If I could only do one race a year it would definitely be Lakeland 50. Without a shadow of a doubt. High praise, indeed, and well deserved!
Last year was my first at the race and it was an amazing, brilliant experience in which I surpassed all of my pre-race expectations! This year was also an amazing and brilliant experience but I definitely did not surpass my pre-race expectations – in fact, I was just very glad to have got it done by the time I crossed the finish line. It was an epic day out in the mountains with all manner of literal and metaphorical ups and downs.
I went into the race under trained and carrying my first case of plantar fasciitis. The under training was a mixture of the PF and the fact that over the last few weeks of my training block I struggled a lot with a high level of life stress, depression and anxiety which arose from many different areas from work, to family, to injury – it was a tough few weeks but I was determined to get through them and to line up at Lakeland come what may! I may follow up on this paragraph with a breakdown of my training for Lakeland from Week 7 to 12 but I’m undecided on that just now. If you want to see how Week 1 to 6 panned out, click here.
By the time I finished work on Wednesday 26th July, I felt so much happier and excited to be going to the Lake District with Sarah. I didn’t care that the weather forecast was looking a bit grim! I was just looking forward to being surrounded by the Lakeland Family and the fells. We set off on Thursday afternoon and spent the night visting my Ma and on Friday we made our way to Coniston. It was to be Sarah’s first time in the Lake District and we were both looking forward to a shakeout hike by the time we set up the tent and I had registered.
Overnight the heavens opened and there was a sense around the campsite of foreboding – would it continue to rain so heavily through the 50 mile race?! I think everybody on the camp site was thinking of how hard the 100 milers must be suffering out there on the dark, drenched mountains of the Lake District. I have to say at this point I have SO much respect for those that take on the 100 miler – I have no idea how to process that race, I wouldn’t even know where to begin training for it let alone racing it. From what I hear the first half is very rugged and technical (and in the dark) and the second half is the same course as the 50…which is also rugged but could be described [I guess] as more ‘runnable’.
Morning came and I slept well, much like I did last year. The only thing was, that unlike last year, when I moved out of my sleeping bag I found that somehow during the night I had pulled a muscle around my left glute and it was very tight. I had promised myself and Sarah on the drive up to Coniston that no matter what hurdles I faced I would choose to go around, through, over or under it with a smile – so that’s what I did. I boiled some water, made some coffee and porridge in the pouring rain and smiled at the craziness of what was happening and at the race that was about to unfold. I had a feeling it was going to be a different experience from 2016.
The briefing came around and I’d been awake for two hours already. As the RD, Mark Laithwaite, explained to the newcomers what lay ahead and cracked jokes about what had gone before in the 9 previous editions the excitement and tension began to build in the tent. About 650 runners and hikers were about to head out into the fells and Mark kindly informed us that ‘fortunately, the weather seems to be on your side today, looks like the rain will blow over by lunchtime’…and then a heavy downpour began pounding the canvas under which we were gathered! We were dismissed to go and make our final preparations before some boarded the coaches to the start at Dalemain and some were driven by their brilliant and wonderful supporters (thanks Sarah!).
The rain continued on the drive to Dalemain and then it began to ease off a little in the 30 minutes before the start. Then, as we were released from the start pen it began to rain again. Heavily. Thankfully, that was it from the rain though! Mark was right, the weather was to be on our side for the most part. The rain stopped about 90 minutes into the race and I dried out quite quickly in the intermittent sunshine that appeared through the dull gray clouds once in a while.
What happened over the course of the next 60km surprised me somewhat! I had stashed my splits from the 2016 race in my pack and whenever I checked them I found myself to be a few minutes ahead or a few seconds down on them right up to the unmanned dibber checkpoint at 70km!
My glute bothered me a lot up to CP2 at Mardale Head but my PF was nowhere to been felt. I kept on eating and moving well and did my utmost to hold back from racing anybody around me.
On the way to CP2 I got talking to another runner, Gareth Rowlands, who had dislocated his elbow at mile 8 but who had decided it didn’t matter and he was going to continue regardless! We ran together throughout the rest of the race – not solidly as he was finding the downhill sections pretty tough with one arm (!) but he managed to catch up over the flatter sections where I tend to hold back and take it easy. Gareth finished three minutes in front of me after an exceptional debut Lakeland 50 under extraordinary circumstances!
On the way to CP3 at Kentmere I stuck to my guns and continued to race within myself and not against anybody. However, about 3km out of Kentmere I found myself trying to keep in touch with the small group in front of me and, in hindsight, probably pushing a little too hard for the amount of food I was putting in.
I found myself running solo at some point outside Troutbeck on the way to Ambleside.
At some point in the kilometres beforehand I realised I was indeed racing to try and keep the group in front in sight. I was worrying about making a wrong turn or getting lost without anybody to follow -but then it clicked that I actually knew the way so I should just chill out and get back to running my own race!
At Troutbeck I was happy to see my friend Rob Spavin who I ran with last year from that point all the way to the finish. Rob has been battling injury a fair bit this year and wasn’t racing but he had told me he’d be out on the course supporting. Lo and behold, at the sign for Troutbeck there he was! I couldn’t believe my eyes and it was so good to see a familiar face and have the chance to catch up on the hike from Troutbeck onto the trails to CP4 and Ambleside. It gave me a boost and it was great fun – thanks Rob!
I arrived at CP4 and just over half way feeling great as I ran into Ambleside and still ahead of my 2016 splits – Sarah was there and it was great to see her. I had a cup of tea, ate some crisps and then jogged out of the CP towards the fells with Sarah. She gave me some motivational talk and a kiss and then it was back out on my own again!
After I left Sarah I began to conduct a mindful body scan. From this I learned that eating was becoming more and more difficult and that my feet were hurting a lot more than they were at this point in 2016. I acknowledged both of those facts, smiled and started chatting to the guy running next to me about the route, the views and the Lakeland experience! I was quietly hoping that the difficulty with my eating would pass and suppressing anything other than positive mantras.
The section from Ambleside to CP5 at Chapel Stile/Langdale could be described as benign and runnable. Unfortunately for me, this year it was neither. The closer I got to CP5 the more difficult I found it to keep on running and I found that I was being passed by other runners – normally I wouldn’t care about that but I flipped between letting them go and then trying hard to keep up and pass them again. A stupid thing to do when the nutrition side of things is becoming a struggle! By the time I arrived at CP5 I was still somehow slightly ahead of my 2016 splits and I focused on that as a positive. I stopped for a while, had a small bowl of vegan broth along with some coke and then set off towards Langdale and one of my favourite sections of the course.
Just outside the Chapel Stile CP Gareth caught up with me again and from here we ran and hiked together all the way to the base of the last climb at CP6 at Tilberthwaite. Having somebody to run with made all the difference and we exchanged positive comments and chatter all the way to the unmanned dibber at Wrynose – 10km to go and homeward bound on a nice, long road donwhill. Or so it was last year. This year I found the road descent great but as soon as we got back onto the trail and heading uphill I began to feel dizzy, nauseous and struggled to hold a decent conversation with Gareth.
I manged a handful of jelly beans and one Shot Blok from Chapel Stile to the final CP at Tilberthwaite. Oh dear.
On arrival at the CP I was feeling monumentally rough but Gareth was motoring towards the finish! With only 5.5km to go from there to the end I couldn’t blame him for continuing on through the CP like a Formula 1 driver while I hung back and tried to gather myself! Thankfully I was alone at the CP as Sarah had decided to come and surprise me. I will admit here that I wasn’t the nicest of people to be around as I could see my 2016 splits slipping away and I could feel my energy and motivation to fight off my competitors draining away with them. Thanks so much to Sarah and the CP volunteers for putting up with me for 6 or 7 minutes of faffing around my pack trying to find my headtorch and declining all offers of food and drink!
By the time I got out of Tilberthwaite I was feeling extremely tired and I knew I had a tough, steep climb to come followed by some pretty rough ground culminating in a steep, technical descent in the dark. I was in 80th place when I got into CP6 but by the time I got to the stream crossing a the top of the climb I’d dropped to 86th. I was counting the people passing me. It was tough! I tried in vain to get back into the race but after about 300m (that felt like 2km) I stopped. I tried to pee and that wasn’t happening so I turned and threw up a little instead. I started to shiver. Shit. Not cool. I was glad of a little wake up call a few moments later as a runner passed me and just said “Throw up at the finish, it’s over there. Put your bloody coat on”. I took a deep breathe, swilled some water and put my coat on over my pack and put my gloves on. I was in 87th place now and I trudged on! I was hungry, I felt rough, I was tired and I couldn’t stand the taste of water but I was so close! I started to jog towards the treacherous descent and began not to care about anything other than getting into Coniston and getting my shoes off.
I managed to get down the descent, stumbling and hopping my way to the runnable switchbacks and occasionally glancing back to see two head torches bearing down on me. I didn’t care, I was approaching the last mile and I was going to run all the way even if it meant a trip to hospital! I overtook one person as we got off the descent and onto a gravel track but a few moments later, before we hit the last road section into the finish I was overtaken by three people. I was in 89th and that was enough motivation to get me moving a bit quicker – I wanted to finish in the 80s and I was going to. And I did. I got it done!
I ran over the finish line and I did not feel wonderful! The finish was a blur as they take you into the Finishers tent and announce your arrival to the large gathering of friends, family, supporters and other finishers – all I heard was noise and all I could see was a blur of lights. Sarah was there and snapped a picture – I have no idea how (or why) but I was smiling!
It took about two hours to recover my composure and my constitution but I got out of my clothes, had a power nap and then slowly (very slowly) consumed a bottle of Sprite and a bowl of rice and chilli before showering. After that I felt magical and Sarah and I went to the Finishers tent to cheer in other 50 and 100 runners for a couple of hours.
Lakeland is fantastic. Thanks to all my fellow competitors, their supporters and to the race organisers, volunteers and to the communities through which our merry band make our way each year!
I won’t be racing next year but I will be back, either as a volunteer/marshall or as a spectator.