The Lakeland 100

The weekend before last was my longest race of the year... The Lakeland 100. As the name suggests it's around the Lake District, and it's actually 103 miles long, with around 6300m climb.

As last year it was a fantastic race: The dramatic scenary from our campsite and starting point in Coniston only added to the aprehension, and I think everyone was relieved when after registation, safety talks, kit checks and last minute eating, we set off at 5:30 on Friday, started by none other than Joss Naylor.

I knew that last year we had taken the first 30 miles or so slowly as they are the hardest, but I felt we took them too slow and never got round to speeding up. Of the 7 who started together in 2009, only myself and Nigel Coates finished. We were both back again and looking to improve on our 39 hour time. This year the first 30 miles went quickly, and I was up on my schedule. The run past Burnamoor Tarn as it steamed in the late evening is one of my best memories of the race.

After the 30 mile mark, Dalemain was the next target. I arrived at the 57 mile point on Saturday morning, and unexpectedly met my Mum and Dad. It was great to see them and I met them a few more times before the end.  Feeling refreshed out of Dalemain I set off with a couple of serious legs to do before Ambleside and the relative niceness of the last few legs. At around 70 miles I had a bad patch - I was alone in about 15th place, the weather turned from good to bad, and I had a long climb with some trickly navigation to deal with. But as always with Ultras, it passed, the weather improved gradually and I eventually made it to Ambleside. Shortly before here the Lakeland50 runners started passing and I was able to stick with Sarah Rowell for a while which cheered me up.

At the LakesRunner checkpoint in Ambleside I said goodbye to Mum and Dad and carried on in the improved weather. After a couple of slower legs I was falling behind my schedule and in the words of Johnie Watson, would have to "pull it out of the bag to do it now". Sadly Johnie had to stop and sort out his wrecked feet, so I was alone again. Eventually I was running alongside the beck into Elterwater again, but feeling so much better than last year! I started to pass a few other runners and at the penultimate checkpoint in Chapel Stile I could just about do the schedule time, if I ran the last 10 miles or so well.

The leg to Tilberthwaite went to plan and although I was tired I thought I might now do it... Just one steep climb, one long descent and 3.5 miles to the finish. It was now dark again so with my headtorch on I slogged up the stone steps and across the top of that hill, then began the gradual descent. Suddenly there were runners everywhere, 50s who had caught us up and 100s who had come back to me. A group of us charged down the scree path towards the river and then down the paved path into Coniston there were four of us. These guys were going well so I stuck with them. They were the British Military Fitness team running the 50, and turned out to be the winning team.

Very quickly we seemed to go from the rocky track to civilisation, lights, pubs and people shouting, then round the corner and across the finish line at quarter past 11... 29 hours 44 mins, just inside the time I had hoped for and good enough for 10th! Afterwards I had some food, my first ever sports massage, and headed for my tent. When I woke up to the sound of people finishing on Sunday morning, as Nigel and I had done last year, I couldn't help but feel it had been easier this year. But it was not easy, the Lakeland 100 is a truly epic race, and probably the hardest I have ever done. Even in the relatively good weather this year half the field dropped out. But is it harder than the Bob Graham? I don't know.

Mark Gillett of Junglemoon Images took some great pictures of the race, here's one of me:


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