After a messy 2013 attempt, I once again completed the Lakeland 50 the other day, heres the story.....
first of all a brief recap of my previous 5 years of doing this event.
In 2009 I completed (just)inside 12 hours. 12 hours had been my target so I was pleased.
In 2010 I didn't enter
In 2011 I set a new pb time but I can't remember what it was, about 11 i think.
In 2012 I won the race outright in 8 hours 30 mins -happy days
In 2013 I had a free entry (part of my 2012 prize) so I entered, but only ran as far as CP1 then DNF'd.
(look back through this Blogs archive to read previous race reports)
This year I was ever hopeful of doing well and my original plan was to try to pb again. In truth I knew I was unlikely to pb because when I won, the course was mistakenly shortened by a mile, or possibly even 2. (for every runner, not just me, that not why I won) Then when I found myself running some tough races recently (Snowdon and Skiddaw) on top of my usual road and fell training and no taper because the 50 wasn't a target race, I figured 9 hours should be my best hope
Race morning came and by 8 am it was already getting V warm. I don't really do hot weather running. Only 2 days prior to the 50 I was on the track doing some 400metre reps in +25degC heat and was struggling to hit 82 secs/lap (82 secs/lap would be about the slowest I would normally expect to run for FOUR laps i.e. MILE reps). I therefore adjusted my target again and figured anything up to one hour longer would still be a good time.
I got near to the front and we set off across the fields around Dalemain. It was indeed roasting hot going through those open fields and I deliberately kept my pace V easy. At one early stage, perhaps about 2 miles into the race, I was able to count my position as we all turned a 90 degree left. I was 30th. Then as we began to lose a bit of height and hit the farm tracks I was overtaken by loads more and was only about 40th as we hit the CP area and out onto the course proper. I knew I would overtake people all day and be way higher than 40th by the end so I stuck to my plans and although I chatted to people I was running with, I made no allowance for them and whenever I felt it was comfortable to push on ahead and leave them behind mid conversation, I did so.
I knew it was possible to run all the way from Pooley Bridge up the Roehead track to the Cockpit bend without having to go into the red so I never even considered walking even though many people ahead of me were. I therefore passed a lot there and then another half dozen on the flatter and the downhill sections of fell side track to Howtown (cp1). I had actually passed almost 20 people by Howtown and was feeling good so I flew into the cp, dibbed and left within 5 seconds flat - no hellos, no drink, no food, no need!
My hydration plans included drinking one bottle (water with a ZERO tab in it) by Fusedale waterfall, thus providing one empty receptacle to fill from said waterfall to drink if necessary, or to simply pour onto my head as required. By Mardale Head I had emptied the other ZERO tab bottle so I got them both refilled by the cp staff with water. But I had also emptied a sachet of Kinetica energy powder into each bottle prior to reaching the cp, thus now giving me a fresh, different taste which I enjoyed, and ensured I consumed (1 of) as I climbed out of the Mardale valley up the Gatesgarth Pass. At most cp.'s I also quickly necked at least 2 or 3 of the small plastic cups of coke or juice. At Kentmere I took on plain water as I knew the cps came closer together after that (just 2 cps in the first 26 miles then 4 (including the finish) in the next 24 miles), and would never be far from sustenance.
My eating plan was simple - eat a small deli style pasta after about 4 hours and have some snack items (tracker/crispy peanut biscuit etc) available in my various pockets at all times. I also had a small packet of sesame seeds with me. By accident I had omitted to pack them and they were in my shorts pocket with the plastic packaging rubbing my leg annoyingly. So opened the pack, emptying the seeds directly into my pocket. This turned out to be perfect. I was easily able to grab a small mouthful most times I took a drink. I shall implement this "plan" again.
Climbing Fusedale was tough in the heat. I walked! In 2012 I had caught the race leader going up onto High Cop and had descended to the Haweswater path with a lead I never lost. Very different feelings in 2014, only just in the top 20 I reckoned! But still moving well and passing people, and anyway, what did I have to prove? I'd won the race previously and wasn't trying for a pb time today so why worry, just enjoy yourself Steve - running in the Lake District in the sunshine, this is what you do.
Descending to the Haweswater path the heat was torturous. And its ALWAYS further than you remember to get to the carpark at Mardale Head. But then I was there, and I was fuelled, and I was gone again. Heading up Gatesgarth I glanced back to see if anyone was closing on me. Nobody was even close. I had made it up into 14th place by the Mardale cp and thats basically where I would stay for the rest of the day.
As usual, the stoney lane down off Gatesgarth went on for an absolute age, but where I used to hate it for being so hard on the feet and legs, I can now generally skip across such rough unforgiving ground, even when tired, managing to pick out the best lines and find good flat surfaces to land upon.
Another smaller pass to climb and finally to drop into Kentmere. Kentmere, an oasis in a desert of lush green countryside.
I really fancied a cuppa by now and by heck it the best cuppa tea I've had in a long long time - hit the spot it did. Walking out of the cp I finished the tea and left the cup with a marshal who had handily placed himself 50yards up the track. I had also necked the pasta, (surely, much to the disgust of the young girl inside the village hall who witnessed a very sunburnt, very sweaty, ponytailed, middle aged man in shorts burst into the calm oasis, rush around giving "fill these" & "I want tea" orders whilst simultaneously shovelling 4hours-in-the-hot-sun-congealed bacon pasta into his mouth at an alarming rate then hurling the remaining spoonfuls into the open bin bag on the floor before heading out the door again as quick as he entered, just about managing a wave of thanks for the help as his mouth now too full to speak, struggling as he was to contain said congealed pasta as he set about chewing it just sufficiently to keep it down for the remaining 24 miles of running), so I was looking forward to a fresh burst of energy and renewed enthusiasm about 30-45 minutes later when it kicked in.
Indeed, although I was now very tired and had resigned myself to walking the uphills, even the little ones, I did feel quite good as I made my way to Troutbeck. A chap passed me coming down into Troutbeck. Perhaps because I had eased back a little to run with Ste Weston who was in the L100 and going OK still. But when it became obvious that I was holding myself back TOO much, even on this day when nothing mattered really, I left Ste behind and pressed on just a little bit harder. The guy never got far ahead of me though and I finally left him behind after the Chapel Stile cp.
Before Chapel Stile was Ambleside. A superb atmosphere with dozens of holiday makers, tourists, locals and race supporters all cheering us runners through the streets. At the cp I was keen to get some orange juice but they had none at the table outside and I wasn't going up stairs and inside for some so made do with water (plus my now customary 3 cups of coke). I also had a cheese and pickle sandwich here, just saying.
As I had come into Amblesode cp my pal Richard Ellwood was leaving. He was doing the L100. I caught him as we turned left up the climb to Loughrigg. He was actually returning toward me so it was a right turn for him - no idea where he had been........?
Richard is good craic at the best of times and was also moving very very well for a man who had ran 50 miles more than me already. So we walked the uphills together and I chivvied him to run whenever I felt it possible to do so. As we got through beyond Chesters and were on the flatlands approaching Elterwater I noticed behind us A GIRL was catching us up. There was zero possibility this was a L100 runner so it must be L50 runner, and she was therefore CATCHING ME UP!
Richard insisted I pressed on at my own pace and by the time I reached the Wainwright pub I had not only put a lot of distance between myself and girl, but also caught the chap who had been just ahead since he passed me back at Troutbeck.
I spent a little TOO long in Chapel Stile cp to be honest and as I left I noticed girl was merely 20 yards off arriving at it. Within half a mile she caught me and passed me. Quite frankly I was amazed at how well this lass was moving along. There were no climbs as such around here but often small inclines, which she was running up! I made an effort to catch her back up and we chatted on and off for several miles. Me always losing ground on the uphill but somehow managing to claw back on the flatter stuff. As we left the Wrynose road to head over the short pass to Tilberthwaite there was a big ugly bull in the field near our path, and several cows actually on the path. Girl was ahead by 50 metres at this point but was V unsure of the beasts and waited for me. The next gate was only 20 metres past the bull so I just ran as normal, ignoring the bull, it therefore ignored us back (though it was having a good look).
5 seconds after bullgate, girl turned her head to speak to me, but I was suddenly incapable of keeping up with her any longer. She skipped ahead and in the 4 or 5 miles we still had to complete, beat me by 8 minutes! Well done Lizzie Wraith. as if 2nd place in the L50 wasn't good, she had previously WON the L100 in 2013!
I was utterly gone by the time I reached the Tilberthwaite cp. As I left it, I climbed those big stone steps, the final climb of the day, as if they were the steps to heaven and I was climbing them on the very last day of a very long life. Just as someone might do who knows the end of their days has come and they have no option but to climb, I had no option but to climb. Its not that I didn't want to climb because climbing, as tough as it was to do, was now the easiest way to get to Coniston and be finished. Its just that it was really hard work and really slow going and not nearly as much fun as it had been when I had previously done that same final climb as leader and then winner of the race.
I must have been tired because even the final mile on tarmac and gently downhill took me over 10 minutes to cover. But cover it I did and I was soon in Coniston and running in to applause and cheering as I crossed the line again. Not as the race winner this time, just a reasonably well placed finisher. (Although the only officially crowned British Champions were the Male and Female winners, I was the first V45 to finish the L50 so am claiming to now be the British Ultra Trail running Champion V45 category.....any arguments?) Not that it makes any difference to the supporters, they cheer everyone, from first to last, just as loudly.
Thats what I noticed most about the UTLD this time - I noticed the event as a whole. Previously I had either turned up as late as possible to register then driven myself home as soon as I could after finishing, or I had gotten myself to Dalemain for the start, thus missing the camaraderie of the 'dreadful' coach trip from Coniston. Or I had omitted the compulsory race briefing (but did attend the L100 briefing so please don't retrospectively DQ me Marc) because I wasn't even in Coniston on the Saturday morning. I attended the prize giving at noon on Sunday this time, not because I HAD to because I was the winner, but because I wanted the whole race experience, the atmosphere, the EPIC event that is the UTLD to last as long as possible and to enjoy it all and experience all of it, right to the end.
Chatting to Marc Laithwaite afterwards I mentioned how I'd like to do some of his other events but that they always seemed to clash with something else I was committed to. Without really explaining exactly what he meant he said "yeah but they're nothing like THIS". And I knew exactly what he meant.
He was referring to the fact that the UTLD is kinda special.
Its special to me because when I first ran it in 2009, it was the first Ultra race I had done and thus furthest I had ever ran.
And it's also special specifically to me and only 3 other people per year because I have won it and my name will be on that trophy for every future winner to read when they get home after their own special day.
But its also special to the dozens and dozens of helpers and marshals who literally beat a path to Marc and Terrys door to volunteer year after year. They all work so hard and seem to do at least 3 jobs each (the lady who registered me was also the Tilberthwaite tea lady and would surely be there until the early hours of Sunday! and a chap who I saw directing cars for 5hrs+ on Friday night was also on a CP then also working all day Sunday helping in the presentation hall).
And of course it is special to EVERYONE who completes either of the courses. They are not high, they are not hard to navigate, but they are relentlessly tough, and few finishers medals are more well deserved.
I may do the 50 next year, I may do the 100. I may do neither. But if I do neither then there will surely be a very good reason why. Thanks Marc, Terry, and the staff, and the volunteers. Please never stop inviting me back to your event - its bloody brilliant!