The Highs and Lows of the Lakeland 100 - by Emma Stuart

The Highs and Lows of the Lakeland 100 - by Emma Stuart

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Lakeland 100 – Race Report

Emma Stuart had one aim for the Lakeland 100 – to complete it in under 24 hours, the reality of running an ultra marathon took their toll on what was a hard race. In this blog Emma takes us through the highs and (very) lows of running the Lakeland 100!

The Lakeland 100 is an iconic race in the British Ultrarunning calendar and is definitely one of the most popular. Almost 650 of us toed the start line in Coniston on Friday 29th July, ready to begin our 105-mile circumnavigation of the Lake District.

Although it doesn’t top out at any major summits, there is still over 6,500 metres of elevation, as you climb and descend from one picturesque valley to the next. The race has fourteen incredibly well-stocked checkpoints with lively and helpful marshals and for the most part, follows major paths, but with unpredictable weather conditions guaranteed, you can be sure of a weekend that will test your mettle. Most years, only 60% of people finish.

I only had one goal for this year’s race and that was to finish it in under twenty-four hours

I only had one goal for this year’s race and that was to finish it in under twenty-four hours. I knew what pace I needed to maintain (~7km an hour) and that was all I needed. If I recall rightly, only two other women have achieved a sub-24 hour time – Sabrina Verjee and Beth Pascall – both absolute legends in the ultrarunning world.

I’ve had a good racing season so far this year, taking wins at the Lady Anne’s Way 100, The Montane Cheviot Goat, The LAP and the Kong Lakes Ultra, enjoying them all immensely and finishing them thinking things had gone pretty well.

Yet, despite the training I had done, the Lakeland 100 has served as a sobering reminder that things don’t always go to plan. It has also shown me how bad things can get without my race being over, and how much mental resilience and determination plays a role in success, particularly in ultrarunning.

I always feel under-prepared for races and of course, this one was no different. I’d had a busy few weeks in the run-up to the race, so my pre-race days were spent resting as best I could and sorting out some major kinks in my pre-race prep.

My dog decided to destroy my favourite race pack five days before the event, so I quickly had to buy a new one without having any time to train with it. I also made the last-minute decision to buy some Leki poles (having never used them before), but the first set that arrived were faulty, so my new pair arrived literally a couple of days before the race!

I also couldn’t get off work on the Friday (i.e. the day of the race) so I had fifty cows to pregnancy scan before I could head down the road to Coniston. Not ideal, but at least I had the foresight to swap my Thursday night on-call, so I’d managed a good night’s sleep before the start of the race.

I got away from my call on time(ish) and made it to Event HQ for about 1.30pm. After some major kit faff at registration (I’m not a very organised human being) and some lunch, I settled down in our tent for a rest until the 4.30pm briefing, followed by our 6pm kick-off.

The start line was absolutely buzzing. The atmosphere in Coniston at this time every year is indescribable. There were plenty of familiar faces wishing me well, including Scarpa athlete Howard Dracup, which was a nice surprise!

Lakeland 100

After a classic rendition of ‘Nessum Dorma’ and a bit of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck to get us fired up, we were off. Thousands of people lined the streets to cheer on the runners as they filtered out under the gantry and up the road.

People were shouting my name and cheering and of course it spurred me to go faster. By the end of the first little climb, I’d already realised I’d set off too quickly. I was first lady, running a little bit past my comfort zone but still feeling pretty good. However, in my rush to get ready, I’d somehow managed to put one sock on inside-out and it really irritated me for quite a few miles. Eventually I got over it when other problems came to the fore!

I’m not a huge fan of uphill climbing but I’m reasonably strong. However, I get massive FOMO when I see people with poles climbing effortlessly as I struggle on without them. I’d decided not to carry them for the whole race and had left them in my drop-bag at Dalemain. On the big climb up Walna Scar Road, I lost quite a few places to people with poles and a quick glance behind me saw Eve Moore gracefully moving at speed up the stony track, closing in fast.

I wasn’t particularly worried at that point as I love speeding downhill and the descent into Seathwaite is incredible. I hit that track and bombed it as fast as I could. I felt great and as I ran down the road into the first checkpoint I was sure I had put some space between me and Eve. I was wrong. I couldn’t believe it when she literally popped into the little car park mere seconds behind me, looking incredibly strong!

We ran together for a short while, but she started to pull away as we headed up towards Hardknott Forest. At that point I knew she was stronger than me. From here, my race took a downturn and it lasted pretty much until the end. I started to get really clumsy, tripping over non-existent obstacles. I was struggling a bit to get my breathing right. My running technique disappeared and the icing on the cake was when I lost my trainer in some deep bog.

After hopping back to get it and wasting loads of time trying to put it back on, I then had the joy of running the next 5km with a shoe full of mud as there was no clean beck nearby to rinse it off. Losing time with this minor inconvenience meant I lost a few more places and got stuck in some traffic down a narrow rocky technical section full of bracken but it was nice to slow the pace a bit.

The section along Eskdale was really lovely and quite a few of us ran together along here, all coming in to Boot at the same time. I had once again caught up with Eve, but as I started to feel very nauseous, with no energy, she really picked up the pace from there and quickly disappeared over the horizon, not to be seen until the next day.

Lakeland 100

Despite only being only around 15 miles in, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to be sick and I struggled to eat anything, which was not good this early in the game. I wasn’t too bad on the flat or downhill sections, but for some reason, pushing uphill brought on horrific waves of nausea and stomach pains that made me want to stop. Unfortunately, the Lakeland 100 isn’t known for its gentle undulations (which might have helped my situation)!

As I pushed on through the darkness, I made a conscious effort to keep running on the flat section along the shores of Buttermere to try and keep up my pace, even though it was unbelievably hard. At the Buttermere checkpoint, I decided I’d been feeling sick because my body was simply craving solid food. I took one bite of a hotdog, turned around and vomited the entire day’s worth of food and water onto the grass. I wasn’t even able to speak to any of the kind marshals who were trying to comfort me, including Amanda Kirtley and Gaynor Prior because I was completely alone in my own dazed world. I felt pretty miserable at that point. There had been a nasty bug going round work and I was fairly convinced I had caught it. I often feel sick during ultraruns, but I’ve never actually vomited before. Plus, I was only 25 miles in, so this was even more unusual!

After getting sick, I felt marginally better for about 20 minutes and rallied as I made my way across the slopes of Whiteless Breast and Wandope. The rest of the night passed by in a blur, punctuated by further bouts of nausea but made memorable by the bobbing headtorches in the drizzle as I passed through Braithwaite, up Latrigg, around Glenderaterra, down to the Blencathra Centre, along the Keswick-Threlkeld railway path and up the Old Coach Road to Dockray.

At this point, with a new day dawning, I was a little sleepy. Over the years of being a farm animal vet with many sleepless nights, I have mastered the art of the “micro-nap” and this smooth terrain was perfect for it. Every 10 minutes or so, I would close my eyes for around 10-15 seconds and it was just enough to stave off true sleepiness. My appetite had gotten really bad and I was no longer able to eat or drink anything. I was hoping it would eventually go away if I kept moving but as I came into Dockray, I realised I was in a pretty bad way.

The lovely marshals offered me a mug of ginger beer, which I gratefully accepted and someone else gave me a Gin-Gin sweet and reassured me that it would bring me back from the brink. As I headed towards Aira Force from Troutbeck, I sampled the Gin-Gin. It took me a lot longer to eat than I expected and it was very very gingery! “Ginger is good for bad stomachs”, I reassured myself, “I’ll be grand”. I was wrong. As I rounded the corner and Ullswater came into view, a massive wave of nausea came over me and I started hurling my guts up again.

I didn’t even make it off the path so I apologise to everyone afterwards who will have inevitably stood in it. The next section was really slow for me, and I truly felt awful. That said, I did pass someone who was trying to have a snooze on the side of the path! This part is usually my favourite section of the Ullswater Way but that day, I hated it. My lowest point was as I was approaching Bennethead. There’s a short uphill section through a field before you turn onto the road and as I started vomiting uncontrollably again, I decided my race was over. I had absolutely nothing left in the tank, I couldn’t eat or drink anything, I was losing shedloads of time and I wasn’t even halfway through the race. I felt marginally better after coming to this decision and I started the long road section towards Dalemain.

As I rounded the final corner, ready to hand my tracker in, I couldn’t believe it when I saw Eve (the lady in first place) there at the marquee! I was sure she would have been hours ahead because I had lost so much time between Blencathra and Dalemain! This gave me a new lease of life and some vague hope that my race wasn’t yet over. I quickly changed my t-shirt, found out my partner James was doing really well and was already at Pooley Bridge (but I had no intention of catching him) and grabbed my long-desired Leki poles out of my drop bag. I had planned to change my shoes to my Scarpa Golden Gate Kimas but decided the Spin Infinity’s were doing really well, so left them on. I was in and out in less than five minutes and raced off to try and catch Eve. From here, my race hit its turning point.

Eve and I ran together towards Pooley Bridge and up the road to Roehead. She was still looking really strong but said she was also having some stomach issues. I started with my poles on the track up to the Cockpit and had this massive, renewed energy in my legs that I hadn’t had since the start of the race. I felt amazing as I ran along towards Howtown, and as I came into the checkpoint, I saw Shane Lynch (a fellow Irish runner) coming out of it. I had a wonderful salted boiled potato and headed up towards the dreaded Fusedale climb.

I now truly understand why running poles are called “cheatsticks” as I quickly gained a lot of time, catching up with Shane. He hadn’t recce’d much of the route so we ran together all the way to Ambleside, with me as his navigator. We were pretty evenly matched on pace, so it was actually really enjoyable. I liked how we didn’t need to speak much but having someone there to suffer with you was somewhat comforting. From the top of Fusedale all the way to Ambleside was surprisingly uneventful and I genuinely enjoyed the running!

Yes, I couldn’t eat or drink much, except the odd Mountain Fuel gel and some coke at the checkpoints, but I felt quite good in the grand scheme of things. Haweswater was, as per usual, quite demanding, but Shane and I just kept moving through the bracken, cursing it every now and again as it caused a misstep on the narrow trail. By now, my angry stomach was craving savoury food, so I took on some cheese at Mardale Head, which was divine.

For once, I didn’t mind the climb up Gatesgarth because I had my “cheatsticks” and I knew I just needed to put my head down and get it done. We then flew down the other side and before we knew it, we were in Kentmere for some famous Kentmere smoothies. Jen Scotney kept telling me I looked great as she took the most horrifying photos of me stuffing my face with some pasta, but I have since forgiven her. The smoothie didn’t sit very well in my stomach but at least it was something.

Garburn Pass is another of my nemeses and I distinctly remember screaming “COME ON EMMA, LET’S GET THIS DONE” as I was halfway up the climb thinking I’d never make it to the top. From the top all the way to Ambleside, we had loads of strangers wishing us well and commending us, which does fill you with a bit of pride. Seeing all the spectators, my dog and my partner’s parents at Ambleside spurred me on hugely and I ran well from there to Tilberthwaite, despite running on fumes!

Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a wall at the final checkpoint and felt like I’d never make it to Coniston. The rain was pouring down and the climb seemed to go on forever. I met a very bouncy Debbie Martin-Consani who wished me well and told me to try and catch the man in front (!) but I was done. I started stopping and faffing a lot, and although I normally love the descent down into Coniston from the coll, it took me ages. I wasn’t sure where the turnoff was to get down on the main track and spent an age trying to get my phone out of my soaking bag to get the map opened. Then my hands were too wet and slippy to try and get my back closed again! Never mind… it was all nearly over.

Lakeland 100

I got my act together and took off down the track and into Coniston. It was amazing seeing the crowd there shouting “First Lady! First Lady!” as I shuffled through the town. I crossed the line in 23 hours and 5 minutes and 7th overall. I’d done it in less than 24 hours! I couldn’t believe it when I found out James had taken third place on the climb out of Tilberthwaite so he was absolutely over the moon as well!

On crossing the line, I rallied for about 15 minutes as the adrenaline slowly subsided. But then, just as I left the main marquee to head back to our tent, I bent over and started vomiting clotted blood and typical “coffee grounds” black fluid. Not good. I saw the guys at the medical tent who took my vitals, but I was in no fit state to drive to the hospital, so I vowed to visit the doctors on Monday. Long story short, I’ve since had a gastroscope and they didn’t find anything, so the moral of the story is that ultrarunning can occasionally be a bit miserable and probably isn’t good for you, but the feeling on accomplishing what you set out to achieve certainly makes it all worthwhile!

All in all, it was a very memorable weekend, with many lessons learned. I cannot thank the organisers and marshals enough for putting on a supremely-run event and for looking after all of us through our highs and lows. Will I be back? Definitely!

Lakeland 100

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