Lakes in Day Race report
The Lakes in a Day was my first Ultra outside of South Wales. My first ever Ultra was the Might Contain Nuts ultra in March, a 40 miler over the Black Mountains. I’d then done the Preseli Beast (32 Miles), and Run Walk Crawl South Wales 50. The Run Walk Crawl event was absolutely amazing. It has a high dropout rate and 3200M of climb. I’d managed that OK, so was feeling a little confident that I could do the 4000M, 50 miles of the Lakes in a day, but….
I am fearful of heights. I regularly run along the ridge in the Brecon Beacons to try and overcome this fear, but it is always there. I was very glad that the Lakes in a Day route allows an alternative route down from Blencathra than Halls Fell Ridge. I was also a little worried about running in the lakes for the first time. Would the environment be so different? 50 miles is a long way to learn the hard way.
So earlier in the year I recce’d the route from Threlkeld to Ambleside, and from Ambleside to Cartmel. The first part was to understand if I would have any issues with going up the ridge to Lower Man, which leads to Helvellyn. Also to try and understand my rate of progress across the ridge. My earlier races had shown me that people who keep an eye on pace, particularly marathon runners, soon come unstuck. Trying to keep to a 10 minute mile along a ridge such as that in Helvellyn is only something that Elites can do, and certainly not middle of the pack runners like me.
During the recce I’d used my amazing La Sportiva Bushidos, from my favourite outdoor shop Up and Under in Cardiff. Their personal advice certainly beats Internet shopping for gear that your life is dependent on. Ian Corless recently reviewed the Bushidos and didn’t like them. I have come from a walking background, and find the shoes like a running version of my old boots. They provide loads of protection, and good support. In Ian’s review there is a comparison between them and Inov 8s. The Inov8s do provide more freedom, but I think they serve different purposes.
The Helvellyn Ridge is very rocky compared to the South Wales Fans, and I was glad of the solidity of the Bushidos. They were a very good shoe for the recce, and I think they are perfect for this route. During the recce I managed about 3 to 4 miles an hour – this included map reading in the mist. Also the ridge up Lower Man was OK for my vertigo, so long as I strode straight up it. The slope to the right is quite gentle and that gave me confidence.
With the distance between Threlkeld and Ambleside being 18ish miles, that meant that in the race water would certainly be an issue, since I completed the recce in about 4 to 5 hours.
I was camping at Cartmel – something laid on by the event, and that was great, no fuss about accommodation. I rose at 5:00AM to catch the 5:45 bus provided by Open Adventure. I grabbed a bowl of Ready Brek. I find that very easy to make that time in the morning. It can be a little stodgy for a race, but eating at 5:15 for an 8 o’clock start I thought it would be OK, and it was. Set up with Oats for the morning, and grabbing my pack which I had prepared the night before I went to the busses. Being October it was very dark at this time, and did make it feel like the middle of the night. Though to me that is the nature of Ultras, that little bit of extra effort, up early and going till late at night places demands.
I like races with bus journeys, it is a chance to meet people with a little time. I find it good not to meet new people just before the race where my nerves start to get the better of me and I am probably a little unsocial. I always find everyone I meet on these events truly wonderful, and I think it is one of the main draws of the sport.
The bus journey is an hour and half and got us to Calbeck in plenty of time. Time to check all is there and get clothes ready for the race. The bus journey is also during dawn, so you get a chance to enjoy the increasing visibility of the Lake District.
Caldbeck to Threlkeld.
This was the only bit of the route I had not recce’d. I’d assumed that early in the race there would be plenty around me to assist with navigation, and also taking it a little easy to navigate would slow me down, to ensure I didn’t rush off.
I have never done a race with 300 starters. I like to start at the back, people seem to shoot off really really fast. On the South Wales 50, I genuinely was at the back at the start. That policy seemed to work well as I overtook many people on the day and finished in the top 20%.
It worked out a little differently here. Oddly enough for quite a wide moorland, the paths up High Pike and Blencathra are narrow. There is a well-trod single path. To the side is dense heather and high grass. As a result, I was at the back making slow progress. When I did try to get past people, by getting off the path my work rate was very high, something I was trying to avoid so early on.
One excellent feature of this race is the live tracking. Looking back at my progress on the tracker, I did really seem to get stuck at the back, and lost the best part of ¾ of an hour. What I don’t know is if I pushed myself a little earlier would I suffer later on. Something to explore. For me, I think if I ever do the race again, I will need to push it for the first mile to get sufficiently in front so I can move at a pace I like to keep.
In the end I didn’t wear my Bushidos I was warned against changing at Ambleside since wet feet and dry shoes don’t bode well for blisters. I had intended to use them for the 1st section, but plumbed for a shoe that I thought would be better for the whole route. I was trying out some new Inov 8 Terraclaw 220s. These have a 4mil drop. I was a little nervous about the grip since the tread is not too deep. Over the moors, they worked wonderfully. The grip was surprisingly good for a general purpose shoe.
The run down from Coomb Height is interesting. I took the direct route to the river, but those who veered to the left and took the track did seem to go quicker. Another lesson.
Once over the river the long trek up Blencathra. About three quarters of the way up a lot of people followed the GPS of the 2015 route past Foule Crag. This is a very steep route to the top. I took the straighter route, under the scree and round up to Blencathra. This did seem quicker.
I had aimed to feel comfortable at the top of Blencathra. It is approximately 1100M of climb into the race, so if I felt good here then I knew I was not pushing it too hard. I passed the trig, and immediately started to jog down to the right, following the route to Blease Fell, rather than following most people down Halls Fell.
This was due to my Vertigo. I would really love to do the ridge, it looks wonderful, and I always find it a source of deep regret that I am challenged this way. Maybe with a bit of work I will be able to tackle the ridge next year. The problem is that if I do try and go for the ridges I spend weeks worrying about it, rather than looking forward to a lovely weekend.
I was worried that I would be the only person doing the Blease Fell route. This didn’t prove to be the case though, there were a few of us. The path is very clear and easy to follow.
Having looked at the map previously, the main route did lead to a car park near the Blencathra Centre, a long distance out of my way. There were some minor paths marked, but I’ve been in the hills long enough to realise that what is written on the map as a path may not be that obvious in reality. This slowed me down checking the map. As it happens, there is a clear pile of stones after some zig zags down the main path. At the stones you can either go to the centre or go straight down the hill and then follow a path that takes you pretty much to Threlkeld – easy.
I don’t like to spend too much time at checkpoints. In the case of Lakes in a Day, this is a shame. The spread of food is amazing. Rolls, fruit, everything you could want. In previous events I have had stomach issues. I have tried Tailwind and even that gives me stomach problems. On this race I was experimenting with eating only savoury food at checkpoints and trying to keep intake between 100 and 150 calories an hour. I had some Tailwind from Caldbeck, but nothing else. So 3 hours to Checkpoint 1, and 200 calories I was a bit behind calorific intake. Grabbed a few cheese rolls, some fruit and away. If I was to provide one moan about the race it is the water situation. The place was very busy and only 2 water butts. It took a good ten minutes to get my water. As I said above the next section is very long and I wanted to take 2.5 litres of water.
Threlkeld to Fairfield
Follow the arrows under the main road – a compulsory bit, for safety purposes, and very sensible. Then up Clough Head. I knew this was going to be one tough climb, and in my head I knew once this was over the whole race would get easier. If you ever do this race be sure to make sure you are prepared for this hill. It is 500M straight up. Very tough and easy to get the heart rate so high that you burn your muscles out, and only 12 ish miles into the race. In South Wales we have a similar hill, Tor y Foel. Race Directors use it knowing that people will have a false sense of the steepness not being on the main Brecon Ridge. I approached Clough Head in the same way. Easy and Steady to the top.
That over I could now open up a bit, and take the nice run down to Calfhow Pike. I was glad I had done the recce. The next section is quite a few miles, and there are some climbs, but none too serious. If I was unaware of how long the ridge was, I think I would have found it mentally challenging. My efforts to save energy up Blencathra, and up Clough Head now was paying dividends. I was making good pace and catching a lot of people up. Past Great Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise and then Helvellyn came quickly. Now it was all downhill to Grisedale Tarn.
Passing people down Dollywagon Pike you could see people were now starting to suffer. I find it’s the downhill that hurts, not the up. Quad muscle busting is a favourite among the uninitiated hill runners. Next up Fairfield and the last big climb of the day. The weather was still holding out, and I can’t believe I travelled so far in the lake district without rain. Very lucky.
Fairfield to Ambleside
My downhill running needs some work. I had passed many people on the way up Fairfield, but now they were all catching me up. I don’t know why, but there you are, I cannot seem to keep a good pace downhill. On this route, finding the wall after Hart Crag is nice, you know navigation is easy from here because you simply follow it all the way to Ambleside. That said there are some tricky sections. High Crag and Sweden Crags can lose you a lot of time scrambling down the rocks. There are easy runnable paths around them, but get it wrong and it’s a genuine scramble. This time I took the left side of the wall (there are gates at a couple of points in the wall). A number of runners who were easily 5 or 10 minutes behind me after the climb up Fairfield caught me up going down the right side of the wall. Whether that is because I am slow down hill, or because the right side is a faster route, I will check next year.
At this point I did question my wisdom at using the Terrclaws. I did not want to change my shoes in Ambleside, so had left the Bushidos behind. The claws have no rock plate, and the balls of my feet were getting a little sore. I wondered if I was developing a blister, there of all places! The rocky ridges had started to take their toll.
Through the town, past lots and lots of people, which is weird, to the checkpoint.
Again amazing food, but not for me. I grabbed a couple of pieces of pizza, and ran out of the door. Again to take some time filling water. 8.5 hours to this point, not bad and on target to get under 15 hours. What I wasn’t sure about was how tired I would become over the next 20 miles.
Ambleside to Finsthwaite
At the checkpoint I had got my head torch ready for the ensuing dark. The signposting from the route is very good here. The route is not meant to be marked, but to be honest I think that this section is very well marked. All the way, and no excuses for getting it wrong.
I literally ran all the way up the long haul to High Wray. I made very good time, and was hitting 12 minute miles. I was pleased with this, at having paced myself to have lots of energy here. The route here is so different from the high fells, and is absolutely beautiful. The section past Claife Heights has to be my favourite. The run through the high fells is breath-taking, but after a tough day in the hills the tranquillity of the woods is just wonderful.
Down to the lake and the first of two stretches that hugs Lake Windermere. If you look at the length of the lake from here it will hit you mentally, just keep plodding. The going is very technical here. It is only a lakeside path, but as the dark creeps on, plenty of tree roots and stones to catch you out. Makes lifting your knees a must, or to avoid the inevitable face full of mud, you’ll end up at walking pace. A steep style onto a short road section, with a pretty short sharp steep hill and off into some dark woods back down to the lake.
The final lake section, and I am starting to get a little sad as I leave the lake I will be soon finishing and missing this amazingly beautiful place. The climb up from the YMCA (careful not to miss the gate) is very steep and muddy. I knew it was coming, but it is one of those climbs at the end of a long day that can really hit you mentally. At the top a swift run down, passed a couple of people sitting down who clearly had not expected the climb, and into an oddly dense wooded section, then a nice path to run down to Finsthwaite checkpoint. Again, the marking is excellent, trusting to them is important, as the path slips out of view a few times in the dark and there is a little gate between houses that is easily missed.
The final check point. Three soups on offer. As a vegetarian, this is brilliant. Not having to wrestle between having meat as it is the only thing on offer or eat my sugary reserves. The food on this ultra is great. For the first time someone was kind enough to fill my bottles here, allowing a swift turn around.
Finsthwaite to Cartmel
Out the door and into the woods that lead down to Newby Bridge. Some nice support from people enjoying a pint here. It is nice to know that I’ll be one of those people soon, with only six and a half miles to go. Up the last long gradual climb and into Bigland Allotment. This is one of the bits that I find my old XP Petzl frustrating. There is a lot of mud, and the low lumens of the lamp makes it slow. I’m sure I would have been much quicker in daylight. Maybe a trip to Up and Under for a new Petzl Nao for Christmas! After the slow progress of the mud, a short road trip, past the lake of Bigland Tarn and the penultimate descent. A few people are starting to fly past me on the descents, clearly scenting home. I catch up with a man and woman who have been chatting and its nice to have some company for the last stretch.
The low drop of the claws was taking its toll, with a twinge behind my left knee. My own fault, I hadn’t run for more than 2 hours in them in one go. That said, the lightness and flexibility of them had been brilliant.
I always find it odd how tiredness hits me with only a few miles to go. Must be a psychological thing. Over Speel Bank and into the woods. Again if using a gps, or if you’re good with a map, the signage here makes route finding easy. Onto the road. Now I must say I found this the toughest part of the day. It is about two miles of road into Cartmel. I suspect I was expecting to find this bit easy, but it did go on and on! Fortunately having the two people to run with really helped. We kept up a good pace and watched the lights of the race course slowly get closer. Into the village, with loads of wonderful support, and to the finish in fourteen and a half hours.
At the end there is free massage and amazing showers. That’s great. It is also nice to finish early enough (10:30 if 14.5 hours) to be not too late, and be able to relax a little before bed. I was very nervous about the long drive back to South Wales. The message, and a few hours sleep really helped. It’s the little things like this which make the event a wonderful weekend with everything just right.
The good things
Finishing under 15 hours; great food at the check points, and generally the whole organisation of camping at start and finish. The route is great. The mountainous first section is breath-taking, then when the hard work is over, the peacefulness and beauty of the woods is wonderfully enjoyable. The Terraclaws are a great shoe, and were perfect for this route, given it was very dry.
Eating savoury food certainly helped stomach problems. I did eat some sugary products near the end, but only sparingly. This is an individual thing and clearly try things out for yourself is the big lesson.
Lessons to be learnt
Try going a bit faster in the beginning so as not to get caught behind the pack. I finished the SW50 in 13.5 hours and that was not much easier. So a lesson on tactics in popular races. That all said, if I were fitter I would have gone faster. So more squats I think would certainly help.
The Inov8s were great, but I think next time I may try the shoe change and wear the bushidos for the first rocky section. This will protect my feet.
This being my third mountain ultra I was caught between being nervous of over confidence, and risking pushing it a bit. I think in hindsight I was too cautious. I use a HRM to judge my effort, and will up the HR slightly next time.
Would I do the race again? Definitely, and would recommend it wholeheartedly.