Wow, what an absolutely awesome weekend I’ve just had taking part in my first (of many hopefully!) Lakeland 50 ultra race. This race has been on my to-do list for a while after I had read amazing reviews and chatted to other runners at events, but I didn’t realise that you needed ninja keyboard skills to get your entry in on time on 1st September- I logged in at 9.15 and was amazed to see that the event was sold out! This meant that I then entered the Race to the King and Race to the Stones pair of events as an alternative, with the thought that I would aim for LL50 in 2017. However, back in the spring I won a Facebook competition run by Wiggle and Montane- which was an entry in the LL50! I was so happy to win, but it also meant the daunting prospect of 4 ultras in a 7 week period- however, I do like a challenge!
I was a little (ok quite a lot) worried about this race as I would be running solo without my usual ultra-buddies and there was navigation to do. I can navigate, but I’m not always the most confident, especially in the dark. The LL50 starts at 11.30am and so I knew there would be a few hours of darkness at least! However, I love the Lake District and, having reccied the last 15 miles in June, I felt a bit better about things. I bought myself a Garmin Fenix 3 watch quite recently, partly for the navigation tools, so I was hopeful that nothing would go badly wrong on that front. I was also carrying an injury to my back into the race, so again was concerned that this might make things difficult. As it was, the first 5 miles or so were very painful and I was running with a noticeable limp (can even see it on the photos!) but this settled down as the race progressed. I wouldn’t say I am completely fine in the aftermath, but I’ve definitely been in worse shape!
The race itself- point by point (this might be a bit long, but will hopefuly give you a good picture of the race):
- The race starts in the rather grand setting of the Dalemain estate with a 4 mile loop around the grounds before you set off on the route properly, running towards Pooley Bridge and then up onto the hills overlooking Ullswater. This first section is quite deceptive- no monster climbs and the footing is pretty good- so you can make good progress down into the first checkpoint at Howtown (or should I say ‘Howdytown’ where the theme was Cowboys!). The checkpoints on the course were ALL amazing. There was a wide selection of food and drinks- savoury and sweet- throughout the event, all served up by smiling and very helpful volunteers.
- It is during the second leg of the race that you start to realise that it is going to be a tough one- apparently the majority of drop outs on the 50 course happen at the second checkpoint- I suspect the enormous climb up the Fusedale valley has something to do with that! It is steep and relentless- 2510ft of climbing and then 2205ft back down again!
Once you get down the path just above Haweswater progress becomes quite difficult- it is fairly flat but the footing is such that it is difficult to run consistently (unless you are part mountain goat and extremely confident on your feet on technical ground) and so the checkpoint seems to take a long time to appear! However, the ham and cheese sandwiches on offer here helped to spur me onto the next big climb!
- Leg three has another big climb up Gatesgarth Pass and down the other side, and then a few more ups and downs to the CP at the village hall in Kentmere. The climbs over the stone steps in the dry stone walls were especially unpleasant on the quads after the accumulated fatigue from all the hills so far! At this checkpoint I bumped into Terry, who had sorted out my entry through the Wiggle competition and had very kindly sent me some top quality Montane kit to wear at the race. I have to say, it has performed really well, the Via series leggings felt great for the duration (despite me falling over three times, they are still fully intact!) and my Dragon backpack was comfortable and big enough for the compulsory kit- I normally carry a smaller race vest on ultras and I might now look at buying a Montane race vest for next year’s events as I liked the feel of the backpack. I also carried my Montane Minimus jacket, which I’ve worn a lot on training runs, but the lovely weather meant that it remained stashed in my bag.
- After the 3rd CP I was hopeful that I might be able to make it to Ambleside before dark. As I had reccied the route from Ambleside onwards, I felt that mentally I would be on the finish straight once I’d reached there. There was yet more climbing on the way, and this part of the race was the first time where I needed to really navigate as I was on my own for sections. However, the scenery was stunning, especially as the light started to drop. I just made it to the Ambleside CP without my headtorch, and running through the centre past the crowds cheering from the pubs gave me a real boost! I grabbed a very quick sandwich (kudos to the marshal who suggested I make it into a crisp sandwich!) and set off into the park in the dark with my headtorch and route map for company.
- For any dark sections I would recommend buddying up, especially if you aren’t familiar with the route as it is really very dark in the Lakes at night. We didn’t have much moonlight, so it was a little eerie up on the fell, especially having been told that there was allegedly a panther on the loose (according to local sightings!!) A lot of this section is very runnable and so I made good progress. Just before the Chapelstile CP (around 40 miles) the huge blister that I had been ignoring for a while burst, so I was forced to stop and re-Compeed it which eased the pressure significantly! At the penultimate CP I grabbed a quick bowl of soup, was helped by a lovely man to fill up my water/Tailwind for the last time and I was off on my way to the final CP.
- I found the section from Chapelstile to Tilberthwaite quite testing. It is quite short in distance (6.5 miles) but there are a couple of steep climbs to contend with, as well as the absolute joy that is Bleamoss. You have the choice of a bog or a path which is uneven and difficult to pick your way through without jarring your knees and ankles- so progress becomes frustratingly slow. This is where being with other people really helps as you can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation together!
- The final CP is quite a small one, and I didn’t even stop here- I just grabbed a sandwich and kept walking as I knew that the last 3 miles were going to take a while. You would be forgiven for thinking “oh it’s only a parkrun to go”…which I suppose is true, if it were the worst parkrun in the world. Tilberthwaite through to Coniston gives the LL50 a real sting in the tail, with 938ft of ascent and 1263ft of descent to complete. The ascent is very steep and involves scrambling up rocks and avoiding the sheer drop into the old quarry at the side of the path! The descent is very slow and painful. Im assuming that the race leaders run this, but they must have nerves of steel as most people I saw (myself included) were inching down swearing frequently. It was bad enough in the daylight with fairly fresh legs on my recce, let alone after about 15 hours of tough climbs! However, finally I made it down and then it was a 10-15 minute run to the school in Consiton for the finish! What a feeling to cross the line, dib my dibber (timing device) for the last time and then get taken into the hall where I got a big cheer from everyone in there!
I have never had such an enjoyable race from start to finish before. I absolutely loved everything about it- the tough ups and downs, the tricky footing, the breathtaking views, the wonderful volunteers and the multitude of runners I chatted to on the way round made this race really very special. I had hoped to complete in around 18 hours, so was very pleased with a final time of 16:11- not bad for my 4th ultra in 7 weeks, carrying an injury! I am hoping to be back next year to have a go at it again, hopefully fully fit and maybe a stone lighter (this race is odd as you get weighed at registration and then you have to wear a band with your weight on it for the race. I’m not really sure why, but I’d like that number to be smaller next time around!)
My top tips for the LL50:
- Do some route recces- especially of the bits where you might be running in the dark. This will save you a lot of time on race day.
- Stay in Coniston or nearby- there is a compulsory race briefing in Coniston at 8.30am and then the start is over at Dalemain (about an hour’s drive away)- which is a massive faff if you stay near the start (any guesses what I did?!)
- When you go to register and get your kit checked on the Friday, take it in a large shopping bag so that you can get everything out quickly
- Consider your footwear carefully, the terrain is quite hard on the feet!
- Enjoy yourself! This event is tough and should not be taken lightly- however, the sense of achievement is amazing! This is without a doubt the toughest thing I have ever done, but it was totally worth it!
Here is the official video of this year’s race- if this doesn’t inspire you, then nothing will!
Happy running folks! 🙂