Race Report by Phil Tugwell
Saturday 25th July – Montaine Lakeland 50 (Ultra Tour of the Lake District)
According to the Lakeland 50 website, the Lakeland 50 is one of the great Ultra running and walking challenges in Europe. 50 miles and almost 10,000 feet of climbing on challenging terrain that takes runners from the Northern end of Ullswater to Coniston Via Mardale head, Kentmere, Ambleside, Langdale and Tilberthwaite. The race starts at 11.30 am on the Saturday and has a 24 hour time limit and is limited to 650 participant which presents the first challenge actually getting into the event.
When entries opened at 9 am on 1st September 2014 for the 2015 running of the event on Saturday 25th July all 650 entries were sold out in 19 minutes! By this point both Dave Boothroyd and I had secured places. It seemed like a good idea at the time….I was 50 in January and a 50 mile event at 50 seemed a good challenge.
Considering I’d never gone further than marathon distance and up until the race I’d completed in 4 fell races, three on Moel Famau and the longest just under 5 miles…..it was definitely going to be a challenge!
Fast forward 9 months and we arrived in at Race headquarters in the John Ruskin School in Coniston on the Friday afternoon to go through the registration and kit checking process. The organisation and sheer scale of the event becomes immediately apparent, the race entry also includes 2 nights camping on the school field and the 650 50 entrants were swelled by the 350 100 mile race entrants as well as family and friends there were about 3000 people hanging around the school!
First stop was the registration process which starts with the kit check there is a mandatory kit list which comprises:
- Full waterproof body cover
- First aid kit to include blister pads, bandage, dressings and tape
- Spare base layer top ( long sleeve) and bottom
- Head torch and spare batteries
- Fully charged mobile phone
- Hat and gloves
- Emergency foil blanket or bivvy bag
- 400 Kcals of emergency food
- Road book
The kit check is very robust within everything dropped onto the table and checked and only if you pass kit checked are you branded (marked with a marker pen on your hand!) and allowed to move to the next stage which is proving your ID (like you would find anyone daft enough to take your place!)
In typical fashion as all my kit was on the table I realised my compass was in a different bag in the car so ran back to get that while Becky and the nice lady checked the rest of my kit and amused themselves at just how much extra kit I’d packed I think enough clothes for 4 seasons and enough food to feed a family of 4 for a week! After 14 years of travelling I’ve never mastered the art of packing light!
Next stage was receiving the race pack of number, map, road book and Lakeland buff, then it off to have the timing dibber tied to your wrist. Interesting when this was 3pm Friday afternoon and race didn’t start until 11 am next day! Then onto the final step being weighed and another tag added to the wrist showing your weight. Apparently it helps the medical teams in an emergency! So registration completed and no turning back! We went for a wander round the village and a drink at the black Bull…and then head back to sit on the grass and wait for the start of the 100 race at 6pm…whilst we were sitting passing time who should we see but Mr Boothroyd and we passed a pleasant hour in the sun comparing notes.
The start of the 100 is preceded by an opera singer performing Nessum Dorma…there’s a story there a couple of years ago a 100 runner reckoned he’d passed Paul Potts of BGT fame on the fells whistling Nessum Dorma….surely a hallucination after a night without sleep however a quick tweet to the man himself confirmed it was actually true and it’s become a tradition to start the race with Nessum Dorma! Once the 100 runners were on their way we headed over Bowness where we were staying for dinner and an early night.
Well after repacking my kit for the fourth time and reducing the amount I was carrying! In the end I left in the long sleeve T-shirt, tracksters and my ultra-light down vest, GPS and just one pack of jelly babies as additional kit. The final task was to decide what to actually wear on the day eventually I opted for undershorts and shorts, short sleeve t-shirt and of course my Buckley vest. Coupled with speed cross trail shoes, an OMM 10L back pack and an OMM bum bag and 1.5 litres of water I was ready to go finally I hear you saying!
Saturday started bright and early as the compulsory pre-race briefing was at 8.30 in Coniston and in a feat reminiscent of a Harry Potter story somehow 650 runners managed to cram into the school hall designed for 250 people! The briefing was into two parts, the first from assistant race director Terry covered the serious bits, things like emergency procedures, checkpoints cut off times etc. then it was over to RD Marc Laithwaite owner of the Endurance store in Appleby Bridge, founder of the Lakeland 50, sports physiologist and triathlete and runner as well as a budding motivational speaker and stand-up comedian!
Gems such as “which idiot asked on Facebook what brand of plastic bag do you recommend using to pack your emergency kit? And who are the 23 people of replied!” to an interesting observation that people hang around with others who do the same sort of activities and for your that becomes the norm…so here you all are hanging around with 650 other people who think running 50 miles in the lakes is a normal thing to do…priceless. Suitably motivated were we then sent like lambs to the slaughter into a fleet of 13 coaches for the 21 mile trip to Dalemain which it has to be said in a coach on those roads was a slow and interesting experience 80 minutes later we arrived at Dalemain and had 45 minutes to kill before the race started. I had the opportunity to catch up with Becky for a while and also with an old friend and colleague from Spectrum striders Chris Millington, Chris in part was responsible for me being at the 50 as it was his blogs in the striders newsletters about his experiences in the 50 and 100 that put the idea into my head!
The weather was fantastic with pretty clear skies and a strong sun which kept temperatures around the 20 degree mark although it must be said in some of the enclosed valleys it field an awful lot hotter!
All too soon we being channelled into the start pen and the first “dib” made. At 11:30 the gun went and we were off.
Leg 1: Dalemain to Howtown (CP1)
Distance between checkpoints: 11.2 Miles
Ascent: 294m (965ft) Descent: 285m (935ft)
Time 2:02 Position: 341/615
The first 4.1 miles is an undulating grassy loop of the Dalemain estate easy under foot and very runnable, actually it’s too runnable and you need to be careful that you don’t go off to fast! I set a steady pace guide by the Garmin of around11 minute miles looping back you hit the main hall and arrive back at the start and a quick wave to Becky before heading off across the main road and following the river towards Pooley Bridge and Ullswater, this section was again easy on the foot and relatively flat Pooley Bridge was packed with tourists and spectators cheering on the runners which as always lifts the spirits.
The route then takes you out of the village and out onto the open fell alongside Ullswater. Navigation at this point was pretty simple with a long snake of 350 people ahead of me and near perfect visibility. The race is a set route and you are expected to follow the route exactly and not look for the best route between checkpoints. Navigation is aided by a map supplied with the route printed on it and the road book. This is an amazing piece of work giving written instructions for every stage of the race. Of course you still have to be able to navigate and I also carried my GPS as a backup. In the weather conditions we had navigation was relatively easy at least until the last couple of legs but in bad weather it could become a big challenge.
Out onto the open fell and the course climbs gradually on good paths and I was making good time and running comfortably, I was never sort of someone to talk to as we ran before I’d realised it 10 miles had passed in a decent 1:56 a slight descent into Howtown saw me into the first checkpoint. The checkpoints exist predominantly for you the dib and record your time and to grab a quick drink however over the years the checkpoints have become part of the races folklore and each checkpoint has a theme and each one offers a range of services trying to out the others. The first checkpoint had a Wild West theme, all of the volunteer helpers were dressed in cowboy outfits and ran around looking after the runners, filling drinks bottles and offering refreshments. At this point early into the race I grabbed a cup of coke, filled my bottle and head out onto leg 2.
Leg 2 Howtown to Mardale Head (CP2)
Distance between checkpoints: 15.2km (9.4miles)
Ascent: 765m (2510ft) Descent: 672m (2205ft)
Time: 2:54:03 position 360/613
Out of Howtown and back onto the fell you quickly start the first and biggest climb of the race heading up Fusdale to High Kop a climb of some 1700 feet in a little under 2 miles with almost a 1000 feet in the second mile, it has to be said that the views on this first section are truly amazing as you raise high above Ullswater with a panorama of peaks all around and looking around a huge snake of runners the length of the hill. I would love to say I ran up this section in the style of Jez and the two Simons but alas I was quickly reduced to a walk with the first three miles of the leg being covered in 18, 28 and 19 minutes respectively. It was definitely a strategy of walk for a little while rest for a few seconds and carry on making a mental note that if I do this again I need to get a lot more practice in on the fells in fairness the Lakeland fells are much more brutal than my usual training ground around Moel Famau and it showed a little.
After several false summits I topped out at high Kop and then it was back to running again for a couple of miles up on the exposed fells pleasant on such a beautiful day but definitely exposed and brutal if the weather had turned. Past low Kop and a sharp right turn send us descending towards the end of Haweswater and a run alongside the lake all the way to Mardale head….it doesn’t look a big lake on the map but that run along the lake is about 4.5 miles and the checkpoint is at the very end on the other side of the lake it seems to go on for ever although in reality it took about 70 minutes.
Once of the pleasant aspects of the race is you get to run and chat to so many fellow competitors along the Haweswater section I ran with a nice lady called Shirley from Yorkshire who with her Husband Jon run the Hardmoors series of races I’d seen the name on FB and as always it was good to put a face to the name. Finally the Mardale head point loomed into view and a tough section was out of the way and 20 miles were now under my belt.
This check point was manned by Delamere Spartans running club and had a Spartan theme, grabbed by a marshal to dib in he looked at my vest and said ah Buckley are you doing the clywddian 15 in September! I’m not sure what I answered I think it was just a mumble! Here I grabbed more coke, filled the water bottle up had a gel and used the facilities before heading out.
Leg 3 Mardale Head to Kentmere (CP3)
Distance between checkpoints: 10.4km (6.5miles)
Ascent: 511m (1677ft) Descent: 589m (1932ft)
Time 2:04 position 338/607
The next leg starts with the ascent up Gatescarth Pass and is another brutal climb covering some 1700feet in a couple of miles, indicated by the fact miles 21 and 22 took me 28 and 30 minutes respectively the paths are fairly well made and there are numerous switch backs and false summits to lure you into a declaring success early. I was moving steadily felling ok at this stage and reached the high point of this section and started the descent towards Kentmere. The first section of this is fairly un-runnable unless you are a mountain goat as it’s extremely rocky and uneven and at this stage an injury was the last thing on my mind.
At about the 23 mile stage I was over taking a group of runners when one of them grabbed by arm it turned out to be a guy called Oz Fry from Penny Lane striders and RD of one the Liverpool Park runs. I’d never met Oz before the recce in May and we’d started running together at a similar point that day and had worked well as a team and we had both been looking out for each other earlier in the race to no avail. We again quickly teamed up and made a pact we were going to get each other to the finish come what may and 27 miles and 8 hours later we crossed the line together!
We hit the half way point in 6:45 and pushed on the course then drops towards a farm on a decent runnable track before crossing a couple of bracken filled fields which for us short people meant we could cross from one side of the field to the other without being seen! Finally Kentmere arrived and I gratefully entered the institute.
Time recorded then it was time for sustenance. I’m rubbish at eating when I run and whilst many runners were tucking into a pasta dish or soup I plumped for a hot sweet cup of tea and 3 chocolate chip cookies….absolutely heaven! As well as this I also had one the legendary smoothies. This checkpoint was led by Montaine and supported with a local scout group and had a 1970’s rock theme! The smoothie lived up; to their legendary status and being cheeky I went back for a second one! 27 miles down and it was time to get back on the road
Leg 4 Kentmere to Ambleside (CP4)
Distance between checkpoints: 11.8km (7.3miles)
Ascent: 491m (1611ft) Descent: 602m (1975ft)
Time 2:16 Position 334/596
This is the first leg that has more descent than ascent but of course there is the little matter of the Garburn pass which is a steep but relatively short climb (well in comparison to the previous two climbs). Once this is crested you are look ng down on the vista of Lake Windermere and on a beautiful summers evening its difficult not to be impressed by the Lake District. The route then takes you on a gradual descent to Troutbeck and onwards towards Jenkins Crag running parallel to the lake this is a pleasant runnable section and we were moving well and in good shape. I was at this point well passed the furthest I’d ever run and after 9 hours was still moving well. Oz and I had settled into the rhythm we had found on the recce Oz navigating with me confirming his navigation and providing witty repartee! We covered just about every topic under the sun to keep the mind off the fact we were getting tired!
Finally you drop down onto old Lake Road and hit the centre of Ambleside heading for the parish centre. The atmosphere and reception in Ambleside was utterly amazing all of the people in the pubs and restaurants’ clapped and cheered as we made our way through the village it was like being in a big city marathon the support was truly amazing finally we hit the road to the parish centre and the checkpoint where Becky and Oz’s wife were waiting which as always lifted the spirts.
This checkpoint had a circus theme, the marshals dibbing you in were dressed as clowns with full face paint (I kid you not) and in the hall sandwiches were served by a strong man in leopard skin outfit it was definitely one of those things you can’t un-see! This time I just grabbed a hot sweet tea and took the opportunity to change my short sleeve t shirt for a long sleeve one as the temperature was beginning drop and I knew it would be moving slower into the remaining miles. 35 miles done and a mere 15 to go…..
Leg 5 Ambleside to Chapel Stile (CP5)
Distance between checkpoints: 9.0km (5.6miles)
Ascent: 234m (768ft) Descent: 213m (699ft)
Time 1:45 Position 336/586
Heading out through the park you head out onto open fell climbing slowly before dropping down to road and appearing at the Skelwith Bridge Hotel. At this point is one of those moments when you see the road sign saying Coniston 5 miles yet the GPS says you’ve 12 miles still to go! We were clearly going the long way round. The next couple of miles into the Langdale check point is along the river and flat and a really good path and we managed to move at a reasonable pleasantly surprised that everything still appears to be working well and no real aches or pains.
Hitting Elterwater you head into and out of Chapel style in the shadow of the Langdale’ s past a campsite to a great reception before heading towards a field which has a Marquee in it, fairy lights strung around and it and wait surely that can’t be a sofa and arms chairs?? I wasn’t hallucinating welcome to the chapel sile checkpoint legendary for its comfort a real home from home in the middle of a field miles from nowhere! Stew, pasta soup sandwiches and crisps were all on offer here as well as a sit down but conscious of not losing too much time and thinking if I sit down I won’t get back up we decided on a cup of tea and some chocolate chip cookies (you can see a theme forming here!) a quick use of the facilities, head torches on as it had now turned very much into night and with 10 miles to go we headed on the next stage
Leg 6 Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite (CP6)
Distance between checkpoints: 10.6km (6.5miles)
Ascent: 387m (1270ft) Descent: 323m (1060ft)
Time 2:26 position 341/585
Up until this point I’d been moving well and with confidence on the terrain however it quickly became apparent that running in the pitch black is a very different experience and very disorientating at times. Although I’d done some running with the head torch on it had been mainly round the common and mental note to self-more practice is needed especially off road on rough and rocky terrain.
We head out looking down on the famous Dungeon Gill hotel and climb steadily and then steeply heading upwards towards Blea Tarn. Although moving well on smooth ground I find it really difficult being confident with my foot placements on rocky ground and have to concentrate hard. At this point there is a long stream in front and behind of head torches and you don’t realise living in a town just how dark it is on the fells with no ambient light.
Just before Blea tarn I have one of those “moments “ entering a kissing gate I closed the gate and then spend a good 45 seconds wondering how the hell I get out of the dam thing at that moment in time I had no clue how the gate worked or how I was going to get myself out of there! Luckily the brain finally started to work and passing Blea tarn we hot Bleamoss at which point around midnight it started to rain.
A quick stop to put the water proof on and a fight with slippery rocks killer bracken and a muddy bog saw the bracken and the rocks winning comfortably a couple of close encounters with the ground and I somehow escaped onto the road and back on a decent surface started to move better towards the one unmanned check point on a gate lit with a solar light welcoming runners to it.
The remaining couple of miles to the final check point in Tilberwaithe were on decent paths and we moved reasonably well and I’m glad to say the rain stopped after about 30 minutes passing around a farm we entered the final check point at 1 am with just 3.5 miles between us and the finish.
This was a low key checkpoint in the car park by the stone steps into the quarry and after checking in and grabbing a quick tea we headed off into the night and the final leg.
Leg 7 Tilberthwaite to Coniston (CP7)
Distance between checkpoints: 5.7km (3.5miles)
Ascent: 283m (928ft) Descent: 385m (1263ft)
Time 1:46 Position 346/585
After 46.5 miles and at 1 am in the morning the last thing you want to do is climb the steep steeps up towards the quarries. The Checkpoint team had kindly put Chinese lanterns on ever other step which brought a surreal feel to the area. The next 1.5 miles is tough 900 feet of climbing in the dark on rough and very indistinct paths as you climb steadily to summit of copper mines valley in the shadow of the Old Man of Coniston. The path is littered with rocks and has a steep edge down to beck and an unfenced very steep drop into the quarry on the other side! Great in the pitch black-how did the risk assessment?
Heading past a small tarn we were still moving well slow but steady progress and although my inability to cope with rough sections hampered us a little and at some point I went flying into a clump of bushes but luckily no harm was done (well other than losing my glasses which meant Oz was solely in navigation duties then again he was brought up in Coniston and new the area well fortunately!).
Finally we reached the summit and headed down copper mines valley towards Coniston and the finish. For me this ¾ mile section losing 1200 feet in that time down a boulder field was the hardest part of the whole race by this point I think my fine motor skills had completely deserted me and whilst I find the technical descents the worst part of my running this was something else entirely I looked like a duck on ice or someone who had had 20 pints! As I stumbled from one boulder to another somehow staying up how, I have no idea .One runner passing asked if I was listening to music and dancing! It must have been a sorry sight and I have to admit this section was tough, very steep and scary and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as we hit the main path by the slate cottages and were into the last mile on good surfaces.
The change was amazing once out of the boulder valley I was moving fluently again and managing a good pace. We dropped steadily down to the village coming out by the black Bull, over the bridge past the garage, turn at the chippy and the last 150 metres to the finish we broke out into a jog and 100 metres ahead a crowd of a good 100 people were at the finish at 2.30 in the morning.
As we planned Oz and I crossed the line together in 15 hours and 3 minutes finishing in 346th place out of the 615 that started. As you cross the line a marshal is assigned to you and takes you to dib in for the last time and into the hall where they announce “two 50 finishers” to a roar of cheers and claps from the runners and supporters which is a fantastic end to the race. Then it’s a print out of your times and the medal and t shirt and a quick check to make sure you are ok before the marshal leaves you and for me a reunion with Becky and the end of a challenge that start 10 months previously. A hot meal is on offer but predictably I grabbed a cup of tea had a couple of photos with Oz said our good byes and head to the car to drive back to Bowness.
The race was over I’d finished one of the toughest challenges in UK running in a decent time for a first attempt at the age of 50 I was a happy but tired boy and pleased with what I’d accomplished. Actually being pleased with my performance in a race is a rare event for me I’m usually super critical and always think I could have done better but at that moment in time as I received my medal I was really pleased and proud and daft as it seems a week later I’m writing this at 39,000 feet somewhere over Mongolia writing the part about the entry into the hall made me a little emotional! Get a grip Tugwell
So race over and time to rest, recover and reflect. Well not quite I had to be at Manchester airport at 3pm on the Sunday to head to Ljubljana for a week to run a training course so no chance to rest although I have resisted the temptation to run and have took a full week off and will return to training this Sunday in the humid conditions of South China! Sunday.
I had expected to be pretty much unable to move on Monday but to be honest I hardly suffered I acquired two blisters and 4 black toe nails but that’s not too bad in my book and although I haven’t ran I managed to wander round Ljubljana each night for a couple of hours.
So finally….yes I know the report is longer than the race I guess as a consultant and coach I should finish by reflecting and reviewing my performance and plan what I would do better next time!
Well what I did learn was that I’m actually pretty fit and I have the stamina to keep going for a fair old while and maybe I’m not doing bad for a 50 year old! Did I get enough training in? Probably not I averaged about 25 miles a week hitting a peak of about 40 miles and managed half a dozen 15-18 mile runs and one 28 mile. A couple of bouts of illness didn’t help neither did 3 weeks out with a calf strain and as always a lot of travelling. But I ran well within myself. Could I have gone faster probably but the objective was to finish and not get lost, injured or come last so in that sense I did ok. Learning points for me more time spent in the big hills Moel Famau is a good training ground but it really doesn’t prepare you fully for the lung bursting uphill’s of the lakes and the technical rocky descents. I definitely need to learn the second half of the route better and practice moving over rough steep ground in the dark. And also get some longer tougher fell races in to build stamina and experience
Having said all of this the Lakeland 50 is an amazing experience, fantastic organisation and a tremendous atmosphere with a team of volunteers who put on what be the best race in the UK and something I’m very glad I experienced.
What also becomes apparent is just how much a challenge the 100 mile race this has some 20,000 feet of climbing and takes the winner 22 hours and I have a massive respect for anyone who completes that. Since the race as always stories of endeavour come out none more so that Harry Johnson who finished the race in 23 hours ish at the age of 80! And a gentleman in the 100 who twisted his ankle at the 20 mile mark and who carried on to finish finding out 3 days later he had broken a bone in his ankle! Sheer courage!
This report has of course been a tale of my race but of course I wasn’t the only Buckley Runner in the race Dave Boothroyd had an amazing race finishing in 83rd in a time of 10 hours 59 minutes a brilliant performance from a great runner and true gent. I haven’t managed to catch up with him yet to hear his story mainly because I haven’t been in the country since the race!
Well finally I guess there is just one question left to answer would I do this again? Oh hell yes I actually enjoyed the race, ran ok and felt not too bad at the end and know I can go faster and come 1st September I’ll be sat in front of my laptop at 9am trying to enter!