Head up to Grizedale Tarn -Ultimate Trails 100km

Section 1 – Off into the darkness

Brockhole to Kentmere – 6.8 miles 1:01.11 Avg Pace 9.01

SI time 1:01:17

It was still dark at 5:45am as 104 intrepid ultra runners congregated on the start and finish area at Brockhole visitor centre – some with head torches. I had opted not to wear a head torch knowing it would be light shortly after we started.

Start of the Ultimate Trails 100km

The race started at 6am with a lap around the grounds down by Lake Windermere back up through the start/finish area and out across the main road to a bridleway which would lead us up to Troutbeck.

After my disappointing DNF five weeks earlier at the Lakeland 50 I took the start really easily. I had taken two weeks off to recover from the DNF and then struggled to get back into training so knew I wasn’t in the greatest of shapes!

I was dressed for a steady run on a cool morning wearing thin running gloves (which I wore all the way to Stickle Barn) as I suffer with Reynaud’s disease, Compressport Sleeves and a Montane Featherlite Gilet over a Compressport Trail Shirt.

As the Bridleway climbed, I kept my pace really easy sitting back at 10th place letting my legs warm up and as the track began its descent into Troutbeck I let the Hoka Stinson Evos I was wearing take over – you cannot stop yourself descending quickly in them. I quickly found myself at the front of the race passing Martin Cox and Andrew who had been leading the race out of Brockhole.

On the long climb up Garbun Pass my fast descending pace quickly diminished, the sky was turning blue though the sun had yet to rise and there were low clouds on the fell tops. Martin Cox soon caught me back up on the long climb and as we set into a rhythmic pace we discussed old training sessions (we used to share the same coach back in Leicester and did regular hill sessions together).

Looking at my watch on the climb up Garburn I knew we were not going to get there in my predicted time of 48mins….we were in for a longer day than I had planned!

As we got to the top of the pass I slowly pulled away on the descent as I let the Hoka’s take over once more. I didn’t know how good a descender Martin was but I couldn’t hear anyone on my heels, I had very quickly opened up a lead again arriving at the first check point Kentmere Village Hall 1 minute ahead of Martin.

 

Section 2 – The rocky road ahead…

Kentmere to Mardale Head – 5.9 miles 1:06.46 Avg Pace 11:13

SI Time 1:05:52

I dibbed my SI Card and grabbed a cup of water and left the checkpoint swiftly, I still had enough water in my Ultimate Direction bottle to last till Mardale Head.

The climb up to Nam Beild is well known to me having run from Kentmere many times in training for the Lakeland 50. The valley was yet to be bathed in sunshine and Mardale Head up to High Street was blanketed in cloud

As the path began to climb steeply by the side of Kentmere Reservoir Martin caught me back up, he had managed to run past the checkpoint! He didn’t realise it was actually in the village hall.

Martin set a brisk pace on the zig-zag path up to the Nam Beild col and I kept the pressure on walking quickly behind him. We were greeted by a cheerful marshal at the col and began the descent down to Mardale Head. The top part of the path down to Small Water is rocky as I watched Martin trying to pull away from me, I had planned to put Martin under pressure on the descent and I could see him working hard as he opened up a 30 second gap on me.

I arrived at the checkpoint 39 seconds behind Martin, the guys at the checkpoint gave us a warm welcome as they filled up my water bottle which I added some Elete Water too and quickly headed back out onto the trail.

 

Section 3 – Running into the sun

Mardale Head to Bampton – 7.2 miles 1:02.02 avg Pace 8:36

SI Time 1:01:28

The route followed the trail which ran along the side of the Haweswater, it was nice to run along a trail I knew so well but in the opposite direction I had been used to with all the Lakeland 50 training I had been doing along Haweswater

The sun had now risen and was glaring onto the right hand side of me, I had to turn my visor peak round to the right…thankfully no-one was around to see my youthful look minus my jeans below my bottom.

I had noticed Martin was no longer on my heels as I effortlessly ran along the trail. I noticed that there didn’t appear to be a sign at the end of the trail directing runners down to Bampton. As I came through the houses at Burnside I was nearly attacked by two red squirrels! It’s always great to see these little shy creatures when out running in the Lakes.

I was grateful for my Hoka’s on the two miles of tarmac down to Bampton, where I took my gilet off; I was finally starting to warm up and got my bottle filled by the lovely people from Grasshopper Foods, unfortunately I didn’t have time for a bacon roll or to sample their porridges. As I came out of the checkpoint onto the road I passed Martin coming into the checkpoint I was 2minutes ahead of Martin.

 

Section 4 – Cramping your style

Bampton to Howtown – 7.2 miles 56.49 avg Pace 7:47

SI Time 57:19

A few more miles of tarmac followed from leaving Bampton before the long steady climb up to Askham Common, as I started the climb I could feel the tingle of cramp in my quads and vastus medialus (VMO). I took half a cap full of Elete Water which reduced the tingling.

Once up on the common I was greeted with panoramic view of Ullswater and the Helvellyn range of fells.

Up on Askham Common - Ultimate Trails 100km

It was great to see Dave Troman marshalling at the Cock Pit stone circle, I had a sneaky look back and noticed Martin had closed me down again and was about 30 seconds behind me.

I was back on a familiar trail heading to Howtown. The legs opened up again as I started to fly down the trail until I hit a small climb, the ripple of cramp came unexpectedly! 26.2 miles done and cramp had arrived! First my right quad then my left VMO both solid with cramp! I didn’t want to ease off the pace knowing Martin was behind me, the cramp diminished as I started the descent into Howtown and took a Clif gel.

 

Section 5 – Glass half full or half empty?

Howton to Patterdale 5.4 miles 54:07 avg Pace 10:04

SI Time 52:19

I left the checkpoint 1min 48sec ahead of Martin; the route to Patterdale the half-way point where our drop bags waited for us, headed up to Boredale Hause with a several miles of tarmac before the short steep climb up to the Hause, my legs enjoyed the ease of running on the tarmac with my Hoka Stinson Evos.

As I started the steep climb up Boredale Hause my quads cramped up again slowing me down to a fast walk, but the cramp subsided quickly with taking some water and Clif Bloc’s. As I got near to the col of the Hause I heard footfall behind looking back I saw Martin coming up behind me. We arrived at the Hause together I decided to turn the screw and not ease off the pace, with quads still tingling with cramp I hit the descent down into Patterdale hard, bounding over the small rock drop; Martin was not giving up the chase. I enjoyed the fast descent as it cleaned out the lactic from the quads which had been cramping.

We ran the rest of the flat trail into Patterdale together at an easy pace; we arrived at the halfway point in just under five hours – 38 minutes down on my predicted schedule.

 

Section 6 – Jealous of two pieces of metal…

Patterdale to Thirlmere 6.9 miles 1:25.36 avg Pace 12:26

SI Time 1:26:31

Climbing up Patterdale - Ultimate Trails 100km

Martin was out of the checkpoint before me and he was armed with poles, I had been discussing poles with Terry Conway earlier during the week and I was seeing how useful they could be as Martin made a dash up to Grizedale Tarn. My quads were still cramping up in the climbs making the long climb up to the tarn arduous, especially as I knew I was loosing time to Martin. My legs were thankful for the easy path around the Tarn and I clocked Martin on the other side of the tarn as I took a time split. I was 4 minutes behind him….I had a moment of negative thinking. I would be happy with 2nd place….no I wouldn’t – I still have around 25 miles to run anything could happen.

I bounded down the technical descent on the side of the Rise Beck, which is not the easiest of descent especially with 38 miles in the legs. I saw the flagged route the other side of the beck as I neared the bottom but couldn’t see a clear way through the bracken. I opted to carry on down to Dunmail Raise then pick up the path leading to the forest I could see race signs on the path.

I was surprised to see Martin standing down on the road talking to two members of the public, I shouted at him to follow me to the checkpoint.

He arrived at the checkpoint 45 seconds after me and minus his poles, I had a quick refill of my bottle and downed two cups of diluted coke, I spied some bags of crisps and grabbed a handful of crisps as I headed out of the checkpoint to cross the busy A591.

 

Section 7 – You call this a Bridle Way?

Thirlmere to Whatendlath 4.9 miles 1:05:45 avg Pace 13:24

SI Time 1:06:33

I knew as I left the checkpoint that the course was going to be longer than 100km (62 miles) as my Garmin was reading 40 miles and I knew from having recced the sections ahead that it was still 22 miles to Ambleside. I also knew that the worst climb of the route lay ahead! It was a nice easy road run to the start of what has to be the worse Bridle Way in the whole of the Lake District. I was also surprised that Martin hadn’t caught me back up on the road section.

The Bridle Way up to the Harrop Tarn is a rock strewn bracken climb with rock steps set at awkward angles. My quads were cramping up with every leg raise.

The cramping reduced as the trail became easier to run until the flagged route went across some open fell away from Blea Tarn rather than following the footpath, I was cursing Gaynor Prior course director and this wasn’t the route I had recced. 42 miles in my legs I was not enjoying the tussocks.

Thankfully the route down into Watendlath was a on the footpath and made for a quick descent into the checkpoint.

 

Section 8 – ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Whatendlath to Langdales 10.5 miles 2:06:29 avg Pace 12:03

SI Time 2:04:15

From Watendlath the route went down to Rossthwaite Bridge, as I flew down the interspersed technical rocky bridle way my quads cramped up again my quads were solid till I got to the bottom of the descent. The cramp eased as I relaxed my stride along the Cumbrian Way, until I stumbled and tripped over and hit the rocky trail! I was winded and had cut my right knee but I hadn’t dropped the piece of Clif Bar I was eating.

My legs felt really heavy and tired my pace was slow I was struggling to run under 8 min/mile. And the path along Langstrath felt never ending….

I could see the climb up Stake Pass but it just was not getting any closer!

I should have eaten more but my mind was more concerned at being caught by Martin Cox as I was unaware that he had gone off course.

At the top of Stakes Pass I remembered to eat and was greeted by a cheerful group of marshals whose enthusiasm on seeing me helped me to pick my pace back up as I enjoyed the long descent down in the Langdales.

My legs were no longer cramping up on the climbs or descents they were just numb and dull…

The sun felt warmer down in the Langdale Valley and I wished I had some sun cream on my fair skin! My pace picked up along the valley bottom as I knew I was finally getting closer to Ambleside and then Brockhole.

Langdales - Ultimate Trails 100km

Section 9 – The gloves are off

Langdale to Ambleside 7.1 miles 1:14:14 avg Pace 10:25

SI Time 1:16:40

It was so tempting to stop for some proper food at Stickle Barn I was feeling hungry for some proper food…I opted instead for a few handfuls of crisps washed down with two cups of watered down coke.

I left the checkpoint with half banana to eat and I had finally taken my gloves off!

As I left the checkpoint the group of visitors at the pub gave me a large cheer as they heard what I had already completed, I raised my hand in acknowledgment and found a new strength in my legs.

I was running again on a familiar trail which I had run along regularly when training for the Lakeland 50. I soon found myself on the flat farm track leading to Chapel Stile and then a climb up to High Close Youth Hostel.

It was feeling really nice and warm in the late afternoon sunshine.

I was surprised when running along by Loughrigg Tarn to see that race route being taken across two stiles and away from the Bridle Way…Stiles why stiles! I had forgotten my legs were no longer cramping up as I gingerly climbed over the stiles.

I stopped for a quick top up of my water bottle at a stream before I began the decent into Ambleside.

 

Section 10 – Home time

Ambleside to Brockhole 4.5miles 45:30 avg Pace 10:05

SI Time 46:30

I got a warm welcome by the guys at the checkpoint in Ambleside. I had taken an Espresso Clif Gel just before I get into the checkpoint.

I had two cups of watered down Coke – notice a theme here?

And I headed into the busy shopping area of Ambleside, running past shoppers and tourist oblivious that I had already covered 100km of Lakeland trails. The route back to Brockhole was on the reverse route of the Lakeland 50, the climb up to Skelgill Woods was not pleasant. There appeared to be no race route signs in the woods, I was grateful for local knowledge.

Once up on Robin Lane it was a nice decent which I had been running up 11 1/2 hours before, I was over 90 minutes down on my predicated finish time, as I ran into Brockhole I was now determined to run in 11hrs 40mins and managed a sprint finish around the finishing field and under the finish banner.

Reflection

The Ultimate Trails Lakeland 100km (108km) was a long tough day in the office. The course takes in some beautiful Lakeland Bridleways and some of the toughest ones with only going through pass and valleys and has the makings of becoming a Lakeland Classic Ultra.

The teams at the checkpoints were incredibly friendly, helpful and supportive.

But there were some teething issues, I was amazed at having to pay to park at Brockhole Visitor’s centre at £8 a day! Which for competitors who were staying there for three days would have worked out at £24?

There wasn’t any finishers’ medal or memento as had been advertised in the details and the post race meal consisted of a bowl of sweet potato & coconut soup – not really what you need when you’ve been eating a lot of sweet energy foods for 108km.

Photos courtesy of James Kirby and Dave Troman