This is long. I need to record this for posterity, or in reality for old age when I remind myself what I used to be able to do. Which indeed is why I’m back on the horse doing things that are challenging. Because I can and I may regret not using the powers of relative youth when I’m creaky and old.
Why Lakes in a Day? I wanted to do the three peaks in April but was frustrated to find out you had to do two qualifying races of “AL” standard. The “A” stands for hard and the “L” stands for long. Bugger. So I hunted down two races that I could do before February when the entires open. One was pretty straight forward, the Tour of Pendle in November which is “only” 16 miles. The second race proved troublesome and I decided Lakes in a Day was my best option. Hell, I could recce some of the Bob Graham at the same time. I also enjoyed the battle stories from Lakeland 50 and wondered how I’d fair on something similar. I like to be able to stand tall and rub shoulders in the pub with people having walked the walk.
To set the scene, Lakes in a Day is a 50 mile ultra starting in Caldbeck in the north and finishing in Cartmell in the south. Effectively it’s the entire length of the Lakes, in a day. Who’d have thought.
I drove up on the Friday with my dad and we stayed with my Auntie Avirl in Ackentwaite near Miltnthorpe. Spending some quality time with my Cumbrian family was a real plus and I loved hearing tales from Auntie Avril about how she nursed Wainwright in hist later years in Kendal hospital. As most of you reading know, the golden rule of racing is to not try or wear anything new. So with a relatively unknown pacing strategy, brand new Innov8 Mud Claws, new trail pack, new full (Taped) waterproofs, new fleece, new two bottle bum bag I toed the line with 500 hardy souls. All my kit was in the bag and I was in short shorts and a long sleeved top with a wind stopper vest. Everyone else was wearing their kit, what did they know I didn’t? To be clear, my hope for the race was to finish strong. What happened in between was detail and completely unknown. The furthest I’d run before was 26.6 miles.
I was ready for what would happen next and it did. Everyone went off way too fast. Straight into a 40 min climb and I found my rhythm mid field with hundreds ahead but I’d got a plan. To try and hold around 130 beats per minute heart rate all day. It felt easy but the words of advice I’d heard were “Start easy, then back off”. It was raining and blowing as we slowly climbed High Pike some 658m ahead in the distance gloom. It wasn’t running though and thankfully nobody else was running. I bumped into Tom Davies, a chap who lives a few houses down from mine in West Horsley. I decided he was a good person to mark off. He was a top adventure racer and could read a map probably better than anyone.
We skirted with Knott (710m) and descended into the mist at pace through deep bog. I took a swig of water from one of the two 500ml bottles I had in my bum bag. Then the first kit mishap, no sooner had the bottle been placed back in the bum bag but it flew out at speed. Because I hadn’t practiced I’d failed to realise the importance of putting the little elastic toggle over the top. Lesson learned. Then it happened, he most wonderful moment of the day. The cloud briefly cleared in the distance to reveal the might of Blencathra. It’s tough to explain how majestic it looked and how big. The only thing that came to mind was “Woahh big guy”. I think it was because it was dead ahead like a wall but at that point I was on the opposite side of a valley so had an elevated view. But boy was it a special moment. I was running in the high fells and I was loving it. The cloud closed in as quickly as it had disappeared and the descent finished with a river crossing. A 7m wide 0.5m deep raging mountain river. So the organisers built a temporary bridge out of scaffolding poles. “One at a time lads”. Rumour at the finish was that someone fell in.
The section from Caldbeck to Threlkeld was “open route” meaning you could cut any route you wish as long as you hit the summits. I think one of my main anxieties for the race was getting lost. Following that person who doesn’t really know where their going and then before you know it. You’re both looking at each other thinking “I was following you because you looked like you knew where you were going”. Thankfully there were so many people in front snaking out up the long climb up Mungrinsdale Common (633m) that it didn’t matter. Surely 150 people can’t be lost. We pressed on. I was chipping off the odd person here and there but was in a world of control. Self control and a constant flick of the wrist to check my HR didn’t climb over 130. I was still with Tom but not much was said. The rain was driving now and the wind was battering us from the right side. I pulled my buff down over my ears. Eventually Foule Crag (845m) arrived as the terrain disappeared off the edge of the world into a lake of clag. You wouldn’t want to get blown off this ridge now. Onwards to the summit of Blencathra, which Wainwright favours out of all the Lakeland peaks. A mountaineers mountain with steep rocky ridges. But the view, the views down to Derwent water in the distance and the big fells ahead. Nope, couldn’t see any of that. The winds were so strong it was hurting my face and I had to hold my hand high and to the right to stop the rain feeling like grit was being thrown. I contemplated putting on my waterproof jacket but the bottom line is, I couldn’t be arsed to get it out of my back pack.
The next bit was sketchy and thank goodness they’d put a man up there, although how he survived in those conditions I don’t know. “Down ere lads”, he said pointing down what can only be described as a greasy rocky chute. I heard a few sort of yelps and panicked voices. I looked down and saw about ten to fifteen people sprawled out on the rocks, some too scared to move. It was a combination of the wind and the slippery rock and the large drops both sides. I pressed on and then realised I was onto Halls Fell ridge which signalled the start of the descent off Blencathra down to Threlkeld. I went past “The Parachute”, a direct, dare devil steep gully that Bob Graham round runners use. That will be me next year I thought. I hope it’s dry!
Onwards and through the carnage where another marshal appeared. Someone near me yelled “What did the leaders do here”. He said “Same as thee, on that bum”. It was at this point I noticed Threlkeld through two layers of cloud below. It looked almost like a toy village it was so clear yet so far away and the path seemed to disappear off the edge of the world. It was going to be a big descent. After a few mins of quad busting focused foot placing madness I realised the stress it places on your ankles. Running at an angle to the slope zig zagging puts immense stress on them and given it was 2200ft and some 15 mins of it I realised nothing could prepare you for doing this better than doing it. Surrey simply doesn’t have the terrain. The picture below shoes Tom with me behind.
I hit the bottom, saw my dad, he yelled out ‘you’re in the top 40”, took my first piss of the day and pressed on through some lower fields to arrive at the first aid station. I saw Tom who’d dropped me on the descent and I quickly grabbed a half baguette and filled my water bottles for the epic section from Threlkeld to Ambleside up and over the Dodds and Hellvelyn. A 5-6 hour section and I knew it was going to be windy again up there. We passed a fair few people sitting around in the aid station and off we went.
Next section was Clough Head and the Bob Graham route joined us from the East for the first time in Thelkeld. I’d read about this. A 570m (1600ft) straight and steep climb to an altitude of 726. it was relentless and it wore down my spirit. It was hard to keep the HR under my 130 target and it was also at this point I questioned whether I was capable of doing Bob Graham. Maybe I’d just let everyone know I wasn’t going to bother. Who would care anyway. Nobody really cares do they. But then I had a stern word with myself and realised, as Richard Askwith, the author of Feet in the Clouds, had said, it’s mostly a mental thing so I’ll be fine. Anyway I let the heart rate slip up to 140 knowing it would’n’t be for ever. But crikey did the climb go on and I spent most of it staring at Tom Davies’ arse. We eventually emerged onto Clough Head (726). It was at this point I realised that despite the constant effort I was starting to get cold. No sooner had I realised this then Tom asked “Are you not cold” to which I replied “No not really”. Which wasn’t true really but I’d spent the last 20 mins marvelling at the fell running breed. Not one person has moaned about what were pretty epically bad conditions. The wind speeds were between 40 and 50 mph still and the rain was coming across sideways and the clag was down meaning visibility was extremely poor. That and there was still about 30 miles to go but stoically people pressed on, running on the flatter bits and walking when the gradient hit anything to trouble the heart rate. I was running with a new breed now so if I was asked whether I was cold. Then the answer would be “no” until I was being helicoptered off. I’ve since read this and am now convinced I should have put my layers on. Oh well.
Looks at the contours on that!
Anyway on we pressed on Tom dropped back a little leaving me on my own to make a navigation mistake.I needlessly summited Great Dodd (856) when the actual route didn’t require it and there was a much easier lower route. I realised I was alone and saw a few lone figures in the far distance and made a massive push to get on their tails. Was surprised to then see Tom which really confused me. Was he not the one I’d spent the last hour slogging away behind. Turned out he’d tried to warn me about the Great Dodd error.
Onwards and at this point I realised I’d no idea how far we’d run, how long we’d be running, what time it was. None of it mattered. I knew we were miles from the finish, miles from anywhere really so there was no option but to just keep grinding it out. Bog, stoney ground, climb, descend, climb, descend, run when you can, walk when it’s too steep, repeat, repeat. All in silence and all with the nagging urge to put a waterproof on but I resisted. I was pretty cold and increasingly shaky quads I started doubting whether I could finish. I defaulted to being in the present as we skirted Skybarrow Dodd (843m) and press on over Sticks Pass to Raise (883) and on towards the infamous Helvellyn. Boy did it live up to it’s name today. A bastard steep summit push to 949m, past the Striding Edge turnoff and Tom said something for only the second time in about a 3 hour period “Shame, it’s a lovely view of the tarns normally”. Onwards along the ridge to tick off Dollywaggon Pike (858) and finally the descent to Grisedale Tarn and our first glimpse of something other than clag. At this point we were a group of 6 people. Just chugging along, skipping over rocks, bog jumping, not speaking, getting blown about like dolls. I chuckled to myself that normally one looks forward to a descent. But not when it’s this steep, this technical. It’s quad busting and just added to the relentless nature of what was at hand.
Tom then made his third comment which kinda haunted me. “Fairfield next, it’s a toughie”. “Oh great” I thought, I’ve been waiting for it to get hard. I didn’t react and in fact didn’t say anything back. He was right. Fairfield was a single steep 300m vertical push that zig zagged up into the mist. I dropped off the group a little as I was adamant my effort was hard enough with so far to go. The race organisers had said it was a race of two halves. A monster of a first half covering 3000m of ascent and descent in just 30 miles followed by 20 miles covering only 1000m. There was still a long way to go. What I’ve failed to point out thus far is that I’d been snacking on SIS gels (3 in total), had eaten 2 flapjacks (300kcals each) and generally been sipping drink. I was ok energy wise but I had no idea how long I’d been going and no idea how long I had to go. I just knew I wasn’t at Ambleside and hadn’t completed the “first half”. Turned out as I now look at my Strava recording that I’d been going 6 hours and was just over 23 miles in.
We hit the long long descending ridge back to Ambleside and took in a few cheeky mini peaks on the descent down which followed a wall. Tom was gone but I clawed my way back into the small group again for fear of getting lost. But I was going through a bad patch energy wise and felt like I was bonking. All my experience kicked in. It was a blip, I’d feel better, a race like this has highs and lows. I knew I just needed to keep going so I drank a little and ate a little and sucked it up. Then one of the beardy guys turned to me and said in a strong northern accent “I’m looking faward to a rest gud cuppa tea in Ambleside”. That was it. I was craving tea from that point on and I was dropped by the group. Then 5 mins later I was back and not only was I back but I was full of beans. I rocketed past them all and flew into Ambleside knowing that the aid station awaited.
I saw my dad and my uncle David who hadn’t seen me for some 5 hours and were no doubt glad I was still looking in fairly decent nick. “Yer mum reckons you’re in the top 30 now”. I darted into the aid station. No Tom. Clearly he’d stuck to his earlier comment about not looking at a chair for fear of sitting down. I’d didn’t really have a strategy in this regard so I took the opportunity to rest and feed up. The organisers had offered the opportunity to drop a bag off with a spare pair of trainers and socks. I’d put the relatively new and lightweight Asics road shoes in thinking “the last half is relatively easy with some roads”.More on this later. I ate bowl of pasta, grabbed two packs of sweets for later, ate loads of melon, loaded up my bottles with coke and more water and somehow faffed away 15-17 mins. I was on my way. They told me on the way out it’s “only 20 miles from here”. I was full of positivity and running strong, really strong. In fact miles 29, 30 and 31 were sub 8 mins per mile average (one was a 7.45 actually). I caught a few people during this patch and was moving nicely. The route was flatish and followed a little road. Happy days. I AM AN ULTRA RUNNER.
From here on in the route was way marked with little yellow arrows so it became a case of keeping an eye out for these and just ticking off the miles. Not a huge amount to say about the next 12 miles apart from saying it wasn’t flat. I started off managing to keep the road shoes nice and dry but they soon became wet, then I lost the will to care about trying to avoid water. The route snaked alongside the shores of Lake Windermere occasionally diving up the side of the hillside to add a little vertical torture into the mix. Parts of the track were under water as there had been a lot of rain. I realised at this point that the road shoes were completely useless and I was skidding around and struggling to stay on my feet through muddy, slippery, rooty sections. Energy wise I was feeling ok and didn’t pass anyone or get overtaken myself. I was keen to see the next aid station at Finsthwaite and was starting to feel the pinch. I cursed the race organiser a few times as some of the climbs were steep and long. One of note was up to High Dam. “Only” 230m but that was from sea level pretty much. Race of two halves my arse. As I was running round the tarn my dad and uncle appeared from behind a tree. It was great to see them and I stopped briefly to say hello and have a photo.
Head torch was now on. It was dark.
Into the aid station and a comfortable chair was waiting. I bet Tom didn’t stop but as I didn’t have a race plan I just sat down. Some wonderful people served me and a few disheveled runners cups of soup (we had to carry our own metal cup) and I filled up the bottles with coke and water. One of the guys I’d overtaken just after Ambleside, and also one of the small group who’d been on the windy ridge came in and we said a few words. I decided I wanted to run with him. He’d done the race twice before so it was safer to have someone who knew the route. I probably lost 10-15 mins in this aid station which is time I could get back if I was “racing racing”. We set off into the darkness and I looked back after 5 mins to see a little crew of three or four head torches behind. From the aid station we were told it was only 12km. That was a mental lift as I’d imagined it was further. I was still not looking at how far I’d gone or how long I’d been running. I knew because it was dark that it must be 11 hours or so.
We were caught by a very strong looking chap who then sort of died and stuck with us. Maybe we sped up. We were three and we just kept ticking on. I was feeling pretty good and despite the obvious aches and pains in the hips from all the leg lifting, right knee from the downhilling, lower back from carrying a bum bag I’m not used to, oh and the quads, THE QUADS. I now started zoning in on what was left. There must be only 5-6km to go now I thought. We caught a very bedraggled looking chap who I’d briefly seen in the aid station. He’d stated that the best recovery drink was a larger shandy. I yelled out “LAGER SHANDY” and he raised his arms and laughed. We ran with him briefly before he took off at speed admitting he’d probably die straight away. He did, not sure what he was doing. At which point I started thinking of what it would be like to run in to the finish with these guys. Would it be a sprint, would we have an uncomfortable conversation about whether to have a race, so I thought sod it. I’m going. I was feeling really strong and literally kicked off at pace and smashed up a few gentle rises. We were in boggy fields at the time. I created a minute or so gap instantly and hit a hedge with a gate and saw a road. This must be it. I’d been told the finish was a long 3km downhill stretch on road. I turned right onto the road and enjoyed the downhill feeling. Finally some decent ground to run on and there was a slight feeling of euphoria that this was it. I’d done it. I looked at my Garmin and for the first time switched it to the view with the distance on, 79km and surely only a few km to go now. I was running fast and it was a steep downhill lane. Then I hit a main road. Then I realised something was wrong. This race does’t go on main roads and there was no yellow sign. I pulled out my iPhone and loaded up ViewRanger to get my position. I’d taken a wrong turn. I was meant to go straight over the lane and on into the next field. At the finish my dad said the organise announced “109 has gone off track”. Bloody 109, “that’s Roger” my dad said to my uncle. This is what going wrong looks like
What to do. I was clearly going to lose a lot of time and places. But I knew the organiser would see I’d taken a wrong route as we all had tracking chips and they would be watching at the finish on the big screen. I also wanted to complete the full route otherwise I would’t have been honest to myself, nobody else gives a shit right. So I decided to smash myself back up the road. It was steep, one of those roads that has a little arrow on it on the map. As I was cursing away I saw a WhatsApp message from The Coffin dodgers group. “He’s gone the wrong way”. I fumbled a short and expletive response. “You ok Rog?”. No, I’m not ok. I’ve run 50 miles now and I’ve gone wrong. i was fuming and used the anger to power me up the hill. About half way up I saw a torch coming down the other way. It was lager man. “It’s the wrong way” I yelled. He wasn’t happy either. I did my own thing and kept going till I reached the gate again and turned right into the field. I’ve since worked out I did an extra 2km going up and down the hill. I’d spent burnt some matches on that climb though and once back on the route didn’t enjoy yet further climbing. Then for the first time in the day I fell over and a steep slippery grass descent. Didn’t hurt and I slipped onto my bum so it was quite amusing. Bloody wrong shoes. I finally reached the road and it really was all downhill now.
It was around 4km to Cartmell and this seemed to go on forever. I hit the village, turned into the school where the finish is, crossed the line and threw down my map in anger. Not a lot more to say which given the above is surprising. I was pretty wrecked and decided at this point I’d probably not do another one of these. But then I remember I will have to do something similar when I tackle Bob Graham.
As I finish this report it’s Weds 9am. Sunday was almost certainly the most sore my legs have every been after a race. Weirdly from my knee right to my hip felt like it had been run over by a truck. Muscle soreness all the way up the front of my leg. Some 50 hours after finishing. I’ve basked in the glow of completing every since. A huge sense of satisfaction. It was a tough day but in a way a different kind of toughness to say a marathon or Ironman. I suffered way more in Ironman UK, Ironman Hawaii and London Marathon 2013. I’d say it’s in my top 5 tough things in fourth place. Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I do something similar, yes. It does make me covet the tarmac of say a Comrades but I know that would be a challenge in a different way.
Tom went on to finish 13th which was an awesome effort. It did make me think that with the experience I’ve gained I could definitely have made a top 20 finish. I also wasn’t really ready for this race. I did it off 10 weeks training from not really doing a huge amount of running per week. With now until June next year I’ll be a different beast. The sore leg muscles tell me where the work needs to be done. You’ll see me mostly on the stairs and on a step machine this winter. That and some leg weight training.
Some super photos and a little write up by Ian Corless can be found here. In his own words (he was hanging off the rock) “The 2017 Lakes In A Day (LIAD) in contrast to the idyllic 2016 LIAD was a brute!”
My Strava file measured 85km or 53 miles, average HR was 127, apparently I burnt over 12,000kcals which explains this weeks feeding frenzy. Strava file here – https://www.strava.com/activities/1221576781
Over and out. Next up Tour of Pendle in November.