A year ago Chell and I were in Coniston listening to an unsettling rendition of Nessun Dorma and watching a foolhardy pack of runners set off on the Lakeland 100. As they disappeared into the hills we shivered and were glad to "only" be doing the Lakeland 50 the following day. Less than a week later Chell had somehow convinced not only herself but also me and Mick to give the 100 a go in 2016. To this day I've no idea how this happened…
So as we neared the end of July 2016 our own Lakeland 100 journey loomed. Chell and Mick, together with our chief supporter Gel, had spent time reccying most of the first part of the course from Coniston to Dalemain, whereas I had pored over blogs and spreadsheets to come up with a realistic sub-30 hour pacing plan. We had all trained well and felt as ready as we could be. None of this helped our nerves of course!
Chell and Gel were already holidaying near Cartmel the week before so Mick joined them on the Wednesday and I drove up the night before race day. We spent a convivial few hours sipping wine and whisky, munching mountains of pizza, discussing our plans and the monumental task ahead. It was a really good night. But it had to come to an end and we retired just after midnight for what would be our last bit of kip for a while.
Rather than get a good long lie in, Mick and I were awake by 8.45am and grabbed a shower before heading down for coffee and breakfast. We'd already packed our kit and drop bags but still went through things again a few times. Chell materialised a little later (might have been down to excess amounts of Jura) and it felt like we were twiddling our thumbs, counting the clock before we set off on the 40 minute drive to race HQ in Coniston.
Following a pretty miserable day before, Friday was warming up considerably and by the time we reached Coniston it was cracking the flags. Mick was sent over to the right of the field in his camper, whereas I was marshalled left to the camping quarter. We partially pitched the tent to mark our spot before venturing into the sweaty school hall for registration.
While queuing we spotted our Leo who was doing the 50, her first ultra, and feeling very nervous after kit check. We had a chat with her and some of her Wigan Phoenix running buddies before going back outside to finish sorting the tent. Soon after we saw Andy Haworth crossing the field and traded race plans and training tales. Andy had done the 50 two years ago and was now back for a crack at the 100 like us, hoping an injury he'd picked up on the Calderdale Way ultra wouldn't cause any concern.
With a few hours to while away before the race briefing we lounged about nibbling leftover pizza, popped in and out of the school, and re-sorted our drop bags. It was very warm in the blazing sun so I pottered into town and couldn't resist a delicious nerve-quenching pint of Old Peculier in the Yewdale Inn. Naughty, naughty…
Eventually it was time for the briefing. We went back to the hall where organisers Marc Laithwaite and Terry Gilpin put on a great show as always, making light of the changes to the event this year such as bringing your own cup and the new style medals. The touching tribute to Little Dave's Mum's chocolate cake and the Ambleside Black Panther will live long in the memory. As usual, we were asked to introduce ourselves to a fellow competitor as in past events statistically only one of you will finish the race – a sobering thought indeed!
As we left the hall we bumped into Jamie and Roxanne who had just arrived to see us off and register for the 50, also Jamie's maiden ultra. But with less than half an hour to go we needed to get ready. Back at the car I donned some brand new Seal Skinz socks, Inov-8 Race Ultra shoes that I'd broken in on the Trailblaster, and new Inov-8 ankle gaiters. Last minute applications of sun cream, Vaseline and Skin So Soft (to repel the midges) and off I dashed to fill my water bottles and dump my drop bag.
I was ushered into the starting pen where I hooked up with Chell and Mick. Jamie was on hand to take a team photo then we experienced Nessun Dorma from the other side. Strangely, it didn't feel anywhere near as spine-tingling this time around – I guess we were just eager to get going after all the hanging around. A countdown from ten began then we were off at a walk. I high-fived Leo who was also seeing us off and stubbornly stuck right at the very back. As we passed over the start line I was literally in last place and took a selfie to prove it! Someone shouted "Come on Paul, get a move on!" (our names were on our backpacks) to which I replied "I'm savouring every moment!" then turned and caught up with Mick and Chell just up the road.
LEG 1: Coniston to Seathwaite
We passed through Coniston centre to the applause of hundreds of spectators, taking it nice and easy. Passing the Black Bull the road soon started climbing up to the Coppermines valley. It was incredibly humid and sweat was already pouring off us all. Deborah and Andy Armstrong were perched on a rock at the side of the road here and wished us well as we went by, "Not too fast," Andy sagely added. Bottlenecking at a stile we turned to see the final descent on the other side of the valley, almost within touching distance yet over 100 miles away. Wow…
It was a long and steady two-stage climb up to Walna Scar though nice and solid underfoot. Around two miles in we passed Adrienne Olszewska and I told her to enjoy it, which I think she largely did in the end. We were still sweating profusely as we topped out at the highest point of the leg to be greeted by a breathtaking view over the Duddon Valley and a long run down to Seathwaite. The first seven miles done, we dibbed in at CP1 three minutes up on schedule. Just a splash and dash here, time to grab a few custard creams and refill bottles.
LEG 2: Seathwaite to Boot
It was oppressively close as we started climbing after Wallowbarrow farm and little better once we'd emerged from the trees and began the long, soggy march over Grassguards. We were right behind a pair of ladies and one was having a whale of a time dropping her walking poles as she went. The midges hereabouts were vicious sinking their teeth into Mick and Chell – I was thankful the Skin So Soft was working wonders as I'm normally their first port of call! The ground was seriously saturated on this section and I was again grateful, this time for the new waterproof socks which were keeping my precious feet dry, especially so early in the race.
A horrible slippery descent over rocks finally led to more runnable terrain and we picked up the pace along Eskdale. Somewhere around here I lost my TAC buff but fortunately had another in my pack – I needed it to mop my brow every few minutes! We crossed a road, sadly skipping past two very inviting pubs, to reach CP2 at Boot a couple of minutes behind schedule. Another quick pit stop here before the climb to Burnmoor Tarn began immediately.
LEG 3: Boot to Wasdale Head
The sun had set by now though the sky was clear and filled with a beautiful wash of colour. As the path levelled out it was becoming too dark to see well so out came our head torches. At this point Chell was feeling chilly so stopped to put on another layer. A damp couple of miles brought us past the tarn where we could see a line of runners ahead bobbing along in little cocoons of light. It remained fairly wet underfoot until we crested the last rise before Wasdale, then we had a tremendous run down into the valley passing dozens of other runners along the way.
Close to the bottom Chell started to struggle. She had a pain on the outside of her right knee, something she'd experience before on the Trailblaster last year and build up to the Haworth Hobble this year, but it was hampering her ability to descend. We only had a flattish mile to go to Wasdale Head so pressed on. The CP3 Stollers Disco was in full force and the place was heaving being the first stop with some proper food. I grabbed soup and some cheese and crisp butties while Mick seemed to pick up a mountain of bread! Back outside we regrouped and saw Gel and Lucy dog who had made the long trek by car from Coniston just to see us for a few minutes – fantastic support!
LEG 4: Wasdale Head to Buttermere
As we headed out again it was clear Chell was suffering. We had the monstrous climb up Black Sail pass ahead but she was okay ascending so onwards and upwards we went. A string of lights moved steadily high above us and looking back we could still see a line of torchlight coming down from Burnmoor in the distance. I remember saying to Mick "I started behind all those!" which raised a chuckle – it was another truly memorable sight. A few folk overtook us on the way up and after what seemed an eternity we reached the pass. I was there first and briefly covered my head torch to stare up and the phenomenally dark star-studded sky – it was absolutely amazing up there!
My Lakeland buddies arrived soon after but Chell wasn't looking good at all. She now had two long-sleeved tops on (in contrast Mick and I were both still in our T-shirts) yet felt cold and sick. There was no way out of here accept downwards so we started slowly picking our way over the treacherous wet stony path to Black Sail hut. Chell was wincing with every step but stoically carrying on. We were still being passed by people but finally crossed the wooden bridge and went by the youth hostel, commencing our climb up to Scarth Gap. I pulled a little ahead here alongside another isolated runner, Mel, who was telling me how she had hired and stayed at the hostel last New Year's Eve. She had done the 50 before and attempted the 100 last year but had to withdraw at Kentmere. Fingers crossed she would make it around this time, she was one determined lady!
I let Mel press on as I waited for Chell and Mick. We tramped on and finally reached the top after yet more boggy ground. A long rocky drop, not as harsh as Black Sail, led us down to the shoreline path around Buttermere lake though we were passed by a few more folk along the way. I had a quiet word with Mick before Chell caught up as we now had serious concerns for her. She voiced her first concerns that she might need to pull out. We briefly discussed things and I gave here some ibuprofen. We felt reassessment at Buttermere was best so continued around the lake to reach CP4 in the early hours.
LEG 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite
The guy with the dibber was a medic, so he passed it on to a fellow volunteer and immediately saw to Chell. He sat her down and checked her over giving her paracetamol and an ice pack for her knee. I grabbed some soup and a hot dog while we waited. We were probably at the checkpoint for around 15 minutes, our longest stop yet. Any plans of a sub-30 finish were out of the window but that didn’t matter. Chell bravely made the decision to carry on as she had reccied the next leg and enjoyed it, despite the big long climb.
So off we went up into the darkness once more. In contrast to much of the route so far, the next four miles were single track and surrounded by high bracken. Several times we stumbled as our feet slipped off the narrow muddy path, our minds becoming fogged as the first fingers of sleep deprivation took hold. It was tough going at times and again we could see a line of lights dotting the route up along the fellside but not so many behind.
Even though it was the middle of the night it was still humid. As we reached the highest point of the leg at Sail Pass there was at long last a bit of a breeze, fittingly for the location it felt like wind in my sails! There was a short and steep stony descent before the path levelled off and we could start running again towards Barrow Door. The sky was growing brighter now with dawn not far off, and as we jogged down the blissfully grassy track towards Braithwaite the head torches went off. It was hard to believe we had run through a whole night and were now blessed with a view of the cloud-shrouded Skiddaw fells right in front of us!
LEG 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra
On reaching CP5 at Braithwaite we had to take stock. Chell was in a lot of discomfort and didn't look good at all. She was umming and ahhing about doing another leg but also didn't want to make her injury substantially worse. Mick said I could carry on and he would stick with Chell, but that was a no go, we were a team. Chell asked what I would do if it were my knee, I told her if I didn't think I could finish with it then I'd pull out, there was no point in doing more damage essentially for no good reason. That was it, decision made. Chell sensibly chose to stop there – it was a very sad moment, Mick was visibly upset and I couldn't quite believe we weren't going to all get through this together. We both gave her a hug and she told us to get off and make up some time, so after fuelling up on pasta and corned beef pie we had to leave our buddy behind.
No sooner had we left the checkpoint than we saw a fellow competitor throwing up for fun in the street, he looked like he was going to keel over, but was with someone else already so we passed by. Frustration was driving Mick on and we blasted out two 10-minute miles along the flat pavements and tracks past Portinscale. As we veered left for the long drag up past Latrigg around 5.45am, a chap dressed in running gear heading the other way casually said hello, and I immediately recognised him as John Kynaston of Lakeland 100 YouTube fame!
The out and back to the Glendaterra self-dib felt really hard. Not only was it an interminable steady pull but both Mick and I were being ravaged by the sleep demons. We'd seen a lady runner staggering as though drunk as we'd dropped into Braithwaite, now we knew why since we were feeling the same, almost nodding off while walking. It was so hard to shake it off, eyes losing focus and staying in a straight line wasn't simple. I remember walking right past the dibber fuzzily thinking "Who's put an orienteering control way out here?" when Mick, who had reccied the leg, shouted up to say that was what we were looking for!
That shook me out of it and as we moved on to the descending section of the leg we could run again which helped keep us awake. Mick, who'd been a good few metres behind me, had been suffering terribly from tiredness. As we trotted along the good path towards CP6 at the Blencathra Centre he shared out his secret weapon for the first time – chocolate coated coffee beans – an instant shot of caffeine!
LEG 7: Blencathra to Dockray
Mercifully there was still plenty of Little Dave's Mum's awesome chocolate cake left. I stashed a few pieces in my bag then scoffed a couple of small squares, washed down with boiled eggs and water, while Mick drank a strong coffee. Checkpoint leader Little Dave Cumins was keeping everyone's spirits up while dressed in his trademark bright pink leotard and tutu! At around 14 hours in it was time to swap GPS watches before we were off again towards Dockray.
There was plenty of good running over the first few miles and we picked off a number of runners despite Mick stopping to stroke a pair of pooches. As trudged up the lower slopes of Clough Head a chap with two poles came powering up from behind, moving too quickly to be in our race. He asked how far in we were, 40 odd miles was the reply, and he said he was four hours in to his Bob Graham Round attempt! With that he was off and we saw him strongly climbing Clough Head a little while later. It says a lot about the L100 when you're beasted by a Bob Grahamer!
We soon picked up the Old Coach Road leading all the way to Dockray. We passed another few competitors along here, including Mel last seen at Scarth Gap, and were still moving quite well. Then another chap with poles approached and we got chatting for a while. He said he'd been on two of the official Lakeland 100 recce runs, Coniston to Ambleside which he'd enjoyed, and Braithwaite to Dalemain which he hadn't, mainly because (in his words) Dockray to Dalemain was ten miles of Tarmac. Great stuff, I would look forward to that! He asked us if everything was going to plan, which it obviously wasn't, and he said he'd been targeting a dream 36-hour finish but didn't think he would make that now. Whoa! We were still hoping for 32 hours at worst so pushed on and left him behind.
LEG 8: Dockray to Dalemain
More soup and cheese sandwiches for me at CP7, they were becoming my staple diet! Mick had another brew and we tried to shelter in the shade as the sun had now come out with a vengeance for the first time today. Seven other runners were sat down in the checkpoint tent, so once ready to go we made up some more places without even trying. A relatively quick downhill mile on the road brought us past Mel (again!) and into Dockray itself. Straight across the road we passed through a few fields then into the woods by Aira Force.
The Lakeland Road Book (or Foldie these days) is generally excellent to the point where you may never need to use a map. But hereabouts it seemed very vague, mentioning a left fork and style but absolutely no clue on distance. We lost a good few minutes in sheer paranoia thinking we'd missed the turn, desperately hoping we wouldn't need to backtrack. Eventually we came to a junction and a lady spectator who was sort of familiar with the route tried to advise us before another chap, Alan, who we'd passed earlier arrived and knew the route. At least we hadn't gone wrong just not far enough!
A lot of people say the path around Gowbarrow Fell overlooking Ullswater is one of the nicest sections of the whole course. I couldn't disagree more, it was a relentless trek over undulating stony ground finally leading to wider paths through felled forestry land. I was trucking along with Alan here though, chatting to others certainly does take your mind off things and make the miles seem easier, but I kept glancing back to check on Mick. We encountered a little drizzle hereabouts, the only wettish part of the entire weekend (we were very lucky with the weather) and I let Alan go to hook back up with Mick. He had been battling sleep deprivation yet again, not to mention a sore back from rucksack abrasion and very painful feet.
We were only a few miles from the talismanic Dalemain checkpoint now though, false halfway point of the 100 (it being 59 miles in) where we could have a longer break and dive in to our drop bags. So we pushed on together and caught Alan back up along with a few other runners. I got chatting with Alan again as we ran down a road turning right at a T-junction and down towards Dacre. Before I knew it Mick was off the radar. I stopped and actually went about a quarter of a mile back up the road before he appeared around a bend waving me on. He looked like a zombie and could muster little more than a walk along a flat road. Eventually we entered the Dalemain estate as the final few L50 runners were completing their initial loop. As we got closer to CP8 adrenaline kicked in and we ran the last few hundred metres at 9 min/mile pace passing dozens of 50 competitors.
LEG 9: Dalemain to Howtown
The Dalemain checkpoint is often likened to a battlefield with bodies strewn everywhere, so quite fittingly this year's theme was MASH with all the marshals dressed in medical garb. We were greeted by Nick Olszewska from Clayton Harriers, collected our drop bags and headed through to the other side of the large tent. I grabbed some stew and two helpings of the cake and (cold) custard I'd been looking forward to since the start – bliss!
Mick was in the process of changing into fresh socks and shoes and his feet were a bit of a mess, his entire soles deeply rutted and wrinkled from being wet for over 16 hours. He also had two large raw welts on his lower back where his rucksack had been rubbing, the medics covered these with RockTape for protection. In comparison I was in decent shape, after checking my feet the Seal Skinz had done their job and kept my feet dry, so I left them on and just changed my sweat-sodden T-shirt.
Eventually we were ready to move again. By now all the 50 runners and supporters had long gone so we wouldn't have the psychological boost of the crowds or be pushed along by a wave of people passing us. It felt as though we were right at the back of the field although we knew this wasn't the case. Off we trotted across an empty field and soon passed Mel again, the last time we would see her. We had a spring in our step after the longer stop at Dalemain and were moving along well.
Knowing now that we would be running through a second night, I had concerns about our torches. I'd started charging mine with a portable charger at the checkpoint, and as we went through Pooley Bridge I managed to get a text off to my wife Joanne to ask Chell or Gel to bring a spare torch or batteries to Troutbeck just in case. We were soon on the road up to the Cockpit passing a couple of other 100 runners, then came the long descent above the shores of Ullswater to Howtown. Almost at the bottom we finally caught another few 100ers but turned off the correct path a little early and had to climb back up to stay on course.
LEG 10: Howtown to Mardale Head
We reached CP9 in good time, only the second leg of the whole race we would actually stick to our original pacing plan. I knew from experience that the food selection at Howtown wasn't great, so we didn't intend to stay there long. However, nature calls us all and it was my turn here! Someone was already in the loo and taking forever, as I paced about in discomfort I popped back outside to check on Mick and our Adrian was there sporting his TAC vest! He'd already seen all of our other runners pass through and handed out Percy Pig sweets to all and sundry on the path from the Cockpit, really boosting their morale – what a gent. We were so far behind the others that he'd had time to run up Hallin Fell and back before we arrived, but it was great to see a friendly face. At last I got into the toilet and it was the only time in the entire race I actually sat down!
The long and inevitably warm slog up Fusedale beckoned. We passed a few 100 runners along the bottom then as we climbed forever upwards finally passed a couple of 50 runners too. Close to the top and heading the other way we bumped into Deborah and Andy again who stopped for a quick chat – we were literally in the middle of nowhere so this was a completely unexpected though pleasant surprise! We pressed on an finally topped out at High Kop. The next couple of miles felt amazing for me, there was a panoramic view of the Pennines ahead, warm sunshine at our backs, and fantastic soft ground under our feet as we ran along at a decent clip.
We soon reached the fork to drop steeply down to the shores of Haweswater and before long were on the endless undulating rocky path towards The Rigg. Dipping our buffs in streams to keep cool, we plodded on and on managing to reel in a few more runners along the way. As we got within a mile of CP10 Mick was struggling with fatigue again and slipped back for a time, then on the last little pull before Mardale Head he came out of nowhere and caught me up, very keen to get some nourishment after the highest and toughest leg of the whole course.
LEG 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere
For the first time in the race we were starting to feel a chill stood around at the checkpoint, but there was no point putting on extra layers when the huge climb up Gatesgarth Pass lay immediately ahead. Off we went keeping a good rhythm all the way to the top where we were caught by Alan and another chap, who we toed and froed with for the rest of the leg. There are some steep stony sections on the descent but once at the valley floor we could comfortably run again.
We crossed Sadgill bridge for the last up and over into Kentmere, the sun setting all the while. At the first gate we came across Stuart Blofeld on his own, he was really feeling the effects of sleep deprivation and welcomed our company, so he tagged along with us. Stuart said he had been running with ultra legend Nick Ham until Mardale where he had to pull out through injury. Reaching the top of the climb, Mick was keen to pick up the pace on the descent as it was now rather cool, but no sooner had we all started running than Mick pulled up with a sharp pain in his little toe. He stopped to check it out only to discover it was his toenail not a stone or blister – he was quite prepared to ask the marshals at Kentmere to pull it off!
Our brief stop allowed Alan and his small entourage catch up once more, so six of us stuck together for the final miles into CP11, cursing the high stone stiles we had to climb with aching quads and all vowing never to do this race again! We rounded the church draped in scaffolding and hit the checkpoint. Once more the volunteers were great, filling our water bottles and fetching us food as we all layered up and readied our head torches. It was also time to switch to my third and final watch.
LEG 12: Kentmere to Ambleside
Mick, Stuart and I all left the comfort of the checkpoint first and headed up to Garburn Pass. It was extremely dusky now but our eyes were used to the low light and, despite the uneven stony path that was quite steep in places, we made good progress all the way to the top before switching on our lights in order to conserve batteries, drawing a comment from Stuart "Do you guys have night vision?" Once over the top there is a long gradual descent to Troutbeck, normally extremely runnable, but with tired legs in the dark we could only muster a fast walk and occasional jog.
The bottom of the path is steep and switches back a couple of times before dumping you out on the road. And what a welcome sight right there: Chell, Gel and Lucy dog, friendly faces in the darkness, complete with the spares we'd asked for! It was really good to see them all and it gave us a real boost, especially Mick, as they tagged along for a few minutes. With a promise of seeing them again soon in Ambleside, along with fellow club mates Chris and Sandra Campbell, we happily pressed on through Troutbeck and up Robin Lane towards Skelghyll Wood.
Having done this twice before in the Lakeland 50, albeit still in daylight at this stage, I was now in autopilot running out front with Mick and Stuart in tow. As we entered the woods I dropped back a little and Stuart led the way with his GPS tracker. We were soon back on Tarmac and the outskirts of Ambleside. By now it was well after midnight but the odd bar was still busy and roused a few cheers as we passed. Then Chris came running towards us, shaking our hands, checking our state and sanity, full of concern. He guided us in to CP12 where Sandra, Chell and Gel were waiting too, and made sure we ate and drank and were happy to continue – cue yet more cheese sarnies and soup for me. He started talking about cockle kebabs they'd had in a pub in Ambleside, so I did wonder whether all this was the start of the infamous Lakeland 100 hallucinations!
LEG 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile
But we couldn't stay here in good company and spirits for ever, just 15 more miles to go and we needed to keep moving. The temperature was dropping as we left Rothay Park and started climbing up and around the flank of Loughrigg. Mick shared out some chewing gum which hit the spot and helped stave off the sleep demons, and once we were as high as we could get I went back into autopilot leading the way in the dark, running on memories and instinct alone. We reached an eerily quiet Skelwith Bridge and picked up the good flat riverside path behind the hotel. I recalled to Mick the chap we'd seen on the Old Coach Road who'd prophesied a 36-hour finish and said I took my words back!
Patches of mist came and went and we were starting to properly feel the cold so stopped to don our jackets. As we continued I couldn't understand why I wasn't warming up despite the extra layer, it took a while to realise my large vented pockets were open and letting in a draught! Zipping these up and drawing my three buffs closer over my neck and ears, I was quite warm and comfortable…too comfortable. Within minutes I was drifting off, I couldn't focus properly, was staggering about and not fully aware of my surroundings. Mick must have been alert as he pulled out his coffee beans and gave me a handful.
I'm not sure how quickly they can act but psychologically they just about did the trick for a mile or so as we passed through Chapel Stile and the completely silent Wainwright Inn. Stuart's friend Helen running the 50, who we had seen earlier in Skelghyll Wood, materialised then and dragged the three of us along towards CP13 now less than a mile away. But as we passed by the quiet campsite just before the checkpoint I was feeling really tired again. Mick was alongside and kept me talking long enough to reach the welcome pool of light in the field ahead. I dibbed in and made a super-strong coffee, had a small bowl of stew with some bread, and grabbed a couple of digestives. Stuart was similarly suffering but shunned a brew in favour of more Pro Plus.
LEG 14: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite
Several runners were sat around a very welcoming burning brazier but lingering here didn't even cross our minds. Stuart and Helen had left and we were keen to stick together along the last potentially tricky to navigate stretch. We were only walking now and obviously slowing compared to others as a group of runners caught us over the following few fields. Everyone complained and joked about the many tall ladder stiles we had to negotiate on the way, not a pleasant experience with over 95 miles in our legs!
In the final field there was fork in the path, the one to the left heading upwards. Dawn was breaking but it was still quite dark and not easy to see far ahead. I was just behind Helen, who was unsuccessfully trying to avoid getting her feet wet, with a good group of competitors strung out behind. I chose the left fork as I recalled coming down here in the opposite direction on the Old County Tops earlier in the year. Stuart and a couple of others went for the lower route. My choice turned out to be the better as it soon joined the newly constructed zig-zag path around Side Pike.
Most of the other runners pushed on well so by the time we reached the top of the climb they were a way ahead. Helen and Stuart dropped back though having taken the longer track. It was also light enough now to switch off our head torches for the last time, my recharged battery had held out. We skirted Blea Tarn mainly walking along a very runnable path, then tackled the rocky track beyond and boggy ground just before the final self-dibber. We ran down the road passing some of those who had gone by in Langdale and commenced the final climb over to Tilberthwaite.
I remember keeping an eye on my watch, waiting for five miles to tick up from the last checkpoint. When it did I pointed to a random spot on the path at our feet and said to Mick "That's it, that's 100 miles," to which he simply breathed "Whoa…" And then the worst wave of tiredness hit me. I had hoped the sunrise would trick my body into feeling it should be awake again but no such luck second time around. Out came yet more coffee beans as a few of the folk we'd passed on the road re-caught us. As we dropped down to the road one of the them said "Paul, do you know the way?" and I confirmed I did – I could hardly believe I'd been leading groups off and on for the past six hours while genuinely feeling and acting like one of the undead! A short trot along Tarmac brought us to the very last checkpoint.
LEG 15: Tilberthwaite to Coniston
More strong coffee for us both and another couple of cheese butties for me as a glorious sunrise lit up the way ahead. Several other runners were at CP14 with more coming in, in fact looking up the fellside it was surprising how many people were slowly moving upwards when we'd hardly seen a soul since Kentmere. The legendary Tilberthwaite steps – the Stairway to Heaven – beckoned and we wanted to get going. Just beyond the steps we climbed into the sunlight which already felt very warm even at 6.30am. We pushed on and on, passing gaping quarries, ravines and plunging drops to our right – it was interesting to actually see these as I'd only even done this leg in the dark before.
The path eventually levelled out and as we made our way to the col before the final drop to the Coppermines valley, Nick came running over to us and gave Mick a huge hug. He was heading out to see his wife Adrienne still battling her way around the course and due at Tilberthwaite in an hour or so. We pressed on and eventually crested the rise to start the final steep descent. It didn't seem half as bad in daylight and before we knew it we'd reached the gravelly road at the bottom. We walked a bit then started to run down our very last mile.
Closer and closer to civilisation on a wonderful sunny morning, we passed the Black Bull where a small group of supporters, including co-organiser Terry, clapped us on. Still running uphill past the petrol station, we turned left on the road to the school. As we drew nearer we could see Chell, Gel and Lucy all waiting to cheer us home. We turned the last corner, dibbed in and that was it – we'd conquered the Lakeland 100! I turned and embraced before we were announced into the hall to the applause of those already there to claim our hard-earned T-shirts and medals.
There was no real emotion at the finish, I think we were too tired for everything to sink in properly. We had covered 105 miles, 22500 feet of climb and the same descent, been on our feet for over 37 hours and awake for over 48 hours – it just goes to show what your body truly is capable of!
I had nip or two of whisky and tried on my T-shirt, not even realising I'd put it on back-to-front. Then we grabbed some sausage butties from the school canteen before heading back to the campsite for a few hours much needed kip. It was sweltering in the tent by the time I awoke and I struggled to drag myself out to start packing everything away. Yet once I'd actually got my legs moving again, I was pleasantly surprised to find just how well I felt. No soreness, no blisters, and I could even jog over to the toilets without discomfort – bonus!
I remember saying to Mick as we trotted into Kentmere that by the time we finished we would have run within a mile of Coniston Water, Wastwater, Buttermere, Crummock Water, Derwentwater, Haweswater, Ullswater and Windermere – eight of the eleven largest bodies of water in the Lake District. I think that illustrates just how epic this route really is.
I vowed never to do this again many times over the last 30 miles, and as club chairman I was even heard to say anyone running ultras in future would be banned! But as with many events that test your mettle to the limit, views can change with insidious ease once the immediate impact of tiredness and discomfort recedes. The Lakeland 100 and 50 are outstanding races, superbly organised and almost in a class and world of their own – they stand apart as some of the toughest yet most beautiful long distance events in the country.
And I know one little lady who has unfinished business with this beast and she's probably looking for some company…