Julia's review of the Montane Lakeland 50 Ultra Tour of the Lake District: My feet are forgiving me. Slowly. And shares in Compeed are currently looking like a great financial investment but through all the pain is an exhausted but persistent glow of achievement.
As TS Eliot said: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go.”
In my case that’s 50 miles of Lake District rocky tracks up and down spectacular scenery, a journey with friends through heatwave and downpour, from giddiness to misery and back again via sounds of the eighties and famous names (more later!).
It really hit us on the bus to Dalemain (Ullswater) from Coniston that we had signed up to a BIG THING. That was the first time we went quiet. However, spirits were high – there was the excitement of seeing how friends were getting on the 100 and the quite simply amazing support of all the marshalls and organisers to get us in the mood.
After a 3.8 mile loop of Dalemain we were off to Pooley Bridge and to Howtown. Andi, Sarah, Helen and I formed our team and we were strict with ourselves about pacing after numerous ultra running friends gave the same advice – don’t go off too quickly. Luckily the Suunto Ambit 2S tells you your pace and average pace on the same screen so we were able to control it well with occasionally glances at the watch.
The first two checkpoints on the course are the furthest apart – 11.2 miles to Howtown then 9.4 to Mardale Head and having missed lunch with a 9.30pm bus to catch at Coniston to get to the 11.30am start it was a disappointment not to have sandwiches at the first checkpoint. However, fig rolls, flapjack and motivational slogans on signs around the cp sufficed and powered us up the Fusedale slog to the highest point on the route, nearly the top of Wether Hill, at 660m almost as big as Penyghent. To sustain our Positive Mental Attitude we took to playing a name game on the way up. In a stroke of genius the organisers put your first name on your number which is worn on your pack, which makes for an instantly even friendlier atmosphere. We gave people famous names and tried to fit pop stars/songs to names. So at one point we were following “David” Cameron and “Adam” Ant – a brief rendition of Stand and Deliver was obligatory – and we became Julia Roberts, Andie MacDowell, Sarah Ferguson and Helen Mirren!
A fantastic run down the lovely grassy Bampton Common was our high point of the whole route – and the only time we went wrong, missing a turning and cutting across the fell to get back on track. What a view and how nice to have something springy underfoot as we sang Karen Carpenter’s On Top Of The World.
Mardale Head cp was delicious – home made soup, peanut butter sandwiches, tea, coffee, biscuits. Like all the cps, the marshalls were brilliant, checking everyone was OK, fetching you refreshments and infectious with enthusiasm. Runners resting, some 100ers waiting for a lift back after the heat took its toll.
Climbing Gatescarth Pass we seemed to be disappearing into a very big black cloud and soon the heavens open and the rumbling began. The Haglofs Gram jacket easily passed its first test. The thunder shower was over by the time we reached Longsleddale but the writing was on the wall weatherwise as banks of black clouds stacked up over the horizon. We passed Lynda who made us laugh as she was high on flat cola: “I’m never letting the kids have this again, look what it does to you!” she said.
Kentmere cp aka “The Juice Bar” offered freshly made strawberry and banana smoothies – amazing! We stopped long enough to whack on some Compeeds and change socks then were on our way up the Garburn Pass towards Saturday night townlife at Ambleside.
Personally my head went down around Ambleside, and had John and the children been there supporting I would have cried and begged to be taken to the finish. However, it’s amazing what some soup can do and after putting my headtorch on the wrong way round (I was getting tired!) we trudged off up Loughrigg aiming for the next cp 5.6 miles away and scenting the finish just 10 miles beyond that.
It was properly dark now with no moon due to the clouds and soon the torrential rain began which didn’t ease for many hours. Here a fellow competitor, to be known for eternity as “How Far Is It Now Daniel” joined us. He had a watch which was still going and counted down the miles to Coniston. He was also good company and fitted into our little group really well. And he’d reccied the last 15 miles! (We hadn’t reccied – I don’t know if that was a good or bad thing for the majority of the run, but in the dark with such heavy rain it was comforting to have someone along who knew the way without having to stop and get the compass out. However, there were lots of “I’ve been here on the Saunders” moments.)
With conditions worsening the Haglofs Gram jacket really excelled. It performed the best of any jacket I have used in similar weather in the past. Such was the ferocity of the unrelenting rain it was a very pleasant surprise to stay as dry as I did. The internal dampness was entirely due to sweat and the residue of earlier downpours before I put on the jacket.
The Chapel Stile cp was something of a holy grail. Ten miles from the finish, it was a psychological touchstone adorned with fairy lights and had the same party atmosphere of other cps along the way. More soup here and a return of the fig rolls set us up as we headed out once more into the Langdale night.
We dibbed at the unmanned cp at the base of Wrynose then headed for Tilberthwaite and the last cp. We weren’t initially going to stop at Tilberthwaite – we had planned to dib and go – but we stopped to put on extra layers and waterproof bottoms as the coldness of hours of cloudbursts started to bite. It also meant we saw our friend Oz again (although he can’t remember seeing us!) and felt better for a hot drink before tackling the last push to Coniston.
The final three and a half miles brought for me the biggest challenge of the route with the descent into the Coppermines valley. With paths turned into running rivers full of rocks and mush, headtorches pushed to the limit, tiredness kicking in and desperate focus to remain upright on sodden, blistered, screaming feet, this bit was not fun. But we got down with just a couple of slips and ran into Coniston with a relief like I’ve never felt before.
Finishers are introduced and clapped into the school hall and there, at almost 4am, were Phil and Jack, How Far Is it Now Daniel’s wife, plus Annie, Marie and Harry, who despite finishing three hours earlier were waiting for us to come in. We swapped stories, caught up on how clubmates had fared, received our T shirts and wore our medals with pride. Half an hour later Oz came in, suffering but triumphant. An epic achievement all round.
Key component of success: my wonderful friends
Best bit of “extra” kit: spare dry socks
Best bit of kit: Haglofs Gram jacket
Lessons learned: Research blister prevention!!