Today my duty manager at Outward Bound Tony announced I was British ultra trail champion; it was a dream come true. Last year I attempted to race the Lakeland 100 which ended after 30 miles as I suffered in the heat and became ill; I wanted to come back and make amends. This year at work I also really wanted to run a classic 3 week adventure course for 15 -19 year old students, which meant I could only have one day off a week. The Lakeland 50 was my only option and Ally entered me while I was at the CCC. I could not afford to enter the UTMB this year so it was also to be my target race of the year (especially as it was announced as the British Athletics ultra trail championships).
With some good form in early June at Ennerdale fell race, a good block of training and a taper I was feeling confident I could perform by the time I was standing on the start line at Dalemain. With a goal of top 3, and listening to Mark’s briefing, I wasn’t too bothered about the time, I was there to race. My plan was to go with the pace at the front, stay as cool as possible, and fuel and hydrate early and often then see what happened. Looking at the start list; Ben Abdelnoor was missing due to injury so there was no stand out favorite but six guys with winning pedigree and, on their day, a chance to win. These were Stuart Mills, last years 100 winner, Lee Kemp, reigning British Champion, Danny Kendall, star in the Marathon des Sables, Martin Cox, international mountain runner, Marcus Scotney, course record breaker at several ultras this year, and myself.
The gun went and, as expected, Stu took up the lead setting a good pace but one I was happy with; Danny and Lee came too. To my surprise Marcus decided to take a steady start in the heat and, after a steady start, 3 miles in Martin was with us at the front. After Stuarts early pace setting both Danny and Lee took up the reins and seemed comfortable setting the pace, and Martin and I just sat in. Stu dropped back as the tempo increased on the first hill to the Cockpit, which continued at a fast pace down to the Howtown checkpoint. I turned the checkpoint around quickly. I was first away so I could take it easy and save some energy. By this point I had started my keep cool strategy; after racing in the heat in Transvulcania and feeling the difference cold water over the head could make, I took every opportunity to dip my cap or pour a bottle over me. This strategy was a winner (I have fairly often in the past failed to race well in the heat).
Fusedale would be the first real test of climbing strength and where Martin made a strong move late on up the climb and, although I struggled to cover the move, we had put 10 seconds on Danny and Lee by the top. We were caught on the way down to Haweswater but as the slope steepened I decided to take the lead and use my downhill strength to test the water and set the pace. I wanted to keep it steady along Haweswater as this was the windless heat trap so I let Lee to take up the reigns but a short distance later he stepped aside and was gone. I was then back in the lead coming into Mardale checkpoint so, with Martin and Danny following, I went for another quick turnaround.
I dibbed the checkpoint turned round hit the river, poured water over my head, filled up my bottle and then was off. I had a 30 second lead and was steady away up Gatesgarth pass, the gap was not closing so I ran strongly down the rough track into Long Sleddale. I was now alone and going away from Martin and Danny. I like to think I was suffering the least after the early hot pace of the front four but always on the back of my mind was when Marcus was going to come. I had to use several techniques to keep my mindset positive as I was starting to rapidly slow between Kentmere and Ambleside. Ambleside checkpoint was a welcome sight as I was struggling, after a head dip, two cokes, water bottle refill a gel and some positive splits from Ben I started to feel good again, setting off in a steady strong pace towards Langdale. Then it happened, bugger, Marcus was on my shoulder moving like a train just before Elterwater about 40 miles into the race. I thought I had blown it but no I was not going to let this one go I was going to fight. I managed to find some inner strength and find another 2 gears, falling into Marcus’s 6.15 min/mile pace. I was holding on and feeling OK I kept eating, at this pace knowing that if I didn’t I would soon crash. We then ran into Langdale checkpoint together re-hydrated, water over the head and off we went together. I started to think I would soon blow but, it wasn’t me, Marcus started to slow and I took the lead and a gap started to form. I kept it steady and strong, ate some more food, pushed up the climb out of Langdale and the gap grew.
I knew this was my opportunity and I gave it my all, I was now running determined to win this race. I had the belief I could do it and gave it my all to Tilberthwaite. The checkpoint arrived and I was looked after well (as I was at all checkpoints), and left with no one in sight. The dream was becoming reality but the ghost of the Marcus kept me pushing all the way to the top of the hill, as I hit the top I knew then I could enjoy the descent into Coniston as I was not going to be caught now. Running into Coniston the emotion started a tear in my eye and the fist pumping began. I ran into the finish to be crowned winner of the Lakeland 50 and British ultra trail running champion.
I would like to dedicate this race to the memory of my Grandad Tony and my Nanna Pat who both passed away this last month who gave me the strength to fight for the victory and helped make me the person I am today. Thanks to all the event staff and checkpoint volunteers for making it a great event. Sorry I could not stand on stage and collect the prize but I had 11 students to help inspire to realize their potential. Maybe this will help me live another dream of wearing a GB vest! We can keep dreaming.