Practise Makes Perfect – Nailing the 2022 Lakeland 100

Celebrating my surprise pre-midnight finish with my support team! Leanne, Nancy, Lottie (front – tired!) and Hannah.

‘The harder I practise, the luckier I get.’ – Gary Player & Arnold Palmer (Golfers. They both used the quote although both, apparently, stole it from elsewhere!)

Just for once, I have struggled with where to start for this race write-up. I suspect that is because I can normally critically analyse my effort and constructively break-down where future improvements can be made. Maybe I am just not as comfortable describing a perfect (just about!) race where the vast majority of things went well. You never stop learning in ultra-running and, once again, I learned a lot from this race. However, this time, I learned by – it turns out – planning an effective, realistic strategy and then implementing it efficiently on race day. It doesn’t matter what distance or race you are running, it’s not often you get to say that.

In 2018, when I DNF’d my first Lakeland 100 attempt at 75 miles, I opened my blog with a lengthy introduction stating that I neither wanted sympathy for what happened as I wasn’t ill or injured when I dropped out, nor did I want congratulatory ‘Oh, 75 miles is great, you still did brilliantly,’ comments because, whatever you think, I still failed to finish and I didn’t really have a decent excuse. In 2019, when I did finish, there were that many things that went ‘wrong’, or proved to be significant challenges, that it was easy to write about the race as a celebration of success but with much to learn.

So, where to start this time?

Let’s just start with the Lakeland 100 facts:

The Race – A 105 mile clockwise loop of the Lake District, starting and finishing in Coniston, with 22,500 feet of climbing and a 40 hour time limit.  

2018 – DNF 75 miles, 24 hours in. Very fit on the day, but Lakeland 100 inexperience showed and I was not mentally prepared for the struggle in awful weather.

2019 – Finished in 34 hours 51 minutes. Not fit, injured most of year and not a fast time. But I was mentally ready this time and battled through in, again, awful wet weather.

2022 – (spoiler alert) Finished in 29 hours 42 minutes. Course PB by 5 hours 9 minutes. Both physically and mentally well-prepared. Used splits aiming for 32hrs 30mins but hoped, if it went really well, to possibly break 31 hours. Did not even comprehend or compute that sub-30 was possible. Didn’t even know I’d broken 30 hours when I finished! (Details to follow!)

Hopefully, the bare facts above give a little insight into how well this race went for me. So, the question is: how? What did I do right in preparation, what did I do in race that worked so well, and what do I need to take into my future races?

Winter and Spring Training.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write a blog for 15 months – post-COVID normality of life kicked back in big style. So much for us (as a nation) learning about work/life balance in lockdown and adopting healthier living styles. Nope! In fact, in education, we have to magically create a years worth of time to ‘catch-up’ lost learning! (Now fighting a huge internal battle not to launch into a ‘state of education’ rant!!!) This blog is about this race, so I will have to write about all the other races another time.

But, first lesson learned, in both 2018 and 2019 I was so intimidated by the Lakeland 100 that I immediately launched into ‘long-run Saturdays’ from January; the end result being that I was largely burned-out, or injured, or fed-up of the long runs by the time Summer came around. Another change at home was that, unfortunately (for her), lockdown marked the end of Nancy’s gymnastics – you cannot practice tumbling at that level at home and, by the time the gym re-opened, she had lost all her skills, strength and confidence. So Nancy took up horse riding instead and the perk for me was being able to return to training with Wigan Harriers. So, in 2022, I decided to not worry about Lakeland until much later in the year and just concentrate on getting fit and fast over short distances with Harriers.

This seemed to work pretty well. The pace did slowly come back, not to 2016 levels, but not so far away. It is not rocket science that running in structured training sessions with faster runners makes you better! I ran as many cross country races as possible, including the Nationals in London at the famous Parliament Hill course around Hampstead Heath. I didn’t do any road racing as such, but I did try and get to a few Parkruns, using them as 5k timetrials, managing to dip under 19 minutes on a couple of occasions, and also did the Northern Road Relay Champs with the club. All of which, I hoped, would feed into feeler fresher and stronger when running longer distances at significantly slower pace.

Obviously, I didn’t totally neglect long runs, they just weren’t a priority. Our little Harriers Vets group, the Sundae Runners, still managed to get out on many early Sunday mornings to add a few miles, and hills, to the bank, and I planned in two preparatory ultra races to get me back in the flow of long runs at inconvenient times with all the associated faff of travel, mandatory kit, inconvenient start times, checkpoint strategy, running my own race at my own pace etc.

I decided to go back to two old favourites: GB Ultras Chester 50 and Pennine Barrier 50 (both miles). Chester is always the first week or so of March and is a good mixture of flat and gently undulating hills, but what it lacks in mountainous terrain it makes up for with mud! It is also early enough in the year to give a bit of focus to any long runs I did and served as a valuable reminder that running 50 miles is hard work – even on a course that I consider to be relatively gentle. The Pennine Barrier race starts and finishes in Malham and uses the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It has moved to May time which allows for plenty of recovery before the A race. It is a deceptive course as it looks quite hard on paper but, in fact, aside from the 4 ‘big’ climbs on route (there’s only 2 big climbs really), is actually almost entirely runnable and a much faster course than you would expect.

Long story short – this blog isn’t about those races – they both went really well and I ran them faster than I thought I would in both cases: under 9 hours for Chester and roughly 10 hours 30 for Pennine Barrier; the latter might have been close to sub-10 were it not for picking up the wrong salt tablets before the race and suffering 25 miles of cramp! So I was very happy with both times and this boosted my confidence that I had made the right choice with my training ‘plan’.

Inadvertently, I stumbled into another effective strategy in the above races – proof, if it were needed, that build-up, prep races are useful for ultra racing. Because I knew I would only take 10ish hours to complete the two races, I knew I didn’t need to eat masses of food during the race. So I ensured I had the snacks that I wanted to eat in my bag with me and pretty much just used the checkpoints (CPs) for water-bottle filling, flat-coke guzzling and perhaps picking up the odd bit of food to walk away with. The result of this was pretty much no wasted time in CPs and faster race times as a direct result. The seeds of summer success were sown here.

Tuning Up for Summer.

As the pace of life returned to frantic normality, so too did the weekends fly by. My fellow Wigan Harriers club-mate, Mike Harris, had thrown his hat in the ring for the 100 and I had been promising to show him the route all year. Before we knew it, the race was two months away! So we hurriedly planned three consecutive Saturdays to travel up to the lakes and recce the course. (Much thanks to our wives: Leanne and Katherine!)

Again, I’m not going to go into detail here but I could write a full blog on each day as we had a fantastic series of runs. We split the route into 4, but knocked off the bulk of the route in 3 – Coniston to Braithwaite (33 miles), Braithwaite to Pooley Bridge (29 miles), and Pooley Bridge to Ambleside (27 miles). For me, that is the way the route naturally breaks into long chunks:

  • Coniston to Braithwaite is quite challenging, technical and, on race day, in the dark, so it is useful to see it in the light first and get a feel for the terrain.
  • Braithwaite to Pooley Bridge is largely more undulating and much more runnable.
  • Pooley Bridge to Ambleside is where the going gets tough again and the back of the race is broken.
  • Mike then checked out the last section back to Coniston (15 miles) on his own a week later.

We were very fortunate with the weather: a bit of rain on the Walna Scar Road out of Coniston on day one, before the rest of the three days being bright and sunny – and pretty hot on the last day. The only drama we had was Mike managing to catch COVID between the latter two runs which, fortunately, did not affect our recces but I cannot help but think, in hindsight, it might have affected Mike’s race a month later when he passed out in the Ambleside checkpoint while feeling otherwise fine during the race itself. A real shame – I have no doubt he will be back to finish the job sometime.

After three years away it was really useful to see the course again. I’ve said it before, reccying isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t always do it before races but, when it’s a race that is going to push you to the edge of success and failure, it really helps to not have any nasty surprises on race day and, despite my existing course knowledge, I took a lot from them. Most importantly was another invaluable bit of information which, like the CP plan, became crucial to my race day success: we took each recce at a reasonably leisurely pace but, despite this, we made really good time each day. This was mostly because there are no CPs to actually stop at when you are out by yourselves! It really made me realise that, if I ate on the go and actually took the edge off my race pace, it might actually help me to avoid the need for major breaks in the CPs on race day itself. For example, the fastest I have ever reached Braithwaite (33 miles – the hardest section of the course) in the race was 9 hours and 3 minutes. I felt Mike and I traveled extremely conservatively both up and downhill during our recce, yet we reached Braithwaite in 9 hours 7 minutes feeling reasonably fresh. This really gave me food for thought and re-enforced something I had been discovering in recent longer ultras – go slower and, as a result, race faster.

The Plan.

So the training had gone well and, most importantly, I had remained totally injury free. We even appeared to dodge the weather bullet – a blisteringly hot spell of weather hit the country about two weeks before, but the forecast for the race weekend remained neutral throughout. I was still apprehensive in the build-up, it is hard not to be for this race, but there was so much to plan that I kept busy. I also had quite a bit of data from my times on the route that I could use to try and formulate a rough time schedule. I used my splits from 2018 and 2019, as well as the times we’d run the legs in the recces, then factored in unusual events in the two races, such as excessive CP breaks, and legs where I knew I had been slow for whatever reason. From those, I came up with what I felt were realistic splits for the race which totalled 32 hours 30 minutes. (nb 32.30 was not a time I had in mind, it was the time that came about from adding up my realistic leg times.) See below:

I didn’t have time to write a pre-race blog so I only gave the cards above to family and a couple of friends who I knew would be tracking me as a guide. I didn’t feel confident enough to share them any more widely – I would look quite stupid if announced I was hoping for a time two hours quicker than my best finish and then blew up on race day!

I was reasonably confident in myself, however. By now, I had a pretty clear plan in my head. I felt that, just by being sensible in CPs, I could get to Braithwaite in 9 hours. After Braithwaite, I could be reasonably accurate with how long each leg would take me to run, and then added on 10/15 minutes for fatigue or breaks. However, I was very determined that, if I wasn’t fatigued, I was not going to stop unduly in any CPs so, secretly, I hoped I could shave time off every split after Braithwaite. Then, eat regularly regularly throughout the race and take CP snacks out onto the course with me where possible. If I could remain disciplined with these then maybe, just maybe, if everything fell into place, I could go sub-31 hours.

Basically, it boiled down to this – PROCESS OVER OUTCOME. I was going to take each leg as a separate little event in itself and try to complete each one as economically as possible, focusing on constant re-fuelling and being efficient in CPs. Focus on the process of completing each leg, not how long it was taking me. If I simply repeated this 15 times throughout the race, then the outcome (ie the race time) would take care of itself.

The last little bit of planning for the above revolved around really studying the videos and excel spreadsheets of the late, great John Kynaston. It is so sad that he is no longer with us, but I still enjoy watching his videos of various runs and races to this day. He had worked really hard to go sub-30 at Lakeland, despite not being as fast an actual runner as me, and I was fascinated as to how he did it. His CP breaks were so rapid, literally in-and-out, that he made all his time there. It is useful to say again that, with 14 CPs in the race, just 5 minutes (not long) in each CP adds up to 90 minutes of race time! That’s a long time! I compared his splits to my projections – his are incredibly detailed, and it really helped me to focus: CPs were going to make or break my race. I decided that I was going to use the voice memos app on my iPhone to record my CP time after each leg in the race; this would serve the double purpose of both making me focus on it during the race and also serve as a useful reminder of what I actually did for after the race when the memory disappears in a fog of sleep deprivation!

Race Weekend – Friday 29th July.

One major change to the other races of 2018 and 2019 was family accommodation! Every other race has involved my pal Rob, when we have booked a cottage as two families and used that as a base for the weekend. Obviously, there has been quite a jump in accommodation prices since 2019 and there was no way we could afford those for three nights! So family camping on the school field it was to be! Out came our smaller tent, which can be pitched in about 30 minutes, so that I wasn’t wasting 2 hours of energy putting the big tent up! (Plus, our big tent is pretty big and I would have felt quite embarrassed taking up half the field when space is at a premium!)

The Friday of the race is always really enjoyable, there is such a buzz at the event and it is great to catch up with friends old and new. But the tension always ratchets up a notch as well – it really is a nervous headache having to wait until 6pm to get started! Still, the tent was quickly up, the girls helped Leanne (I’m sure!) unpack while I went and got myself through kit registration. That done, I packed my bag, ate some pasta and, already, it was nearly 1pm. So I tried to get my head down for two or three hours while the family went for a walk down to the lake. Immediately, the sun came out and the tent was like an oven, making sleep near impossible! Still, I rested as best I could, then met up with Mike and another good running friend Jon, from Wolverhampton, for the race briefing at 4.30. Marc and Uncle Terry, Race Directors, were on good form, there were a few laughs and one or two surprises. Then, before you know it, you are back outside blinking in the sunlight at 5.15. Every time I have done this race, this is when it hits me hardest – 11 months of planning, all-consuming thoughts and preparation, have come to this. It’s actually time to race! Gulp.

While back at the tent getting my things together, my Mum and Dad arrived, which was great. They were stopping in Ambleside and keen to keep up with the race, despite their nerves being shredded whenever myself or my brother, Chris (Dougie) take part in these things! Then Hannah (15) produced her moment of inspiration, giving me what I thought must be a symbolic pebble from the lake side to take on my journey (clearly with no understanding of the lengths we go to not to add weight to our bags!). But no, it was worse than that, she is into all this crystal shop nonsense – you know the things, where you spend £5 on something that YOU REALLY COULD HAVE PICKED UP FOR FREE ON THE LAKE SIDE! Apparently, it had some lucky properties in this specific type of crystal/pebble (whatever) but she insisted I take it and, to be fair, the whole family were giving up valuable holiday time to support me, so in the bloody bag the bloody expensive pebble went! Obviously, as the race went so well, Hannah now insists this was purely down to her lucky bloody pebble (sorry, crystal) so I’m going to have to carry it on every bloody race from now on!

Legs 1 & 2 – Coniston, Seathwaite, Boot. 14 miles. (Est. time: 3h10m; Actual Time: 3h1m)

Aaahhhh, the old ‘Sticks likes to run by himself!’ chestnut!!! If you have read any of my blogs at all, you will know by now that I get quite (irrationally, I have to say) stressed out racing with other people. Mike is a good pal of mine and I (we?!) really enjoyed the recce runs together. But I was absolutely adamant in my mind that we were not going to be running together. This was my ‘third time lucky’ race and, selfishly, I did not want it influencing, negatively or positively, by anyone else – this was my time to see what I could do individually. My mood on this front was not helped by Marc Laithwaite completely changing his race briefing script and launching into a rousing ‘WE ARE ALL STRONGER IN THIS RACE BY STICKING TOGETHER!’ speech! Where did that come from, Marc?! I know your script – you don’t normally say that! I am not stronger together – I WANT TO BE ALONE!!!

Anyway, I suspected it may not be a problem as Mike was speaking of a cautious, sensible start to his race in the build-up, which suited me fine as I wanted to just crack on. And, to be honest, I was more than happy to start running together and just see what happened. I like to start reasonably near the front as the start is quite claustrophobic but, having met up with Mike, things dragged on and we were practically at the back, which did not help to ease my, by-now, raging nerves.

Still, after the ever-emotional live rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma,’ the gates were thrown open and, just like that, we were away!

There is no race in this country like the start of the Lakeland 100. Coniston appeared to be full to bursting as we made our way though the village and I think Mike was genuinely taken aback by the crowds and emotion – I know I was, and I thought I knew what to expect by now!

Because we started at the back, we hit the bottle-neck at the Miners Bridge full-on and had to stand around and wait a bit. I know (as my ultimate race time proves) that this delay does not matter, but it matters mentally to me – that’s why I like to start near the front – and I was immediately having to fight the thought that I needed to be doing my own thing. Still, nothing for it now, we walked up the first little hill slowly (no choice) and, by the time we turned for the downhill towards the Walna Scar car park, I had calmed myself down and realised that this slow start would be for the best. I had predicted 1 hour 35 minutes for the first leg which I knew was nice and slow – slower than I’ve ever done it – but I knew I would be pleased with myself when I hit CP1 on time – or slightly behind, rather than setting off too fast and getting in a mess, like I did in 2019.

The rest of the first leg was reasonably calm and event-less, aside from passing a few familiar faces as we climbed. We saw Jon at the bottleneck – I so hoped that he would do well as I did feel quite responsible for making him step up from the 50, which he enjoys doing so much with his friends, to have a go at the 100. He was determined to go steadily, so I knew the next time I would see him would be Sunday. My fingers were crossed for him. We also passed Emma, who I had run so much of the 2019 race with, and jokingly told her we would stay together to the end! She told me to get lost – actually saying that she had no intention of being in my blog this time! Well tough, Emma, you made the cut again!

Mike and I descend to Walna Scar Road, perfectly in step, after a couple of miles. Check out our white shoes, by the way! I can’t work out if we really had this much path to ourselves or it has been cleverly photo-shopped?!

By the time we hit the tarmac road on the descent to Seathwaite, I was quite pleased that we were running conservatively and my mood had calmed to quiet satisfaction that, despite starting at the back, I hadn’t launched into some crazy, kamikaze ‘overtake-as-many-people-as-possible’ charge through the field! We had started steadily, Mike was a calming influence – all was good. I had eaten some Kendal Mint Cake and a salt tablet on the climb, so I was following my plan. I had only had a bit of water though (I use High5 Zero Electrolyte tablets) so, approaching the CP, Mike and I quickly spoke about sticking to the plan and getting straight in and out. I was slightly surprised to see the leg time – 1hr 28?! What? That was the fastest I have ever done it – seven full minutes inside my nice, calm, steady split that I was so sure I would be hitting given our slow, delayed start. How had that happened?

I literally went into the CP to fill up the half empty bottle and turned straight back out again – definitely less than 30 seconds – and set off down the road. As I reached the bridge, I suddenly realised Mike wasn’t there. Weird, but no matter. On I went, over the beautiful bridge in the woods and then through the farmyard onto a steep, cheeky little climb under the trees. It was here that I had my only wobble of the entire race.

Just as in 2019, I suddenly felt extremely hot and flustered. It was very muggy and still in there and, perhaps, my mind was still scrambled by the time of the first leg – had I gone too fast after all? Mike soon appeared, he had got confused at the CP and thought I was still there. To be honest, I felt like I was having something akin to a panic-attack and I didn’t like it. I let him go straight past me up the hill. I looked again at my watch – it is fairly new, a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro-Solar, and I’m still learning how to use it. One of the features which I had not disabled pre-race (more later!) was the in-built heart rate monitor. To my horror, my heart rate was 160! Now, I’m a run to feel person rather than a run to heart rate person, but I knew I didn’t feel right and I also knew that my general heart rate is not very high. I can trot along at ultra pace and my heart rate doesn’t usually rise much above 120; 160 is the kind of number I reach at maximum effort in a Harriers interval session! I couldn’t figure out what was going on, which exacerbated the panic-attack feel (I don’t suffer from them, by the way) but, what I did know was, if I didn’t get that heart rate down, I wouldn’t last long in a 100 mile race!

So, for the first time ever, I walked up that hill working to my heart rate, determined that I would go slower and slower until it dropped to something sensible. It felt very hot in those woods and I was sweating profusely. Mike has spoken about my fast walking speed uphills but he was gone in front of me as I remained glued to my watch. We did end up fairly close together again as the route drops down to another farmhouse, before a boggy section and another wooded section lead to the high point of leg two.

Bit-by-bit, the heart rate began to fall, although I still could not shake the hot and flustered feeling I had. This is exactly how I felt in 2019 and it lead to a very slow night until Braithwaite and dawn – I really felt like I was in too good a shape and too well prepared this year to go through a start like that again. The same thing has happened in two Lakeland Trail Ultras with midnight starts too – I needed to get this feeling of panic out of my system.

It was quite a relief to emerge from the trees and onto open moorland and feel just a hint of a cool breeze. That was exactly what was required! I knew I could take the descent steadily and drop my heart rate further at the same time, and I finally began to calm down. The descent to Boot is not pleasant if you do not know the route, there are some very technical sections with slippery rock hidden by bracken. The route recces came in handy now as I could remember exactly where each section was. You cannot take your eyes off the path for a second here, but I was aware that Mike was no longer behind me, having run together on the open moorland section. I was trying to drink plenty on this leg as I was sweating so much so, having finally emerged from the last technical section, I stopped for a quick (ok, long!) wee before the two mile-ish run in to Boot and CP2. However, Mike had still not emerged from the bracken when I’d finished, so on I went, fairly sure that he would catch me on the flatter section where he tends to run a bit quicker than me.

As I approached Boot, it appeared that I had finally got a grip on whatever had overtaken my body an hour or so earlier. My heart rate was back down in the 130s, I had drank my two bottles and still eaten on each climb. I reached the CP in almost exactly three hours total time, with my bottles already in my hand; this was going to be a quick refill and on we go.

I glugged a couple of cups of lovely, flat coke (when else would you ever enjoy lukewarm, flat, rola-cola?!) and turned to depart the CP just as Mike arrived in it. He said he needed to change his socks, as the pair he was wearing were causing some issues. We wished each other well, and off I set. I knew at that point that, barring something going wrong, I would not see him again until Sunday either. I crossed my fingers for him too, then set off up the hill with the path to myself. I was going to get the race that I wanted. Just me and the course.

Legs 3,4 & 5 – Boot, Wasdale, Buttermere, Braithwaite. Miles 14 to 33. (Est. time: 9h0m; Actual Time: 8h25m)

Sanity appeared to be restored. I felt calm and collected. I wasn’t sweating quite so much and my heart rate was under control. Still, I wanted to be careful and I was very conscious of how, in the recces with Mike, we had gone uphill slightly slower than I would have liked, but it paid off in the long term. So I committed myself to taking the edge off my uphill route-march pace for the rest of the race and continued to monitor my heart rate – if it went up, I slowed down. This resulted in four or five people overtaking me on the relatively short, easy climb up onto the moortop near Burnmoor Tarn. I don’t often get walked past on uphills, but I was determined to control my own race – if it hadn’t been for those recces, I don’t think I would have calmly remained walking ‘slowly’ while people overtook me.

Again, once on the moortop, there was just enough of a cool, dusk breeze to keep me comfortable and, in relative solitude, I could begin to relax and enjoy the run. It was fairly cloudy whilst still warm, and I could tell that it was going to drop dark earlier than in previous years. I put my head torch on in exactly the same place I always seem to do, on the descent to Wasdale, but I was 10 minutes ahead of where I normally was!

Leg three is probably the easiest of the whole route and I was trotting on the road to Wasdale Head before I knew it. I had barely seen a soul the entire leg – magic! My legs felt fresh and I comfortably ran the descent and the flat valley section without a hint of fatigue, which I was pleased about 19 miles and four hours into the race. During the last two LL100 races, I had stopped for at least 10 minutes in the Wasdale CP; in 2018 I waited for Rob and his bowels, in 2019 I had an enforced break to put on my rain jacket and take on fuel because I felt rotten!

This time, I arrived at the CP nearly 10 minutes faster than I had ever done, quickly filled my bottles, glugged more coke, but didn’t fancy any food so went straight back out again. Three CPs down, six minutes total time in them; out onto leg four knowing I had probably just saved over 10 minutes against my next split. One slight issue raised it’s head here, which wouldn’t be a problem until the following afternoon – for LL100 I wear an additional belt with two small extra bottles, mostly just to ensure I have the option to carry additional liquid on long stages or in hot weather. In 2019, I had taken to filling these small flasks with the flat coke as an alternative to my water and I had enjoyed it. I went to do the same now in Wasdale due to the long stage to come but, unfortunately, a lid had fallen off one of the flasks so I could only use one – not a killer problem, but mildly irritating none-the-less.

In my opinion, leg four is the toughest of the race. Yes, the Fusedale leg is longer and hurts more, mostly due to being 70 miles into the race. But the Blacksail Pass, both up and down in the dark, are not for the faint-hearted and, I suspect, finish some people’s races before they really start.

Having not eaten in the CP, I made sure I ate some malt loaf on the first section of the climb over the stream crossing. It actually started to rain here, but it was such a warm night and the rain was of the ‘mizzle’ variety, that it was actually really refreshing and I never considered needing to put on my jacket, despite the fact that I was still employing my reduced-speed-climbing philosophy. The mood is also lifted here by one of the best views of the entire race. Headtorches can be seen way above you as the path zigzags to the first (false!) summit but, taking a look over your shoulder, a string of headtorches can be seen for perhaps three miles behind you as the lights string their way down from the moortop down towards Wasdale. A truly magical moment every time.

By now, I was feeling the benefit of the slower pace and I reached the top of the tough climb feeling pretty good. I like the descent down to Black Sail Hut – it is really tricky, slippery, technical and easy to get lost – so I always take great satisfaction from knowing exactly where the correct line is while others flounder around swearing! (I do try and point people in the right direction if they need it, although it is surprising how many people seem to not want to listen before striking out the wrong way here!)

I was soon climbing back up towards Scarth Gap – the point where the afore-mentioned John Kynaston was supporting in 2019 – and by now I was feeling really good. I was soon topping out and looking forward to another of my favourite descents – the drop into Buttermere with it’s tricky, technical beginning which gradually makes way for a brilliant, gently sloping gallop into the valley. A strange anomaly here was that, despite the entire route to this point being quite wet underfoot after a weeks rain, the path on this descent was absolutely bone dry! Even the Ennerdale/Blacksail Valley had been quite wet. Proof that the weather can be different from valley to valley and the dry conditions aided what became quite a rapid descent to the lake shore path.

I was joined here by a Scottish chap called Ally (I think?!) and we chatted most of the way into Buttermere and he was probably the one runner I saw more than any other the rest of the day. He was clearly quite experienced and I suspect quite a bit faster than me in reality. He has a Bob Graham under his belt, and has helped others complete their rounds too, so it was quite nice to chat about that and pick his brain (not that I am ever doing it!). I did ask how he felt the two events compared: Lakeland 100 and a Bob Graham Round, but it was actually his first time in the race so he didn’t know yet! I said I would find out from him later! Ally, if you’re reading, let me know! I’m fairly sure he finished, we yo-yo’d past each other all day, but I think he finally overtook me again just after Chapel Stile! (Possibly Alastair Black, looking at the results?!)

Thanks to being distracted by Ally, we ran and chatted comfortably all the way to Buttermere. To be honest, it was at this point that I started to suspect that I was on target for a special race as I filled my water bottles, glugged more coke and quickly grabbed a hot dog to take away and left CP4 again with over twenty minutes in hand to the 7 hours/1am target time I had set to arrive there. I’d had in mind a 10 minute break at Buttermere as I do find the hot dogs easy to eat but I was on a roll now, so I left after just 3 minutes with hot dog in hand, through the woods, knowing I’d just put more time in the bank.

Leg 5 to Braithwaite is the crucial leg of the race for me (aside from the Fusedale leg later in the day). I’ve always told anyone who asks my opinion: ‘Get to Braithwaite in one piece, then you can relax a bit and really start the race.’ It is a long, sometimes painful, drag up to Sail Pass, but I have grown to like it as it is not killer steep (aside from the last 15 minutes) so you can get a proper march on, eat some food and conserve energy at the same time. In fact, the only worry is that the path is very thin in places, with quite a lot of bracken, and it is surprisingly easy to misplace a step and tumble off the path here! Oh, and (you may be spotting a theme here) I love the long, three mile plus descent into Braithwaite too!

Once again, I was pretty much totally alone with my thoughts on a perfect night, weather-wise, for running. There were only one or two headtorches in front or behind; was the race quieter this year? Or was it because I was further ahead than I normally am? The breeze had picked up now and, by the time I had negotiated the three inlets and crossed the streams (no dead sheep to inadvertently stand on this year!) and sucked up the pain for the last push to Sail Pass, there was quite a stiff breeze into my face, which felt absolutely lovely!

I tried to control my speed on the long descent into Braithwaite. It is easy to get carried away here and the last thing I wanted to do was smash my legs up with the long, runnable sections all the way to Pooley Bridge to come. But it wasn’t easy as, by now, I was becoming excitedly aware of just how far in front of my split time of 9 hours/3am I was going to be at the bottom.

I fairly gleefully danced into the sleeping village of Braithwaite well before half past two, shocked but delighted with the race to date. I had been twitchy about aiming for 9 hours to this point as I thought it might make me run too quickly, but I had stuck entirely to my plan – just follow the process! I’d moved slowly, eaten well, not stopped and the strategy was already paying off in spades. I was going to have a bowl of rice pudding in the CP but, as soon as I walked in, the temperature was roasting inside! I did not want to stop in that and get sleepy so, for the fifth CP out of five, I simply filled my bottles, glugged some coke, then left again with a cup of tea and a snack in hand. Five CPs, eleven minutes total stops, and out towards Keswick before 2.30am (8 hours 27 race time). Here come the running sections – game on!

Legs 6,7 & 8 – Braithwaite, Blencathra Centre, Dockray, Dalemain Estate. Miles 33 to 59. (Est. time: 16h30m; Actual Time: 14h51m)

“Aahh, this is what we dream of!” said a girl as she ran past me while I scoffed an orange on the way out of Braithwaite village. I was in a very zen-like state of mind with the world at that point and was just about to say something deep and meaningful, like “I know, the majesty of being out on the fells by torchlight in the middle of the night!” Fortunately, before it became apparent that I had totally missed her point, she sarcastically continued, “The A66. Highlight of the course, truly magical!” and ran off up the road! Well, quite!

Another perk of not stopping in CPs revealed itself here. I ran the entire flat section to Keswick with no problem at all. Nothing too difficult there, you might imagine. But, usually, I have had a decent length pit stop at Braithwaite: a sit down, food, cups of tea, 20/30 minutes rest, perhaps a toilet stop too. After that, you emerge into the night quite sluggishly, stiff from sitting down, and it can be quite a struggle to get running again when back on a flat, tarmac surface.

But not tonight. I hadn’t sat down at all yet, so felt reasonably fit and fresh as I hit the steep Latrigg path up through the trees. In previous years, I have been able to turn my headtorch off here, but this year it was still the dead of night. The Glenderaterra valley is a real highlight of the course; a lovely path with sweeping views. Not in the dark though! In fact, I climbed into more mizzly clag up there which caused a few visibility problems as the headtorch beam simply reflects off the hanging mist, meaning you can’t really see much of the path ahead. So discretion became the better part of valour here and I route marched all the way up to the unmanned dibber which marks the furthest part of the valley, when I might normally have run quite a lot of it. I consoled myself with the knowledge of my handy time-buffer and knowing I was conserving energy for all the runnable sections to come.

I was able to run gently down the little descent at the valley end and, once on the bigger track on the opposite side of the valley, could run all the way into the CP. In fact, I was going so nicely I very nearly ran clean past the path junction to get into the CP! I’m not used to doing it in the dark! Thank goodness for that little car park to spark me from my daydreaming and remind me to turn off the main track!

By now I knew I was (relatively) flying. As I had planned a food break at Braithwaite but then not taken one, I was now a full hour ahead of my, what I’d presumed was challenging, schedule. It was only 4.30am (10hr 30 race time), it wasn’t even light enough to turn my headtorch off yet and, for the 6th CP in a row, I just filled my bottles and grabbed a quick cup of tea which I took with me. This not stopping at any CP plan was going like a dream.

The next leg to Dockray provided another little boost. Those of you who know the Keswick area will know that the footpath bridges between the town and Threlkeld had been washed away in floods a few years ago. In both 2018 and 2019 we had to run on the undulating country lane to Threlkeld before turning back down towards the A66 and the race route. Well, those bridges have now been painstakingly rebuilt, meaning the race route now drops straight down to the old railway line making for some lovely flat running in the trees. (I reckon it’s shorter too but I don’t know.)

I still felt plenty fresh enough to run all the flat run in to the climb up to the Old Coach Road at Clough Head and, again, I was joined by Ally here and a girl with awesome pink and black stripy socks who I also saw a few more times in the day. I made sure I ate something on the climb and, probably psychologically by now, even that drag up to the Old Coach Road did not feel as bad as it usually does. It was surprisingly dry too.

What wasn’t surprising on the Old Coach Road, was the weather! For the third race in a row, once up there I could see the rain coming before it arrived. This was the first ‘proper’ rain of the race but, at the time, I was running all the runnable sections well and still felt warm, so I decided not to stop and put my jacket on yet. Once again, I seemed to reach the CP before I knew it, and this time I knew I would need at least a mini-break. They have soup here, which I quite fancied and I also decided that, even though I didn’t really want to, I’d better be sensible and get the rain jacket on. I didn’t sit down, but I did have two cups of soup, a sandwich and, obviously, I did have to get my bag off, put the jacket on, and get the bag back on again. All things considered, I was delighted to still only spend 8 minutes in the CP and, to my astonishment by now, left the CP at 6.30am (12hrs 30 race time) over an hour and a quarter ahead of schedule.

Now that things were going so well I was starting to do some logistical maths! It has always been my aim in this race to get out of the next CP, Dalemain, before the Lakeland 50 runners leave there. Their race starts at 11.30am but they have to do a 4 mile loop of the estate first, so the fast lads and lasses are out of Dalemain at a little before midday. The fastest I have ever left Dalemain is 11.50am!

In my wildest dreams pre-race, I dared to set myself a target of getting to Dalemain at 10.30am – now I knew I was going to get there before 9am!

But this did cause me one small problem. Leanne and the girls were going to come and cheer me on in Pooley Bridge, a couple of miles after Dalemain, and I told them to get there for 11ish just in case I was going well. So now, here I was out of Dockray at 6.30am, ringing Leanne to wake her up and tell that, if she didn’t get the girls out of bed now and get going, they might miss me completely!

Slightly irritatingly, but good news really, no sooner had I put my rain jacket on, the clouds broke and the weather was suddenly bright, sunny and lovely. So within a mile, before Aira Force, I was stopping again to re-pack my jacket into my bag. Still, I wasn’t complaining. This is a really pleasant part of the course. The climb up to Yew Crag seemed to pass quickly; it was so strange how the slower walking pace seemed to result in me reaching everywhere quicker, but I was moving comfortably and not putting my body under any sort of unnecessary strain. Long gone were the high heart rate issues; I bet it didn’t go back above 125 all day. (Garmin tells me my average HR for the race was 113 if you believe that kind of thing. That sounds a bit low to me but, like I say, I don’t usually take any notice of these things!)

I was soon out onto the road section which accounts for much of the last four miles of the leg and was reasonably comfortably able to run it all, although I did take the odd walking break just to make sure I was still eating and drinking and not overdoing it. It was during this long running section that I first noticed a bit of chafing on my left inner thigh; something that I should have dealt with at Dalemain, but forgot, and which came to cause a slight issue later on in the day.

It was also on this stretch of road that I came to spend a few miles with a ‘famous’ face! Thierry starred in the brilliant 2021 official race film ‘Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary things’ (please do click on the link below, it is brilliant!). In it, he describes how challenging the race is, although Mike and I had joked on the recces that, despite him finding it challenging, he gets to Ambleside in 24 hours so he must be pretty decent! Because of this, I was very pleasantly surprised to be with him at this part of the course, and he said this pace was entirely in keeping for reaching Ambleside in about 24 hours, which certainly encouraged me even more! He is just as nice a fella in real life as he appears in the film and it was really nice to chat to him. Nice to meet you, Thierry, keep inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things!

Again, the miles seemed to tick by quickly – even these road and farm track miles, which can sometimes seem to go on forever. Before I knew it, I was dropping into the courtyard at Dalemain, well before 9am. This was unreal, I couldn’t quite believe it! It was made to feel all the more surreal because there was barely a soul there! The 50 competitors and associated supporters had not even begun to arrive yet, which was almost slightly disappointing as I felt I deserved a standing ovation at this point! Still, it focused my mind to make this CP turn around as efficient as possible.

I finally sat down for the first time in the race. One of the kind volunteers (all of whom were amazing, by the way) was a familiar face, Wayne Booth of Team Pie fame and a well known (infamous?!) character in the Wigan area. He was brilliant and made sure I had drop bag, food and drinks – as with all the volunteers, nothing is too much trouble, even when you feel like you are pestering. I ate some stew, drank a few cups of tea, changed my base layer and t-shirt as it was a lovely day outside. I left my used headtorch in the drop-bag as I had a spare headtorch and a spare battery for the second night (remember this seemingly pointless fact, it is relevant later…), replaced all my snacks which I had efficiently been eating, added a bottle of lucozade and the winter base layer which had served me well in the second half of this race before. And that was that, I got up stiffly (the no-sit-downs strategy was a good one!) and made my way to the exit, with the field still pretty much empty and the first cars only just starting to arrive, at 9.09am. 15 hours 9 minutes of race time, after a 19 minute break, with pretty much 100 minutes in my pocket against my schedule and nearly three hours faster than I’d ever left Dalemain before. Keep calm, Sticks, keep calm.

Legs 9,10 & 11 – Dalemain Estate, Howtown, Mardale Head, Kentmere. Miles 59 to 82. (Est. time: 24h15m; Actual Time: 22h00m)

Process over outcome.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve used this phrase a few times now! The number of times I have mentioned time splits in this blog so far probably leads you to think that I was actually thinking about the outcome too much, but that wasn’t the case at the time. It was merely that the process was already yielding such good results that I was using the positive outcome to continually feed my mind with positive energy.

I am also aware that I am making this race sound very easy. Obviously, it isn’t! I would say that it took me most of the flat two miles to Pooley Bridge to get my legs going again after my first sit-down break. But things couldn’t have been going much better and things certainly could have been going a lot worse, as my previous visits to Dalemain CP so clearly proved! There were plenty of signs in and around the CP of other runners’ struggles – a reminder of where I had first heard the ‘process over outcomes’ phrase.

Back to Race Director Marc Laithwaite here: in a recent Endurance Podcast episode, talking about Ironman prep actually, he described how many cyclists spend a lot of energy trying to shave 15 minutes off their cycling time but then spend six hours walking the marathon, when what they should really do is take 30 minutes LONGER on the bike which would leave them with enough energy to run a four hour marathon, and be a net 90 minutes faster. (ie. think about the process of the bike being preparation for the run, rather than focusing merely on the outcome of the bike ride.)

In the next podcast, he described something similar for Lakeland 100 in comparison to Lakeland 50; he said there is no point ‘racing’ to Dalemain in the 100 in a great time if you then don’t finish! Better to go steadily to Dalemain and feel good in the latter stages on the 50 route.

So I had all the above thoughts in my head to keep me focused, backed-up by the evidence I had just seen in the CP – I saw more than one person dropping out here despite being at Dalemain in under 15 hours. I also left the CP chatting to a nice lad who told me he was in roughly 10th place at Buttermere (!) before realising he’d set off miles too fast! My mind briefly boggled at how fast he would have to have been to be in the top 10 at Buttermere! I didn’t matter now though, as I was overtaking him!

Mostly though, I was just full of positive energy at the thought of seeing Leanne and the girls in Pooley Bridge, although I was slightly apprehensive about whether they would actually be there in time! Whether on not I was more tired than I felt I will never know, but I did have one very strange hallucinatory moment here – surely too soon for that?!

As I dropped down the little hill towards the main road crossing between Dalemain and Pooley Bridge, a car travelling North slowed down, flashed it’s lights and papped it’s horn. The window came down and my friend’s wife leaned out and shouted at me! I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but I was so pleased to see them as I knew they were camping in Keswick that weekend. Dicko, my mate, had wanted to come out and give me a cheer in the night but, as I was passing Keswick at approximately 3am, I knew it was a tough ask for him to come out without waking his children and I hadn’t seen him in the night. So how lovely that they had come out to find me now! It was weeks later that Dicko told me they hadn’t come out to see me at all and it definitely wasn’t them! I guess I’ll never know who it was or if it really happened!

Much like Dalemain, I am used to Pooley Bridge being packed to the rafters with supporters but, also like Dalemain, I was so early that there was no-one there! Luckily though, Leanne and the girls had made it (although I had beaten my Mum and Dad who didn’t make it!) and it was wonderful to see them, and to share the excitement of how things were going. I felt very guilty pretty much walking straight past them, especially given how hard they had had to work to get there in time, but they understood the situation and said they would look forward to seeing me in Ambleside – possibly in daylight!

My mid-race target was constantly shifting at this point. Originally it was ‘Leave Dalemain before the 50 runners,’ but now, as I climbed out of Pooley Bridge, I had amended it forward one CP to ‘Leave Howtown before the 50 starts.’ This is another lovely section of the course with wonderful views along Ullswater and the weather was playing it’s part; it was bright and sunny, despite the forecast being for rain through most of the daylight hours.

I was soon on the lovely, gently sloping descent to Howtown and looking forward to seeing a friend, fellow Lakeland 100 legend Matthew Lavery and his son Tom, who were volunteering at Howtown. Matt’s wife, Julie, was usually there but they had made a promise to each other that, should Matt ever finish the 100, they would swap runner/volunteer roles and he would work the CP while she ran the 50! 2021 saw him finish, so here he was a year later while Julie prepared to start the 50!

While running the descent I noticed the inner-thigh chafing return – I could only feel it when running. ‘Must remember to sort that at Howtown,’ I thought. I forgot. Again.

As I dropped down the steep lane into Howtown, there were Matt and Tom. I’m not sure who was the most surprised to see who! It wasn’t even 11 o’clock yet and I’d told Matt the day before it would be a dream to get to Howtown by 1pm!

Tom sorted my water bottles while Matt caught up with me on the race to date. I did not want to hang around in Howtown with the most important stage of the race to follow, even though I knew in the back of my mind that I should probably eat.

‘Don’t worry!’ said Matt. ‘I’ve got just the thing!’ before producing a paper bag full of salted new potatoes! ‘These are going down a storm!’ he said! And with that, off I went to tackle Fusedale at a few minutes before 11am – in the sun! (Never done it in the dry before!)

By now, I was hastily re-working my ‘mid-race target’ again! Fusedale takes an hour or so to climb, call it midday, so now I knew I should be at Mardale Head for 2pm. More quick, logistical maths – that meant that even the leaders of the 50 could not catch me before then. This would be a real help as most of the Fusedale climb is single track and most of the Haweswater/Mardale valley is single track, so to be able to take it all at my own pace and not have to either stop to let fast people past, or get stuck behind slower people, was a real bonus. After Mardale, the path is predominantly wide enough for this not to be a problem.

On the flatter walk-in to Fusedale I opened my bag of potatoes – bloody hell, Matt! Salted potatoes??? More like potatoed salt!!! I thought my tongue was going to dissolve!!! I know we need a bit of salt replacement but this was extreme! I did eat them because he was at least correct in saying that they were a really welcome alternative to normal CP fare but, blimey, I probably drank one bottle of my water trying to quench the thirst and I’m fairly certain I didn’t taste anything after those potatoes for about a week!

It doesn’t really matter whether you are walking up Fusedale on a nice day (as I was), a wet day (as I usually am), by yourself (as I was), or surrounded by other runners (as I usually am), that climb is long and goes on forever. Thanks to the recce runs again, I had remembered that there is a section in the middle which is really bloody steep as well. This was the first time in the race since CP1 when, no matter how slowly I walked, I was still blowing out of my arse. I didn’t have the excuse of waiting for 50 runners for a breather, so I actually took in a couple of view stops just to get my breath back. It was certainly a blessed relief to reach the end of the dry-stone wall that marks the top of the stiff climbing and turn left towards High Kop – I think if that climb had gone on another five minutes I would have started to really suffer for the first time in the race.

As it was, I crested High Kop and made sure I got my legs running again on the lovely, grassy track down towards Low Kop, although I was immediately aware of the inner-thigh chafing now grumbling quite a bit, but only when running. (‘Must sort that at Mardale.’)

Once turning right and dropping onto the steeper, second half of the descent towards Haweswater, I probably felt the first signs of fatigue. It is steep, grassy, boggy and slippery here and my legs did not want to run down whilst, at the same time, it hurts too much to try and slow down. So you are stuck in a no-mans-land of it hurting to go fast and hurting to go slow. On the plus side, I was still in splendid isolation here and could pick my way through the bracken to get to the ‘flatter’ (sic) path below.

I have long since made my peace with the Haweswater path. In 2018, it was my ultimate downfall when I eventually bailed out of the race at Mardale Head but, on every visit since, I have mentally prepared myself to just ride it out and try and enjoy the views while suffering the path in stoic silence. But this year, there was an extra little twist of the knife involved…

You will remember from earlier in the blog (if you can remember that far!) that Mike and I reccied this very path just three weeks ago. Here you are, proof:

Mike on Haweswater; Saturday 9th July. (3 weeks before race-day.)

Now, if you look closely at the picture above, you will see Mike walking between the bracken on a perfectly acceptable path. The path isn’t always like that, it’s pretty technical in places, but it isn’t the path I want you to focus on above, it’s the bracken! As in, not a problem at all. In fact, the bracken wasn’t a problem in any of the usual places in either the recces or the race – until now. The shin high bracken above had been replaced, in just three weeks, by knee and waist high bracken – and sometime higher – along the entire valley length.

I stumbled and tripped my way along the entire three or four miles, swearing away, at least being thankful for the fact that I wasn’t having to stop every minute to let fast 50 runners through. It was pretty grim and, from speaking to other runners the next day, by the time the path got busy in the late afternoon, not pleasant underfoot either.

Thanks in no part to Matt’s bloody salted potatoes(!), I was pretty thirsty on this leg too. I completed the leg faster than I ever have done before – three hours exactly, compared to nearer four hours in my previous two races, but two soft flasks and the one remaining little bottle in my waist belt was still not enough liquid for that amount of time on a warm, sunny afternoon. It wasn’t a problem though, as I had packed the emergency Lucozade in my bag at Dalemain and also had a filter bottle for the streams further along the valley. So it wasn’t a concern to finish my other bottles about half way along the valley.

Despite all the above, I was still moving really well, which probably led to the not so sensible decision to use neither the Lucozade nor the filter flask. It would have only taken one minute to take my bag off and get either of them – that’s why I was carrying them, after-all – but, at the time, that was an inconvenience. These are the kind of simple, bad decisions you make when tiredness starts to kick in. So I ploughed on, thirsty, all the way to Mardale Head – AZKABAN!!! (See 2018 blog!)

I arrived at the CP at 19 hours 52 minutes races time (1.52pm). I was over two hours ahead of my splits and over-the-moon. There was another boost in the shape of friends, the Quillian family, being out-and-about in the area and giving me a cheer here too – always a welcome boost.

Azkaban wouldn’t be Azkaban without wind and rain though and, no sooner had I sat down, here it came! I quickly put on my jacket again (and it would stay on until the end now, even though I still had quite nice weather later on) while I made sure I had a couple of cups of soup and forced at least one cheese and pickle sandwich down – along with at least three cups of tea! The thinking here was to take a proper break, I’d got quite tired as I got thirstier in the last mile or two, so that I had energy for the Gatescarth climb to come and with a view to passing straight through the Kentmere CP towards Ambleside if I was feeling ok.

The other reason for the break was to finally attend to the inner-thigh chafing. I pulled my compression shorts lining up to inspect the damage and – gulp – I had left that waaaaaay too long to sort. Right at the top of my left, inner-thigh was pretty much an open sore, probably only 20 pence piece size, but it did not look good. There was exactly same on the right hand leg too, though not quite as bad. I put a good dollop of vaseline on but knew that was too-little, too-late and resigned myself to 30 miles of pain in that area at least.

Bottles filled and food inside me, there was no point dwelling in the deteriorating weather any longer, so off up Gatescarth I set. I’d spent 14 minutes at the CP but, if I didn’t really need to stop again, it would be time well spent.

Leaving Azbaban (wind and rain!) and heading for Gatescarth. (Thanks to Quillian family for the photo.)

Bloody hell, is there any other type of weather on Gatescarth other than wind and driving rain? It was like a different day all of a sudden. I don’t mind the Gatescarth climb really, it is steep and unrelenting, but it is a good track underfoot and 30 minutes graft gets you to the top. What is more of a problem, especially in the wet, is the descent, which is very steep, slippery and generally unpleasant after nearly 80 miles. The top section of descent marked the first signs of my legs starting to complain – it was too steep to be comfortable but too slippery to be able to really control gravity. Or so I thought until, finally, at 2.40pm, the leader of the 50 race came flying past, looking like he wasn’t touching the floor at all! He was quickly followed by the second place chap in hot-pursuit. There was a bit of a gap after that until 3rd, 4th and 5th placed runners (the latter the leading female at the time) passed me on the second part of the descent; a pretty dicey stretch of off-camber cobble-style path which anyone who has completed either Lakeland race will know and dislike every bit as much as I do in such wet conditions.

As I reached the bridge at Sadgill I saw some intrepid supporters huddled in their car. I was immediately reminded of a visit to the Lakes I had made at Easter when, after having a run, Leanne and the girls met me in the park and we went to a pub for tea. Two women in the pub had been out reccying the 50 route and we got chatting. It turned out they were from Chorley and they were inspired to enter having always sat at Sadgill for the day supporting others in previous years. Well here was their family now, waiting for them! So I briefly introduced myself to them as I passed through and wished them all the best for the day.

I have never been a fan of the cheeky little climb out of Sadgill over to Kentmere – in fact, I always think this leg in general feels a lot longer than it actually is – but, again, the recces had reminded me of this so I was mentally prepared for the 15 minutes of effort required. It was a real pleasure to be overtaken by perhaps the top 12/15 of the 50 race between here and Kentmere – to watch them move so quickly over steep, tricky terrain was a real pleasure. I don’t really follow the ‘professional’ trail running scene enough to know who they were but I saw at the presentation the next day there were some reasonably well known names, especially at the front of the women’s race, and without fail they all gave me a ‘well done’ or ‘keep it up’ before I could say well done to them first! One of the absolute best bits of the Lakeland weekend is the support for fellow runners once the two races merge together as one. It was also great to see further proof of ultra running being one of the rare sports where women and men compete equally and with equal success.

There was just one more ‘infamous’ part of the course to negotiate before reaching the Kentmere CP – THE stone stiles! Oh my word, no amount of training can prepare you for those with over 80 miles in your legs! I wasn’t feeling too bad but they are still murder to negotiate! At least I could take them in solitude and not have to form a queue and then be watched by impatient runners trying to get over them! Brutal!

I reached Kentmere as the rain finally eased at exactly 4pm, 22 hours running time, which now meant I was an entire race leg in front of my splits – I would have been delighted to, and planned for, reaching Mardale Head at 4pm. I also knew this would mean I should reach Ambleside in the ball-park of 24 hours and a few minutes but there was no chance of my hoped-for ‘quick-refill’ CP visit here at Kentmere. The chafing issue was now serious enough that it was starting to slow me down and could still, even at this stage, become a potential barrier to finishing, so I had to sort it somehow. Out came the first aid kit – you know that little plastic bag you fill with mandatory stuff and then ignore for the race? Well, now I wished I had thought through the contents a little bit more! The only thing I could think of was the Compeed! My feet were, remarkably, absolutely fine, so on went a Compeed on each inner-thigh, the left side of which already looked a little infected. Yuk. I knew I might regret putting Compeed in this delicate spot later on in the post-race shower but, for now, I hoped they would stop the rubbing pain and remain in place. Thankfully, they did, and that was the end of the chafing problem for the race. As for the post-race shower, I won’t trouble you with that!!!

In the end, it took me 16 minutes to get sorted in the CP – not part of the plan but, in this case, it was to resolve a medical issue, not because I was losing focus on my race plan. It did give me some time to enjoy the CP atmosphere though, which the Montane crew were certainly amping up with their tunes and dance moves! I mentioned briefly before, I don’t really follow the ‘pro’ running scene too much, but I know who Jen and Marcus Scotney are! I had to do a double-take as I saw them mucking in, supporting the runners with everyone else. What a truly wonderful community the ultra race scene is. I reeeaaalllly wanted to ask for a picture, but it wasn’t on my race plan so, out towards Ambleside and the awaiting family I went!

Legs 12 & 13 – Kentmere, Ambleside, Chapel Stile. Miles 82 to 95. (Est. time: 28h45m; Actual Time: 26h07m)

Off I set up the Garburn Pass. I think this is a real mental milestone in the race – once you top out there there is nothing really difficult between you and the finish line, apart from just the act of physically keeping moving! I was definitely starting to feel a bit tired by now, though. Again, I could only watch in wonder as the fast front of the 50 field made hasty progress up the climb. I just had to satisfy myself with a steady plod, keeping the effort level low, knowing that every step was now taking me closer to the finish.

The higher I climbed, the brighter the weather got. I was going to take my jacket off in the Kentmere CP as it had stopped raining and I could tell it was brightening up outside. However, one of the CP volunteers suggested I didn’t as I might get cold as I slowed down. I didn’t want to look brash at the time, so I left it on. I wished I had taken it off now though, the weather was decent again and I was quite warm – although it did absolutely bucket down later just as I arrived into Ambleside.

Once over the top, I found I was still able to run yet another descent which I love! It is a good couple of miles down to Troutbeck, maybe more, and nearly all on a decent track at a gentle gradient. My legs were complaining a bit, but I still had the running in me – little did I know at the time that this would be just about the last time I would run in the race!

As I approached the bottom, just before a steep little cobbled section leads to the road, a woman was walking up the other way. “Are you a 100 runner?” she asked. I confirmed I was. “Nice one, you are in 74th place!” What? Really? I couldn’t believe it! Considering 500-odd start the race and only 250ish tend to finish, I was thrilled to hear this and it certainly gave me another little boost as I climbed steeply up through Troutbeck. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to ring Leanne whenever I am passing through Troutbeck but, on this occasion, I knew she was just a bit further along the road and would be glued to the tracker, so I didn’t want to waste any energy getting my phone out.

The weather was lovely again as I climbed towards the farm that marks the top of Skelghyll Woods and the drop into Ambleside. There is a stunning view down Windermere here and I thought again of John Kynaston. When I watched his videos I had marvelled at how he managed to reach this section of the course in daylight – how I wished I could manage that. Yet, here I was, not only in daylight, but with a few hours light to spare! I didn’t notice at the time, but I would have hit the 24 hour race mark somewhere here. I couldn’t wait to get into Ambleside and see Leanne and the girls!

Fatigue was definitely lurking around the corner here, though. As I dropped through the woods, I wanted to run but my legs had now progressed from grumbles of discomfort when descending to full on conversations! The very tops of my thighs were screaming at me on the downhill and I realised, at that point, that running the downhills at least was probably done for the day. The 75th place 100 runner overtook me on the tarmac road into town and I was very jealous that, for the time being at least, I wasn’t going to be able to run after him!

The heavens opened as I dropped into the town itself. I was most certainly not prepared for the welcome that awaited! in 2019, I arrived at 11pm in the dark and, whilst there were people supporting runners mixed in with the drinkers, it was nothing like the sea of support that greeted me now!

First of all, as I approached the White Lion in the middle of town, I heard the booming voice of Paul Fisher from amidst the general applause and support from the beer garden! “Mark, if you don’t start running I’m not taking your picture!” Oh for goodness sake, here goes:

“Yeah, thanks Paul! Is that fast enough for you?!”

Then, across the main road and down the little lane between the shops to be greeted at the junction by a wall of noise that reminded me of the start in Coniston! It was amazing! There was that much noise, I didn’t really know where to look and it took a while to spot Leanne and the girls and my parents. There were several other people I knew there too and I’m ashamed to say that I can’t even remember who they all were, but the support was an incredible lift, especially given that it had begun to tip it down just before I arrived. To anyone who was there, whether supporting me or just clapping as you waited for your own runners to support, thank you, it was amazing!

Last time I visited Ambleside, the CP was inside but, this time, everything appeared to be outside. I had planned a stop here but, once I realised that I wasn’t going to get inside in the dry with a comfy chair, I was suddenly really encouraged to just get going again. With it being just before 6.30pm, I could make the next CP at Chapel Stile without having to worry about a headtorch if I didn’t hang around. Plus, I’d had an unplanned stop at Kentmere. So I had my bottles filled, grabbed some coke and pieces of orange (which had become my go-to CP snack of choice for the entire race), had the briefest of chats with Leanne, Mum and Dad and one or two other supporters who were there, then made my apologies and told everyone I was going to get going! I was only there three minutes so, if you waited all that time and then I never spoke to you, I can only apologise now! Fortunately, I think everyone understands the situation!

Stuart Towns, a friend of mine from Wigan Harriers, walked through Rothay Park with me and I was able to get my first update on Mike since CP2. Apparently he had got to Mardale Head at just before 6pm. That sounded decent, exactly the time I had got there in my first attempt, in 2018. Hopefully he wouldn’t hang around there too long and suffer the same fate I had!

Up the steep pull out of Ambleside, I was pleased to find that my legs were still fine uphill, but they definitely did not appreciate the long steep drop down to the Skelwith Bridge Hotel where Leanne, the girls, Mum and Dad and the Quillian family had arrived to see me one last time before the finish. By the time I got down there, I was actually quite pleased to know that I had a few miles of relative flat through Langdale before I had to worry about another descent.

“Stop going downhill!” screamed my legs, at the Skelwith Bridge Hotel.

The 50 runners were coming through thicker and faster by this point, but it was still very much the pointy end of the race. Anyone passing me here would be going on to complete the race in well under 11 hours. One such runner was Matt Rushbrook, who came past me right outside the hotel with a couple of friends as I saw my family again. I was very pleased to be on the flat track to Elterwater at this point. The memory starts to blur a little at this point into the race but, to the best of my memory, this was the first runnable section of the race where I made a conscious decision to just keep walking. I’m not 100% certain, I may have tried running, but I don’t recall doing so.

Funnily enough though, whilst I was naturally tired at this point, I wasn’t in any type of distress at all. The race had gone as absolutely smoothly as it was physically possible to this point. However, there were one or two ‘technical’ issues which were about to reveal themselves to me that would make the last two legs of the race slightly more stressful than they should have needed to be!

I mentioned earlier my new Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar watch, bought partly because of its incredible battery life – no more mid race charging for me! At the start of the race, it said it would last 41 hours on the current settings – that was plenty to spare. I knew it used more battery the more you use the map, but I know the route and rarely needed to look at that. I had also adjusted some additional settings but, clearly, had missed some others – for example, the first night the backlight of the watch seemed to be on all the time; I was forever switching it off again throughout the entire night! I thought I’d turned some navigational alert tools off but I obviously hadn’t as it was beeping and vibrating away at me all race! Anyway, the upshot was that I now noticed I only had an hour of battery life left. I initially tried to have a play with the settings but I was losing concentration on the actual job in hand and was desperate not to get in a bad mood about my watch! Anyway, it ran out somewhere near the unmanned dibber on the Wrynose Pass at 27h 45m (2 hours short of what I needed) so that was that.

Even by resorting to route-marching the flat sections, I still arrived at Chapel Stile at just after 8pm – 26 hours 7 minutes race time. Due to not stopping at Ambleside and not eating at Kentmere (I just couldn’t eat the pasta) I decided to eat some stew here and have my 4th and final sit down stop while I got my headtorch out. I had no intention of stopping at all at Tilberthwaite.

I had done some more mental maths at Ambleside but clearly got my sums completely wrong! I was two and a half hours in front of my 32 hours 30 splits at this point, so you would think that would register as ‘Wow, I’m on for 30 hours or faster!’ But no, I’d got it in my head that I was going to finish at about 30 hours and 20 minutes and, to be honest, sat in Chapel Stile at that point, I was delighted with that. ‘Just get some proper food in, then get your torch on and march it in for a good finish,’ was my thinking. I suppose at least I have the slight excuse that my watch was about to run out of batteries so I was not going to be paying any attention to the time anyway.

However, it was here that things unexpectedly took a turn for the worse…

Legs 14 & 15 – Chapel Stile, Tilberthwaite, Coniston. Miles 95 to 105. (Est. time: 32h30m; Actual Time: 29h42m)

As with all the CPs, the team here were amazing. I’d barely got sat down before my water was filled, there was a cup of tea in my hand and some of the lovely stew (Its Heinz Big Soup if you want to try it!) was all laid out in front of me. I ate the stew and sorted my torch from my bag while I drank my brew. It still wasn’t dark yet but I’d decided I was just going to put the torch on my head now – it’s comfortable enough – to save me faffing about getting it out in a couple of miles. I am not one of those people who waits until the last minute before putting my torch on; my thinking is always ‘If you have a torch available, why would you mess around in the half-light potentially tripping over stuff?’

Now, if you have managed to read this blog without falling asleep (well done), you will remember that I left my headtorch from the first night in my drop bag at Dalemain. It’s practically identical to my second headtorch and uses the same type of in-built (Petzl) battery. No need to carry two torches anymore when I’m not even going to go that far into the second night, eh? Especially with a spare battery to hand, right?

Because it was still light, I cannot tell you why I decided to check the headtorch before I put it on my head. But it didn’t turn on. Try again. Nope. Longer press – green battery light on, but two flashes of the red light indicate it’s not going to turn on. Long press, slow press, some quick presses – I’ve used this a million times? Nothing. No bother, must be a battery thing, I’ve got the spare. Fish spare battery out of waterproof bag, swap it into torch. Repeat all the above steps – NOTHING.

Queue total panic. It worked on Thursday night! (It worked on Sunday as well!) Why the chuff did I take the other headtorch out of my bag; I didn’t need to. After a perfect, dream race…

I AM GOING TO BE THAT IDIOT USING HIS iPHONE LIGHT TO FINISH THE RACE!!!

This just could not be happening. I could feel the race, and myself, unravelling. I had three perfectly good batteries, a perfectly good headtorch in a drop-bag at Dalemain but, for some reason, I couldn’t get this head torch on and there appeared to be nothing I could do about it!

**OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE SIREN**OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE SIREN**OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE SIREN**

I have no idea what I was thinking or doing at this point, but I was clearly panicking, as a lad sat next to me had obviously registered what was going on. I believe he was a 50 runner as I’m fairly certain he hadn’t used his own headtorch yet, so he very kindly offered me his spare one. He said it was only a ‘Poundstretcher finest’ job, just to get through kit check, but I was welcome to use it if I wanted. He did say, slightly alarmingly, that he had no idea if it would last five hours, or one hour, but we turned it on and it definitely worked – that was all that mattered.

I thanked him profusely, both then and on the numerous times he seemed to overtake me in the last ten miles too! We even finished very close together as I was able to return it to him immediately in the marquee when we finished. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember his name now, nor could I the next day once I’d slept but, whoever you are, thank you! As I have said, my own headtorch turned on straight away on Sunday, so I have no idea what happened in Chapel Stile. But one thing is for certain, both those headtorches will be in that bag for every race I ever do in the future!

Anyway, back to Chapel Stile. As you know, I had fastidiously recorded the length of time of every CP break – until now. Eating stopped, drinking stopped. If that headtorch was not guaranteed to last very long, then I was on an absolute mission to get as close to the finish without having to use the headtorch at all as I could! I got packed up and headed straight out. I’d guess it was about 10 minutes as I’d eaten the stew and messed about with the headtorch. So, approximately 8.20pm and, by my reckoning, I could probably get to about 9.30/9.45 without a headtorch as long as I got through the technically tricky Blea Moss section in some sort of daylight.

So off I marched – looking on the positive side, I can at least say a huge surge of adrenaline had replaced the creeping lethargy!

There were so many perks to being faster in the race, the main one in this case being daylight! But another one was that, as the weather got wetter, the paths were not yet totally destroyed by lots of footfall as the majority of both races were behind me. One such wet section is just above the National Trust campsite at the end of Langdale. Fortunately, at this time, it was still fairly solid underfoot.

I charged up Side Pike, gone were thoughts of low heart rates, and even managed a bit of running through the woods by Blea Tarn. It was dark in there but, fortunately, emerging from the trees, there was enough natural light as a marched down the single track and out into the rocky bracken ‘path’ up to the unmanned dibber on the Wrynose Pass. I don’t recall my feet getting particularly wet before this point, although I’m sure they will have somewhere, but this part of the course was borderline flooded. It’s not a good path at any time, but it was basically walking up through a rocky stream at this point. Anyone whose feet were in trouble before this section must have had a nightmare here.

It didn’t matter to me though, my feet were fine, I was just working on the fading daylight clock. I made good progress through the bracken but still managed to find a bog up to my knees about 50 metres from the road! I probably swore, but I was more concerned with reaching the road in one piece; once I had, I could let the light almost completely fade and still not need the headtorch on either the steep drop down the road (‘ooh my legs!) and could still do without it on the initial track up and over to Tilberthwaite. In fact, I managed to avoid the headtorch at all until the track junction where the left fork drops you back into Little Langdale and the right fork takes you up and over to Tilberthwaite – so roughly bang on the 100 miles mark!

I found a bit of a half-light torch setting which offered up just enough light to see the decent track and marched on towards CP14. Just to make matters more tricky, we were back in the mizzle at this point meaning, guess what? Visibility is absolutely rubbish with a headtorch, no matter what the quality of the torch!

I remember feeling quite emotional in 2019 when you start to drop into the valley and the lights of Tilberthwaite CP become visible in the distance – it was exactly the same this time. I had no intention of stopping at the CP beforehand but, in the circumstances, I certainly wasn’t going to stop there now! I charged straight past, just stopping to ask someone what the time was. ‘Quarter past ten!’ was the reply. Unbelievably, I STILL didn’t compute the sub-30 possibilities! I normally do this leg in roughly 1hr 25 so there was plenty of time in the bank but, given that I couldn’t see a lot with the quality of the headtorch, we were in the clag making visibility worse and I wasn’t even sure if the headtorch was going to last to the finish line, the last thing I was thinking about was how fast could I do it.

Up Jacob’s Ladder I went. I couldn’t really see anything in the mist and nearly took the wrong path in the quarry section once, which wouldn’t have been clever. The lad whose torch I was using passed me again somewhere around here, and told me to put the full beam on – it would definitely last now. I wasn’t convinced, but I did it. However, in the conditions, it didn’t really help. I just wanted to finish safely, so I adopted the strategy of climbing slowly and carefully and allowed myself to be caught by 50 runners, who were still moving quickly at this point. I’d let them pass and then latch on behind them, following for as long as I could keep up with them, before letting them go and slowing down again to await the next lights to catch me.

I did this several times, it made that last bit of climb seem to last a lot longer than I think it actually is but, once I could hear the waterfalls away to my right and I could feel the path start to ease in gradient, I knew the climbing was done.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the final descent is worse! I had enough light in the cloud that I could see what was rock and what was grass, but not enough light to make out what was path and what was – well, something else! So I edged my way down extremely slowly, whilst praying for another 50 runner to appear – why did there have to be a gap in the runners now??!!

Finally, a torch crested the pass and started descending towards me. All I needed was one person to lead the way and I would be fine – I could see the rocks if they would just show me where the path was! Unbelievably, when the light finally reached me, it was a mate of mine! Mark from Hull, here to save the day like my Guardian Angel! We had a brief chat; he reckoned he was on for a PB but it was close. I told him not to slow down for me at all, just guide the way! And that’s what happened, a couple of other 50 runners joined us as well, and it was quite a relief to eventually hit the track at the bottom!

The adrenaline disappeared quickly at that point and I knew there was no chance of any running into the finish – I had half-sprinted down here last time on a wave of euphoria! But, this time, running didn’t matter, I was going to smash my PB and, I suspected, probably be well inside 30 hours and 30 minutes into the bargain. Happy (tired) days!

I got overtaken by two 100 runners on that last track, one right by the finish line itself! I finished 80th in the end so lost five places from Ambleside, but I wasn’t bothered about that – if you’d told me I would finish in the top 100 of this race on the start line I would have laughed at you! The headtorch drama meant that panic had replaced satisfaction and contentment in the last ten miles but I allowed myself a metaphorical pat on the back as I entered the streetlights of the village. Leanne and Lottie were waiting by the petrol station, Lottie didn’t want to run down the road with me, even when I told her I was only walking, so Leanne – ever the motivator – sent me ahead to properly run into the finish!

The welcome into the tent was amazing; thanks to all those who were there – Leanne and the girls, the Lavery and Quillian families, Paul Fisher again – and anyone else I either can’t remember or didn’t see! Nancy got to present me my medal, which was lovely – I have a nice video of that which I can’t share on this platform. Then time for the official and unofficial photographs:

It was at some point during the above that I said something to Hannah about my watch running out, so not knowing the time. I must also have said something about 30 hours and/or midnight because, for whatever reason, my only recollection is Hannah specifically saying, “Dad, you do know it isn’t midnight yet, don’t you?! It’s five to now!” I had no idea, at that point I didn’t even know how long it was since I’d finished, but I was utterly gobsmacked. 29 hours 42 minutes. ‘Av that!

It was a lot busier in the marquee than last time I finished, another by-product of getting it done early, I guess. So there was quite a party atmosphere in there which I could sort of take in once I’d found somewhere to sit down. Matthew Lavery and Steven Quillian were trying to persuade me to have a celebratory beer but, to be honest, there is no way I could have managed one, so I settled on about 10 cups of tea and a very nice food thing – don’t ask me what it was!

I was going to try and stay up to see some friends finish, but no-one could really access the tracker in the marquee – either the tracker, the signal, or both, were rubbish so we weren’t quite sure where everyone was out on the course, and it wasn’t too long before the tiredness properly kicked in. I’m not sure what time Leanne assisted me into the tent (defo easier to get into bed in a cottage!) but I do know that Leanne and Hannah then left Nancy, Lottie and I asleep in the tent and had quite a party while other friends came in to finish! So much so, that they seem to be actively encouraging me to enter again next year?! A rare turn of events! I suspect the ‘hospitality’ of the Lavery and Quillian families helped in this regard, so thanks especially to them!

Special Mentions.

Before I go any further, a few running buddies deserve a mention, with huge apologies to anyone I inadvertently miss out:

Mike – as previously mentioned, had to drop out at Ambleside (90 miles) after 30 hours when he passed out in the CP. I know he was going just fine before that, he was chatting happily to clubmates out in support approaching Ambleside, and I know he absolutely would have finished. Under the circumstances, the right decision was undoubtedly made and, should he decide to go round again next year, he knows he can get round. I know that is little consolation at this moment, though. Top effort, Mike.

Jon – completed in approximately 37 hours, having walked the entire way from Braithwaite. He’s told me it’s the one and only 100 he will do and keeps telling me how slow his time was. I keep telling him he was bloody amazing and he will forever own something I will never have – a 100% LL100 completion rate! Congratulations Jon!

Julie Lavery – Massive congratulations you Legend! Julie has worked so hard for 12 months to achieve her LL50 finish and I know Matt and the family are bursting with pride! She also says it’s a once in a lifetime thing but I suspect there might be a heated debate in the Lavery household come September 1st!

Darren Jackson – another debutant LL50 legend! If you know Darren at all, you will know that he likes his running to take place in flat places, ideally wearing spikes! I have never laughed as much as when travelling to and from cross country races with Darren and his loathing of mud, cold, wet etc. So this truly is a LL50 finish to celebrate! Chuffed for you mate, you legend!

Mark Gadie – my Coniston descent Guardian Angel! And it isn’t the first time Mark has been a GA running friend to me, either – the other is a long story for another day! Know this when you read it, Mark – you’d better be entering a race with three figures in it on September 1st! If you never go, you’ll never know!!! Oh, nice to see the family again too!

Denise Zachariasz – there are a myriad of personal reasons why I am thrilled that Denise again completed the 50. She knows what they are and she knows how proud her family and friends are of her. Sorry I only saw you briefly on Friday, Denise, but well done on another successful crossing!

Leanne’s pics of Mike, Jon, Darren and Julie passing through Pooley Bridge.

So, back to the top, what did I learn?

1 – Process over Outcome! You knew that was coming! I think I’ve covered this fairly comprehensively! I’m not a fan of mantras in running or in life but, thanks to Mark Laithwaite, this one stuck from the moment I listened to the podcast! I will never take part in Ironman (whatever some of my friends might try!) but I will try to never, in ultra races, take the metaphorical 15 minutes off the bike before walking the six hour marathon again! Concentrate on the process and the outcome will take care of itself! In this race, I nailed it!

2 – CP efficiency is King! I am going to be a statto nerd about CP times from this race forward. Just for the record, in this race, through 14 CPs, I was out in five minutes or less in 9 out of 14, which I am pretty pleased with. However, in the other 5 CPs I was 8 minutes, 10, 14, 16 and 19 minutes. Would you believe that still adds up to 89 MINUTES! That’s ages! It just goes to show how crucial the time is. Room for improvement next time?! I am nerdy about it, so the details are below if you really want to look:

3 – Slow Down to Speed Up! Careful with this one, as it only works on longer races! Ultimately, in shorter races, if you want to be fast you have to move fast. But in terms of energy conservation, this has worked well in all three ultra races this year.

4 – Eat and drink little and often! I definitely placed more emphasis on constantly eating my snacks in this race, instead of just carrying them round the entire race and not touching them, like I used to! Add salt tablets to this too. For the record, I simply stick to Kendal Mint Cake (my go to snack these days), Malt Loaf, Shot Blox, the odd gel, then Haribo. I tried to find savoury snacks in CPs to contrast.

5 – Find Your Feet! By this I mean your race shoe! I’m not going to tell you what to use as everyone is different. But when I read about people’s feet being mashed by Braithwaite my first thought is normally ‘wrong shoes.’ The shoe depends on the race as much as the person but, in my case, for the last two years it has been Hoka Speedgoat 4s. (Before that, it was Hoka Mafates which are better on the technical, rocky stuff, but not quite as comfortable on the rest.) Speedgoats are on the comfortable end of the spectrum for Lake District races – I wouldn’t try a fast fell race in them, but, especially on the rocky, hard packed or tarmac sections (ie most of the LL100 course) they feel like road shoes and, therefore, your feet and legs don’t hurt as much! I compensate for the relatively poor grip on them by making sure they are fairly new and just about worn in before big races like this. Then I get the best of both worlds. The 5s are out now and I am a bit nervous about transitioning to them – I bought a pair of 4s in April and saved them especially for the LL100 so I didn’t have to worry about it. I’ll transition to the 5s now but it will be with a tear in the eye! Here is my collection of current and retired SG4s!

6 – For goodness sake, treat chafing straight away! Ok ok, lesson learned – again! Treat any other sore areas straight away for that matter, it will save you heartache in the long run! I’m still hopeless at this as I am generally lucky with issues. Still, must try harder in future races.

7 – Ignore The Weather! This was the main thing I learned from my 2018 failure. It paid dividends in 2019. Both those were extremely wet years. I’ve read loads of blogs since the race; most pointing out awful weather. Well this was my third Lakeland weekend and this was easily the best weather I’ve experienced so far! (Granted, I missed 2021 when it was beautiful, but I wouldn’t have liked the heat anyway!) I think I got lucky and dodged the rain, but I experienced light drizzle in parts of the night – mostly of the cool, refreshing variety – no jacket required. I got the usual soaking on the Old Coach Road and the usual soaking from Mardale Head to Kentmere. Apart from that and the Ambleside downpour, I’m fairly certain I completed 90% of the race in lovely weather! Perfect for running. I’d take it again, that’s for sure. My point is, if you let the weather get you down, you’ve had it – especially in the Lakes. So get the right clothes on and ignore it. (Either that or my mind is playing tricks on me and it rained loads but I have got REALLY GOOD at ignoring the weather!!!) nb – having just posted the link to the official race film below and watched it again, it would appear that everyone else did indeed get rained on all day while I enjoyed glorious weather! Lucky or what?!

8 – Faster is easier! Back to Jon here and his 37 hour ‘slow’ run, as he describes it. I keep asking him: which is easiest, running for 30 hours or running for 37 hours?! I know the answer! Ultimately, we are all out there putting the same effort in, so doing it for less time is definitely easier than doing it for a long time! There were so many benefits of getting through this race quickly:

  • No need to go far into the second night, so my sleep deprivation issues were not a problem,
  • If the above weather comments from everyone else is true, then I suppose it stands to reason that, when the bad rain came at exactly 2pm for me, I was leaving Mardale and near the end, when I might normally have only been at Howtown. So l was out in the worst conditions for a lot less than the others,
  • I mentioned it in the write-up, but not bumping into any 50 runners until after the Fusedale leg made a huge difference to the speed with which I could complete the Fusedale leg,
  • The CPs weren’t as busy as they usually are,
  • In the wet weather sections, I was on the paths before they became too muddy from hundreds of people using them,
  • So much better for my supporters, who could see me in Ambleside in the early evening and got to see me finish before bedtime! (Apart from Lottie!)

9 – Finally, this race makes great films! If you enjoyed the 2021 edition starring Thierry earlier, then here is the link to the 2022 edition, with a little starring cameo from Mike at the Boot CP 4 minutes 45 seconds in! Enjoy! (ps The rain?! Not me!!!)

Thank You!

Finally, thank you from the bottom of my heart to:

  • Leanne and the girls for letting me out to play and chase my dreams. I’ve said it before, but it is literally a family effort. Firstly for letting me out to run all the time, but it is so great to be out there on race day knowing they are rooting for me; Leanne is a superb motivator come race day. And, as previously mentioned, the girls are a bit older now which meant that I think they enjoyed the weekend more than ever. So, I suppose, if they want me to go back, I’ll probably have to! Love you guys!
  • Mum and Dad – thanks for coming out, hope you enjoyed it – I’m glad it wasn’t too stressful! Cannot believe you didn’t stay a second night and drove home, that’s nearly as daft as running the race! See you next year!
  • Mark Laithwaite, the entire organising crew and all the volunteers, whatever your role. There is a very good reason everyone thinks this is the best trail running event in the country. Amazing job, every year!
  • To anyone and everyone who was out on the course supporting, whether specifically to give me a cheer, or who gave me a cheer as I passed. Everyone of them counts and helps! Special thanks to the Lavery and Quillian families for both their support and also for keeping the family entertained.
  • Mike and the rest of the Harris family: Katherine, Esme and Grace. (And Amber I suppose!) Mike for three great recce runs in the lakes as well as all the Sundea runs. Katherine for letting us! And thanks to Esme and Grace for getting my girls round the Lakeland 1!
  • Fellow runners – I, for one, never get tired of passing runners giving a bit of encouragement, especially the 50 guys as they fly past! Apologies if I was too tired in the moment to reply, but I tried!
  • John Kynaston and his family – his daughter recently ran the ‘Devil O The Highlands’ race in memory of her Dad, so I sent her a message to let her know that he was still inspiring and helping runners to this day. She sent a very nice message back, so I sincerely thank John’s family for keeping his website and You Tube channel open for us to use. I also really missed his amazing excel results spreadsheet which he used to painstakingly complete every year.
  • And finally, to our Hannah, for the lucky bloody pebble!!! (Damn it!)

Thanks for reading everyone. Apologies for the epic read again!

Sticks. x

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