The Lakeland 50 (and 100) are amazing events, superbly organised, and take place on a challenging route amidst beautiful scenery. Before the race, I received a tweet from Bryan telling me it is the ‘best 50 mile race in the country’. It may be the only one I’ve done, but I have no doubt he is right. However I have slightly mixed emotions thinking about it. While the event itself was great, I think it is my own performance that was slightly disappointing. I entered the race for a number of reason:
- The Lakeland 100 has been on my ‘must run’ list for a couple of years, and the 50 would be a great introduction to the route. Also as a 50 mile race i would be able to push harder than for the 100, and could really test myself.
- The 50 mile route would be great preparation for TDS in August. I intended to use poles and all the same kit I would wear in the Alps.
With schools breaking up the week before the race I knew the traffic on the drive up would be bad, but I gave my self plenty of time and arrived in Coniston with high expectations for the weekend. They were all met, and often exceeded. With over 600 runners registered, it is a huge event in the UK ultra running community, but registration, the race briefing and transport to the start were all superbly organised. I’ve been training hard for the last 2 months with a huge focus on hill running, so was hoping for a good result, but I was keenly aware that this is an unmarked route, and my navigation would have to be spot on or I could easily add a few bonus miles and an hour or so to my time. There had been no time to make the long journey from Kent to the Lakes earlier in the year, so I had not managed any recce runs, but figured I could rely on my GPS and the road book, and as long as I finished before dark, things should be fine.
The race starts with a 4 mile circuit of the fields at the Dalemain estate. I set of near the front, but at what felt like a sensible pace. However when I checked my garmin to verify my pace was reasonable, I discovered it had failed. It works fine when following routes in training, but this is the second race this year that it has failed. I kept on running while I reset it, and decided to restart in normal running mode when we got back to the Dalemain aid station, and at least I could use it for recording distance to check off against the road book.
The run to the Howtown aid station went well and then the run along Fusedale Beck was beautiful. Soon the first major climb started, and I had my poles out and was powering up the valley. However things started to come unstuck about half way up. The biggest hill I run in training climbs around 400ft in a mile. I’ve done long treadmill climbs but they are not really the same! This hill climbs about 1300ft over 2 miles, and I had misjudged my pace, starting the climb too fast, and by half way I was really suffering and even feeling dizzy, so I stopped for a minute to sit down. In the race briefing Marc had suggested we “live in the moment” and try and enjoy the race and the views, rather than just suffer through it, and only enjoy the achievement after the event. For a minute there, sitting on a rock recovering, watching the steady stream of runners climb up and pass me, I did enjoy myself. The scenery was stunning, and the weather was on our side, with sunshine and great temperatures for running. However this is a race, not a sightseeing tour, so I was soon up and running / hiking the final part of the hill, but at a more controlled effort – Lesson 1 learnt: take it slow on long climbs!
At the top, I couldn’t see the runner ahead, so paused to check the road book. It’s not easy to run with poles and hold a map or route guide, so I had to continually put in away and then when I took it out, waste time finding my location again, rather than just marking my place with my thumb as I would normally.
The run down to Haweswater was quite technical in places, and technical running is not my strength, but I still manged to pass a couple of people. However when I stopped to check the route, they caught me again. We were soon running along the single track trail by the reservoir as a group of about six. I was taking care to watch my footing, and had a cap on to shade my eyes from the sun, so didn’t notice the low hanging branch until I smashed into it with my head. – Lesson 2 learnt: even on technical trails, look up!
The next big climb was up Gatescarth Pass. I was far more sensible on this climb, and paced it much better, even passing a few people on the climb. However once again they all caught up, as I slowed down to navigate myself in to Kentmere. I was getting hungry now, and really wanted some fruit, so was very pleased when Derek Zoolander offered me a freshly made smoothie. With a bit of rum it would have been perfect. The aid stations here are good but not that good.
The next section was much more runnable and I made good time, but by now I had realised that passing runners was pointless since most seemed to know the route, and I didn’t – Lesson 3 learnt: if you want to race, recce the route!
I decided to only pass a runner if I could see someone else ahead. Otherwise I would just follow the leader. This did give me the chance to stop for a photo or two, and the views of Windermere after the climb through Troutbeck were fabulous.
Ambleside was also amazing, but here it was the support. It seemed like everyone in the town was out supporting the race, and many of them were enjoying a beer too. I’d bought a bottle of the Coniston Bluebird XB the night before and knew this would be waiting for me in my tent when I finished, so I kept my stop at the circus themed Aid station to a minimum, and when I saw a group leaving I followed them, figuring this would be easier than navigating. Sadly they immediately took a wrong turn, but we doubled back after only a minute or so and were back on course. The next few miles were the easiest, the trails were not too technical or steep, and I could have run faster, but I had decided to just stick with this group as they knew where they were going and were moving at a good pace.
At each aid station you have to “dib-in” with the dibber on your wrist band, and after Chapel Stile there is a un-manned dibber, but we found this after following a fairly hideous trail over the fell and through the bracken.
As we ran towards the final aid station we all agreed to push straight through and try and finish the race in daylight. However the watermelon on offer made me stop for a few seconds. The final 3.5 miles is rather cruel. Tough going after a 50 mile race, but I really felt sorry for the 100 mile runners as I trudged up the “stairway to heaven”. This is the first race I’ve had to use my hands to scramble up a path. With 2 miles to go, it was getting dark, but we refused to stop and pressed on down the treacherous path, eventually reaching the road in near darkness for the final mile down to Coniston and the finish.
The reception in the town and at the finish line is fantastic. I wish every race welcomed runners over the line with the same enthusiasm. An amazing race and I will be back one day to run the 100.
I’d used poles for the first time in this race. You don’t need them here, but they do make the steep ascents and descents a little easier, and I intend to use them in Chamonix at TDS in a few weeks. – Lesson 4 learnt: how to use poles efficiently, and how to carry them on easy sections.