Lakeland 100 27 – 29 July by Mark LiptrotAugust 7, 2012
I’ve got to start off by saying that this is probably the toughest organised ultra distance event in the UK. Starting in Coniston it is essentially a massive lap of the Lake District visiting virtually every valley. It takes in some massive climbs and covers some very, very difficult terrain.
I first tried this in 2011. I had just done the Montane 100 mountain bike event and was searching for the results. I typed “Montane 100″ into Google and up popped the Lakeland 100. I clicked off it as quickly as I could so that I wouldn’t be tempted – I was already planning a Bob Graham attempt for 2011 – how many preposterous challenges can you give yourself in any one year? Anyway, it was too late, and within twenty minutes I had gone and entered.
I completed the BG – just - and six weeks later I was lining up at the start of the L100.
I had done better than expected in the other ultras I had done that year, and with the BG as training I had high aspirations for the L100. I had felt OK up until Wasdale where I started going backwards – ominously early. I just got gradually worse and worse until I dragged myself into the Kentmere checkpoint to retire – the sense of relief at not having to continue still constitutes one of my best running moments!
Fast forward to the last weekend in July 2012. I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the event – that would be almost as boring as a 34 hour race; here are the edited highlights.
There is always a great atmosphere and a sense of occasion at the start. And it is a big occasion. The three hundred people willing and able to take on the toughest ultra in the UK is select company indeed. Well, it’s even more select than that, as half of them won’t finish.
I elbowed my way to the front line at the start with my Hokas, compression tights and poles, all aimed at reducing the accumulated wear and tear fatigue – “it’s all about damage limitation” as Master Laithwaite says.
The hooter went at 5:30 pm and finally we were off. Finally, after twelve months of training and preparation.
I’d trained during that time with Steve Kavanagh, one of the most determined characters I’ve ever met. We’d done numerous fifty milers; back to back days of fifty miles followed by twenty miles; fat burning runs of six seven and eight hours with no breakfast and nothing to eat most of the day; running in uncushioned shoes over stony tracks to condition our feet and legs; we’d been out in all weathers to help us learn to cope with adversity, including one memorable outing where we had to throw ourselves into swollen streams and grab desperately for the opposite bank; 4am starts and yet another weekend in the Lakes, daddy. All to avoid another DNF.
We were well prepared this time physically and mentally.
I had realised after The Fellsman that for events over 40 miles I need to be able to eat. To be able to eat I need to run at a low intensity and keep very well hydrated. The plan was to set off slowly and run with a heart rate monitor to make sure I kept the intensity really low. Steve had noted in training that I always speed up when there is anyone else around and he doubted that I would be able to hold myself back come the day.
So, I started on the front line but by the time we turned out of Coniston I was already half way down the field. By the start of the Walna Scar Road I was dead last. That restrained enough for you Steve? I decided then that I would be last through checkpoint 1. That meant getting into a tussle for last place with Emma K. She didn’t make it easy. When I got to the top of Walna Scar I could see virtually all the way down to the road – about a mile – and apart from Emma there wasn’t a soul in sight!
Seathwaite – Boot
I kept it steady on the heart rate monitor. I passed a few people including a couple who were almost certainly destined for an ultra domestic. She wasn’t having a good time on the rocky descent into Eskdale, he was silhouetted a quarter a mile ahead with his arms folded in “that” way. I shouted back, “Are you OK?” No reply. I don’t think it would have done any good to point out that there were another 90 miles of this.
Boot – Wasdale
I bumped into Dave and another Steve at the checkpoint and we all set off up to Burnmoor Tarn together into the gathering dusk. Dave asked Steve, “Are you OK with the pace Mark’s setting?” I didn’t realise I was setting the pace; I thought I was running at my own pace. Then Dave said to Steve, “How’s your calf?” Ominous. I didn’t want to get sucked into someone else’s calf, groin, hip, hamstring, glute, back, head, vision, stomach, knee, ankle, blister, life history woes. There was going to be plenty of time for woes of my own. I quickly reasoned to myself: you’re never more than 5 miles from a checkpoint on the whole of this course; these guys are not in anydanger; I don’t owe these fellas anything. So, when we got to the first flat bit after the climb I said over my shoulder, “I’m just going to jog the flat bits,” and sprinted off.
As luck would have it I bumped into Steve K at the Wasdale checkpoint. As luck would have it he took a picture of me there – because I forgot to dib. Sincere apologies. I blame the checkpoint staff: at every other checkpoint the staff made sure that everyone dibbed as soon as they arrived.
I really enjoyed this leg, chit chatting with Steve and geeing each other up all the way through. The poles really came into their own on Black Sail and Scarth Gap Passes. I’d only bought them on a whim a week before to copy Steve, but they really took some of the leg work out of the big climbs.
The line of headtorches coming down Black Sail was very impressive.
Buttermere – Braithwaite
It’s a long, long drag out of Buttermere. I’d convinced myself on reccies that it wasn’t really a climb – it’s a long traverse with a few climbs thrown in. Steve dropped back a bit here and I pulled away, not wanting to pull him along too fast. Although we’d done loads of training together we had agreed that running it together was a daft idea – either one could pull the other one on destructively fast or too slowly. I passed a man and a woman at the top of the climb, said hello and pressed on on the descent. A few minutes later the young lady was running alongside me. We had a bit of a chat, punctuated by a tinkling noise: “Oh that’s my friends sending me inspirational texts.” Ah, texts from friends. Suddenly it dawned on me what had been lacking in my long runs lonely as a cloud o’er vale and hill, beneath the starlit sky and surrounded by far horizons. Bleeps. I never run accompanied by bleeps.
There is a subtle turn off from the main track that is very easy to miss in the dark.Now, is it before the rocks start or after they end? I just couldn’t remember. I stopped to look around, and back at all the headtorches catching us up. “I’m sure there’s a little turn off along here, if we carry on down the main track we end up on a road in the valley,” I said pacing off down a little trod. “I’m sure they all go the same way,” said my companion. No they fucking don’t, I thought, there’s a turn off which contours round, goes between two little summits before the descent to Braithwaite. I’ve missed the turn off on reccies before and so I even built a little cairn to mark it last time I was here. “Blah, blah blah,” said my companion. I always hate being in this situation. I always feel as if I’m making a decision half for someone else. I looked back up and the line of headtorches made it obvious where the turn off was. Bastard. I was narked now, so I made a snap decision: there was no way I was climbing back up. I turned and legged it off down the track leaving my companion behind to make her own decision for herself. I don’t know how fast I went down that track but it was far too fast. I hit the road and I knew there was a footpath over to Braithwaite. When I got to it I found it was a bigger climb than the one I’d avoided. So that was a mile further and more climbing but hey ho. As it turned out my adrenaline fuelled descent got me in to the checkpoint quicker than all the headtorches behind me.
Braithwaite – Blencathra
A great leg. I made up 39 places on this leg as it came light. Stormer. I finished off my cold sausages which I really enjoyed. I found that running at lower intensity, keeping hydrated and not actually eating as much was really working. Replacing all the gooey sweet stuff with savouries was also helping too.
Blencathra – Dockray
Just kept it steady. As we joined the Bob Graham route at Newsham House who should come storming past but Nicky Spinks, on her way to set a new record for the BG. She was moving really well. Very impressive.
Dockray – Dalemain
I found this section really long and arduous last year and was clearly going backward. Now I felt confident and comfortable and was still making up places.
The 50 mile race starts from Dalemain and all 600 runners were congregating before the off. The round of applause as I entered the grounds was a very moving experience.
Last year I had not been able to eat anything here. With 60 miles gone and 45 to go this is very very bad. Now I could eat anything. I had two bowls of stew, one of them cold, followed by cake and custard, all served by the lovely Angela from the Endurance Store – very uplifting.
Again kept it very steady along to Fusedale and up the big, big climb. The support from the L50 runners is very admirable but becomes a bit embarrassing after a while. Is it rude not to respond? What do you say to the 150th person who has called you awesome and said you’re moving really well? I tagged onto two 50 runners Elaine and Sarah(?) who pulled me quickly along the endless shores of Haweswater into the Mardale checkpoint. The big climb went quickly and I had a blinder of a descent down the rocky road into Longsleddale. People frequently ask me what the Hokas are like on descents. If you were one of the dozens of people I bounded past on the way to Sadgill then you’ll know.
It was a very different me who approached the Kentmere checkpoint from the sad and sorry wreck who had ended his run here last year. I was tucking into the cold burger I’d picked up at Dalemain when my eye lighted on the clock. Believe it or not I hadn’t looked at my watch a single time up to this point. Half past six. I had told Carol I would be at Ambleside at half past five. A quick calculation told me that I would be going well into the second night, something I had been hoping to avoid. That dented my resolve a bit and let the suffering in. I had had wet feet for hours and hours and the soles of my feet were raw and painful and I wasn’t looking forward to another eight or more hours of this. Imagine my relief when my partner Carol and Rosie our daughter were waiting for me on the road in Ambleside. Rosie ran into the checkpoint with me and then handed me a pastie. Carol bought me a fresh pair of socks. I felt really pampered.
As I bent down to change my sock I was surprised at how smelly my feet were. I only realised the real source of the smell the day after. Remember my refined bladder control I mentioned in the Osmotherley Phoenix? Well it’s true that the last few drops go down your leg. I had made sure to keep fully hydrated. This involved guzzling copiously at the checkpoint and then taking about 500ml out on the trail, avoiding the need to carry pounds and pounds of liquid. As a result I was pissing like a horse all the way round and if I’d had to stop every time I had a pee it would have added an extra hour at least on to my time.
Ambleside to the Finish
With fresh dry socks and Compeed stuck to the soles of my feet I pressed on steadily, though the sense of humour had all but gone. I cursed Laithwaite roundly for his rubble strewn, mud infested course as I stumbled and skateboarded up Langdale and across Blea Moss and up over to Tilberthwaite. For a short while I was almost asleep on my feet, swaying from side to side.
A quick stop at Tilberthwaite and I set off up the steps of hell with renewed vigour. So much so that the 50ers had to make way for my storming progress.
Then it was the last long agonising descent and in to the finish.
My one and only 100 miler. I’m not even tempted to do another one. Call me a softie but they’re just too hard for me; require too much training; involve too much suffering.
Looking forward to the Fellsman next year though. I reckon with what I’ve learned here I could give it a good go next year.
Aug 7, 2012 13:32
Flippin ‘eck, Hopey, I thought you’d just post the link to the blog, not the whole blimmin report!
Aug 7, 2012 16:50
What an amazing story of an epic 100m race come adventure. Its a great account of your highs and lows throughout this testing journey. To even think about attempting such a feat is mad so actually doing it is crazy. Much admiration and respect to you Mark…..but try not to be tempted to do it all again!!!
Aug 7, 2012 20:06
You may not have won a prize in the race but you deserve an award for what must be the logest report ever. Great achievement.
Aug 9, 2012 22:48
Well Mark I hold my hat off to you, enough said….