This was the third time I’d turned up in Coniston on the last weekend in July to start this race. The UTLD has grown from strength to strength over the years and the atmosphere is always fantastic. In 2014 I finished in 25:44 which I was really happy with. At the time I was relatively new to ultra-running but as time went by and I had a few more races under my belt, I started to realise I could probably run a bit faster if I tried again. I returned in 2015 with the intention of doing just that, but it wasn’t to be. I had a viral illness and was feeling rough even before I started. I ended up pulling out around the 40 mile mark. So I was back in 2016 to have one final crack at the Lakeland 100. I was very aware of Lizzie Wraith’s record of 24:15 which she set in 2013. It was a good deal faster than my 2014 time, but I thought that if everything went to plan I’d have a chance of breaking it. This was my main goal. Lower down the list of goals were winning and beating my 2014 time.
Despite working nothing but night shifts for the whole of July, I though my preparation was good. I hadn’t been ill (which was my biggest triumph) and I’d managed to train consistently. The weather was looking good. I was ready.
My plan was to enjoy myself, eat as much as I could and generally look after myself the for the first 60 miles, then see what happened. As everyone knows, the race starts in Dalemain. The reality is that I’m not sure anyone can run 60 miles and still be completely fresh, but I did my best anyway.
I really enjoyed chatting to fellow competitors whilst going up the first few hills. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday evening. It was a perfect temperature and the views were amazing. The men were all holding gates open for me, even if they had to wait a while for me to get there - very gentlemanly! I was in 15th at the first CP at Seathwaite then gradually picked my way up to 5th at the fourth CP at Buttermere, 26 miles in. I had the record splits written on a bit of paper in my pocket which I had purposefully not looked at since last year. I didn’t look at them too early on as I didn’t want them to affect my pace at all. If I had been going slower than the splits it may have made me run faster, which would not have been a good thing early in the race. I did look at Buttermere – I was 24 minutes up on the record.
I spent the majority of the night section running on my own. I wasn’t particularly tired or bored but I will admit that I got a bit lonely. I know the route well so there wasn’t navigation to think about. I longed for the sun to come up. Eventually it did as we ran beside Ullswater, and everything was better again. I was running with Michael Jones at this point (who went on to win the race). He was looking really strong and could clearly be going a lot quicker than me but he kept pulling ahead then waiting at gates to hold them open for me. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so kind he could have got an even better time! As soon as we hit the road section before Dacre, he disappeared into the distance.
It was a relief to reach Dalemain. Mainly psychologically as from here onwards the end is in sight. I was now 1hr 4 minutes up on the record. Matt, my boyfriend, had got up early to meet me there with Dingo, our Australian Kelpie. I ate half of a ‘boil in the bag’ all day breakfast (cold of course), changed my shoes and socks (from Salomon s-lab sense ultra to Inov-8 X-talons – neither your classic 100 mile trail shoe!) and was off. Marco Consani had arrived into Dalemain as I was about to leave. I assumed, if his pacing tactics were anything like his wife Debbie’s, he would be passing me shortly. I was right and he passed me before Howtown. I managed to maintain about a 5 minute gap between us up until Kentmere, then he started to pull away from me again. I wasn’t really trying to catch him but it was quite amusing as I was in a similar position in 2014, but I was chasing his wife! I didn’t want to get sucked in to racing the men too early on. I wanted to concentrate on my own race.
The reception in Ambleside was amazing. Matt was there again, as was my brother and his family who had come to support. I thought I managed to maintain what felt like a reasonable pace up until Ambleside. Thereafter I started to struggle. Perhaps it was because the terrain gets flatter and more monotonous, or maybe, having run 90 miles, it would have happened anyway. I wanted the pain to be over, but more than anything I wanted the force-feeding myself to be over. I had been eating constantly for over 21 hours and I was sick to death of it. Tracy Dean, the Lakeland 50 record holder, was out running the 50 course as a ‘training run’ (she is completely mad). I saw her several times on the ‘post-Ambleside’ section which was nice and helped me take my mind off the pain in my legs.
As I came over the top of the final hill and could see the descent to Coniston, Matt appeared again with Dingo. After a quick ‘well done’ he dashed off down the rocky hillside at a dangerous pace shouting ‘come on, come on!’. Assuming he wanted me to follow I did my best to keep up. An elderly women walking down the path said ‘careful dear!’ to me as I hurtled past. I later found out that Matt was actually shouting at the dog to ‘come on’ and didn’t really expect me to follow him. He just wanted to get to the finish well before me in order to take some photos.
I finished in 21:29, 2hrs 46mins quicker than the previous record. If someone had told me when I signed up I was going to run that, I wouldn't have believed them. To hear that Michael Jones had won did not surprise me at all. 16 people finished in sub-24hrs. In 2014 only 6 runners managed this, which goes to show just how quickly the race and caliber of competition is growing.
Thank you to Marc Laithwaite, all the other organisers, marshals and sponsors who, yet again, put together a truly fantastic event. I also owe a lot to my coach, Ian Sharman, who did a great deal in preparing me physically and mentally for the race, and to Raidlight UK and Contours Trail Running Holidays for all their generosity and support.