The Lakeland 100 and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship stretching back to 2012 when I did the 50 miler, my first ultra. Since then I’ve tried twice (2013, 2014) to complete the brutal 105 mile, 22,600ft accent course failing both times at the 66 mile point. I’ve lost count of how many times people told me ‘this year was my year’ but my training volume has been less than ideal due to the after effects of the spine so I wasn’t convinced – you really can’t blag your way round a mountain 100 miler!
Still I lined up with 345 other people just before 6pm on Friday night. I find I know quite a lot of people at these events nowadays so it was a jolly atmosphere catching up with old friends and people I’d spent time with on events before. Nonetheless I still stood there and blubbed like a big girl as the opera singer performed nessun dorma (none shall sleep !) as we were waiting for the off. Finally we moved off running thorough the streets of coniston, there were thousands of people cheering us through and it was all a bit emotional but a relief to get going – could I really do it this time? Could I leave that mile 66 checkpoint at howtown? Was I mentally strong enough to cover the same ground again before then ? I would find out soon enough.
The route immediately slaps you in a face with a horrible slog up Walner scar road but it was a beautiful evening and I concentrated on the banter and the view – how lucky was I to even be here to be able to attempt this great event, I felt part of something very special. I made a deal with myself to focus only on the next checkpoint and never think about the bigger picture, it was just too much to process !
After 1:45 we arrived in seathwaite and 7 miles in the bag already. A quick dib and refill of the bottles and we were off again heading for eskdale (anyone who’s ever done the duddon fell race will know how grim the next bit is in a wet year!). I again was running with my Scottish chum, Elaine also on her third attempt. We agreed to stay together unless one of us was struggling enough to put the others finish in doubt. By the time we emerged in eskdale we were soaked, covered in bog and bitten to death by the grassgaurds midges! Another quick stop and onward towards wasdale and my favourite leg of the course past burnmoor tarn. A stunning sunset and head torches out we made our way over the bogs and dropped into wasdale – looking ahead and behind the trail of torches making their way over the fells was breathtaking.
The next leg to buttermere was one to dread taking in blacksail and scarth gap passes in the pitch black but this year I felt fine and set a steady pace up and a gentle jog down where possible, I felt like the pied piper by the time we got to buttermere having picked up a big line of people happy to drop in behind someone who knew the route and could navigate in the dark! Buttermere was the ‘one marathon in the bag’ point and felt like a good milestone. The only trouble was it was straight up from there over sail pass to get to the next checkpoint in braithwaite ! This climb felt tough and my legs were cramping quite a bit and my feet were sore from the constant submersion before wasdale. I tried to put this out of my mind as stiff legs with 80 miles to go isn’t good! The decent however was lovely and it got light as me, Elaine and our little Entourage arrived in braithwaite at mile 33!
We took some time to take some food and drink on board in braithwaite but the checkpoint was heaving and I was glad to crack on, passing for the first time James who was puking by the side of the road (lovely!) – he was completely non plussed by this and just got on with it! Next stop was blencathra centre where we planned a longer stop to change socks and tape feet etc which we did. It was hard leaving as they had yummy food and a good craic going ! Still leave we did and on for the next 2 hard,long, hot and boring legs first to dockray via the old coach road then onward to dalemain via gowbarrow fell.
They call dalemain halfway, in fact it’s at mile 59 so ‘only’ 46 to go really! The checkpoint again was heaving and resembled a field hospital and some folk in a right old state. We took a longer 45 minute break here to sort feet again (not looking great), eat and pack ready for another night out. I changed clothes and shoes as well taking advantage of the only time I would see my drop bag.
The next leg to howtown is relatively easy but a big mental game – this was where it unraveled twice before, it was critical to my mental state that I felt good on this stretch and thankfully I got to howtown with no dramas and more importantly, after a short pit stop actually left ! I did a bit of embarrassing whooping and cheering as I left but I was so relieved that it was still on.
The 9 mile leg over to mardale head is the one everyone dreads, it’s the biggest climb and tops out at
over 800m – the highest point on the course. Having only done it once on the event when I did the 50 (where I would have been fresh!) I too had built it up in my mind as a big deal but do you know what it was fine – I set my pace to slow plod and soon enough it was done. We passed a few broken runners as we crossed over to haweswater – one guy was in a really bad way and we learnt later he was evacuated off the hill. We picked up a new little entourage and made our way slowly towards mardale, keeping each other going with banter and tales. It was here we picked up Jane and adrienne who we would see more later.
By mardale I was getting a bit worried about the cutoffs, having been 2 1/2 hours up at dalemain after the long stop and slowing pace we were now losing that margin with every checkpoint. I tried the put it out of my mind as it wasn’t helpful to get stressed about it but it was hard and my mind was running constant calculations! One of the marshals told me to man up and pull myself together and get the hell out of his checkpoint so we did ! Next stop kentmere and by then it was dark again and time for the sleep monsters to come out to play.
The kentmere checkpoint has fruit smoothies and pasta which went down a treat but sadly we couldn’t stay long as we now had a cut off to worry about ! The climb up garburn didn’t seem half as bad as I remembered but the decent felt long and hard, the legs were starting to seize up big style! Nonetheless we got to Ambleside with no further drama apart from stopping a runner going the wrong way in those weird woods just outside the town!
The Ambleside checkpoint was wonderful I was looking forward to seeing Richard hamer here but the lazy bugger had gone to bed I mean seriously it was only 3am! We still had an hour up on cut offs but needed a short break to eat and sort stuff so started to stress again and we tried to really push the pace on the next leg to chapel stile. On the climb up loughrig fell we met Jane again – she was sprinting up the hill after us like a woman possessed! I was like WTF is going on what’s happened but she just wanted company as adrienne had told her to go on as she was going to drop out! So we were three and motored on the chapel stile where it got light agin and adrienne suddenly appeared behind us – amazing effort and turnaround!
My ankle had been pretty painful for a while (I rolled it but can’t remember where but it was ages before!) and my shoe felt really tight so I had a look when I got to the checkpoint and nearly threw up when I saw it – it was huge! I quickly hid it from the marshals incase they made me stop -I’d walked and run on it like that for hours so it could do a few more surely. I wish I hadn’t looked as it was a bit worrying !! I tried to ignore it and took some painkillers and cracked on – with the faffing we were now worried about the race end cut off of 40 hours but the marshal at chapel stile said not to worry they will let you finish now no matter what as that was the last place with a cut off time. Phew – but I still wanted that sub 40 badly so got a good march on! 4 hours left and 11 miles to do with 2 climbs and some technical ground – sounds ok but with 90+ miles in the legs and a dodgy ankle it felt like a big ask! I wasn’t going out without a fight though and 6 miles from the end Jane and I made the difficult decision to leave Elaine and go strong to the finish. Elaine was struggling and wasn’t going to make sub 40 so waved us on. I have no idea where it came from but I got a massive 122nd wind and we started running fast that finish was going to be ours. All the pain went and my legs forgot to be tired and we ran and ran – there were others doing the same and James passed us grinning determined to get that sub 40 as well. By that point we had been mixed in with the tail end of the 50 runners for a while who looked at us like we were nuts as we screeched in and out of the final checkpoint at tilberthwaite. They had an extra 1.5 hours until their race cut off so no sense of urgency unlike the pack of mad 100 runners on a mission!
The last climb up the steps of doom from tilberthwaite was meant to hurt but I floated up I felt great following a long line of 100 runners all going for the finish. I ran and ran and soon the decent was there in front of us I knew it was in the bag now no need to rush so the pain came back and that steep decent was aweful but no problem we were going to finish the Lakeland 100 in the time limit it was the culmination of a long held dream so I did what any hardcore ultra runner would do in that situation and cried ! I was choking back the emotion all the way into coniston people were clapping and cheering and then I made the turn down to the finish and my kids were running up the street towards me and my dad and brother were there and I just lost it! That was it the moment i had dreamt of and visualised so many times it was my turn to be walked into the school and be announced as a 100 finisher. Something i had watched with jealousy before! We walked in and the place erupted like we had won the race not squeaked in with 20 minutes to spare – I just love this race for that! I lost it again as they gave me a medal but that was it, it was over the job was done and the demons had been well and truly put to bed. adrienne ran in a little later looking strong and Elaine finished 15 minutes outside the 40 hours.
I finished alongside Jane in 39:41. 223rd out of 345 starters. Never again!