On Friday 29thJuly, Lloydy, Gary and I set off for Coniston in the Lake District to attempt theLakeland50. This is a 50 mile run/walk overLake Districtfells with 11,000 feet of ascent and the same in descent. The event is now in it's fourth year and the numbers have grown each year starting with 180 in 2008, then 300, 500 and now 800 entries in 2011. It is one of a series of ultra-marathons held in theUKand theLakeland100 is held to be one of the toughest. For the 100, competitors have 40 hours to complete it which means they have to run a good proportion of it as it is not possible to walk it, the 50 has a time limit of 24 hours meaning fit walkers can just get round in the time. The 50 starts at midday on Saturday and so for most competitors finishes in the night - the run is continuous with no overnight stops.
On arriving at Coniston we set up the tents, went off to a café for food (carbohydrate loading!!) and then returned to watch theLakeland100 set off. There was quite an air of excitement and at 5.30pm the hooter went, sending off 224 brave souls to race over 100 miles of tough terrain knowing that a lot of them wouldn't be sleeping for the next two nights.
We checked in and our gear was scrutinised to make sure it met the strict rules of the run, we got our maps, T-shirts, numbers (team 668 - MTBberkhamsted) and our dibbers that timed us electronically and we used to dib in at each checkpoint. We were weighed so if we ran into difficulty the medics would know if we were dehydrated or hyponatraemic (over-hydrated), which is potentially more dangerous and can result in fits and death!
Time for some more carbohydrate loading, this time with a few other competitors at the pub drinking pints of Bluebird bitter (Coniston Water, Donald Campbell, world water records and the Bluebird in which he died) made by Coniston breweries. Some of the others sounded tough aiming for times of around 12 hours - we had a more modest aim of 14 hours or so (based on my time of 16 hours in 2010). Back to the campsite and more carbohydrate loading with pasta this time - I was so stuffed by now I felt really uncomfortable but we managed to get off to sleep.
The next morning was bright with just a few clouds, it was going to be hot - not ideal for running 50 miles. We had a good breakfast and got into our gear before having the briefing about the run. In this we had a motivational speech by Josh Naylor - a legend and probably the best known fell runner of all time - in which he said that it's all in the mind and keep going and enjoy it. I'm not sure about the last bit! We all loaded into coaches and were transported to Dalemain, which was half-way for theLakeland100 and the start for us. The start was delayed by half an hour as some coaches were late so we were kept waiting around, but at least we were quite near the front of the field of 469 runners. After dibbing in at the start we were all herded into the starting area and the hooter went for our race.
Stage 1. Dalemain to Howtown 11.2 miles stage and total, 965 feet ascent
Stage time 2.00.38 (I did this in 2.43.40 last year) - so well up.
We started off with the group, which strung out over the next four miles through the estate along rolling green fields with minor ups and downs, our pace was fairly gentle but steady. We reached the town of PooleyBridge with lots of cheers from the bystanders and had kept up a good pace to that point. Out ofPooleyBridgecame the first long climb and we settled into a fast walk overtaking many others on the way. Once on top the angle eased and we had a long gentle descent into Howtown where we dibbed in at the first checkpoint grabbing cake, bananas and plenty of drink.
Stage 2. Howtown to Mardale Head 9.4 mile stage, 20.6 mile total, 2510 feet ascent. Stage time 2.55.29. Total time 4.56.07 (last year 5.29.27) still well up.
After a gentle half mile up the valley bottom we had our longest climb of the course which became progressively steeper. Lloydy set off up the hill just like he cycles and Gary and I were left playing catch up. We were by now in the hottest part of the day and the sun was beating down, we were getting frazzled and sweat was just pouring from us. Even the top of the hill gave us no relief and there wasn't much breeze to cool us down. There was a long descent to Haweswater and a small group cheered us on as we came to the lake side. The side of the lake was quite hilly and technical making progress slow and difficult. We ran some of it but had to walk parts of it. Lloydy by now was having to slow down for Gary and me so he used the opportunity to take a few photos. Finally to the checkpoint where the army were in charge - flapjack, jelly beans, sweet tea and coke. The coke gave us a real kick and off we went again over GatescarthPass.
Stage 3. Mardale Head to Kentmere 6.5 mile stage, 27.1 mile total, 1677 feet ascent. Stage time 2.16.20. Total time 7.12.27 (last year 7.33.12) still 20 minutes up.
This was probably one of the toughest stages being straight up and down on really rough rocky terrain that made running very difficult. Lloydy shot off ahead again and Gary and I settled in to our own pace, still good but not up with Lloydy especially on the uphill. It was a very difficult descent into Longsleddale and we all felt it,Gary's feet were sore, Lloydy's knees were suffering and I was carrying a groin strain. But as Josh Naylor said, "it's all in the mind", so we plodded on and came to the next checkpoint at Kentmere. This was great with pasta and smoothies amongst the food. Bodies were strewn all over the place, some having massages from the physios, some dropped out of the race with heat stroke and exhaustion, some having their blisters seen to. It was carnage yet there was still a buzz of excitement, we had passed the halfway point and were doing quite well.
Stage 4. Kentmere to Ambleside 7.3 mile stage, 34.4 mile total, 1611 feet ascent. Stage time 2.32.02. Total time 9.44.29 (last year 9.58.47) only 14 minutes up now.
Our first target was to get over Garburn Pass, a steep rocky climb and descent and a classic Lakes mountain bike route, no such help this time as it was our own two feet and not wheels. Once up the passGarythrew up a couple of times, I went crashing down hard misjudging a rock that moved under me. (It's not just the bike I fall off!!) The descent was hard and rocky but we took it steady jogging gently down. We all felt the worse for wear on the downhills as it puts much more strain on the body than the uphills. We jogged/walked our way into Ambleside to be greeted by crowds who were coming out of the pubs, it certainly gave us a boost. Cake and tea at the checkpoint.
Stage 5. Ambleside to Chapel Stile 5 mile stage, 39.4 miles total, 768 feet of ascent. Stage time 1.59.32. Total time 11.44.01 (last year 11.38.37) 5 minutes down now
By now it was very dark as there was no moon at all so the head torches were in use. We were pretty much on our own, seeing head torches ahead and behind us but some way away. This is meant to be one of the easiest stages but we were all suffering especiallyGarywhose feet were really painful. He didn't want to stop to look at them so we plodded on, any effort at running was now out of the question and it was a matter of just keeping going. Down in the valley bottom we were overtaken by a few groups who were still managing a slow jog. The checkpoint came at a crucial time and this time we looked atGary's feet, the skin on the sole of his heel was almost hanging off and he was in real pain with it. I was able to play the 'doc' bit here and actually bandaged his heels back into place. He said it felt better and that he could now carry on. Fortified by beef stew, we set off up theLangdaleValley. Only 15 miles, one more checkpoint, three big hills and one of the boggiest sections of the race to come - it was in the bag!
Stage 6. Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite 7.1 mile stage, 46.5 miles total, 1270 feet ascent. Stage time 3.36.13, Total time 15.20.14 (last year 14.25.53) well down now.
Garywas desperately trying to keep his feet dry but in the dark it was virtually impossible. This part is also quite difficult to navigate in the dark as the track meanders all over into boggy areas, across becks (the Northeners term for stream!) and contouring round the hill so we don't drop too low into a morass of bog. We came through this and I donated my spare socks toGaryto try and help his feet. Over the next hill and dropped down into Tilberthwaite to the last checkpoint. Here we topped up with sweet tea and cake before heading off on the last stage.
Stage 7. Tilberthwaite to Coniston 3.5 mile stage, 50 miles total, 928 feet ascent.Stage time 1.43.02 Total time 17.03.16 (last year 16.12)
The steps out of the back of the quarry are about a foot deep and with our legs in the state they were felt ten times that. It was a really hard climb initially but opened out a bit further on. This was the one section I didn't really know and we got the map and route book out for the first time. It was pitch black so you couldn't look for features in the distance having to rely on markers around you. We made it up the hill and that actually felt quite good, my uphill legs felt strong but then we had a really steep downhill that went on for over 1200 feet without any relief at all. It had just started becoming lighter at this stage and dawn was just around the corner. We really suffered down there. Lloydy sort of hobbled down in a rather odd gait because of his arthritic knees, I kept having to pull up with pain in my hip and groin and poorGarysomehow kept going with his patched up feet. Down off the hill and we had about a mile to go, we hobbled our way down and crossed the finish line at 05.33 to cheers and applause from other competitors who were having some food in the dining hall. It was quite an emotional moment at the finish and this had been a tough challenge.
We were checked in and weighed, I'd lost just 2kg but Lloydy and Gary had lost 7kg each. A medal, some food, a hot shower and back into the tent for a few hours kip. Getting out of the tent in the morning was pretty difficult, legs were beginning to ache and feet felt as if they'd been pummelled which in fact they had.
I slept well that night and for a few nights afterwards, I could hardly walk the next morning with pain in my thighs and feet but that settled over a few days. I've lost 4 toe nails as a result of the run but already we're planning something for next year. Maybe the Brecon Beacons 40mile run. The pain is only temporary but the memory of getting round is much longer lasting.