Lakeland 50 recce part 1
Last Saturday turned out to be a glorious day in weather, fell and trail running, and company as I did my first ever recce of any Lakeland 50 legs.
Running mate, GB Sticks (Mark Morgan-Hillam), offered to lead me on recces of legs 2 & 3. Most of the route for this entire event I have never set foot on in my life so I was really looking forward to this.
Many of you reading this will have picked up on my early 2019 post that the Lakeland 50 is the key event for me this year. I haven’t done an ultra since the Ultimate Trails UT55 in 2015. On finishing that event, exhausted, exhilarated and in battered by cramp, I vowed to do another ultra so life-affirming did I find doing it. Suffering with chronic Lyme disease it’s very difficult to plan for anything like this because training can be so up and down. But with turning 50 in April, doing the ’50’ seemed a fitting way to celebrate what is a special year.
The Lakeland 50 is very much known for having a real sense of community. Again, this appears to be very common to the ultra community, especially those so-called normal runners, i.e. not elite. On finding out I was down to do Lakeland 50 as part of Team Montane, Mark demonstrated that community support by immediately offering to do a recce run with me that would tackle the infamous “f*cking Fusedale” climb! I should also point out that in many ways Mark was going above and beyond. He’s been struggling with a real calf problem that has meant him not running in over 2 weeks, having been unable to free up the injury over the past few months. This was his last possible chance in testing his calf to see if he stood any chance at all of tackling his Lakeland 100demons in 2019. He was genuinely risking an injury that would totally scupper his Lakeland 100 reams by helping me out. I can’t thank him enough for this.
A 04:30 start!
So we wouldn’t impact too much on our families, we agreed to meet at Kentmere at 7am. For me this meant getting up, washed and out at 04:30! Sleep wasn’t great because I was a paranoid about missing the alarm! I needn’t have worried though as I was up, dressed and out easily – helped by a very bright and fresh Saturday spring morning. It felt great to be heading up to the Lakes so early. We parked outside the checkpoint, donating £3 as requested when the tiny hall isn’t in use, and headed up to Howtown in Mark’s car. The logistics meant we’d be running from there, to Kentmere via Mardale Head, then relaxing our weary legs (for 5 mins!) before driving back from Kentmere to Howtown to collect Mark’s car. It was well worth it though…
Leg 2 Howtown to Mardale Head (15.06km, 793m ascent, 691m descent)
Mark had strongly advised we take the entire day at talking pace. That we should never run or hike to the point we were getting out of breath. This was sound advice as it ensured I could properly take note of my surroundings and the route while enjoying the day and minimising any chance of injury. F*cking Fusedale turned out to be a lovely uphill hike for around 40 mins. Well we did have the sun out, pretty firm ground, incredible visibility and virtually no wind at all. The chances of that again come race day I’m not even going to tempt fate by guessing!
Mark almost took us on two wrong turns on this stretch alone! Some navigator lol! But we did find the post as you can see. Obligatory post pic below 🙂
From here it was across the ridge line and a gentle jog across plush grasslands towards Haweswater. My god what a view! I’ve only been there once and it was on the Easter side to the hotel. Mark made it very clear indeed to keep an eye out for the cairn we think has been created by LL100 & LL50 runners in order to try avoiding missing the right turn down towards Haweswater. That stretch proved to be a very undulating a rocky run alongside the shoreline. Quite technical in parts it’s definitely a time to plod along gently come race day, saving energy for Gatesgarth Pass. Even more so for LL100 runners who will be 20 hours plus into their run by that buy tramadol time! As with almost every stretch of every leg, it’s beautiful surroundings you’re running in here and ultra pace means you can savour this while moving forward (constantly). Don’t neglect the importance of concentrating on what’s underfoot though as one wrong step in technical or rocky parts can easily result in an a race-ending injury. I belted my shin my upending a very large rock and that was when taking my time.
Anyway, we took the a few seconds to enjoy the cool water at the wooden bridge at Mardale Head, before spotting a bunch of “intrepid explorers” as the gang of 4×4 permit drivers called themselves and deciding we’d crack on up Gatesgarth to hopefully get up there ahead of them – which we did yay!
Leg 3 Mardale Head to Kentmere (10.4km, 544m ascent, 635m descent)
Another 30 mins of uphill hiking, with a bonus stop to chat to a couple who were doing their own recce of an event called “Lakes, Waters and Passes” I think it was called. You choose your own route. The only requirement is that you reach all Lakes and Waters on offer! Something to think about for the future…
And I’ve given it some thought and will leave it for now 😉 We passed a few stalled 4x4s who had stopped due to a puncture. Feeling very smug we cracked on powered by our legs. Mark’s calf was holding up brilliantly on such a testing climb. Even to the point that we were able to jog after reaching the top and heading down the pass all the way towards the Kentmere valley. That descent is deceptively longer and rockier than you’d think. I suspect that’s a common theme for much of the route, hence the value of this recce to get rid of any naivety or complacency I may suffer from. A point reinforced by the climb up and over to Kentmere itself. It’s a really nasty kick up after you head quietly through the farm. Again, the joy of running and hiking in such gorgeous parts of the Lakes on trails very few people tend to know about is something to treasure. And it helps to distract the mind when your quads and feet are tiring a bit from a hot day in the Lakes.
I really enjoyed chatting about the no-nonsense weekly “Lakeland Family” emails and blog posts from Marc Laithwaite. They give you what you need to know in a very direct style. Just what you need. No messing about. Clear instructions. And yes, if I don’t get past Mardale Head I will be having a ‘serious word with myself’! I strongly suspect those strong words with self with continue right through the 50 lol! Those emails are priceless to a first-timer like me and I’ll be reading, re-reading and taking notes on every one in the lead up to the event.
So that was it! Back at the car. A not-too-detailed summary of a recce of two legs.
We got changed out of our stinking clothes – well mine did anyway as I wore 2 layers instead of 1! I also informed Mark of the curry I’d taken the family out for the previous night. This brought a guffaw of shock from him – justified when you think of the fact there were no toilet facilities of any kind on the entire route. Stupid or brave if me? Well surely that’s ultra criteria right there?! Clearly I have the ingredients for a Lakeland 50 success lol 🙂
It was then a case of driving back from Kentmere to Howtown to collect Mark’s car and return to our families 🙂
I was fuelled by homemade energy balls (these ones chocolate and orange flavour), some dates and plenty of water. I also seem to have found a cure for my severe cramps – magnesium tablets as recommended by one of my running club mates. I haven’t suffered cramps for almost 4 years now though wouldn’t be surprised to do so on an event the distance and challenge of LL50.
So a fab day all round! I’m going back to recce legs 4-7 in the coming weeks ahead of the big event in late July! For now it’s a case of continuing with plenty of running that fits around family, work and my energy levels. Looking forward to running the Manchester 10k this weekend for a bit of (ahem) speed. 🙂