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Lakeland 50

29/07/2015

The Lakeland 50 is regarded as one the greatest ultra running and walking challenges in Europe. It is run over the second half of the Lakeland 100 Ultra Tour of the Lake District, completing the final 50 miles of the 100 course. The Lakeland 100 starts at 6pm on the Friday evening and the Lakeland 50 starts at 11:30am on the Saturday morning of race weekend. The 50 however is not the ‘easy option’. To complete it requires a huge commitment, firstly to train for it and then to run it. And then you need more commitment and determination to actually finish it when many who have attempted it over the years have not.

 

This year’s edition of the race provided competitors with almost perfect running conditions; and despite this some of the hot favourites to win the race did not finish the race.  This goes to show this is not a challenge to be undertaken lightly. DRC members Susan Gallagher and Vicky Hart both knew this was going to be a huge challenge. Susan described it as being “the toughest running challenge she’d ever attempted.” Whilst Susan and Vicky had different goals for the race they were both approaching it with a canny attitude – taking it very cautiously in the first half of the race, especially on the huge climb from Howtown up the Fusedale Valley, over the highest point of the race at High Kop, followed by Low Kop and descending into the Haweswater Valley along to the second checkpoint at Mardale Head. They had been warned prior to race that it is at this point most competitors will pull out of the race.  Having already climbed over 2,500 feet to then be faced with the ascent over Gatesgarth Pass, a steep rocky climb of constant switchbacks can prove too much for many. And the climbs don’t stop there. The race route then has another shorter climb before it descends into the pretty village of Kentmere where runners are refuelled at checkpoint 3. Another brutal climb up and over the Garburn Pass follows before descending towards Troutbeck, and another smaller and more runnable, less rocky climb that then leads you down through farmland and woods into Ambleside. The support en-route for the runners is amazing, and appears in the most unexpected of places, but the town of Ambleside is buzzing with excitement and huge cheers for the runners as they make their way through town and down to the checkpoint at the Parish Hall at mile 34. After a short steep climb out of the village there are some beautiful undulating and flatter sections for runners to run along (if they still can!) before reaching the Langdale checkpoint. The penultimate section is 7 miles of runnable single track, rocky climbs, technical scrambles through head-height bracken and a few hundred metres of tarmac road – everything is thrown at the runners at this point. Most runners will be doing these final 2 sections in the dark which makes them even trickier. But the ‘best’ is yet to come. Upon leaving Tilberthwaite at mile 47, the final checkpoint, runners have to climb the ‘stairway to heaven’, continue up the side of a steep ravine, negotiate a tricky-to-navigate climb across moorland before they appear at the top of the final, 1200+ metre brutal, technical rocky descent towards the miners road that will lead the runners down into Coniston and the much anticipated finish line.

Susan was feeling strong as she climbed over the Gatesgarth Pass, and despite foot problems having started earlier in the race, she arrived in Kentmere full of positivity and this meant a strong ascent over Garburn.  The signs of future difficulties were there however, and despite feeling strong, by the time she reached Ambleside her feet needed tending to. She was surprised to find her partner Howard waiting in the checkpoint, but was hugely appreciative that he would be covering the final 16 miles of the race with her. Susan achieved her goal of running the next section to the Langdale Valley but the final two sections were a real battle between the excruciating pain from the blisters on her feet and her desire to complete this tough race. Feeling hugely proud and happy she crossed the finish line with Howard well inside her 16 hour target in a triumphant 15:21, placing 68th lady and 364th overall out of 585 finishers.

Like Susan, Vicky took a calculated approach for the first 20 miles to the Mardale Head checkpoint. Working off a ‘gold target’ schedule for 13 hours, Vicky found herself just 4 minutes behind this as she started the climb up the Gatesgarth Pass. This where it all just started clicking into place for Vicky as she passed runner after runner on the climb and then even more on the descent where so many around her were walking. A really positive run here meant she arrived at Kentmere ahead of her schedule. This was the story for the remainder of her race. Despite the obvious pain that comes with running so far on such rough terrain Vicky felt motivated and strong each time she came into a checkpoint, increasing the gap on her predicted times.  Despite a scary incident with a cow (which chased a runner right in front of her and made threatening movements towards her and runners around her) Vicky was able to keep moving up the field in the final sections. Finishing with a burst of energy through Coniston knowing she’d smashed her target Vicky was overjoyed to cross the line in 12:10 with her husband Paul and children Annabel and Daniel waiting to see her. Vicky finished 19th lady and 154th position overall, having passed 155 runners between the first checkpoint and the finish. Clearly delighted, afterwards Vicky said that she believed it was her best ever race performance.  By remaining so positive throughout the race, she was able to push through the pain barriers and achieve a position and a time she didn’t think was possible.

 

Thanks to the incredible race organisers and all the marshals.  They do a sterling job and create a spectacular event. A special thanks to Susan Graham, Jo Pennington and Jo Needham and to Paul, Annabel and Daniel for their support on the route.  It was greatly appreciated. 

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