I set off walking up the path as I’m busy drinking coffee and eating a cereal bar (I wish I had got the Jordan’s ones as these are very dry!) but manage to get into a sort of running shuffle when the path eases and eventually drops slightly. The guy I was catching has moved away again and seems to be going ok but it’s still a good target to aim for, as this stage is one of the tough ones with two big climbs. As I climb Black Sail pass I’m really starting to think bad thoughts but I manage to get my head down and even run a bit on the plateau before the final climb over the pass, the head torch is switched on for the decent and I manage to catch the guy in front which helps me find the way down. The valley is now full of little lights as everyone scrambles about trying to find the track, as we pass Black Sail hut there’s a few folk outside interested to know what’s going on and not surprisingly think we are all mad!! I finally pass the bloke I’ve been chasing before the climb over Scarth Gap but then we are both overtaken by quite a few others before the summit, my head torch is dimming which makes the decent to Buttermere that little bit more difficult but luckily it holds out to the checkpoint and I manage to run all the way from the foot of the decent. Into the checkpoint for a bottle filled with tea and some soup, which turns out to be mushroom, yuk!! Change the batteries in the torch then off out into the night once more. 27th 6.33 and its Saturday morning!!
Stage 5 Buttermere to Braithwaite 8.6 miles 744m accent 774m decent
I start this stage walking up through the woods eating the soup I don’t like and drinking my tea until I get to the steps over the wall and out onto the fell where I break into a steady shuffle. It’s quite a decent track until you get to the fork and have to go uphill and into the bracken, which is covering the path, it was bad enough during daylight hours but now trying to see the path with a small spot of light is proving increasingly difficult. It doesn’t help that the path is slightly off camber and putting extra strain on my ankles but I keep plodding on occasionally seeing the spots of light that means there’s runners up ahead even though I doubt I will be seeing them. This track contours around Whiteless pike and Wandope crossing 3 beck’s/gills and every time I cross one and make my way round the other side I can see the guy behind catching up which he eventually does just as I start heading uphill on what I think is the track to Sail pass. We quickly realise it isn’t and return to the track we were on, after having a quick chat we find the right track and head uphill, it seems another couple of guy’s have caught up too so I get going on the uphill so as not to get in anyone’s way. By the time I get to the top they are quite a way behind so I’m by myself for the tricky decent towards Barrow door, I say tricky because it’s a steep rock strewn narrow path with a pretty sheer drop to the left side of about 350m!! The track flattens towards Barrow door and I keep to the left to go down the grassy track and eventually hit the road into Braithwaite. Into the checkpoint and grab some coke and rice pudding then a quick chat with Jesse Palmer and the other guys who have just come in before heading back out into the night. 27th 8.37
Stage 6 Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre 8.2 miles 472m accent 276m decent
I luckily have got my rice pudding in my own container so I can keep moving rather than stop at checkpoints, this is a good thing because shortly after leaving the checkpoint I feel all queasy and throw up, there’s not a lot coming up and I feel loads better afterwards but at least I haven’t wasted all that food. I walk along the A66 at just after 2am on Saturday morning eating cold rice pudding wondering what the day will bring, the guys from the cp come past just as I’m finishing and inform me I should have had 2 bowls!! I get my Satsuma eaten then get on with trying to catch the group in front as I’m moving along quite nicely now, they start pulling away before we leave the side of the A66 and get on the old railway track into Keswick but I’m catching somebody who seems to be walking, when I catch him he says he has leg problems but is ok so it’s off again into town. I catch Jesse and the group again as they are busy with foot maintenance but they will be coming past again as we head out of Keswick and up towards Latrigg on the Cumbria way, I’m feeling pretty rough up here and trying to eat and drink to get some energy although it doesn’t seem to be working. Heading up the valley between Longscale fell and Blencathra I feel a bit better and pass one of the guys up front who isn’t doing to good, apparently he cant keep anything down and is going to stop at the next check. It’s beginning to get light along here although I can still spot the torches of the runners ahead on the other side of the valley. After a hard rocky decent and a little climb I’m on the Blencathra side and running again more or less all the way to the checkpoint. 29th 11.18
Stage 7 Blencathra to Dockray 7.7 miles 439m accent 313m decent
I leave the cp eating some buttered malt loaf and have a steady trot downhill towards the river, I meet up with another runner and have a bit of a chat as we run along the old railway line out of Keswick. He’s going a bit too quick for me and me knee is hurting so I ease off and let him go, off the railway and under the A66 and a liquid version of the malt loaf reappears!! I’m a little concerned by the fact I have been sick twice now but just put it down to the distance and time of day, plus I feel much better afterwards and am able to run again. It strikes me along Threlkeld common coach road that I might not finish this race I seem to be feeling increasingly unwell and having to walk large sections that I should be running, I keep going and seem to be running ok when I can but the next cp is not quite half distance!! I get there ok and grab some water and a banana and get on my way quickly. 36th 13.39
Stage 8 Dockray to Dalemain 9.8 miles 356m accent 622m decent
This is the longest stage to the point where the 50 mile race starts and a possibility of seeing my brother, if I’m honest I’m considering pulling out at this point too as I cant see me going on. It’s a long road downhill before a wooded section round Aira Force which then climbs out onto the fell side above Ullswater, I’m really struggling here and walk a lot of this section before a bloke catches me and gives me inspiration to carry on, I’m running again now and although not feeling too good in myself I feel better about what lies ahead. A few folk pass but then I catch and pass the bloke I was chatting to earlier, quite a bit more road work and I’m trying to work out some timings in my head to see how I’m getting on. Into Dacre and the pub isn’t open yet so it’s onto the track and towards Dalemain and finally run into the checkpoint. 40th 16.40
Stage 9 Dalemain to Howtown 6.8 miles 285m accent 252m decent
After a good stop for some rice pudding, red bull and a change of t shirt it’s off again into the second half of the race, I take the time to give my brother a call and let him know I’m struggling and will expect to see him come past shortly. I get into an easy run and am surprised how well I seem to be moving, I get to Pooley bridge and visit the local shop for a few bottles of pop. I have a bit of a panic here as I forgot which pocket my money was in and think I’ve lost it somewhere but once I find it and the bottles and change are stowed away it’s back on track again and I find a few fellow competitors for company on the road out of town and up towards Tarn moor, we power walk up the climb but then I find my running legs again and leave them behind. I’m going pretty well down to Howtown and make up quite a bit of ground on the people ahead, after checking in and getting some coffee and cake it’s back out again and the long climb over Wether hill towards Haweswater. 36th 18.53
Stage 10 Howtown to Mardale Head 8.3 miles 738m accent 656m decent
The weather begins to turn as I reach the top so it’s on with my jacket for the trudge across the open moorland, we find the track down to Measand beck just as the leaders from the 50 come flying past and disappear quite quickly. I’m feeling quite tired again now and in need of food so after showing the way to a group of fellow runners I have a quick stop for a gel and some coke, I take this time to check how far I have to go and how long I have left and this shocks me into running nearly all the way to the next check, I’m convinced I can do it but I’m going to have to move as fast as I can, this I seem able to do as I pass quite a few folk who seem to be struggling before Mardale Head. 28th 22.10
Stage 11 Mardale Head to Kentmere 5.9 miles 505m accent 593m decent
This is another hard stage basically with two big hills with a small flat section in between, the track is made up of large stones, rocks and slate the only decent running surface being a bit of tarmac just before the checkpoint. To make matters worse it’s started pouring down and blowing a gale, but after a quick coke stop at the cp I’m off on my way and going as fast as I can with only runners from the 50 mile event passing and giving lots of much needed encouragement, this is one of the great things about the event how everybody helps and encourages there fellow competitors. I manage to keep it pretty much together until the road towards the check where I’m a bit sick again, at least I can get in the shelter soon and have some more rice pudding and tea. Marc Laithwaite is waiting at the door to great all the runners and all the volunteers are running round tending to everyone’s needs with regards food, drink and injury niggles. 27th 24.08 yeah I’ve been running for just over a day!!
Stage 12 Kentmere to Ambleside 7.1 miles 486m accent 590m decent
This stage is pretty much like the last with two climbs but without the flat in between, I seem to go ok up the first climb although I’m going slowly and getting passed by quite a lot of other runners. I mange to get into a run down the other side into Troutbeck where my brother catches me on the decent over the slate, I tell him I’m not doing too well and have been sick but wish him luck for the rest of his race and watch him disappear into the distance. I fair slightly better over the next climb and down into Ambleside where there is a lot of support from the people watching this crazy race. Into the cp at Lakes runner and time for a sit down with a cuppa tea and some soup, time to try and get a grip on reality. It turns out my brother has told them about me and they don’t want me to carry on until I get checked out by a medic so I have to sit there until Marc turns up and has a chat. Luckily he’s just as mad as the rest of us and lets me carry on (he told me afterwards he was only joking and thought I would pack in, so was surprised to see me running out of the shop!) 28th 26.26.
Stage 13 Ambleside to Langdale 4.8 miles 245m accent 201m decent
It just a case of surviving to the finish for me now but I’m still able to run bit’s of this short stage, it’s getting dark now too especially through the wooded sections at Skelwith Bridge but as another night begins to fall I’m not feeling too bad again and just determined to get to Coniston before 9am on Sunday. With only one small climb out of Ambleside it’s a pretty easy stage but does seem to go on a little longer than the advertised 4.8 miles, but eventually I make it to the checkpoint at the school and have a sit down while enjoying some beef stew and a cuppa. Time to get the head torch out again now as hopefully the next time I see the light it will all be over. 29th 28.14
Stage 14 Langdale to Tilberthwaite 7.7 miles 402m accent 334m decent
My legs don’t seem to want to move and take quite a while to get loosened up along the track past the camp site but it’s not too much of a problem as it’s got to the stage that taking it easy and making sure your going the right way in the dark is much more important than anything else. It’s quite tricky finding where I need to be but once I hit the climb up to Blea tarn I’m on track but feeling a bit weary again, a quick stop after the road and a root in my pack for a red bull and gel. Has anybody had the power bar caffinted apple flavour? It’s absolutely disgusting and I almost retch with every mouthful, I persevere with it anyway as I just need to keep going. I get caught by a large group after the tarn and do my best to stick with them until the road section to Castle how then it’s all down to me to find my way over the next climb before dropping down to the cp at the car park for a cup of water and fig biscuit before the final stage. 29th 31.14
Stage 15 Tilberthwaite to Coniston 3.5 miles 283m accent 385m decent
asically this is a horrible stage up the side of a quarry, across open moorland where I wonder if im going the right way several times and back down a rock strewn path that makes you wince with pain every time you foot hits the ground. Some more wandering about wondering which way to go as the track brings you out onto the miners road to Coniston, it’s not until I see the cattle grid I ran over some 33 hours ago that I’m convinced I’m going the right way. I manage to shuffle down to the village and can only walk the rest of the way to the finish line where I collapse and fall asleep. I wake up around 6am and they allow me back to my tent where I sleep again before attempting to make myself human again with a shower and some food. Finishing position 29th 33.18