Lakeland 50 – The Big One AKA The Hilly One!

Neil Jones

This all started with a phone call from my brother in-law almost 10 months ago, he had just completed a “brilliant race” and thought it was just up my street. I happened to have read a lot about this challenge – mainly the 100 route – and had previously decided it was out of my league. Speak to any runner and they will most likely have heard stories about the Lakeland 50 and 100 mile race, both are legendary!


I opted to enter the 50 race as the amount of climbing in the 100 was just staggering, however having completed a 100 mile race this year already I did feel confident the distance wouldn’t be an issue to me. This event is incredibly difficult to get an entry spot and complete. It usually sells out in less than 20 minutes or so. And would you believe there are so many fool hardy runners wanting to pit themselves against 12,000 feet of climbing across an unmarked route.


The build up to the race had been good – no illness, no injuries and a holiday week in Austria running over the hills and on the trails. I had set myself a target of being in the top 100 finishers of a field of around 800, so I had added some pressure. There were some nerves the week of the race, mainly around kit, fitness, travel and general route choices that I needed to make.


With Friday afternoon off work I made a steady drive North West to Coniston to complete registration and watch the 100 mile race start. This was all super slick with kit check and registration completed in less than half an hour. I paid homage to the crazy runners starting off on their 100 mile 26,000 feet of climbing course, cheering them off with Gusto! My mind turned quickly to food and a good night’s sleep.


WET WET WET! It rained all night and the course was going to be super muddy and energy sapping following nearly 10 hours of solid and continuous rain. What trainers do I wear?


The start was amazing, so many people cheered us off with my support crew – Caroline and Matt – snapping pictures and videos. I was really pumped and buzzing. I set myself the challenge to get halfway and even more importantly to enjoy the views before arriving at the 25 miles mark in 5 hours… SIMPLE… well not so! I have to say I fell over about 7 times and was lucky not to pick up and injury on the tricky paths in the first 15 miles.


Howtown to Mardale covered checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3. Think alpine switchbacks with no ending – super tough! I chatted and grunted my way onto Kentmere where we were greeted by event crew dressed in fancy dress. The cow boys looked after us so well – hot soup, pasta, tea and cakes – everything was to hand and I felt looked after. After a 6 minute pit stop I set off on the next classic climb (another toughie) where I was greeted by a gang of mountain bike riders making the descent – cheers of motivation rang out!


At Ambleside came the 33 mile mark where my stomach greeted me with cramps and bilious. But like in many an ultra-race I’ve experienced this nearly always passes with time and encouragement – Caroline and Matt were more than pulling through as my support network!


Shortly after mile 33 Caroline and Matt gave me the news that I was in the top 50 – my pace was on point – this gave me a really big lift! Again and again the checkpoint volunteers were attentive and accommodating. Yet, with the time approaching 7pm and with just under 3 hours to go of daylight I decided not to waste too much time at the check point.


After 7 hours of running I was still stimulated by the beautiful scenery – light, shades and the general beauty of the Lake District. This mental lift came at the right time before two tough ascents incoming. I found myself reflecting on how tough this race was and I still had 15 miles or so to complete. The terrain over the next section was a mix of rolling hills, technical trails and fellside.


With the check point at Tiberthwaite on my mind and the last 1,500 feet of climbing to come – half of this was a stairway. I reviewed my condition and mustered a last minute race strategy. I could get near 10 hours, which was amazing, so I set about the next section with renewed vigour and an aim to ascend and descend into Coniston at rapid pace.


The last climb was really hard as I suffered crippling pain in my legs. With the light dwindling and hunger setting in I stuck to my plan and pushed hard picking up some places on the way. I passed runners from Harrogate, Pennine AC and Dark Peak fell runners. I hit the last downhill section really hard and picked off about 10 runners on the 1,500 feet descent into Coniston.


My toes and feet were in a whole world of pain but that vanished when I arrived in the village centre. The pubs were packed with people cheering, whooping, hollering and generally helping us along the last 800 metres and over the finish line. This was easily the best finish to a race I’ve ever experienced.


At the finish I was supported by a volunteer from the finish line to collect my medal and to be cheered by the whole marque which was simply amazing. My support crew were there to video my finish and take pictures. Veggie Chilli and Coffee was quaffed down in seconds and I enjoyed a good hour in the marque, basking in the glow of a Lakeland 50 finisher’s medal!


Lakeland 100 next year? Who knows!


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