Report from Sarah F:
The Lakeland 100 weekend is the highlight of the year for many ultra runners, its grown to be a hugely popular event and has a real family / festival type vibe about it with people returning year after year (usually after swearing ‘never again’ multiple times whilst actually on the course!). This was my fourth start at the 100 mile event (actually 105 miles – those last 5 really do make a difference!) and I hoped against all odds it would be my second finish.
As many of you know the preparation for this year (as quite often happens with me I know!) has been less than ideal – I was definitely a few pounds overweight and had done hardly any long runs in the lead up to the event. The spine race had left me pretty empty and I have struggled for a while with fatigue and general fitness but was back running semi regularly at least in the lead up. I knew this meant I had a battle on my hands both physically (could I really get round such a touch race on poor training?) and mentally (did I really have it in me to dig deep enough for that finish when I’d already finished before?) but hey I do like a challenge!
I rocked up in Coniston Friday lunchtime and spent a lovely afternoon catching up with loads of friends – there was a large contingent of spine racers there as well as folk I knew from the Lakeland race itself. The race start is an emotional affair complete with opera singer belting out nessun Dorma (none shall sleep – very apt!) and a huge crowd to see us through Coniston village. We set off in dry clear weather with our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be ‘too bad’ but before the top of the first climb the heavens opened and waterproofs were on! Oh well at least it wasn’t boiling hot like last year!
It was pretty clear that the theme was going to be mud, bogs, slippery rocks and some torrential rain thrown in – lovely! The first few legs passed quickly roughly thus: Chat, run, walk, fall in bog, laugh at someone else falling in bog, arrive at checkpoint, drink coffee, eat sandwiches and custard creams, plod on, repeat. The company changed regularly but by the time I reached the first marathon point at Buttermere I’d settled into a little group with Raj Madhas (Wharfedale) and Adam (Ambleside AC) with sporadic company from Alison W (Dark peak) which was great. These guys were all super experienced and fun company, Raj was on for his 5th finish in this event so I knew we would push hard to make that happen.
Setting off from Buttermere I felt strong on the climb and was leading a group of about 15 runners all the way up until the final few 100 metres where I blew up massively! Once Id force fed myself and got over the col though I recovered quickly and we ran strongly all the way down to Braithwaite passing lots of folk again as dawn broke. The Braithwaite checkpoint was busy and we heard there had been lots of retirements on the first third of the course, the night was over but the conditions had claimed many victims already.
The next 3 legs would bring us to Dalemain and were supposed to be the ‘easiest’ part of the course with more runnable terrain. Not sure about easy and since my legs were starting to tire not sure about the more runnable part either but slowly and surely we knocked off the checkpoints one by one and ate more sandwiches and custard creams. The highlight being Blencathra and ‘little Dave’ in his customary pink Tutu and his mums famous chocolate cake – fantastic!
I love arriving at Dalemain – it is known as the halfway checkpoint but at mile 59 its actually just over half way in terms of distance – we get access to our drop bags for the first and only time here which is very exciting after 19 hours of shuffling around in bogs and tripping over rocks. I also knew that a couple of friends, Jane and Adrienne, were marshalling here so was looking forward to a hug and a friendly kick up the bum (which was duly supplied!). We had a good old faff, refuel and rest here – My feet were in pretty good shape so I didn’t put any tape or anything on (BIG misrake) just dried them out a bit and changed socks.
We set off early afternoon and were now on the 50 mile race route although that race had left Dalemain a couple of hours before we did, my Dad and brother were doing the 50 again and I had hoped to catch them but the conditions were making that unlikely. Adam and I walked most of the next leg to Howtown waiting for Raj to catch back up after he stopped in Pooley bridge for an ahem ‘pit stop’. He caught us about a mile before the checkpoint and we ran in feeling pretty strong. Next up was Fusedale (the most dreaded climb by many) and it was horrible but at least it wasn’t raining and I held a reasonably respectable pace considering (although probably resembled a death march in reality !) and we passed a few people including the legend Jon Steele (the Hardmoors race director) who was looking completely broken but I knew there was no way he would quit and that wouldn’t be the last we saw of him (it wasn’t!)
After what seemed like about 10 hours we reached the top and bog trotted our way over the ridge and down to the interminable path alongside Hawswater – this poor excuse for a path was purgatory and even though mostly flat it is very wet and rocky and just goes on forever and ever. Jon Steele passed us again just before Mardale checkpoint obviously having a massive second wind – good lad! There were a few 50 runners still in Mardale and we passed one or two before that which surprised me and we would be passing more from now on which was motivating to keep going!
The next leg over to Kentmere went ok, but my feet were really starting to hurt now and it got dark again as we did the second climb out from sadgill in Longsleddle so the sleepmonsters came out to play as well! I was seeing and hearing things and trying not to nod off half the time and was having a real out of body experience for much of it but poor Adam was really struggling with the lack of sleep and was talking constantly of beds and taking a nap! After a pit stop in Kentmere it was onwards on increasingly painful feet up and over the Garburn pass which weirdly didn’t seem to take long to climb (I wonder if I actually went to sleep on the way up here!) but took an age to hobble down the other side. We passed some more 50 runners and a few other 100 runners as well but most of us were just a bit out of it so there wasn’t much chatter! We had also been joined by Si some time ago making our merry band 4 now and we all agreed that we would stick together to the end (unless someone was really struggling in which case we would push them over and run away – only joking!).
Ambleside came at last and we were expertly led through the woods and town streets by Adam who was from Ambleside! Despite it being 2am the checkpoint was buzzing and was in the process of being moved inside as the rain had started up again. Richard Hamer was also here which was a massive boost to see a friendly face. My feel were very very painful now but I decided to leave well alone as I didn’t think I could do much to help them (what they needed was to properly dry out and be elevated but that wasn’t going to happen!) so we hobbled off towards Chapel stile with little ability run any of it.
By the time we reached chapel stile we were drenched and losing the will to live but it was just getting light again which was a massive boost. Loads of people in the checkpoint including Alison, which was great and a real morale boost (I wasn’t completely at the back hoorah!). I downed several more coffees and some nosh and off we plodded along langdale. I was feeling really sorry for myself now my feet were on fire and every step was agony and I probably moaned a lot but being surrounded by loads of great folk it carried me along and it even stopped raining again! I followed Alison across Blea moss and we managed not to drown (hoorah!) then the slog up to Tilberthwaite past some massive cows (yikes!) – I got a massive second wind here last year and really pushed the pace but nothing left now nothing at all and it was a bit of a death march but I knew I had plenty of time to finish so it didn’t matter, I wasn’t bothered about the time I just wanted to finish (please let it end!).
The last 3 mile leg from Tilberthwaite to Coniston is a cruel joke – a very steep climb followed by some bog then a very steep descent, just what you need on trashed feet with knackered quads! To be honest I enjoyed this section a lot as the pain was nearly done, there was a big crowd of us and we plodded along no one really caring the pace was snail like as we were going to be well inside the cut off. When we hit the miners track some folk ran off to get a sub 39 hour finish but most of us didn’t care and we wandered in slowly enjoying the moment. Raj, Si, Adam and I made sure we ran through the village though for the glory and down the road to the finish line all together after all we had shared the last 30 odd hours! My kids were there again to run us in – I managed not to cry like a baby probably because I was just so tired and relieved to finish (not to mention astonished!) but Raj had a good blub having succeeded in his 5 finishes objective. Lots of cheers and hugs as we were walked into the finish tent and announced (I just love this about this race!) as 100 finishers. I felt so proud and as close to a celebrity as I’ll ever get! My Dad and brother hadn’t long finished and my Dad got the first v70 prize for the 50 mile race – awesome.
I finished in 39:14 (a PB!) in 189th place (360 started and 223 finished) – absolutely delighted with that and I think I could go much quicker if conditions had been better and my feet hadn’t have fallen off in the last 30 miles! Just shows that training is over rated really!