So it began…
I arrived in Coniston on Friday afternoon, full of apprehension and excitement. I had a light lunch with my family before heading to registration. And it was there I encountered my first problem!
The waterproof pants I’d been using throughout training didn’t in fact have taped seams and so didn’t meet race requirements. So, feeling very sheepish I dashed to the nearest outdoor store. After a bit of polaver I headed back to HQ, new pants in hand, where of course I’m standardly met by a queue 20-men deep! Luckily I caught the eye of the lass who had checked the rest of my kit who ushered me through. Now, finally all checked in and having had a look around all I could think was that I had overpacked. I spent the majority of the evening pondering, unpacking and repacking rather than concentrating and studying the course!
Before I knew it, I was sat at the compulsory briefing at Coniston. The organisers gave a great talk and the words of the main organiser were later to ring very true ‘forget targets, just complete the journey’. Having previously had a MAXIMUM target of 12 hours, it wasn’t long until I had to revert to plan B.
Leg 1: Dalemain to Howtown –
11.2 Miles (17.8km) – 965ft (294m) Ascent – 1h:46m
It felt great to be underway. Months and months, of admittedly poor preparation, were finally being put into place as I set off on my journey to Coniston.
On route I got to chatting to two blokes on the ascent up to Roehead Farm, who were both proper sound and had some good advice for a first timer, but somewhere amongst the chit-chat, I forgot to properly hydrate, something that would soon haunt me. I arrived at Bobbin Mill in great spirits and in decent time, although I was unaware of my time at the time.
Leg 2: Howtown to Mardale Head –
9.4 Miles (15.2km) – 2510ft (765m) Ascent – 2h:50m
The Sun beamed down hard as I began the approach to the biggest ascent of the race. I tried to save my legs a touch by interspersing my jogs with ‘dad runs’, or power walks to those who are not fans of Peter Kay. Towards the top I began to feel a little dry in the mouth but didn’t think owt of it as I was concentrating on my running and enjoying the surroundings.
On the way down to Haweswater, I turned my ankle on a loose rock. I found out four days later that I had damaged ligaments in both my ankle and foot. The valley in Haweswater was brutally hot, the shrubbery was seemingly radiating heat and I couldn’t tell if I was dehydrated or if my muscles were in pain, or both. Either way I was in a bad place. It felt as if I was stopping every five minutes to stretch out my calves. At about the 17-18 mile mark I eventually found some shade where I stretched and took shelter, a passerby handed me a salt tablet (something I had stupidly not thought of). At this point I was seriously questioning my ability to finish the race and all I could think about was quitting. I eventually dragged myself to the CP at Mardale Head and took a break of approx. 15 minutes to rehydrate and try to eat somet. I tried to get to my supply of back up water only to find that my zip had somehow broken. I asked the marshals for some help but at that very moment all I could think was ‘please disqualify me’. It would have been much more honourable than quitting. Eventually, for some unknown reason, I asked the marshal for a knife, and cut my bag open, securing it with safety pins. This setback cost me the best part of an hour, but I remembered the words of the organiser who said ‘if you ever feel like quitting, walk a mile and see how you feel’ or words to those effect. I took a deep breath and began walking the ascent up Gatescarth Beck.
The picture was taken shortly after the first CP, while I was still fresh!
Leg 3: Mardale Head to Kentmere – 6.5 Miles (10.4km) – 1677ft (511m) Ascent – 2h:31m
I can honestly say I have very little recollection of this leg. I remember the initial ascent, I also remember the killer wall step stiles and the final approach to the CP. I know I was struggling for the majority though, reflected in my time. I had a rest of approx. 20 mins and managed a small bowl of pasta and a magnesium drink, I had a stretch, topped my water supplies up and plodded on.
Leg 4: Kentmere to Ambleside – 7.3 Miles (11.8km) – 1611ft (491m) – 2h:19m
Although it wasn’t easy, this was possibly the most enjoyable stretch of the race. The view of Windermere from Robin Lane was simply breathtaking. The lakes always stir up a sense of nostalgia within me. The rain started to come down as I descended into Ambleside and I began to get anxious as my backpack was seemingly getting heavier! Going through Ambleside was a great feeling as the numerous people in the beer gardens and in the streets egged the runners on and this lifted my spirits no end. I was met by my parents shortly before the CP, they asked how I was feeling and the only word I could muster was ‘F****d’! I had a butty and a brew at the CP, in my knackered state that was potentially the best brew I’d ever had! The lass at the CP helped me repair my backpack with gaffer tape in order to waterproof it. I popped me head torch on and set off jogging through Rothay Park.
The state of my backpack after the race:
Leg 5: Ambleside to Chapel Stile – 5.6 Miles (9km) – 768ft (234m) Ascent – 1h:48m
I set off buzzing after seeing my parents, from the support of the marshals at the CP and from simply being in Rothay Park – a place of many memories. As darkness fell, so did the rain! Eventually I tagged on to a group who seemed to hold a decent pace. Having not had the opportunity to do any Reece days, I was very thankful as this group seemed to be very familiar with the route.
I tagged on to the group until approx. 1 mile from the CP but then I had to slow down as I was starting to feel extremely dizzy and my legs were starting to seize up. As I ambled through the campsite at Great Langdale the only thought running through my head was that I was done.
As I sat down at the CP I immediately felt freezing cold and my teeth began to chatter. The marshals did their best to help me, changing the batteries in my head torch, making me a brew and telling me to put spare clothes on. There were 2 blokes at the CP getting medical attention and at this point I felt I needed it too. I was ready to jack in. 10 Miles from Coniston felt like a lifetime away and I just couldn’t do it. For an hour or so I went back and forth telling myself that enough was enough. But then the Oasis track ‘Roll with it’ came on the radio, “Yer gotta roll with it, yer gotta take yer time…” and as daft as it sounds it just picked me up. I got to my feet, stuck on my oasis playlist on my phone and cracked on!
Leg 6: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite – 6.5 Miles (10.6km) – 1270ft (387m) Ascent – 3h02m
With the comforting and distracting sound of Oasis in my ears, I set off walking in the pouring rain and pitch black. The way was marshy but pretty much trodden already. I picked myself up to a jog and about 1.5-2 Miles in I bumped into a lass, Kate from Southport, and we got chatting. She was unbelievably upbeat given the conditions and her positivity helped me temporarily forget the pain my body was in. She seemed to know the way the way like the back of her hand as we trudged through the sodden fields. I was extremely grateful as navigating at this point may have destroyed any soul I had left! As we headed toward the unmanned CP at Castle Howe it seemed as if fellow runners were appearing from nowhere. Looking back over the boggy field from a higher viewpoint was an image that will always stay with me. Dozens of headtorches meandering through the fields in the valley trying tofind their way.
Having persuaded Kate to buddy with me from here on in, we began to pick up the pace towards tilberthwaite.
Finally we stumbled in to the last CP. It was a relief knowing that only 3.5 Miles remained, but then looking up at what can only be described as a series of steep stone steps that awaited us was a daunting sight. I was also suffering at this point from digestive issues, having consumed pretty much only sugar and water for the previous 13 hours, which added no end to my discomfort!
The Final Leg: Tilberthwaite to Coniston – 3.5 Miles (5.7km) – 928ft (283m) Ascent – 1h:48m
So, I’ve got about 6-8 blisters, the soles of my feet feel like they’re on fire despite being sodden to the bone, my calves feel like chunks of granite, my ankles are in severe pain and my knees are in a reet bad way to boot. On top of that I feel the hip bones on my right leg grinding within the socket, I wrote of my hip injury in my first post but I have never felt pain in the actual bones until this point. To top it off the chaffage I’m suffering from feels like I’ve dragged certain parts through glass! BUT, it’s only 3.5 Miles. Crack on. I tell myself that once I’m up those stairs I’m basically there. How wrong I was. Those stairs felt like an eternity and my body was screaming no. I’ve still got to negotiate the the ravine pass down to Coniston, which from the description sounded extremely eerie! Somehow a burning desire within me and the comradeship of Kate helped me through to the finishing line at Coniston.
I arrived with a finishing time of 16h:14m, which given what I put my body through I can be content with. I am very honoured to call myself a Lakeland 50 finisher and despite what I said at the end about never doing such a thing again, having finally digested my journey, it may just have stirred a hunger for more. I’ll see how I recover from my operation in September, but I’m excited for the next challenge, whatever it may be.