My Journey on the Lakeland 100
by Pip Haworth
How do you run 100 miles? I got asked this a few times over the weekend by competitors on the Lakeland 50, the answer was always, “I have no idea!”
Grab a brew, this is a long one.
I don’t know at what point I thought it would be a good idea to run 100 miles, the idea crept in when I started running ultra distances. It was a bit of, “I wonder how far I could run”, and also a competitive streak of, “I want to run further than my parents have.”
I ran the Lakeland 50 in 2021 and came in under 16 hours, which meant I would qualify to do the 100 the following year. I didn’t really think about it much until September, when entries opened again, but I had the date logged in my phone and was ready online at 9am… Of course I was going to enter it, I’d already entered Cape Wrath, why not do two ridiculous races. I hit send and awaited my fate. The Lakeland 50 is always over subscribed, and many people who apply for entry don’t get in, the 100 has less applications so pretty much everyone who signs up and has a qualifying time gets a place. So unfortunately, my fate is sealed, It’s going to be one hell of a year.
I wouldn’t say I really trained specifically for the 100, I trained for Cape Wrath and rode off the back of that, but there was a lot of doubt around whether this was a good idea. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with doing two massive races two months apart. Was I going to be able to recover? What if Cape Wrath totally broke me and I wouldn’t even make the 100 start line? But If I couldn’t complete Cape Wrath would I mentally be able to do the 100? Fear is a great motivator, my training went well and I finished Cape Wrath with no (real) injuries and a new confidence in my abilities.
So the run up to the 100 was mostly recovery and getting back to running, then suddenly the week of the race was upon us (and it’s probably time to start thinking about it) I struggled not to pack absolutely everything, had worries about the weather “what if it just rains the whole time?!”, and had to hold back on the food prep, you get fed like a king on this race.
I was dropped off in Coniston early Friday morning, pitched my tent that I wasn’t actually going to sleep in and headed to race registration where I was surprised to see more keen 50 participants registering than 100’s.
The rest of the day was spent eating and attempting to sleep, which I gave up on and went to find some friends helping out at the event instead.
The race briefing for the Lakeland events is always worth going to in person, Marc Laithwiate has a way of speaking that is really inspiring, and gets you all riled up and ready to run. On the way out of briefing I saw Charlie Bradshaw and we had a brief chat about the race to come, she left me with the words “You’ve done something harder, you’ll be fine”.
I wasn’t very nervous or worried about this race, and I wasn’t sure why until a few days before.
100 miles is a very long way on foot, but It’s also really hard to think about the fact that you’re about to run that far. It’s just really hard to visualise 100 miles. In my head i was just going out running for a weekend, there were some places I was going to stop and have some food, maybe a little nap if I needed, but I had no expectations for myself apart from the fact that I was going to finish it. So on the start line, after the traditional race rendition of Nessun Dorma which translates as ‘None Shall Sleep’ I set off running 100 miles.
It took about 10 miles for me to settle into it, until then it was a struggle. A friend had said to me before setting off, don’t go out fast, you’ll feel like you’re at the back at Seathwaite, by Braithwaite you’ll have overtaken loads of people, which was a very accurate description. The sun had began to go down before I reached Boot, but before dropping down into Eskdale I was treated to the view of Scafell and Scafell Pike at dusk, It was silent apart from the footsteps of other runners and there wasn’t a breath of wind, a beautiful corner of the Lake District that I rarely visit. It began to rain at Boot, but the air was heavy and muggy so I didn’t bother with a waterproof. I had a quick bite to eat before heading up to Burnmoor Tarn, no navigation required, just follow the trail of headlights curving and zigzagging over the moor. Wasdale was manned by Cruella Deville and the Dalmations, again I barely stopped, just grabbed a few snacks and headed towards Black Sail Pass.
The wind picked up as I (finally) reached the top of the pass, and a light drizzle had decided that consistency is key and was set in for the night. The decent to the Youth Hostel was slow going but I was soon heading up the other side to Scarth Gap and onto Buttermere checkpoint (Day of the Dead themed). By now I was tired, and was pretty much falling asleep on my feet. My eyes had been drooping and threatening to close completely on the flat track into the village. It was time for a coffee.
Caffeined up, and with a hotdog, cake and a handful of Haribo fried eggs in my belly (a picture of health) I cracked on up Newlands pass.
From here I knew exactly where I was going, which I was greatful for as my main goal at the moment was convincing myself to stay awake. This leg felt surprisingly short, the sky started to brighten slightly as I turned off to Barrow Door, and by Braithwaite my torch was off and I could see the cloud sat low over Keswick. I pulled into our first indoor checkpoint and was hit with a wall of damp heat and my first view of he walking wounded. People had started suffering with their feet, and the floor was littered with socks and off cuts of tape. I hadn’t relised how wet I was until i was inside, but with it being warm and wet, there wasn’t anything I could do to make it better.
I trudged on along the road and through Keswick in a trance, equally trying to stay awake and buzzing with more caffeine. Up Spooney Green lane, along the Latrigg path, to the Car Park and up onto Glenderaterra. At this point I experienced another wave of sleep despite it now being light out, my eyes began to droop and I had to fight to keep them open. I then caught a glance over the edge, It is a loooong way down into the valley, nothing like the fear of falling to wake you up. The Blencathra centre (Rock and Roll theme) came and went along with another coffee (this will be a running theme) then down onto the railway line, past Threlkeld Quarry and onto the coach road, where the sun graced us with its presence (hallelujah).
I usually dread the coach road. It’s long, and more uphill than I ever remember. But this time I enjoyed it. I was fully awake now, jacket off and enjoying the occasional spurts of running and quiet chats with other competitors. I breezed past the Dockray checkpoint and before I knew it, I was pulling into Dalemain where my Mum, Meg and my Grandparents were waiting, It’s always a boost to see some familiar faces and we had a quick chat before I headed into the checkpoint where me drop bag awaited. I scoffed down a plate of stew and followed it with cake and custard while sorting my feet (they were gross, and the blisters had begun, but you can’t expect much less after sixty miles in the warm and wet) changing my clothes, brushing my teeth and restocking my race bag. I gave my family a quick hug and walked out of there feeling like a new person, ready for the next 45 miles.
Fusedale Is the biggest climb on the whole course, and one which everyone dreads. On the Lakeland 50 you arrive early afternoon, so usually the hottest part of the day, but I arrived late afternoon and would say it was almost pleasant, especially with the power of fresh socks and custard. After cresting the top of the climb I ran down the grassy decent of Brampton Common and had a moment of marvelling at my years achievements and feeling on top of the world. At this point I knew for definite that I was going to make it, the worst was over, and there was nothing (unless I broke both my legs) to stop me now! I took the time to enjoy this feeling, it would soon be dark again, and I knew that the second night would be harder than the first.
I was absolutely right. The second night brought hallucinations.
The rain started again at the top of the next pass, Gatescarth. This time it was cold and more than a light drizzle, this was testing rain, that seeps into your t-shirt despite a waterproof and makes you think, why the hell am I here.
I saw my first cow at the bottom of the pass, the drystone wall covered in lichen was the culprit, and I couldn’t stop seeing them. Then the cats started appearing and on the way up the next pass to Kentmere I saw all sorts of things. A skeleton in the middle of the path made me stop dead, until I realised is was just a tuft of grass. I pushed on, reduced to a walk because the hallucinations were so distracting and my eyes were drooping shut again. Just make it to Kentmere. I was starting to get pretty cold, and very wet. Why did I decide to do another bloody stupid race. Why does it ALWAYS rain on me?!
Thankfully, this isn’t my first rodeo, I knew this was part of the Ultra cycle, and this phase would pass, you’ve just got to let it run it’s course.
Kentmere was warm and loud. 80’s themed and the home of the smoothies. I found a chair and threw on some layers. A volunteer brought me some pasta and a strawberry banana smoothie and I sat and stared into space. The checkpoint was full, which I found a bit surprising until someone walked in and shouted, the bus is here, and nearly everyone walked out and left a few of us wondering what was happening. It was the bus for the dropouts, but it didn’t cross my mind to get on it.
I left Kentmere with a few others and we trudged our way to Ambleside, a section which isn’t hugely memorable. I saw plenty more things that weren’t there, including a tank blocking the path, but at this point I’d learnt to ignore them.
Ambleside was a ghost town. I scrambled into the checkpoint (didn’t get the theme, there was a mime artist and a lady on a unicorn) grabbed a sandwich, downed another coffee and left. I had a friend at the Chapel Stile checkpoint that I knew was waiting to see me.
I had tagged along with a couple of other 100 runners at this point, and along the side of Elterwater I chanced a look at the time. So far I’d been a good hour and a half or more ahead of every checkpoint closure, but after night two the cutoffs were looming and I made the others aware that we needed to get a shuffle on. We marched towards Chapel Stile where I had my last hallucination of swans in the middle of the road and arrived into the Star Wars marquee with 45 minutes in the bank.
I was handed a bowl of soup and stood eating and chatting with my friend Kim about the race so far. She’d ran it a few years back and reassured me that I had plenty of time to make it to the finish line so I pushed on into the daylight a second time.
Blea Tarn, Blea moss, down the road to Fell foot bridge, up the next climb, well done, good job, we’re nearly there, wait, you’re a hundred runner!! You’re amazing!! How do you do it……. Honestly, maybe it’s the coffee.
Tilberthwaite checkpoint has no cut off for hundred runners, it’s 5k from the end, parkrun, but it’s the most brutal parkrun of your life. I crammed some cake in my mouth, dropped a fiver into the Jacobs ladder donation bucket and smashed up the final climb.
Finally, i dropped back onto the miners road and it’s a downhill run into Coniston.
Mum had said to me a few days before the race, when i was experiencing some pre race panic, just to remember that this is the first time I will ever run 100 miles. I will never experience the first time again, so enjoy the whole journey, the prep, the stress, the build up, nerves and rising excitement.
As I ran down the hill into Coniston I thought about this, this is the one and only time i will finish my first 100 mile event. I couldn’t help but smile as I ran though the streets in the sunshine to cheers and applause. Charlie jumped out her van like she’d never ran 100 miles in her life and gave me a high five, I saw friends wearing medals who had also completed one of the races, and I ran through the finish gantry 105 miles later, in 39 hours and 32 minutes.
It’s a week later, and I’ve slept and eaten a ridiculous amount since then and thought a lot about my two big journeys this year. Both very different in their own right, but i’m not sure I could have got around the 100 without Cape Wrath. Maybe I could, who knows, but it was definitely made easier. I knew how to deal with myself at the lowest points, I knew which hurts i could ignore, I knew how to look after my feet and eat well and not dread sections of the route. Maybe i’m getting good at this sort of stuff, but what’s next? It’s a dangerous thought!