So I’m not sure how I got roped into it, what I do know is the entry to Lakeland 50 was a birthday present from a former boyfriend…… thanks for that!
So the Lakeland 50 is dubbed as one of the toughest ultras in the Uk, self navigated, unsupported over some of the most beautiful scenery ….. sounds good so far doesn’t it? Bearing in mind 30 miles was the farthest I’d gone (managed to squeeze in a 55 miler as a 24 hour event 3 weeks before the big one) I can’t navigate to save my life and I’m terrible at following training plans I guess to no wonder I was a bit nervous about this one.
The 29th July loomed large and I made my final preparations, making sure I had my essential kit neatly in a box ready for kit check, road books for Kathryn Sygrove and me printed and laminated (the provided one isn’t waterproof), food organised (being vegan I wasn’t sure if there would be adequate food I could eat at the checkpoints), tent packed and off we went down to Coniston.
Arriving around 7pm Rob put our tent up while I went to register and get my kit checked, it had been raining already…. a sign of things to come it seemed. Kit check went well was even complemented on how neatly my stuff was presented, picked up my ‘dibber’, got weighed (apparently if you look unwell at the end they’ll weigh you again as an indicator of kidney failure or dehydration). Then we bumped into Kathryn, waited for her to be registered and kit checked then headed off to the pub for more pre race prep ….. food and drink.
The night passed with a fitful sleep with the obligatory pre ultramaranoia nightmare, landings of rain through the night, the baaaa of sheep ALL NIGHT, but knowing that all my prep was done and all that was to be done now was to toe the start line with 700 ish other runners was some consolation.
7 o’clock alarm, coffee, instant porridge, ablutions as best you can in a tent, use of the chemical toilets (nice!) and it was all of a sudden 830am and time for the entertaining race brief by Uncle Terry and ‘the other one’ (you had to be there). Now after another toilet stop, it was onto the buses for the tedious journey to Dalemain, the starting point. More snacking on the bus, banana, peanut butter and jam sandwich for me, cheese sandwich for Kathryn.
Of course, it started to rain as soon as we got to Dalemain, waterproofs on while we waited for the loo again. Couple of pics/selfies, ‘fibbed’ onto the course and a Facebook live video as we crossed the start line We were off!
The first 4 miles were through the Dalemain estate, nothing special but not flat, some little undulations made it a bit interesting. The rain stopped after around 2 miles so waterproof off. At this stage you kind of thin into the groups of people you’ll see time and again. Pooley Bridge next, a nice run through a pretty town… lots of cheers and claps from passers by the the first real uphill, think it was about a mile long with a photographer saying ‘no running no photo’ so of course I had to have a little run, but just for the photo.
Managed to catch up with Joanne Abbott, a runner I was familiar with from the Hardmoors races and held onto her and her hubby through the checkpoint at Howtown, renamed Howdy Town with a western theme, quick cup of tea and some flapjack and we were off again.
Here was the toughest part of the whole route for me, and only 12 miles in….. The monstrous Fusedale climb, it went on for at least a mile and a half with over 1200 ft of climb. I was down to counting steps to push myself on, sometimes 50 steps, sometimes 100 occasionally 30, I must have used a whole packet of shotbloks and a few glucose tablets to get me up there but my strategy worked and I eventually made it to the top. It was here I met Cathy, she was rewarding herself with a kit Kat, which had melted. Cathy and I stuck together for the remainder of the race, she was a godsend and made the rest of the race a less horrific experience.
From the top of Fusedale it was a bog hoppers dream, we had been reminded to stay high to get from High Kop (highest point of the course at around 2200 feet) and to look for the wooden stake to start down to Low Kop and run around Haweswater until we reached the next checkpoint at Mardake Head. Time for more refuelling, soup, sandwiches, coke, tea all served by lovely marshals who couldn’t do enough for us, filling our water bottles for us etc. There were a couple of 100ers sitting wrapped up, waiting to be taken back to Coniston. I can’t even imagine doing the 100 so fair play to them for getting this far. Soon we were off, with a packet of crisps tucked away for later.
It was round about here we picked up our 3rd musketeer Donna, who had done the route last year and was glad of some company. The next bit from Mardale to Kentmere was quite enjoyable, still in daylight, the company was good, we were well fed, and the terrain wasn’t horrible, still some elevation though but after Fusedale anything was preferable. By now we had renamed it ‘F^*#%$ Fusedale’ which amused us for the rest of the race.
3 Harry Potter/Stardust esque slate styles later we arrived at my favourite checkpoint so far Kentmere. It was inside, there was suitable for vegan pasta, hot tea, coke, hobnobs. And Jen Scotney was there (wife of world class ultramarathoner Marcus Scotney, and I later found out she gad SFV cake which I missed out on). Starting to get dark now, so long sleeve top on, head torch on, second watch on (I knewmy Tomtom wouldn’t last the whole time). Cathy changed her socks and blister plasters. I made the decision not to take my shoes off until the end. Once again, ushered out of the hall, we were off.
Ambleside next stop, the weather was still holding off, temperature just right no rain. We kept on keeping on, over Garburn Pass, very rocky and technical underfoot but my Altra Superiors were performing well and there was little slippage. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and couldn’t eat anything, taking sips of tailwind every now and again. I was so looking forward to Ambleside as it was another a checkpoint crossed off.
Eventually we approached the checkpoint and had a lovely surprise that Angela and John Greathead had stayed up to support me (it was around 130am by now), the Vegan Runners had put together a box of vegan goodies and with my queasy tummy I was overjoyed to see Ginger Snaps, just what i needed something ginger to settle my nausea, worked a treat in combination with Kendal mint cake.
Cathy had been having trouble with her shoes slipping of her heels so I bent down to replace her shoes in the ‘heel locking’ style which really improved her comfort. And with a big hug from Angela and John we were off again.
And now the heavens opened. Back on with the waterproof jacket and keep on going. This was again quite a pleasant part of the course, only 5.6 miles to the next checkpoint and mainly on paths, jog a bit walk a bit jog a bit walk a bit. Past Skelwith, Elterwater, the campsite (sshhh quiet!) not much to see in the pitch dark and lashing rain. But then the bright glow of the checkpoint tent at Chapel Stile beckoned in the near distance. Now hot food, veg stew, coffee, water bottles topped up again. Donna sat down. I did not. Beware the chair! Hustling the girls, I just wanted to keep going and get it over with now, it was around 330am now, pitch dark and still raining.
Now the boggiest, wettest, difficult to navigate in the dark terrain. There were loads of sheep, well at first glance they were just reflective eyes in the darkness, I wonder what they were thinking! As we came out of the fields, into the bracken across Bleamoss it started to get light and the rain stopped. There was no actual sunrise to be seen but it must have happened as it was suddenly full daylight and even the sun started to come out. One 100 lady runner went past us a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in a Wonderland, she thought it was much later than it was and she thought she was going to miss her cut off. Reassuring her it was only 530 ish not 830 ish she breathed a sigh of relief but still pushed on. On reaching the self dib at Wrynose there was an old fella with his 2 dogs, I later found out he is there from the beginning to the end providing moral support (the only acceptable support on the Lakeland 50/100). Only an hour to Tilberthwaite he told us, so off we went again. Jog walk jog walk jog walk down the hill, through Fell Foot Farm and onto Tilberthwaite checkpoint.
I was greeted into Tilberthwaite by Kat who I ran at Windermere marathon with, more tears and hugs, more coffee, couple more ginger snaps. ‘Do you want a seat?’ (beware the chair) ‘no thanks’ ‘only 3.5 miles to go, just over a parkrun’ . Let’s get going!
First up out of the checkpoint. Big old stone stairs hurrah! Then a bit more of an incline (still nothing like F#^*^#} Fusedale though. Even the short scramble up the rocks was a welcome distraction, I’d recce’d this part and knew it wasn’t far to go. Just over the top and then ‘we are starting our final descent into Coniston, please fasten your seatbelt, doors to manual and cross check’ Cathy, Donna and I started laughing now, after a grim miserable few hours, this felt good. My knees were hurting from all the downs, my ankles we complaining from the tricky techinical rockiness. But we were nearly done.
Cathy’s running club mates (around 10 of them) had turned out to see her finish, so proud of her, as was I. Cathy had only started running 8 months ago specifically to complete this in memory of her brother who had died after a short illness. She had done it! I had done it! Rob appeared to cheer me in, giving me a big hug.
When we hit the tarmac in Coniston we all started running, I don’t know how we did, but we did. We handed our poles to passers by and held each other’s hands as we ran and turned the corner and through the Finish line, we did our final dib together so we all finished at exactly the same time. 20 hours 57 minutes.
At the time, I said I’d never even consider doing the Lakeland 50 again, I said I’d hated every step, every moment, but do you know what? I didn’t hate it, it was tough, very tough and F%*^# Fusedale nearly did for me but it was an amazing experience, I am so proud of what I have achieved and what my body and mind are capable of.