Lakeland 50 2019 and one very proud #LakelandLegend
6th August 2019
I’d heard so much about the Lakeland 50 and Lakeland 100 and it didn’t disappoint. In fact it far exceeded my expectations of a major ultra!
I’d read repeatedly about the “Lakeland family”. About people wanting to become a “Lakeland Legend”. I started to get a sense of what this meant via the Lakeland 100 Facebook group in the months and weeks leading up the event.
Basically the group was people asking advice and getting it. People taking the piss out of each other – as family members do. And questions – soooo many questions! I absorbed all of the advice, giggled at the self-deprecating humour and got swallowed up in the whole excitement as the sense of antipication built as the weekend of reckoning neared! For me, this was an attempt at the Lakeland 50 and at 50 miles (80.5km) this was to be my longest event by some 22.5km! I was very nervous and very excited. Instead of starting with a race report and prep I’m going to start with how the mind worked post ultra.
After pushing yourself to your limits it’s amazing how your thinking can be so skewed to a particular mindset. So here are the thoughts that popped into my head after a 2.5 hour sleep in a tent having completed my Lakeland 50. All of them are real highs…
– The volunteers who selflessly helped all participants relentlessly. Some had been on the go for nearing 30 hours! That’s some commitment to enabling others to complete their goals.
– Checkpoint ‘staff’ had even gone so far as to bake goodies for Lakeland 50 and Lakeland 100 participants. This I saw on the Facebook group. Again, it gave you a sense of the sheer effort and commitment helpers were going to for the overall good of the event and everyone involved.
– My emotions like a dam ready to burst. I vividly remember the approach to Ambleside CP, myself and a 100 runner trotting in, being clapped by locals and tourists, building to an increasing crescendo as we neared the CP, passing family and friends of other runners, cowbells ringing in our ears, smiles everywhere around us. This was the first of several times I struggled to hold the emotions in on approaching the final 4 CPs. (We’d said goodbye to my Father in Law on the Friday morning after his recent passing away.)
– Participants helping each other through the lows you inevitably encounter on when ultra running.
– Finishing at 03:06, physically and mentally shattered yet elated. Arms aloft and hugging the volunteer who welcomed me through the finish. Barely able to speak I was so emotionally overcome at finishing (a common theme among completers!).
– The legendary welcome back to the event marque – announcer telling everyone your name, cowbells, whistles, cheers, claps almost deafening as you entered the enclosure!
– Suddenly realising my mate Mark would finish within 2 hours of me – on his quest to complete the Lakeland 100 for the first time having DNFd the previous year. For Mark, completing the 100 had understandably consumed him since July 2018 and to see his blue dot leaving Tilberthwaite CP and the progress through that last 3.5 hilly, claggy miles was a joy to behold.
– Seeing Mark entering the finish to become a 100 #LakelandLegend! What. A. Joy. I know it meant so very much to him. Seeing Leanne and their 3 daughters waiting in the dark for him at 04:50 to welcome him home to the finish! What a pity I was too tired to realise I hadn’t pressed record to capture that special moment!! (Not as wide awake as I’d thought I’d become obviously…)
– ALL weekend I never saw or heard one person complain. How wonderful the world would be if every day was like this x
Now to event build up and prep
Mark was a major help here and I’m forever grateful to him investing his time in my success at the Lakeland 50. Back in March he organised a recce of the Howtown > Mardale > Kentmere legs. He knew from previous 50 successes – and hearing numerous briefings – that successfully negotiating these legs meant my chances of completing the 50 were dramatically increased. Come event day, the knowledge that Fusedale had several false summits, that the stretch along Haweswater is far longer and more difficult than appears on the map and course profile, that Gatesgarth Pass is a beast, that the descent towards Sadgill is very technical and at times a quad basher etc etc. really put my mind at rest. I knew to just keep going. That the climbs on those legs inevitably lasted 30-60 mins maximum. Such knowledge was a huge help and resulted in a calmness that was to serve me well throughout. Thank you mate!
Due to my dear Father in Law being in intensive care for nearly 4 weeks, it meant I didn’t get to do the other planned recces that would cover the stretches from Kentmere to the finish in Coniston. The recce videos by John Kynaston and Dave Troman were to prove priceless in that respect. They at least gave me some appreciation of the important bits to navigate, plus some familiarity with the terrain and key elements of each leg. I would highly recommend John’s videos to anyone doing this event in future.
Lowri Morgan was another experienced ultra runner to selflessly give of her time. She provided advice via Twitter and dedicated an hour facetime call to giving me advice for completing. This to me represents everything that is so good about the ultra running community – of which I’m a relative novice in reality having now only completed two. Some key bits of advice from Lowri that really stuck with me above all else during the actual running/hiking of my Lakeland 50 were:
– Embrace the pain – let it become part of the rhythm. I did and it meant the inevitable pain not consuming me.
– Have the courage and belief to continue no matter what. This manifested itself in me having the mindset that no matter how tired I was to become, I could at least keep moving forward. The result was that I didn’t once stop to take a breather on a climb, descent or flat. I kept moving even if it meant walking or shuffling (there was a bit of that from Ambleside onwards!).
– Don’t wish for the top of a climb. Just count to 50 and keep repeating until you do reach the top – for me this meant I accepted that the summit of each climb would arrive whenever it did. Again, preventing me draining valuable energy in false hope.
– Respect the distance but not too much. I need more experience to truly get the benefits of this. My pacing was slow early on but not slow enough for me to have more consistent pacing throughout the 50 miles.
I also read up lots on other’s ultra experiences. People with far more experience, talent and expertise than me at ultra running. Here are a couple of many I was to consult:
My Lakeland 50 weekend started for real on arriving at Coniston and pitching my tent. I had very mixed feelings about going due to having had the funeral, and leaving my family for the weekend. They were all insistent I did it because of the training I’d put in and the fact that not much would be going on at home post funeral. I still felt real guilt about this amid concerns I was being very selfish about still going ahead. The automated CP update text alert service for key family members I’d paid for was a real help to them knowing I was safe and progressing. I was blown away on the Sunday to see how people had been following my progress online. Thank you, it meant a lot to have your support 🙂
The atmosphere in the registration hall and in Coniston itself was electric as Friday built towards the start of the Lakeland 100. A picture can’t possibly do this justice but below is an attempt – crowds lining the street as the 100 runners set off on their quest!
For me it was back to my tent to relax. I’d missed the Friday evening briefing so would attend the Saturday morning version instead. Purely due to adrenaline I found it almost impossible to sleep Friday night. The one comfort was that I was lying in a snug sleeping bag while the 100 runners were all out on mountain terrain. So nothing for me to complain about in reality! I ventured to the marque around 5am Saturday and wolfed 2 breakfasts courtesy The Farmer’s Wife catering! Then it was a case of getting changed, smearing (ahem) key body parts in Sudacrem, checking my kit and nutrition, before heading to the race briefing. Marc requested us to “Adopt a 100 runner” by offering encouragement to any of them we saw during our time on the course. It was superb advice that encouraged even more of the mutual encouragement that was so valuable to any of us on the course. I am truly in awe of all 100 runners I saw out there that day and night! The evident suffering many were going through and their desire to carry on was an example to anyone.
I have to admit to absolutely bricking it on the coach to the start at Dalemain. Thankfully I randomly sat next to a lovely lady called Ann Shawley, a 68 year old aiming to complete her 9th Lakeland 50!! Nine Lakeland 50s! She shared her experiences of doing this many times. We talked family, running, landscapes, weather… I could not have asked for better company on that journey to the start. Even better was to see her finish – hence her Lakeland 50 finisher pic below which I hope she won’t mind me sharing here. Ann you are a true #LakelandLegend! I believe she’s hoping to take a year off with the intention of her tenth Lakeland 50 finish being at 70! Phenomenal in anyone’s book.
The start for me offered a lovely distraction. I’d been asked to be interviewed and filmed for a short documentary a team from Sunderland University are doing about running and ultra running. (Yes I was that knobhead with someone filming him during the start loop!) That interview and the constant applauding and cheering of Lakeland 100 runners coming into and leaving the Dalemain CP (their halfway) instilled a distracting calm in myself and many others.
And then we were all called into the starting pen. Ready for our 50 mile adventure!! I won’t bore readers with a race report as such. Instead I’m sticking to key highlights. What was funny in hindsight was that within about 20 metres of the start, it began to rain. Within about 800 metres it was obvious this wasn’t a temporary shower so the waterproof came out and was never to come off again in the 15:35:36 I was out on the course lol!! There are very few pics from my own camera as my phone cut out within the first 90 mins due to the soaking it received in my pack. Rookie error and will put in waterproof bag next time!
My Lakeland 50 Race Highlights
The drenching we received was relentless. So much so my shorts were akin to me having jumped into a swimming pool even at the Pooley Bridge stage only a handful of miles in! I was asked by several runners if I had a target and answered honestly that I didn’t. It was a case of wanting to complete the Lakeland 50, be it in twelve or twenty four hours.
Running-wise I was going very well (easy & slow) until Fusedale when the back of my left knee tightened and NEVER let up the entire route. It just got tighter so to be quite honest time became irrelevant and it was a case of being thankful I was still able to run though compensating with an adjusted running style. It did affect all subsequent climbs and descents. Later on even the flats and the approach to Chapel Stile (Langdale CP).
As mentioned before, every 100 runner we passed was inspiring! One insanely energetic 100 runner passed my group on the final incline after Jacob’s Ladder!! Storming up his final climb! I was in awe. Equally encouraging and inspiring were fellow 50 runners. People of all abilities, age ranges and shapes and sizes take part in this event and it really is humbling to be one of hundreds on such a venture! I think because you’re moving at a much slower pace than on other constant running events like a 5k or a half marathon, people are able to talk easily so help each other when physically or mentally struggling. A word of encouragement. Running/walking together for a period. Navigating together. It all makes a real difference to collectively succeeding. Having seen and talked to many other participants I would definitely use poles next time. In the words of a multi completer who has analysed his and other’s performances – poles are like having four wheel drive!
Conditions were so tough underfoot. Incredibly slippy in places hence having to take care on technical descents which I’d normally be comfortable running. Incredibly muddy descending towards Haweswater, then running alongside it. I was a little stupid here in becoming a little impatient at the slowed tempo due to us all sliding regularly along this stretch. I should have saved my energy for later on. Lesson learned. And that’s varied Lakes weather for you – what do we expect!
Overall I didn’t have real mental low points. The well wishers of running club mates prior to the event provided a real boost. Thank you x I also put it down to the prep and advice I’d been given, hence a mindset of just going with whatever was thrown at us. False summits, incessant rain, slips/falls… Did I mention it rained for 14.5 of the 15.5 hours I was out there lol?! There was that apparently endless feckin ‘good path’ passing Blea Tarn though! The legendary and previously unknown Tony – he of the unmanned dibber – cheered us all up by telling us to “Fucking hurry up so he could get a warm cuppa from his flask!”
Volunteers deserve a special mention! Many of you may have no idea just what an enormous difference a kind smile, grabbing us some food, checking we we’re alright, eye contact can make! So many other people staying out hours under umbrellas or in shelters just to clap us on and/or offer encouragement. I made a point of saying thank you each and every time and I meant it more than I could ever say. As I became tired and my mind wandered to my family and my late Father in Law I became a little emotional – particularly as I saw those oh-so-welcome “Montane Checkpoint” signs in the latter stages. Ambleside onwards I just wanted to break into tears and hug every volunteer at every checkpoint. Running in honour of Alan seemed to bring these emotions to the surface.
Building on the people aspect. At the start I chatted to Ritchie Barker who I’d never previously met – as we found ourselves stood next to each other when in the start pen. On that very difficult technical descent into Coniston, head torch beams the only light, who did I find myself running with but Ritchie Barker! What a strange and lovely coincidence after 50 miles! Another was bumping into Stu Worrall, Dad of 18 year old Jack Worrall at Ambleside CP. I asked him how Jack was getting on and he proudly pointed to him readying to leave the CP. I shouted good luck to him, gave him a thumbs up and thought how amazing it was to see someone so young doing such a challenge. Jack finished in 15:01:13 and was rightly given a special award the following day. His Dad Stu was someone I’d found myself chatting to in the marque on the Friday evening – they are a lovely family for whom the Lakeland 50 and 100 are very special. Thanks for your encouragement Stu, it meant so much coming into and leaving Ambleside. ☺️
My fuelling throughout was great. I’d made my own energy balls consisting of mainly date, nut butter, nuts and seeds, spices and protein powders, with added sea salt to help avoid cramps. Topped up with CP food such as jam butties, soup, the odd warm cuppa was perfect. I was even treated to a cake & custard desert at Chapel Stile which served to get me going again at my lowest point physically. Oh and the sweet juicy melons of Tilberthwaite!!! (That’s not a euphemism!)
Chafing I escaped! Yay!! No blisters or chafing, thanks to ample use of Sudacrem and some carefully placed nipple plasters 😉 From climb out of Pooley Bridge shorts and ALL clothing was literally drenched. But for Sudacrem I would have suffered badly from both. I highly recommend it as it’s far cheaper too than many running/cycling specific products. I need to learn a valuable lesson in clothing though. For some stupid reason I only packed an emergency base layer rather than another I could also wear during the event. For that reason I was incredibly thankful of the free Lakeland buff we were given as this provided valuable heat retention for me later on.
Back to avoiding cramps. Another strategy was to consume two sachets of Dioralyte during my time on the course. This helped replenish vital salt loss. The only downside was later on. I’m really sorry to the poor woman who was behind me on final descent off Coniston fells. Couldn’t stop farting as the effects of the Dioralyte wore off 😆🤪. She probably heard my token “scuse me” and “pardon” many times. I have to admit to being beyond caring at that point.
Another massive positive that deserves a mention is the reduced pollution at the event. What I think was a new rule that competitors used a hard cup and a collapsable cup meant the organisers didn’t have to waste resource with plastic cups at CPs. This made a huge difference to the environmental impact in this respect alone.
The finish to the 50 was pretty surreal. Forcing myself into a jog on the tarmac road into Coniston despite the pain meant I allowed gravity to do it’s job. It was a bizarre experience of feeling I could barely move and yet would have struggled to stop had the marshals at the bridge told me to! The finish photo shows my left eye already starting to close – I was goosed at this point! Not too shattered though to stop me enjoying the free chilli and rice, some coffee and a welcome sit down to chat about the event with fellow finishers! I also enjoyed a chat about the BG with the owner of Rinaldo’s coffee – bizarre how your mind switches to another challenge on completing one. That’s far outside my capabilities right now. Though it’s very much on my radar but will wait a few years due to commitments and impact it would have on family.
For anyone considering the Lakeland 50 or Lakeland 100… I can’t recommend this event highly enough! It’s incredible and one any ultra runner, or aspring ultra runner should have a go at.
Will I do another ultra? Yes for definite!! 🙂 It might well be shorter than 50 miles though. I have to think about the impact on family and I have a PhD to get completed in the next 12 months or so. For now, I’m a proud #LakelandLegend, proud earner of a finisher t-shirt and medal, proud owner of a Lakeland 50 hoodie I treated myself to having earned the right.