Updated: Jan 11, 2022
The Lakeland 100 calls itself 'Ultra Tour of the Lake District and is one of the most well known Ultra marathons in the UK. A stunningly scenic circular 105 mile loop around the Lake District, the only thing missing is summiting the areas famous peaks. Although as the race already has 6,300m of elevation therefore is by no means an easy day out especially as the route is not marked, but you are provided with a map, road book and .gpx to upload to a watch or other gps device.
Racing and events had been few and far between in 2021. I came into this race undertrained due to several injuries since January, therefore the race plan was to go out and just enjoy it.
Weather-wise the weekend of the event could not have been any better, although it was pushing the high 20s, glorious blue skies allowed for true appreciation of the Lake District and some perfect postcard shots for Instagram.
Camping is provided at the event HQ in Coniston, ideal for those of us who would finish at an ungodly hour. This onsite camping near the HQ creates a friendly, festival like atmosphere where everyone wears a GPS watch.
After the race brief i had a few hours to relax in the back of the camper van, sort my kit out and if possible get a little sleep as I knew I would not be finishing until way past sunset the following day.
1 hour to go until the race start at 6pm and it's time for last kit check and pack. Everything ready and good to go except for my Coros Apex watch (with .gpx route installed). After 30 minute of panic, unpacking, phone calls, repacking, turning the van inside out and yet more repacking I calmed myself and decided that this loss would just be a new challenge and I would have to race 'old school' using the map, compass and road book - and just make sure I was never in the lead at any point as I would not have anyone to follow.
Now I am a big fan of running watches, especially in training and Ultras as I like to try and run to my Heart Rate. The race would be in one way very liberating as I would run by pure 'feel' and not dictated to by technology.
After a rousing start line rendition of Nessun Dorma we were off into evening through Coniston and straight up the first hills. The leg to Seathhwaite was hot, fast and relentless although I knew I was going too quick i felt strong and wanted to cover some good miles while it was still daylight.
After dark I made it to Wasedale and the Checkpoint manned by the Sunderland Strollers, crossing the small bridge I was greeted by a burly man dressed as Alice and the rest of the Strollers and their well stocked Alice in Wonderland themed Checkpoint. As with all the checkpoints along the Lakeland they are well supported with friendly staff and stacks of all sorts of foods.
Settling into the night with trusty head the night passed more or less without incident until I started following 2 runners who ended up heading down a busy A-Road rather than the hidden public footpath that ran parallel. A quick check of the map and road book and I had us back on course. This would not be last time during the race that I would have to help out other misguided runners blindly following their watches, a timely reminder that there is more to Ultras in mountains than just running and basic navigational ability should be the foundation of any race or adventure.
Running down into Blencathra at 0455 AC/DC blearing and into the rock themed checkpoint was the perfect way to end the first night. A quick toilet stop and handful of biscuits and I was back out onto the course and properly into Saturday and still feeling strong.
Glorious sunshine would be the order of the day and we were properly spoilt with the views, a particular highlight was looking back across Ullswater. This was my first trio to the Lake District and I could not have asked for better conditions to see and run around it.
Running comfortably trying to keep a steady pace as not to get my heart rate too high or to overheat, I started to feel the effects of a poor training building up to the race but still considerably stronger than I hoped and continued to just enjoy the journey knowing that i would be shortly arriving at the half way point at Dalemain with my drop bag and welsh cakes.
The checkpoint crew at Dalemain were brilliant bringing me some chocolate cake covered in custard and refilling my water. I stuck to my race plan of eating food, refilling my water bottles, drinking electrolytes change of clothes and most importantly brush my teeth. Feeling as refreshed as you can after 50 miles of running I left Dalemain at around 10am and started to struggle to get going for the first few miles.
Several miles later with a few slight navigation deviations we were running along Haweswater with overgrown ferns along the path and high levels of humidity, I could feel the heat starting to take effect so I slowed down to try and preserve my energy as well as to allow the lead runners of the Lakeland 50 to fly past.
Before getting to the 10th checkpoint at Mardale Head I found myself refilling my water bottles from several of the small streams that feet Hawswater Lake. The leg from Howtown to Mardale Head is only 9.4miles long with over 700m of ascent it is one of the tougher stages and took me almost 3 and a half hours. By now my knee was far from happy, and although I could feel my right knee I was still able to run the steady downhills any significant inclines or big steps would result in fairly sharp pain when my knee would bend to any significant degree.
The support and encouragement from the runners duing the 50 mile who started at Dalemain earlier that morning were now starting to pass me but encouraging me as they went saying they I looked to be running extremely well and easy. Looks can be deceiving.
2 miles after leaving Mardale Head I felt my Inov8 Race Ultra Pro 2 in 1 Running Vest (wait out for the review) seem to move quite a bit across my back, as annoying as this was I put it down to my kit moving within the pack and just carried on. A few miles later the other side of my pack started to move and then the pack started swinging across my back. I thought it best to stop to adjust my pack and kit only to find that 2 of the buckles holding the pack to the vest has completely failed and was now having loose - Not ideal with 23 miles still to go.
I slowly trotted down towards Kentmere where there was a Hogmanay party in full swing and sheepishly asked one of the volunteers is they had any cable ties. After explaining my issues the kind gentleman in a kilt got some black gorilla tape from his car and proceeded to wrap the tape around the pack and the vest - making it significantly tougher than ever.
Glad of not having to carry my pack like a rugby ball for 20 plus miles I started back on my journey towards Ambleside. Before reaching the town where it felt like there was a party in full swing, I was greeted by my girlfriend and her friend who had gone out for an evening cycle hoping to bump into my if they had been following the dot correctly online. Upon reaching Ambleside i took a few minutes to try and relax, there seemed to be a lot going on, a lot of runner, a lot of supporters, a lot of volunteers - almost to many people and overwhelming as I normally like to just do my own thing. A small rest and some refreshments later I headed out through Rothay Park and back onto the route knowing that I would be starting my second night on the trail. It was now 8pm.
This next leg felt like it should be fairly easy, but my legs were not letting it be that way. My knee was stiffening up properly but I kept running on the flats and easy down hills and into the Checkpoint at Chapel Stile with its angels. Knowing this was the last penultimate checkpoint I loaded up with some coffee before heading out to the night which had started to feel significantly colder after the balmy heat of the day.
Out of Chaple Stile it was up what felt like a long climb on a leg that seemed to go on for ever. I knew I was getting tired as I was asking other runners as they passed if they had the time or if they knew how far until the next check point. This was down to a combination of tiredness and possibly my ability and want to take on food being diminished after over 24 hours of running.
Arriving at Tilberthwaite was a lovely contract to bedlam that was Ambleside quite, fire pits and flapjacks - If i was not running I would happily have spent the evening there relaxing. A few flapjacks later it was off to climb Jacobs Ladder, paid my donation and on the home straight. It is worth noting that the Lakeland 100 and 50 provide significant donations to local charities and organisations this is separate to any fund-raising that runners do.
The final let had some steep steps both up and down that my knee did not very much enjoy. By now I was feeling very tired and was looking forward to getting to sleep. 44 minutes after leaving Tiberthwaite I was back running through Coniston and towards the finish line where I was then guided into the marque and announced to the cheering crowd as a Lakeland 100 finisher in a time of 31 hours 7 minutes and 37 seconds.
The cheering went on throughout the night as other finishers came in, I could hear them from the van a few hundred meters away, this didn't bother me as I know how nice the feeling is of having people cheering you on as you finish, also I fell asleep as soon as I unraveled my sleeping bag.
The Lakeland 100 has a 40 hour cut off and people were still finishing on Sunday morning when I finally woke up to have a healthy pizza breakfast. One of the highlights of the weekend was the presentation on the Sunday, not because we got to see the winners but because we got to hear inspirational stories of some of the runners who finished all along the pack.
As an event I would highly recommend the Lakeland 100 if you are after a trail challenge, you will not get the elevation exposure as you would do running in the Alps but you will get an event that has stunning scenery, is well supported, has a fantastic atmosphere all weekend that is at the same time challenging.
This is certainly one of the races that I would recommend people in the UK do and I will be looking at doing again in the future, especially as there is a slate trophy for those who have completed 5 Lakeland 100.
Key kits and bits
Trainers: Scott Kinabalu Ultra RC
Pack: inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2-in-1 Vest
Poles: Mountain King Trail Blaze
T-shirt: Inov8 Base Elite
Cap: Buff - Xcross - Reflective Pack Run Cap
Sunglasses: SunGod Renegades
Nutrition (carried by me)
Precision Hydration - PF 30 Gel
Precision Hydration - PH1000
SIS - Beta Fuel Gels
SIS - Beta Fuel
Tan y Castell Welsh Cakes