I’ve only been involved in two Lakeland 50/100 events, and already they feel like they are an essential part of our summer. Last year I ran my first 100 miler, and loved it. This year, I downgraded to “just run the 50”. And loved it.
We made our way down on Friday afternoon and met up with Ian and his daughter Jessie, who was also running the 50 (Ian that is, not Jessica as she’s only 8). We landed a little later than planned and got the tents pitched. We decided on camping in the farthest corner of the second camping field to keep the noise to a minimum, it worked a treat. We met up with some of the other DH Runners crew and watched the 100 milers depart, after that it was food at the pasta stall, followed by chips from up the road (portions weren’t like last year) and then to kit check and registration. It was now almost 8.30pm and my maranoia legs were complaining of being tired. Back to the tent for a game of Harry Potter top trumps with Rosie and Jessie, I had Wormtail and Bathilda Bagshot. Needless to say I didn’t win, not that it mattered as Dumbledore wasn’t even in the pack. I digress. We were tucked up in sleeping bags by 10pm and I slept like a log. As always.
We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the tent, perfect! We wandered from our distant camping spot to the race HQ in search of bacon butties and coffee and then made our way back to top up with porridge on the camping stove, the rain was really coming down so it was a pile in the back of the van affair. When Hannah, Jo and the dogs (Ruby, Norah & Agnes) had joined us we set off for Dalemain. I can’t tell you how happy I was to not be sitting on a coach at that time!
A damp start to proceedings
Dalemain – Howtown
estimated 1:25-1:30 | actual 1:24:22 | position 11th
Race Plan N.B. This may or may not be accurate:
“take it easy on the first leg, no need to be in the lead group, but don’t fanny about at the same time.”
We arrived at Dalemain in what we thought was decent time but we were soon getting ushered into the starting pen, I ran off to find Rosie and Hans to say good luck, I had a quick scan for Ian but couldn’t locate him and made my way forward. I bumped into Oliver Thorogood (race winner) who I met in May while volunteering at the UTS race and we chatted for a while and stressed over getting the route loaded onto our watches. I stayed a fair way back at the start, and as we set off around Dalemain at a nice easy pace, but far too fast for the terrain and steepness of the hills, I was running in around 10th after a couple of miles. Running back along the track to the start and the 100 CP I was getting hot and noticed the pace of the group I was in was doing sub 7 min miles. I backed off the gas and settled into an easier effort.
On the path to Pooley Bridge I was running alongside Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn (checked the spelling on that one 😅) who I bumped into on a recce up Fusedale the weekend before. Having done some homework I knew what kind of splits I wanted to run/thought I was capable of running. Last year Katie ran 8:02 and I knew I wouldn’t be near that so made sure that I wasn’t ahead of her at the Howtown CP, otherwise it would just be poor pacing. I actually ran alongside Katie most of the way to Howtown until the descent when she pulled away. The weather started to turn here too, I pulled on my arm warmers and didn’t take them off for the rest of the day. I was feeling nice and chilled, happily cruising at my own pace letting others blitz passed me if they wanted. I’d discussed a race plan with Mike Jones, and managed to stick to it all day.
Howtown – Mardale Head
estimated 1:40-1:50 | actual 1:40:17 | position 6th
“Nice and relaxed, keep on top of fuelling, don’t race yet.”
Tick, although maybe a little quick?
Climbing back out of the Howtown CP the rain was getting heavier, as a few of us began putting jackets on at the same time we grouped up on the start of the Fusedale climb. I ran up here 4 or 5 times during training runs and knew I could work fairly hard while mixing up walking and running and recover on the run down to Haweswater. I felt strong, and against my hesitation, decided to keep hiking with plenty of effort and I pulled away from the 4 or 5 in that group.
This was where things began to get interesting, the wind picked up, the rain was horizontal and I was laughing my head of as the rain pounded my hood, I was loving it. I was loving it more so than the poor souls out on the 100, I passed a few groups and offered encouragement to them all. The second contained Dan Mullinder, a fellow DH Runner, and on his first 100 miler. He look ok, said hello and was trucking away with a few others. Unfortunately he had to drop at Kentmere, as he was spewing anything he ate or drank. The other kind fellows at DH gave him the lovely nickname of Danny DNF or Danny 82, which he embraced! No one can doubt the effort he put in to cover 82 miles in stinking conditions though.
Descending down the grassy slopes to Haweswater I was sure Katie would come skipping by me, greasy or rocky descents ain’t my thing, something I need to work on. Coming to the footbridge I was closing in on a 100 runner, just after the bridge, 100 guy stumbled, started slipping and turned around to look at me with a shocked expression as he went “base over apex” in slow motion down a bank, his legs tipped over the top and he ended up back on his feet 6 feet lower. I stopped, laughed and dragged him back out then carried on. I slipped and stumbled through the bracken section and sure enough, Katie flew by me with a hello. I enjoy the section along Haweswater, it seems to go quickly as the terrain changes so often. I ran most of it at a nice easy pace but was aware that I was running some hills I maybe shouldn’t as I was getting dragged along by a couple of runners in front of me. I lost my Jacobs Ladder fiver when I took my salt caps out of my bag, it blew through a wire fence and into Haweswater! I entered the CP, grabbed a cheese and pickle sarnie and started the walk up Gatesgarth.
Mardale Head – Kentmere
estimated 1:15-1:20 | actual 1:13:31 | position 6th
“Keep doing your own thing, it’s time to pick up the effort a little after Kentmere when it’s easier to run, not before”
Done. Wasn’t sure about the next phase though.
The climb felt tough, I had my only real low point on the last steep section of Gatesgarth and when I saw Katie dropping off the top about 200 metres ahead of me I knew she was gone. I refocussed on my own goals and what I was here to achieve. Got my race head back on and stuck to my pace and effort. As I descended Into Sadgill I spotted Maz and DH who were out and about in the pickup. It’s good to have your own photographer out on the course, means you get a quick supply of Instagram posts available post race.
Getting papped in Sadgill
Climbing over to Kentmere I was feeling tired and was sure I was on the borderline of cramps and was bemoaning that I’d pushed too hard early doors. I kept moving steadily away waiting for the inevitable… it didn’t arrive before Kentmere. Coming into Kentmere I saw a few friendly faces in the CP, I got a heap of encouragement and a couple of bottles of Mountain Fuel, turned my nose up at any food but made myself eat half a banana and set off up the road to Garburn Pass.
Kentmere – Ambleside
estimated 1:20-1:25 | actual 1:17:45 | position 6th
“Think about picking up the effort level a bit but don’t go mental, think about the runnable sections coming up next where you can use your flat speed”
Didn’t increase effort. Trying to save energy and get calories in.
I climbed Garburn pretty comfortably, didn’t push too hard but caught myself plodding a little, popped a couple of caffeine tablets to keep me focused when I was starting to get tired. Stopped to put my jacket on again for a brief hail shower at the top, got a flying high five from Debbie Consani and ran ok into Troutbeck, my legs were still borderline. From all the wind and rain, my number attached to my race pack had come loose, the sticker was unstuck and two pins had gone awol, while only one was doing its job. I wasn’t prepared to stop on a downhill so let the number flap until I was walking. I ran everything from Troutbeck to Ambleside except from a steep climb up to a farm. I passed a couple of walkers who gave me a cheer. One lady offered to sort my number out, what a lovely thing to do. I stood still while she tried to pin it back on as quickly as she could. I said a quick thanks and set off, she half went to say something and then said good luck instead. Thinking that was odd, I bashed on. My legs were now starting to complain, especially the road through Ambleside, this was alleviated by a big cheer from the pub goers and another high five, this time from Jo Hazell, part of the massive DH Runners cheer squad out in force! Another raucous reception at the CP where I topped up with water. Still couldn’t face food, and having survived purely on a cheese and pickle sarnie, a piece of banana and gels I was keen to get a lump of calories into me. I necked 4 cups of coke, burped, and ran out the CP.
Ambleside – Chapel Stile
estimated 55-60 | actual 53:52 | position 6th
“Push the pace, run as much as you can and start thinking about the finish line”
Above and beyond what I expected. Leaving Ambleside I thought it might take me 3 more hours, meaning a finish time of 8h 45m.
All being well, I was going to start this section still able to run strong and pick up the pace, and hopefully a few places too if things had gone south for anyone ahead of me. I was actually further up the field than I had anticipated. I was told I was in 5th place by a few people out on the course but was trying not to think about my place, or potential place. On the climb out of Ambleside it starting pouring down again, I reached over my head to pull out my jacket, the jacket that was 1 week old and getting used for the first time in anger. I then found out why the kind lady had hesitated after fixing my number back on. I gave a pull, felt a little resistance and thought it was caught on my dry bag. Negative. A rip and a flying safety pin left a hole in my wee jacket and some choice words coming out my mouth. My now ventilated jacket on and onto the flat section along the river by Elterwater I started to feel great, 18 teaspoons of sugar from my gluttony of coke was working a treat. The jacket was banished, and was moving well, I think I put out a few 7 min miles on this section. I was starting to look ahead of me, thinking I may well catch someone if I kept running well. A quick top up of water and a fresh bottle out of my pack with some concentrated Mountain Fuel in meant I had energy drink late in the race.
Chapel Stile – Wrynose
estimated 45 | actual 41:05 | position 6th
“Do what you can, run strong, get ready for the suffering”
Was still surprising myself. Kept running hard, even any of the rolling climbs towards the end of the valley, hiked up to the road crossing and bombed alongside Blea Tarn, still waiting for the implosion… nothing. I was now trying to estimate finish times, I thought I could get a 8:30 if I kept going. Got a few twinges of cramp along the rocky section before Wrynose. I spotted a runner heading down the road and assumed they could only be a 50 runner as they were moving well. Came up on Curly at the self dibber (another DHer on the 100), he was suffering but still moving forward. Not many folk I know suffer quite as well as Curly does, it was his 3rd Lakeland 100 in a row. We ran together a lot last year and also during the Scafell Trail Marathon a few weeks earlier. I wished him well, enquired about the runner ahead, got an affirmative and legged it down the road, probably too quickly.
Wrynose – Tilberthwaite
estimate 25 | actual 23:19 | position 5th
“More of the same”
I didn’t know who was in front of me, I was a good 800 metres behind when I hit the turn off the road to head over to Tilberthwaite. He was walking up the incline. I made myself run, I was starting to feel rough and my legs were kicking up a fuss. Passed the Highland Coos, through the gates and I was only 100 metres back. I was sure I’d be spotted at the next gate, but he didn’t look back and swung the gate closed behind him. I opened the gate and lifted it quietly (sneaky sneaky) back onto it’s sneck (Cumbrian for latch/catch), I made sure I was hossing along when I moved passed him, gave a casual “alright mate” like I was fine and tried to get as much distance between him and me as possible before Tilberthwaite. Another loud welcome from Maz and DH and the CP crew as I ran in, filled a bottle with coke and didn’t fanny about.
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
Tilberthwaite – Coniston
estimated 40-45 | actual 36:42 | position 4th
“plans out the window, just don’t shit your pants!”
I was now aware that I was in 4th, weather that was overall or male I wasn’t sure but I was thinking it was 4th overall and 3rd male. Am I actually doing this? I was now looking well and truly behind me, literally. Cacking myself about getting caught or having to race down into the finish I ran up the first set of steps and immediately got a whack of cramps in my calves and quads, I marched. Out of nowhere there was a massive cheer, panicking, I looked down thinking the runner behind me was already in the CP. But it was the Jacobs ladder CP crew standing on the road cheering me up the hill, I grinned, man I love ultra running.
I don’t think I’ve ever buried myself as much as I did in this 3.5 miles. Getting cramps whenever I tried to run and convinced I was going to be caught I marched like a looney, constantly talking to myself out loud and swearing at my legs. Took a wrong turn into one of the mines, get a f-ing grip, you know where to go. Panic stations. As the path levelled out there was a runner ahead, about 200m. “Well I’ll be damned, that’s Katie!” (not my exact words). My tail was well and truly up, I was getting passed whatever happens. Still only able to walk and fending off spasms of cramp I slooooowly closed the gap, it started raining, a lot. No time for waterproofs. It was proper grim weather, pulled my cap to protect my eyes and marched on. I was 20m behind when we started the descent, I was sure it was now going to be a struggle, seeing as she’s an ace descender. I threw myself downhill, rather more recklessly than I would usually and pulled along side, she was still smiling but had had a few rough spells. I got myself in front and tried not to look back. We were close together down most of the descent but when I hit the wider track I was able to pull ahead, I didn’t let up all the way down the track and into town. Looking like a drown rat I turned into the school. Happy happy days!
Finish line face!
I was then met by the amazing volunteers at the finish line, “well done, you’re 3rd male” I got announced into the marquee as such. Then, cue confusion. I thought I’d finished 3rd, as did the marshalls but there were 3 finishers ahead of me. I literally didn’t care. I’d finished 4th in 8 hours 10 minutes, 20 whole minutes ahead of my absolute best estimate. I was absolutely buzzing. Until I talked for too long with steam coming off me. In the space of 5 minutes I was shivering uncontrollably. I was given a blanket by the massage team and was given the grim news by Dad that our tent had blown over and the area with our clothes in was flooded. Fuuuuuuuck. Good job we are made to carry emergency layers. I got changed in the marquee not really caring who saw what. Had a shower, had some food and a cuppa, had a chat and had a grand old time.
With Ian, Rosie and Hannah still out on the course I was keen to see where they were. Ian arrived back while I was having a shower, he finished in 11 hours and 2 seconds! We then met up with Jo, the dogs and Graham and drove along to Tilberthwaite with Maz and DH to wait for Rosie and Hans to come through. Sat on the tailgate of the pick up cheering on 50 and 100 runners up Jacobs Ladder was a weekend highlight, as was the Muller Fruit Corner I had at 1am while watching people drag themselves (some of them literally) to the finish.
Midnight fruit corners
Bev and Andy came through then Rosie and Hans came through looking great at 1.30am, we headed back to the start and saw them in at 2.45am 15 hours after starting. We’ve not really told many people, but Rosie picked up an award too. She was the first place 10 weeks pregnant female, and I couldn’t have been prouder of her.
More tea, food and chatting in the marquee and 4am came and went. We rolled into bed at 5am, while it was getting light. We just bundled up the wet tent and lobbed it in the van the next morning and went in search of coffee and breakfast. Once again, it was one of the best weekends of the year. Already got my reminder set for 1st of September.
Congratulations to all the DH Runners who competed, completed or got out there on the start line. We went hard, and we didn’t go home (well, we did eventually).
distance 50 miles | elevation 9350ft | time on feet 8h 10m 53s