“Make sure you drop your £1 in the collection box”. This is what the lovely lady serving cheese toasties at the final check point said to me and other runners as were preparing for the final climb and descent of the race. The collection box in question is mandatory on this race to help raise funds to fight cancer in Children. This kind of community spirit sums up the Lakeland 50 & 100 races. It’s something I never honestly never considered when I entered the ballot in 2021, but it has reaffirmed my continued love for the Ultra community and in particular this race.
Standing on the start line at 11.20am on Saturday morning in the Lake District rain I was as calm as I think I have ever been for a 50 mile race. Even after witnessing the start of the 100, doing a full and thorough kit check and seeing so many people at the School in Coniston the day before, I was still just in the mind set of “this is just a training run”. I wasn’t trying to disrespect anyone who was going for a time/place or taking on their first ultra, I was just confident in myself. I have run quite a lot in the lakes in the last year, so I wasn’t phased by the challenge ahead.
The challenge in question, was to complete 50 miles/80km with 3000m of vertical gain in 12hrs 45mins. The reason for this time was to keep it easy running/hiking to save my legs for my A race just 4 weeks later, the UTMB CCC! I didn’t recce the route but I did watch a bunch of race videos and made a pretty solid race plan on a Google sheet. I knew how long it would take me to get to each CP and how much fuel I would need. I just needed to go and do it. Of course, with races this long, a lot can happen and it sure did!
The route is basically the 2nd half of the 100 (105) miler, this allows the CPs to close at the same time for both races. The fast 100 runners would be through the 50 start way before we arrived on our coaches from Coniston but plenty of the mid pack would come through during the day. The two races were only segregated by the fact we had different coloured bibs (yellow for 100 and purple for 50), otherwise everyone was treated and cheered the same. Both are a ballot entry as it’s become really popular in recent years. They are also allocate a percentage of entries to women, which is amazing. On the 50 it felt like a more mixed crowd for sure, I don’t know about the 100 in terms of percentages of women/men. Both races are also un marked, the organisers do give you a map, a road book of directions and a gpx file. If you have a watch with nav on then it’s not really an issue at all. Another unique thing about these races is that you are not allowed crew or allowed to go into shops at any point. You must survive on what you carry and CPs only unless you are in the 100, where you get a drop bag at halfway. For the 50 it’s not such an issue, especially as the CPs are really well stocked! Final bit of info is the cut off for the 50 is 24 hours, with that in mind it has been created for fast walkers as well as the speedsters and everyone in between. See what I mean about it being a welcoming event!
Back to the race now, the course doesn’t take you up that high, around 650m, it doesn’t go over any tricky peaks either but that doesn’t mean it should be under estimated! This is the lake district and the terrain is pretty specific. My plan for the day was to run with my friend Reka, who I travelled up with. She is a bit of a speedster, I did say that I am running my super easy pace, if you run on ahead then you’ll just have to wait for me at the finish, as I have the car key 😉
Start to CP1, Howtown:17.8km, 294m+
It was raining when we got to the coachesn(apparently it had been all night), it had stopped when we got off but it resumed when we got into the start pen. The jacket was on but the spirits were high. With 1300ish runners (this is big for a UK race) they set us off in small waves. Somehow we ended up in wave 2 with our friend Rach just in front of us and It was nice to say hi. To make up the distance you have to run a loop of the Dalmain estate, where the start is. It’s pleasant rolling fields. Of course the rain stopped 4mins after we started, so jackets quickly came off. Another friend Lenny passed us and said more friends, Ally and Andy were just behind. Being so far from local trails and seeing so many familiar faces was a big theme of this race!
The loop was soon done and we came back near the start with everyone cheering, thanks for being there Steve! Then we were expertly guided across a road and on to the main course by Nici Griffin (organiser/RD supreme from centurion), amazing that she was out volunteering all weekend here. We had a nice run along a pretty flat of woodland, where we came across Spencer (a 100 runner), who seems in a bit of discomfort but trucking along well, I had no doubt he would finish as he is a beast! Soon we were up to Pooley Bridge, which sits at the end Ullswater, so much brilliant support out here! Once out of the village, it was up a nice short but punchy climb. The poles stayed in the bag for this one and we kind of enjoyed the views over the lake because the cloud was pretty high up. Once at the top though it was a lovely run along the side of the lake. Lots of chatting and giving encouragement to the 100 runners as we passed them.
At some point Reka sped off, think she was enjoying the free running and then the down hill to the CP. I kept to my plan though, sticking to the easy effort, saving the legs for later. Soon I was heading into the CP, where Reka was waiting for me. She said she wasn’t feeling 100%, which was a little surprising. I didn’t think anything of it though as I refilled my bottles, used the nice inside toilet and left back up the hill with her. I had seen Rach and Ally also at this point too. There would be plenty of this kind of fun!
Estimated ETA: 13:40, Actual: 13:25. Nice to be a little ahead so early!
Howtown to Mardale CP2: 15.2km, 765m+
This was the punchiest section, going to the highest point on the course, still a pass between bigger hills but 658m up. It was time for my poles and that CCC practice. I would have to get used to pulling them out for the climbs and putting away in the quiver for the descents ready for the beastly mountains of the Alps. I enjoyed this one, as we snaked up. I was drinking and eating well but noticed it was way more humid than I had thought. Glad I filled up the 3rd bottle!
Once at the top though it was awesome running. We had been going back and forth with Ally and Andy on the climb, stopping to take photos but once up and over Reka ran off for a bit. When I caught up with her though, she was walking, I knew something wasn’t right. She was upset and just not herself. She said she had really had stomach and sickness issues. I checked she had eaten and drank, which she said she had but she just didn’t feel right. I walked with her for a bit, where we talked options, she said she was def dropping out at the next CP as she couldn’t run. She told me to go on, I felt really bad after she helped me in Hardmoors with Dai at the 50km mark. I tried to convince her but to no avail. This time I kinda needed to be selfish, it was an important training race for me and she wasn’t in medical danger. I knew she could walk it in if need be. So I gave her a big hug and bounded off.
I was soon descending a rather lush path where I caught up with Ally and Andy again. We were heading down to Haweswater Reservoir though. This next section was one I was dreading and it lived up to its notoriety. A slightly flat, rolling, rocky fern filled path around the lake but about 20m up. Basically it wasn’t fun, and to make it less fun, it started raining. It wouldn’t really stop until we almost finished also! The rain was hard, then light, then hard etc. Ally and I got in a bit of a grump and the flowing chat pretty much stopped. I was still thinking about Reka and hoping she was ok but I also wanted to get to the CP. in hindsight I wasn’t fuelling properly at this point and should have eaten something but the rain combined with it being a bit humid and the rocks was distracting my mind for what I should be doing.
In no time though, we were rounding the end of the lake and coming into the CP. it was busy but full of good vibes and helpful volunteers. After a quick toilet stop, I put my WP jacket back on as I was starting to get cold and knew there was another longish climb coming. I then refilling my bottles, ate some watermelon and something else I can’t remember lol. Just before leaving I saw Rach and her friend come in, followed by Alexandra. Nice to check with people on the fells.
Estimated ETA 16:40, Actual 15:57. Was surprised how quickly I was on that section.
Mardale to Kentmere CP3: 10.4km, 511m+
The rain was really light but consistent. It was straight up out of the CP too, time for some more pole fun! I soon caught back up with Ally and Andy. We had a little chat about that last section and Ally said she was ready to call it quits, guess she also needed some food as well! As we got higher the visibility got much worse as the flag came in, I was enjoying myself though, stopping for photos and to take on a gel if required. I also followed my Madeira plan for climbing. Take it easy for a bit at a slower runners pace, then do a quick over take and push a little when a space opened up. I felt really good…that was until I got over the top of the pass. A sudden sickness came on and as I started to run again it felt really bad. So I stopped and promptly threw up what tasted of watermelon only. It was a pretty decent chunder though, so I took a minute to walk it off, drank some water, then felt a whole lot better. I then ran on quite happy and hoping it wouldn’t happen again. Very weird though as watermelon has never given me an issue before.
I caught Ally and Andy up again just before the next descent. Ally and I decide that we’d just all run together as this was getting silly now. I said ok great, I was happy to cruise along and follow my plan. I didn’t want to be out for ages but was conscious of raining it in a little. It turned out that Andy had run this race last year, so he knew what was coming, mostly. I was loving the downhill too at this point, skipping over the rocks. The rain continued to be “there”, less so but I was accepting that this was going to be our day now. Alas the wet slippy rocks were not the friend of another runner. We came across him having a bandage applied to a very large Harry Potter type wound to his forehead. We stopped and asked if they needed help and had enough bandages (I’m a qualified outdoor first aider), the two people tending to him seemed happy, although it didn’t look like it was going to stop bleeding anytime soon!
Running through the valley I could see up to Kentmere pike on our right. I knew we’d have another short climb up and over into the Kentmere valley (I did the Horse shoe run last summer with Angela and she showed me when we would join the race route), then we’d have a nice run into the village itself. Over the top of the little climb, we got to see a couple of the local ponies, that I remembered seeing before, then the “fun” wall stiles, if you know, you know.
I had heard good things about the Kentmere aid station, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for the party! We were welcomed in by Marcus and then Jen Scotney. The music was banging and many of the volunteers were dancing! This aid had all kinds of goodies including smoothies and some very yummy vegetable pasta, which I took a big bowl of! I avoided the fruit though after the puking earlier! I did grab a load of sweets and some crisps. I wasn’t going to mess up the fuelling again. With bottles refilled and pockets stuffed with Gels and a packet of crisps we headed out.
Estimated ETA 18:25, actual 17:56. We took a little longer at this aid station but I was still really happy with my pacing.
Kentmere to Ambleside CP4: 11.8km, 491m+
I knew about the climb out of the village from when I did the run with Angela. I knew it was long and rocky but had forgotten just how rocky. The poles were soon back out and Rach and her friend passed us, never to be seen again. About half a KM up the wide rocky track there was a farmer in a 4X4 coming down and it didn’t look easy as he bounced it all over the place but its what they have to. I was still feeling good though and the goal for this section was to get to Ambleside before it got dark. We worked out that sunset would be just after 8pm and we were on pace for that. To be honest though, I don’t remember much about this rest of this apart from the high level of support out. There was one guy with his Collie who we saw at least 3 times between Mardale and Ambleside. I was impressed how quickly he got between cheer spots. Ally and I continued our random discussion on things. She was enjoying the race (mostly) much more and we hadn’t had a proper catch up since I paced her on the TP100, when she was obviously more focused on actually racing.
The rain continued to either drizzle, stop or lash us. the WP was doing its job though and I was nice and cozy. Out of Troutbeck we had a little road to trail climb then a pretty fairly easy descent into the town. I heard that there is usually a lot of support out but I wasn’t expecting much with the weather being quite grim, but was pleasantly surprised by all the cheers every runner got. I was jealous of the chips and drinks they were having but it was soon a CP stop for us.
I followed the standard routine apart from getting out the head torch. For this race I was testing out a newish torch, the Petal Nao+, which I bought for use in the mountains but had only worn for like 1 hour in my local woods Running for 4 or so hours with it would be a good test of fit and making sure I understood the set up. I grabbed some more crisps and sweets and drank some squash, then we headed out.
Estimated ETA: 20:10, actual 20:02. We had obviously slowed down because of the longer stop at Kentmere but I was pretty happy as we were well over half way with a flat section to come.
Ambleside to Chapel Stile CP5: 9km, 234m+
Well, when I say flat, after a little jog out of the centre of town the path was pretty much all up but not steep. we kept to our run/walk strategy. Andy was starting to feel it a bit now though. This guys a super experienced runner but he was no way near his ideal fitness but was happy enough trucking along, listening to our chit chat. After some initial lowland fells, we hit the riverside and pretty much stuck near it as it winds up towards the Langdale valley, one of my favourite places in the lakes. Weirdly we didn’t have our torches on yet. The rain/cloud seemed to be giving us extra light to lead the way. Occasionally Ally turned hers on in a couple of wooded sections but that was it. This was the easiest section by far but I noticed a blister had started to form on my right heal and said the guys that I would need to stop a little longer at the next aid station to patch it up before we headed back up into the fells. It was agreed that we would take on some extra food here too. The CP was a lit up large tent in a campsite. it had fire going outside and plenty of good vibes inside too. I patched up my feet, while the others got stuck in to some food and hot drinks. I soon joined them, having some delicious soup and yes more crisps. Just before leaving we saw the runner who had the head injury, it didn’t look like he had got it sorted out properly though, so I asked if he needed any help but he said that someone was coming to steni-strip it but was also happy because he said he was on for a PB, lols! He should have stopped in Ambleside to get full medical attention, Ally said to me they had medics inside their, sigh. I hope he was ok and got his PB.
Estimated ETA, 21:30, actual 21:32. Bang on again but we did take some more time here. really happy leaving this CP though and ready for the final push!
Chapel Stile to Tiberthwaite (final (CP): 10.6km, 387m+
Head torches were on now but confidence was high for a good finish time on target with around 16km total to go. Easy we thought, oh how wrong were we.
I had forgotten two things, one this side is really, really rocky (I know this form running int he Langdales) and two I hadn’t recced or watched videos of this section. We were soon off the flat lands of the valley floor and traversing round the side of a hill that was pretty much un runnable, also it was getting wetter and wetter as the rainfall from the last 24 hours was working its way down to the lower paths. We then had the short but steep climb up to Blea tarn, which was punchy but I was still doing well on these. Andy, was starting to struggle a bit more though. Then it all gets a bit hazy but there was an unmanned CP (which you just have to pass by) and a lot of paths as rivers and bouncy/muddy bogs. it was at this point, I was like, ahhhhh ok, so this is the sting in the tail people talk about. Rocks combined with water and darkness makes for a very special kind of lakeland hell/fun. When i could run, I would but it wasn’t that often. Suddenly this whole “we’ll be done by 12.30ish” was looking quite impossible, so we just accepted what would be would be. Ally did ask me if this was normal and I said, well yeah if it rains, the paths all become streams, so we just rolled with the punches to get to the final CP.
When we got into Tiberthwaite, I wanted to be pretty quick in and out as I just wanted it done but they had toasted sandwiches I mentioned at the start, which were being griddled on the fire. Ally and Andy partook but I didn’t want to risk some random food right now and my engird levels were ok. gels, veloforte, crisps and sweets still going in. I did switch to Cola though from my electrolyte drink. it wasn’t Coke or Pepsi though, which I did think was a bit cheap, sorry I am def a coke snob. After about 10mins I said to Ally that I really wanted to get going and finish, we had to coax Andy out of his Chair, lol. Before leaving though we were reminded to put our donation for Jacob in the box, which I duly did and it was nice to see the box filling up.
Estimated ETA, 23:00, actual 23:47. I think at least 15mins can be attributed to stopping at the last CP but that was a tough section and it wasn’t going to get any easier soon!
Tiberthwaite to Coniston (finish): 5.7km, 283m+
Well, well, I didn’t really look at the final section did I, lol. Its straight up on “Jacobs ladder” as its known as. So 300m in like 3km. The poles were out again and I was ready to kick ass. So much so I kinda just pushed on and left the others…sorry Ally and Andy. It was really good to still have my rhythm though, up through the rocky streams I went. Then there was a bit of a scramble to do, which was fun, I am so much more confident on these since my adventures this year. It was then that I noticed I had left the others so stopped to make sure they would be ok and it was only a couple of mins before I saw Ally come over the scramble saying something like “that was interesting”. I kept to a more easier pace for the rest of the climb and as it levelled out we waded though some deep stream crossing and passed a lot of amazing sounding waterfalls. It would be fun to come up here in the light to see them once day but for now, we really just wanted to get moving and finish. Down hill it was though, not the easy kind of course. Steep rocky lakeland downhill. Some bits I could run and others 100% not. My feet had started hurting from all the rocks, not really bad but I noticed that ultra pain of having been on my feet a while and them getting wet and dry and wet again for the last few hours. When we finally got to a more runnable section, Ally and I managed open up a bit, which was fun, then it became almost road, we slowed a bit and Andy caught us back up. He had that finishers wind now. I think at some point it almost stopped raining too but our minds were just not he finish line. Into the village we came to muted cheers from the volunteers (it was late) and we were directed to the finish, Ally sped ahead as we rounded the corner to the lane which would lead to the school. There were quite a few people out cheering us in, it was an awesome feeling to finish another Lake District race.
Estimated ETA 00:45, actual 01:12:46. 13hours 40mins total (mid pack, standard)
Andy somehow was whisked off by a volunteer (he was fine but for some reason got confused with his tiredness), Ally and I had a photo taken under the finish line before we were formally announced by names to the tent of supporters. They cheer every single runner in like this, then you have your main finishers photo taken, collect a drop bag (if you have one) and grab your tee and free food.
There was a party in the tent, where again I ran into Lenny. Ally went off to her tent, I walked to my car, got changed and came back for food and soft drink. it was getting late now and I needed to sleep.
Reka was all ok. I had messaged her when I got into Ambleside, she got a lift back to the house where her friend Andy (another one) looked after her to make sure she was rehydrated and warm.
On that note, I do want to have a big shout out to Andy M for letting us stay and being an amazing host. He is a photographer and took the awesome photo of me on the scree descent at Skiddaw in 2021, small world!
I also want to give a huge shout out to the race organisers, volunteers and all the people cheering on course, just amazing. Wouldn’t be the same without it. As I mentioned at the start, this race donates a lot of money to various charities; from mountain rescue to Childhood cancer to Baby basics. Its thousands of pounds that we as runners give via the organisers. Something I didn’t know before I signed up but am glad to know now and wholeheartedly approve of.
To all the wonderful friends I saw up there and people I finally met who I have chatted to on instagram. I hope you had as good a time as me!
I’ll stop now gushing now, but to finish just 30mins off of my estimated was amazing considering. I know if I was racing I could probably take at least an hour and half of that time, maybe more but I don’t care at all as it was such a good day out with Reka, then Ally and Andy. I flew out on holiday the Monday after and by Tuesday morning my legs felt great, the plan worked. Now roll on CCC!