Last updated: 01-Aug-21
As several people hike past me along Gatescarth Pass, I start to wonder what has happened to my legs. They seem to have lost the ability to transport my body at any kind of pace uphill. The sweat starts stinging my eyes and I’m questioning my ability to finish. I’m not sure how hot it is but at this moment, the mid-afternoon sun feels almost unbearable. I’ve never thought this on a race before but I’m beginning to wish it was dark.
This is the 2021 Montane Lakeland 50/100, a race that has been eagerly anticipated by runners up and down the country. For months before the event, the Facebook page had been a hive of activity with discussions on training (or lack of it), race strategies and exactly what constitutes a solid cup.
I have been part of the Lakeland races for the last four years (2018: 50-mile, 2019: 100-mile, 2020: Virtual-50, 2021: 50-mile) but ever since my first race I was immediately struck by the fantastic atmosphere both on site and on the course. In some ways, this year seemed even better, as for many it would have been their first major race since lockdown. It almost seemed like we were approaching normality again, and you could sense the excitement around the campsite.
The first Montane Lakeland 100 race was held in 2008 and soon grew into the iconic ultra-event that it is today. Whilst the route doesn’t pass over any of the major Lake District summits, it’s not short on climbing with 6,856m of ascent on the Lakeland 100 (actually 105 miles) and 2,965m ascent on the 50-mile race. Weaving through the valleys and passes of the beautiful Lake District the terrain can become quite technical with many rocky paths, long ascents and tricky descents.
No competitor will ever forget the final 5km that, almost cruelly, takes a sudden sharp climb from the Tilberthwaite checkpoint up what has become known as Jacob’s Ladder, before a rocky descent on doubtless aching legs over the finish line in Coniston. The vast majority of competitors complete this part of the race in the dark and, as they make their way up the climb, will spot the line of head torches rising way into the distance as a stark reminder of what is to come.
The starting pen of the Lakeland 50. Photo credit: Ree O’Doherty
Whilst it’s a brutal final section, those who pass through the checkpoint are almost certainly going to complete the race and knowing there’s “only” 5km left is a huge boost to any dwindling morale. The difficulty of the course is demonstrated by the finish rate with generally a 40-50% failure rate on the 105-mile course.
This year’s tagline was “Getting the band back together” and it really felt like a huge reunion. The first camping field was already full when I arrived not long after noon on Friday and there were streams of people crossing the bridge between the two campsites heading to and from registration. Clutching their mandatory kit, many were sporting their new Blue’s Brothers style sunglasses given away as part of the race pack.
Photo credit: Ree O’Doherty
Almost everyone gathers for the start of the Lakeland 100 at 6pm with the traditional rendition of Nessun Dorma sending emotions high as the Lakeland 100 racers stream over the start line, some facing up to 40 hours on the course.
The race has almost a cult-like following: it has become so popular that a ballot system was introduced for this year’s race rather than the fastest finger first entry system previously. I remember being poised over my computer screen in 2018 waiting for the clock to tick over 8am and entries to open, before the whole system fell over.
Pre-race communication had reminded us of the difficult year many of us have had and suggested not to focus on finish time this year, but instead to think about the experience, the challenge and the people you will meet along the way. Given the temperature on Friday, I’m sure many will have put aside thoughts of PBs.
The start of the Lakeland 100. Photo credit: Dan Stinton
Not Mark Darbyshire though, who smashed the record in an astonishing 19:10:27 taking some 40 minutes off the previous time set by Terry Conway in 2012. Beth Pascall holds the women’s record in 21:29:36.
Caspers Kaars Sijpesteijn holds the men’s course record for the 50-mile race in 07:34:07 and Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn has the women’s course record of 08:02:32.
Here’s the top results for 2021:
Mark Darbyshire 19:10:27
Marcis Gubats 20:46:42
Rory Harris 21:26:00
Anna Troup 25:09:20
Elaine Bisson 26:00:28
Maria Cook 26:37:13
Runar Sather 07:41:11
Spencer Shaw 08:18:59
Jamie Hauxwell 08:24:38
Emma Stuart 09:15:21
Nicola Duncan 09:42:40
Rachel Mellor 10:11:12
Of all the ultra-events I have taken part in, the Lakeland 50/100 seems to have the most loyal following, with many returning to the Lakes year after year to take on the challenge and meet friends old and new. The ballot for next year’s race opens on 1st September and I had a short moment of questioning if I’ll put an entry in, but who am I kidding? Of course I will!
Photo credit: Ree O’Doherty