The Lakeland 50 is an ultra race that starts in Dalemain and finishes in Coniston at the John Ruskin School, visiting 6 amazing checkpoints in Howtown, Mardale Head, Kentmere, Ambleside, Chapel Stile and Tilberthwaite.
The weekend consists of 3 running races, the Lakeland 100 which is a 105 mile loop starting and finishing in Coniston, the Lakeland 1 for children and families and the Lakeland 50 which starts near the half way mark for the Lakeland 100.
I arrived on Friday 28th nice and early so that I could get a place on the school field to park the van, have my kit checked and a tracker fitted to my bag. Both races combined there was roughly 1800 participants, so getting a spot on the main field was quite lucky! Other wise you get a spot on the overflow field further down the road.
At 18:00, the Lakeland 100 is due to set off into the night, making their way to the first check point on the route which is at Seathwaite. The crowed gathers all the way up the street to cheer the runners off the start line, the traditional song of Nessun Dorma is sang followed by Thunderstruck blasting from the speakers. Among the 700+ LL100 runners this year was my brother in law Matt, so it was nice to see him off the start line.
Once the Lakeland 100 runners set off and the Lakeland 1 race had ended, I made my way back to the van to have some tea and relax.
Before long it was Saturday morning. Liv made us some bacon sandwiches and a coffee (proper runners breakfast), then we made our way to Dalemain, the start line. The atmosphere at Dalemain is exciting! Coaches of 50 runners pulling in, a band of drummers belting tunes out and Lakeland 100 runners reaching the checkpoint accompanied by clapping and cheering from fellow runners and spectators. This checkpoint is about 59 miles in for the 100 runners.
The clock struck 11:30 and the race began. With all the excitement and the feeling of fresh legs, it’s hard to keep at a steady pace at the start, but I tried to stay focused and slow it down. The start of the race is a 4 mile loop as the point to point distance is 46 miles, so they added the loop to make it 50 miles. Once passing back through the check point, it feels like the race has truly begun, opening up stunning Lake District views.
It took me 1:57:20 to reach Howtown, the first checkpoint where I stopped to fill my water and eat something savoury from the food stand. Howtown is a very small checkpoint and fills up fast, so it wasn’t long before I was setting off again up one of the worst climbs in the race, Fusedale.
Fusedale is a brutal climb, luckily near the beginning of the 50 race when legs are still fresh. I feel sorry for those LL100 runners that are around 70 miles in a this point. Between Howtown and Mardale Head has the most amount of climb between checkpoints, giving you a gruelling 2510ft to battle. Despite the horrible climb up Fusedale, I feel like this section offers the most stunning views, especially as you drop onto the side of Haweswater. It was at this section this year that the heavens opened and it chucked it down! I remember arriving at Mardale Head soaking, trying to find a place to have some snacks and a drink and to escape the rain for 5 minutes. After 2:27:09, my split started again and I made my way to Kentmere.
The checkpoint at Kentmere is ran by the crew from Montane, a lively, busy checkpoint with the best smoothies I’ve ever tasted. Knowing I had Garburn Pass to tackle next, I made use of the seats and rested my legs for a few minutes whilst I ate my pasta. It didn’t take me long to be up on my feet and heading out on the next part of the race, the next stop was Ambleside and it is the only checkpoint on the race you can meet up with family and friends and I was very much looking forward to that.
After a good rest and a chat with family, I set off from Ambleside and headed to Chapel Stile. This section of the course is quite flat, except the climb along the side of Loughrigg which drops you into Skelwith Bridge. The path then takes you along the valley floor, through Elterwater and along path that runs through the Bays Brown campsite, then into the 2nd to last checkpoint. The year before it was dark when I made it here, and this year it was still light so I was happy with that! Just as I was about to leave the checkpoint, a woman came and sat next to me with a bowl of bananas and custard and told me it was the best thing she had eaten all day, no more than 10 seconds later I was sat back next to her with a bowl myself, she wasn’t wrong.
Just 10 miles left to go once you have left the comfort of the Chapel Stile checkpoint. This part of the route takes you past Blea Tarn and down into Little Langdale, then up Atkinson Coppice and down into Tilberthwaite. You can almost guarantee that if there has been any rainfall on the day of the race, this section will be like running through a stream. You will also enjoy this section if you like being up to your ankles in boggy fields. But then again, it’s all part of the fun. I can’t really remember much about this leg of the race, probably down to the fact I was 40 miles in and the sun had gone down, so all I can remember is wet feet, achy legs and the glow of headtorches in front.
Once I made it to Tilberthwaite, I knew that the end was in sight. The last section is 3.5 miles long, which doesn’t sound a lot on paper. I was brought to a halt when the chap at the checkpoint asked me if I would like a cheese toastie, words cannot describe how amazing that toastie was, it was the best thing I had eaten all day. I dropped a pound in the Jacobs Ladder bucket, and headed up Jacobs Ladder with my cheese toastie in hand.
After battling 30-40mph gusts and a nasty 1200ft of climb, I started what I knew was the final descent of the race. The lights of Coniston grew closer, and me and my numb legs shuffled past The Black Bull and over the bridge, greeted by amazing supporters lining the street cheering and clapping. It was a moment I will remember for sure, and at 00:21:56, after running for 12 hours and 39 minutes, I crossed the line.
The event staff walk you into a bustling tent, filled with proud family members and supporters and announce the race you have finished, which is followed by hundreds of people cheering, clapping and shaking cow bells, the feeling is surreal. I picked up my Lakeland 50 finishers belt buckle (to match the theme of the race this year, western themed) and my finishers t shirt and headed off to the showers.
I would say that if you haven’t taken part in a Lakeland weekend, then this is a BIG MUST! The energy throughout the weekend is nothing I have ever experienced before. If you are to do your first ultra race, I would 100% recommend this to be your first, although I will warn that you will become addicted to coming back for more, like me.
I would like to conclude this blog by saying a massive thank you to all the event organisers and volunteers for putting an yet another incredible weekend that I will remember forever. Everyone that takes part in helping out does such an amazing job, all the volunteers out on the course in all conditions holding gates open, all the volunteers pouring water into your soft flasks at checkpoints and providing food, all the first aiders waiting to patch you up, and all the supporters lining the paths cheering and motivating you to crossing the finish line.
I will most certainly be back…again. And who knows, the Lakeland 100 could be next.