Parkrun – a free to enter, pleasant sociable 5k run on a Saturday morning with friends, usually followed by a catch up over a brew and some cake.
The only thing this story really has in common with a parkrun is it involves a 5k, Pita was there talking as usual, we had lots of brews and cake, Ray popped up unexpectedly in the most random of places, and we got cheered on by friends and loved ones at the finish line….. Oh and let us not forget a watch!
For those of you who have not run or looked at the route for the Lakeland 50 let me start by adding a little context to this story before we get to the last 5k. The race started at 11:30am on Saturday 29th July at Dalemain estate just above Pooley Bridge. This had been preceded by a Friday afternoon spent in Coniston firstly wrestling with Rays giant new awning and putting up tents before retiring to the pub for a couple of pints and some food. We then watched the 100 mile runners setting off at 6pm into the dark wet mountains for the start of their epic (and somewhat crazy) adventure. Next stop for us was a different pub, some strange looks behind the bar when I ordered Andrea a “pint of” Frulli… “Sir you do know this is very expensive”, another bite to eat, and a few drinks with friends. Then for some the luxury of a night in a camper van, for me the tossing and turning of camping and the constant noise of rain hitting the tent. Anyway, fast forward a few hours, a rushed breakfast, a packed tent for the race brief, a car drive and there we are running 4 miles around Dalemain estate before heading off into the wilderness for the remaining 46 miles of this challenge.
Without going into all the detail let’s just say running a 50 mile race for the first time in your life is hard work, it has taken some real training and certainly for myself seen some real moments of pain and suffering along the way. Our gang decreasing along the way, losing Ray to injury and I had made the decision to run with Pita which was quite a shift from the last few months of my training, which I spent alone for hours upon hours out on the fells and moorland of Lancashire. However, despite the challenge we knew we had done the training and set off with a strange sense of comfort that it was all going to be ok. The route involves navigating (or remembering) your way around 46 miles (after the first 4 loop) of trails through the Lake District starting with a relatively easy climb out of Pooley Bridge towards the Cockpit and then a rolling run parallel to Ullswater to the first checkpoint at Howtown (11.2 miles already in the bag). From there it is the first real test of the day, the long, wet, boggy climb up Fusedale and onto the highest point of the course on High Kop. The hard rain of the last few days had saturated the ground, fortunately for us the weather gods were smiling and the rain was holding back meaning jackets were off… for now. Having made a slow steady start at Dalemain and the stretch into Howtown myself and Pita found ourselves starting to overtake people even on the climbs up and certainly as we descended off High Kop down to Haweswater. Here we got a pleasant surprise as we bumped into Dan, Nic and Badger before we tackled the technical section towards the next checkpoint. It was at this point the challenge started to catch up with us, 19-20 miles in, perhaps having not eaten enough and longing for that checkpoint it all seemed to become a bit too much and certainly for me I found myself tripping up, slipping and my niggles started to hurt more than usual. The welcome site of Mardale Head checkpoint brought with it sandwiches, hot soup and much needed crisps (20.6 miles done).
Seabrook salt and vinegar crisps are just awesome, full unopened bags in hand we set off on the next climb out of Mardale Head up Gatescarth Pass, the crisps to be our reward for reaching the summit of this long drag of a climb. As we plodded our way up the climb, we were constantly overtaking yet again and this continued once we set off running again on the top and the stretch towards Kentmere. Approaching our next checkpoint, we bumped into some more familiar faces cheering us on (Neil and family). Yet more welcome hot food at the Church checkpoint (27.1 miles in) as we devoured the vegetable pasta and filled our pockets with jelly babies. The next stop was the big milestone; we were on our way to Ambleside with the aim of getting there before it was dark. This section includes another testing climb which I think we’d both forgotten about and we made or way up Garburn Pass and onto Garburn road towards Troutbeck, the opportunity to start catching glimpses of Windermere in the distance as the sunset in a lovely red sky giving a sense that it might stay dry for us till the end. As we descended down through the woods from Troutbeck towards Ambleside darkness took hold and we started to debate getting our torches out but as we left the woods and met the tarmac, we knew we would just make it without. Running into Ambleside was a very special moment, one that I found very overwhelming and it messed my head up for a while afterwards, I found it all too much. Tiredness had set in, I guess a sense of urgency, and routine had been established by now. In and out at the checkpoints, no hanging around. As we reached the village centre, we were spotted by Ray who jogged alongside us as we passed the pubs to loud cheers from the locals. As we dropped down towards the checkpoint at the church parish hall we were welcomed by a whole host of familiar faces, too many to recall, high fives, handshakes and hugs as I searched looking for Andrea to say ‘hi’ and give her a hug (34.4 miles done). Wendy was volunteering at Ambleside, all the volunteers were great at every checkpoint but Wendy came straight to us asking if we needed anything. I can’t remember what I ate at this checkpoint, maybe some soup? I was too busy searching for the medics and Vaseline. It felt like we were at the checkpoint ages, as I say I found it all too much, too many people and just the sense of urgency and panic that I just needed to get my head torch on and get running. This was not the finish yet we were congratulated as if it was.
So off we set into the night, head torches on and another 15.6 miles to go. It was probably around 10.30pm at this point. I had stopped one GPS device and started another at Ambleside. Already this was starting to cause me some confusion as I had no real sense of distance covered and was not sure how long we had been out. The 11.30am start was also throwing me, why not 12 midday, calculating maths is hard when you are tired and trying to run in the dark. Pita had also mentioned a few times her battery was starting to run low, at some point it would go completely. I can’t remember when it did but eventually it was just me and my attempt at timekeeping to keep us on track. We made what seemed like steady progress towards the checkpoint at Chapel Stile, this being one of the flattest sections of the course and having the bonus of our growing entourage of supporters seemingly following us and popping their heads up when least expected. We didn’t hang around at Chapel stile (40 miles now done), all this time we had kept on overtaking people and as they sat down in checkpoints we ate on our feet and were in and out, just 10 miles to go now. The section towards Tilberthwaite includes a couple of climbs (one which I had completely forgotten about) and in the dark, it really does test your concentration and ability to think. The boggy section just before the compulsory unmanned electronic dibber at Castle Howe forcing us high and wide away from the natural line in an attempt to avoid sinking in the mud. As we hit the tarmac before the rocky technical section at Runestone quarry the first signs of the rain that was to come, the temperatures started to drop and the jackets were now on. A few more positions gained as we ran the last stretch towards the shining beacon of a checkpoint in the distance and the line of head torches heading up the final climb of the route. I was in a bit of a mess as we hit the checkpoint, I think I had gotten too cold and I desperately tried to eat something but my stomach was having none of it. A cup of tea, a couple of crisps and a few jelly babies is all I could stomach (46.5 miles in the bag).
So, this brings us back to parkrun. However, this is not 9am on a sunny Saturday morning in Cuerden Valley, its now sometime well after midnight, all sense of true time has disappeared, the heavens have opened, head torches were dimming and we set off up the Tilberthwaite steps into the thick fog knowing only “one more parkrun” sat in the way of us becoming legends. For some reason, I had found myself feeling strong on each of the big climbs that immediately followed a checkpoint and this was no exception. A renewed sense of urgency and energy was definitely needed here as this is probably the most technical and dangerous section of the course made a whole lot worse by tiredness and the dark, never mind the thick fog that had set in and the rain. By now it was lashing it down but it was strangely refreshing. I remember saying to Pita I was glad it rained, it made the whole thing feel that much more challenging and we had sampled some of what the 100 runners had to deal with the night before. So here we were, it was dark, wet, it was the early hours of the morning, we had run over 46 tough hilly miles and in my mind I was thinking it would take us nearly 2 hours to complete this last 5k. This would be the slowest and hardest parkrun ever. We steadily made our way up along Crook Beck towards our final summit still overtaking people even at this late stage, finally reaching the descent down to the old miner’s path at the foot of Coniston old man. All this time I had been trying to keep an eye on my watch. At some point, I had changed the display to show the actual clock time so in my mind that is what the display was showing me. As we reached the miners path I did some calculations and my watch was displaying 05:15 (I think). How could this be, no way had it taken us nearly 7 hours from Ambleside, or had it? We had been out a long, long time in the dark, Pita’s watch battery ran out long ago, I had swapped devices, we had no true sense of time, distance etc. All we knew was we had made it off the last climb and we had under a mile to go. I broke the news to Pita; I established in my mind that if we pushed on we would just make it to the finish in under 18 hours. We were both feeling somewhat disappointed with that, ever since leaving Ambleside we had been talking about 16 hours or maybe even just under. Neither of us could work out what had happened but never mind, we jogged along towards the finish convincing ourselves we had done great, we had finished and that’s all that mattered.
Then out of nowhere this strange figure appeared stood in the darkness under an umbrella. Just like at parkrun it was Ray, popping up where you least expect him near the end. Words were muttered in passing and we told him we were not hanging around, we wanted desperately to finish under the 18 hour mark. Ray was confused by what I had said, he shouted that it was sometime after 3am not the 5am I had convinced myself it was. He was right; surely it would be coming light if it was 5am. I looked again at my watch, it was no longer displaying the actual time, it was displaying duration; 5 hours something since we left Ambleside. Wow, this was a rush, myself and Pita could hardly contain our excitement as we high fived and raced off. A quick calculation in my head, we could actually get back in under 16 hours. As we hit the tarmac in the village of Coniston familiar yet tired and wet faces cheered us on from under the petrol station, this time there was no time to stop, the sprint finish was on. I got caught up in the moment, shouting at Pita to get a move on, the clock was ticking we would just do it, could we make it? We both crossed the line together, we attempted to dib in at the same time but Pita’s didn’t work first time. As we were escorted into the Marquee and announced as “50 finishers” to loud cheers our entourage of support still going strong. The dibbers were removed; the all-important results print outs handed to me. Pita had wandered off somewhere at that point but I found her to break the news. We had made up 2 hours in that sprint finish; we finished in 15 hours 54 mins! It is now 3.30am, Sunday 30th July, we were saturated with rainwater, we were tired but wired, surrounded by loved ones and friends and we were now Lakeland legends…. Oh and technically, we qualified for entry to the 100.
The route is (drum roll) 50 miles long; the profile includes 9,728 feet of climbing and over 10,000 feet of descent so it’s safe to say it’s quite lumpy.
722 started, only 662 finished
The winner did it in 7 hours 34 mins, the first lady did 8 hours 2 mins.
The last person to finish took 23 hours 38 mins
We left our first checkpoint Howtown, in position 575 and finished in 456, overtaking steadily along the way.
We were joined by fellow red rose runners / legends
David Brunton – 10hr 38
Stuart McNair – 12hr 24
Glynis Leo – 14hr 00
Shane Cliffe – 15hr 16
The route map