Back in September 2016 I signed up for a place to run the Montane Lakeland 50. Places are limited to about 1000 for the L50 and about 500 for the L100. The L50 is an off-road self-navigated (the course being entirely unmarked) ultra-marathon that starts at Dalemain and ends in Coniston. Spaces for the L50 sell out within minutes of going on sale, the L100 taking a little longer.
2017 had been a frustrating year for me running-wise. After completing the L50 in 2015 I had signed up to do the L100 with my running pal David, but a series of problems with my ankle and then my tendon meant that I missed about 6 or so months of running. David went on to complete the L100.
So in September 2017 we met over a curry and a few beers and agreed that we would both run the 2018 edition of the L50, perhaps with a view to the L100 in 2019. David spent most of the year up to the beginning of July in fine form, getting out on long days out in the hills, doing the Old County Tops and supporting on BG rounds and the like. By contrast my weekly mileage was low, getting to interval training at the club occasionally, parkruns and the odd mid-week lunch run. I had managed a couple of longer runs as we headed into spring (both with David) which were LDWA runs.
From about April onwards I ended up still not really racking up the miles but supporting my kids and the other LMAC kids and parents who were doing the FRA junior champs. We also signed up as a family with BOFRA, and the combination of those two meant I invariably ended up running on the same day as the kids - often a parkrun in the morning on the way to the fell run and then the fell run in the afternoon (eg Towneley parkrun and Pendle fell race). But the fell runs were invariably very short and very steep (typically 2 or 3 miles and about 1000 feet). The rest of the week I attended circuit training and abs classes at the gym at least twice and yoga for an hour and a half. So, my fitness was good but my endurance not so good.
I ran the Howgills marathon in May (a free place for having marshalled at the Grizedale night run) and that was gruelling although I was encouraged by a decent result (25th out of 246 in a time of 4.43 on a hot day with some hefty climbing all off-road – 4,428ft and a brute of a hill near the finish). So after that I carried on with my weekly puny mileage until the Ultimate Trails 55km (which actually came in at 36 miles and 5,493 ft of climbing). I had signed up to do this in 2017 but my injuries meant that I had postponed my entry. Again I was encouraged by the result. I finished an hour faster than when I had last run the event (47th in 7 hours 31 on a horrifically hot day when cramp was causing all sorts of problems).
So, whilst I recognised that my weekly mileage was pitiful, my fitness was good and my long runs were encouraging, showing that my underlying endurance was still good. Ironic that most of the summer had been spent on short sharp fell races which I am not that well suited too. And then David started to mention he was worried about hip and back pain and his runs on strava became erratic. In the week before the race we spoke and agreed that on the advice he had taken, seeing the physio etc he would not be fit to run. This was a blow as David is a fantastic companion, great company and we’ve been through some terrific adventures together. So I would be solo.
Ignoring received wisdoms, in the week leading up to the race, I ran x 2 fell races (the last one at the Ambleside show on Thursday) and decided also to wear effectively new shoes (having done all of 1.6 miles in them – I can say however they were fantastic on the day itself).
On Friday 27th I registered at lunchtime (compulsory kit check, weigh in and dibber attached to your wrist) and in the evening we went to Coniston to see the L100 runners set off. They set off at 1800 hours and all but the fastest will run through 2 nights (the cut off is 40 hours – the distance is actually 105 miles with 24,000 ft of climbing). The send off is quite something with a live rendition of Nessum Dorma . This was followed by the kids taking part in the Lakeland 1. The heat was oppressive and heavy rain, thunder and lightning were in the forecast. I struggled to sleep with (unexpected) nerves.
So on Saturday morning after porridge toast and coffee I set off to Coniston getting there at 0815, parked up and made my way into the race HQ to hear the race briefing. Outside there had been some heavy rain overnight and the sky was grey.
The L50 starts at Dalemain (near Penrith) and sets off at 1130, so we were ferried there on coaches. Spirits were high on the coach and I ate a cheese and pickle sandwich and drank a bottle of water as I chatted to my fellow runners. A number of L100 runners were coming through by this time. I was delighted to see David who had turned up to cheer the send-off and so at 1130 off we went. My plan was to get round the course with a qualifying time for the L100 (16 hours) and to try to better our 2015 time of 12 hours 17 minutes.
Leg 1 Dalemain to Howtown Bobbin Mill 11 miles 935ft
A 4 mile loop around the estate before heading off through Pooley Bridge to Howtown Bobbin Mill.
Drizzle turned to heavy rain about 7 miles in and my legs were feeling a bit knackered at this stage. I could feel Thursday’s Ambleside fell race in them and regretted running it. I had one gel and two soft flasks of water and x2 salt tablets. At the checkpoint at Howtown I dibbed in, had some spicy doritos, a cup of coke, some flapjack, got my flasks filled and grabbed a bag of jelly babies.
Leg 2 Howtown to Mardale Head 8.5 miles 2421 ft
A beast of a leg at the best of times with an arduous climb up Fusedale, some bog and tussock at the top and then a “technical” section (in other words full of rocks) along Haweswater. Coming out of the checkpoint the rain got steadily worse and the wind which had been picking up since the start became more and more of an issue as elevation was gained. Near to reaching the top the wind was blowing a gale (apparently 50 mph) and when it wasn’t raining it was hailing – either straight into my face or to the side of my face. The temperature had dropped and I was beginning to feel that this could turn into a very challenging run. Dropping down towards Haweswater there was a good fast descent before the technical stretch along Haweswater. I managed to eat a few jelly babies but not much else. My new shoes were proving to be great skipping over the wet rock without slipping. I ran alongside someone I had run with at Sedbergh in May and had a good chat with them as we neared the next checkpoint at Mardale Head, so spirits were slightly lifted.
Leg 3 Mardale Head to Kentmere 6 miles 1657ft
At the checkpoint I had a cup of broccoli and stilton soup, 2 cheese and pickle sandwiches and a cup of coke, along with a refill of the flasks. Heavy rain persisted.
Straight out of here is the climb up Gatesgarth Pass, a bit of a brute but I knew some runnable stuff awaited me at the top. Sure enough after getting to the top I was able to accelerate down the top and then enjoy the long steady descent to Sadgill. I overtook quite a few folk (my fell running having given me some decent descending skills) and my spirits were raised. The rain and hail had subsided, and the cagoule came off.
As I went through Sadgill Farm I encountered James, who I had briefly chatted to on Leg 1 and we fell in together, forming an easy alliance, both of us sharing a remarkably similar pace. So good in fact we managed to stick together until the very finish which was a great boon. James had run the event before (when he was heavier) and had gotten around in 18 hours. But since then he had taken to ultra-marathons in a big way and had completed many of the longer more challenging ones including the MDS. Along the way I ate a Natures Valley peanut bar, another gel, drank both flasks and had 3 salt tablets.
Leg 4 Kentmere to Ambleside 7 miles 1594ft
At the checkpoint in the Institute I had a bowl of tomato pasta (with salt), a flat coke, some crisps some nuts, 2 melon pieces, 3 orange pieces and half a cheese and pickle butty . I got the flasks filled with electrolyte.
Notwithstanding the face stuffing, we didn’t dally at the checkpoint and set off on the next leg walking initially to allow some digestion. I supped the electrolyte and felt like throwing up – a mistake – I should have just stuck to water.
I love this leg, it’s so pretty and I recommend it to anyone. As the weather cleared more, there were views down the Kentmere valley and aside from nausea I felt ok. James and I took it in turns to lead, running everything that could be run.
As we came in to Troutbeck we heard a voice behind us and I invited the runner to catch up and join us. It turned out to be Matt who I had met previously when we both marshalled at the Grizedale night run. Matt, it transpired, had done the L50 the year before in 11hours 13minutes and he was looking to beat that. Up until that point I hadn’t looked at my watch at all so had no idea how I was getting on. Matt reckoned if we carried on (only another 25 miles to go) we should be sub-11 hours, which would be incredible.
And so, the 3 of us fell into running together. Matt in particular (a sub 3 hour marathon man) pushed us on, running the flat and downhills and speed walking the uphills. I took up route direction as I had both run and recced the course. Generally, once I have done a course, then it is locked into my internal “sat-nav”. The pace at times was a tad uncomfortable but it was great to have Matt pushing us on. As we pulled into Ambleside there were cheers and clapping from the spectators on the street and James’s wife was there to give him a hug. Along the leg I ate a chia charge bar, my last gel and 4 salt tablets.
Leg 5 Ambleside to Chapel Stile 5 miles 804 feet
At the checkpoint I had x2 orange pieces x 2 bananas, a cheese and pickle sandwich a slice of lemon drizzle cake and 2 cokes. I chucked the electrolyte and re-filled with water. Matt and James re-fuelled sharpish too and off we went through Rothay, walking again briefly to allow digestion. Again, I knew the route here well and running up towards Loughrigg isn’t really an option. But once you’ve got to the top of the pass there’s some more runnable sections and that was our strategy again. Once again, we were able to pick up the pace whenever possible (so were able to do a 9-minute mile at mile 30 for example).
Leg 6 Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite 8 miles 1319ft
More food! I had bowl of Big Soup with a slice of bread, 4 brownie slices and x2 cokes. The wind was still an issue and it transpired that they had had to lash the marquee to a car to stop it being blown away.
Flasks refilled, off we went again, setting off at an easy jog and getting more miles under the belt. Some more steep climbing along a stretch of Wrynose and then again some runnable stuff with Matt once again pushing us on. By this stage the end was beginning to be very much in sight and it did look at if we would be able to get to the last climb without using our headtorches.
Tilberthwaite to Coniston 4 miles 1263ft
At the checkpoint I had a coke and a couple of orange segments. We dibbed in and cracked on, anxious to ascend the “Stairway to Heaven” aka the Tilberthwaite Steps whilst it was still light. At the top and after some unrunnable rocky stuff we were able to pick up the pace again (more of a shuffle than a jog) and once we had crested the hill it was a tricky downhill and then some tarmac past the Miners Bridge into Coniston (a sub 9 minute mile to finish). Matt, encouraged by us, pushed on slightly and James and I followed closely behind into the finish at 2144 GMT without the need for a headtorch.
My time was 10 hours 13 minutes and 56 seconds, 62nd out of 826 who started and knocking 2 hours off my previous time. The finish itself is a fantastic experience, after dibbing in, you are led into the marquee where the stewards announce by name as one of the “Lakeland 50 legends” to great cheers and applause. We enjoyed a meal (rice and lentils), and then it was off into the cold (now dark) night to reflect on what had been an epic day. This is a superb event, quirky, fun, fantastically well provisioned. More memories to keep and decisions to make for next year.