- Is this your first time doing the 100?
- Yes... its also my first time in the Lake District
- Oh wow!
Apparently there aren't many people who's first trip to the Lake District is to do the Lakeland 100.
What is the Lakeland 100? To quote the event website...
The Lakeland 100 ‘Ultra Tour of the Lake District’ is the most spectacular long distance trail race which has ever taken place within the UK. The circular route encompasses the whole of the lakeland fells, includes in the region of 6300m of ascent and consists almost entirely of public bridleways and footpaths. [oh and it is actually 105 miles]
I ended up racing the LL100 due to COVID. For the last few years, I have been trying to get into UTMB which is a similar time of year, and the LL100 has typically sold out almost straight away in early September so no chance to decide later on. I was due to be running UTMB in 2020 but that was cancelled and I had the option to do it in 2021-2023. Back in the dark days of lockdown, 2022 was looking like a better option for UTMB and I had no plans for 2021.
The LL100 ballot for 2021 opened and I figured I would put my name in. I'm 0/11 in ballots so figured I wouldn't get in but against all odds, my name was drawn. July 2021 would be the Lakeland 100.
Pre-race admin was very straight forward. I spent the evening before in Windermere. I was staying at the Windermere Hotel which was very handily located next to the train station. I checked in and headed down to the Coop for my usual pre-race nutrition.
I settled down for a quiet evening watching the opening night of the men's hundred Cricket. It was really hot so not ideal but I did get a good night of sleep eventually.
Race day started at 8am as I packed up my stuff. I then grabbed a taxi to Coniston. To be honest, I should have got the 505 bus but didn't want to expend any excess energy and the buses are only once an hour. It was a pleasant journey and soon enough I was pitching my tent.
I had a new tent and within a few minutes, it was up nicely. I was very close to the registration tent so pulled out all my mandatory kit and headed over. It was efficiently done with loads of kit checkers. Absolutely everything on the list was checked which was nice.
I then went to settle in for a rest in my tent but it was absolutely roasting in there already. I did a bit of a wander around the site and caught up with loads of people I had seen for a while. My plans had been to get some rest (ideally sleep) in the tent but just being in it was sapping my energy. Eventually I worked out the best place was outside in the shade and this gave me a chance to rest.
Soon enough, 430pm and the briefing came around. I hid at the back and listened. The mandatory unmanned not-a-dibbers were my main takeaway. I went back to my tent and stuffed my race pack. I had left it to the last minute to give me something to do but it ended up taking ages as the new UD race pace design has a lot fewer zip pockets and the stupid burrito pocket where a bottle holder should go so it took a bit longer.
As a result, I was right at the back of the start pen. This suited me well as I was worried about setting off to quickly and having 500 people in front of me would prevent that. The traditional Nessun Dorma was sung (meh for me but each to their own). Just before the start, Thunderstruck AC/DC was played. This was also played at the funeral of one my school friends who died aged 38 so it made the start a bit more emotional than might have been the case.
Eventually we were off...
I had seen the start several times in the late John K's videos. This time is was absolutely rammed with lots of people cheering. It was quite a shock after the one man and a dog staggered starts of the Centurion races. It was a nice steady pace which is just as well as it is a decent climb straight from the gun.
There was a bottleneck at the miners bridge early on which was maybe a 5 minute wait. It was then a slow jog-walk up the first hill. 20 minutes for the first mile - but then again my target time was 35 hours which is 3mph. There was a bit of a plateau and then another climb up to 2,000ft just below Brown peak.
My training has been many many hill repeats on the North Downs. I certainly have it better than most - my biggest climb is about 400ft and the steep ones are more like 300ft. This was nearly 6 times that and only the first one.
The decent towards Seathwaite was absolutely sensational. I had been told there were limited runnable descents and this was one of them so I made the most. I was just over 21 minutes for 2 miles which sound pedestrian normally but was absolutely golden today. Soon enough I was into the the first CP in just under 1h50. I had looked a results from previous years and 1h40 was typical for a mid 35 hours finish but then again, people typically go off to quickly so I was happy with that. I was in 362nd/540 so very much nearer the back than the front.
The first checkpoint was very busy. There was very modest queue which is testament to the hard work of the checkpoint volunteers. I only needed to grab water as I had put two tailwind sachets in my bottle and had drunk half of it. The other was for water and I had drunk that plus a cheeky stream refill on the high ground. It was decently hot even at 7pm.
I had chance to refuel along the nice flat path out of the CP. Soon enough there was a big hill. The sector was a big climb then descent down to Boot - apparently the middle bit is normally a bog but was bone dry this year. I got the climb done well but unfortunately it was a shocker of a descent. I was very glad to have my cheat sticks as I dropped 700 feet in a mile down some very unforgiving terrain. This was a beautiful section. It was getting towards sunset and the temperatures were easing. I even stopped to take a couple of photos to remember it.
I had a quick turnaround at Boot. Apparently James Elson was there but didn't see him. I had made up a lot of places on this section and was now into the race. Shortly after leaving the aid station, I came across two James's carrying a guy who was out of it back to the checkpoint. Helping out fellow runners in need is definitely a feature of the race.
The 3rd leg was one of the more straight forward ones. It would be the last with daylight for a while and I tried to hold off as long as possible. I even made it past Burnmoor Tarn and a fair way down the descent towards Eskdale before it was no longer safe to run without it. Only 16 miles in and it was dark. I had a really good run down towards the checkpoint though despite the darkness.
All the checkpoints were brilliant but I had a soft spot for CP3. I was coming in towards Wasdale Head and it was about 11pm. This is typically a time to be wary of in ultras as it is pub chucking out time and there are often a few drunk people around and I could see a pub or two in the village. I was some people in regular clothes in the distance and thought it might be drinkers to avoid but it was the aid station crew. The theme was Alice in Sunderland and it was run by the Sunderland Strollers. The volunteers were all Mackems and in fancy dress. There were loads of different sandwiches but asked for peanut butter and jam one. The lady making it said it was just like having Christmas cake and cheese - that would be a brilliant idea for aid station food.
Whilst leg 3 was pretty straight forward, this most certainly wasn't. According to Andy Cole, if you are in the wrong race, you will drop by Buttermere. The end of it would be marathon mark and officially the start of "being in the race". However there was a lot of work to do first.
Black Sail pass was massive but it was just a case of plodding up it. I ended up chatting to someone on the way up who had been struggling to run (possibly Matt?) and he had done the TP100 in 2012 and we passed the time heading upwards. I was going a bit slower than most so let some people past every so often. It also meant I had a time out to take a look back towards the full moon and trail of head torches. I was near the back of the field but there were still plenty of lamps in my photo.
The one-two punch of Black Sail pass and Scarth gap is one of the toughest parts of the route. I thought having made it to the top of Black Sail pass, it would be easier but the next 5 miles - despite being mainly downhill - were the slowest of the first half for me. It was a fair bit of scrambling in the dark and I remember a lot of people falling over. The cheat sticks definitely saved me a lot here.
Eventually the terrain eased and the last mile or so into the checkpoint was fairly easy. It was alongside Buttermere and it probably spectacular in the daylight but was just a nice flat section to make the most of. The first 25 miles had knocked quite a lot out of me so despite being flat, I was still run-walking it but eventually got to the checkpoint. I also passed the marathon mark in a somewhat shocking 7h43. Ideally I wanted to be under 7h30 but anything under 8h was fantastic as the cut off here was 9h30.
The first 25 miles of LL100 had taken me about 10 minutes longer than the start of UTMB. That race has two big climbs of Le Delevret (900m of climb) and Col du Bonhomme (1,500m of ascent) so not exactly exactly an easy start either. It goes to show how hard the start of LL100 is.
I made it into Buttermere aid station and it was appropriately enough M*A*S*H themed. It was a hive of activity with the aid station set up outside a village hall. The queue was on a rocky outcrop so even the aid stations are a challenge. Usually I'm on the sugar early in races but went for a hot dog here. I was officially in the race now...
Having looked at the results, a surprisingly high number of people dropped here - perhaps 20 looking at the results. There were quite a few broken people here already. I had put in a decent shift to get here but had been reasonably conservative as there was a long way to go and gaining half an hour in the first quarter can cost you hours in the last quarter. This CP also completed the first GPX track which was a big milestone too.
I headed off on my own towards CP5. I was a bit clueless coming out of the CP as my watch hadn't quite got its bearing but eventually I was on my way towards Sail Pass. It is sometimes a bit dispiriting for me in the first few minutes after a CP as I'm usually very slow as do my eating and drinking on the go and then have a quiet few minutes to digest. However during those 10 minutes, I will have covered half a mile versus nothing of those sat in a checkpoint.
The Garmin navigation is fantastic but sometime ignorance is helpful. It gives you the details of any upcoming climb and it flagged this one as 3.3 miles and 1,500 feet to go. That would be well over an hour at my pace. It was a slow burner with a gentle gradient on the low slopes but it managed to catch out a few people. A fellow David managed to fall and land headtorch first and was bleeding quite heavily. I was third on the scene and two other runners were sorting him out. I also fell a bit later on but was lucky and it was soft thud and only a very minor shoulder tweak and everything was fine.
The climb steepened as it progressed and many people passed me on the way up but eventually after well over an hour, I topped out at over 2,000ft with 30 miles and 9h17 on the clock. Now just the descent into Braithwaite and the tough opening would be over. I looked behind and the first hints of the morning were coming too. This race gives you a chance to be in places at times which just aren't normally possible.
As with so much of this race, the descents are often as tough - if not tougher - than the climbs. The first mile or so after the pass dropped about 750 feet and was some scrambling at times. Not too easy in the dark with many miles in the legs. It felt quite alpine with almost no vegetation holding everything together. There was a gradual and consistent easing of the trail towards Braithwaite - however the gradient was unrelenting with another mile of almost 700 feet of elevation loss.
The GPX track was a bit confusing here - it looked like we needed to make a loop like you would for an overpass or similar. Eventually it became clear that we had made it to HMS Braithwaite and CP5. There was no doubt I was definitely in the race now. I had survived the first night and a smidge under 10 hours for 33 miles. It wasn't going to be a sub 30 day but the cut off for the previous aid station was 9h30 and that was a lot more than 30 minutes back.
The ship analogy for the aid station was a good one - it felt like opening the door into a battleship during the Battle of Trafalgar. I had hoped for a bit of a regroup here but it was absolute carnage. The aid station crew were awesome and rallying around to get people fed and watered. David was getting his head patched up which added the field hospital vibe. There was some good food here with excellent pasta on offer. There was even a lone bottle of real coca-cola - no idea what it was doing there but I figured anything on a table was fair game. I took a cheeky cup of this to go with some biscuits. I was out fairly sharpish and on my way.
We were into twilight hours already and I packed away my headtorch as I headed towards the A66. Shortly after the aid station, I came across a slightly lost looking runner who was commenting about how it was tricky navigating the town. It became clear they hadn't been to the checkpoint and took quite a bit of persuading from another runner for them to head back to check in. Yes - it was a checkpoint with food and people and everything. Putting aside the potential DQ, heading out for another 8 miles without refuelling might have caused a DNF anyway so glad we sent him back.
The next two miles were beautiful. I am probably the only person who loved running next to the A66 but it was a moment of peace with easy footing and breaking through the 4mph barrier. It felt like when a vacuum cleaner or car alarm has been turned off. I was overtaken by a couple of people but kept them in touch as I finished off my snacks.
I had finished the first 35 miles which was one third distance in 10h37 - nearly 3 hours up on the cut offs. This race has fairly even cut offs unlike UTMB. At the equivalent stage of UTMB, I was only 45 minutes up on cut offs. LL100 does build in an element of progressive cut offs as the first 35 miles are tougher than average but still only have a third of the time allocated. My projections were for 36 hours or so based on performance to date - that meant another 25 hours on my feet though...
The flat section so came to an end as the route joined the Cumbria Way. It was a long gradual climb an I managed to keep the speed up as it was fairly easy going. The sun was up in the sky now and dog walkers were out and about. I had also made it comfortably through a Lake District night in just a t-shirt and things were warming up already.
The race takes a largely contour path but still somehow gains over 1,000 feet in 3 miles or so. I think this was my favourite part of the route with the path cutting between two big peaks with the view extending long into the distance. There was a compulsory virtual checkpoint - originally these would have been bibber points whereby you would need to mark your card there but with the GPS trackers, the bidder is no more. You still needed to be within 20 metres of it to trigger a "dib". This led to a few people including me milling around the marker for a few seconds just in case. The marker was a light so not much use during the day but obvious in any case.
The virtual checkpoint also marked the most Northerly point of the course and roughly the high point of this leg. There were some nice runnable tracks down towards Blencathra which were fairly pleasant. They would probably be described as technical, or rough on other races but felt like carpet here. I was knocking out some good run-walking with a series of 16 minute miles. That might sound laughable when I can run 100 miles along the Thames Path at an average of less than 12 minute miles but this was a combination of terrain and leaving something in the tank for later.
I arrived into Blencathra having covered nearly 9 miles in less than 2h30 - the cut off pace was 3 hours was excellent progress made. The CP crew had put out some posters advertising the theme - this was great but it built up some false hope as it still seemed to take ages to get the actual CP. The Theme was School of Rock and I used this as a chance to regroup at last. I discovered by new favourite check point food. They had toast and butter - nothing more complicated than that but it did the trick perfectly.
There were some great tunes on and it was AC/DC Thunderstruck again. Time to leave the CP before I got sunscreen in my eyes... I ended up in a pack of people for the first time shortly after I left here and we headed off down the road. The next mile popped up as 19:21 including the stop so I must have been fairly efficient. There is definitely a different vibe to the Centurion events I'm used to. Some of the runners here seemed to be settling down for a three course lunch rather than a Formula 1 pit stop. I knew I didn't have the hill fitness or trail technique so would need to be quick in the CPs so I could stay ahead of the cut offs.
There was a gentle couple of shady miles along the River Greta.
This was a pretty good leg up until the climb up from the Threkeld. This happens to be the home to Kenny Stuart (no relation as far as I know). Going up this climb was a bit like when the sprinters and domestiques of the Tour de France hit the mountains and head backwards. It was only about a mile long and maybe 500ft so not all that different to some of the Surrey climbs I’ve been training on but for I was way slower than everyone else.
It gave me a bit of time to ponder how I was a bit of an outsider in this land. I had my knee high compression socks, cooling arm sleeves (good to keep the sun off), carbon fibre hiking poles, a Sahara style sun hat, and a £500 GPS watch (I didn’t look at the map once). A far cry from the vest, short shorts, and Walsh PBs of the local fell runners. However I had managed nearly 50 miles of the Lakeland 100 so I was handing in there.
It was warming up now despite it being before 9am. The hill went on for what felt like ages. I walked past a dead lamb which added to mood. It looked relatively fresh as the magpies hadn’t got to the eyes yet. Another small group came past and I was again left on my own to climb. I was actually making reasonable pace – I was climbing at 2,000 feet an hour which is at the bottom end of my climbing range and Strava suggested my gradient adjusted pace was consistent so I stuck at it.
Eventually I reached the plateau and picked up the pace a bit. I joined up with a couple of people including James (he was one of the James’s who had helped carry the guy back to Boot). He had quite a history with the L100 including a DNF at Kentmere with a partially ruptured Achilles, and a walking wounded finish with a damaged knee. This one was slightly dramatic at Ambleside but sounded relatively straight forward to previous years.
Dockray aid station marked 49 miles on the route – still well short of halfway by distance and certainly by time. I had thought about taking a bit of break here but all the chairs were full with people taking a rest and refuelling. Funnily enough, they were all the folks who had blazed past me on the previous climb. This was the Hardmoors crewed aid station and I had a brief chat with a Sunderland runner while I filled up my bottles. There were jam sandwiches and peanut butter ones, but not PB&J ones so I had to improvise with a double decker one.
I made my way out of the aid station fairly steadily leaving a crowd of people behind having breakfast. I might lose 5 minutes on a climb but my efficient pit stops were pulling back 10+ minutes on some people. My watch was slightly less than 50 miles as I entered the aid station so I pushed on as I exited as I had the arbitrary goal of getting to 50 miles in under 15 hours. I did this with just over 3 minutes to spare so celebrated with the rest of my sandwich and a bit of an extended walk. My 50th mile was 17:22 including the stop – one of my fastest. The cut off for the previous CP was 15 hours so I was a solid 8 miles ahead of that. I had 25 hours to cover 55 miles now.
The next section was one of the most enjoyable with a couple of flattish miles through Dockray towards Ullswater. It was the lowland fern lined trails with the Lake below to the right and there were quite a few day walkers out and about. It was late morning and a great day to be out in the lakes. After passing through some woods and fields, we eventually joined the roads to Dalemain. These were pretty dull but easy going – I managed to cover the 4 miles in an hour which is decent going 16 hours into the race. I managed to get some running in which was reassuring that the legs were still working.
Dalemain is a country mansion which marks the halfway point of the race. It is well over halfway by distance at 59 miles but the last 46 miles are slower with tired legs. It is a key aid station as it is the only one with access to a drop bag. I used this as a chance to recharge the batteries – my watch and phone needed a top up – as well as my body battery needing refuelling.
It was a pretty busy marquee – I was mid-pack and probably the busiest time of the race to get there. I had a plan and worked my through it. Change of socks and top to start with then picking through what to take from my drop bag. I had more stuff than usual because I wasn’t quite sure how the race would go. I grabbed a few gels and tailwind sachets plus my spare headtorch battery.
I had been sat on the floor as all the seats were taken. This was probably a good thing as it meant I didn’t get too comfortable. I wolfed down an excellent bowl of rice pudding plus a can of coffee and it was time to go. I had arrived at 11:30am (17h30) so was on track for a 35 hour finish so just needed to get the second half done.
There were two races happening this weekend – the Lakeland 50 starts at Dalemain at 11h30 with a 4 mile loop of the estate. This meant that as I was easing myself out the checkpoint as the leaders of the 50 were coming past doing sub 7 minute miles. It was like someone pulling out in front of the Tour de France riding a Brompton folding bike. The 50 mile race covers the same last 46 miles as the 100 mile one so I would now have company until Coniston.
I was a bit worried about having the fresh 50 milers steaming past on narrow trail but I needn’t have worried. The trails were fairly wide out of Dalemain and there was fantastic support for the 50ers as they cheered me on. I had my name on the back so I got lots of “Well one David” as they came past. I was run-walking so after the first few speedsters had come past, I was able to keep up with most people including running a few hundred metres with Tony Trundley and Dill before slowing down to a walk again and letting more people past.
The route crosses over the River Eamont at Pooley Bridge. There were some big crowds of supporters lining the route. I was feeling slightly self-conscious at this point as I was still up near the front of the 50 field and was probably looking dreadful with 60 miles in me. The 50ers were asked to self seed with the faster ones at the front and I probably looked like I would struggle to make it past Howtown.
The route then rose steadily towards Heughscar Hill. This was a pretty decent section as it knocked off 600 feet of climbing and a couple of miles before a couple of beautiful runnable miles into Howtown. It was quite wide tracks so plenty of room for everyone - I was also able to tack onto the back of some groups for a bit of running until a walking break was needed.
I was pleased on many levels to get to Howtown. I had dropped out of UTMB at 65 miles/ 25 hours and I was a mile further on and here in 20 hours. I had 20 hours to cover less than 40 miles. Barring injury or disaster, I was confident in beating the cutoffs - at UTMB, I was less than hour inside at this point when the thunderstorm started.
The first CP of the 100 had a bit of queue so wasn't sure how 1,500 people hitting the first CP of the 50 would work. It wasn't great as there was the start of one when I got here. Turns out that as a 100er, you get a priority pass and jump to the front. I was happy to take an help so wandered towards the front. It was quite a sizeable queue but my red pass allowed me to queue jump. I was in a different race and an extra 18 hours in my legs so figured it was ok.
The CP crew were awesome but were having to fill all the bottles (runners not allowed to touch) so it was a bit slow. It was very warm as it was 2pm so important to get the fluids in. I had kept a soft flask in my bag to give myself an extra 500mls so carried a half coke/half water flask in my hand as I left the CP. I noticed a few people in the queue that had overtaken me a while back which made me feel somewhat guilty as the queue was maybe a couple of hundred people. This might be a COVID one-off but could be worth starting with a bladder and bottles so the first CP can be skipped (I did this at UTMB as I was expecting scrum at the first CP but it wasn't too bad).
I'm glad I grabbed the extra 500ml as this next section was a tough one. I had in my mind not to worry about pace at 30 minutes as mile would get me home safely. This was just as well as the first two miles out of Howtown were 28:30 and 28:45. On a gradient adjusted pace (GAP) basis, they were 16:03 and 15:08 so actually a strong measured effort.
The difference between raw and GAP shows how tough this climb was. It went on for ever and ever. It was pretty steep too with an average gradient of about 15%. I was a bit of a rolling roadblock so pulled off whenever I had people behind me. I think some welcome the enforce rest of being stuck behind me and were disappointed when I moved out of the way. I had one guy who decided I was his pacer and stopped every time I did and followed me for ages before my slow consistent pace was a bit too much and he dropped back.
Eventually I reached the plateau between High Kop and Wether Hill. This relatively unremarkable spot marked the highest point of the entire route and it was net downhill until Coniston. It was also at his point I realised I need a pee and this was also possibly the most exposed place in the entire lake district. There were also hundreds of fellow runners as far as the eye could see... I would have to wait until further down the valley.
There was some great running down towards Haweswater and my technique and confidence were enough to offset the tired legs - I over took quite a few people coming down here and covered the next two miles in less time than either of the previous two. This included a quick stop behind so ferns that had appeared nearer the water. I was into the last third of the race now - the first third was the toughest and the second third was much easier. My first 35 miles were 10:37 and the second 35 were 10:54 including 25 minutes at Dalemain to sort out kit so effectively a negative split.
Whilst I hadn't set foot in the Lakes for a recce, I had tried to understand what the different legs would be like. On average, this one would be the longest by time, and only half a mile shorter than the longest Dockray to Dalemain one. It was a big climb and descent followed by a flat section along Haweswater. I had been warned that the flat bit would take for ever and it certainly didn't disappoint. The climb was a pretty tough 2 hours and I had 4 miles or so left.
I had found a decent equilibrium with the 50ers. They had been out in the hills and sun for 5 hours now so their initial pace and enthusiasm had faded - they were down to my level now. I'm pretty chatty and enthusiastic when out racing - I'm not quite up there with the legendary Tom Garrod who will also include passers by in his chats but I try. I was about 20 odd hours in now and sharing some of the stories from this race and others.
Normally most people are in the same position but here I was a bit unusual in doing the 100 mile distance compared with most doing the 50. I was a bit of a novelty having already been out for the night and also this was my 15th race of 100 miles or more so a few things to share. I tried to be as positive as I could about the current race as it was helping with keeping things going. For the record the 50ers are amazing too and finishing the Lakeland 50 is up there with many 100s.
The section along the side of Haweswater took me about 90 minutes. I knew the aid station was just at the end and it didn't look that far but it took forever. It was also remarkably awkward with a combination of fern and rocks making to far from straight forward. I had also ran out of water which added to the enjoyment. The extra 500ml was definitely a good shout.
The famous Mardale Head was finally here. It was a Spartan themed CP hosted by the Delamere Spartans. The field was massively spread out by now so no issues with queues and I refuelled with a combination of sandwiches and crisps - excellent early evening food. I even treated myself to a seat while I had my sandwich. Given that I was sat on the grass at Dalemain, this might have been my first sit down of the race after nearly 24 hours. Mardale Head was 76 miles so I only had a baby ultra to go (less than 50k / 30 miles) and 16 hours to do it in.
The climb up Gatescarth Pass is a restricted BOAT (byway open to all traffic) so isn't the same scramble as some of the earlier climbs but it was pretty tough none the less. The 1.2 miles / 2k took me over 45 minutes and I had covered less than 1.5 miles in the previous hour as I had taken 10-15 minutes at the CP before starting the climb. I am currently 2,306th / 2,346 on this section so it was pretty slow but even the CR is 13 minute miles so it is pretty slow going.
The descent was much more benign than the climb and on the way down, the marathon to go mark was passed. Despite being passable using a stout 4x4, it was still not exactly towpath smooth. It was a case of chipping away the miles to Kentmere. I had that as the beginning of the end - not least because the last GPS quarter starts there. This section also marked the start of the quite frankly ridiculous wall stiles. There was at least one dry stone wall step style and a ladder style. These look fine until you have 75 miles in the legs. There were a few minor climbs but nothing compared with the high passes.
I made it to Kentmere with a bit of daylight to go. I had been prepared for being here in the dark so it was a big bonus to still be the evening. This was the Montane CP and I think had some massive deck chairs which would have been fun until you start to get moving again. I had a wonderful bowl of pasta here - really basic dried pasta with tomato sauce (possibly spicy) and it hit the spot. I've been undone by piling in a massive bowl of pasta and then needing hours to digest but got it right. I turned down the lovely looking fruit smoothies - I'm not sure my digestive system needed a snow plough of fibre coming through just yet.
Every mile before darkness was a bonus. I managed to get up and over Garburn pass and down towards Trout Beck and the last 20 miles or so. Garburn pass didn't seem particularly technical but it managed to take out a couple of people including the Prof. - sometimes the trails which look runnable are the ones which catch you out. The game of playing how long I could go without my headtorch came to an abrupt halt as I approached Skelghyll forest. The combination of tree cover and roots puts an end to the game. I also used this as a chance to put on my trust dayglo gilet - it was slightly cold for the first time in the race.
It was a reasonably challenging descent through the woods down towards Ambleside. Even with only 17 miles to go, this would likely be my 19th night that I have run through as those 17 miles would likely be at least 5 or 6 hours. It would also be the first time I had run two consecutive nights without sleep. Speaking of first time, it was the first time that one of the 50ers I was running next to had run with a head torch. Quite a baptism into the head torch world.
Mile 89 took me to the edge of Ambleside with the pubs still open. Normally coming through a town at 10.30pm is a case of trying to sneak through without interacting with any drunk people as "drunk bantz" isn't quite so funny when you have a full day or more of running in the legs. This was very different as all the pub gardens had people here to cheer the runners on. It was pretty cool to have a whole town cheering you through. It was slightly tricky nav as the route goes through some side streets but it was a case of follow the noise to the checkpoint.
Speaking of the race being slightly different, going for a pint in the pubs was forbidden. Unlike a lot of races, there is no outside support permitted - including stopping at shops/pubs. This was a nice change for me as I usually don't have pacers and a crew so I wasn't at a disadvantage to those who have friends to help them out. It can make a huge difference on some races where as a screwed runner you have to run say 10 miles on your own in the dark whereas a crewed runner would have a buddy with them to help navigate and then crew with a car load of extra snacks and kit appearing somewhere midway through the section. That is obviously within the rules of the race so I have no resentment and I quite enjoy the race as a challenge on my own. Likewise, I'm sure there are many who don't approve of my use of fancy GPS tech and cheat sticks but they are allowed.
Ambleside checkpoint was pretty busy with some of the walking wounded patched up. I grabbed some lovely cake and was on my way. I had regarded this as the final section standing between me and finishing the race as hardly anyone drops after Chapel Stile. It would have been a very straight forward one but it was fairly slow after 90+ miles in the dark. It was a still relatively easy section with a small hill (by Lakeland standards) to Skelwith Bridge and then along the river to Chapel Stile. It got relatively chilly here as it often does next to rivers at night but soon enough the runway to the checkpoint arrived.
I had a few sandwiches and some cake here. I only had 10 miles to go at this point but it could easily be 5 hours as it is pretty slow going in the dark so figured it was worthwhile having a proper feed. Chapel Stile was a big marquee with lots of bright lights and action plus I met Gareth from BBR who told me it was just a 10km to the last CP and then a parkrun from here. I can do that in just over an hour on a good day...
The first hour after Chapel Stile was a real struggle. It was 2am on the second night and I had 30 odd hours on my feet. Up until now, I had found navigation very straight forward but it was quite tough on this section. The watch had been brilliant up until now but the route is less consistent as it is sheep tracks and somewhat variable lines so the route can be far enough off the GPS track to trigger an "off course" which is a bit disconcerting. I waited a few times for people to catch me up as I figured it was better to lose a few seconds getting the right route rather than chunks of time getting lost.
This section also included wall stiles. Regular stiles are bad enough but these are like ladders but with the steps about twice far apart. These are pretty intense in the dark when the step down is a little bit further than you think it should be. I was dropped by several groups so found myself plodding along in the dark until caught up by the next folks. This cycle continued until the unmanned dibber...
I had a quick chat with the man at the unmanned dibber (Uncle Terry?). Apparently there had been very few red (100 miler) numbers through so it sounded like I was doing well. I said some inane comment like "lets get this thing done" and he said that at this point, I should take it easy and get home safely rather than quickly. Wise words.
Fortunately the next section was pretty easy with all smooth road until the last checkpoint. My watch ticked over to triple digits on the way up the last climb to Tilberthwaite CP. Trail races are almost never the exact distance and this one has a few bonus miles up its sleeve. Despite having run 100 miles of the Lakeland 100, I still had a couple of hours to go.
Tilberthwaite CP was my possibly my favourite of the race. I arrive in the middle of the night (about 3am) and they had a roaring wood fire going with chairs set up around it. I had a final cup of coke and was about to head off when there was talk of cheese toasties. There was a spare one which had just come off the Chimenea. I sat myself down for a quick bite to eat and get myself ready for the last section. I had 1h40 left for 3.5 miles in order to get a sub 35 figured I could treat myself. This would have been a wonderful place for the race to finish but I had one last climb and a pound to drop off in the bucket first.
There was quite a bit of chat about Jacob's ladder and to be honest I had no worries about loads of steps. A big chunk of my hill training was done on stepped hills so it suited me. Unfortunately there were only a few steps before it turned into a more traditional Lakeland surface. My watch had let me know this climb was about a mile so even at my terrible pace, it would be no more than half an hour before heading down towards Coniston.
After about half an hour, the path plateaued but I could see at trail of headlights on a distant hill. I had hoped this was an earlier part of the course but I was on a false summit with a chunk of climbing to go. It turned out to only be another 15 minutes and 300ft of climbing but it was definitely starting to drag as my projected finish time was extending beyond 35 hours.
I knew once the trail started heading downhill, it would be downhill all the way to the finish. It was initially pretty rough but started to ease and eventually joined the unmade road where I had queued to cross the miners bridge two days earlier. The surface still wasn't ideal but was improving rapidly and I was alternating between a slow jog and fast walk. Despite being pretty slow by regular standards, I was overtaking a quite a few people - no issue going past 50ers but I felt guilty about passing 100ers at the end but I was going quite a bit quicker. I had to apologise to the marshall who had told me to stay on the pavement but in my excitement (and possibly sub 8 minute miles), I found myself on the road going past the petrol station. It was before 5am so no traffic but still...
I got to the road section and had a surprising amount of running in my legs and my last mile was less than 12 minutes with almost a sprint finish down Lake Road and under the finish banner. I crossed the line in 34:47 with a nice chunk to spare under 35 hours. I did my customary finish line press ups - I was unsure about being able to do them as my arms had taken a battering but got them done.
I then made my way to heroes - or should I say legend's welcome in the big marquee. Everyone got a massive cheer from first to last. I had my photo taken and massive medal round my neck. It was very smooth and I was through the finishing process. Normally I crash on the ground but this time, I stayed on my feet as I wanted to grab my drop bags before heading back to my tent. I caught myself using poles to get across the flat field which must have looked ridiculous. I crashed in my tent shortly after 5am with a job well done.
I woke up a couple of hours later busting for a pee and made the agonising journey across the field towards the portaloos. A fellow penguin was making a similar journey and we had a laugh about the race towards the toilet. I was expecting a horrendous experience but the portaloos were in great condition. I then treated myself to pizza and fanta for breakfast. Sadly the Caribbean food truck wasn't around - that looked amazing on Friday evening and some really nice guys running it.
I packed up my kit and made my way to the bus stop for the long journey home. I was lucky to catch Nici finishing the 50 as I was making my way there. The bus was quite sociable with a couple of fellow legends chatting away with some locals and tourists. Then it was 7 hours on a combination of 3 trains and the Victoria line before getting home at 5pm. Part of my keenness to finish quickly was to make the journey home a bit less painful...
I went to work (from home at the dinning room table) on the Monday and got back on with life. My sleep was still out of sync as I was wide awake at 5am so got to watch 4 hours of Olympic and several gold medals before breakfast. The race took quite a bit more out of me than I had realised as my family thought I was "very grumpy" until at least Tuesday evening whereas normally I'm fine after a good night of sleep. Legs were ok by Wednesday but there was a general malaise for about a week as the lack of sleep unwound.
I would rank the race as the second hardest thing I've done. Physically, LL100 might well have been the largest effort but I found KACR145 harder - a combination of my collapse in pace after 120 miles and being alone for the last 15 hours so hours made that one tougher. Going up Gatescarth Pass wasn't exactly easy but I would take that over Slough town centre on a Saturday lunchtime which was at a similar point timewise. Apart from the section after Chapel Stile, I was generally around people most of the time.
I'm happy with my performance and might well go back one day. It is a beautiful race and very well organised with very friendly volunteers (massive thank you to every one of you) and fellow competitors. But it is really tough with two nights and 30+ hours out on the trail making for a massive effort. The 50 looks like a great race but I don't know if I could do a 50 when I knew a 100 was there too - and it is long journey for me to get to the Lakes so might as well make it worth it...