Written by Emily Martha Huxtable - http://embaahux.tumblr.com/
The Lakeland 100 really has been the race of a lifetime for me.
Ever since we stood at the sidelines of the 100 start 3 years ago, I had the feeling that one day I really wanted to have a bash at it.
In 2012, 3 of us travelled up to Coniston to take part in the Lakeland 50, my first Ultra. I had heard there was a 100, but it seemed utterly ridiculous and I laughed (in the nicest possible way) at the 100 participants as they lined up to what was then a quiet and sedate start, runners looking nervous and pale faced; I simply could not comprehend running that far and over such testing ground. It seemed impossible.
That year we enjoyed the Friday evening watching the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony upstairs in the Sun inn. We drank beer and nervously prepared for what was then the hardest challenge we had ever taken on.
The Lakeland 50 is without a doubt my favourite running race in the world, even now, and I encourage all my running friends to enter. Maybe its because its where I lost my ultra virginity. It got me into ultra running and the atmosphere, organisation and thrill of finishing was like nothing else.
We went back the following year to run the 50 again, that was 2 weeks before my first 100 run, the NDW100. And even though I was building up to the north downs 100, I couldnt help myself but push it and take a good 40minutes of my previous time. I went on to complete the NDW100, 10 mins before the cut off, but I did it and I was over the moon to be a ‘centurion’.
The next year in 2014, I had a lot going on. I completed the NDW50, but my running ground to a halt when I lost 2 incredible grandparents in the space of 3 months, and then my horse, who albeit just a hobby, was a large part of my life, was diagnosed with a series of huge back issues and I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep, it was a devastating year.
September came and upon receiving a cheque from my equine insurance company, I entered the Lakeland 100 and that was it, I got my running mojo back.
Loosing my horse gave me some silver lining in that I had a little bit of extra cash each month which I decided to put towards getting myself in good shape for the race in July. Googling running trainers and female ultra runners and there was one name that just kept seeing everywhere. Mimi!
I dropped (Marvellous!) Mimi Anderson an email in January and she called me back right away, set me a schedule and we were off. I had never had a trainer before and I loved it. Checking in once a week I really felt supported and confident in my training. We slowly built up the mileage and types of training and I got better and better. I finished 3 forts marathon in superb time for me, and even got my first placing with 2nd at the Weald Challenge 50k.
Andy and I got up to the lakes twice to recce the first half of the 100. Training was going really well and I felt strong at the start of the Lakeland Ultimate Trails 110k a month before the big race. I made a lot of mistakes in the 110k. Including starting too fast and paying for it later, but got a chance to practice nutrition and footwear. I found myself jealous of people with poles, not just to help on climbs, but to stop me falling head first down some nasty descents.
Following a good taper and some resting we finally packed and made our way up the M6 for the last time this summer.
Andy had the small matter of a university graduation in Liverpool on Thursday, which worked perfectly as it meant we could get to Liverpool, see him collect his degree, have a good meal and nights sleep in a hotel before making the final journey to Coniston on Friday morning.
At the race briefing on Friday Marc pointed out something that really seemed to hit home,
‘Ultra runners hang around with other ultra runners, and it’s not until you are in the real world of normal people, that you appreciate the incredible adventure you are about to embark on.’
I had got into my own little ultra mindset, and forgotten how incredible the next 2 days would be if I could complete them. So on the start line when Nessun Dorma started, I did burst into tears.
The race. Skip this bit if you don’t want to fall asleep!
I started out slowly. Walking up the climbs and getting the first 10 miles done and out the way. Plagued by midges in the boggy sections I found myself picking up the pace to get out of the swarms.
I met a runner from the 110k a month before, he had started the Lakeland 100 last year and got as far as Ambleside before dropping. He had felt tired and after a kip at Ambleside waiting to be picked up, he felt good again, and instantly regretted pulling out of the race. Now I really really like my sleep. I can stay up all night but I know that between 3 & 4am, my body shuts down until it sees sunlight again. I have never tried to nap during a race but it seemed like a good plan. I didn’t want to drop just because of tiredness and from this point on I found myself interrogating other runners for their thoughts on the subject.
On the way down to Boot I was running with Jonathon and Otto (the dog, for those who don’t know him!). We had a nice chat about the race and dog food… I found out that Otto gets to eat Pork pies in the race, jealous!
Getting into Boot before dusk and I picked up some cake and got in and out quickly, keen to spend only a minute or two in these first few CP’s.
Boot to Wasdale we had recce’d previously, there is a small house by the tarn (that I want to buy one day!) and all around there was quite wet, keen to keep my feet dry I took it slowly and put my torch on as we dropped down to Wasdale by which time night really set in.
I had been running with a lady called Caroline for some time and we met again in the Stroller Disco at Wasdale Head. I mentioned that I had recce’d Black Sail Pass and that if she wanted to stick together I would show the way. Quite a few people left at the same time as us, so when we got up to the stream crossing halfway up, I turned around and saw a pretty trail of lights leading back down to the valley.
Getting to the top I felt great, it was dead on midnight and I turned to take one last look at the hill I had had nightmares about for weeks and felt glad it was over. The descent down, up Haystacks and to Buttermere lake was a section I hadnt done before, but we were still quite bunched up and it wasn’t hard to see the way with the constant stream of head torches lighting the path.
Saturday 01.46am (Buttermere 26miles)
Buttermere woodland was eerie and black, and I did little but change socks at the CP. I wanted to get to Braithwaite and Keswick for dawn and to see Andy.
The climb up to Sail Pass was shorter than I remembered, but I had really started to feel sleepy and so I had a few people overtaking me as I tried not to doze off on my feet. The descent to Braithwaite was hairy as I fended of tiredness.
Saturday 04.10am (Braithwaite 32 miles)
Getting to the CP I felt glad to get some proper food inside me. I had a burst of phone signal and received a load of texts from a friend at work who stayed up to keep tracking me and making sure I was ok. By this point it was 4am!
Leaving Braithwaite and around Keswick I saw Andy, he’d gotten up and out the tent in Coniston at 3.15am and driven over to see me here as planned. It was nice to have some flat road to push along for a mile or two.
I met a guy called Raj who I had overheard say this was his 3rd L100 start. He had completed it before twice. I was getting increasingly worried about night 2 and Raj told me of a runner he knows who gets to Howtown, takes a 2 hour nap, then finishes the race 8 hours later. I was getting more certain that I would be sleeping at some point on route.
Saturday 06.41am (Blencathra 41miles)
At Blencathra the Marshall tells us that James Elson went through at 1am. Incredible running to get to there in just 7 hours. I hobbled out with a cup of tea on the go, I am sure James did the same.
The next section to Dockray is a nice run on an old railway, a incline for half a mile then the old coach road, a long windy path which seems to never end.
It was getting warmer and I could feel I was sweating and in need of something more substantial than tea. When I got to Dockray I grabbed some soup and sandwiches took a seat for a moment before moving on. I didn’t have any more electrolyte but was happy to see Andy down the road and mentioned that (although I am not supposed to receive any outside assistance) there was an electrolyte tablet in my bag in the car. He ran off to Dockray village to collect it whilst I hopped after him. When I got to the bottom road he was nowhere to be seen. There may have been some expletives as I cursed him (sorry!)… But with no signal to call and see where he had gone I just jogged on.
All paths now lead to Dalemain, halfway and my dropbag. My inov8 roclites were starting to feel heavy and uncomfortable and I was looking forward to some new shoes and socks at the CP.
Running through the woods and fields to the Dacre road it was now getting warmer and I felt a horsefly catch me on the back of my leg. I picked up some pace to get out of the flies and onto the road. At Dacre, Andy was waiting for me and as I turned onto the path at Dacre Castle I saw the 50 runners on their lap of Dalemain Estate. It had been my aim to reach Dalemain before they started and actually it was brilliant timing because as I jogged along the front runners passed me, then the rest of the field, patting me on the back and generally giving me lovely encouragement. I ran the whole 2k into Dalemain and was glad to sit in the cool marquee and grab some proper food and see to my sore feet. I talc’ed my feet, changes socks and clothes and fuelled up on beef stew.
Saturday 12.09pm (Dalemain 58miles)
My good friend Nick Tippey had lent me some poles - I’d never run with them before - but I thought it would be a good idea to have them in my drop bag. I left the CP with two guys, Nick and Andrew, who I had a good chat with all the way through Pooley Bridge. I noticed that Andrew was in a real rhythm with his poles, hitting the ground in time with each step. I tried to match this but found it difficult and ended up running down to Howtown with them in my hand as much as I could. It was now really warm and I felt disheartened that I was running quite behind what I had aimed to do so. I got into Howtown CP and staved off tears as I picked up some supplies and managed to stomach a Kiwi gel.
Heading out up the path I could see Fusedale climb and was so in my own little upset bubble that I ran straight past the slate bridge which takes you into the ferns. It was only a 50m detour but it was enough to make me start sobbing.
I put some music on and made my way up using my poles to hike in a rhythm. I overtook a handful of 50 runners on my way (including one who took a sick runner back down to Howtown, then climbed Fusedale a 2nd time!?)
When I reached the very top of the hill I turned around, just as the sun peeked out from the clouds. The top of this hill has always been a special point I have always stopped at and admired the view. This time as I looked back I could see some of the route we had come miles and miles away, and I got a bit emotional. I thought about all the hours of time and effort I had put in to get this far in the race of my life, and I thought about the people I lost last year who inspired me to get here and that whatever happened, I had to finish it for them.
I spun back round and pelted off down High Kop… probably a bad idea but I had such a surge of energy, and this is such a great section of soft peat ground that I went for it and didn’t stop till I got to the bridge at the bottom.
Saturday 6.48pm (Mardale Head 75miles)
After a slow trudge along to Mardale Head I was ready for another hill, I stopped just long enough to grab some soup.
When I walked into the CP a helpful person dibbed my tracking dibber for me. Apparently this didn’t work for some reason throwing my crew and supporters into worry as they started to wonder where I had got too. A couple people in the CP were talking about dropping and I got out of my chair before I could even contemplate it.
Up Gatesgarth I felt like I was doubled over but thankfully still moving at a fast walk. I got the top with nobody around and started the long descent of Longsleddale. I ran with a handful of older gents for half a mile or so, but they were moving quickly and I dropped back feeling tired. They very kindly gave me some words of encouragement when I was sat in the CP 20minutes later.
Saturday 9.48pm (Kentmere 82miles)
Jogging into Kentmere and it was getting dark. 2 marshals were running the other way trying to get signal. On their way back in I mentioned that I think I needed a nap, and would they let me sleep for 15 minutes.
As I walked in a very strange site was before me. Harry, a 50 runner, (who is 80 years old!!) had his hand aloft as Zoolander, adorning bright purple rubber gloves, administered emergency first aid to a seriously bad looking cut across his palm. I had been awake for over 30odd hours by now and I hadn’t had any hallucinations - this was weird enough.
The guys in Kentmere were amazing. They sat me down, brought me 3 cups of hot tea, pasta and biscuits, wrapped me up in a curtain and woke me up after a 15 minute nap on the bench. When I woke up I felt loads better. Put some warm clothes on and my head torch before heading out to catch up the closest runners.
I was looking forward to getting to Ambleside and hopefully my crew. On the path through the woodland to Ambleside I met Les and Sharon, 2 runners in the 50. I needed someone to talk to to keep me going and Les was the answer! An incredible man with an inspiring story to tell, he and Sharon and another chap called Karl stayed with me all the way to chapel stile and I don’t think I would have finished without them. Les said one thing whilst we were together that really struck a chord. We were talking about our reasons for running these races and the people we often meet who just don’t seem to understand why…
"I hope that in doing this I can prove to myself I can achieve anything, and show others that if they step outside of their comfort zone, life becomes a bit more special" His words really stuck with me to the end.
Sunday 2am (Ambleside 89 miles)
Ambleside was dark and quiet. We had missed the pub kick out time. When we turned the corner at the chippy we were hit with the bright fairy lights of the checkpoint strung across the path.
We stayed here for 10 minutes. Enough time for me to give my feet a rub and grab some tea.
Andy, mum and grandad were on the road at Rothay Park to say hello. When I completed the NDW100 in 2013, grandad and my late granny had sat at the finish line in Wye for me for 5 hours just so see me in. Grandad was even more determined to see me complete the Lakeland 100. Now 84, and the proud owner of a new fully electric car, he announced a month before that he wanted to drive up himself. Nervously mum said she would travel with him and so at 5am Saturday morning they left home in Kent set for the lakes. Grandad also brought his dog Pip too, just for the trip out …
17 hours later they arrived in Ambleside.
There were bets on that I would get to coniston before they did!
It was nice to see them there and then at Skelwith Bridge a little while later - albeit poor Andy and grandad were fast asleep in the car, Mum stood in the road with a torchlight looking for runners and showing them the way.
Sunday 4.58am (Chapel Stile/Langdale 94miles)
We shuffled on in the cold fog of early Sunday morning. When we reached Chapel Stile it was light.
At chapel stile I came to realise I had a really sore hamstring. I sat pretty much ontop of the fire pit to warm up my muscles whilst a lovely marshall brought me some stew.
I saw Mike Churchyard come into the CP and gave him a wave. I looked at my watch and realised we only had 5 hours left until the race finish cut off. Guessing it was about 10ish miles left I got up and started to get ready to leave. Not wanting to just walk off and leave my fellow runners who had helped me through the night I mentioned to them I was going to get a wiggle on as the 100 finish was 90 minutes earlier than the 50 cut off and I really didn’t want to miss it!
We left the CP hoping the misty fog would soon be burnt off by the sun before we reached Tilberthwaite.
Stumbling over the A frame stiles and across the fields I got a move on keeping an eye on my watch to make sure I was around a 3mph speed. I wanted to build up some time in this section so I had a buffer of a couple hours to climb and descend Tilberthwaite. It was strange to be navigating Blea Tarn in the light for once. When I reached the unmanned dibber on the Wrynose road I could see Mike in front and so I hobbled down the hill as fast as I could after him. He seemed to think we had enough time and wasn’t worried which made me happy!
Sunday 7.37am (Tilberthwaite 101miles)
We stuck together to Tilberthwaite where I downed a cup of coke and didn’t stop. We had given ourselves a couple hours to get through the last 3 miles but the climb was looming and so I didn’t want to waste any time.
On the climb up the steps I turned around to Mike and shouted ‘This is it, we’ve almost done it! Can you believe we are here!’
Mike was powering up the hill so I let him pass me and I continued to use my poles to hike up as fast as I could. The cold fog that was surrounding us through Skelwith Bridge and Chapel Stile had finally disappeared and it was bright and dry at the top of Tilberthwaite. Looking down at the top I could see the first climb we had powered up over 38 hours before. It seemed like a week ago! Even though I was so exhausted and I was physically moving very slowly my mind was going at a million miles an hour, a hundred different disjointed thoughts were going through my head, none of them making sense at all. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t have any hallucinations (that I am aware of!) at all during the race. Some runners I was with said they hallucinated people sat on the floor, or coming out of the stone walls. My mind just went into overload - I can only describe it as white noise.
Picking our way down the descent I was thankful to have poles to put weight on.
I caught up with Mike and he mentioned his kids were at the finish and would be at the line waiting for him, probably extremely proud of him! I tried to keep up with him but thought better of it as I couldn’t stay at his pace, and also felt that, as we were a good distance from other runners around us, it would be nice for each of us to have the finish to ourselves.
When I hit the tarmac at the bottom I saw Andy on the corner. So pleased to see him I jogged down as best I could and hugged him. He said he hadn’t slept well as his phone kept beeping with messages of support. He stayed with me along the last half a mile to the road into the school, where I tried to run to the small waiting crowd. Crossing the line wasn’t as emotional (for me anyway!) as I thought it might be. I had dreamt of this line for months and after I dibbed my dibber for the final time I was just hugely thankful and exhausted for it to be over. I gave a big hug to Andy for all of his help and support for the last 6 months. We did it!!!!!
Finish time in Coniston (105miles) 39hours 26minutes.
- Having a nap is ok. Turns out that having a 15 minute shut eye massively helps when exhausted. I don’t know that I actually slept at Kentmere but just laying down and closing my eyes to the race really gave me some energy.
- Talking to people works wonders; by this I mean in the middle of the night when you are exhausted. Shooting the breeze with a fellow runner kept me going. I could become blinkered to focus solely on getting to the line and letting other people into my little bubble really helped.
- Actually keep an eye on some sort of plan. I had a plan and when I started it went completely out the window. I had no idea of timings (even though I had them noted down and in my pack!) and had it not been for Andy and for Mike Churchyard at the end then I wouldn’t have finished in the time.
- I have developed the opinion that 100 mile ultras of this difficulty are built for people in their 30’s and over. I was the youngest female finisher and second youngest finisher overall. I put it a heck of a lot of training and yes things hit me like sleepiness which slowed me down incredibly, but I get the feeling that to complete these well you need a tonn more experience physically and most importantly, mentally. You need the drive to keep going at a good pace.
- Most of all was something that someone said to me the day before we left for Coniston that gave me some perspective for the race ahead…
“We want to wish you good luck, and wish you a successful race. Success is not determined by whether or not you finish. Success is giving it all you’ve got. Whatever happens, just to stand on that start line is an incredible achievement, and we are in awe.“
Huge thanks especially to Marvellous Mimi (she is really Magnificent Mimi) for turning me into a person who actually trains properly and made me pay more attention to what I am doing, both running and in life! Making me rest and recover when I need to. And even though I didn’t have any emergency calls to her throughout my training, just the feeling that she was ‘there’ on the end of the phone, with her incredible experience, knowledge and advice, was so comforting. If you are thinking about getting some structured help into your training, I would hugely recommend her.
And the biggest thank you goes to Andy, for his all encompassing, selfless support in every way. See you on that finish line in 2 years :)