A ridiculous amount of doubt had crept in by the time we were on the bus to the start of my second Lakeland 50. Because 50 miles is ‘crazy’, and ‘not normal’, you have to adjust your mindset to believe that it’s possible. For me, the fact of having done it before was not sufficient. My training base was solid, but I didn’t see it that way. Always worrying that I haven’t done enough. After grumping my way through the Yorkshire 3 Peaks recently (not achieving my target pace for the L50…in half the distance and height gain) and the crap weather forecast for race day, my BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) of 12 hours seemed far out of reach, so I decided I’d settle for 13. And a half. Well, under 14. Anything under last year’s time [14:51] would be fine, really. Actually, I’d just like to finish…
Na. I still wanted it; I just thought I couldn’t do it. “Confidence, resilience, faith” I wrote on my hand (from this beautiful video. Have tissues to hand) the night before. It rubbed off. I’d “rarely” reached my target weekly mileage, my training was erratic, I’d completely forgotten the way and never run an ultra in the rain. Shit, shit. My knees would probably give up, god why is that twingeing the night before the race, I’ve never felt that before, I’m probably dying. I’ve got the flu! I’ve sneezed and now I’m going to have to pull out in a heap at the first checkpoint because…I’ll probably fall over and break my ankle on the slippy rocks! I don’t know how to run on slippy rocks, it never rains in west yorkshire, god I’m so inexperienced, what am i doing… Food! I might not have enough food! I might have the wrong food! What if I don’t drink anything! I haven’t had enough water in my taper! I’ve tapered wrong, I didn’t run enough! I didn’t do enough etc etc…
But I got on that bus, with the dreaded feeling of “I’ve been looking forward to this for a full 12 months and now I reeeeeally can’t remember why”. Confidence, resilience, faith. I looked at my black nail varnish, a bit of a ritual now in the scary races. A dark colour to remember I’m ‘ard, with one sparkly nail because it’s supposed to be fun (“Hard as nails”, a friend wrote after the event). I remembered how terrified I was this time last year, when I didn’t have a clue if my legs would drop off after 32 miles, my longest previous distance (they didn’t). I remembered when 8km seemed like a bloody long way to run, just three years ago. I struggled to stuff my face with a green smoothie and some pastry – I’d nearly thrown up the horrible porridge concoction I’d had for breakfast. I calmed myself by thinking that I wasn’t doing the hardest event, and the craziest competitors had already been out on the fells for more than 12 hours. Breathe. Just breathe.
One of the most beautiful things about the Lakeland 50 & 100 events is the family feel. Oddly enough, I felt it more this year running solo, not as part of a team, but also because my parents were there. They were allowed to run the first 6km loop with me, which was bloody brilliant as it kept me calm, and reminded me not to aim for a 5k PB! I still ran faster than my target pace but it was ok because I felt strong. I choked back the tears as I said goodbye (I’m a very emotional ultrarunner – happy tears knowing that the next time I saw them it’d be a lot nearer the end)… and off I went on the long trail to Coniston. I got to know a lot more people this year (Iain, Kim, Helen, Jude, Carol, Will, Julie, Colin, Charlie, Adrian, Malcolm, Luke, Lee are the first names that spring to mind…as my strengths this year were downhill and short times in checkpoints, I got to see a lot of people multiple times when they then overtook me on the ascents, which was really nice!), despite running on my own for longer in a race than ever before.
Solo…that was one of the daunting parts of this race. When three of us first signed up to the L50 in September 2015, none of us had done anything like it before, but we knew we’d have the fitness to have a good shot at ‘getting round’ in the time (the cutoff is 24 hours, so it is possible to walk all of it), we’d have each other’s company, and plenty of time to train. In my first ultra I was constantly with someone else, then it was last year’s L50 in a team of three, then I ended up running the whole of 2017’s Haworth Hobble with two friends. So in my mind it was quite possible that I was completely incapable of being on my own on a long distance event.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with that in the first couple of legs as there were loads of people around. It was good to get chatting, one of my main motivations for running longer distances (conversation is apparently frowned upon in 5k fell races). Following Julie I had the confidence to overtake a couple of people on the way up Fusedale (and I met Kim! Yay another Kim!!), but I was sad to see that the bog on High Kop meant I couldn’t quite pick up the breakneck downhill speed I would’ve liked. Still got accused of being young though, get in!
The narrow path along the side of Haweswater was much more enjoyable this year, as getting there a bit earlier meant I could run a lot more of it,
The field spread out quite a lot after the second checkpoint (Mardale Head), so I first found myself on my own going up Gatescarth (massive spiky hill number 2 on the elevation graph). The main tactic I had was to be in and out of checkpoints as quickly as possible, meaning I was then allowed to dawdle a little on the big hills after them. It felt pretty odd not waiting for anyone or rushing to keep up, but fairly liberating too. I plodded up having a snack, singing Frank Turner in my head, somehow overtaking the odd person. Slow and steady.
I let off the brakes on the next bit going into Sadgill, as I was on my own and I had important business to attend to – last year we decided that we needed to tell jokes to cheer up the valley. I laid off the cheese jokes this year as they seemed incompatible with my vegan ethics, but managed to catch up with two people with the same joke: “What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?”
Passing the 30 mile mark, the hips were stiffening up and the quads were complaining but the time passed quickly as I met and chatted to some lovely and inspiring people. Ambleside was pretty emotional running past people clapping (feeling like you’ve earned it more than the applause in Pooley Bridge 1 hour in!) as my parents were there, and my partner who had sadly dropped out, but I grabbed some food and carried on swiftly on my way.
I next found myself alone after Skelwith Bridge, where it gets really really flat. Everything hurt, even my abs. Most people are strong on the flat, I am not, so I ended up walking getting into a bit of a funk, probably my lowest moment. To cheer myself up, I reminded myself that it wasn’t dark, unlike this bit last year, and downed a caffeine energy gel, which helped me jog for a while. It soon wore off so I knew I’d have to get out my secret weapon. I glanced around, couldn’t see anyone, so launched into Frank Tuner’s The Ballad of Me and My Friends (ironic) followed by a rendition of Tenacious D’s Tribute (complete with devil snort obv).
Everybody’s got themselves a plan
And everybody thinks they’ll be the man, including the girls…
And none of this is going anywhere
And pretty soon we’ll all be old
And no one left alive will really care
About our glory days when we sold our souls
And if you’re all about the destination
Then take a fucking flight
We’re going nowhere slowly but we’re seeing all the sights
And we’re definitely going to hell
But we’ll have all the best stories to tell
The Ballad of Me and My Friends, Frank Turner
It worked! I was at the stage where moving from walking to running requires an involuntary ‘oof’ sound, but when I was caught up by a pack of blokes, I was able to stay with them easily. In and out of Chapel Stile. 15km left. Shit I’ve nearly done it. Home straight now.
As it got dark, I took great pleasure in being told I was mad for still wearing just t-shirt and shorts while most others were in waterproof tops. I think I said something about being ‘ard. 10km left. Bog. Aaghhh shit I forgot about the Highland Cows, glad Lee was there to use as a human shield if necessary (fortunately not necessary). “Thank you for granting us safe passage” I said as we scuttled past the bemused majestic ones.
Before we knew it (not really, Wrynose Pass lasted for bloody ever), we were at Tilberthwaite. Last checkpoint. 5km left. “The world’s worst park run”, they say. Pffft 5km I thought. Crap I’m on my own, I don’t know the way. Why is the path going round to the right this much oh shit I’m lost I’m going to die out here oh it’s ok I remember this is what the path does. I actually remained quite calm, despite it being gone 10.30pm at this point, and very very dark. Epic music from last year’s L100/50 video was playing in my head. I didn’t let myself look at my watch, I’d either make it before midnight or I wouldn’t. Smashy smashy downhill, oops don’t fall now… like a fool, I ended up looking at the road book (route directions) for the only time coming onto the Coppermines road because I lost confidence in my sense of direction…the book was open on the right page. I was right. Off onto the road.
Passed a 100er walking. “Nearly there! See you in Coniston!” Tried not to cry seeing people clapping sitting outside the pubs. Made a hilarious joke about the final uphill being over a road bridge (planning that one since Fusedale). Why is the school so far down that road?!
Dibbed in. Oh my god I’ve done it. So many people in the marquee!! Lovely marshal announced “a Lakeland 50 finisher!” I burst into tears. Medal. T-shirt. Parents and partner not there, must’ve gone too fast… found them. Chilli and rice. Saw loads of people I’d run with. So many people who have pushed themselves to the absolute limit and beyond.
Finished at 11.50pm in 12:15:55
Stationary for 7 minutes (according to Strava)
187th out of 662 finishers
Last year’s video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXDH1p7uOYw
Bring on the next challenge.