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Lakeland 50 2013

By Doug Alsop

31st Jul 2013

My First Ultra, The Lakeland 50

After many years of shunning ultra events I eventually succumbed and entered the Lakeland 50. Nadia had completed the course last year and came back ecstatic, she said "Dad you must do this. You love the mountains, running, camping, and the camaraderie. What's not to like?" So Dan, Dave Speake and I entered. The mere 50 not being enough for Dunc, Carl Miles, Di Roy and Pat Munn they entered the 100.

The event is brilliantly organised and great value for money. The enthusiasm of the support crew and marshals is contagious and it is little wonder that so many return year after year to tackle this tough event. The contingent from Cornwall all met up at the campsite and there was some banter as we were weighed, registered and tagged up. The 100 mile race started at 6:00pm on Friday night and we cheered the 270 nutters as they set off from Coniston into the mountains. Then we got into the serious business of fuelling up on Pasta and the local brew,"Bluebird" before hitting the sack. It was a bright moonlit night but as I lay snug in the tent I thought of those already battling the hills.

On Saturday morning the 50 milers were gathered together for the briefing and then loaded into coaches for the trip to the start which is the 50 mile point on the 100. As a complete novice on ultra running I was listening to as much advice as I could. All of the St. Austell ultra runners had warned me not to start too fast and to walk the hills and the fellow I sat next to on the bus said "just do what everyone around you is doing". So that became the plan.

It was baking hot and whilst Geraldine and Nadia were happy to sit in the sun, we runners stayed in the shade of some trees until called into the start. In the melee of 'dibbing in' I lost contact with both Dan and Dave and didn't even get the chance to wish them well. Then we were off for a 4 mile loop of the Dalemain estate. I did what everyone else around me did and I was walking in the first 400 metres. I was thinking this is going to be a long day. In the estate there were queues at the stiles and so the warnings of not starting too fast were automatically heeded. As we hit the hills the second warning of walk the hills was easily achieved as it wouldn't have been possible for me to have run them. As we left the Dalemain estate I saw Pat and Di in the feeding station having completed their 50 miles through the night. I knew Dunc had passed through much earlier and had heard previously that Carl had dropped out during the night.

Halfway through the first leg we came to Pooley Bridge and there was the St. Austell flag to encourage us along. I tucked in behind a group of three guys who seemed to know the ropes and shadowed them to the first checkpoint. This was very busy as the 600 50 milers were still closely grouped, I just grabbed a drink, filled my bottle and set off on what was the longest leg taking us up to the highest point on the whole route. As we slogged up the valley there was a series of false summits, it was like one of those Escher diagrams with the never ending steps. I found I could walk up the hills quite well and overtook a few but when we eventually got to the top, the experience of those mountain and fell runners really kicked in as they could descend with confidence and speed. I had drained my bottle and as we ran alongside of the lake I also drained my camelback so I had drunk 3 litres of water on this leg alone. My throat was parched but the streams running off the mountain didn't look too appetising this low down so I pushed on to the checkpoint at Mardale head. This is run by the legendary Delamere Spartans. They are so welcoming and accommodating, it is very remote and they have to camp there to service the event and they are brilliant. The hot weather had caught out quite a few and although it was only a 10 mile leg there were many cases of dehydration. Whilst taking some refreshment I looked at the map and route notes. The next leg was only 6.5 miles and there were 8 instructions, the first which said "up to Gatesgarth Pass". So I set off and see the sign that says Gatesgarth Pass 3.5 miles. OK I get the idea all the check points are low in barely accessible places and the route in between goes up and down to link them. There were a few more casualties climbing up to the pass as the heat did its worst and again I used both bottle and camelback to keep hydrated. I found that my ability to climb reasonably well but not able to descend as quickly put me out of phase with those around me. Hence I didn't have a chance to make any alliance or buddy arrangements but continued my solo run.

I continued in this vein through the Kentmere checkpoint where I had the combination of tomato and red pepper soup followed by a strawberry smoothie. On the next leg the rain started. At first great big drops that hurt when they hit but it grew to a constant drizzle. Initially this was a relief from the heat. As I made it to the checkpoint in Ambleside there was a tremendous roar and I saw the St. Austell Flag with Geraldine and Nadia. I learnt afterwards that they had recruited the Delamere Spartans and the Sunderland Strollers to augment the cheering, it certainly made me laugh. They told me Dan and Dave were still OK and going strong.

After another quick flash through the checkpoint I was onto the next leg which contained about 2 miles of flat running. I was surprised how well I went and chased down about 6 places. The rain was getting heavier and I was soaked but my body temperature was OK so I didn't bother with pulling on the wet weather gear.

It was getting dusk and in the rush to get through the next checkpoint I made the mistake of not getting prepared for the dark. This was probably the most difficult leg to navigate as the paths were indistinct with many twists and turns and an unmanned checkpoint on a gate had to be located. It was here that my situation of not buddying up proved to be a handicap. I set off behind a group who knew the route but when it came time to put on my head torch, I had to stop to get it out of the rucksack. Additionally as it was raining heavily I decided to try to put my cap on backwards with the head torch on top of that. All of this fiddling around meant I had lost touch with the group. However, I could see their head-torches up ahead so I had to motor to catch them up. This was a bad move as the rocks were now very slippery and I had my road shoes on. I was carrying my bottle in one hand and the map and notes in the other hand so when I fell over I dropped the lot and the cap and head torch bounced off into the bracken. The torch was still on so it was easy to find and I picked up the rest of the clobber and put the torch directly on my head and carried the hat as I chased after the disappearing head torches of the group ahead. I had to really push a lot quicker than I wanted, to try and keep the party in sight. I fell a number of times, stubbed my toe on rocks and twisted my ankle slightly and in my mind I conjured up the headlines in the Sun "Lunatic pensioner in shorts and tee shirt rescued from fells in pouring rain at midnight". Luckily I managed to regain contact with the party as they slowed on the climb but as soon as it levelled off they started to run and I had to chase and descend at their speed to stay with them.

We made it to the final checkpoint and I knew this was only 3.5 miles from the finish. I decided to set off ahead of the party knowing that they were quicker than me and I would try and tag on again as they came past. I managed to stay with them for a while but couldn't keep up. The descent from the top was probably the most difficult on the 50 route. The rocks were slippery and some big steps down. I had remained pretty positive all through the rest of the route but tiredness and exhaustion were creeping in and I just wanted it to be over. Runners kept coming along and confirming I was on the right route but I couldn't keep up with them. Eventually I made it into Coniston and as I approached the finish a voice to my left said "well done – bloody hell Dad" as Dan recognised me. Round and under the finish gantry and there under umbrellas drinking red wine were Dunc, Lisa, Nadia and Geraldine. I congratulated Dunc and asked how it was: - after a sip of wine he said BRUTAL!

I sat down for a short while and in came Dave Speake looking as if he could do it all again. I learnt that Dunc had finished 17th in 27 hours. Di had been unwell on the route and had pulled out at 70 but Pat had buddied up with a group and was continuing. He came in at breakfast the next morning with his leg badly swollen in just under 39 hours.

Stats of the 50

  1. Dalemain to Howton
  2. Howton to Mardale Head
  3. Mardale Head to Kentmere
  4. Kentmere to Ambleside
  5. Ambleside to Chaple Stile
  6. Chaple Stile to Tilberthwaite
  7. Tilberthwaite to Coniston
Lakeland 50 2013 - Race Stats for Doug and Dan Alsop

Conclusions

A superbly well organised event, awesome scenery and route, great value for money as entry includes camping, free fun run for the kids, coach travel medal, buff, tee shirt, goody bag, a great variety of real food and drinks at the checkpoints and meal at the end.

Difficulty not to be underestimated 55% do not finish the 100 and 20% do not finish the 50. We can’t really train properly in Cornwall for events like this in the mountains as we don’t have sustained climbs or descents on which to practice.

However, entries open on 1st September for next year’s event and the 50 sells out in hours.

Visit the Lakeland 50 website.