The Montane Lakeland 50 2021 - Getting the Band Back Together
On Saturday 24th July 2021 Cathy Cresswell, Amy Naylor (Little Eaton Hornet) and I finally stood on the start line of the Montane Lakeland 50 - 50 miles of unforgiving rough and rocky Lakeland terrain taking in 3100m of ascent.
Feeling unusually relaxed we chilled out on the grass of Dalemain Estate waiting for the 11.30am start. We needed to choose a wave to set off with based on expected finish time but with a distinct lack of urgency, by the time we sauntered down all the pens were full so we stood near the back of a long queue of 1700+ competitors.
A late bus transporting runners meant the start was delayed and when we finally filtered over the start line it was just before midday and scorchio! Spectators were allowed to join us for the first 4 mile lap of the estate grounds so we trotted round the undulating grassy section with Amy’s gym buddies keeping us company, walking all the hills – part of our race strategy as no one wants to peak to soon on a 50 miler! Our only aim was not to DNF and to stick together.
Approximately 7 miles in, we passed through the town of Pooley Bridge and climbed up onto the tops to trot along parallel to the shoreline of Ullswater and to our first checkpoint at Howtown. Lots of congestion along the way with us starting at the back and our first reminder of how tricky underfoot it was when we saw a guy tripped and bleeding, waiting for medical assistance. We reached Howtown after around 2 hours but weren’t expecting the 25 minute queue to get to it. Covid precautions meant marshals had to serve us fluids and food so we spent a good 40 minutes there in total. We hoped runners would spread out and the later checkpoints wouldn’t have the queues.
Leaving Howtown we began the climb up Fusedale, an epic climb which saw us power past a large number of competitors, seeing quite a few already struggling in the heat. Once at the top we trotted down to the edge of Haweswater, a section we weren’t looking forward to with its rocky trip hazards. Although flatter it was still not runnable due to the terrain and congestion. At this point we were starting to see some of the 100 runners who had started at 6pm the previous evening. Seeing those guys pushing through after already 20+ hours on their feet was truly inspirational. Hitting the top of Haweswater we managed to get a bit more running in on the grassier section round to the 2nd checkpoint at Mardale Head. Here we were pleased to see cheese sandwiches and ready salted crisps which we washed down with coke and a cuppa. Amy is gluten free so her first drop bag was here with her food. While we gulped down our cuppa’s Cath did a quick toe repair job on her missing toenail, first and last need of the first aid kit fortunately. She washed down a couple of paracetemol with her cuppa to numb the toe pain and a pre-race Achilles niggle.
Poles (aka cheat sticks) were back out of our packs again for another climb out making our way up to Sadgill. A dreaded long tricky rocky descent, which involved a lot of chuntering about rock but also managed a little rendition of Kenny and Dolly’s Islands in the Stream, and eventually we made it to the village of Kentmere to be greated by amazing fruit smoothies at our 3rd checkpoint. I couldn’t remember which checkpoint the smoothies were at so I could have cried with happiness when I saw them (it’s the little things). We agreed we’d skip the cuppa here so it was something to look forward to at our 4th checkpoint in Ambleside.
Runners were starting to thin out in the next section and at one point we almost took a wrong turn. We didn’t have enough battery life to have navigation on our Garmin’s for the whole race. Fortunately a 100 runner approached so we asked him. At first he said he didn’t know what day it was, but eventually he checked his GPS device and was able to tell us to carry straight on. We hadn’t quite reached Troutbeck road crossing by this time and we had expected to already be near Ambleside for spectating family and friends to cheer us through. Cathy’s husband managed to get a call through to us and let the others know not to worry. He joined us at Troutbeck and the new company kept our minds off our throbbing bruised feet for a good few miles. As we dropped down through the woods into Ambleside the light was failing us and headtorches came out. We hit the road and mustered up a good run through the town in front of cheering supporters outside the pubs. It was humbling to see how many were there, all shouting encouragement and support. I was already feeling emotional then I saw my husband for a much needed hug and that brought tears to my eyes. He’d been on the bike with no lights as we were expected much earlier, so had to make a mad dash back to Coniston for the car and only just made it back to see us as we passed through to the next checkpoint at Ambleside school, that made number 4 of 6. An eagerly awaited cuppa, the best piece of watermelon I’ve ever tasted and a jam sarnie saw us on our way through the park and climbing up out in the dark.
Long standing RRC member Carl (aka Hoppo) managed to catch up with us on the hill and power walked with us a good way chatting and helping us through. Skelwith Bridge saw Cathy’s husband leave us to get back to their campsite for the van to be at the finish. Ambleside was a bit of a milestone for us as from the route recces we knew the sections after were less technical and more runnable in parts. Although struggling now with fatigue at over 33 miles in, we felt a confidence boost and knew if we could keep our heads we’d finish. Unfortunately the delays meant what might have been runnable in daylight wasn’t in darkness but we ran where we could and had a good stretch along the river to Elterwater. At some point, and things are all starting to blur, we turned on navigation as the dark and the fatigue was making us a bit disoriented. It proved to be a good decision as we did start to follow a couple of runners the wrong way up a steep grassy hill until the watch buzzed off course.
By the time we reached Chapelstile our 2nd to last checkpoint, it was just before midnight and Amy and Cathy were both struggling with nausea. Body temperatures had dropped and we hoped the firepit we saw as we approached the tent wasn’t a mirage. Seats were available but we daren’t sit in case we never got up again. Although we didn’t feel like eating, chunky veg soup was forced down as we knew although we only had approximately 10 miles to go, on this terrain that was still a good few hours and without fuel we wouldn’t finish. Heads were starting to go and Amy struggled with no gluten free options. We needed to force her to eat some nuts and fruit as we knew she’d really suffer without it. Jackets, arm warmers, buffs were out and on as low sugar levels made our body temperatures drop, and we forced ourselves passed the firepit and along the trail towards the next unmanned checkpoint, which forces you not to cut off a corner over grassland. A very kind local supporter had been out and marked the best route across the uneven grass with sticks and ribbons which was a great help in the dark. We were greeted briefly by his little dogs and then off down the road where we managed to muster up a shuffle. Cath thought we were running quite fast but realised we actually just looked like those Olympic walkers (and not very quick ones at that). Poles were out for the final time as we climbed up and over another hill and made our way to our 6th and final checkpoint at Tiberthwaite. Huge thanks and shout out to the marshals at this one, they are seeing some real states by this stage. A very kind marshal filled my water bottle, put it back in my pack, got my tea mug out and tried to tempt me to some food, as I think I was just staring at her vacantly mumbling something incoherent. I couldn’t eat by now but managed a tea with sugar.
Although we were desperate to reach this last checkpoint we were also partly dreading it as the last 3.5 miles up and over to Coniston was the most treacherous, with steep steps, scrambling, sharp drops off to one side, and a ridiculous rocky clamber back down to the slate mines above Coniston. By now speech was beyond me and I felt a bit dizzy but Cath and Amy smelt home and had a 2nd wind so they positioned me in the middle to keep an eye on me. While they chattered I just kept moving forward, I knew we’d done it but didn’t want to jinx anything by saying it out loud, with all the trip hazards to get through! What took me 50 odd minutes on a daylight recce took us 1.5 hours and as we hit the more runnable track then road we still couldn’t make our legs move. As we approached the village we agreed we’d start a run/shuffle when we reached a road sign ahead and we soon got moving to cheers of support, which we didn’t expect at almost 4am. A marshal greeted us on the finish straight and walked us into a tent full of more supporters cheering. To see our husbands at the fence still up at 4am after following us around for 16 hours was a sight for sore eyes and we were trying to hold back the tears. A quick finisher’s photo, a massive group hug and it was all we could do to stumble to the shower block, wash off about 2 inches of dirt, rock dust and sweat and head back to the tent for some sleep, all just as the sun started to rise. Perfect.
It was the toughest event I’ve done (to date) and I hated and loved it at the same time. I think I speak for us all when I say I wouldn’t have wanted to have done it with anyone else. We got through it together helping each other on the lows, laughing, singing, crying, eating, drinking, bit of running, a lot of wrestling with poles and more rocks than I ever want to see again in my life! Thanks to our supporters that came up and helped us along the way and to all those at home tracking us into the night, and the kind, amazing marshals, all helped to get us through. We trained long and hard and the physical fitness paid off but in the end it came down to strength of mind and pure grit, and these girls got it! It was a privilege to be a part of.