Wednesday, 08 August 2018 07:13

Running the Lakes - taking on the Lakeland 50 and 100

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If you are a UK based ultra runner itʼs unlikely you wonʼt have heard of the Lakeland 50 and 100, however outside of these circles it is still relatively unknown event and maybe one of the hidden gems in the UK endurance scene.

Now in its eleventh year, Lakeland has grown from a handful of friends and hardy runners standing on the start line in its first year, to an event which has over a thousand entrants across all events, is a true festival of UK ultra running and sells out within minutes of entries opening every year.

Giles and Davy 1

When you first enter Lakeland you may be a little confused by the online banter in the Facebook groups, discussion and jibes about cupgate, shoe and pole choices, and references to characters such as Mr Fox. As you get drawn in though, you will soon realise that this is all part of the charm and unique character of this event and the #LakelandFamily is a warm and open group. Welcoming to new comers and it is this spirit that draws many back year after year after year.

Giles and Davy 2

The hundred mile UTLD or Ultra Tour of the (English) Lake District, follows a clockwise circular route around the National Park. Starting and finishing in Coniston, competitors have forty hours to self-navigate their way around on a journey of just over a hundred miles, passing through many iconic areas of the Lake District, including Dunnerdale, Buttermere, Keswick, Ullswater, Haweswater, Kentmere, Troutbeck, Ambleside, Elterwater, Langdale and Tiberthwaite. In the main, the route follows path and trail and utilises passes to move between the valleys. However, with over six thousand metres of ascent, this is still a challenging course. Add in the fact that the hundred-mile race starts at 6pm, guaranteeing you at least one night out on The Fells, this is a challenging course, which itʼs average finish rate of around 60% clearly demonstrates.

Giles and Davy 3

The fifty-mile race joins the hundred-mile route for the second half of the course at Dalemain estate, near Penrith. Starting at 11:30am the day after the hundred-mile event, it is a challenging race in its own right. Competitors initial complete a lap of the Dalemain estate, before joining the hundred-mile route for the final forty-six miles along the shores of Ullswater and back to Coniston.

Following a prolonged heatwave across the UK, this year the course was drier than it had ever been and many were predicting that records would tumble. As is typical, the Lake District has its own unique take on weather and as the race weekend approached the combination of a cold and occluded weather fronts, were making forecasters scratch their heads. One thing was for sure, it would be cooler than of late, welcome relief to all runners but there would be chances of rain, some heavy during the weekend.

Giles and Davy 4

These are the headline winners for both events, there were winners in the veterans categories and pairs. All the results can be found here ( The continued return of hundred-mile competitors meant that were another 4 participants awarded the 500 trophy.

Lakeland 100 Winners

Male 1st:              Ken Suter                           22:55:50

Female 1st:          Sabrina Verjee                  23:05:47 (overall 2nd)

Male 2nd:             Kevin Hoult                        23:30:01

Female 2nd:         Christine Walker              27:30:23

Male 3rd:             Simon Bourne                   24:11:41

Female 3rd:         Helen Price                        28:11:14

Lakeland 50 Winners

Male 1st:              Oliver Thorogood            7:36:11

Female 1st:          Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn    8:12:19

Male 2nd:             Cees Van Der Land          8:02:00

Female 2nd:         Rachel Normand              8:58:17

Male 3rd:             Adam Lloyd                       8:03:32

Female 3rd:         Amy Sarkies                       9:00:57

This year two of our own were taking part in this race. Giles Thurston was back for his third running of the hundred mile race and Davy Wright was taking part in his first ultra, never mind fifty mile race. Letʼs hear more about each event from their own unique perspective.

Hundred Mile Race - Giles Thurston

This was the year that I returned to Coniston to put the record straight. Having successfully completed the Lakeland 100 at my first attempt in 2016, I was devastated to have to stop at Wasdale in 2017, with what subsequently turned out to be a fractured pelvis.

One year later and after months of rehab and recovery, I once again stepped onto the start line of The Lakeland 100. Questions and self-doubt ran through my head, would my body be up to what lay ahead? There was only one way to find out, so at 18:30, with the sound of Nesum Dorma (None Shall Sleep) still ringing in our ears we set off.

Giles and Davy 5

Ascending The Coppermines Valley

I had a clear set of race objectives, ranging from completing the event to finishing under thirty hours. The later was a stretch, although genuinely possible if everything went according to plan.

The theme for the first night was hot and humid. The clear skies previously promised, which would have allowed us to enjoy the blood red lunar eclipse, had been replaced by threatening clouds and oppressive heat and humidity. In the valley floors it felt like a sauna at times, while on the tops, the gentle breeze took the edge off slightly.

Giles and Davy 6

Giles Running Towards Walna Scar Road

When the rain came just after dark, it did little to improve matters and it was a constant balance between diving into waterproofs to stay dry, while at the same time trying to keep cool.

As hoped, the ground was significantly dryer underfoot than previous years, making the going good and by Wasdale, the scene of my withdrawal the previous year, I was already half an hour up on my previous best time to this point.

Giles and Davy 7a

Summit of Walna Scar Road before Descent to CP1

Giles and Davy 8

Nightfall Approaching Wasdale Head and CP3

Ahead, in the darkness, lay the significant climbs across Black Sail, Scarth Gap and Sails Pass. The heat was starting to take its toll, with many competitors suffering, including myself with spasms of cramp, despite consuming electrolytes.

During this section I took a couple of tumbles on the descents, one quite nasty and I initially feared a broken arm but was pleased to discovered just significant bruising and a nasty graze the length of my forearm.

As we climbed towards Sails Pass, our gateway to the northern fells, the rain stopped and temperatures finally started to drop as the colder air moved in from the west. I was making good time, feeling strong and as dawn broke, I was still up on my previous best, bang on sub thirty hour pace and making good progress east along the Old Coach Road towards the half way stop at Dalemain.

Giles and Davy 9

Dawn Approaching CP6

The traverse along the northern slopes of Ullswater is one of the most beautiful parts of the course but as I reached this point, the threatening rain finally returned and set in for the next few hours. This made for a dreary but positive run into Dalemain, as I was feeling strong and pleased to be up on all my pre-race targets.

Giles and Davy 10

First Views of Ullswater as Rain Clouds Gather

At Dalemain, the location for the start of the fifty mile event, hundred mile runners can access a drop bag. While at 56 miles, this is located over half way distance wise around the course, its widely accepted that this marks the half way point time wise for most runners, as many typically slow in the second half.

It was a wet and bedraggled bunch of hundred runners, huddled in the marquee at Dalemain, as the heavens opened further and a deluge came down upon us. I took the time to eat, change my socks and add an additional layer. As the sun broke through though, I emerged and headed off towards Pooley Bridge. Next Stop Coniston and the finish!

One of the longest stretches for both the hundred and fifty mile races, is the leg from Howtown on the southern shores of Ullswater, to Mardale Head. This starts with a long climb up Fusedale, over the tops of High and Low Kop, before descending to the banks of Haweswater and running practically the full length of the reservoir to the checkpoint at Mardale Head.

In the best of weather this is a long way, especially with nearly seventy miles in your legs. However this year, the weather decided to throw another curve ball.

I started the ascent of Fusedale just before midday in warm sunshine. An hour later as I went over the top of High Kop, we were being blown along the tops with gale force winds, hail and rumbles of thunder in the distance. This was no place to be standing around in running shorts and if anybody needed a practical demonstration of why we carry the kit we do, they were getting it.

Giles and Davy 11

Climbing Fusedale in The Sun

We had no choice but to run and run, trying desperately to keep moving with the dual aim of keeping our body temperate up and trying to drop down to Haweswater and hopefully out of the worst of the weather. The descent brought little rest-bite though and now only left us to run head first into the storm to reach the next checkpoint at Mardale Head.

What a contrasting set of conditions! The previous evening we had been struggling to keep cool and avoid heatstroke, now we were struggling to avoid hypothermia.

Finally the checkpoint arrived. A warm cup of coffee was gratefully taken, as I frantically pulled on all the clothing I had, with the exception of my emergency base layers. I was soon back out onto the course and as we climbed and then descended away from the storm, the sun broke out and my body temperate rose.

As I arrived in Kentmere and pushed onto Ambleside I was surprised to see that despite the storm, I was still on my sub 30-hour plan. As the clock passed through 6pm, Iʼll admit I became a little emotional. I was approaching the ninety mile mark, still had all my pre-race objectives on the table and was still moving well, able to run when I could. After the year I had had with injury, this was a minor miracle and a triumph over those that doubted I would ever be able to take part in these events again.

The run through Ambleside is always one of the highlights of the event, with the race well promoted and people stopping and applauding you in the street as you run past. As I approached the checkpoint I was delighted to see friends and family waiting to cheer me through. Despite my original plan to move on quickly, I was happy to stop and chat briefly.

This proved to be a mistake and as I stood there I started to feel nauseous and faint. A quick sit down and some soup did little to settle things and after what seemed like an eternity one of my ultra running friends gave me a stern talking to and practically pushed me back onto the course. He was right of course, better to be moving than static in the checkpoint but by now things had started to tighten up and I was moving slower than I had been for the whole race.

The next section to Langdale, which is mostly runnable, was taken at a brisk walk, as I struggled to get my stomach back in line. I wasnʼt panicking, as I still had hours to reach the finish and beat my time from 2016. My sub 30-hour plan was now beyond me though but I was determined to push on and see how well I could do.

I passed through the Chapel Stile checkpoint quickly, keen to make as much progress as I could before light failed and I would need my headtorch once again. The climb out of Langdale did little to ease my stomach and for the first time in the entire race, I had to pause briefly mid-climb to sit down, gather myself and let my stomach settle. Once over the climb however, things improved and I set a good pace towards Wrynose and through Little Langdale to the final checkpoint at Tiberthwaite.

The climb over the Tiberthwaite Fells is the nasty sting in the tail for both the fifty and hundred mile events, although doubly so for the hundred milers, as strictly speaking you have already run a hundred miles before you start your climb.

It was at Tiberthwaite that the Summit Fever Media team finally managed to catch me and I was happy to sit and do a short interview before I began my climb. Apparently they had been chasing me all afternoon using the tracker but had kept missing me at various points along the course.

I quickly ate a Mountain Fuel Cola Sports Jelly and prepared myself for the final few miles of the course. Above me I could see a steady procession of headtorches climbing into the night and I joined the queue up the initial stone steps and got my head down and into the flow.

My stomach finally seemed to have settled and this, combined with the caffeine and energy from the Sports Jelly, meant it felt like I literally flew up the ascent. Once over the top, I initially made slow progress on the descent towards Coniston, as I was stuck in a queue. Eventually I managed to squeeze by and from there ran hard the entire way down, through the village and over the finish line, stopping the clock a few seconds over 30 hours and 50 minutes.

Giles and Davy 12

Giles At The Finish

It was a tough year on the hundred course, with a range of challenging weather conditions thrown at us and a high drop out rate as a result. I was therefore overjoyed to be able to overcome this and my previous injury to complete my second Lakeland 100. Yes, I was disappointed to not meet my sub-30 objective but all things considered I am happy with how my race went and will definitely return next year to try and break the thirty hour barrier.

Fifty Mile Event - Davy Wright

“So who here thinks they’re ‘only’ here for the 50?” Said the race director at the morning briefing on Saturday. When I saw Giles and the rest of the 100 event participants set off on the Friday night I was in awe of them just getting into the starter pen. It does put the 50 in perspective, but then in the same briefing he put it up against a marathon and it does bring reality back kicking and screaming. The longest distance I’ve ever gone in one go on foot is 30 miles, that was probably about 18 years ago. My biggest training distance was around 25 miles and that was on the 50 route. That day was around 30 degrees and I struggled, big time! With the heat mainly but there was a bit of drastic realisation of what I had gotten myself in to.

After the morning briefing we were bussed up to the start point at Dalemain Estate just south of the A66 Reghed turn off. At this point there were already LL100 participants dropped out, however there were already some of them passed, Giles being one of them! The usual queuing for the portaloos ensued at Dalemain, fortunately being a boy means there’s no need to for me, enough said. Dan, who I had met a few months before, was also on the LL50 and we set off together. However, I knew his pedigree and I am a mongrel by comparison, so I made sure he knew he was to leave me in his wake when the time came. Initially on our loop of the estate to make up the 4 mile shortfall from the start point to Coniston distance, I made the mistake of setting off too fast and getting caught up in my own adrenaline. Dan was behind me at one point! I had to reign it in, I would blow up if I kept it at this pace! Dan caught up and quite rightly made comment about my quick start. We completed the loop and headed down to Pooley Bridge. As we went through the village and out the other side I knew the path started a slight incline. I decided to walk up this path and take on some food, there is a long way to go and Dan disappeared out of view. The route to the first check point is quite nice and I arrived in Howtown to find Dan still there due to an elongated stop, again enough said.

Giles and Davy 13

The next part is up Fusedale Head to High Kop, having done this part in my recce I knew it was a long, long incline and the cheat sticks would be coming out for it. Again Dan disappeared off up the trail in front of me. Most of the track is single width so passing from anyone behind means getting out the way or them having to go off piste to go around. It’s all very amicable and it all works out. Now this is when the weather took its first turn for the LL50ers, we had what we call in Scotland “sideyways rain!” The wind drove the rain at us like bullets from a machine gun, it is something I have suffered before, but only realised when I had a discussion much later in the day with someone who hadn’t experienced it before it’s never happened to me whilst wearing shorts! The long monotonous push up to High Kop was added to with the driving rain. It passed quickly though, that’s my recollection of it, there seems however that a lot of the participants felt it was a huge event. We got some showers after that but it wan’t until I was stood in Mardale Head, the LL50 CP2, did we get a short burst of hail! This is when I pulled the trousers on as it was another pole plod up Gatescarth Pass. As I put one leg in the waterproof trousers it eased off. When I questioned out loud if I should continue putting them on a gentleman opposite me said something alongs the lines of don’t jinx it by taking them off! So I pulled the other leg on, picked up my poles and tapped away up the rocky path. Obviously the clouds broke and the sky was blue for a bit but I kept the sweat trappers on. On my recce I hit a huge trough at this point as it was sweltering, so my focus was to get up this hill and get it behind me. I got to the top and stripped down and stashed the poles again.

Giles and Davy 14

Always I am trying to remember to eat, when I’ve got poles in my hand I don’t or can’t. So as I’m on my way down I’m eating, which isn’t good use of time. At this point I’m thinking about where I can make time up or not waste it. What is happening to me!!

I made my way to the next CP at Kentmere, I felt reasonably good. Looking forward to some real food. When I arrived I was greeted by Matt Brennan who kindly opened my soft flasks to refill them. It was here I saw first hand the Lakeland family look after their own. A more senior participant came in, actually just in front of me, when I saw him sat down he had tears streaming down his face. Visibly struggling and having issues with his hands, it looked to be effects of being cold and damp. One of the girls went up to him to see what was wrong and immediately started to help him. Taking off damp clothes, getting him a cup of hot tea in an actual mug (there’s a long story to cups, look at the FB page in the build up). Matt was then sent to get the paramedic that was waiting outside to assist. I’m sure the gentleman is alright now and is grateful for the support he received at the Kentmere checkpoint, I know I am grateful for my bottles being opened and the bowl of salty tomato pasta I had there. There will be a million stories from the weekend like that I’m sure and each one is a testament to the organisers, marshals, volunteers and participants of the event.

I did have to leave the warmth of the hall and head out in to the unknown. I hadn’t recce’d this part yet. Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to navigate and I found myself with some others. There was some chat and some shuffling. Down in to Troutbeck where it started to climb and I was back to a point that I recognise. The incline up on the road led to a track which took us all the way to Ambleside.

Coming into Ambleside on a Saturday evening around 9:30pm means there is going to be a few people around and they are probably going to be having a weekend libation, they were. And they still clapped us through. People stopping in the street to let you by and congratulating you as you shuffle by them. This did happen at many points through the route and each time I was taken back by how much support was given by the bystanders along the route. What I didn’t expect at all was the smell of fish and chips and how much I wanted to stop for them or steal them off the spectators, apparently that is against the rules though.

Bimbling in to the checkpoint at Ambleside I was met with the usual fanfare from the marshals and volunteers. I topped up my flasks, filled my cheeks with cake and sweets and slowly set off again. Beyond the play park there is a tarmac incline then it’s back on to the tracks of the fells. Then we make our way down to Skelwith Bridge and on to the hard packed well travelled path of the Cumbrian Way along the waterside on route to Chapel Stile. For the section of the Cumbrian Way I joined a couple of lads, one who was also a first timer and the other a bit of a veteran. I think we all ran a bit further than our legs would of if we were on our own but it felt like good motivation for me. Once at the end of the path we were back on the tarmac and walking up hill. Darkness was setting in and there were other participants already in head torches. As a group we got to a stage that we had passed a turn off to the official route and were a bit unsure in the failing light where we should be going. If I’m honest, I wasn’t particularly productive at this venture. A fog had descended on my head and I was hoping to be guided out of it. Another pair had joined us and were also unsure of the correct route. My previous 2 cohorts decided on where the route was and set off, I hesitated and was back on my own again. I did get back to the path that split off from the tarmac with a bit of assistance to the sensible head torch wearers. The track led the route to the famous Wainwrights Inn. Now I was out of sorts, it was too dark not to be wearing my head torch and my knee, actually my ITB, was playing up. I stopped and took my head torch out and knocked back some ibuprofen and paracetamol. There was still a bit to go to the Chapel Stile check point so I need to pull myself together and let the painkillers kick in. I shuffled and walked along the track, some of which handrailed a campsite. I could hear jovial laughter of the holidaymakers enjoying their down time in the shelter of their tents, I may have been a little envious.

Giles and Davy 15

Eventually, I reached the shelter of the check point tent guided by the fire pit stationed outside and was greeted by the marshal who said “welcome, we are so happy to see you!” Which I replied, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you!!” I found the dibber man and electronically checked in. Then I went to get some soup, some very welcome hot tasty food. As my bowl was being filled up another very nice volunteer asked if I wanted my flasks filled, I said I would get it in a second after my soup but she was very persuasive and took the bottles from my vest and disappeared in to the gaggle of people already around the water refill point. I moved further in to the tent and ate my soup. I didn’t sit down not at any check point at this stage, I just didn’t want to seize up or worse give up. Especially with how I felt not long ago. I chatted to a few of the other competitors, one of which had taken a nasty fall smashing his nose and required some medical treatment. He was still cracking on though, telling me he doesn’t breath through his nose anyway! The amazing marshal returned with two full soft flasks before I had finished my soup and disappeared back to help someone else. I binned my bowl and headed for the table of goodies, I was immediately drawn to the brownies. I took a couple and sought out the kind and persuasive volunteer to thank her again for taking charge of me, I hugely appreciated it.

I stepped out of the warmth of the tent and in to the black of night, my head torch was on and I was on my way again feeling rejuvenated. Those brownies added another level to the morale boost of the Chapel Stile checkpoint. The track wasn’t great in places and it led to a lot of walk/trot movement. I soon came across another couple of fellow Lakelanders. It soon became two of us and this is where I got my partner for the remaining duration of the event. I had only gone as far as Great Langdale on my other recce so the section to the end was unknown to me. There was also the Tilberthwaite steps which held a bit of apprehension as they seemed to be a much discussed obstacle.

Heather, my accomplice for the remainder, and I mutually agreed to accompany each other back to Coniston, which was good for me as she had been on the route before so it took navigating in the dark out of the equation. We trundled up and down the tracks, making our way to the unmanned checkpoint beyond Bleamoss Bog, fortunately it was either too dry to be a bog right now or we managed to avoid it. On the track in there were several competitors around us, noticeably a 100 competitor. She was pushing on, which is epic since she had left Coniston on Friday evening at 5:30pm and it was nearly midnight on Saturday!

We were now on route to the last checkpoint, we were chatting away, picking it up to a trot on the downhills. Around about now I realised that Heather was feeling a bit queasy, she hadn’t eaten since Ambleside and was struggling a little. We got into Tilberthwaite and we both sat down, me because I had grit in my shoe which was annoying the life out of me. Heather because she was really low on fuel. Once my grit problem was clear I filled my flasks and grabbed a handful of jelly sweets and flapjack. I offered Heather both which she declined but I managed to convince her to take the smallest jelly baby in the world. Well in comparison to the mouth full of sweets and flapjack I was in the process of chewing, the jelly baby seems insignificant.

Giles and Davy 16

With a deep breath she was back on her feet, we ascended Jacobs Ladder (this years name for Tilberthwaite Steps), renamed in honour of a little lad we donated funds to help with his treatment. Fortunately the ladder wasn’t as big as I had anticipated, although when we got on to a small plateau we paused a moment as the jelly baby decided it wanted out of Heather. Composure regained once again we set of for the final stretch to the finish line. There is a couple of points where the damp rocks caused some footing issues and it’s not all downhill, which I was hoping for. At one point I could see individual headtorches in the distance gaining height, I had small sigh but really I should have expected it.

Once off the trail path, the final stretch was tarmac down to Coniston and in through the town, it was around 2 on Sunday morning and still there were people clapping us in and the trusted Lakeland Marshals on hand to guide us in. We got to the finish line in 14 hours 44 mins. The finish line marshals announced us into the marquee where there was a big cheer. Heather met her husband and I met the barman and had a well deserved pint of “Further Faster” pilsner!

Giles and Davy 17

After a pretty good, but short, sleep I met Dan the next morning and he smashed it with a time of 11 hours 12 mins! That’s why I didn’t want to hang about with him too long.

On reflection of the full event it couldn’t of gone much better from a personal perspective, I was a bit apprehensive in the run up to it. That is the longest distance I have done on foot in one go. The whole Lakeland event from a participants perspective was an amazing smash. As Marc, the race director, said on the short film below, the event is what all the people involved in the event make it, from the marshals to the volunteers at the check points to the participants, I would also include the general public clapping on the side of the route. Some at really obscure places where I was shocked to find them. The atmosphere along the full 50 mile route was incredible. I did say before the event this would be my personal best as there is no way I would do it again, well never say never is where I’m at now.

The Summit Fever Media team were out on the course all weekend, putting together a short film about this years event and even catching a few words from our own Giles Thurston about his experiences in the hundred mile event.

The range of participants from the elite runners to the folk who just want to be part of the Lakeland Family. The perspectives from both our team reinforce the family ethos and the support it gives all the way through the event. This support starts way before the event starts from the weekly emails giving advice and information for each of the competitors. Returning participants are the norm, Giles is already getting prepared for the release of spaces on the 1st September. Sounds like Davy could be tempted!

For more information check out the Lakeland 100 website and join the Lakeland Family.

We’d like to thank Montane for sponsoring the event and inviting Davy to participate. Also, we would like to credit No Limits Photography for their photos taken during the event, they captured every competitor at some stage of the route.