Written by Gavin Pittman - https://marsdenracers.co.uk/
The race in my happy place and my first blog.
The race started with the usual anxiety - packing my race vest. Which vest? Which bottles? Poles or no poles? Do I have all the minimum kit? Which shoes to wear? Shall I change shoes in Ambleside?
I packed my Osprey 6ltr pack and put in my hard flasks. I drink a lot of water so wanted the extra capacity. It turns out these rubbed on my ribcage. Also, the minimum kit filled the pack so I found would need a waist pack just for food. I was not happy or comfortable with this set up so I got my OMM 25-liter phantom pack out, that I used on the spine challenger, and packed that.
The vest was too big for the race but as I have no in-between size I decided larger was better as everything fits with ease so that decision was made.
Poles? The race has 3 large climbs and a lot of undulating trails and fell so if I take them I can put some of the work into my upper body to save the legs.
Down to the hard decision now - one I'd been screwing over for ages. What shoe or shoes? I'd narrowed it down to 3 pairs: Mudclaws, Mutants and Cyklons. They say it’s a race of 2 halves - first on the high fells, then second on low, level, muddy trails. So, after talking to my coach, friends who have run the race, and a last minute phone call with Sinead, I decided take them all and dwell on it on the drive up.
The drive to Cartmel was straightforward, no traffic problems, arrived and got a spot right were the race finishes. I found a nearby cafe for a brew and to wait for Richard and Neil who were my lift to Caldeck.
While sat, I dwelled on shoes and meeting new people - I get very anxious and nervous. I need not have been as I already knew Neil and Richard and his wife were great, we instantly hit it off and had a good laugh.
Then it was time to go Caldbeck - last chance on shoes then we’d be off. I went with La Sportiva Mutants for the first half with option to change to Cyklons (also La Sprtiva) at Ambleside. Cushion over grip!
We arrived at the Oddfellows arms, which is bang on the start line, checked into the rooms (which were spot) on and went straight down for tea. The food was also spot on, we had a great laugh and I got some last minute route advice. Steve Randal, a race veteran, gave me some tips regarding the Fairfield decent and the ‘left side of the wall’ vs ‘right side’ debate. Then off to bed.
Could I sleep? Could I hell.
The room was like an oven and the crew arrived early to put the start line together right outside my window. So rather than stare at the ceiling I decided to do something productive. I got up, sorted all my kit for registration, and my drop bags to go Ambleside and Cartmel. By this time I could walk to the village hall to get my tracker fitted and then back for breakfast.
I couldn’t eat much. I’d become very nervous, which is not like me near to a race. With 30 minutes to go I went outside to cool down a bit and got chatting to other runners while everyone was sorting kit out and getting ready. This is when I started second guessing all my decisions and began changing my clothes outside the pub. Everyone was wearing coats, hats, gloves and leggings which made me concerned I’d underdressed. As a compromise I put my long-sleeve on in case it was cold up top.
Then it was over to the start line where I positioned myself roughly in the front third. I looked to my right and found myself right next to Nicky Spinks. I suddenly went like a little school boy and couldn’t talk which is not like me. Damien hall was stood up front and I remember thinking how smart it was starting a race with such an elite calibre of runners.
3.2.1. The race started off we go.
Start to Threlkeld
The route out of Caldbeck was lined with supporters, family and runners clapping, cheering and ringing cow bells. Straight away I had to slow a little. I checked my speed and heart rate - both too high so I eased up and found a comfortable rhythm. My coach Howard has taught me to run my own race and not get caught up chasing people, especially so early on… so I let them go.
After a couple miles we start climbing. I believe to High Pike. Again I look to my side and I’m running with Nicky and again I couldn’t muster up the courage to say ‘Hi’. I could only stare. Lord knows what she thought.
It was soon poles out, head down and time to start climbing. This section of the race is open route. I’d heard stories of runners going all over the place but thankfully everyone stayed in a line, all on the same trod. I imagine over the years a good line has emerged and everyone uses that so I followed suit.
Once over the top, you have a quite steep but fun decent to the river crossing where I managed to pick up a few places. The river crossing was straightforward - there hadn’t been much rain so it was only about thigh deep.
Once over the river you start the long drag up to Blencathra summit. The fog came in here as we climbed and came very thick. I made steady progress past a few runners and was maintaining a good pace. Not too fast as my plan was to run the 2nd half quicker to avoid burnout early. The visibility became very poor to the point I could only see a few feet. But as we got higher up we could hear a faint cowbell ringing. A few of us followed the noise and soon enough we’d reached the top of Blencathra.
From here a wet Halls Fell Ridge awaited. I decided to stop and put my poles away as the ridge required 4 points of contact on the rocks. It was at this point Nicky ran over the edge and that was the last time I saw her (she finished I believe in 11hr7min which is incredible I think we can all agree).
A group of about ten of us were on the ridge together; all taking different lines, all slipping, all trying to go down too fast. I was trying to correct a mistake I made and slipped on a patch of wet grass. I nearly slid straight off the ridge. The lad in front dove to grab me but couldn’t reach. Thankfully I managed to stop myself just short of a 20 foot drop. Definitely one of my worst moments running. I accepted in those short seconds that I was going over the edge and it left me a little shaken. Shortly after a decent trod appeared and mercifully the fog thinned out. This was a good time to get some more food in and pick up the pace. The descent ended across a couple of farmer’s fields and into Threlkeld.
Elapsed time: 2hr30min.
I wasn’t planning on stopping here other than to fill my flasks up (I had all the food I needed). However, with a shoe full of stones thanks to the descent, I decided to sort the issue before it caused problems. In the past neglected small issues like this only for them to become bigger issues later on. My friend Nige was on the water station, he filled my flasks and off I went. Probably around 3 minutes in and out. A nice fast pit stop.
Threlkeld to Ambleside
As we left the CP, there was a large crowd cheering runners on the way out of the village. I slowed up to get a good feed in me as I knew Clough Head was coming along in the next 2/3 miles. I was passed by a few runners along the road and again had to remind myself it’s a long day and to run my own race.
We soon got off the road and started the climb up Clough Head. My decision to eat before stood me in good stead. I felt strong and made good progress up what, to me, was the hardest climb of the day. I made up the places I’d lost on the road until a large group of us began forming on the climb. We started to go back into the fog - the trod kinking left and climbing again. A couple lads stopped in front and questioned the route until I assured them this was correct (not often I get to give nav advice!).
After a misty slog we reached Clough Head and began a welcomed decent. The fog was very thick - runners would appear then disappear constantly. I was part of a group of at about 14/15 runners, which must have been a nightmare for dot watchers.
The route along here differs from the Bob Graham, which hits all the tops. In LIAD the route skims past them, slightly lower. However, I missed a right turn and went up to Great Dodd unnecessarily but I don’t think it cost me much time.
On the decent from Great Dodd I past a couple of lads - one suffering with bad cramps. I remember the gut wrenching screams when he got one. Thankfully he had a friend with him so there was no need to offer help.
Between Raise and Whiteside it started raining and the wind picked up quite a bit. Runners were stopping to put coats, hats and gloves on. I felt warm so I kept going. Although there was wind and rain is was still rather mild.
Ascending Lowerman there was a large friendly group of American hikers and soon after I passed them after another short accent until I reached Helvellyn - the highest point of the race. From this point the terrain becomes quite rocky yet runnable, just as long as you are careful. Myself and the runners round me all picked up the pace. We passed Nethermost Pike and begin the grim slippery staircase decent off Dollywagon down towards Grisdale tarn. Runners were falling all over the place, all trying different lines, none of them working any better than the others. Thankfully we finally reached the tarn. I stopped and filled both my flasks as I was unsure if I would get another chance between here and Ambleside (I’d not recced past this point). The other side of the tarn was a fun muddy track and had quite a lot of supporters on route which was a welcome boost. The track kinked sharp left and I thought this must be the start of Fairfield. Everyone had told me how awful it was and all I can say is they were correct. Pardon the language but it is one bastard of a climb!!! There must have been 20 of us in a line like ants - heads down, in complete silence, other than the cramping chap screaming his way up (how he was still going I’ll never know). The zigzag trail and loose scree made it very draining even with poles. To cap it off, as we climbed the weather was becoming worse again. Once you reach the top of Fairfield and start the decent you’re faced with very sharp slick rock then very muddy trail. Throw in the odd short sharp accent that carried on for a mile or so you’ve got one of the most technical but fun sections of the route.
I remember thinking we must be approaching the ‘left side/right side’ section that divides all the runners. It was also the first time in the day I didn’t want any food but I forced it down with plenty of water. Conversations with my coach stuck in my head regarding fuelling which kept me disciplined. Before I’d finished eating we hit the ‘left side/right side’ where I decided to follow the chap in front. We were on the left side of the wall, which was very technical but were soon past it. No idea what all the fuss is about.
Then to what I was told was a 10 foot drop. In fairness it was a good drop as well. I threw my poles off the edge and sort of ‘fell with style down’ the rock face. As I picked my poles up I cramped above the knee. A quick stretch thankfully sorted it out (phew!).
At this stage there was only 3 of us in the group. The larger group had bolted some time ago. The decent continued very muddy still great fun. I was starting to pick up the pace and I soon saw Ambleside in the distance as we dipped out of the fog. There were a few stiles and gates along this section which the hikers and supporters were very kind holding open, letting us past so we didn’t need to stop. The trail soon finishes and we were back on road for a short stretch to the Ambleside CP. At this stage I begin planning what I need to do at the checkpoint to ensure a quick transition. I want to be in and out sharpish. My coach and I discussed this a lot. Have everything organised, ready to go - no messing about!
I get to the centre of Ambleside which was busy, with loads cheering us on and the arrows pointing to the CP. The road was lined with folk and I remember seeing my friend Dan North and nearly started crying. I’m a pretty emotional guy and seeing a friendly face after 29 miles in the hills got to me.
Mask on and into the CP! Here we go. Sit down (my shoe bag was brought to me), old shoes and socks off, new ones on. Cyklons have the BOA lacing system so no tying laces which was great and allowed me to eat while at the same time. I decide to change out of the long-sleeve to a regular t-shirt as its humid in these lower sections. Two new food packs packed for the next two legs loaded then over to the nice ladies who offer me a bowl of pasta and pizza. As I’m all about efficiency I ripped the pizza up into the pasta and ate it while walking out of the CP. In and out under 8 minutes i reckon! To make it clear just how beneficial efficient checkpoints can I be, I probably passed over 20 runners in there. Once back outside past all the supporters were loud as hell and very excited. With this support, and knowing the hardest part of the day was behind me, I felt great!
Elapsed time: 7 hour 48min
Ambleside to Finsthwaite
For me, this is where I would start really racing. My plan was to go easy over the tops then up my pace once past Ambleside and see how long I could push for. There were still hills ahead, but nothing like what we had done. As I set off along road then bridleway I kept the pace steady while I digested my pizza-pasta concoction. A few runners overtook me but once I felt like the food had settled I upped the pace. I felt comfortable and my legs were still nice and loose. The terrain was brilliant, my favourite to run on – muddy, undulating woodland. I was in my element and the miles started to fly by. I kept to plan, eating little and often - every 30 minutes. It was very humid in the enclosed woods and valleys and I began to feel increasingly thirsty. To remedy this, every time I passed a stream I’d neck a flask and refill it. Thankfully freshwater was everywhere!
The trail wound its way round to Lake Windermere. In fact, the trail was in Windermere - about knee-deep at times. It was class. It was also cold and I was warm which helped. I enjoyed that section of the trail other than the connecting wooden bridges which were very slippery. Along this section, I regained some if not all of the positions I’d lost on the way out of the CP. Many of the runners had begun to slow up at the point. It was also becoming dark very quickly, especially in the woods. Soon enough I got a little off track before a runner behind me pointed me back on course. Before the race, I’d planned to be at the final CP before it became dark but that was time to stop and admit I wouldn’t make CP3 in daylight. Time to stick the torch on.
There was a marshal in the middle of the woods so I asked her how long to the CP. She said it was about 15/20 min. Here I got a little annoyed as based on mileage I should be there by now. That meant the race was going to be longer than 50 miles! The trail went back to bridleway and farmers’ fields and before long I was in Finsthwaite.
Elapsed time: 11hour 14 min.
I have to say all the staff at all the CPs were amazing. They could not do more for you! They offered me a cup of soup but I didn’t plan on hanging about so I asked for it half filled with cold water. I threw it back like a shot and got a clump of crusty bread. Outside flasks were filled and away I went. 7 miles to go!!!!
The last leg to Cartmel
The final leg starts across a field, through a small gate and back into the woods. I passed a few runners walking their way out of the CP. The trail was a very nice gravel track, slightly undulating. It then followed a very long winding descent to Newby Bridge which was brilliant fun in the dark. As I passed a pub there were a few folk outside cheering us on. Once I’m passed I listened out for them cheering again to see how close behind the next runners are. I’m full race mode now and happy to burn out at this stage so close to the end. My lead on those behind was around 30 seconds.
We had to cross a busy road onto a quieter side road for a short while then back onto trail. This was the foggiest stage of the day. Even worse than the high fells. I couldn’t see a few feet in front and my torch beam bounced off the fog and made thing worse. Behind though I could see a torch light gaining on me. I was counting the miles down, breaking it into small mini races in my head but looking for way markers was very hard! When I hit a downhill I’d run as hard as I could then fast-hike the uphills. I couldn’t see how long any of these sections were as visibility was so poor but my strategy allowed me to catch up to two runners in front who kindly moved aside as they were walking. I was very grateful as I was on a mission........and then I got lost!
I’d gone wrong in the fog. How I don’t know but I resorted to the map function on my watch. It meant going through some bramble, over a wooden fence then a drystone wall to get back on course. In hindsight it didn’t cost me much time but I could have done without it at such a late stage in a race.
The track became road again and I was looking back for torch lights so much I ran into a wall running alongside the road. I saw an elderly couple stood at the end of their driveway. They were clapping and the lady said ‘One mile left its all downhill.’ I said ‘Is it really?’ She laughed and gave me the confirmation I needed.
Foot down, running as hard as I can now, for the first time in the day, I passed the racecourse and sped into Cartmel village. I hear a loud cheer and my name being shouted. It was Neil Hill and his family. This was both amazing and sad at the same time. I’m about to finish but Neil being here means he has DNF'd. I was gutted for him. He ran with me along the last two short roads before I turned into the priory school yard over the line race. Done.
Final time: 13 hours 15 minutes.
Over the line every runner goes through a range of emotions, whether it be a park run or the 268 mile Spine Race. It means so much you have conquered your "Everest". This time I felt extremely calm. I usually cry a bit. After the Spine Challenger it was pure relief - I was in so much pain and severely dehydrated. This time I had just run the most controlled race I’ve ever done. I ate when I had to eat, drank when thirsty, got kit spot on and looked after issues when they arrived. A quick shower then the best post-race meal of bangers and mash I’ve ever had. I was going to sleep in my car but I was so full of adrenaline I drove hour and half home - stupid idea but I got home sound!
I have to say, Lakes in a Day was without any doubt the best supported race I’ve ever been involved in.
So the big question is, ‘could I have gone faster?’ On the day, no. That was everything I had without risking burning out early on! Talking to my coach after the race, Howard reminded me of the Kentmere Horseshoe and the Abrahams Tea Round I did between the Spine and LIAD. For each of these runs/races I had a taper week and a rest week. This means there were 4 weeks off-plan between June and October. This made me consider what the difference could be if I were to put everything into one goal rather than wanting to do it all. It’s very hard when you love what you do!
What’s next? I have an ultra-marathon on the 6th of November. The 64 mile White Rose Ultra on my doorstep. The plan is then to just tick over until January (being a butcher December is very busy). The start of Jan is the start of a 6 month training block for a Bob Graham Round attempt. Any racing in between will be goal-specific races which means no need to taper or rest as they are part of the training for the BG. I intend on being in the shape of my life for the BG. I believe with my dedication and work ethic as well as my coach’s experience and support the skies the limit!