For the turning of my thirtieth year, I decided to mark the occasion with something memorable. Given that my ability to drink extends to a few glasses of wine, it was never going to involve silly amounts of alcohol and table top dancing. Instead, I decided upon the new Lakes in a Day, an 80km ultra route that would deliver a top-to-toe trail running adventure covering the most dramatic and demanding Lakeland terrain.
Months of training on foot for both the Raidaran and Raid In France gave me some confidence on my feet. I was sure nothing could destroy them in quite the same way. Short of pickling my toes, I thought i’d done enough to be up to the test.
The morning of the race began after a roof top sleep in our friend’s California van, the perfect way to wake up before a long day in the mountains. We set off from the small village of Caldbeck, the race HQ being a quintessentially English pub. On that morning, i’d been given the honour of wearing Jen’s tights, a flashy pair of pink polyester adorned with fairies to celebrate the occasion. Jen was a friend tragically suffering from breast cancer and as a mark of thought for her on this day, I wore the tights to complete my race day outfit. Rest in peace Jen.
Not long before the start, friends completed my get-up with the final accessory; 3 bright balloons tied to my pack. My mission was to arrive at the finish line with them still intact. Moody, misty weather haunted the start, but soon after the off, the sun began to shine through and the rain shifted from the fell tops.
Shortly after the mass start began, we were climbing over High Pike, a bog fest of Lakeland proportions, then on to an ascent of Blencathra, a beautiful and majestic fell with a spicy route choice to greet us on the other side. The rain forced the construction of a manmade bridge and we took it steadily in the beginning, my typical slow starter approach. Quite honestly, dressed as I was, this was never going to be a race face moment – much more an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular journey i’m lucky enough to call my back garden.
Once we’d made the sharp and rocky descent down from Blencathra’s summit, we came to the first food stop -Threlkeld. A feast of epic proportions was laid out in-front of us, even own-branded bags of sweets – a very cute addition to the race! A quick smash and grab at the table and we left for the crushing climb up the notorious Clough Head.
Once at the top, it’s an incredible, undulating ridge run, passing by the Dodds, Raise and Helvellyn – my favourite fell of them all. The most dramatic views can be seen across to the tarns, but at this point we’d found Rob Young, an inspirational runner know as Marathon Man UK, who was on his way to completing a marathon a day for an entire year in aid of children’s charity Dreams Come True. His story was captivating, harrowing and honourable, so for most of that section, my memories are of running and chatting with him, amazed at what he had been through in his life to bring him to this point.
What a rare moment in a race; gaining the insight of strangers and their incredible stories of strength and motivation.
The game of two halves ended after Fairfield; The last climb up was marked by an incredibly rocky, steep, winding path that takes you to the top of this famous horseshoe route. Feeling strong, happy and in great spirits, we chased each other down to the second stop that would mark half way. Ambleside was a welcome marker, where fell meets trail.
Once again, gargantuant portions of food met us as we entered the hall. Only moments in the door, I found out I was first place female. On hearing this news, it was then a speedy transition to get into my trail shoes and after an entire pizza was inhaled, Anthony hurriedly me along to get ahead of the other girls who were fast on my heels.
Uuurgh! That much pizza is not a great move when you want to make off with more than a shuffle. At the moment, Tobias Mews, a super smily and infectiously enthusiastic friend and journalist was making his way along the route. We chatted for some time and then watched him head off into the woods.
At this point, the girl in second was close behind me, and I pushed every ounce of effort to gather pace and keep ahead. I broke away and after winding through the forest towards the shores of Windermere, we had a long and steady trail to compliment the rough and rugged fells of the last 40km. A random meeting on the road has us bump into our friends Ben and Sabrina. There was a short celebratory cheer and even a few metres worth of running as Sabrina jogged alongside me until we broke back into the trees.
Night quickly fell and the navigation was a little more confusing, with a few junctions allowing us to meet other runners less familiar with the area. Our next food stop was Finsthwaite and plenty of soup and bread recharged our grumbling legs and fed not just our stomaches but our souls, keeping us going for the final kilometres. At this stage, my body ached and my feet burned. Regretfully I was wearing a brand new pair of shoes that left me with a beautifully blackened toenail until my next birthday.
Coming in to the final stages of the race it grew dark and with our heads down, we melodically ran through the winding woods. Once again we met Tobias, his cheerful face the perfect antidote to pounding the pavement for the last section into Cartmel. Gathering strength and excitement to get to the finish, I took off like an Olympic sprinter down the road, a new found energy that got me to the final line.
Proud to have made it in one piece, with at least one remaining balloon – I was delighted and relieved to get to the end and come first lady. Rewarding cheers met us at the finish and shortly after, a seat inside and a hot bowlful of chilli to revive the battered and weary bodies.
Tired from 13 hours of running, we all reflected on the amazing route that James and his team has laid out for us. Never has birthday cake the next day been so deserved!
I’d recommend Lakes in a Day to anyone that seeks raw, real running adventures and fantastic feed stations in one! The route is truly testing, summing up the true grit of the Lakes and all the beauty it has to offer.