Les Cupis was back in Cumbria at the end of July to take on the challenge of the Lakeland 100. Here is his monster of a report on the epic of a race!
Having completed this event in 2014, I was determined to improve on my finishing time.
The Event, I say event as although it was advertised as a race I felt that I had no chance of winning, but at least I had a good chance of completing the 105miles. A total 4 marathons in one event with a maximum of 40hrs s allowed to complete the route with cut off points at the later checkpoints.
I arrived in Coniston the day before the race as I had found in past events that driving long distances before a race was detrimental to my race performances.
After a relaxing day with some retail therapy, I headed to the event HQ to set up my tent and register. I arrived at 9:10am and the race was not due to start until 6pm. Race kit checked and all ‘ok’, race number collected along with an ‘SI’ ‘dibber’ (an electronic tag) which was fixed around your wrist. This was so that you could ‘dib’ in at each check point to show that you had arrived safely. This also meant that anybody could follow my progress on the internet.
After a lot of standing around it was time for the race briefing. Exactly 300 competitors had turned up and we were all ready to start. On the start line just before 6pm the traditional singing of ‘.Nessun dorma’ performed by an opera singer.
The start and we were off.
Coniston to Seathwaite ( 7miles, ascent 659m)
The atmosphere was far greater than I remember from last year and the crowds cheering the runners were amazing. All the way through Coniston, hundreds of spectators were cheering us on
Three miles up hill right from the start. The sun was warm, not as hot as last year, which was a relief. I made good time to the 1st check point at Seathwaite.
Time taken from last checkpoint 1:20:31sec. A quick ‘dib’ in and a cup of Coke and off again.
Seathwaite to Boot (7miles, ascent 385m)
This was a boggy section and keeping your feet dry was not an option. Through a plantation and along the edge of a forest before dropping down through a farm and onto flatter ground ,down farm tracks and tarmac into the check point at Boot. A small check point with biscuits, Coke and water(which I think came from the stream). Time taken from last checkpoint 1:22:26sec.
Boot to Wasdale ( 5.4miles, ascent297m )
A hard climb from the checkpoint that took us over Eskdale moor. The sunset was amazing setting behind the hills. I was with a group of 6 or 7 and we were pushing on quite well. The ground underfoot was a mixed bag with some marshy bits and some rocks as we ran along the river beds and footpaths. Down over a couple of bridges and along a tarmac road we ran and walked chatting about the day and previous events. Off the road and across a field and into the checkpoint at Wasdale Head. Time taken from last checkpoint 1:10:04.
I sat for a few minutes and had some hot soup and coke. Sandwiches, cake, crisps and sweets were all on offer.
10:15pm Head torch time.
Wasdale to Buttermere (6.9miles ascent 712m).
This was probably one of the hardest climbs so early on in the race. Uphill heading towards ‘Black sail pass’. After reaching this point it was a tricky and rocky path to run down (700m) past Black sail YHA, Onwards and upwards to ‘Scarth gap’. Down again making my own route over massive rocks and steep ground. Once down it was along the lakeside trails into Buttermere. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:01:04.
I was beginning to feel the pace a bit so sat for a couple more minutes enjoying a milk shake, some coke and crisps, as the other guys I was running with set off.
I was already an hour faster than last year, though I wasn’t actually keeping time at this point.
Buttermere to Braithwaite (6.5mile-ascent573m).
I was on my own now, more steep climbs through a forest, nearly taking a wrong turn. More uphill. Through bracken, the uphill bit was all at the beginning of this section taking us over
‘Sail pass’. More rocky paths. It was dark and the footpath followed the contours around the side of the hills. I thought I had gone wrong as I seemed to be on my own, but on the odd occasion I could see head torches up ahead. This seemed like a long section and I could just make out the footpath as it continued to contour around the hills. From here it was practically all down hill to the next checkpoint with good wide tracks and along roads through Braithwaite. It was late and everything was very quiet. This was a fast section and I made up another half an hour on last years time. Time taken from last checkpoint 1:51:51
A nice checkpoint with soup, pasta, rice pudding, tea coffee, sweets and the necessary coke on offer. Ten minutes at this check point then off. Joining a couple of other competitors.
Brathwaite to Blencathra (8.4miles-ascent 478m)
There is a lot of road on this section as we headed towards Keswick on the A66. We eventually headed of the road and onto trails leading onto the Cumbria way. There is a compulsory ‘dibber’ on the footpath, which is very rocky, to stop people taking a short cut into Blencathra, this added about 2miles to the route. From this point it was quite straightforward down to the check point. As we ran into the checkpoint it was getting light so I put my head torch away. Some lovely chocolate brownies and tea and coke. I helped another competitor out with some spare batteries which probably added another 10minutes to my stay as I tried to repack my bag. He ran off from the check point before me and I don’t remember seeing him again. Spare batteries are part of the compulsory kit list so he really should have had his own, (enough to get him through both nights) Time taken from last checkpoint 2:11:35
Blencathra to Dockray (7.7miles Ascent 417m)
This section should have been a fast one as it was mainly on old train lines and tram roads. It was fine to start as I had joined up with some others. The weather was great, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning when we left Blencathra, everybody was tired but quite upbeat. We pushed on jogging and walking. My feet were beginning to feel a bit sore as the ground seemed a lot harder than last year. Having been wet for most of the night they were feeling a bit soft.
More stony tracks. Two of the other guys pushed on ahead and one was lagging behind as I tried to increase my pace. I reached the check point happy in the knowledge that I was quite a bit faster than last year and not feeling so tired. Not wanting to take my shoes off and check my feet, I had a quick drink and a sandwich with soup and headed off down hill. The race leaders were about 3hours ahead at this point. Time taken from last checkpoint 1:57:38
Dockray to Dalemain (10.1miles Ascent 370m)
This was one of the longest sections with quite a bit of tarmac towards the end, which didn’t help my feet. We passed ‘Aira force’, which is a big waterfall. Headed up over some open fells and through some woods before coming out into the open with Ullswater on our right. A lovely view at any time but at 6oclock in the morning it was like a mill pond with nothing to disturb the surface. The sun was shining. This is probably one of my favourite views during the whole race. I managed to overtake a couple of competitors on this section and was also overtaken by 3 or 4 myself as I tried to take some weight off my feet for a couple of minutes. Onwards to the tarmac section. I tried to stay upbeat chatting to a couple of other competitors on the way down the road. Some girls passed running very comfortably, almost putting my efforts to shame. They had obviously paced it better than me. Down into the Dalemain estate. This was the check point where our drop bags had been left. New batteries for head torches, Clean socks and a change of shirt. A little bit of a rest here. I was well ahead of last years time. I had some more soup and some roasting hot custard which nearly burnt my mouth. A ‘little’ encouragement from the check point staff saw me on my way. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:34:09
Total distance so far 59miles. So far I was 2.5hours ahead of last year.
Overlooking Ullswater. Early morning
Dalemain to Howtown. (7.1miles Ascent294m)
I caught up with some of the guys that had left the check point a few minutes before me. We headed across a couple of fields and through Pooley bridge. I did consider stopping for breakfast at the first cafe that was open but decided that I had best press on. The feet were tender and the ground hard. Joining the old coach road behind Pooley bridge, it was a straight forward jog through to the next check point at Howtown. Great views of Ulswater from the opposite side to where we were a few hours before. A grumpy old guy was leaning on his gate telling us we were not allowed through an adjoining footpath so we went the long way round. Only another couple of hundred meters, but after 67 mile even that felt too far. A quick stop for a top up and some more coke and we were off. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:17:00
Howtown to Mardale head. (9.4mile Ascent 765m)
Last year this was mentally the hardest section. We headed along the river bank along the Fusedale valley which eventually took us up a steep climb to the highest point of the route (670m) we crossed some peat bogs going down hill towards Hawswater reservoir. At this point it looks like the check point is just around the corner. It was a big corner that never seemed to end!
Four miles later I reached the checkpoint feeling quite positive and upbeat though my feet were feeling sore.
I stopped to put a ‘compeed’ plaster on my heel and attempted to put one on the bottom of my foot but this came straight off, so I left the blisters on the bottom of my feet. Two cups of soup a cup of tea and half a sandwich and I was ready to leave. (Last year I felt so sorry for myself I stayed here for nearly and hour) Time taken from last checkpoint 3:24:09.
Mardale head to Kentmere. (6.5miles Ascent 511m)
A steep climb over Gatesgarth pass, but a fast descent on the other side over stones and rock that felt like needles in the bottom of my feet. I had got a bit of downhill momentum so ploughed on trying to concentrate on the running and not the pain. Then I went over on my ankle, squirming and swearing as I stumbled to a stop. A couple of minutes to let the shock subside and off I went, no damage done.
At this point there were competitors from the 50 mile race overtaking. They started at Dalemain at 11:30am.
As a 100 mile competitor I had to try and not get carried along with these though at times I was quicker than some of them and even raced a chap into the next checkpoint. Everybody looks forward to this checkpoint as they have an abundance of food, smoothies and other goodies on offer. For the 50 milers it is just over half way, for the 100milers it is the 82mile mark. No time to sit around. After putting my feet up for a couple of minutes, having a smoothie and some coke, I was off again.. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:29:38.
Kentmere to Ambleside. (7.3miles Ascent 491m)
Since checkpoint 3 at Wasdale , I had stayed at times with another competitor called Nick . We left here together, this time joining up with some of the 50 milers. We pushed on, I seemed to push a bit harder than Nick as he started to drop back. The ground was stony and hard. I kept stopping and closing my eyes for a 30second power nap. I don’t think it benefitted but I couldn’t help it. Up into Troutbeck. I couldn’t believe it was still light, (Last year I got to this point at about 10pm and it started chucking it down with rain) Tarmac and gravel roads took us down through woods and into Ambleside.
One of my aims last year and this year was to get to Ambleside before dark. Last year I didn’t make it, this year I got there at 8 oclock, 4hrs30min faster than last year. The pubs were full and everybody clapped us through the town to the check point. It was quite emotional after running nearly 90miles.
I ‘dibbed’ in at the checkpoint and was greeted by two friends one dressed as superman and the other as a circus ringmaster. I went up some steps into the Church hall for a quick drink. Those 6 or 7 steps were tough. After I came out my friends said I had to get a move on. They wanted me to do the last 16miles in 2.5hours. On a normal day on normal terrain this may be possible, but not at 8:15 on day 2 of a 100mile race. I had 4 hours to get to the finish before 12 midnight. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:12:45
Ambleside to Chapel stile (5.6miles Ascent 234m)
Probably the flattest section of the race. Hard tarmac roads and concrete footpaths were not helping my feet. Heading out towards Coniston (it was cruel to think that we were not heading straight to Coniston along the road) then turning by the Skelwith bridge hotel along the Cumbria way. The patrons of the pubs were clapping and cheering as we jogged passed them. Following the footpaths towards Langdale. We ploughed on. At this point I was caught by somebody that I had met the day before. She had been pacing herself well and was a great boost as we ran together to the next checkpoint. She left a couple of minutes before me and I didn’t catch up with her after that. Chapel Stiles checkpoint is a big marquee in the middle of a field with sofa’s and a Bonfire. It would have been nice to hang around there but I had to push on. Time taken from last checkpoint 1:42:28
Chapel stiles to Tilberthwaite (6.5miles Ascent 387m)
This slowly became one of the harder sections for me. I had met a 50 miler at Chapel stile and he was keen for us to stay together. He could see that I was a little tired and was very encouraging. We ran together out of the check point and through some fields making good time. We caught up with some other runners and stayed together for a while. By now my feet were even hurting on the soft peat that we were running over. I told the others to push on and not wait for me which they promptly did. I thought I felt a stone in my shoe so I stopped to check only to find that the blister had folded under the ball of my foot. I ignored it as there was nothing I could do. With only 9 miles to go there was no way I was going to pull out. Shoe back on and onwards up the steps to the road. Some encouraging spectators on the top of Wrynose pass spurred me on.. Another runner joined me as we headed down to Blea Tarn and then up over Bleamoss to the Compulsory dibber which was on a gate (it seemed like one of the longest 3miles ever). Head torch on for the final two sections, a hard rocky section through farms and small hamlets. Along a gravel track to Tilberthwaite
This was the final checkpoint before the finish. Time taken from last checkpoint 2:12:03
Tilberthwaite to Coniston. (3.5miles Ascent 283m)
When you are tired after 101.5miles of a 105mile race any climb is a hard one. From this check point we climbed some stone steps, nicknamed the stairway to heaven, almost vertically. I think there were only about ten, but then it continued upwards on hard compacted soil and grass. The whole of the 283m of ascent must have come in this first section as it levelled out at the top. It started to spit with rain as I reached the top. So I put my waterproof on. This soon came off again as I got too hot. Across the top on very faint footpaths. I could see head torches in the distance that seemed miles away. I remember thinking that it didn’t seem that far last year. The rain started again so I put my waterproof on. I was following another runner who kept dropping his route map, not that he was following it. Zigzagging across the fells we eventually got to the downhill section that lead down to Coniston. Greasy wet rocks meant that we had to take it easy. At the top I passed a couple and the girl had twisted her ankle on the descent, I advised her to put her waterproof on, she was already soaked through. As soon as I reached safer ground there was no stopping me, I sprinted (or that’s what it felt like) down the miners track through the town and into the race HQ. I looked at my watch, 3minutes to 12. I had made it before midnight. In fact, as we had started the race 2 minutes late I had made it in 29:55:30. (Last years time 34:38:37) I knocked over 4.5hrs off last years time. Time taken from last checkpoint 1:08:16
Total distance travelled 105miles (169km). Total ascent/descent 22493ft (6856mtr)
I dibbed in at the end and received My finishers medal and T shirt.
I met some friends who had a can of celebratory cider waiting for me. I drank that, said goodnight and went to my tent to sleep. I wear compression socks on my long races. This time was no exception. The only difference was, I couldn’t get them off. My feet had swollen so much that however hard I tried I could not pull them over my feet to get them off. I nearly cut them off but decided to get into my sleeping bag with all my running gear on, less my bag. After sorting a pillow out, I slept all night, waking up at 9am feeling fresh. I managed to pull my compression socks off and went and had a shower. Competitors of the 50 and 100 mile race were still coming in to cheers and clapping. Every one of them tired and emotional.
Overall I really enjoyed it this year. Apart from the blisters which are still bugging me after three weeks I thought I got on really well. It’s a great event. With great support from local groups.
Some of the entry fee helps to rebuild footpaths around the lake district with £38000 being raised in sponsorship and entry fees, which is donated to the repair of footpaths. All the checkpoints are themed fancy dress and all are volunteers manning them. A great effort this year with some great outfits.
Tender feet and blisters….more Blisters.
Thanks for reading this.