2nd time lucky – knocking off the Lakeland 100.

Dalemain Estate, Saturday 27th July, 2019. 11.25am. 59 miles.

The mind is the funniest thing. Sometimes trying to control it is the worst thing you can do. Negative thought processes are all-consuming, a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy – in everyday life, never mind ultra running. In our current climate of mindfulness and general awareness of mental health issues, we have never been more conscious of mental well-being. We have all kinds of strategies to improve our mental health; indeed, I find running – ultra running in particular – is one of the best strategies. But as this race wore on towards the 18th hour, even knowing there was probably nearly the same amount of time to do again, I found myself in that most blissful of places. Positivity had been building through the morning and was now reaching a critical mass. That doesn’t happen often, does it?!

A year ago I’d arrived at the same checkpoint 10 minutes earlier feeling good but then fatally faltered, taking far too long to eat, change clothes and refuel – over an hour in fact – before my race unraveled in six windswept, rain-sodden, sleep deprived hours.

Like last year, the aim was to be back out on course before the 50 mile race runners joined us. Their race started at 11.30 with a four mile loop around around the estate, so I had roughly 25 minutes to get out of there. It was a mini-race within a race and it kept me utterly focused on the task in hand. Checkpoint 8 (Dalemain) is the only CP where you have a drop-bag; that is, a pre-packed bag of your belongings which you can dip into like spare clothes, your own food and drink, or extra bits of equipment that you don’t want for the first half of the race that you think you might need for the second half. I had laminated a list of jobs so I couldn’t get flustered. I only changed my top – my shorts, socks and shoes were wet from the previous 17 hours but it actually started to rain heavily right on 11.30 as we heard the 50 race begin – so no point changing into dry clothes that would be wet again before leaving the field. That saves another five minutes! Charge watch. Get food and drink. I stuffed two bowls of stew down my throat and grabbed a cup of tea. Re-stock my bag with salt tablets, High5 hydration tablets, energy gels, Kendal Mint Cake, other assorted nibbles and snacks, swap charger packs – I was glad I’d made that list now!

Leanne and the girls weren’t there – on purpose. They were down the road at Pooley Bridge, part of a carefully crafted plan to get me out of Dalemain as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t linger unnecessarily knowing they were waiting for me a couple of miles away.

Emma (Who? You may well ask – more later!) was struggling to take any food on by this point, so she was looking at me with her now familiar ‘Let’s get out of here!’ eyes. I didn’t need too much prompting. She even got my water bottles filled while I sorted my drop-bag out. We had become a good little team, a mini-battalion pushing each other on and not allowing distractions or slacking off from the task in hand. One last check that we’d completed all the menial tasks that needed to be done from drop-bags and we were out again into the now heavy rain (some things never change!) at 11.50.

I knew it then. Barring unfortunate accidents or an injury, I was going to finish the Lakeland 100.

Thank You!

I’m going to open this blog in reverse order. It is the usual form (certainly for me) to do the thank yous at the end. But just this time they are so important that I need to do them first.

To Leanne (plus Hannah, Nancy and Lottie!) – I’ve said it many times before, but this year in particular, I could not have done it without Leanne. She was the one who talked me out of dropping out on several occasions earlier in the year. She was the one who sacrificed all those hours letting me catch-up on training, she was the one who let me sit on my backside for a week before the race so that I was as rested as possible, (she even replaced BOTH our family cars in this time!), she wasn’t offended when I said I wanted to travel to the lakes alone and hide away by myself in the camping field (more later), she sorted all the children’s belongings and needs for the weekend, managed to travel out to see me on course (prescribed places only!) and then even got the girls out of bed at 4am to see me finish! Amazing. But, these physical acts aside, it was mostly the mental knowledge that she never doubted I would finish that drove me on. I knew she would be watching that dot every minute possible and I was determined to make sure that every time she looked, the dot was moving!

Mum and Dad – they couldn’t come up for the entire weekend as they would have liked, but insisted on coming up at 10pm on the Saturday night to support. This was an invaluable little pick-me-up, especially when I inevitably started to get a bit sleepy towards the end! I’m so glad you made it and got to see the end! Thanks for making the effort!

Marc Laithwaite, The LL100 team/family and every single volunteer – this race is regarded as the UTMB of Great Britain – the UTLD no less! The reputation is formed with good reason. It is the best one day race in this country. Clearly it takes more than a day; my race spanned three days for a start! But you are supposed to complete it in one go – sleep is neither recommended nor encouraged. (Obviously, I’m placing the Spine Race and Dragon’s Back in a different category – but they are multi-day races.) Thanks to every single person who contributed to the organisation of the race or who volunteered to help at it. It is a truly mind-blowing event. I totally get why people return year on year and I will definitely be back in future! (Not next year though – the family deserve that much!)

Friends and family out there on social media – I said before the race that, because I now knew how many people became obsessed with dot watching on the live race tracker last year, I would use that energy positively during the race. This definitely worked! Thank you so much to everyone who watched the tracker, followed Leanne’s posts on social media and sent messages during the race. Every time my phone picked up a signal en-route I could feel the vibration as the messages poured in. I only looked at a couple of crucial points, I didn’t want too many distractions – I didn’t take any photos for example as I knew I’d then look at my phone – but I knew what the vibrations meant and you would be amazed if you knew what a positive impact they had on my mind and body at the time. Thanks everyone, it took me three days to read all the messages back after the race!

Team Lister – Rob smashed it! It nearly smashed him back but, like myself, I don’t think  the finish was in doubt this year, barring injuries. But to Leanne, Lottie, Riley and Noah (and the dogs!) I knew Leanne and the girls would be royally entertained in your company, and one of the benefits of Rob and I running separately was that child-minding duties could be shared allowing the adults to get out and about and do some extra cheering! Thanks for your excellent company this weekend and for letting Rob and I do stupid things for no good reason!

Jon Cadman & Jeff McCarthy – thanks to these two chaps. I spent an inordinate amount of time messaging these guys in the build-up to the race! Both completed the 50 this year, Jon for the second time and Jeff for the first time. Both had to do so in trying conditions for various different reasons so I was delighted both to see them out on course and also to hear they’d completed successfully. But pre-race, both were sources of re-assurance, inspiration and just down-to-earth sanity during my many periods of self-doubt this year. Thanks for all of it, chaps! (Self doubt is not something I often struggle with, in running terms at least!) Plus, Jon generously supplied me with every size of Sudocrem tub known to man pre-race and Jeff got out of his sleeping bag within hours of finishing himself to cheer me into the finish!

And finally, Emma Humphries – hard to know where to start here. I think anyone who has read my blogs before will know that I like to run solo. I don’t like other people affecting my race or my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rude; I’ll say hello to anyone and offer words of encouragement or share a joke out on course BUT I will go out of my way not to fall into step with someone or ‘buddy-up’ – it’s just not my thing. So it tells you a lot about Emma’s determined, driven personality that we ended up running together for some 50 miles and the best part of 14 hours. Slight spoiler alert here; Emma finally dropped out at Kentmere (82 miles) but this was nothing to do with ability or determination, more that she’d barely eaten at all in the entire time I spent with her and there is only so much you can do without getting some fuel on board. Without that issue, I am pretty certain Emma was much stronger than me and we would, in all likelihood, have finished together in fine style. I am going to try and be brutally honest in this account which means my selfish nature will be described in detail, particularly when Emma started to falter and I got increasingly desperate to run on as I got colder and time ticked away. But this in no means is a criticism of Emma. She was a massive help to me during the race, I learned a lot from her, we could chat happily about all sorts of nonsense, we had similar levels of sarcasm and humour (always important!) and we drove each other on really well. Her family (and dog!) were lovely when we met them out on course and she enjoyed meeting Leanne and the girls, however briefly, at Pooley Bridge. It would be great to meet Emma and her family again at some point and I would happily team up with her again in a pairs event of some sort. Thanks for your company Emma! Hopefully we will catch-up at a race sometime in the future!

Double finally… thanks to you for reading this! I have been genuinely surprised by how many people have asked when the blog is coming out – especially those who seemed to ask it without a trace of sarcasm! So, without further ado, here it is.

Pre-Race Prep.

The Kit.

Another whirlwind school year finished the week before the event, giving me seven days to prepare for the race. The shopping had been done previously including all the usual paraphernalia. But there were a number of purchases bought at what could be described ‘the last minute’ which definitely flew against the well used running rule of not using anything in a race which you haven’t tested thoroughly in training! (A rule which I would fully advise you follow, despite my own bad example right here!)

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Shoes – This was not as much of a gamble as it would appear. I loved my Hoka Mafate Speed 2s last year. I put them on at Dalemain last year having worn Inov8 Trail Talon for the first 59 miles. There was nothing wrong with the Inov8’s but I wished I’d worn my Hokas throughout as there is a lot of solid surface bashing after Braithwaite. The old pair were still running fine but I always wear the grip away on the outer heel, (Pronating? Over? Under? I can never remember which it is, but I do it!) so I wanted the grips as good as new for the probable wetter conditions this year. So I bought the replacements a few weeks before, fully intending to run them in. However, I only did about 15 miles in them beforehand – so you could describe it as wearing new shoes for the race, I suppose. In my defence, they were exactly the same as my old ones which I wore out of the box for a massive recce run on the route last year without any problems, so it was hardly a massive gamble. But I would recommend you do a few more miles in new shoes before a major race. On the plus side, the grips were pristine!

Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4 – Poor Leanne. She bought me the Ultra vest as a surprise birthday present, understandably thinking the word ‘Ultra’ would mean it was the right vest! It isn’t quite big enough for this race’s mandatory kit list though, so I returned it for the Adventure vest. But the medium was too small, so that went back. When I finally got the right bag it was spectacularly comfy to wear – even in comparison to the previous model, which I have. But there were so many pockets I was stressing about what I’d put in them and one of the drinks bottle pockets had been replaced by a huge phone pocket. I didn’t have time to test it properly pre-race as the right size only became available in early July, so I decided I would stick to my old bag as, wear and tear aside, I was still perfectly happy with it.

S!Caps salt tablets – Again, I should have tested these in other races or runs beforehand. But the forecast was hot and the weather in the build up was really hot, so I thought a bit of insurance hydration wise would be useful. Rob has dodgy runner’s tummy but had been using them all year and felt they really helped him. So I bought some to take on the race, thinking that if I started to feel ill in the race I would just stop taking them.

Body Glide – Not a risky item, but I have had issues with my pack rubbing my back in very hot or very wet conditions. Lots of people told me Body Glide was a really good option – a bit less sticky than Vaseline – so I picked that up too.

Fun Fitness waist belt – this was literally the week of the race! I wanted a slightly bigger ‘bum bag’ style bag so that I could put in the handy things that had proved to be a pain in my race pack last year – phone, charger pack, electric leads, hydration tablets etc. Plus, last year I bought a filter bottle to use in streams for drinking in the extreme heat if I ran out of water. The problem was all the streams were dry! That wouldn’t be a problem this year, but I couldn’t see myself rooting around in the bag for the bottle if I was moving OK or was simply too tired or grumpy to be bothered. So I bought a waist belt with a bigger pouch and two extra little bottles, thinking I would use them on the longer legs in the day if it was warm. If I didn’t feel I needed them for a particular leg, I wouldn’t fill them.

The rest and mental preparation.

Last year was a bit stressy right up until the race start. For example, Hannah was on a High School trip so Leanne couldn’t pick her up until 3pm in Wigan. That gave Leanne three hours to get up to the race for the start. She was desperate to be there and I was desperate for them to be there. For a ‘normal’ race it wouldn’t matter, but in this case it’s just a waste of nervous energy that you don’t need. Add up lots of those little things and I learned the hard way that, for a race of this magnitude, those seemingly minor pressures and stresses add up and impact severely on your race energy. This year I was determined to be stress free.

The week before the race was boiling (as it was last year) with record temperatures – especially at night. This made sleeping really difficult so, with Leanne’s never-ending support, I slept most of the days instead! I figured that the time of day I slept was largely irrelevant as we would be running through two nights and one day anyway. Better to get the maximum amount of sleep possible whenever that may be! This also inadvertently paid off on the Friday of the race as I did actually sleep for quite a decent amount of time after registering. On one of the afternoons that I decided I needed to lie in bed for the entire afternoon, Leanne had to take all three girls over to Bolton to sign papers for our new family car – plus choose a replacement for our smaller second car! I’m not sure I could have completed that task by myself, never mind drag three young children with me to do it! (I told you Leanne’s support was amazing!)

We had booked a cottage in Coniston village with the Lister family but, as is the case with these things, you could only pick up the keys at 3pm – hardly ideal with a 4.30pm briefing and 6pm race start. I knew this would lead to stress as we tried to get the keys as early as possible – time that could be spent sleeping or resting up would be wasted. So I removed myself from it totally and told Leanne I wanted to travel up by myself first thing in the morning, register as early as possible and then just put up the one man tent and crawl into it!

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I love the hustle and bustle of the race HQ on the Friday, there’s always someone you know knocking about and the time passes quickly. I chatted with Jon Cadman from Wolves (he may not be a Sudocrem Sales Rep, but he should be!) and Matt Rushbrook, back for his second LL100. Rob had arrived too. Fortunately, the record temperatures of the preceding days had given way to a much more pleasant, cool day. I only had one semi-stress when I somehow managed to pack all my kit and just about complete the official kit check when I realised I’d left my compass at home! So there was a quick, swear-word-laden ten minute walk to and from the village to buy a replacement! But, that aside, I was good to my word – I took myself away from the hive of activity, packed my race bag and drop bag, ticked off my checklist for the 20th time, had a bite to eat, then pitched the pop up one man tent and had a couple of hours of really good rest.

By the time I woke up I had a message to say the families were in the cottage, so I walked up there and even managed to nap again before the briefing!

Being our second time at the event, I can’t say Rob and I were keen to attend the briefing in a hot, stuffy hall. But Marc and Uncle Terry always make it entertaining and a couple of the things Marc spoke about left a real lump in the throat this year. This slightly emotional state carried on once we’d said our goodbyes to our families and made our way to the start pen.

Last year, Rob’s family hadn’t arrived when they should have so we were stressing about that. Plus I was fretting about my watch settings, we were very tense in general and I never really took in my surroundings until the amazing run through the village.

Given what I considered my good fortune to even be on the start line this year, I was determined to savour the moment. I think my calm, relaxed state of mind made me more susceptible to the emotion of the situation and I was very relieved no-one tried to speak to me during the traditional pre-race live singing of Nessun Dorma! I was quite choked up and momentarily overwhelmed by the highly charged atmosphere. Maybe Jeff arriving just before the start from a family funeral contributed to this; I wasn’t sure he’d make the weekend at all and it was really good to see him.

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One more pre-race note: the problems of new kit for a race. I only discovered that the waist belt had an elasticated waist band when it was too heavy to stay round my waist when I strapped it on! This was with empty bottles too as I didn’t think I’d need them full for the early stages. This felt awkward and uncomfortable – to the point that I nearly ditched the belt pre-race. It was a good job I didn’t…

And so, finally, after a twelve month wait, we were off again! 105 miles to go!

The Lakeland 100, 2019 edition.

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My little laminated race sheet. Informal prediction times linked to previous year. I wasn’t going to stress about being in front or behind them, it was more a guide for keeping ahead of the cut-offs and giving my family a rough idea of where I might be at supporter points.

Leg 1 – Coniston to Seathwaite – 7 miles.

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Can’t remember who sent me this picture of Rob and I leaving the start line! Thanks whoever it was! (Could have been Jeff but I can’t swear to it!) We are right in the front of the two supporter mobile phones in shot!

The run through the village was every bit as memorable as the previous year. You really do momentarily feel like a professional athlete! There were a few people I knew dotted around and even if I didn’t spot them, I heard their shouts. Thanks!

Obviously, Rob and I were not going to be sticking together this year. As discussed in my previous blog, aside from the mental stress of trying to stay together, Rob has been flying this year. It was also in his best interests to get round as quickly as possible as his arthritic hip, which will eventually need replacing, had been playing up of late, meaning a couple of injections were required in order for his fantastic training block not to be scuppered due to injury. The sooner he got round, the better! We had even added each other to our text messaging lists so that we could see how the other was getting on. We definitely felt that running individually, and assuming the other person would definitely finish, was the best motivation either of us could have!

Still, we ended up together on the initial climb (thanks to club running mate Steve Nicholls and his daughter who were up by one of the gates to give us a cheer!) and so we decended towards the Walna Scar Road together past the official photographer who always positions himself above the car park there!

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I let Rob go ahead on the Walna Scar Road climb, I wanted to ensure I dictated my own pace and was pretty determined to be a little slower than last year. My rough plan was to move a little slower (taking it easy due to my lack of fitness) but be a lot more economical with my time in the checkpoints.

The Walna Scar Road goes on forever, but it does allow you to get settled in without rushing – I walked all of it – and before too long you are dropping off the other side. To my surprise I found myself passing people immediately on the descent. I have really improved my ability to control descending these days and not pan my legs, so I was mildly mystified as to why I was suddenly flying. I’ve no idea if I was just technically strong or whether I simply wasn’t fit enough to stop myself! (I suspect the latter!) Anyway, what ever the reason, Rob got a proper shock when I steamed past him near the bottom!

He reluctantly tagged on and we managed to put a lid on the craziness when we reached the road! I didn’t feel like I was being reckless but the number of people I overtook may suggest otherwise! I certainly didn’t feel reckless, and my legs didn’t display any fatigue so it was all good!

Into the CP we went, and I was surprised to notice I’d drunk an entire bottle of my fluid. Still, no problem, hydration tablet into the bottle, filled up, didn’t fancy anything to eat but suspect I must have grabbed a jelly baby at least. 1hr30 was definitely on the fast side, but that was due to the descent. On we go!

Leg 2 – Seathwaite to Boot – 7 miles (14 miles in total).

There was a slight diversion here due to a fallen bridge, and straight away I noticed how hot and humid it felt in the valley. There was a lovely cool breeze on the first leg but now this woodland section felt more like a rainforest! I decided to take my first salt tablet here seeing as I was getting a sweat on. I’d never really taken any notice that they were in capsule form as opposed to tablets until now, and I had quite a bit of difficulty swallowing it. I got used to them as the race went on, though my body must have been rattling with little plastic pieces by the end!

The next bit of climbing was mostly in trees (Rob turned round and gave me a thumbs up here – that was the last I saw of him until a congratulatory hug on Sunday morning!) and I was suddenly really thirsty, and sweating like it was midday. As we dropped towards a farm on an entirely runnable section, I didn’t feel much like running at all. No big deal; plenty of time. But as we climbed through the next plantation to the summit of this leg before dropping into Eskdale I was well aware that I was sweating buckets and had nearly finished one bottle of water already. (I was using High5 tabs in the water – 2 soft flasks.)

The drop into the Eskdale valley is quite technical through bracken and rocks. Quite irritating early in a race when you just want to knock out some miles but then you are reduced to clambering down fallen rocks clinging onto a fence! But hey, this is the Lake District! Once out onto the valley road there are a couple of runnable miles, pleasantly along the river and then into the village of Boot. Normally I’d run all of it but this time I had to force myself to concentrate on not just walking. I felt drained of energy and the sweat was pouring off me. At the time I thought it was just me – only reading other people’s blogs has made me realise everyone was feeling the same way – I don’t think anyone wants to admit that they feel terrible 14 miles into a 105 mile race!!!

I fair staggered into Boot at 3h10m. I had a bit of a battle with one of my bottles that I managed to trap in a knot on my bag – but it was telling that I was needing to fill both bottles at this point. I didn’t feel great at all. I don’t think the Christmas themed checkpoint helped my mood – I bloody hate Christmas music in November when it starts in the shops; I don’t need it in July! Still, I did keep in with the theme and enthusiasm of the brilliant volunteers and wish everyone of them Merry Christmas. (They didn’t have Mulled Wine which might have actually helped.)

Leg 3 – Boot to Wasdale Head – 5.4 miles (19.4 total.)

Climbing out of Boot I felt nauseous. I remembered Rob feeling the same here last year. Leg 3 is comfortably the easiest leg of the race. It’s only short and, after the initial steady climb, is beautifully runnable on soft grassland with tremendous views into the heart of lakeland. Couple this with the fact that, at this time of day, it’s usually sunset too and you have the ultimate ultra runner utopia. But as I completed the climb and stared out over the stunning vista, I just felt like sh*t.

At least I had worked out by this time that my feelings were humidity related. I’d never fully understood humidity before this. In our country humidity levels are nearly always linked to hot weather anyway so you can’t tell the difference. But not tonight. It was clear the actual air temperature wasn’t too high, but the air was so close, it was genuinely uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I couldn’t run – it was more the feeling of lethargy that I couldn’t be arsed running. I just wanted to throw myself into the beautiful Burnmoor Tarn and cool down.

I carried on going through my water like it didn’t exist. It felt like I was just sweating it straight out again. I genuinely considered ringing Leanne to meet me at Wasdale! How ridiculous to drop out at this point?! (looking at the stats later on, it was amazing how many people actually did drop out at Wasdale and before – it must be a record.) The only reason I erased the idea was because I knew the two Leanne’s would definitely be enjoying a well earned Kopperburg after the kids’ race and I didn’t want to spoil their night! I wasn’t spent to the point of needing to drop out, it just seemed futile to try and do another 90 miles.

I had to put the headtorch on at the side of the tarn, earlier than the previous year. Dropping into Wasdale in the dark is still stunning and I tried to console myself with the views. Like I described at the very start of this blog, once you get in a negative circle of thought it is hard to dig yourself out of it. My head was telling me there was no way I was going to finish this race – on the walk into Wasdale Head (I should have been running) I decided that I would walk through the night to Braithwaite (33 miles) and decide what to do there. It was a genuinely beautiful night after all – let’s at least try to enjoy the magic of the moment!

I stumbled into the Wasdale CP at 4hr41m – it had just taken 90 minutes to do the shortest, easiest leg of the race which would normally take about 60/70 minutes. Things were looking bleak. I was immediately lifted by the Beer Keller/Alpine Yodeling themed checkpoint! The Sunderland Strollers are legends of the LL100 and always provide the craziest, highest energy CP! If Christmas had turned my stomach, the Austria theme warmed my heart and I immediately ‘Danke Schoened’ my way round each person who helped fill bottles or serve drinks!

I was suddenly aware that, salt capsules aside, I hadn’t eaten anything since before the start of the race and this could be contributing to my lethargy. (I’d read a really good article by Damien Hall that week where he explained that body temperature is really affected by lack of food.) I really just wanted to drink all the flat coke in the CP but saw orange segments and immediately attacked them instead – thinking thirst quenching and solid food in one combo! I also decided that, as I had just drained both water bottles for the second leg in a row and the next leg is the hardest of the race (in my opinion – maybe Fusedale is close) that I would fill my additional bottles here too so that I could drink lots more; that is what I bought them for after all! I saw another runner fill one of his bottles with flat coke so I thought that would be a good idea. So my two soft flasks still had High5 hydration in them, but my two little waist belt bottles had coke in. Might be a useful little pick-me up.

Leg 4 – Wasdale Head to Buttermere – 6.9 miles (26.3 total)

This leg is a deceptive 7 miles, in so much as it has lots of climbing and descending in it and only relents as it skirts Buttermere itself, so it feels a lot further. Black Sail Pass is a big one straight out of the CP and I was already pre-preparing to feel terrible! (Negative energy, man!) However, the dark of night (it was approx 11pm) had just led to a slight relenting in the humidity. Plus climbing higher afforded a bit of a breeze. Also, did I feel a bit better for eating? Either way, I got into a bit of a rhythm climbing up and, as I remembered last year, the absolute best view of the entire race is here. Just before the area where you cross the stream, you can look back towards Wasdale Head and see the line of headtorches of runners still descending into Wasdale a couple of miles away. Then you also have the headtorches immediately behind you on the Pass and then also the torches above, in front of you. It is a truly mesmerising site and one of those magical moments and views which make all the pain, effort and preparation worthwhile. The picture below is taken on the same stage on a later descent but gives a great idea of what I mean. Magical.

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Official (time lapse) race photo of the headtorches dropping down Scarth Gap into Buttermere. There is simply nothing like a night time ultra in the lakes on a clear night!

There is a stream crossing at approximately half way up the Black Sail Pass. It’s quite a tricky one and I’m sure some poor runner must have fallen in at some point! It was here that, on a recce with Rob the previous year, I had totally conked out in searing heat. Only putting my head in the water had saved me; that, and Rob forcing some Kendal Mint Cake down me to get me going again!

I had told Nicola, the Headteacher at my school, this story sometime in the past so she had very kindly bought me a huge stash of Kendal Mint Cake before the summer holidays – and I’d put some in my bag. I felt like the orange segments had powered me to this point but I was still low on energy. Now it was time to start forcing the food down – there was no way I could finish this race if I didn’t get busy eating. So out came the Kendal Mint Cake – and the effect was immediate. it was like Popeye eating spinach! (Younger readers might need to ask someone older what this means!)

I crested the summit in better spirits and headed for the tricky descent, happy that I had done this section just five weeks earlier on my solo recce run. It is a spot where people choose their own routes but I was happy and confident to guide a couple of debutants down what I feel is the best path; I think they were both grateful to be shown the way at that point.

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The view down to Black Sail Hut from the top of Black Sail Pass. (Taken five weeks earlier in the light!!!)

I munched a bit more KMC as we passed the Black Sail Hut and was now also making sure I took my salt tablets regularly. I rewarded myself with one of my little bottles of coke too – it was reassuring to know that I could pretty much drink as much as I wanted and I wouldn’t run out. It was cooler now but still very warm for midnight in the lakes!

On the short climb up Scarth Gap I got talking to a lad who had done the GB24 race the previous year and therefore knew quite a few of my GB Ultras friends. We were at the top before you knew it; a few hardy souls were supporting on the col here which was nice. One of them had a gruff Scottish accent and I only realised later that the other chap was proper LL100 legend John Kynaston! I would definitely have shaken his hand if I’d known it was him – his You Tube videos of the route helped immensely last year as I prepared for my first attempt at this race.

I wasn’t necessarily feeling physically better as I dropped down into Buttermere (see earlier night picture) but mentally I was getting myself together a bit. I knew my low energy levels could only be replenished with food. On my original plan I was going to have a food break at Braithwaite (33 miles) but I realised now that I needed to get food in me asap before it was too late, so instead of just filling my bottles at Buttermere I would make a point of stopping and eating.

It was also noticeable that I was still catching and passing people on every descent, even when I felt bad. This was a bizarre theme which continued throughout the entire race. I am normally, by my own admission, an incompetent descender at best. How come in this race I seemed to be flying downhill? A mystery.

The path round the lake is gently undulating and I made a point of trying to run the downhills at least. I needed to mentally snap myself out of the slump and running a couple of quicker miles would improve my mood. This seemed to work and I reached the next diversion actually catching one or two people up. (And obviously I knew the diversion route from my recce.)

As I crossed the alternative bridge and turned towards Buttermere village, I spoke briefly to a girl called Emma who actually said thanks when I spoke to her! This surprised me a bit, but she explained how she’d been really disappointed by how many fellow runners ignored her when she said hello. She then promptly trotted off up the path to Buttermere. I walked. I was feeling a bit better, but I certainly wasn’t feeling like running anything which wasn’t downhill. Little did I realise at the time what an impact Emma was going to have on my race!

I arrived at Buttermere at 7h27m of running (walking!) About 30 minutes down on my estimate. 2h45m for the stage seemed such a long time. But that didn’t matter. I needed to stop and eat, whether I liked it or not!

I decided on taking a seat and, as usual, the CP volunteers were amazing. They were serving those cheap, tinned hot dogs which some may turn their nose up at but, at the time, wrapped in a slice of bread and lathered in ketchup, were just what I needed! I had three or four of them, washed down with a couple of sweet cups of tea. Just what the doctor ordered.

Leg 5 – Buttermere to Braithwaite – 6.5 miles (32.8 total)

The last killer stage for a bit. I don’t know if all 100 runners feel the same, but I regard Braithwaite as a bit of a gateway moment. If you can make it there, you have knocked off easily the most difficult third of the race and the 26 miles to Dalemain are relatively less intimidating. (Not flat mind, this is still the lakes!)

However, straight out of the Buttermere CP is a 3.5 mile climb with the brutal scree slope up to Sail Pass at the end of it. If you make it there, you can freefall three miles down to Braithwaite and reward yourself with some brekkie!

The effect of the food was pretty immediate. For the first time since Coniston I felt OK. Not flying or anything, but I was able to find a rhythm on the uphill and stick to it. The main reason I began to enjoy it was that I had it all to myself; there were lights ahead but they were a fair way away and there was no-one following me. Having a Lake District path to yourself is always a moment to treasure, especially at night with the reassurance of someone definitely being along in the not too distant future if you did injure yourself! (And it is quite a tricky path in places, it would be easy to turn an ankle here.)

Nothing much happened, I just hit a sweet spot. There are three gullies you have to walk into in order to cross some gills which flow down into the valley, and each time I emerged from a gully the lights ahead were closer – for the first time all race I was making progress against the field! (Uphill!) Hitting the steep section of scree is not easy, but I was actually ready for it. Just 15 minutes of effort, I kept telling myself. I broke it down into 5 minute sections and actually caught and passed a couple of runners who were suffering a bit.

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The infamous scree path up to Sail Pass in daylight. At least at night you can’t see it! Take a deep breath…!

Cresting the saddle of Sail Pass was mildly euphoric! I passed another Emma at this point and we chatted as we tackled the tricky, technical initial downhill section. It turned out she owns the house at the end of Haweswater in Burnbanks which the Lakeland Trails 110k ultra passes. I’d only run past it 4 weeks ago! So she was going to be Emma Burnbanks for the rest of the race, seeing as I’d already met one Emma!

As soon as we’d done with the tricky bit at the top and got onto more runnable terrain, my descending boosters kicked in again! I’ve no idea how quickly I did the descent, but I do know that I overtook 13 runners here because the official stats show it. In reality I probably took more because I spent a fair while in Buttermere CP so some runners will have arrived there later than me but left before me.

Anyway, details aside, I was flying. I couldn’t wait to get to Braithwaite and get some more food in! There is one junction which runners who are not familiar with the area often miss and two poor headtorches were trudging back up the hill having obviously done just that; it must be soul destroying when you realise what you’ve done and your descent to a CP turns into another climb.

I arrived at Braithwaite after knocking off the leg in under 2 hours, 9hrs 36m in total. This was about 30 minutes slower than last time, but I knew I was planning on only stopping here for 15 minutes or so, when last year we were there well over half an hour.

I drank a lot of tea here and also ate a lot more orange and also forced down some coldish rice pudding. I was determined not to get too comfortable. I sent Leanne a first text of the race. I told her I was pretty lethargic and miserable and I’d probably pack it in at Dalemain!

However, my lowest point had passed. The positivity was about to begin! And I was about to meet an unexpected teammate!

Leg 6 – Braithwaite to the Blencathra Centre – 8.5 miles (41.3 total)

Last year Rob and I walked out of Braithwaite on the main road, so slowly that I fell asleep! For 12 months I told myself that the turning point of my second attempt would be reaching Braithwaite in the same time as last year, but not stopping in the CP as long and running along the main road!

Well, I was behind on the clock due to my uncomfortable night, but I did only stay in the CP about 15/20 minutes and I was determined to run on that road!

The positivity which swept through me was immediate. And I mean I could actually feed off the energy; it was stark proof of what positive thinking can do. Because I also had in mind my disaster at Dalemain last year – even if I got there slower I wouldn’t stay as long and I would definitely be in front of last year’s times after that! At that exact moment on the A66, it was far from certain whether I would reach Dalemain before the 11.30am 50 mile race start, but I would definitely still have a chance to be out on course before they’d done their four mile loop at midday.

Just before the steep climb up to Latrigg Car Park through the woods out of Keswick, I actually stopped to send Leanne another text to tell her that I was on my way and feeling loads better, so she was to ignore my earlier miserable text! (This was approx 4am so I’m pretty certain she hadn’t seen the original text yet!)

Morning light began to break as I climbed the steep track – just as it had last year – but this time I wasn’t sleepy! I had passed some runners on the road and now, up ahead, I was catching two more. It turned out to be the two Emma’s who I had spoken to previously. I could hear them nattering and thought that was quite convenient, as I had a bit of a plan to try and listen to some music on the terrific path around the Glenderaterra valley. This had worked a treat last year to arouse me from my slumber, so I thought I might give it another go this year. As we finally got to the top of the steep track, Emma Burnbanks stopped to take her headtorch off. I said ‘Hi’ again as I marched past. The other Emma carried on to a gate and waited for me to go through. ‘Thanks!’ I said, making sure to talk to her as I remembered she’d not been happy with the ignorant guys earlier in the race!

I assumed she was waiting for the other Emma, but no, she closed the gate and tagged along. We had a brief chat about how it was going and I asked if she was waiting for the other Emma. ‘Nah, I think she’s dropping out at the next CP, she says she’s had enough.’ That was a shame, as she seemed to be doing just fine. (She did drop out there, results confirmed later.) As we chatted, I told Emma of my plan to put on some music once we were through the car park, as the path was nice and it might keep me awake.

‘Don’t do that, talk to me instead!’ she said. ‘Erm no thanks! [I thought in my head] I’m off in a minute!’

‘We could stick together to the next checkpoint. If it’s going well to there, we could probably team up all the way to the end!’ she said.

My eyes must have nearly popped out of my head on stalks, but I held it together quite well I thought. ‘There’s more chance of me winning this race than there is of me teaming up with anyone!’ [again, I thought in my head.] ‘Haven’t you read my blog? Don’t you understand? I’m a solo runner, I don’t do chatting! STICKS DOESN’T SHARE RACES!’ [still in my head.]

‘Er, yeah OK,’ was my actual meek reply!

Anyway, we chatted about this and that. As soon as we crested the hill into the car park, Emma said ‘Let’s run this bit,’ so we did. We walked the uphills and then one of us would suggest a run to a certain point, and on we went. We tagged the unmanned dibber at the end of the valley and dropped down to cross the stream before following the same pattern on the opposite side of the valley. It was surprisingly pleasant, this being sociable lark! But the main positive was that, as soon as the path allowed, one of us would suggest to the other that we ran, so the pace was satisfyingly high throughout. If I’m being honest, I suspect the running was often at Emma’s suggestion, but that suited me fine because I was easily feeling the best I had felt all race.

As we began the descent into the Blencathra Centre CP, the official filmmakers appeared on the path ahead. They filmed us running past but also had their drone flying in the valley alongside us. We made the final cut of the film too! Click the link below to watch – the whole thing is only six minutes long and captures the event perfectly. Emma and I feature at 2m57s, taken from the drone shot.

Click here for the Official Montane Lakeland 2019 film

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Screenshot from the official film of Emma and I making our way down to CP7 in the Glenderaterra Valley, approx 5.45am. Approaching 12 hours into the race, 41 miles done.

We reached CP7 at just after 6am after 12hrs 18mins of official racing. I grabbed a brew and tried some flapjack. I’m not entirely sure what I did eat here as I was so distracted by the whisky on offer! It was a heavy metal theme – the same as last year, but that suited me fine as they are nearly always playing something like AC/DC or Led Zep which defo keeps you awake after a sleepless night. Emma came back from the bathroom and wasn’t really bothered about eating (If I’d known then what I know now…!) so she fairly hurried me out of the door.

My plan to go it alone appeared to be in tatters. But on the plus side, Emma seemed good company and if she was going to make me run faster and hurry me out of checkpoints, this could just work!

Leg 7 – Blencathra Centre to Dockray – 7.7 miles (49 in total.)

It started to rain for the first time while we were in the CP. It looked bright enough to be just a shower so we tried to save time by not putting our waterproofs on. This lasted about 500 metres once outside as we realised it wasn’t just a shower, it was quite heavy. So we stopped under a tree by the road to don waterproofs for the first time. Like last year, I’d forgotten to give my watch a charge at Braithwaite but with the charger handy in my waist belt it was easy to attach the charging dock to my watch and carry on. (I had a right old palaver last year trying to do this! Another sign that I was more mentally switched on this year.)

Again, we adopted a run/walk strategy with one of us (usually Emma) suggesting a run to the next tree, or junction, or incline – whatever feature was available to inspire us to not fall into the trap of just walking.

We crossed the road at a manned CP – usually you backtrack under a bridge here to avoid the busy A66. It’s done for safety purposes obviously, the organisers don’t want runner-shaped-roadkill splattered in the gutter, but I for one was very pleased the path was closed and we were diverted across the road – much quicker!

For a time we were joined by a very quirky guy who yo-yo’d in front and behind us all the way to Dockray. He was a subject of conversation for the next hour or so! But mostly it was just Emma and I knocking out a pretty decent tempo. By now we knew all there was to know about each-other’s families and I felt very comfortable being informally teamed up – who would have thought it?!

It stopped raining again, (it wouldn’t start again until Dalemain – a bonus) so we removed the waterproofs again before the pull up onto the infamous Coach Road. This is (approximately) a four mile section of long, wide track – most of which can be seen for the entire time. This can be a bit of a mental drain as it seems never ending, but we were chatting away and pushing the pace too so it seemed to pass quickly. I was making sure I was constantly topping up calories munching on whatever I had in my bag. I think it amused Emma no end the amount of snacks I was offering her! Kendal Mint Cake was still my go-to snack of the day. But it was noticeable how Emma would try everything once, but not have it again. She was really struggling to eat. Salt capsules were the only thing she would accept without question when offered.

We reached the CP at the end of the Coach Road at 14hr 37m, knocking off the leg in only slightly over two hours including the Blencathra stop. This was going well! It was 8.45am which meant we had a really good chance of reaching Dalemain around the 11.30 mark.

You have probably noticed that usually by now in a race blog I would have mentioned toilet visits – especially if I’m with Rob! But I simply hadn’t needed it. However, I felt my stomach churning a bit approaching Dockray so, despite Emma and I agreeing that this would be a quick pit stop, it was time to sit on the throne. (That’s ultra code for smelly portaloo.)

However, after five minutes of non-stop trumping but no solid transaction (too much information?) I realised that my stomach was churning not because I actually needed the toilet, but because I had been politely holding in my farts due to running with a lady who I didn’t know so well! I would not be making this mistake again!

That was five minutes wasted time, and when I emerged from the portaloo Emma was ready to go. But I hadn’t filled my water bottles, had a drink or eaten anything. I didn’t eat at the last CP other than a quick snack and the next stage is the longest of the race (10 miles) so, whilst not wanting to spend a long time in the CP, I did want to fuel up. Emma was getting frustrated as I filled my cup with soup and started perusing the sandwiches. (Probably because she was really struggling to eat and was getting annoyed at her impromptu partner troffing like a horse!) Eventually I had to tell her to just go because I wasn’t going to rush or not fuel up for a long stage. She looked at me like a wife looks at a husband in the pub who says ‘I’m just going to have one more pint with the boys, I’ll be home in ten minutes!’ and left.

I knew I wanted to eat but just didn’t fancy the savoury sandwiches. It’s so strange how one race you can crave a certain food and the next race not want it at all. But the soup was going down well and, just as I was about to give up, I saw one of the CP heroes making a huge pile of jam sandwiches! My taste buds pricked up! ‘Can I steal a handful of those, please?!’ I asked. Food choice sorted. I stuffed a couple down my throat right there, then grabbed a couple more to take with me. It was time to get to Dalemain before my self imposed 11.30 cut-off.

Leg 8 – Dockray to Dalemain Estate – 10.1 miles (59.1 in total.)

Target: 2hrs 45m to make it to Dalemain, the chase was on and I felt gooooood! The first two miles are pretty steep down hill. This can be quite painful on the legs so you have to be careful, but it was great to be running non-stop, eating jam sarnies as I went and still racking up a couple of ten minute miles. I pretty much farted my way down the entire hill too!

Something did feel unusual though. I was all by myself approaching one of the most scenic spots on the course, but something was nagging away at me inside. Was I actually missing my running buddy? This can’t be! I love being my myself! But, as I charged down through Aira Force towards Ullswater, there was no doubt about it – with every corner I turned I was glancing up the path to see if Emma was in view yet.

After the fast two mile descent, the course swings North at Ullswater (I nearly missed the turn at the bottom of Aira Force as I flew along, it was a good job I had just overtaken some runners who called me back – my only navigational error of the entire race) and climbs steadily upwards for a number of miles. This affords a quite spectacular view down the lake towards Glenridding and Patterdale if you look over your shoulder. As I climbed, I was momentarily startled by one of the official race photographers hidden in the head high bracken. Still, it was worth the shock, as he took probably my favourite ever official race photograph…

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On a mission! Powering towards Dalemain with the stunning backdrop of Ullswater. Glenridding immediately behind my head. What a photo!

Whilst climbing, I had spotted Emma up ahead rounding Yew Crag with a couple of other runners. I was going really well at this point as the path continues to generally climb, but it still took a couple more miles to make the catch. I don’t think Emma expected to see me again but I think we were both pleased to be back together. She was clearly making me faster and if she was going to continue to bully me out of checkpoints then I should be using that as a positive, not a negative! I informed her that, from now on, I could only apologise for the fact that I wasn’t going to be holding wind in any longer! (She didn’t want me wasting time in toilets after all!)

Through the course of the morning she had been filling me in on her partner Tom and their boys – all good runners by the sounds of it. Tom, currently injured, is ultra-competitive and she told me how he would be really pleased to see us really pushing each other on – he didn’t like people not pushing themselves!

As we rounded a corner approaching Priest’s Crag, near the Quiet Site above Ullswater, a little dog rounded the corner in front of us. There were quite a few morning ramblers out on the paths by now. Suddenly, Emma said ‘That’s my dog!’ Huh?! But, sure enough, it was! Round the corner came Tom and their boys, greeted with wide smiles, hugs (for Emma) and handshakes (for me!). She had only just told me that one of her boys had won the Lakeland 1 kids race the night before so I offered him my number and asked if he wanted to finish for me!

Eventually this section stops climbing when you hit the tarmac a couple of miles before the village of Dacre. From here, it is about 3.5 miles to Dalemain, mostly on tarmac, all runnable. It was really useful to have a teammate here as the road can feel to stretch on forever, so we made a pact to run all the way to Dacre once we crested the mini road summit. I rang Leanne here. It was great to speak to her. They were having a nice time in Pooley Bridge, Rob was going well and had just been through, which was good to hear. It looked like 11.30 for Dalemain was on the cards and I assured her that I would be out of that blasted CP before any 50 runners came past. I could tell she was as excited as I was; this was going well!

The run into Dalemain was uneventful but we maintained our pace most of the way. Emma’s family surprised us again by Dacre Castle but we were cross – it was the first time we’d had a break from running in over two miles and we’d been spotted by her family walking! ‘Get moving!’ was Tom’s cry from behind us as we headed down into the Dalemain Estate!

We arrived in the courtyard at 11.25! I was made up! It wasn’t quite the rousing ovation Rob and I got last year when we arrived at 11.15 to be greeted by hundreds of 50 runners and their families – at this time they were all massed in the start pen at the bottom of the field, so the CP itself was pretty quiet. But now the mini-race-within-a-race-dropbag CP challenge was on (as described at the start of the blog.) We set ourselves a target of 11.50 to be back on the course. Emma had to chivvy me on a bit; she couldn’t eat the stew even though she tried, whilst I was eating as though someone was about to steal it from me! (I didn’t eat here last year and it really cost me.) But I was glad she was gently nagging me, it was exactly what I needed. Don’t get comfy, don’t relax. At 11.48 exactly, we were back on the course! I was buzzing!

Leg 9 – Dalemain Estate to Howtown – 7.1 miles (66.2 in total.)

As previously described, it had started raining heavily while we were in the CP. With the occasional brief break, rain would be the general weather of the day for the next eight hours. So waterproof jackets were back on, rendering the clean, dry tops wet and sweaty pretty quickly. But the weather was not going to be a factor for me this year; I’d learned that lesson last year. If it was to rain for the rest of the race, so-be-it. This is the Lake District, there is no point expending energy worrying about the weather.

Emma had mentioned Fusedale with increasing frequency on the last stage, and was talking about it again now – in terms of how she wasn’t looking forward to it and how hard it would be. I wasn’t sure why this was the case; she’d completed the 50 on a couple of occasions and finished in good times too. We were on familiar territory for her now and she was travelling so strongly. I reassured her that we would simply march it out and move on.

Another feature of conversation with Emma was just how many people she knew in the ultra community! There wasn’t a CP we had been through where she didn’t know the people running it or volunteering in it. Now, as the lead 50 runners started to pass by the road crossing, I was amazed by how many of them she knew, or knew her, or she could give me a potted history of their previous races. On the approach to Pooley Bridge there is one little single file section before the path opens up into the village. It was quite awkward here as the lead 50 runners were flying through and it was tricky getting out of the way of them!

One of them was Steven, a parent from my daughter’s school, making his ultra debut. He was absolutely flying, as he had been in all his training runs. I wished him luck and hoped, to myself, that he wasn’t setting off too fast. He finished in fine style, so he clearly wasn’t overdoing it!

My excitement was building with every step towards Pooley Bridge to see Leanne and the girls. This particular plan had worked to perfection – them not coming to Dalemain so that I would leave quicker was simple but so effective. I knew how excited Leanne would be to see me feeling so positive – especially after how broken I was last year at the same point.

Crossing the bridge, I knew which coffee shop they had had to camp in to escape the still heavy rain. I think the picture below perfectly sums up how I felt seeing them all!

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The joy of seeing Leanne and the girls! I wish I had a picture looking the other way so you could see the equal looks of happiness from them!

I stopped for a moment for a hug and a chat, but there was no way we were going to waste too much time and Leanne, like the top running coach she is, was soon shooing me away up the path to get on with it!

‘Your family is lovely!’ said Emma. ‘Your wife just gave me a hug!’

Thus I spent the next ten minutes, on the steep climb out of Pooley Bridge, filling Emma in on how understanding my wife has been down the years when supporting me and how, when I was at my fittest and fastest, I would usually find myself finishing every race I did with the leading lady – to the point where Leanne thought I must be doing it on purpose!

As we climbed up the road it was great to be caught and passed by Jon Cadman from Wolves. He’d injured his calf a few weeks previously and hadn’t really run since. I suspect that even at just 6ish miles into the 50 race, this was probably the furthest he’d run in weeks! He went on to finish well again; I’m really pleased for him. Does the 100 beckon…?

We climbed up to the path junction before making the turn southwards on another one of my favourite sections of path. The route gently descends in rolling style alongside the Eastern shore of Ullswater all the way down to Howtown, which is visible in the distance throughout – a white painted house is prominent from a good distance away. We were still using our run/walk strategy and we were still moving well although, looking back, the first signs of struggle for Emma were there as the banter was drying up and she was still muttering the word ‘Fusedale’ like it was a haunted castle in a horror movie!

Julie from the running club passed as we descended. It was her debut on the 50 too but she is one determined runner; she looked to have started strongly and I had no doubt she would finish well. (She did!)

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Some things in life appear guaranteed. One of these is that, in certain parts of the Lakeland 100, it must clearly hammer down all the time. The Howtown Bobbin Mill is one such place! The rain had actually eased on our approach to Howtown but, just like last year, as I dropped down the steep road into the CP, the heavens absolutely opened again!

This was the one checkpoint where, for once, I knew the CP manager and Emma didn’t! Julie Lavery was her usual cheerful self and I think she was really pleased that I, in stark contrast to last year, was equally cheerful! She wasn’t entirely certain how her husband, Matthew, was doing in the race but he was definitely still moving. Last year, he’d had to drop out injured at Dockray, so I had my fingers crossed he would get round this time.

Our speedy CP work at Dalemain had paid off! We had gone from 15 minutes behind my mock schedule to 30 minutes up in one go! 19hrs 43 minutes into the race. I knew my family, watching the tracker at home with my time estimations in hand, would be made up to see me smashing the times all of a sudden! I had allowed three hours for the next leg – the killer Fusedale/Haweswater stage, but we were definitely going to be quicker than that now – or so I mistakenly thought. One thing was for certain; whatever happened, I would beat 24 hours at Mardale Head – the time I arrived there last year. The positive vibes were still in full flow – let’s get going!

Emma had gone inside to the bathrooms. I, for once, was going to be ready first! I quickly got my bottles filled and munched a few of the goodies on offer outside. Inside was comfortable and warm – I wasn’t making that mistake! As I stood waiting, Jeff McCarthy appeared at the growing dibber queue as the main body of 50 runners began to appear. It was great to see him and he looked really well. We had a quick joke about the rain before I heard my name being called.

It was Emma at the door. ‘There’s a room in the back and it’s pretty quiet. Let’s go in and get a brew.’

I was not expecting that. I thought I was the one who messes around at CPs while Emma pesters me to get going? I was dying to set off right there and then. Still, the next stage is a big one, we were going to be out in the rain for a good three hours, maybe a brew wasn’t a bad idea. Emma was clearly in need of a drink – more importantly she was in need of food – and I at least owed it to her to give a bit of moral support. Inside we went.

Emma looked tired and was still fretting about the Fusedale climb. Again I told her, ‘We just tap it out one step at a time. It’s not going to be quick but it doesn’t matter, in an hour we’ll be over the top.’ I fetched every bit of food on offer for her to try, but she pretty much wretched at everything. I have a well established reputation at work (and elsewhere) as being a feeder! I was not used to watching someone literally unable to eat. Still, she got a few calories in at least and the hot drink at least made her look the right colour again.

It was time to face Fusedale.

Leg 10 – Howtown to Mardale Head – 9.4 miles (75.6 in total.)

It was still hosing down outside – was it ever thus?! We climbed up the road from the CP, trying to give encouragement to those passing in the opposite direction down to the sanctuary of the Bobbin Mill.

After the initial tarmac climb there is a brief respite on the flat valley bottom before the long, seemingly-never-ending, climb begins in earnest. Once we hit the single file track I noticed pretty quickly that, when I was in front, Emma was dropping behind a bit. I know from experience how dispiriting this can be and, given that the entire climb is on a single track, I suggested to Emma that she go in front and I would walk behind at her pace instead.

This definitely worked and we steadily began to climb up the valley head. The single track was definitely an issue now for two reasons. Firstly, we were in the thick of the 50 runners; some of whom were feeling tired for the first time at this point. Overtaking is impossible, so we were forced to travel slowly at the speed dictated by the person at the front of the inevitable snakes of humanity that formed. Secondly, now that a good few hundred runners had passed before us, the single file track was being reduced to a sludgy, muddy mess. This did not help either stability or energy levels.

Onwards we climbed. It doesn’t matter how many times you do Fusedale, it always goes on forever. It was soooo slow, but there was nothing we could do. Overtaking would only burn unnecessary energy. Long term, it was probably better to go slow upwards, and make up for it on the descent. Emma was going well. The talking had stopped completely, but she was climbing well. I was reasonably confident that, on reaching the top, she would be pleased to have the climb behind her and would recover a bit of her mojo.

By the time we crested the top of High Kop – the highest point in the race, we had been in the clouds for some time, but at least the rain had relented. It was quite eerie but it always feels good to top out there. We ran a little bit of the grassy top, it was wetter than last year but still dry in comparison to the usual boggy standard. As we began the steep grassy descent towards Haweswater my legs were running away with me again. I was a little startled when I realised how far behind Emma had quickly dropped. I think this was the moment that I realised she was in genuine danger of not finishing. As we passed through the horrible, rocky, muddy bracken covered section at the bottom of the descent I saw that she looked ashen – like I must have looked at the same point last year when I dropped out at the next CP, in fact.

There was one comical moment in the bracken. There was a 50 runner directly in front of us. The section of path was horrible – mud covered rocks hidden by the thick foliage, but this guy must have had the worst balance ever! I didn’t know whether to laugh at his comedy efforts, or cry because I was so desperate to pass and get on with it! Eventually I spotted a gap and jumped past him – leading to the inevitable! As soon as I landed my overtake manoeuvre I knew I wasn’t going to make the corner of the path! Embarrassingly, I plopped gently in the bracken head-first while the aforementioned bloke looked on incredulously! (Probably thinking ‘That’s what happens when you go too quickly, ****head!’) I jumped up as quickly as I could and scooted ahead of him, keen to never ever make eye contact with him – ever!

We finally bottomed out onto the Haweswater path, with somewhere between three and four miles along the shore to travel to reach Mardale Head – the famous Azkabhan of my 2018 race. I’ve never liked this path, but I’d run it well in the Lakeland Trails Ultra earlier that month and I was determined that it wasn’t going to beat me this year. Mentally, I just accepted that some parts are slower and more technical than others, and that I would just knock it off without a second thought.

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off for Emma at this point. It was a major effort for her to get to Mardale Head and our pace ground to halt due to the technicality of the path, her lack of energy and the constant stepping aside to let 50 runners past. I have to admit now to my first feelings of selfishness here; I was desperate for Emma to feel better and get going but, for the first time all race, I was now watching my watch tick on knowing that I could have been at Mardale Head by now. I’d calculated that we would probably get to Mardale Head at 4.45pm, ahead of my 5.00pm schedule and an hour ahead of last year. That would give us a decent chance of a 32hour finish which was my dream ticket. Emma had originally targeted 30, I believe, though we’d realised much earlier in the day that 32/33 was more realistic.

5pm came and went. I kept encouraging Emma and, to be fair, she never stopped or complained, she just kept churning it out. I had to admire her tenacity whilst also bear in mind that I was in exactly the same situation, in the same place, last year.

‘Just get to the CP. You have to get fuel inside you, then we go again,’ was my general line of encouragement. The food was crucial now. Not stopping long at Mardale was equally crucial.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity (Haweswater does that to you!) we rounded the head of the water and dropped into the CP, dibbing in at 23hrs 26 mins. I knew I’d lost a good chunk of time there, but I was still enthused by the fact that I was over 30 minutes up on last year and I was getting the hell out of Mardale Head at the earliest opportunity! And it could be worse in Azkabhan, because at least it wasn’t raining!

We got inside the CP and got Emma a seat. Immediately it started raining! Azkabhan – I bloody knew it! I cannot help but admire the CP volunteers at Mardale. Both times I have got there it has been at peak time for the 50 runners, so the gazebos just aren’t big enough to take the sea of exhausted humanity trying to cram inside them once the rain comes. It was awful in that marquee. Emma now had every item of clothing on she owned, including winter gloves, but was shivering uncontrollably. The poor volunteers couldn’t get to their work stations because runners had filled every available space. I had to go back out into the rain to get Emma some soup. She had to eat. She got some down her, so I went and got her some more.

It was horrible outside, not quite as windy as last year, but just as wet, unpleasant and uninviting. Emma was cold, I was getting cold. This could only go one way – the nice warm drop-out bus was beckoning!

I brought Emma more soup. ‘Shall we sit here and wait for the rain to pass?’ she asked.

It was time to be firm and honest (not my strengths!) ‘Mate, I was right here last year and the same thing happened. So I dropped out. For one thing, it will never stop raining here – it is always raining here! Drink that and then we are setting off. Five minutes max, because sitting here it’s only going to get worse!’

Aside from my general concern for Emma, I knew that all of my family and friends would be watching my dot on the tracker with baited breath! After last year’s drop-out, I had to get the little number 300 dot moving out of Mardale as soon as possible before Leanne had a heart attack!

Emma mentioned dropping out. I told her how long she would have to wait here, the 90 minutes plus drive Tom would have to make to pick her up, or the four hour wait in the bus. I still felt responsible for Rob dropping out here last year, I was responsible for me dropping out here last year. I wasn’t going to let her drop out here this year.

Eventually she agreed. I told her how, if she still wanted to drop out at Kentmere, at least it was really close to Ambleside and Coniston and much easier for Tom to collect her. She’d climbed Fusedale well, she could do Gatescarth. Decision made, out into the pouring rain we went again.

‘Av that, Azkhaban!

Leg 11 – Mardale Head to Kentmere – 6.5 miles (82.1 in total.)

It was 5.45pm and we were climbing out of Mardale! I was thrilled; I knew there would be a major celebration from Leanne and close friends to see the dot on the move! There was no way I wasn’t finishing this race.

Emma, who looked beaten a few minutes before, settled straight into a metronomic pace on the immediately steep climb. This was incredible; her tenacity could not be questioned, that was for sure. I was absolutely blowing out of my backside to keep up with her from the bottom of the climb to the top! We were passing people with regularity. By now, even the 50 runners were starting to look a bit weather beaten and weary. The rain stopped briefly about half way up. It was only a brief respite before it returned on the descent, but at least it was a short break. Still Emma climbed. There is a false summit with a steep set of zigzags near the top, but we both knew it was there. 30 minutes effort, that was all that was required.

For the second big climb in a row, Emma had climbed like a woman possessed. For the second climb in a row I was sure that she had conquered her bad spell and would now power on. Unfortunately, for the second time in a row, it was the descent and flats which proved that she was simply completely out of gas.

A stage that should have taken less than two hours took us 2hrs 45 minutes. The rain had returned with a vengeance and everyone on course was soaked to the skin. After the always technical, rocky descent into Longsleddale, there is one more sharp little up and down to reach Kentmere. I think we both knew the game was up here – it was really sad.   I would run, trot or walk on to the next gate, open it, wait for Emma so she could walk straight through, close the gate, then repeat the process. I’m sure I probably offered words of encouragement, but they are a bit hollow by then for the person you are talking to, because keeping moving at all is such an effort.

I don’t want to sound like a hero here because, in fact, the opposite was actually true. With every fibre of my being I wanted to just run off at this point. Running as a pair is great when it’s going well but it’s horrible for both parties when it’s going wrong. I know loads of ultra runners who thrive on these moments, indeed they only enter ultras to help other runners in distress, but I’m not one of them! I felt great in myself, but I was soaked, I had no more clothes to put on (apart from waterproof trousers) and I was getting really cold every time I stopped to wait. I simply wasn’t moving fast enough to keep warm. There was no way I could hope to finish at that speed. I wasn’t going to abandon Emma before the Kentmere CP, I’m not that heartless, but I was going to have to get moving properly after it. Selfish? Yes, undoubtedly, but I entered this race to finish it and that was suddenly in jeopardy.

Another brief comedy moment – approaching Kentmere there are two farm tracks flanked by high walls which you cross. This is achieved by using big stepping stone stiles built into the walls! You should try getting over these after 80+ miles and 26 hours!!! I just about made it over them all with dignity in tact (four in total I think!) but there must be some runners who have to DNF right there and then because they can’t climb the stiles!

As we approached Kentmere I ran ahead to try and bag us some seats in the checkpoint. I knew there was hot food in there and suspected that, given the unrelenting wet conditions, the village hall might be full to bursting.

I wasn’t wrong. It was packed. the poor CP volunteers were having to put bin liners over the chairs to protect the cushions from the soaked runners. Yet again, I marveled at their unwavering enthusiasm and cheerfulness whilst helping the sorry, dishevelled bunch of hoboes staggering through the door!

I got a brew and got out my waterproof bottoms. I reckoned my gloves had seriously saved the day on the last stage (winter gloves – in July!) and now I was going to put on my waterproof pants. I’ve owned them for four years, bought for my first ultra where they were part of the mandatory kit. They always are mandatory kit, but I have never even thought of actually putting them on before. But I remembered last year, when all the finishers were the people dressed for winter walking while all us summer runners shivered and dropped out. I wasn’t making that mistake again!

Emma arrived. She dropped her bag and headed for the toilet. She came back with a bowl of pasta but nearly gipped everytime it got near her mouth. I felt terrible about what I knew I had to say, but it was time. I told her I’d set off up the Garburn Pass with her; she had, after all, climbed tremendously throughout, but I was determined to run the nice, gentle descent into Troutbeck to keep myself warm before it was too late. If Emma stayed with me, great, but I couldn’t afford to wait and get cold anymore. Emma asked which bits of the course I thought I could run. So I listed them – it was exactly this point which I had been considering for the last hour.

Emma had a moment, then said it was time to drop-out.  Night was about to fall again and she said that her waterproofs had failed and she too was soaked to the bone, wearing everything she had to wear. I still feel terrible now for not trying to persuade her otherwise, but I think it was the right decision at the time. I didn’t try to dissuade her at all, in fact, I went to find the CP manager to see if Emma could use the satellite phone to call Tom for a lift. As luck would have it, at that very moment a bloke came through the door saying he was in a minibus to pick up anyone dropping out. So, as simple as that, within five minutes of the discussion, Emma was out of Kentmere on a minibus. It was quite emotional saying goodbye really; it is amazing how utterly invested you become in someone else’s race – a total stranger to you a day ago feels like a close personal friend a few hours later. (She told me later how Tom had collected her from Ambleside, where she promptly had to stop the car to spectacularly throw up at the roadside! She thinks, if she’d done that earlier in the day, she might have been OK the rest of the run! She’s probably right too!)

Anyway, back in the Kentmere checkpoint – I had already scoffed my (and Emma’s) pasta, (some things never change!) I gathered my belongings as quickly as I could and headed straight for the door. It was time to knock this race off.

Leg 12 – Kentmere to Ambleside – 7.3 miles (89.4 in total.)

At first, my emotions were quite mixed. On the one hand I was so disappointed for Emma, but on the other hand I felt like a cork released from a bottle. It genuinely felt like the start of a new race. Energy-wise it was like nothing had happened. I had 23 miles to go and I felt fresh as a daisy. Straight out of the CP I was rocketing up the Garburn Pass overtaking people. I know from the race stats that I overtook 26 runners in the 100 race between Kentmere and the end, but there is no way of knowing how many 50 runners I overtook – it must have been into three figures by the end though. What I do know is that, between Kentmere and Coniston, I was only overtaken by one person moving faster than me – a mad 50 runner descending down the Wrynose Pass at such a crazy speed I couldn’t tell if his legs were moving or if he was on roller skates!

One amazing thing did happen about ten minutes out of Kentmere. About half way up the pass, the cloud suddenly broke and revealed a stunning, clear blue sky! I couldn’t believe it – I’d finally put my bloody waterproof bottoms on for the first time ever and the sun had come straight out! Still, I wasn’t complaining, for the last hour of daylight we were treated to normal weather like normal people in a normal place doing something normal. I did wonder if this would have helped Emma out if she’d carried on but, to be honest, unless she was feeding through photosynthesis, it probably wouldn’t.

I was soon over the top and onto the descent. I’d warmed up nicely on the climb – too much in waterproofs in the sun really. At last, a decent running track. I actually had to force myself to walk some of the steeper bits; I didn’t want to go completely crazy and blow-up before the finish now. I’d lost a lot of time since Howtown, but it never really mattered, this was all about the finish and I still knew that, barring accident or injury, I was definitely going to finish.

Night crept up quickly. As I approached the main road before Troutbeck I knew we passed into some trees which would be dark, so I paused to get the headtorch out of my bag. I even replaced the battery with a spare as, by my reckoning, I was pretty much going to be going right through the second night to finish now.

Once out on the road I knew I had a phone signal, so I rang to fill Leanne in on the events of the last few hours and mostly to let her know that, despite the apparent slowing pace of the dot, I was actually feeling great and – now solo – back to normal speed again. There are a couple of real ‘house envy’ properties on the road up through Troutbeck – I nearly always ring her at this point if I’m out in the lakes. She said she’d see me in Ambleside, that my Mum and Dad would be there too, and that Rob was on his way to Tilberthwaite broken and battered, but still going – this was great news too.

I hung up and put my head down to power walk the hill through Troutbeck when, suddenly, Leanne was right there in front of me! So were Mum and Dad! Ooohhh she is sneaky! Although she did say it was weird when they were watching the dot approaching them on the tracker, when I suddenly rang up! Rather bizarrely, there were also three cows stood on the corner cheering, which did make me wonder if the hallucinations had begun!

A quick hello, then onwards and upwards through the woods into Ambleside. I was still feeling good, power walking the ups and trotting the rest. By now it was 10.30pm and it was death march time for some of the 50 runners. There was lots of good natured banter as I ran past between the red numbers (100 runners) and blues (50s). Generally, what would happen is I would catch a group of runners and wish them well – the names on the back helps you to do this. Then I would get a cheery ‘Well done, you’re going well, keep it up!’ before I passed and they spotted my red number! Then I’d get a ‘Bloody hell! How come he’s moving like that when he’s done 90 miles? Bloody show off!’

I arrived in Ambleside bang on last orders, just as I keep getting told it’s best to do in other blogs! Even though I’d been told about it, it was still lovely to get so many cheers in the town, both from supporters of other runners and the ‘generally inebriated around town’ folk as well!

Leanne, Mum and Dad were there to welcome me into the checkpoint too, it really was lovely. 15.5 miles to go, 28hrs 54mins on the race clock, you could barely keep the smile off my face.

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Blurred ‘cos I’m moving so fast… Arriving at Ambleside CP, 10.55pm. I could have had a pint in a pub, but that’s outside assistance. (Photographic proof that I wore my waterproof bottoms for one stage of one ultra. too.)

Into the checkpoint. It was my plan to try and eat something here, as I didn’t plan on stopping in either of the last two CPs other than to fill bottles. There was Seabrook salt and vinegar crisps (made in Bradford, the best crisps in the world) and tomato soup too! Magic. I’d been waiting all day for tomato soup! The only problem was the room was hotter than the soup – and the soup was very hot! It was boiling in there and I started to feel pretty rotten in there quite quickly. It was time to get out straight away. I quickly took the waterproof bottoms off and got ready to leave again.

Leanne appeared and I wondered how she’d blagged her way into the CP! But it turned out that someone had asked if anyone could offer mercy lifts for retired runners back to Coniston, so Leanne came in to collect three people I think and take them back to base camp.

I’d read so many accounts of people hitting the wall after Ambleside that I was determined not to be one of them. I’d not eaten as much as I wanted, but it was time to move.

Leg 13 – Ambleside to Chapel Stile – 5.6 miles (95 in total)

The race was now easily broken down. One steep up and down, then flat into the Chapel Stile CP. Then 10 miles to go. Done. Then bed!

As soon as I left the CP it started raining! I couldn’t believe it, I’d only just taken my waterproof bottoms off! Still, I warmed up quickly on the climb and it turned out to be a brief passing shower. I was suddenly really sleepy. I’m sure it was due to the heat of the CP, but also it was probably the excitement of reaching Ambleside followed by the reality of having to carry on. It probably explains why people hit the wall here, but I really couldn’t keep my eyes open!

My legs were still going well but my brain was shutting down. I made it up to the crest of the shoulder of Loughrigg and then ran as much of the descent as I safely could. This woke me up a bit. Then Mum and Dad were there waiting for me at the Skelwith Bridge hotel, which helped to bring me round a bit. But once back on the flat Elterwater path I was weaving around again. It seemed like ages since we’d last done a flat bit of path! The sleep induced hallucinations came thick and fast now as my headtorch made strange shapes of the moving shadows of the trees. Stormtroopers. There’s always Stormtroopers. But there was also a very vivid set of four goblins fishing on the path, ghosts hanging from trees, a huge naked man lying by the tarn. All in a normal night’s running!

I was still overtaking though as I zig-zagged my way along the track and Elterwater village was soon in sight. I’d heard a lot about the infamous Chapel Stile CP with it’s open fire pits and couches – how it tempts in runners who promptly get comfy, fall asleep and are never heard of again! It was an airport theme this year. I was quite looking forward to it but I had decided not to stop, other than to fill water bottles if needed.

I approached and, water bottle in hand, dibbed in. Exactly 31 hours, unbeknownst to me. Yet I still got tempted inside! I decided that I might need a minute to wake up before the last ten miles. The stew smelled lovely and it would give me chance to find my headphones and use music to wake me up on the next section.

It was at this point I realised I’d left my spork/foon (whatever) at Kentmere! Bloody hell. I had a go at drinking the stew from the paper bowl but it wasn’t happening. At least that hastened my decision to get going again! Chapel Stile, you nearly tempted me in – but I wasn’t stopping now!

Leg 14 – Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite – 6.5 miles (101.5 in total)

1am. I put on some music as I left but, to be honest, I never really got comfortable listening to it at night. It only lasted three songs before I turned it off again. I know the Langdale valley path really well but I still felt it was best to have all my senses, hearing included, available to me alone in the Lake District at night.

I also knew the section of path opposite Stickle Ghyll, passing above the National Trust campsite, was going to be wet and horrible and it didn’t disappoint! The track was clear enough but, like Fusedale, had been mushed to a messy pulp by the previous runners. In the dark with a headtorch it looked like a solid track, but it was just mulch. The pace slowed quite a bit as I slipped and slid my way across the hillside. The two or three tall stiles took a bit of negotiating too!

Once on the Side Pike switchbacks I got going again and continued my lone quest to pass every runner left out on course. I ran quite nicely through the woods on the lovely path alongside Blea Tarn. I was pleased not to have the music on as two owls were clearly having a right old chat in the trees above me, (probably asking what all the nutters with lights on their heads were doing below them) – it was quite an ethereal moment considering I was nearly 100 miles and 32 hours into a running race!

Once you emerge from the woods, there is quite a technical section alongside a beck and then a less technical, more outright pain-in-the-arse section up to meet the Wrynose Pass road. I was suddenly aware that the only thing which would now stop me finishing was breaking my ankle making a stupid mistake. So I was extremely slow and cautious in this section, so determined was I not to cock it up at this stage.

There is an unmanned dibber checkpoint at the top of the road junction to make sure that no-one cuts the corner. As I approached catching another group of runners, we were guided in by some little fairy lights! It was also very apparent that, unless I was hallucinating again, the dibber was very much manned! A big chap, not unlike a shaven Hagrid, held out the dibber to make sure we didn’t forget the task in hand. His little dog was friendly too. It turns out this guy is not an official volunteer, he just appears every year because he loves it so much! And he sets the lights up too! Amazing! I did wonder, when I first saw the lights, whether Marc had finally gone soft and marked the course!

As I dropped steeply down the road (passed by the lightning 50 runner) I was aware that the soles of my feet were a bit sore. That was literally the first pain I’d felt all day, aside from knowing I’d clattered my left big toe on rocks on the very first descent of the race, all that time ago near Seathwaite. (Was it the same race? The same day? The same week? It seemed a lifetime ago!) The steep tarmac didn’t help I suppose. I also guess we would pass the official 100 mile mark somewhere here? My watch always adds distance on in CPs so is never the most reliable of distance measurers.

Next up was the little climb over to Tilberthwaite. Every other time I have done this path it has really dragged but, on this night of all nights, I was so high on finish line fever that nothing was going to dampen my spirits.

And thus began the drop into Tilberthwaite and the view of the final checkpoint lights across the valley. If you looked up high enough, there was also a string of headtorch lights cresting the final col to drop into the Coniston mines valley. I have to say this was quite an emotional moment; the first of a few to come. I had thought so long and hard about what it would be like to see those lights, the sense of knowing you were one more pit stop from home, that I definitely enjoyed a little self-satisfied moment there. This was exactly how I’d pictured it; alone on a star lit night in the lakes, feeling really good physically and mentally. Too good to be true really, but I felt I’d earned it.

Round the valley road I went to dib in at Tilberthwaite. 101.5 miles gone, one big mother of an up-and-down to go! 33hrs 29 mins suddenly seemed a long time, but it wasn’t about that. I felt great and I was going to enjoy this run to the very end.

‘What can we get you?’ asked one of the fantastic volunteers. There was all sorts of goodies available, including cheese toasties on an open fire pit I think! But, personally, I was staggered to see how many runners were hanging around here. ‘You all know there’s only 3.5 miles to go, don’t you?!’ I thought in my head!

‘Nothing thanks, I’m straight out of here!’ is what I actually said! Next stop Coniston!

Leg 15 – Tilberthwaite to Coniston – 3.5 miles (105 in total.)

To be fair to the runners spread-eagled at CP14 (or CP7 for the 50 runners) I can appreciate why they might want to stop and gather themselves for a moment. The last 3.5 miles of the LL100 could not be much harder – if there is a tougher final 5k in a 100 mile race in this country I’d like to see it! (And that’s without the fact that, technically, you’ve already done your 100 miles!)

Straight up out of the car park, keep going up, then a stinging, technical mile descent (which catches a lot of people out) before a mile of tarmac descent allows a bit of respite to finish. It’s tough on the legs. The steep staircase out of the car park is re-named Jacob’s Ladder in honour of the child of a runner/volunteer who is suffering with a childhood cancer. There is a fine/toll/charge of £1 for all runners to climb the ladder, but being kind souls (and thinking of weight) most runners drop a note in instead, as did I.

I do think though, that the climb has a reputation based on the first five or ten minutes. There’s the steps, then a steep path through the old quarry and even a famous section of all fours scrambling to negotiate but, once you are above the quarry, the climb is actually gentle and kind underfoot, (aside from the fact that it was churned up mud by the time I got there!) To be fair though, it must be hell if you are dead on your feet, but that was not a concern of mine as I happily floated up on the crest of a wave.

I’d waited 18 months for this and I was extremely fortunate to be well enough physically to actually enjoy it. I’d set myself a new mini target of making sure I got into Coniston in the dark. For some reason I felt a night finish was a better result than a finish the next morning in daylight – even if the difference was only 30 minutes!

Eventually the path levelled off at the top and suddenly was dropping away below me. I was looking down at Coniston. Or rather I should have been, were it not for a perfect cloud inversion! It was amazing! I tried to take a picture (my first picture of the entire race!) but it was too dark to take.

My awe and wonder only lasted a second though. The descent is pretty technical and slippery at the top – this was the reason I wanted the shoes with new grips! – so, as soon as I began the descent, I dropped into the cloud and suddenly couldn’t see a thing! Headtorches and fog/cloud don’t mix, you see. The light of the torch reflects straight back at you from the water particles (did I sound like a proper scientist then?) reducing vision to precious little. Yet again I was overcome with the fear of running 103 miles on a 100 mile race, then breaking my leg in the last two miles!

Bit by bit I inched down, still time to overtake some runners on the way and then, thankfully, just as I reached the s-bend that marks your return to civilisation and solid paths, the clouds cleared like they’d never been there! A quick glance at my stopwatch told me I’d been going for 34 hrs 40 minutes. There was no way that clock was going past 35 hours, plus it was still dark (competitive to the end) so I set off at a rate of knots on the final glory mile and a bit back into the village, still overtaking as I went.

I was so grateful that I’d had this opportunity to enjoy the entire run. I was so lucky that, aside from a dodgy couple of stages right at the start (Seathwaite to Wasdale) and the unfortunate Emma running out of steam, I’d barely had a single problem all run. It was slower than I thought but I genuinely didn’t, and still don’t, care about the time. This race was solely about the finish. It was learning my lessons from last year – ultra running will never be a perfect science – and physically and mentally removing any barriers to finishing this race.

There are so few ultras that I have finished in as good a condition as I was in as I entered Coniston village. If I’d been made to carry on, I could have done. (I wouldn’t have liked it, but I could have!) Mum and Dad were on the corner by the pub; the marshal panicked ‘cos he thought I was going to turn left instead of right on the main road! But to be fair, my Mum and Dad totally failed to recognise me for the third time that night, so they couldn’t tell him what I was doing! Quick hug with them, then past the garage and down the road to the school and finish line. It was 4.50am but there was Leanne, Hannah, Nancy and Lottie all cheering me in! What a moment! The girls all joined me to cross the line and I pushed Lottie in the pram. Jeff McCarthy was there too; unbelievable given that he’d completed the 50 a few hours ago and should have been tucked up in bed! How amazing that he was there to film us crossing the line – it would have been even more amazing if he’d actually pressed ‘record’ so that we could all see it later! (Sorry, Jeff – I couldn’t resist that!)

Leanne, Mum and Dad were soon there too – special moments. They could then make their way into the marquee as every runner is announced into the finish in official style – a nice touch which is really appreciated after all that effort. It seemed a little strange to have finally finished (a bit like writing this blog!) but it was great to have everyone there to share the moment. Phew. #LakelandLegend at last!

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#Lakeland Legend. 34hrs 51mins 32secs. 153rd place. 462 starters. 265 finishers.

I got to chat to friend Denise in the finish pen. Unfortunately she’d dropped out of the 50 this year but she was/is an existing #legend so it wasn’t her a-race this year; she wasn’t too disappointed. One thing that did disappoint us was looking at the live tracker in the marquee. At that very moment, Matthew Lavery’s dot was just approaching Ambleside and that, unfortunately, meant that he would be timed out at that point. Such a shame to be beaten by the clock as opposed to injury or fatigue. But at least he knows he can do it now – a bit of extra speed and he will soon become a 100 legend to add to his 50 legend status.

It felt very strange to sit and eat and not feel like I should stuff it in my face quick and get going again! But it was so nice to be relaxed and content and to share the moment with the family.

It wasn’t too long before I was tucked up in bed with a brew. I’m not going to go into the detail of the shower I had and the horrendous things Leanne had to clean for me as I was suddenly unable to bend over or, really, stand up at all! Poor Leanne – her supporting role still wasn’t over as I convalesced over the next few days!

Rob and I were finally reunited the next morning. He was battered but on the mend, although he did require a couple of hospital visits in the days afterwards! It may be quite some time before we call each other by our actual names again – ‘Legend’ it will simply be for at least the near future!

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‘Morning Legend!’ Morning to you, Legend!’

Problems since? Well, just my feet really. They were fine for 99 miles, but they take a hammering ultimately. Once your socks are removed you find things you didn’t know were there. An infected big toe has meant I have only run 20 miles all August, but I was happy not to run and just rest. Both feet were swollen for a number of days afterwards, but I have no long lasting effects and need to get back running in September.

Just for the medical aficionados amongst you, here is a slideshow of my feet recovering. Please don’t look if you have just eaten.

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There is so much more I’d like to say, but I’ve kept you long enough. I’ll save it for the ‘Things I learned running 105 miles in the Lakes’ blog. If you have any sense, you won’t bother reading it!

So there you have it. Nearly in real time too! I’m so sorry that’s taken you so long to read. I feel like you have earned a finisher’s medal if you got to the end of that. I needed to get it down though so I can read it back when I’m old – as I might never do another running race ever again!

Over and out!

Sticks

#LakelandLegend

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One thought on “2nd time lucky – knocking off the Lakeland 100.

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