“Just because all your friends are weird, doesn’t make what you’re doing today normal.”
Mark Laithwaite. Lakeland 50 pre-race briefing.
Ok, first the disclaimer.
Neither myself nor my team partner Mrs O were racing this. We certainly didn’t train properly. We both took a little intake of breath at the registration weigh-in. We had a serious joggling strategy in place to walk the inclines and shuffle the downward bits. Saying that; we are both experienced ultrarunners who were looking forward to a nice day out.
To Recce or Not to Recce; That is the Question.
Undoubtedly this race is a behemoth. A beast of an ultra that deserves respect. On top of the 50 miles there’s the small matter of 10,000ft of climbing. What goes up must come down so, guess what? There’s a ton of technical descending too. Oh, and a Lakeland mile isn’t the same as a standard one. The Lake District exsists in a space/time vortex where you can travel a mile underfoot to find you have aged 43 years, have lost your hair and teeth and your dog has died.
So? A good idea to know where you’re going then? Well, the race organisers think so. There are several official recces, combined with navigation workshops, designed to give you the skills and the knowledge to get yourself around.
Personally, I like an element of surprise. I like running somewhere new. It’s different and exciting. Yes; you don’t know what’s ahead, (and when that’s the climb out of Kentmere it’s not funny,) but it’s also part of the challenge.
Saying that, knowing this would be a long day on the fells with the last few hours in the dark. I recced the final 16 miles from Ambleside to Coniston several times. It’s not funny getting lost when it’s pitch black, raining and you’re knackered, after all.
The result of my forward planning was that I had ingrained hatred of Tilberthwaite, (a whispered mantra of “up and over, up and over, up and over,” annoyed even me on the night,) and a contented blissful ignorance of Fusedale, (which is actually, properly spectacular.)
Things You Need to Know.
- Traditions. There’s a whole raft of weird stuff surrounding this race. A dancing fox dressed in a top hat; an operatic starting line anthem, fancy dress/themed aid stations and the ceremonial calling of you name as you are welcomed back to the marquee, (cue for lots of exhausted cheering through mouthfuls of chilli.)
- Registration. For those who’ve been there before this is part of the experience; for newbies it’s an unexpected rigmarole. Watching the 100 runners set off is part of the protocol, then be prepared to queue for the a police style interrogation: photo ID, full and thorough kit inspection, weigh-in; you are labelled and tagged. All that is lacking is a marshal with a lubricated rubber glove.
- The Dalemain Loop. To make you appreciate how far you are going to run, you are made to do a longish Parkrun around the Dalemain estate before you proceed to the other 46 miles. As you pass the start 4 miles after you set off, you marvel at how this is full race distance for a lot of people.
- Remote. Ok, I’ve been to the Lake District loads of times in my life. I’ve rambled, run, climbed mountains and swum in the waters. I’ve also been on boat tours, ridden steam trains, eaten lots of ice creams, sticky toffee pudding and gingerbread, hung out in great pubs and been to Beatrix Potter’s home. How on earth can you run 50 miles on foot and hardly see a soul without a race vest and a number on? Apart from the occasional drops down to dib in somewhere you are basically at the end of the earth.
THE BIG SECRET.
Now, I may be breaking some Lakeland Legend code of honour here, (perhaps I zoned out a bit during the briefing,) but there’s a big secret about the Lakeland 50 that finishers keep hush, hush. There’s a mad rush to enter this race every year and entries fill up within minutes of opening. People who’ve done this race love it, they want to do it again, and again; they don’t want all Tom Cobbley clicking away on 1st September.
They don’t tell you that you could do it too. Ok, it’s a challenge. Indeed, it’s epic. But the cut off makes Father Christmas look stingy. With 24hrs to play with, there’s time to be conservative with your pace. In no other race have I ever finished 7hr hours before the body wagon!
This is an event with all the support you could possibly need to succeed. At the recce events you can meet the race organisers who will teach you everything you need to know about the course. You will meet other runners more nervous than you. The emails you will receive in the months before race day will reassure and the online support group will answer any question, no matter how inane.
All the information you are given is comprehensive and designed to make your day go smoothly. These guys know what they are doing and you get a feeling they genuinely care. On the course you will be fed, hugged, patched up if necessary and supported. Strangers will adopt you.
There are over a thousand runners on the fells on race day. It is difficult to get very lost. Even I managed to stay on course! Running in the dark isn’t scary when you can see a line of head torches twinkling ahead of you and you probably won’t need the map that you’ve painstakingly practised with.
I’ll tell you the secret about this gem of a race. You could do this.