Arriving at Cumbria University campus in Ambleside it suddenly hit me – I was actually going to have to run this race! It may sound silly, but this has been a distant and far off target for so long it didn’t quite seem real. But with banners, signs and race notifications everywhere there was no escaping the fact this was happening!
Walking into registration, I couldn’t tell if I was terrified or excited. Luckily there were lots of friendly officials to gentle usher me, slightly bewildered, through the process. Kindly pointing out, when filling out the back of my race number, one of the boxes actually said ‘Current Medication‘ not ‘Current Condition‘ which I had confidently filled in as good! Looking around the room, everyone seemed very professional (but friendly), most wearing t-shirts and kit from previous races – proving they had done this sort of thing before. Amongst them, I spotted Zoe, who I had met at the LSU training weekend LSU training weekend. Another familiar face was a pleasant surprise and I was really happy to see she had decided to put in a last minute entry.
Soon it was time for the pre-race briefing from RD Charles Sproson. Asides from covering the essential topics there was a lot of mention of the bad weather course and the weather forecast – which having been beautiful all week looked horrendous. The decision was to gather a littler earlier before the start and make the call in the morning. I hadn’t given much thought to the bad weather course until now – on the one hand, it was shorter! But on the other, I had trained for the full course, and the scrambles were probably my strongest area. All things considered, I was keeping everything crossed for the Met office to be wrong.
Meeting over it was time for an early night. Given the fact I tend always to run a little late, Tom and I had decided to stay on campus, so we were effectively right next to the start for the next morning. So after the standard supper of pasta, we set the alarms for 5 am and headed to bed.
Morning came around far faster than I wanted and we woke up to the predicted bad weather. The rain was coming down in stair rods with 50mph winds – fab! Eating breakfast, I have to admit, I couldn’t see how the full course would be going ahead. Full waterproofs on we headed to the start to get our GPS trackers. Here, to our amazement we were told the great news, we would be racing the whole course, but the safety team would make decisions ‘on the fell’ as to whether to keep Pinnacle Ridge in as the lead runners approached it – this was the perfect solution.
Standing at the start line felt epic! Slight dread, adrenaline, excitement, fear – it all went through me. What if I was too slow? Was I ready? Could I do this? Before I had an answer to any of these questions, we were off!
The first major climb was Fairfield, alongside the climb to Pinnacle Ridge, this was a section I was most nervous about. However, the somewhat biblical weather seemed to provide a distraction. Struggling to stay on my feet with the strength of some of the gusts and trying my best to keep sight of the orange flags marking the route in the clag, the top of the first climb came faster than anticipated and I was soon dropping down to the first checkpoint.
Little side note: to the person at CP1 who asked me if I was Mud, Chalk and Gears – I was both surprised and flattered to be recognised, it that was one of the highlights of my day – so thank you!
The next section up Helvellyn to the first ridge was really tough. For me, not being able to see particular far due to the fog, was hard. My pace was down, and I felt isolated, struggling to distract myself from contemplating what lay ahead. I was also finding it difficult to move as quickly as I would have liked on the descents as everything was so slippery. However, despite the winds, Swirral and Striding Edge came quickly providing a welcome distraction and were so much fun. I was thrilled to see they had been left in and ticking both of these off boosted my confidence back up. It was also at this point Joe Faulkner, and his team made the call to remove the scramble over Pinnacle Ridge – sad as this was, I think other runners would agree with me, it was 100% the right decision given the conditions and certainly didn’t make the race any less challenging.
Coming down off Eagle Crag, I realised, my previous struggles with the weather had left me very tight on time. It was time to suck it up and push on to Patterdale. My only thought was – I was making that cutoff, and if not, I was certainly going to give it my all trying. The section from St Sunday Crag to the road leading to the school at Patterdale seemed endless. I was tired, hungry and really wanted to stop to take off my waterproof trousers but this was not happening – getting there was the only goal.
I made it to Patterdale just 5 minutes before the checkpoint closed. This was just enough time to get the waterproof trousers off, down some soup and clean up a few minor injuries. Andrew was also there to provide some choice motivational words before closing off the checkpoint – in short, I really needed to get a move on to make the next cut off at Kirkstone. I ensured Andrew I was psyched (feeling anything but) and promptly ran the wrong way down the road out of the checkpoint!
Soon back on track, I had to focus to get into the right headspace. Pushing to get to Patterdale on time had drained me, but there was no time to slow down and recover, I needed to shove those feelings to one side and crack on. It was also at this point I realised how hungry I was – it turns out the weather in the first half had also distracted me from eating enough, and I was now running on empty. Food every half an hour or so was now an essential to finishing.
The climb to The Knott fluctuated between feeling determined and strong and the total opposite. Nearing the top of the ascent the clouds cleared to reveal the next section of the course – Blea Water – one of the only bits I had not recceed. In all honesty, seeing this for the first time nearly broke me – it was harder than I anticipated – a technical descent down followed by a steep rocky climb. At this stage, I was fairly sure making the cut off was unlikely.
Two other runners, Steph Scott and Louise Staples, were close by – we had all made Patterdale at a similar time and heard Andrew’s words of warning. These two ladies were amazing – knowing there were three of us, all with the same aim, at similar points on the course kept me going. Seeing Steph and Louise striding up the climb from Blea Water gave me the motivation I needed to pick the pace back up and a glimmer of hope that we might just make the cut off!
When I had recceed the course High Street to Kirkstone seemed really long and was not a section I’d enjoyed at all. In contrast, oddly enough in the race itself – this section was my favourite bit! In my mind, I had nothing to loose in pushing myself even harder. A combination of this new lease of energy and the eminent deadline meant I ran this section fast (for me!) and fluently. It was great, and a moment I will not forget. It taught me how much further you could push yourself when you think you have nothing left. Coming over Stony Cove Pike to see the aid station and realising it was achievable to get there in time was one of the best feelings of the day.
From here things only got better. I was delighted to see Steph and Louise made the aid station too, and after refuelling on a lot of coke and water, we set off to tackle the final climb of the day, Red Scree. This went quicker than expected and despite being a tough ascent, the thought that I actually might finish the race kept me going. We reached the top just in time to get out the head torches as the light was fading fast. Still tight on time (cut off for the finish was 9 pm) we all knew there was no leeway for getting lost and were eagle-eyed in spotting the flags and night markings on the route. Running to the finish in the dark and rain with these two ladies was an absolute pleasure and I am so happy we crossed the line within seconds of each other! Thanks, Louise and Steph for not only being great company but also (maybe not knowingly) keeping me going through a few very low patches!
Crossing that finish line was something for many points of the race (and in training before) I never thought would happen. To be honest 16 weeks ago I am not even sure I would call myself a runner. Yes, I ran, but it was intermittent, and the longest distance I had ever run was a half marathon when I was 18!
But I did it! It took 13hrs 45mins (I like to think I was getting the most out of the day possible!) and was one of the toughest things I have ever done but I am really proud to say I finished.
It has taken a while to sink in. Sometimes we fail to stop and absorb the moment and actually pat ourselves on the back for what we have achieved. I know I am certainly guilty of just throwing myself straight into the next challenge. But a certain song came on the radio driving back from work on Monday – it hit a chord and made me appreciate I had achieved the goal I had set myself. So this is my victory dance song! For me, if there were one song that could sum up my race it would be this. Unfortunately you lucky people didn’t get to see the dance itself – it was pretty special!
Cheesy reflection over! Thanks again to all involved in putting on this awesome event – you could see the hard work that had gone in. From the Race Directors, Charlie and Andrew to the sponsors and all the marshals that braved the cold and cheered us on all day you all were amazing.
Only other thing to add – Awesome race! BRING ON NEXT YEAR’S LAKES SKY ULTRA!
For more information and reports on the race just check out Lakes Sky Ultra’s website or Facebook page.