Lakeland 100 2021

Coniston, Friday, July 23, 2021

105 miles, 6300m

Aaron Gourley

Three Strider Amigos waiting to start the Lakeland 100

To run a race like the Lakeland 100 you need to be fully committed to much more than just the day itself.

This adventure started back in 2019 when I finally decided I was going to enter the Lakeland 100 after years of putting it off. In 2020, I was finally going to be part of what is a very tough ultra race around the Lake District.

After securing my place I set about training with an eye on making sure I didn’t slack on the plan I had. But then 2020 had other ideas didn’t it? Come the end of March I managed to get a final two day stay in the Lakes taking in some Bob Graham recces with a friend who was planning an attempt in the summer. That was the day Boris Johnson decided to shut everything down so it would be a few months before I, or anyone else for that matter, would get to go there for training runs.

Inevitably the Lakeland 100 was cancelled and replaced with a virtual race which was fun to be part of but not really the same challenge when you’re running 105 miles up and down the tracks of East Durham over 9 days.

As we moved into 2021 with a bit more hope that things couldn’t get much worse than 2020, they pretty much did and Covid struck me down at New Year. The first 2 weeks of January I spent feeling rotten and breathless in isolation at home.

When I was feeling better I immediately got back out running but that was a big mistake and by the end of January I was exhausted and ended up not running for nearly the whole of February until I was sure I was fully recovered.

In March I began my pursuit of getting back to running and training for the Lakeland 100. I had a plan in place and mixed in lots of gym sessions once they were allowed to reopen in April.

By June I was feeling good again and had the chance to get lots of Lakes running in with support on a few BGRs. These were great long days out on the hills but I did feel I probably should also be taking in some of the Lakeland route as recces but I wasn’t too worried as I’d have a map and a road book, there was also the GPX file available to download.

Fast forward to July and I was as ready as I could be for this monumental challenge. I packed the car up with all my kit and camping gear and set off with the family for a weekend in the Lakes.

It was a lovely morning on Friday and I’d decided to set off early so we could get to the campsite, set up the tent and then rest for a few hours before the start of the race at 6pm. But as we drove over the A66, the temperature was steadily rising, then as we got closer to Ambleside the traffic got increasingly heavy to the point where it stopped for what seemed an eternity. By the time we reached the campsite in Coniston it was after 1pm and hitting 28 degrees. It was HOT!

There was just no respite from the heat, so all my plans for a relax and a snooze were out the window.

After lots of faffing with the tent and worrying I’d forgotten something I got ready for the race. I’d already seen Stuart Scott, and Eric Green was in his van next to our tent. Elaine Bisson was somewhere on the site and there were a few people from Durham Mums on the Run who were running the 50 the next day around.

There was lots of excitement and anticipation in the air among the competitors as we edged closer to 6pm, but the temperature was the main concern, it was still incredibly hot.
In the starting pen, I met back up with Eric and Stuart and after the usual rendition of Nessun Dorma (not by us, a singer!) we were off. The start of the Lakeland 100 was quite incredible, never have I started a race with such an amazing atmosphere. From the start line all the way through Coniston and up the road towards the Miners Bridge was just packed with people supporting and cheering the runners. It was amazing to be a part of, but made it all too easy to get swept up and run too fast at the start.

Still smiling as I approached the first major climb at Walna Scar

My race plan was to try and get as close to 30hrs as I could but I’d decided to scrap that before we started, the temperature just wasn’t going to allow me to go at any kind of pace. I decided to take it easy and just ‘get round’. I watched as Eric and Stuart edged further ahead before eventually they were out of sight.

The first section to checkpoint one takes you up over Walna Scar and into Seathwaite. It’s a long drag of a climb and as runners streamed past I had to stay focused and believe in myself and my pace. Once upon the crest the long descent down allowed for a change of pace and I took it steady downhill into Seathwaite where I was able to refresh my drinks, which had warmed up in the heat, grab some food and be gone for the next section to Boot.

This section meanders through the valley with the occasional climb, but nothing major; it’s quite a pleasant section actually. After a while I caught up with Eric again. It was great to see him and have a chat as we headed to checkpoint 2.

The sun was starting to set but the temperature was still high and I left Boot with Eric for the climb up to Burnmoor Tarn and down to Wasdale. Without realising I’d edged away from Eric but felt confident he wasn’t too far behind. It was starting to get dark but I held out putting on my head torch for as long as possible. Just past the Tarn I turned it on and joined the long string of white lights that stretched ahead and behind me. It was a fabulous sight.

The route into Wasdale was long and I was starting to feel a bit tired but knew I could refresh and have some good food at Wasdale checkpoint, which was being hosted by Sunderland Strollers with an Alice in Wonderland theme – totally bonkers but great fun. I took the opportunity to grab some sandwiches, a few snacks and a cup of coffee before getting ready to set off again just as Eric arrived. He looked like he was suffering a little from the heat so said he was going to sort himself out before leaving. That was the last I saw of him but he did make it to Dalemain, the halfway point before calling it a day.

String of lights stretching through the Wasdale Valley

The next section from Wasdale to Buttermere is a brute as you head up the relentlessly long climb to Black Sail Pass and down into Ennerdale before climbing back up and over Scarth Gap Pass into Buttermere. I took my time but felt strong and was able to keep going whilst others faltered. At Buttermere I had a hotdog and a milkshake which was a nice change from crisps and flat cola.

From here we contoured the hills over Sail Beck and up Sail Pass. It was still dark and the string of lights that I had been part of over Wasdale to Buttermere was now broken. The field was well spread out now and I seemed to be progressing well, still catching people up but no-one catching me. Once at the top of Sail Pass there was a long and very runnable downhill into Braithwaite. Dawn was starting to break as I reached the outskirts of the village where I managed to take a wrong turn but quickly realised my mistake and arrived at the checkpoint soon after which was a hive of activity. As I went to grab a bowl of pasta I got the shock of my life when I saw Stuart sat at a table. He was still bouncing and happy despite telling me he’d had an awful time overnight. He was the last person I was expecting to see there and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him again during the race after he’d left Coniston.

I couldn’t eat much of the food on offer so decided to press on. Stuart was ready so we left together. It was great to have his company as we made our way towards Keswick and up to the Blencathra Centre, but I think we were both starting to suffer a little. Getting to Blencathra checkpoint seemed to take forever and I felt incredibly sleepy on the high track heading there. Eventually we reached it and took time to get some more refreshments. There was something wrong with Stuart’s tracker so he stayed to get this fixed whilst I pressed on with a coffee in my mug to drink which wasn’t a great idea as it was gnarly little path down to the river so ended up spilling most of it all over myself.

I hooked up with a few runners on the old railway path that runs from Keswick to Threlkeld which was nice for a bit of company and a chance to let someone else take up the navigation as they knew this section up onto the Old Coach Road. This was a drag but I was still feeling strong, just tired. Eventually we hit the Old Coach Road and started our journey to the next checkpoint at Dockray. At some point on this track Stuart came bounding by again like Tigger. Where does he get his energy from I thought? Off he went ahead as I maintained my steady plod, soon splitting from the others I’d been running with who seemed to drop off the pace.

Having a laugh and enjoying the views over Ullswater on our way to Dalemain

Dockray was being hosted by the Hardmoors gang so there were lots of familiar faces here. Jon Steele was on hand to dish out abuse and fill water bottles in equal measure. I filled my cup with soup but only managed to eat a bit of it, but it was enough. Stuart and I left here together for what is a really nice section of the route up above Ullswater and round to the halfway point at Dalemain.

Reaching Dalemain was a total highlight, just as we turned the corner onto the estate we saw Mark Kearney leading a pack of runners blasting their way past on the start of the 50 mile race which takes in a loop of the Dalemain estate before heading out towards Pooley Bridge. Then as we trotted slowly down the long road more and more 50 runners passed us and gave us great encouragement which we both lapped up.

Arriving at the checkpoint tent we both took time to get our drop bags and take a bit of time to change and eat. It was still incredibly warm and we’d now reached 60 miles. The atmosphere around the tent was good but you could tell people were tired. After a good 40 minutes or so, Stuart and I set off feeling refreshed. The route to Pooley Bridge was quite nice and we managed to pass some of the slower 50 runners which was a great morale boost for us but must be pretty depressing for them to be passed by weary 100 runners (or walkers as we mainly were now).

Through Pooley Bridge and up onto Askham Fell, Stuart and I were in great spirits and having fun chatting to more and more 50 runners. Stuart was pushing the pace again and flew off towards Howtown. At Howtown there was a huge line of 50 runners waiting to get drinks and register at the checkpoint. Luckily 100 runners were allowed to skip the queue so I went down, checked in and grabbed a few pieces of the very little food that was left before heading back up the road towards Fusedale.

I told Stuart I’d wait for him at the top of the road. I’m not sure what happened but I didn’t get to see him again, I’d waited but decided to push on thinking he’d catch me up at some point. Stuart retired from the race at the next checkpoint in Mardale.

Now I’d heard a lot about Fusedale but hadn’t ever been on this section and I’m pretty glad I didn’t know what was to come as it was awful. It was just relentless. But again I was still moving well, not fast, but strong and never felt the need to stop but by the time I’d got to the top at High Kop I really needed a few minutes to lie down to recover.

From here there was a long downhill to the banks of Haweswater where I joined the procession to Mardale checkpoint. This was my lowest point in the race, it just went on and on and on. I didn’t enjoy this section at all. Eventually I got to Mardale and had to have another lie down, I was so tired I fell asleep. I think I slept for around 20 minutes on the floor. Once awake I took my cup and got some soup and some bread which was amazing. Finally I was feeling like I could eat properly again. I restocked and headed off for the next big climb up Gatescarth Pass and into Longsleddale. I enjoyed this section, probably because I was feeling good, still running and still catching 50 runners and the occasional 100 runner. The sun was starting to drop lower in the sky and the temperature was starting to become more manageable.

The next few miles wound up and down before eventually I reached Kentmere checkpoint. I’d been looking forward to this one as there was the promise of freshly made fruit smoothies, I’d been thinking of them for most of the day and was overjoyed to walk in and find a fresh batch had just been made. I had three, topped up my bottles with apple juice and had a short sit down for a sandwich before setting off again – next stop Ambleside.

I was starting to get excited now with the prospect of getting to what in my mind was the point of no surrender. I knew if I could get to Ambleside in good condition, I’d finish the race. But getting to Ambleside is a tricky little number and has lots of twists and turns and short but steep ascents and descents. Added to that it was starting to get dark. I managed to make it to Troutbeck before I had to put my head torch on. From here there was a final up and over the valley before descending into Ambleside. I’d fallen in with a group of runners and we picked our way through the woods and onto the road before they all seemed to drop back, I ended up running into Ambleside on my own which was pretty cool as loads of people were still out and giving great support.

I finally reached the checkpoint at around 11:30pm. I tried not to hang about but made sure I took on enough food and drinks to reach the next checkpoint. Off I went up and out of the town. As I walked up the road I was joined by a guy called Nick. He was great company and more importantly, knew the way. We seemed to be going at the same pace so we stuck together for a bit and I was glad as this section was all new to me so I’d have struggled with a lot of the route turns here. It was also just nice to have someone to chat to at this point in the race, our second night out. We worked our way over the course, chatting to other runners until eventually we reached the next checkpoint in the Langdale Valley.

All smiles at Tilberthwaite checkpoint after the most delicious cheese toastie

We stayed here for a short while, probably longer than I would have if I’d been on my own, but I’d already decided to stick with Nick. We both had a good feed and put on an extra layer as it was finally cooling down outside.

The next few miles up the valley were not particularly hard but it was so dark I was glad my head torch has a pretty decent lumens rating, although I was worried it might run out of charge given this was the second night out with it on.

Again we caught and passed a few 100 runners, it was a great boost for us both to know we were moving well still. The bit was between my teeth now and I was keen to try and push the pace as much as possible without either of us blowing up in the final sections.

There seemed to be lots of runners on this stretch to the final checkpoint at Tilberthwaite so it made route finding quite easy and there was lots of nice chat to have with others. Eventually we reached the final checkpoint in the car park at the bottom of the steps to the Copper Mines. This checkpoint will go down as the best checkpoint in an ultra race I’ve ever visited. It was a little piece of heaven. There were people sitting around a huge campfire and there was a brilliant array of food on offer but the highlight was the woman making cheese toasties on a blazing chiminea. This was food from heaven and set me up nicely for the final push up Jacobs Ladder to the top of the Copper Mines and the final descent back to Coniston.

The final climb up to the Copper Mines before the descent into Coniston

I was buzzing leaving here with just over 3 miles left to go. I was pushing the pace and cajoling Nick to keep up. There were the unmistakable red numbers of 100 runners up ahead and I knew we were moving faster than them now so the challenge was on. By the time we got to the top of the climb we’d caught them. Now onto the descent there were more red numbers ahead, I tried to get Nick to come with me but he was happy to stay at his own pace. My legs were in the mood for a race now. I wish I’d been this lively through the rest of the race but that didn’t matter, I was working now.

I made sharp work of the tricky trail down to the main track back and passed my targets. I opened up my stride and ran as fast as I could back to Coniston. I was buzzing as I reached the town for the final sprint back to the finish.

I’d made it and was taken into the finishers’ tent where a Lakeland volunteer announced my arrival to cheers from those in the tent. I felt on top of the world getting my medal and t-shirt before heading to find the bar and grabbed a celebratory beer. What an amazing feeling it was.

Hard earned medal and beer

Despite being around 5hrs slower than my initial target I was so happy with how the race had gone. I never felt in danger of it falling apart and not finishing, I felt strong all the way round despite not being particularly fast. The hard work on the hills over the summer paid off and I know where I can make improvements so I’m now looking forward to a second attempt in 2022. Bring it on!


Pos.NameClubTimeCat.Gender Pos.Cat. Pos.
1Mark Darbyshire19:10:27MV4011
13Anna Troup25:09:20FV5011
15Elaine BissonElvet Striders26:00:28FV4021
181Aaron GourleyElvet Striders35:24:50MV4015878
Retired – Mardale (82 miles)Stuart ScottElvet Striders26:08:07MV40
Retired – Dalemain (59 miles)Eric GreenElvet Striders (formerly)20:30:36MV50

Full results can be found at Open Tracking
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1 thought on “Lakeland 100 2021

  1. I came across this post looking at one for Hamsterley Forrest Parkrun, which I’m doing tomorrow. This was a great read as I did the 50 last year, I was injured and walked 90% of it, but did finish, I know that feeling. I’ve a place this year and I’m looking forward to a quicker time, thank you for bringing back some great memories…… Legend.

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