Sitting in car on the way up to Coniston on Friday morning, just passing the Sign on the M6 advertising the next exit for Kendal and the south Lakes, it hit me... This was real. In a matter of hours I was going to face 105 miles of the Lake District's Finest. There was a sickening inevitability of it, I know, or at least thought I knew what I would face over the next 2 days of running... Pain, sickness, tiredness and blisters. Nothing I could do would stop it, each second that ticked by was one closer to the unknown. It felt like I had been summoned up for a fight with a monster that I could not beat, a fight that would last for nearly 2 days, A fight where there was nowhere to hide. The Lakeland 100 (Or UTLD) is actually 105 miles of footpaths and bridleways, although not crossing any summits, it winds and contours it's way over many high passes and comprises a circular loop around the whole of the Lakeland fells.
After registering and having my ID checked (As if anybody was going to take my place!) having my kit checked, weight recorded and displayed for all to see on a bright yellow band around my wrist I went for a sit down to conserve energy for a few hours and chat to my fellow competitors, Sally Howarth who was also doing the 100 and Katie Recce, Rosie Fearon and Heather Garland who were taking on the 50 miler. At 4pm the pre-race Briefing took place with a few words from Marc Laithwaite the tireless race organiser and his team about course changes from last year, some encouraging words and a round of applause. Then Fell running Legend Joss Naylor took to the stage, although a little hard to hear, he was filled with genuine passion for the fells and for this race, a dislike to 'all these modern fancy gels' and advising us to 'get sum proper food darn yer lad', we silently listening in awe. Afterward I wondered over to Joss and after a few photographs and book signings with fellow competitors I struck up conversation and discussed the weather on the fells, and the best lines to take on the Anniversary Waltz fell race I had seen Joss at earlier in the year (he wasn't competing but was shouting encouragement as we plummeted down from Cat-Bells) oh, and of course kindly asked him to sign my road book and have a photo taken with me. After this it was a quick last check to make sure I had everything, splash of sun-cream and headed for the starters enclosure.
The off! I set off at an easy pace, I know it takes me a few miles to get settled, and with a whacking great 2,000ft climb starting in the first mile this fight was getting dirty from start, it was hot and the sweat was pouring out. Over the top, stopping for a few pictures, I wasn't racing anyone but myself so thought I'd take the opportunity to look up and enjoy the views followed by a nice long descent and into the first checkpoint. My intention was not to stop too long at the checkpoints, but after a few minutes I left. This was the order of the race checkpoint wise anyway, I would spend a few minutes in each, enjoying some hot soup, a few jelly babies, a slice or two of Soreen Malt Loaf (Very good for keeping the Carbohydrate levels up!) and a few beers.... Well I pretended I was drinking beer...
Having reccied the course all the way to Braithwaite and into Keswick I didn't need the map or road book for the first 45 miles or so, and got into Wasdale head as the dark came in. Black Sail pass was as hard as I remembered it but more beautiful, looking back down a pitch dark valley and seeing a long string of head torches wind into the far distance was amazing, although doing Coniston to Buttermere way back in March on my own, it was snow and ice the last time I came up here, and the descent was just as dangerous! Passing Keswick the sun started to rise, and the climb up and onto the Cumbria way round Blencathra was refreshing, my first night done and with only 3 yawns!
Getting into Dockray was where the feet started to hurt. I knew they were bad, but having completed the Marathon Des Sables earlier this year with minimal bother from my feet I assumed they would be fine... At Dalemain I had planned to change my socks, out of my compression X-socks to discover a hole rubbed into them from a bleeding right heel, quick dress with gauze and tape and into the free pair of wool ones offered free at the Blencathra checkpoint, I choose these over the 2nd pair of long compression's as they look like they might be more comfortable. I also collected some food and walking poles left in my drop bag too. The rest of the course to Mardale Head was a real struggle. Mentally I was fine, just the pain from my feet which had wrinkled and blistered after getting soaked in the boggy ground 50 miles previous and a few rubbing sores had opened up. The poles were amazing allowing me to take a lot of pressure off my feet and into my arms and shoulders. As i soldiered on looking a real sorry state many 50 runners were passing me, it was really encouraging getting shouts from the 50 milers racing past, and is what kept my going those final few miles. Having seen Sally at Howtown who I thought was at least an hour and half ahead of me was confusing, until I found out she had climbed most of Wether Hill before turning round to retire, really brought it home how much this fight was taking out of me and it was quite emotional seeing her there.. I was determined to carry on and attacked the climb with poles digging and passing a few slow 50 guys up Wether Hill and feel strong. What beat me was the terrain along Haweswater, every foot fall was like stepping on knifes and not being able to get into any constant pace was really hard.
My 'plan' was to stop at Mardale and review the map, see if I could make it to Kentmere which would be much easier logistically for me to pull out, at the pace I was going it was doubtful I would make the cut-off time, and the 30 miles still ahead felt very far indeed! What actually happened at the checkpoint was madness! I said to the guy as soon as I got there, 'I'm out, finished....’ and dibbed the 2nd dibber... 5 minutes later I realised what I had done. DOH! Fortunately I got a lift back to Coniston, Thank you to the guy who mate came to pick him up, Sorry I cannot remember your name.
I didn't feel too bad about not getting to the finish, I was a winner in my own race (The Lakeland 75!) and now all the pain has disappeared I feel a wimp for stopping, when I consider what others have gone through in the Lakeland, and friends I know who ran the Marathon Des Sable this year, who's feet made mine look fresh and clean at the end of both events I am completed gutted, my saving grace is that I can learn and make another attempt next year, and the fact I was not alone, this race has a 50-60% drop out rate, and now I know why! I still had some trouble with getting food into me, and know I need to work on that, otherwise I felt good. Definitely some learning I will apply to my training for next year’s event. And reading the stories of everybody else's journey round the 100 and the 50 brings home the reality that this really is as tough as it gets in the UK and full marks to everyone who finished the 100, my hat goes off to you, and I WILL have that medal next year!