Montane Lakeland 100: One Weekend, a Lifetime of Emotions

I had always intended to chronicle my Lakeland 100 experience, but in the aftermath of the event the emotions were too raw and my thoughts too confused to order on paper. It is only now, some two and a half months on that I feel able to make sense of my experiences and record the details of that amazing weekend.

This race entered my thoughts 2 years previously when I completed its little brother, the Lakeland 50, which takes place on the same weekend and covers the second half of the course. As I made my way around the Lakeland 50 course I noticed a few shadows of souls also wending their weary way to Coniston, many hobbling along supporting their weight on trekking poles or curled up in survival bags in the corners of checkpoints trying to catch a few moments precious sleep. These were competitors in the 100 mile version of the event. I was full of admiration for what they were putting themselves through, but could only regard it as pure madness.

So, I was a little surprised in the following weeks, as the aches and pains of a tough first 50 miler subsided, when a little worm of an idea began to niggle away at the back of my mind. Could I? Did I really want to?

And so a two year plan was hatched (although only admitted to in the deepest recesses of my mind…). Complete a couple of tough 100km races in 2015 and I would consider myself in a position to give the Lakeland 100 a try. I therefore found myself joining the mad rush for entries on September 1st and with great excitement succeeded in gaining an entry for this iconic race which would be my first attempt at 100 miles!

The Lakeland 100 actually covers 105 miles, with 6300m of ascent and competitors have 40 hours to complete the course. Although that sounds a long time, crossing the rugged terrain of the Lakes and running through two nights I knew that if anything went wrong I could easily find myself quite close to the cut off times.

My training up to March had gone really well and I had run well above my expectations at the Hardmoors 55. However, then disaster struck… A misplaced sense of invincibility resulted in me running a hard orienteering event less than a week after the Hardmoors 55, leading to a crippled IT band and over 6 frustrating weeks of no running. I was starting to lose hope of making the start line, but copious amounts of physio and daily strength exercises started to get things back on track and I was able to train well through May and June. My fitness wasn’t quite where I had hoped it to be, but I believed I had done enough. I was ready!

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Ready to go at Coniston

It was therefore with a stomach churning mixture of excitement and trepidation that I arrived at the school in Coniston on the Friday. My planned restful night’s sleep had been completely scuppered by my 5 year old with a tummy bug, but it was too late to do anything about that now. I joined the other runners in the starting pen and felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as we listened to the Lakeland anthem “Nessun Dorma” being sung by tenor Alexander Wall. I could see the tension and excitement in the faces around me and knew this was mirrored in my own features. The anticipation built to a crescendo. We were off…

 

Stage 1: Coniston to Seathwaite – 7 miles; 659m ascent

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Runners stream through Coniston at the start of the L100

I was carried on a great wave of encouragement and goodwill all through Coniston and up to the Miners’ Bridge. I had never experienced anything like it before; I gained such strength from the support of all these people wishing us success as we set out on this epic adventure. I did my best to keep my emotions under control, stay calm and avoid being swept along too fast in the enthusiasm. It was in some ways a relief to get past the Miners’ Bridge and onto the quiet of the first climb, albeit a little perilous avoiding some over enthusiastic pole use on the single track. The run down to the car park provided the first comedy moment of the race… The local farmer had decided that now was the moment to herd his sheep along the track in the opposite direction and they were none too sure about the 400 runners coming the other way!

As I set off up the Walna Scar Road, all felt right with the world. It was a glorious Lake District evening and the views of both the coast and the fells, bathed in the evening sunlight were stunning. It was even more of a bonus as despite two recce runs on this part of the course, this was the first time I had been up here without being ensconced in the clag. I crested the summit and was treated to the most beautiful view of the Duddon Valley and the lovely descent down to Seathwaite; it was all I could do to tear my eyes away and keep a close eye on the ground underfoot as I jogged gently down towards checkpoint (CP) 1 – it wouldn’t do to turn an ankle at this stage.

As I trotted down the road towards the CP, I was joined by a walker heading from his campsite to the pub. He broke into a run to join me and was intrigued to find out about what we were doing and where we were headed. His incredulity provided a great perspective on the challenge we had embarked on. Into CP1 feeling good, so a quick drink and a biscuit and I was on my way again.

Stage 2: Seathwaite to Boot – 7 miles; 385m ascent

I ran through the woods after Seathwaite with a few others, taking the opportunity to admire one of my favourite of the many magnificent stone bridges on the course. There are numerous gates to negotiate on this section and I was very grateful to the heroic Steve who led the way and opened every single one of them.

As we passed the farm just before the start of the very boggy section, there were two young lads out supporting the runners, fully covered up in mosquito nets – this did not auger well… I had not really been looking forward to this section; after a fairly wet few months I was concerned that the bogs would not be in a good state and unfortunately I was right. It became quickly apparent that I was not going to succeed in getting through this section with dry feet and so I resolved to just plough on through and make the best of it. Thankfully I was quickly through and was able to appreciate the spectacular views of Eskdale before beginning the tricky descent down to Boot. This starts with a steep slither through an awkward gully where I made full use of the new fence to hang on for dear life! I made it down without incident, unlike two unlucky runners nearby who took heavy falls, one of them breaking a pole in the process. There is then a slow and awkward descent through high bracken to reach Penny Pot Farm, at which point the tracks become easier and there is a straightforward run along the river to Boot.

By the time we came into Boot my legs were starting to feel a little bit heavy and I was not able to run as much as I would have liked along the road into Boot. I was however reassured that everyone around me seemed to be in a similar condition, although the drinkers in the pub garden were not so impressed, cue plenty of good humoured “isn’t this a running race?” comments! I like to treat CPs as pit stops and spend as little time as possible in each, so after a quick glass of coke, unsuccessful attempt to force down some flapjack and probably equally unsuccessful attempt to play it cool when having your water bottle filled by ultra running legend Debbie Martin-Consani, I headed off quickly on the leg over to Wasdale.

Stage 3: Boot to Wasdale – 5.4 miles; 297m ascent

The route for this leg follows the old coffin route, used by the folk of Wasdale to bring their dead to the church in Boot for burial. As I headed up onto the moor my head was full of thoughts of those hardy Lakeland folk for whom crossing the fells on foot was just part of the daily rhythm of life. It was now getting pretty dark and I popped my headtorch on. I had wondered if the navigation across this section would need care in the dark, but I needn’t have worried; as I emerged onto the moor I could see a string of dancing lights as numerous headtorches wound their way across to Burnmoor Tarn. It was a warm and calm night and I still only needed a T-shirt on; the only thing getting cold was my poor feet as they suffered yet another soaking negotiating the flooded paths around the tarn. They soon warmed up though as I enjoyed a nice run down to Wasdale (another lovely bridge) and crept quietly past the National Trust campsite. Once down into the valley it quickly became clear where I was headed; in that remote landscape, the lights of the checkpoint could be seen from miles away. I was quickly at the CP and ushered into the surreal atmosphere of a 70s disco! It was here that I discovered a new ultra running delight in the form of jam sandwiches – so good I had to have another. There were already lots of bodies looking slightly worse for wear here; moths drawn to the bright lights and great atmosphere of the checkpoint and dreading the dark and demanding climb to come to leave the valley via Black Sail Pass. I was conscious I needed to avoid thinking about it and just get on with doing it, so quickly headed out of the door.

Stage 4: Wasdale to Buttermere – 6.9 miles; 712m ascent

As I headed out towards the climb I caught up to a small group of runners: Sarah, Elaine and Graham. I didn’t know it at this stage, but I was to see plenty of them throughout the race! Sarah was leading and as she was setting a strong and steady pace it was great to just drop in with their group for the climb. As well as the great pace setting, I was seriously impressed by their ability to climb and chat at the same time, so the climb passed surprisingly fast and we were soon starting the most difficult descent of the race down into Ennerdale.

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This view from Green Gable shows the demanding route through Ennerdale. Black Sail pass is on the left, Ennerdale in the centre and Scarth Gap Pass can be seen on the right.

The descent went smoothly and we were soon passing the legendary Black Sail Hut and starting the climb out of Ennerdale over Scarth Gap Pass. Here I made a slight rookie mistake. I love this climb and so picked up the pace here, pulling away from the others and pushing up to the top feeling great. In reality I was pushing a bit too hard for this stage of a 100 miler and I would soon receive the payback. Coming over the pass I felt great and navigated carefully down across the rocky section to hit the gap in the wall spot on feeling very pleased with myself. I started to jog carefully down on the single track towards Buttermere, but now my legs suddenly started to feel the effects of pushing too hard on the climb. My quads were on fire and both legs felt like jelly as I crept slowly down, willing the gentle path along the lake to arrive. After what seemed an eternity I made it down and began a steady run/walk along the lake in an attempt to bring my legs back to life. Many of the runners I had recently passed came jogging happily by and my mood got progressively worse. One of the runners offered the helpful observation that it was not a good sign for your legs to be feeling like that at this stage of a 100 mile race. I’m sure he was only trying to offer sympathy, but he was in danger of me doing him a serious injury – if only I had been able to run fast enough to catch him up…

Into the Buttermere checkpoint and I was in a pretty foul mood. I was worried at the state of my legs this early on and feeling grumpy as a result. I have no idea what I ate or drank in Buttermere; it was all a bit of a blur. I was in such a bad mood that I nearly forgot to refill my water bottles. Thankfully I remembered just as I was leaving the checkpoint and a kind marshal ran off to fill them for me. While I waited, I stood outside the checkpoint looking up at the surrounding fells and the twinkling stars and all the anger just ebbed away. I thought about the beauty of these hills that I had the privilege to be experiencing and all of a sudden all the negativity that had overwhelmed me in the previous hour had seeped out. It would not return for the rest of the race.

Stage 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite – 6.5 miles; 573m ascent

The climb up Sail Pass is another part of the course that I love. Beautifully remote, it has generally good going underfoot and although one of the biggest climbs on the course has very few really hard and steep sections (other than the last sharp pull up on the scree). After my experiences on Scarth Gap Pass, I resolved that I needed to be stricter about keeping my energy expenditure much more level from now on. I therefore purposefully avoided the groups of runners that were forming on the climb up Sail Pass and stuck resolutely to my own pace, happily walking and jogging within myself and ticking off the navigation features as they passed. I was back in a happy place. As I descended the far side to Braithwaite the dawn broke and I was able to turn off my head torch; I mentally ticked off night number one of the race and felt ready to take on the coming day.

Arriving in the checkpoint in Braithwaite there were tired bodies everywhere. I resolved to stick to my plan of a quick turnaround, otherwise I could spend ages here. I took advantage of the luxury of using an indoor toilet, quickly stuffed in a delicious meal of pasta followed by rice pudding and was out again within 5 minutes. I had planned to change my socks here, but my feet were feeling fine despite their many soakings overnight and so I left them as they were.

Stage 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra – 8.5 miles; 478m ascent

The combination of hot food and the new dawn had given me a great mental boost and I trotted out of Braithwaite along the road feeling surprisingly fresh. As I reached the A66 I had the further lift of seeing my parents cheering me on. They had come to support me for the weekend, along with my husband, Neil and children, Isaac and Emma. I would see them on and off from here to Pooley Bridge and it was wonderful to see their smiling faces as I began to feel progressively more tired.

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Making our way along the A66 towards Keswick

The tarmac of the A66 was jarring on weary legs, and although I made good progress I couldn’t wait to get off the road and back onto the tracks. Towards the end of the A66 section I caught up with an exhausted runner who was weaving around a lot and clearly falling asleep on her feet. I was very concerned that this was not a good place for this to happen; the A66 was quiet at this time in the morning, but there was still the occasional car travelling fast. It was quite a relief when we reached the railway track and she was away from the road.

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Early morning light from the edge of Keswick

Keswick was quiet except for the odd race supporter creeping around and very soon we were heading off up Spooney Green Lane towards the Glenderaterra Valley. When I recced this part of the course back in February it had all been covered in snow, so it was great to see it again in summer conditions. My legs were feeling tired, but mentally I felt strong again and so the loop up to the self-check and then back down the opposite side of the valley passed surprisingly quickly. As I neared the Blencathra Centre I looked across and could see runners still heading along to start the journey up the valley; I hoped that they were not getting too close to the cut offs.  The checkpoint at the Blencathra Centre provided the prospect of one of the highlights of the race, the much heralded Little Dave’s Mum’s chocolate cake; sure enough it was as delicious as promised and it was a pleasure to sign the card thanking her for her efforts.

Stage 7: Blencathra to Dockray – 7.7 miles; 417m ascent

The route from Blencathra was altered this year as a result of Cumbria’s ongoing recovery from the winter storms of 2015, with one of the footbridges on the usual route yet to be reinstated. We therefore followed the road down to Threlkeld, before picking up the cycle track to cross under the A66 and rejoin the normal race route. As we crossed the road to join the disused railway it was wonderful to see my family and to see Isaac and Emma proudly supporting their hard earned Lakeland 1 medals. Isaac (5) was keen that I stay focused on the job in hand and after a brief stop I was told “Stop talking Mummy, you’re supposed to be running”. How right he was proved to be!

 

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“Stop talking Mummy…”

 

As I began the climb up to the Old Coach Road the tiredness in my legs became ever more overwhelming. I joined up with Gareth for the climb and we stuck together, providing each other with moral support until we had reached the Coach Road. Unlike many Lakeland 100 runners, I really like this part of the course. The views from the Coach Road are stunning and I like to imagine travellers from another age making their way along. On fresh legs, the rolling track is great fun to run along and you can make rapid progress. Sadly, today my legs were anything but fresh and progress was very slow. My lower legs ached and my feet were sore and it had become a struggle to manage any running at all. It was a relief to finally struggle into the checkpoint at Dockray, but I was concerned that I was starting to slow badly. This checkpoint was very busy at this stage and seats were at a premium. I allowed myself a quick sit down while I had more of my new favourite food (jam sandwiches) and then set off hobbling down the road for the long leg to Dalemain.

Stage 8: Dockray to Dalemain – 10.1 miles; 370m ascent

I had mentally prepared for this stage to be long and slow, but I had not anticipated the level of pain I would be feeling in my feet and lower legs by now. As I tackled the mile or so of road to Dockray, I couldn’t bring myself to run on the tarmac as every step sent bolts of pain searing up my legs. I ran on the grass where possible to provide some respite and it was with great relief that I reached the lovely path down past Aira Force and the jarring on my legs reduced.

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Views across Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell (taken on an earlier recce run)

The climb up round Gowbarrow Fell was as spectacular as ever and I was feeling good heading down through the forest and across the pastures towards Dalemain. However, when we reached the 2 mile road section that leads to Dacre I was back in agony again. I was with a small group of runners at this stage and they all shot off in a combination of run/walk up the road, while I could only manage a very slow hobble as the tarmac continued to wreak havoc on my lower legs and tender feet. When I reached the track to Dalemain I forced myself to break into a jog and tried to ignore the pain. I was full of memories of flying along this path in the early stages of the 50 two years previously and the stark comparison to my current invalid’s hobble. All I could do was think of the clean shoes and socks and the running poles waiting for me at Dalemain and get there as quickly as I possibly could. In my plans for the race I had been conscious of the general wisdom that despite being 60 miles in, Dalemain is the halfway point in terms of time. Given my aim of simply completing within the 40 hours, I needed to be at Dalemain within 20 hours. I actually arrived in 19 hours 50, so bang on schedule, but with little room for error in the second half.

Reaching the checkpoint at Dalemain there were wonderful hugs waiting for me from all my family. There were bodies everywhere – people in all sorts of states and no spare chairs. I found a space on the floor, kept myself focused and did what I needed to get myself sorted out while the wonderful marshals brought me food, drinks and refilled my bottles.  I had planned to spend about 15 minutes here, but in the end took about 20. However, when I left the checkpoint, leaning heavily on my newly retrieved poles, I was in the zone and feeling confident I could make it to the finish.

 

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Bodies everywhere at Dalemain

Stage 9: Dalemain to Howtown – 7.1 miles; 294m ascent

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Just another 45 miles to go…

Heading out of Dalemain I felt much better. The combination of new shoes and socks and soft grass underfoot was a great tonic for my sore legs and feet as I walked and jogged gently across the fields to Pooley Bridge. Here Neil, Isaac and Emma were meeting me for the last time; I took a moment for kisses and hugs all round and then set off out of the village feeling positive. The sun was blazing down quite strongly on the late Saturday afternoon and I felt relieved that it would not be long before it started to cool as time ticked on towards the evening. The descent to Howtown seemed to take forever; such a contrast to the 50 mile race and my recce runs when I blasted happily down the gentle descent. My path crossed frequently with Sarah and Elaine, as it had done ever since meeting them at Wasdale, and we were all still in good spirits. Howtown was very quiet, just a few of us 100 runners staggering through and trying to keep our heads together ready for the ominous section to come. I sat down on a bench and then discovered that I couldn’t stand up again under my own steam. A kind marshal helped me lever myself up and I set off for Mardale Head.

Stage 10: Howtown to Mardale Head – 9.4 miles; 765m ascent

Whether tackling the Lakeland 50 or 100, this section is perhaps the one most dreaded by competitors. It starts with roughly 3 miles of climbing from the shores of Ullswater to the highest point of the race at High Kop; a glorious descent then leads down to Haweswater, before another 3 miles or so of rough, rocky, undulating ground skirt around Haweswater to the head of the lake at Mardale. I had resolved before the race that I would not worry about time on this section; it was all about making it through. I set out on the climb up Fusedale with Sarah, Elaine and Mike Churchyard; however, they were all climbing faster than me so I let them go and settled into my own (very) steady rhythm. I tried not to worry about times or the race and just enjoy the stunning evening and spectacular views; this strategy worked well and the summit came nice and quickly. Down towards Haweswater and I did my best to break into a run, but in reality only managed something more accurately described as a slow shuffle. I caught up to a group of runners ahead who had stopped to help an injured runner. Thankfully he had phone signal and was able to contact the race organisers for help (he was successfully evacuated by race medics, despite being around 4 miles from any road – proof of the excellent back up available when things go wrong). I took his name and race number to pass on to the marshals at Mardale, but by the time I reached Mardale my brain was so addled that I completely mixed up his race number and nearly had them out searching for 2 injured runners (sorry marshals).

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One of the easier sections of the path along Haweswater

The path along Haweswater was agony. By now the tendons on the front of my ankles were completely inflamed and every stumble on a rock or awkward step caused intense pain. It was a massive relief to reach the checkpoint at Mardale, but sadly this was the only CP in the race which proved a disappointment. I was by now one of the last runners still continuing and the CP was low on food and completely out of coke. I tried to force down some food, but nothing was really palatable, so I set out again as quickly as possible resolving to take on plenty of food at Kentmere.

 

 

 

Stage 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere – 6.5 miles; 511m ascent

I set out strongly on the climb up the Gatescarth Pass, catching and overtaking Sarah and Elaine once again! However, once over the pass the pain of my ankle tendons took over again and I struggled to maintain any sort of pace on the descent. Sarah and Elaine came back past me and I suspected that this would be the last time I would see them. Night was now descending and I stopped to put on my headtorch, as well as my jacket to keep me warm as I was now moving so slowly. As the night fell, my brain started to go completely haywire as the tiredness of a second night without sleep kicked in. The white rocks on the path started to resemble cut down milk cartons, then I began to see faces, small figures and cats peering at me. This continued for several hours, registering the hallucinations, but having an ongoing internal dialogue with myself that this was all nonsense and I needed to snap out of it.

If the descent to Sadgill was slow, the pull over to Kentmere took forever. I was really struggling now, feeling confused, not recognising the path and starting to worry that I had taken a wrong turn. Thankfully I eventually came to the farm shortly before the fields leading to Kentmere and was again confident that I was on the right track. As I came down to Kentmere, I suddenly realised that having been fairly well clear of the cut offs for most of the race, they were now starting to loom large. I caught up with a group of around six runners coming into the checkpoint where we were met by another ultra running legend in the form of Marcus Scotney (slightly surreally dressed on this occasion as Harry Potter). By now I was too exhausted to be worrying about hero worship though! I mentioned to Marcus that I was concerned about the Ambleside cut off and wanted to get going as quickly as possible and he immediately understood what was required. Huge bowls of pasta and cups of coke were rapidly dished out and I was back out of the door in a couple of minutes.

Stage 12: Kentmere to Ambleside – 7.3 miles; 491m ascent

I have very little recollection of the climb up to the Garburn Pass; I think I must have been sleep walking for much of it; I’m pretty sure I was weaving all over the place. For some reason I had convinced myself that the reason I was going so slowly was because my daughter Emma was slowing me down as she only has little legs (she was 3 at the time!). Clearly, my brain was not functioning too well at this stage!

I was relieved to reach the pass and now expected to take around half an hour to reach Troutbeck. A glance at the watch and some immense brainpower suggested that this would then give me plenty of time to reach Ambleside before the cut off. Down I went towards Troutbeck, but this path was not as I remembered; in my depleted state, the usual fun, runnable path now resembled a rocky scramble. I actually convinced myself that the path had been resurfaced as it seemed so unlike previous times I had followed it. The descent took me far longer than anticipated and by the time I reached Troutbeck even my fuddled brain could realise that I was in serious trouble with the Ambleside cut off. This proved to be the wake up call I needed, finally my head cleared, the hallucinations vanished and I was able to think straight again: I had not got this far only to be timed out.

Adrenaline took over and started to block out the pain I was feeling. I picked up the pace and at the bottom of Robin Lane caught up with a couple of other runners, Gareth and Adrienne. Gareth was leading the way at a strong pace with big long strides and I dug deep and pushed myself to stick with him all the way to the top of the climb. As we came up past the farm I knew the cut off was still tight, but it now felt doable. By now there was a small group of runners together. I spoke to myself, but out loud: “We can make the cut off, but we are going to have to RUN!” I set off at a run down through Skelghyll Woods towards Ambleside. Two other runners took up the challenge, Vicky and Adrienne, both of whom I had seen on and off during the race and we all began to hurtle down towards Ambleside together. One of them asked whether if we made the cut off at Ambleside we should push on and try to beat the cut off at the next CP at Chapel Stile. I answered with a resounding “Yes”. Mentally I was now back in the game.

Once we reached the edge of Ambleside, Vicky and Adrienne were a bit too quick for me and went on ahead. By now I was confident that I was going to make the cut off, so jogged through Ambleside trying to avoid too much jarring to my poor shins and ankles. I reached the CP in Ambleside with 15 minutes to spare to a fabulously warm welcome from the checkpoint crew. I didn’t have time to go inside, so a quick cup of coke and a bite to eat and I was off.

Stage 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile – 5.6 miles; 234m ascent

I could see Vicky and Adrienne ahead as I headed out through Rothay Park, but couldn’t quite pick up enough speed to catch them up. I was moving better now though and was able to attack the climb and actually enjoy a bit of jogging on the beautiful paths around Loughrigg. As I picked up the riverside path towards Chapel Stile my shins and ankles were agony, but determination had taken over. I was shouting at myself, forcing myself to ignore the pain. Dawn broke as I ran along the river, to reveal a perfect misty morning, but I only vaguely registered my surroundings. I knew I had to run much of this section if I was to make the cut off at Chapel Stile and I was determined I would do it. I came into Chapel Stile having maintained my buffer of 15 minutes on the cut offs. The marshals there were reassuring that we had plenty of time, but I was not convinced. Another runner was asking whether the race organisers would let us finish whatever time we arrived in as we had made the last cut off, but I didn’t want to think about that. I got my head down and set off along the track.

Stage 14: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite – 6.5 miles; 387m ascent

Langdale is one of the most beautiful parts of the Lake District, but that Sunday morning I could not wait to escape it. High bracken, deep bogs and two enormous ladder stiles to negotiate all made for slow progress and it was actually a relief to begin the climb up towards Blea Tarn and rejoin firmer tracks. It was a stunningly beautiful morning and I reminded myself that I was still up against the clock and I needed to stay focused.

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Early morning sunshine over Blea Moss

As I scrambled across the rocks and bracken above Blea Moss, I was confused to see two familiar looking figures waiting on the road. As I drew nearer I was surprised to see that it was indeed my parents, who should have been safely back at their home in Yorkshire. I caused them great amusement with a very polite greeting “Hello, it is very nice to see you, but I’m rather tight on the cut offs so I need to keep going,” only to receive the response, “we know, that’s why we are here”. Apparently they had been getting progressively more anxious during the night as I got ever closer to the cut offs and in the end could bear it no longer, had driven back over and walked up from Little Langdale to find me. It was a great boost and I left them for the climb over to Tilberthwaite with increased determination that I would make the 40 hours. As I made my way over the col, I met a man who had gone for an early morning swim in a pool at the top; I’m not sure who was more surprised! Down towards Tilberthwaite and there were lots of Highland cattle in the fields near the farm, requiring a last effort to keep my wits about me. Then into the checkpoint and more welcoming marshals offering me a sit down and all sorts of goodies and treats. I was on a roll now though and just wanted to get it done, so I took a few sweets and a final sip of coke and headed straight through for the final push to the finish.

Stage 15: Tilberthwaite to Coniston – 3.5 miles; 283m ascent

I was fairly confident now that I could make it to the finish within the 40 hours and I set off up the steps onto the final climb (affectionately known as the Stairway to Heaven) with a spring in my stride. There were more runners around now as I had caught up to some other 100 runners and there were also more 50 runners about. I stopped quickly to empty out my shoes to try and ease my sore feet and then powered on up the climb. As I neared the top I allowed myself a moment to turn round one last time and enjoy the magnificent Lakeland fells spreading out before me in the morning sunshine. I felt great joy at the knowledge that I was going to finish and the pain would soon be over, but at the same time a small niggle of sadness that this epic adventure was about to be over. However, a quick glance at my watch and I suddenly realised that I might be celebrating a bit too soon. I now only had half an hour to make it down the final tricky descent before the 40 hours was up. The adrenaline surged again and I was off, throwing caution to the winds, bouncing down the rocky descent and ignoring the pain. As I reached the good track that leads into Coniston I worked hard to pick up the pace, looking frantically at my watch as all perception of my actual speed had long since departed. 14 minute miles, 12 minute miles, 11 minute miles, 10 minute miles… Right, keep that going. Off I flew, down the road, passing a couple of surprised looking 50 mile runners (who still had plenty of time until their own cut off). Now I was to discover one of the joys of finishing on the Sunday morning, as I received a fabulous welcome as I ran through Coniston receiving congratulations from locals, tourists and other runners. Past the garage and now the final turn down to the school, just focusing on keeping the legs turning and then there were the finish marshals, the final dib and it was all over. I had made it to the finish in 39 hours and 56 minutes. All my family were there to cheer me over the line and give me a big hug and then it was into the hall and that wonderful announcement that I had dreamed of for months “another 100 finisher!” I still get shivers down my spine remembering it.

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Overjoyed receiving my medal and finisher’s T-shirt

The next few hours are a blur of emotions: the joy of having the medal put round my neck; the agony of discovering that my right ankle could no longer support the weight of my foot; a wonderful phone call with my sister in Australia; the tears of pride, relief and happiness.

The next week involved quite a bit of pain as my shins and ankles swelled far beyond their normal size and a lot of difficulty trying to convince two under 5s who had just started their summer holidays that Mummy really just needed to be allowed to lie down for a bit.

Two months on and the emotions have calmed and my focus has shifted to the next journey and the next challenge, but there is a warm glow inside that will never leave and can never be taken away. I will forever be a Lakeland 100 finisher.

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A proud moment: Lakeland 100 medal for me, Lakeland 1 medals for Isaac and Emma
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10 thoughts on “Montane Lakeland 100: One Weekend, a Lifetime of Emotions

  1. What an epic achievement. I know exactly what you mean about writing such posts, some experiences have to be relived and processed before you can blog about them.
    I love that your parents came back out for you, such support must be a great boost.

    Like

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