Monday, 27 July 2015

Lakeland 50 2015

I've been a bit quiet lately from a blog perspective, I ran a couple of local races but nothing that stood out enough to make me hit the keyboard, all that changed at the weekend though with my second attempt at the Montane Lakeland 50.
I ran last year, finishing in 12:10:40, just happy to finish the event and still be upright, this year I was hoping for a half decent PB.
The initial plan was for me, Andy B and Caroline to do a bit of pot hunting and race as a three person mixed team. This blatant piece of carpet bagging fell apart when race entries opened and the 1000 available places sold out in 18 minutes. It had taken me over 20 minutes to fill in all the entry details for 3 people so when I hit enter; it was “race full”. Our cunning plan was foiled!
I managed to get a solo place on the waiting list, which was quickly confirmed and Caroline bagged one of the very limited number of charity places, Andy was tied up at work all day and by the time he hit the website, the race was full with no waiting list.
So be warned if this little epic tempts you for next year, you WILL need to be sitting on your keyboard when race entries go live at 9am on September 1st.

The L50 is run concurrently with its big brother the L100 (which is actually 105 miles), with race HQ and the finish for both events at the John Ruskin school in Coniston. The L100 starts there at 6pm on the Friday evening with the L50 starting at the Dalemain estate, near Penrith at 11:30 on the Saturday morning.
Camping for 2 nights is included in your race fee and there is on-site catering to supplement the local pubs and restaurants.
We arrived on site around 4pm which gave ample time to pitch our tent, settle in and wander up to the Black Bull Inn in time to see the 100 mile runners set off and grab a bite to eat with Andy Johns; Howard Seal and Susan Gallagher.
Caroline - last minute race prep

We then headed down to formally register. This was a very thorough but efficient process of kit checking, where you were required to show every item of compulsory kit, with quite a few people falling foul of this and being sent off to purchase whatever didn't make the grade. Having passed through this process you were handed your number, weighed and fitted with your timing “dibber” collected your race map; route book and Montane branded buff.
We'd decided beforehand that a quiet evening was in order so after packing my trusty but soon to be retired Salomon X-wings race vest it was time for an early night. Sadly I’d failed to share my plan with my fellow campers and a steady symphony of slamming portaloo doors, quiet chat’s which were not so quiet and car doors and boots opening and closing kept me wide awake. I also managed to hear the Coniston church clock chiming 1am; 2am 5am and 6am by which time the field was waking up and further sleep was impossible.
If you're thinking of doing it next year and a pre-race solid sleep is a prerequisite………you have been warned!
Sunset over Coniston

With around 700 people all looking for breakfast, I'd opted to avoid the queue and plumped for my usual pot of porridge and a rice pudding, a quick shower, race kit on and then headed to the 8:30am race briefing.
Joint RD’s Terry and Marc gave a concise race brief, including the reminder that we were NOT “just running the 50” and that what we were about to undertake was a pretty big thing!
From there it was straight onto the fleet of coaches to take us to the race start at Dalemain estate, where we arrived with a good hour to spare before race start at 11:30am.
Although I was completely confident that I'd finish and pretty confident I'd beat last years’ time of 12:10:40 my lack of sleep the night before was playing on my mind. I opted to find a patch of grass to lie on and just shut my eyes and relax for 45 minutes, whilst Caroline headed off to find a bacon roll.
Andy Johns - looking relaxed pre start
I continue to be amazed at the number of runners who stand around before the off, (wearing full race kit) when they should, in my view be taking the weight off their feet. I was equally amazed at the size of the packs some runners were proposing to carry; they looked big enough for a weekend camp!

Dalemain to Howton     Total distance covered 11.2
miles            1 hour 35 minutes           67th place

My rough race plan was to run the first two legs faster than I did last year, on the basis that other than the hike up Fusedale this is the flattest most runnable part of the route. I know there is no such thing as “banking time” on an Ultra but I reckoned I'd be slowing down in the second half anyway irrespective of how I'd ran the first half.
There is a 4 mile loop round the Dalemain estate before you hit the route proper mostly on my least favourite running surface – grass. 
I’d positioned myself at what I estimated was about 100 places from the front and pretty much as soon as we were under the start gantry I found myself running just behind Debbie Martin-Consani, last year’s L100 ladies winner;  a consummate master of steady race pacing and a far faster runner than me. I decided there and then that there was no way I should be running ahead of Debs, not apparently a view shared by dozens of other blokes who stormed this first loop like they were running a 10K and passed her. I decided to stick just behind Debbie as long as I didn't feel like I was pushing myself too hard. I stopped at the river just before Pooley Bridge to dip one of my buffs in the river and drape it Foreign Legion style over my head, whilst nothing like as hot as 2014, it was still promising to be a warm days work.

On the climb out of Pooley Bridge, I ran most of the tarmac section and used my run 50 walk 50 tactic on the rougher trail, I could still see Debbie up ahead (running all the way) as my pace target. Just before the right turn onto the track to Howton I passed a family group being led by a young guy carrying an artificial leg over his shoulder, followed shortly after by a one legged gentleman in an off road wheelchair, definitely my most bizarre sight of the day!
The trail towards Howton CP is mostly downhill, non-technical and very runnable so I pushed hard on this section to keep Debbie in view, albeit she was steadily drawing away from me. As I ran into the Wild West themed CP she was already running out.
The CP staff quickly refilled my water bottles and I grabbed a Chia Charge flapjack downed a cup of coke and I was off, using the short uphill section to wolf down the flapjack, my second objective of the day being to try and actually eat some proper food during the race.

Howton to Mardale Head            Total distance covered 20.6 miles            3 hours 44 minutes 79th Place

Almost immediately after Howton you are faced with the biggest climb of the L50, the dreaded Fusedale where you climb around 1700 feet in around 2.5 miles. Last year I'd have sold a testicle for a pair of walking poles at this point. This year I kept the testicle and used the lightweight Mountain King Trail Blaze poles I’d bought a couple of weeks earlier, knocking 3 minutes of my time for the climb. After the climb there is a sloping descent over Weather Hill towards Low Kop, this area was pretty wet underfoot and my main priority was to avoid soaking my feet this early on in the day, some people passed me ploughing through puddles and bog, I wonder how they fared later with soaked shoes and socks?
There is a sharp drop through waist deep bracken down to the northern shore of Haweswater and a pleasant and runnable stretch towards the next CP at Mardale Head, I ran into the CP doing my feeble attempt at the Morecombe and Wise “bring me sunshine” dance.
I could feel the insoles on my Salomon Speedcross 3’s had slipped and were creasing up, so I decided a spot of shoe maintenance was in order. I opted for some hot soup and a jam sandwich, whilst I carefully sorted my shoes for the next section.

Mardale Head to Kentmere        Total distance covered 27.1 miles            5 hours 18 minutes         77th place

Once you leave the Mardale head CP there is no gentle build up, you are straight onto the steep climb up and over Gatescarth pass, which although at 1100 feet is less than Fusedale, is covered in around 1.2 miles and is comic book steep. Once again I was very glad I was using poles.
Gatescarth Pass Photo from
The race organisers use a simple but clever way of differentiating 100 and 50 milers. Everyone wears your race number on your back pack, 100 milers are in yellow with your name printed below the number. I made a point of giving a shout out to each and every 100 mile runner I passed, I can only marvel at the fitness; stamina and determination needed to complete that distance.
I'm not huge fan of the descent towards Sadgill, with the “road” surface on the descent being a horrid mix (to my mind) of loose scree alternating with longitudinal sharp blocks of stone at right angles to your line of descent and larger erratic blocks of stone with significant ankle turning potential.
At 6.5 miles this is one of the shortest legs between checkpoints it’s also the one I'm least familiar with so was happy to arrive at Kentmere without mishap.
Two more cups of Coke, a water bottle refill and a small bowl of pasta and some further shoe maintenance and I was off towards Ambleside.

Kentmere to Ambleside               Total distance covered 34.4 miles            7 hours 2 minutes            74th place

The weather had been incredibly kind to us so far, it was sunny and warm but not the brain boiling heat of 2014. Kentmere sits in a valley surrounded by hills and as I jogged out of the CP I distinctly remember thinking “I wonder which of these big f**k-off hills we'll be climbing up next”. I needn't have worried myself as it was, of course the biggest of the hills in view and the climb over the Garburn Pass!
As I descended into Ambleside I chatted briefly to John Kynaston who was running the L100 and was looking genuinely fresh, he was well on target for a sub 30 hour finish. Through the centre of Ambleside milking the crowds and charging across the two road crossings without breaking stride and it was into the circus themed checkpoint at Ambleside. In fact I was so focussed on pratting about that I almost forgot to dib in my timing chip.
Into my checkpoint routine, soup, sandwich and shoe maintenance until a gentle reminder from Noanie to stop fannying about and get running again.

Ambleside to Langdale Total distance covered 40 miles                                8 hours 11 minutes         66th place

The next most runnable section of the race, with a couple of pan flat riverside tracks and the section where I think you can gain or lose the most time. My mantra here was “any run is faster than a walk”, I was becoming more focussed on maximising the daylight time, because any running in the dark would be slower than in the daylight.
Just out of Ambleside I shouted a warning to a group of 4 guys who had shot off in the wrong direction, I got a heartfelt “thank-you” when one of them subsequently passed me. A pretty uneventful section for me, I know I've broken the back of the race, I’m confident that barring disaster I'll get a PB and I'm running stretches that I was walking last year.

Langdale to Tilberthwaite           Total Distance covered 46.5 miles            9 hours 43 minutes         66th place

More coke; a bowl of vegetable soup this time, re-sort my shoes (they are definitely going in the bin when this is over!) and I'm on my way towards the unmanned checkpoint beyond Blea Tarn. After the short sharp climb over Side Pike pass I stop and take brief moment to “toast” the view. I'm feeling pretty good here and manage to run all the way to the dibber and keep up a decent run all the way past the NT house. I'm aware now of the fading light and I make a conscious decision to keep my time at Tilberthwaite to a minimum, as I’m running along the road section to the CP I feel a sharp pain on the sole of my right foot. I reckon I've just popped a blister so I decide in advance I'm not risking taking that shoe off, I'll just tough it out with so little distance left to run.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston           Total distance 50 miles 10 hours 43 minutes 23 seconds                72nd place

A quick cup of coke, I’m OK for water and I sit down to sort my left shoe, as I’m trying to put it back on I get my first proper twinge of cramp all day, it takes a minute or so to get the shoe on without cramping and I'm off up the “stairway to heaven”. It's only 3.5 miles and 750 feet of climb to the finish, but the light is fading fast now as the sky clouds over. 
I keep a good yomp up on the steep climb, but on the potentially runnable bits I’m unable to muster a run, it’s getting too dark and my legs are too tired to risk a fall, so I'm passed by a strong looking group of guys (including two 100 milers) and lose 6 places. I manage to reach the top of the descent and can see the lights of Coniston below before I admit defeat and don my head torch. Bizarrely it’s here that I have my longest stop of the day as I decide to strap my poles to my pack and discover that my head torch has got itself in a Gordian knot of a tangle, I try running few steps with it in my hand, before stopping to sort it properly. I use a Petzl Nao but the combination of a brilliant white beam, light coloured stones underfoot which meant I had no depth perception and a rocky steep and technical path underfoot brings me back to a slow steady walk. It’s only when I hit the more graded road above the Miners Bridge that I can break into a proper run for the last downhill mile.
As I turn onto the main street in Coniston to welcome cheers from the pub goers, I see Andy Beattie taking my photo. Glad as I was to see him I wasn’t slowing for anything now, mustering my first sub 8 minute mile for some time, I pushed onto the finish.

10:43:23                PB by 1 hour 27 minutes

Each and every finisher is greeted by a marshal whose task is to guide you into the hall and to asses if you are mentally and physically OK. By good fortune I was greeted by WHW race veteran Andy Cole. As each and every finisher is walked through the School Hall, they are heralded by a marshall shouting "50 Finisher" and a great cheer, a really nice touch.
Then you pick up your medal, part company with your timing dibber are handed a printout with your splits and your race t-shirt, this year it's a pucka Montane Branded one.

Andy was right there asking me if I needed anything? I've started to crave cold milk after my Ultra run's now and much to my amazement Andy produced 2 cups of Ice cold white stuff, just magic.

The race provides a free meal to each and every finisher so I settled down to a plate of Cottage Pie and washed it down with another 4 cups of milk.

Andy had been following Caroline's who was not having the best of days, so I popped off for a quick shower (lovely hot showers also provided foc.) and a change and then we headed into Coniston to wait for Caroline to finish, which she duly did in a very creditable 12 hours 25 minutes.
By her own admission she'd not got her nutrition right and had ground out a tough race, visiting some pretty dark places en route, she keeps threatening to write her own blog so I'll leave the telling of her tale to herself.

Two Happy Lakeland 50 finishers


I've done a lot of running on the West Highland Way and I'm regularly asked how the Lakeland races compare.
With no disrespect to the WHW, the Lakeland races are far far tougher, bigger climbs; steeper climbs; poorer ground conditions, overall much less runnable.

Overall I couldn't be happier, it's a colossal PB, far beyond my best goal of PB by 1 hour.

Now its time for a brief rest, before my next challenge the Helsinki Marathon in 4 weeks time.

To close I'd like to register a huge thanks to RD's Marc & Terry, to the veritable army of marshals and helpers who gave up their weekend, thanks for an epic Lakeland Adventure.



  1. well done Keith sounds Epic :-)

  2. Great read and congrats on the PB. It was my first crack at 50 miles, can't wait to go back next year!

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  5. Well done, Keith! You impressed everybody here. Dianne and I have been trying to make our own racing season, but everything's in vain. It's difficult to do something after the holidays. Dianne has gone to Paris for a week, so I'm alone.