I took the just over 2 hour Journey up to Coniston on the Friday early afternoon to be sure to catch the start of the Lakeland 100. This is a race I have been keen to do since it started 3years ago. With a much larger turn out than the previous 2 years
The race is growing in popularity as are all ultra distance trail races but with this one being modelled on the UTMB seems to be more popular than any other.
After a quick tent set up and a bit to eat there was still an hour or so till the 100 start and registration of the 50 so I had a chat with the neighbours which where stark contrasts on both sides. To my left were a pair of experienced LDWA walkers with hundreds of long distance walks under their belts including many of the LDWA hundreds. They were going to walk the whole 50 mile course. To my right were 2 guys who like myself had run a couple of marathons and had fancied a go at something a bit longer, they were running the 50 as well. After talking for a while it becomes apparent that there are 3 books that came out in recent years that have fuelled this Ultra trail running boom. All of which were in their camper van. *I’m sure you can guess what they are, answers at the Bottom.
While looking around the campsite at runners getting ready for the hundred some of them looked very well trained and ready for it while others were there just to have a go and see what happens. This really hit home when three lads probably in their early twenties came up to me in their tell tale L100 t-shirts (green piping, the 50 runners had blue) and asked me if I knew how to use a GPS. Bear in mind this is about 15 minutes before the off. One of them had entered their current location as home and put in the coordinates for the first checkpoint, the GPS told him it was 60 miles away! I said I had no idea how his GPS worked and hadn’t he gone on the competitors area of the website and downloaded the GPS track. This was met with a blank expression and one of them said ‘They’ve got a computer in the school we can download it there’. Nothing like thorough preparation. Just young exuberance I suppose but it got me thinking maybe I should have entered the hundred and just winged it. My mind was put to rest just after midnight when I heard terry Gilpin’s voice around a nearby tent telling one of the 3 lads’ friends that they had dropped out and they needed picking up.
I walked up to the Hundred start area with Joss Naylor getting everyone on their way with a ‘Of ya go then’ or words to that effect only to sound the air horn he was holding after everyone had left. He is a legend.
Spectator wise this is still a very low key event which I think suits the organisers and the local infrastructure, most watching the start being there for the 50 the next morning and a few family and friends. Attitudes range from why would they want to do it to I wish I was doing it and I will enter next year. I fall into the latter category but will wait to see what happens in the 50.
With a fast start for some I was amazed at why some would go off so quickly but it becomes apparent if you look at Stuart Mill’s blog. Interesting philosophy.
‘Run as fast as you can while you can’. Seems to work for him because he won the whole race.
Back to the tent to get my kit together for the check in then into the school for a weigh in. This is the first time I’d been weighed before a race but was assured at the race briefing the next day that your weight would only be taken into account if you fell ill and it could be a good indicator as to what was wrong. A few people sounded worried that they would be getting weighed at different checkpoints and would be taken out of the race if they lost or even gained too much weight. Not the case according to Marc Laithwaite in the briefing. I was given a wrist band with 75Kg written on it.
Kit check went without a hitch and I was then issued with my sportident card, the super fast ones, although I don’t think half a second extra saving at each checkpoint will make much difference. I think the use of sportident for the whole entry and checkpoint logging is the right choice for this event. It’s a great no nonsense system and friends and families could track your whereabouts on the internet. It was good watching live updates of the hundred on Friday night in the school hall.
A decent nights sleep and a bowl of porridge with banana for breakfast then all the 50 runners were put on coaches for the trip up to the start at Dalemain. We arrived after about 45 minutes and most of the blokes (and some of the girls) all rushed to the nearest tree to water the grass.
The start of the 50 is also the just past half way for the hundred checkpoint and gives you a good indication of what the mid to end pack runners are looking like after a night on the fells. Someone who I’ve seen at a couple of other races, Daniel Aldus aka Drunkeneuphoria was already at Dalemain attending to his badly blistered feet and fumbling about changing batteries in his GPS. He still looked full of energy and enthusiasm and I know he finished just inside the cut off time so well done Danny it looked painfull.
After my failed Fellsman attempt this year after going over on my ankle at about 20 miles in I had decided not to commit to the hundred race but instead do the 50 as a recce and experience gaining exercise so at the startline wasn’t too nervous as I new I was going to take it slow and steady and baring any accidents should finish o.k.
From the start there is a 4 mile loop around the Dalemain estate which family and friends can also tag along on except for about 300 yards in there is a stile which unless you are a front runner will slow you down upto 5 minutes as the bottle neck eases. Once everyone was through it was quite easy running round the estate before it gets back onto a nice path running along the river Eamont towards Pooley bridge. This is where I saw a familiar face. Steve and I had run part of the High peak 40 last year together and went through a bad patch through Monsal Dale before losing the track and having to get the map out to find our way back. He managed to beat me by about 10 minutes that day so we decided to go on together for a bit but I did mention that I hadn’t really trained for this one and played it by ear.
Moving into Pooley bridge we overtook Dick Scroop on course for his 100 completion and well on his way to a Runfurther series grand slam which he narrowly missed out on last year. Well done Dick.
The course now runs along Ullswater with some superb views of the Lake and fells and drops into the first checkpoint at howtown where I pick up a couple of slices of cake and down a cup of coke. A quick fill up of water and we’re off again. I decided early on to spend as little time as possible at checkpoints. All that wasted time all adds up.
Leaving Howtown we bump into Nick Ham on course for his successfull Hundred. Nick is a well known figure at UK ultra races with his years of experience and brilliant blog it’s a wealth of knowledge and a good read.
Up Fusedale Beck things start to get a little muddier and the terrain rougher near the top of Wether Hill. I lose Steve at this point as my chest starts to tighten and I lay back a bit. Incidently Steve finished about 10 minutes in front of me again. I’ll manage to stay with him one day. From High cop to Low Cop sets the tone of the rocky uneven terrain that dominates these Lakeland paths and the rest of the race. Down to and along the banks of Hawsewater to Mardale head.
There are 2 soup pans at the checkpoint but are both empty, people are grabbing rounds of bread to wipe the dreggs out. Tea and a few biscuits for me at this one.
Graham and mate are already at the checkpoint and they say they’ve gone off way too fast but they look to be going O.K as one of them munches on some salt n vinegar walkers.
Gatesgarth pass was a bugger of a climb as the fine rain and mist started to appear and the waterproof top came out, another rocky ascent which turns to switchbacks near the top. I was overtaken here by someone using walking poles or sticks as i call them. I can’t make my mind up over these things. He was clearly faster than me on the ascent but seemed such a faff putting the bloody things away when he got to the top. They were like some kind of section pieces a bit like tent poles. Raidlight I think. I continued to overtake him on the rocky descent down to Sadgill wood and hopped over the wall towards the Kentmere hall. The only area of this course which I’d been to before.
What a great atmosphere in the hall. I fed well at this one, pasta in a tomato sauce for starters with a brew, then a bowl of rice pudding, then a superb freshly made smoothie. Don’t know what was in it but it did the trick. I sat down a bit longer than i perhaps should have although it was still probably less than 10 minutes. Music coming from a little ipod docking station sounded better than its size would suggest. Alice in chains I think was on, a blast from the past although I could have imagined it.
Interesting to see the play list.
Up over the Garburn pass towards Troutbeck I continue to pass numerous hundred runners (now mostly walkers/shufflers). You can tell who are running the hundred by the yellow background on their numbers if you can’t already tell by their weariness.
Getting near Ambleside and the tracks start to become smoother and eventually turn to road. There are a few people out cheering along the route which always gives you a boost. The checkpoint proper is in Lakesrunner shop. Things were a bit hazy at this point as I can’t remember what I ate. Think it was soup and a roll, couple of cokes and some cake again and a handful of jelly beans for the journey.
Leaving Ambleside and the night was beginning to draw in, clear and warm enough for the beer gardens to be full. Still feeling o.k. but the legs a little sore.
I had decided to go for the Inov8 X-talons (2 arrow cushioning) as the shoe of choice going against recommendations that I would need more cushioning. In some early ultras I used roclite 320s (4 arrow cushioning) which were fine but I felt they were way too heavy especially when wet, causing soreness in the legs. The x-talons are so light you cant feel them on, but on the downside you can feel every rock and pebble and you have to watch how heavy you land, although this I think is a good thing as you are using your own body to cushion footstrike instead of a piece of foam.
I was pleased that Terry Conway did so well. He came 4th in the Hundred wearing inov8 baregrip 200s with no midsole foam at all (no arrow cushioning!).
Anyway, some nice flat stretches along this section past Elterwater and into Langdale I manage to keep up a slow constant shuffle which felt good at this stage in the race.
Running past the pub on the corner just before the Chapelstile checkpoint a chap holding a beer started to run alongside asking me what was going on as there were loads of runners with backpacks. I told him there was a 100 and a 50 mile race going on. ‘Oh, right’ was the reply as I plodded off into the darkness. No more questions after that.
ChapelStile checkpoint was a little school with a superb stew on the go which I had with a bread roll. Another brew and a trip to the loo inside the school, a handful of jelly babies and I’m off again.
All I remember of this section is wet , muddy, rocky trails in the dark and eyes glaring in your headtorch beam from sheep who just can’t be bothered to move. Navigation would have been tricky here without the GPS as the tracks across grassy banks seemed to disappear. There were plenty of others about in the same situation and headtorch beams could be seen in all directions. Some bracken bashing and following the GPS track soon gets you back on the right path though. The path eventually joins a decent track down to Tilberthwaite final checkpoint. Only biscuits on offer here although I could be wrong again. One last ‘dib’in the SI box and
I am directed to the start of the very steep sting in the tail climb up to the disused mines. The entrance is marked by a glow stick. Apparently a few had run straight past it. Probably joined the A593 and took the road back to Coniston.
This ascent was very rugged but was over quicker than I’d thought, then it mellows out a bit along Crook beck with Coniston old man in the distance. Another quite steep rocky descent watching the footing very carefully and your back onto a real track again where civilisation starts. People have made their way up the track to cheer on the competitors over the homeward stretch.
A quick trot through the deserted Coniston streets and up to the John Ruskin school at the finish, one last dib and into the school hall to a massive round of applause. A crowd of finishers are seated in a canteen area all eating their Wilfs specials but before I get mine a check in and get weighed. Terry Gilpin appears to be walking every finisher through the eating area to the hall. Not sure what that was all about but a nice touch non the less.
Quite worryingly I’ve lost 2 kg which can’t be right but then realise that I’d made a note to myself that I was wearing my jeans at the first weigh in. After pointing this out I am not rushed to the doctor but let go to fill my face with Veggie chilli and a gallon of tea.
So back in just over 13 hours and feeling fine pretty much all of the way round. A fairly slow time but I was not expecting much better as it only really a recce run for next years 100.
Looking back I was a bit grieved to pay £70 for a race when the likes of the Fellsman or Longmynd Hikes are less than half that but considering what you get for the money it was all worth it. 2 nights camping next to Coniston water, coach trip up to the 50 start, Montane technical T-shirt probably worth about £25 on its own, Harveys 1:40 000 map of the route and most of the lake district, road book, medal and all the food you can eat at the checkpoints.
I’d recommend anyone to do this as the support is fantastic and can see it growing in popularity as one of the big UK challenges. I just hope the infrastructure of a small village like Coniston can cope and it will probably end up as a qualification only event like the UTMB.
1. Ultra marathon man – Dean Karnazes
Very inspirational story of Dean’s journey into ultra running from his first 50 miler to the Western states 100. A good book but a bit too ‘American’ and dramatised.
2. feet in the Clouds – Richard Askwith
A tale of fell running and the obsession which takes you over when attempting the Bob Graham round. I love this book mostly for the fellrunning history and the commentary on the authors attempts are gripping if a bit dramatised again. Saying that he is a newspaper journalist.
3. Born to run – Christopher McDougall
Christopher’s quest in to finding why he and about 90% of all runners get injuries when wearing ‘High tech’ shoes while the Tarahumara Indians can run for days on end in a pair of sandals with no niggles. This book has brought to the fore changing attitudes towards shoe technology. The likes of runners world magazine are hoping that the barefoot/POSE/Chi running trend at the moment will die out as its probably not in their interest to promote the fact that its better to run in no shoes at all than say a big brand stability shoe which you have to replace after 500 miles.
One of the guys, Graham had on a pair of Vibram five fingers, proof positive that Born to run had convinced him.