50 MILES (DON'T CALL IT A RACE – IT’S A CHALLENGE!)
After an entertaining briefing with safety tips like “If you see lightning, don’t point carbon poles at it!”, we shuffled off to the coaches and were bussed to the start at Dalemain. This contributed to a late (11:30am) start, which meant most runners would finish in the dark. Varying light conditions, along with some changeable weather, meant we'd have a lot to contend with during our day in the mountains.
After a 6km loop around the Dalemain Estate we headed south through Pooley Bridge, climbed past Barton Park and contoured southwest with Ullswater to our right. We dropped to our first check point at Howtown with 18km done in 1hr 48min. After some snacks and a water refill I got back on the course feeling fresh, and “quarter done” was my first mental pick-me-up.
The toughest climb (over 500m) of the day – up Fusedale to High Kop – was pretty epic. The drizzle turned into horizontal rain, with wind in our faces. I ran hard over the top to generate warmth because my hands were numb, and I’d forgotten to double-knot my laces so had to stop on the fast descent to Haweswater to sort them with frigid fingers. And this, on a warm (16 deg C) day in the hills! Sure enough, the lower path along the water warmed me up and I was soon back to T-shirt only running – 33km done in 4hr 3min.
Although none of the LL50 terrain is super technical, the sections through Kentmere, Troutbeck and Ambleside had varied conditions from muddy paths and greasy grass to rocky tracks and roads. All-rounder shoes were a must.
The support throughout the course was fantastic with cheering crowds and high-fiving kids in Ambleside, which is a genuine boost at a time you’re trying to convince yourself you’ve done three-quarters. At 55km, you haven’t – it’s all mind games at this point. The slightly uphill trudge through the Langdale valley to Chapel Stile was my lowest point, and I was losing places for the first time. My legs were screaming but I was aching for the hills, where I could walk up at the same speed as everyone around me and run down faster... my mind now only thinking about consolidating my position.
The final steep climb was only 250m, but my strength was low and each kilometre took 10 or 11 minutes. It was dark but the air was stiller and as the summit came, so returned my strength. I descended carefully on the rocky winding path that delivered me to the miners’ track – where I picked up speed and ran into Coniston, elated, past more encouraging strangers to the finish.
I’d finished 133rd out of 756 finishers in 11hr 29min, having clocked up 3068m of ascent and 3145m of descent. Oliver Thorogood (7hr 36min) and Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn (8hr 12min) were the winners in absolutely crazy times. Congrats to all the finishers – from Oliver in first place all the way to Mark in 23hr 45min!