Lakeland 100 – Ultra Tour of the Lake District by Gareth Crabb

Relax! This isn’t a full, step by step account of the 35+ hours of racing, complete with training and preparation details; that would almost be as challenging as the race was to complete itself and would certainly be an endurance event to simply read. No, I’ve chosen to give an outline of the race in general, with a few highlights (good and bad) and thoughts.

Ok, so the Lakeland 100 is an ultra-trail run event which takes place every year in July, in the Lake District. Many consider it, to be the UK’s toughest one-day long distance trail race. (‘One-day’ meaning finishing the race on the same amount of sleep as when you started, as opposed to 24 hours.) It starts in Coniston and completes a clockwise loop of almost the entire Lake District and finishes back in Coniston.

The organisers have produced a 105-mile course, which tackles more of the less-known routes, rather than the well-trodden tourist tracks. These treat runners to the spectacular sights they would never had seen otherwise, but also exposes them to more rugged terrain and less distinct tracks. You have a maximum of 40 hours to complete the course.

The race is totally self-navigated and due to the exposed and isolated terrain, you are required to carry a long list of mandatory clothes and equipment. Most athletes opt for a running back pack to squeeze the kit in, which includes, full body water proofs, a full body base layer, hat, gloves, emergency foil blanket, first aid kit, compass, maps, headtorch, emergency food, phone, drinks bottles, any other nuitrition and so on. Often people question the requirement for the extensive kit list for a race in July, however, after the storms this year there will be less questions.

The course includes passes such as Black sail, Scarth Gap, Fusdale, Gatescarth, Garburn and Walna Scar. The combination of all these passes, together with many more climbs, equals a total course ascent of 6300 metres.

Let’s consider that in bit more detail because 6300 is just a number and may mean nothing to many (but very important when you’re climbing it!) Converted to feet – that’s 20669 feet! (strava clocked mine at 21509.)

This is still just a number so let’s make a comparison, Mount Everest comes in at 29029 ft. That’s sea level to summit. Most climbs start for real at the base camp, which is approx. at 17000 ft., meaning the ascent from base camp to summit is 12029 ft. I climbed Everest over one and half times!

Bring this closer to home – the ascent on the most popular climb up Snowdon (Llanberis – Snowdon) is about 3000 ft. I climbed Snowdon 6 times!

Even closer – Stather Hill in Burton used for the ‘legs of steel’ TT course is 160 ft (according to strava). I climbed Stather Hill 129 times! On foot!! Go try that some time!

Moving on… the course briefly ventures through well-known towns like Ambleside, Keswick, and Pooley Bridge as well as lesser known villages such as Boot, Dacre and Dockray, which gives the race a community-like feel. The region has really adopted this race as their own and whilst shuffling past cafés and restaurants people actually stand up and clap you. I’m not kidding, as I ran through Ambleside at about 10.30 on Saturday night, groups of blokes drinking outside pubs, were cheering me on, one patted me on the back “Go on mate you’re a legend!” Incredible.

There are 14 checkpoints, evenly distributed along the course, each run by volunteers from various running clubs and other associations. Many of the volunteers were dressed up in themes, ranging from superheros, beach party, rock stars, circus acts and many more. I’ll never forget walking into the Blencartha field centre (checkpoint 6) at 6am Saturday morning, 12 hours into the race and 24 hours without sleep (so feeling a little dizzy) to be confronted by a member of Thin Lizzy – outfit, wig, face painted the lot. “Cup of tea mate?” “Errrrr…Ok then.”

Checkpoints are separated by distances ranging from 3.5 miles up to 10 miles, and each leg had at least one major climb and descent over a pass to the next.

Checkpoint 8 is at the Dalemain Estate and although 59 miles in, is classed as the halfway point where you receive a prepared drop bag. (Fresh trainers, socks, nuitrition etc) This is the start point for runners doing the Lakeland 50. That race starts at 11.30 on the Saturday morning, 15 ½ hours after the Lakeland 100 start, and follows the second half of the 100 route. The challenge for a lot of the 100 runners is to get to Dalemain before the start of the 50 race. I got there about 10.30 so had the pleasure of all the fresh 50 runners over taking me. Fair play to most of them though, I got loads of ‘well-dones’ and ‘keep going Gareth you’re doing brillant’.

It may sound sickly but the Lakeland organisation, which includes volunteers, competitors, competitor’s families, and organisation staff, exhibit a real support and caring for each other. They call it the Lakeland family. Some of the stories I’ve read on their facebook site, over the last few days, have been so heart felt. People abandoning their own race to care for others in trouble and other similar stories. It was an absolute pleasure to be part of.

The further into the race you get, the more tired and fatigued you get, and very much slower you get. I remember hitting the point with 26 miles to go. Just a marathon. Just a marathon, which I can normally knock out in 4 hours quite comfortably. Different story now. With 80 mountain miles in the legs, on low energy reserves, no sleep for about 36 hours, blistered sodden feet, shoulders and back ache, ever-decreasing core temperature. This was going to be a long marathon. 10 hours as it turned out. One highlight though was walking through the village of Troutbeck and being confronted by 4 ladies sat on giant rubber ducks. I honestly considered these to be my first hallucination, but they turned out to be real supporters. Bizarre.

One thing I must mention. The Weather. If you look on Youtube and view past races, it’s all blue skies in the daytime and nice cool nights with, at worst, the occasional bit of drizzle. Oh, how very different it was this year! (check out the photo above of checkpoint 10 at Mardale) With the country having its longest warm spell for years, I was rubbing my hands, thanking the lord, and working out my strategy for protection against the daytime heat, ensuring good hydration, salt intake etc. And that’s how the race started at 6pm on Friday night; in fact, it was too hot.

Over the following 35 hours we had it all: glorious sunshine, torrential vertical downpours, 40 mph gusting winds, leg-scrubbing horizontal hail, lightning, annoying relentless drizzle, constantly repeating itself at differing levels of severity depending on how high up you was. When on high ground you could feel the storm developing all around. The darkened sky, a breeze, a few drips, increased gusts and then you could literally see the rain coming at you and within seconds you were saturated. The higher elevation just meant stronger winds and before long turned you into a shivering wreck. But then in the distance you’d see areas in sunlight. Nothing like a bit of sunlight to speed your pace up!

After an un-imaginable length of time, going up, going down, scrambling along rocky tracks, trudging through sodden moors, skirting along dirt tracks with sheers drops at the side, squelching in water-filled gulleys, wading amongst fern-lined tracks whilst stubbing toes on unseen rocks, tripping and skidding down tracks littered with boulders of all sizes, sliding on loose shale whilst tackling steep summits, constantly slipping on damp slabs… the course finally finishes back at Coniston, at the race village where you receive the medal and T-shirt that makes it all worthwhile.

The race highlight, as in most races, was the finish. Just after 5am Sunday morning – over 35 hours since I started and almost 48 hours since I’d slept -, Coniston was cold and wet, dreary and deserted. As I neared the finish arch I was welcomed by a lady who made sure I dibbed in my electronic sensor and congratulated me. Although overwhelmed with the relief that the ordeal was over, I was slightly dismayed by the lack of people about to witness and celebrate my achievement. A guy approached me, shook my hand, and led me towards the marquee entrance. I told him my name, race number and that it was my first attempt at the 100 race. He asked me to wait a moment before introducing me to the marquee. He disappeared through the entrance and I followed shortly after. “And we have Gareth Crabb completing his first Lakeland 100!” I entered to an amazing noise of cheers and claps, supporters, marshals, competitors all staring me in eye with smiles and looks of total admiration.” Wow! I floated past everyone in a rapture, nodding and raising a hand in acknowledgement and feeling slightly not worthy of the ovation. I felt the throat lump and the mouth twitch but held it together. We don’t want any of this blubbering business. I was led for a quick photo, food, and then died quietly in my tent.

I hope I’ve given you a flavour of what the race is all about, and maybe some of you are contemplating having a stab. Well, be ready for the online carnage that occurs at 9am on 1st September when the SI entries open. Around 400 places for the 100-race, and 600 places for the 50-race will sell out in approx. 10 minutes. It’s Bonkers! Also, to qualify for a place you must have completed at least a 50 mile mountain ultra in a certain time! There’s nothing easy about this race.

Results – The Lakeland 100 has a regular finish rate of only just over 50 %. In fact, during the race brief, the race organiser, Marc Laithwaite asks you shake the hand of the person sat next to you and decide between the pair of you, which one is going to drop out. Great! (I didn’t fancy his chances). So, my goal was to finish, and this really was a finish race and nothing else.

419 people started the race. 215 people finished it. I came home positioned 124th in a time of 35 hours 16 minutes and 47 seconds. I was so… so happy to finish, but at the same time so relieved. I feel for 215 that had to stop, I was that close to quitting myself. It was such a hard ask. A constant battle. Everything about me was saying stop. I understand how and why people use emotions to get through these things. At times you have nothing else but emotion driving you on. But more so, the main force compelling me to move forward in the dark moments, was the thought of letting people down. Letting down family, friends and everyone who’d believed in me, who’d given well wishes and encouragement. I would’ve perished up there rather than quit. In the world of Navy seals – I was never…never going to ring that bell! No way was I coming away with a DNF!

This has been a huge and very special adventure for me, so I can’t thank people enough for helping me achieve this. Just a couple of words on a facebook post can and did make a difference. Huge Thanks to you all.

Running 100 miles…Why?

Quick answer: I’m a bit daft you know.

Long answer:

Why does the beginner strive to run a 5k park run?

Why a does a runner enter their first sprint Triathlon?

Why does the cyclist enter the coast to coast?

Why enter your first Steelman? Your first Staffordshire Half Ironman? Your first North Lincs Half Marathon? Why do your first London marathon even though training has been plagued with injury? Or Maravan with only 16 weeks to prepare?

Why do your first big swim event? Or swim The Humber? Or run over the Humber bridge a crazy amount of times?

Why choose to do the Triathlon X? or melt in Kona? How about a double Ironman or even a triple?

Why does a couple enter the UK or Maastricht Ironman with little triathlon experience? Why does a triathlete choose Wales as their first Ironman? And why does an old-timer cyclist/coach decide to do Barcelona Ironman and then do another?

We all know why!

  1. S ELLIOT knows, his quote comes straight from the heart of this event.

‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go’