The Lakeland 100 (a 105 mile ultra race ) report.
(Photo - Old Coach Road above Coniston, 103 miles to go!)
September 1st, 9am is the start of an epic journey. It's when online entries open for the Lakeland 100. Two minutes later it is full. This is one of the most popular and respected off-road ultra races in the country, attracting professional athletes as well as people wanting to complete it as a challenge, this year being its 10th Anniversary.
If you manage to be quick and have a good internet connection the organisers still need to check that you have ran a similar terrain race, distance or the Lakeland 50 (50 miles) in the last few years which is run on the same weekend on the second half of the 100 course.
The hard training soon starts which includes a few recce's on the course as this race is an unmarked self navigation race in the Lake District which has an overall elevation gain of 22,500 feet which is equivalent of climbing Aconcagua in the Andes, the highest mountain outside Asia.
Usually the last weekend in July is the start of the race which has previously been the hottest day of the year. This year brought rain. The ground already soaked from two weeks of rain was a bigger challenge than the heat. Competitors suffered from trench foot and blisters which ended many peoples race early.
The Lakeland 100 race starts in Coniston on the Friday at 6 pm. It follows footpaths and trails anti-clockwise and heads West and North to Grasmere, up to Kentmere, round to Ambleside and back to Coniston with the final competitors finishing around 10 am on Sunday morning.
There are 14 checkpoints along the route where the runners can get food, water and stock up their mandatory backpacks to get them to the next checkpoint. These are also where the organisers check if anyone is missing so it is crucial the runner 'dibs' in with their electronic tag, this also aids family and friends who want to track runners.
These checkpoints are full of volunteers with some dressed in fancy dress, which can be bizarre in the middle of the night when you're exhausted and you see people dressed as sheep, cowboys and Hawaiian dancers! These volunteers can't help you enough, they fill water bottles, get your food, help you with your blisters if required and give you support and the confidence to carry on.
I entered to Lakeland 50 three years ago and said there was 'no way' I would or could run the 100 mile race, those people are a special kind of crazy. So three years later I stood at the start line. I ran with my sister-in-law Kate, who introduced me to ultra running and we agreed to just run as far as we could just for the experience to see what these people go through and enjoy it but with heart palpitations and stomach issues at the beginning I wasn't holding out much hope of even getting half way.
(Photo - Coming into Howtown Checkpoint)
Things settled down and we were soon ticking off checkpoints but by halfway the wet and rocky terrain was punishing on our feet and with the steep climbs and decents fatigue was setting in and finishing seemed impossible. I was already thinking of a 'Facebook Excuse' why I couldn't finish. We were both determined that we wouldn't quit they would have to take us out of the race by missing the cut-off time, which was a possibility as we were slowing considerably.
We were allowed a drop bag at Dalemain which is halfway which included clean clothes; what saved me was a dry and comfortable pair of shoes as I felt like a new person after refuelling and I was ready to continue. Kate was not feeling so good as a persisting injury was slowing her down. We walked to the next checkpoint at Howtown where she sensibly dropped out after completing 67 miles.
I decided to carry on, from then on I was chasing cut-off times. Fortunately I buddied up with a group of others who were in the same situation. We kept each other going, navigated, fought sleep deprivation and hallucinations together.
Chapel Stile was the last but one checkpoint and the last cut off point, once we reached here we new we'd get the medal and t-shirt if we finished. From the last checkpoint it was only 3.5 miles but with 1,000 feet of ascent,1,200 feet of decent and with already running through 2 nights it was punishing.
Crossing the finishing line to a hero's welcome was a mass feeling of pride, exhaustion and not quite believing what I had achieved. I still don't know how I did it when so many good runners didn't finish. 370 people did not finish which was 40% of the field but as one of my fellow runners told me 'You don't have to be good to finish an ultra, you just have to be determined". I finished in 40 hours and 30 minutes (with no sleep), 222nd out of 223 but to put things in perspective the winner completed this in 20 hours and 20 minutes almost half the time that I did which is mind blowing.
(Photo - Finish Line)
The Lakeland 100 and 50 are described as beautiful and brutal races, there is an amazing family atmosphere and a camaraderie which keeps people coming back year after year. As for me I think I'm going to rest for awhile.