The Lake District. 885 square miles of fells and incredible countryside. To a Londoner in me, this felt like some kind of mythical place the first time I visited, driving up the M6 some 3 months ago. I had heard so much about it but had never been. Now that I have, I understand why people love it.
It’s beauty and vastness are the main attraction, with unrelenting weather at times that shows you Mother Nature is always boss and views that will take your breath away. It had me hooked.
This was the main reason behind choosing to run the Lakeland 50, my first taster session in running in this beautiful landscape. It was also announced this year that the race was nominated by UKA to be the British Trail Championships this year which made it even more tempting. The opportunity to race amongst the best in Britain, with elites who had and were representing GB, was not to be missed.
With my championship entry place I was excited. But first I had to visit the place, and herein lies the start of this story. Driving up to the lakes for my first time, ready to explore and recce the race route.
Fast forward 2.5 months and again I found myself on that same long stretch of motorway pulling off before Birmingham for some breakfast. 6 hours is a long drive.
It was Friday. The day before the race and I was on my way up, crew in toe, ready for an exciting weekend of racing ahead. The weather was extraordinarily hot (I mean seriously un-British hot!) at 27 degrees and all I could think about was my last experience at the NDW 50 in May where I suffered heat stroke, spending half the race wobbling across the path and vomiting up anything and everything for the next 25 miles. This was not going to happen again!
Walking out the service station I was taken by surprise as I bumped into the ever present gang of Claire Shelley, James Adams and Drew Sheffield. Experienced and talented runners in their own right, however this weekend they were coming to support the race but also James Elson (RD of Centurion Running) on his Bob Graham attempt. It felt like the whole of the ultra community were going!
The Lakeland 50/100:
To say that the Montane Lakeland 50/100 is a large affair is to put it mildly. Arriving in Coniston (race HQ and also finish line of the 50 route) we were marshalled with precision into a massive field of hundred of tents and thousands of cars. Runners were absolutely everywhere. If I didn’t know better I would have mistaken it for a festival. The race’s popularity is shown by it’s size with 400 runners in the 100 option and 600 runners starting in the 50. Far more than most ultras in the UK.
The 100 mile race was starting this evening at 6pm so hoping to watch them off we took perch at the top of the first road where they led out. It was incredible to see. Not only the enthusiasm of the runners themselves but the spirit of the supporters. Crew, marshals and even random locals alike were all line the streets ready for the parade. The noise was loud and the atmosphere electric. Again I was understanding why people love this race so much.
After a relax night at the hotel, I bedded down ready for my turn in the morning.
Unlike most ultras I have run, this 50 started at 11:30am, making me feel odd rising at a relaxed hour instead of the usual crack of dawn. The race started at Dalemain (the half way check point for the 100 milers) and we were to be taken by convoy of bus from Coniston ready for the start.
Arriving in Dalemain, runners swarmed around doing last minute checks, loos stops and saying goodbyes to support crews. It was also starting to get a little hot for my liking. As I glanced around watching people sunbathe, I thought of the route before me, hoping I would fair well.
Suddenly we were gathering in the start chute and the countdown commenced. 3,2,1 and we were off! A 4 miles lap of farmland fields awaited us around the Dalemain estate before we shot off towards Pooley Bridge.
I was roasting, I mean ROAST-ING. The small top and shorts I was wearing felt too much and I wished I didn’t have to carry such a heavy laden camel back full of extra kit, feeling sweat pour off me.
The first few miles of the route proper are leisurely and flat as we progressed through Pooley Bridge village up to the first minor fell and then down to check point 1, Howtown.
My strategy was to go out steady keeping my heart rate low so I didn’t burn up in the heat and so far it was working. I was enjoying the pace, taking in the views and smiling at the sporadic bunches of supporters who would pop up at random places to cheer you on. It especially helped having a name on your number as the morale boost of someone cheering you on by name personally works a treat. 10 miles in and I was having a great time. Maybe this race will go well I thought 😉
I had chosen to wear road shoes today. The trail shoes I had been testing out for the race had been giving me blister issues and coupled with the fact it was so dry and hot I thought this was a wise choice. I turned out to be right and didn’t get one blister the whole day, good stuff!
Decending into Howtown I was greeted by check point staff thrusting a dibber station at me. The race was recorded my SportsIdent the dibbers we were wearing around our wrists automatically tracked out progress and updated our positions online for friends to see- a good addition to the race.
Howtown was a lovely oasis of a check point but made even lovelier by the presence of a friendly face- James Adams. As I refilled my bottles and got race staff to drown my head in cold water, James took the opportunity to catch me at my finest moment! (See photo). Thanks James! 😉
Feeling completely refreshed, flapjack and jelly babies stuffed in my ‘hamster pouch’ mouth, I shot off ready to battle with the first monster of the course- Fusedale Beck. It really is a beast.
The temperatures were now climbing to there highest of the day, and now in the beck the hot air gathered. I believe one runner’s watch recorded 91 degrees!
The climb up out of Fusedale was slow and arduous. There were a few runnable sections interspersed along the way but mainly just a long hike. It is one of those climbs which is utterly deceiving. You think you have reached the top only for more of it to reveal itself. However, reach it I did and before I knew it I was descending towards Hawsmere Reservoir and with it the next check point.
The path the runs anti clockwise around the reservoir is flat but technical with slate and rocks littering the way. At the tip, far in the distance the check point’s tent stuck out and slowly began bigger and bigger the nearer I got.
Another welcome relief. Dibbing in first, I then grabbed coke, cake and biscuits having my bottles already taken care of by the ever helpful volunteers. I downed my head under a bucket of water and ran on, packet of crisps stuff in my top to boot!!
I knew what was coming. Anyone who knew this course knew what to expect and probably just wanted to get this bit out of the way. It’s a long steep twisting climb up Gatesgarth Path and as I glanced up and then behind me back down I could see the slumped- postured steady hike of the runners and they battled the incline. It wasn’t to be run, but a purposeful hike, at times with hands on knees, eyes gazed solely at the patch of ground in front.
About now I was struggling with stomach issues. I was bloated with sloshing water in my stomach and feeling sick. I knew it was the heat that was getting to me making me unable to get anymore liquid or calories in with them coming straight back up however the problem I was trying to solve was whether I was feeling this way because I was dehydrated, lacking salts or in fact too hydrated?? My mind struggled to decide on the back course of action to claw my stomach back to normality (and in fact prevent my race from finishing early!) I decided if in doubt, just leave it be- better to be a little more dehydrated for a while than the opposite!
On I went, relief at finally reaching the top. I didn’t even turn back to see how far I had come and look at those still climbing, I was too focused on getting back down and onwards to Sadgill.
The decent was sharp but my quads, strengthened from my race in Chamonix seemed to hold up well and before I knew it I was running smoothly and solidly on to Kentmere and the next wonderful pit stop.
However, I was still struggling with my stomach, whenever I tried to up the pace my stomach stabbed with aches and pains. The cramps were bad but I just hoped they would ease soon as I sipped mouthfuls of water bit by bit. I also managed to roll my ankle here, a momentary lapse of concentration which led to some hobbling.
Kentmere village is a quant village tucked up against two mountain sides. Anyone who has driven to it also knows it takes an age to get to making it a quiet and serene town.
The check point was utterly delightful, manned by a great morale boosting team who catered for everything I needed. Bottles refilled- check, bag full of sweets and nuts to take away?- check and a banana to boot. The even had a smoothly maker for runners so you could request what fruit you wanted and get your own smoothie made! Tempting yes but I was cautious of my delicate stomach.
Next up was the last major climb risng out of Kentmere towards Troutbeck Village after a sharp decent over a slate ridden path. It was here I caught my ankle with a sharp piece of algae causing me to scream in pain clutching my ankle watching blood ooze out. That stuff is sharp! I wasn’t so much bothered by the blood but whether I had damaged my ankle. Seeming to be working fine I ran on ignoring the sting of my foot.
All I was doing now was counting down the miles until Ambleside, the next major check point but also the next point I would see my crew.
Running down past the forest into town I was suddenly hit by the noise of it all. The peaceful paths through countryside and woodland were now replaced by roads and people. It awoke my senses and my excitement built as I received such a welcome. The streets were littered with people clapping me past and shouting encouragement. These weren’t just supporters, they were random locals. Their support was so warm I was incredibly touched. It boosted my spirits and my pace as I sped towards the check point.
In the distance I spotted him- Sam, my crew for the day waiting on the other side of the road. I ran up to him as I continued towards the check point and before anything blurted out ‘Jesus Christ, it’s so bloody hot!!!!’
Continuing round the bend, crew never number two, my delightful mother was ‘manning the road’. It seems she had taken it upon herself to be the traffic warden for the day, stopped traffic to let runners zip through. Oh mum how I love you 😉
Ambleside check point. Delightful. Running in to the lane I was greeted by whoops and cheers, loud claps and positive words. Everyone was so friendly and really boosted me on. A quick pit stop for some cola to settle my stomach, bag of crisps stuffed in my top (I was getting quite a collection now) and on I went, waving to James Adams who seemed to get getting everywhere today!
My pack must have been rubbing some what as glancing down at my sides and feeling my back, I noticed I was bleeding and realised the back, ladder with weight and pulled so tight, had rubbed my exposed skin raw. So much for chaffing, it had taken the skin right off! Not much I could do about it now other than try and manage the pain so off I shot into the distance.
Further up the path I caught up with another lady who was going strong up the climb, Joanna Rae. Seizing the opportunity to chat to someone (anyone who’s knows me knows I like a good chat!), I struck up conversation and we ran on together. The miles flew by in the delightful presence of Jo. We talked about all subjects and I discovered she is a talented runner aiming for The Spine race next year. Wish you lots of luck Jo!
It didn’t feel long at all before we were dropping in to the next check point, second to last, Chapel Style. The volunteers were catering well for the 100 milers. These guys had been going since 6pm the day before! Already having been through one night and many of then about to go through another. I was simply impressed. You could see the pain and fatigue in their face, yet there’s one thing I’ve discovered about 100 milers- the hardly ever complain! They could be tired beyond belief, blisters everywhere and in agony but ask them how they are and you’ll get ‘I’m doing ok’.
Wanting to get on quickly, I turned briefly to one of the volunteers and asked if I could take the bowl of crisps that was out if she has plenty more. She probably thought I meant a handful but the look on her face as I folded the paper bowl in half and slid the whole bowl of crisps into my mouth at once was priceless. Jaw open for an age and as I ran on trying to dissolve them with any saliva I had left she shouted ‘Ha! Well you definitely went to eticate… school!’ I turned, remembering my ‘schooling’ and curtesied. Oooh such a lady!!
The route from here took a thin path round a large feel curving round anticlockwise before descending down to a road on the other side of a boggy field. Jo and I were running strong passing a few runners ahead.
Once locating the ‘compulsory check point’ and unmanned dibber- station we took off down the road towards Tiberthwaite. I was feeling really strong and with my pace rapidly quickening I bid Jo farewell and shot off ahead hoping to catch up on some time with the flat more runnable section.
Ahead was a group of runners and a female runner who turned out to be Izzie Wykes. I know her well from her GUCR exploits so ran up to join her for a chat. Ever the chatty girl herself we shot off ahead gossiping like a bunch of school girls! Izzie not knowing the route was grateful for my route guidance and company and me, enjoying the conversation was grateful for hers.
I must say at times I think she doubted my confidence screaming ‘Gemma!! This isn’t funny anymore! Is this the right way??’ ‘Are you sure you’re sure??’. It was like running with myself!
Tiberthwaite and the Finish:
We bolted down the road that lead into the last check point before the final climb. The rain had now well and truly started and the heavens opened.
I was reluctant to put on my waterproof, so close to the finish, thinking maybe I could hold out but soon I was absolutely soaking and not only that, now getting cold. It was getting dark and with visibility down I took the decision to stop, take out my waterproof and headlamp to save risking a bit blind fall on the decent.
Izzie and myself was storming, eager to home and finish this beast. With a few other runners we caught up in toe we descended down towards Coniston and the finish line.
We made a good team, Izzie glad to tag on for directions and myself glad for her floodlight of a headlamp shinning the way making my feeble excuse for a torch seen very inadequate. It worked a treat!
Before I knew it the cobbled road came into view and I was ready to sprint the last mile. I shot off, speed gathering, turning right into town and blasting past the pubs with cheers of support either side. I could hear Izzie somewhere behind but all I could think of was that finish line. How sweet it would feel to cross it!
Spotting the school I went up a gear further and took off. With one final turn I had made it and crossed the finish line. The relief and joy was immense but then suddenly people were shouting at me to dib in! Blimey I had forgotten that! By now Izzie had finished also so we ran over together an dibbed in side by side. A good ending to a great day making new friends I like!
Joint 6th lady in the British Champs, not bad at all. 10:40:24, my final time.
I went over and hugged my two trusty supporters before making my way in to the hall to receive my medal.
Jo Meek, First Lady and this British Champion came in in a incredible 8:43:14 proving she is a force to be reckoned with in the future. Congrats Jo!
In the men’s race, Kim Collison took the win in 7:48:01. A jaw dropping time considering the immense heat of the day and very well deserved.
For me, I see this as a stepping stone towards things to come. I know it’s a race I need to ‘learn’ how to run before I can do it justice. The heat definitely slowed me but I think also my inexperience at fells and the general terrain of the lakes. Hey, maybe next year sub 9! 😉
On a recce a few weeks before
At the start line!
James Adam capturing me at my finest moment!!
The final climb!