I am writing this blog over 4 months after running the Montane Lakeland 50 because it played a huge part in my achievements this year and I don’t want to forget any of it. Possibly this might inform someone else but a little bit more but mostly this blog is a note to self.
I ran the Montane Lakeland 50 as part of Team Montane after a place was given to me by the brand to create content about the race and their kit for Pro:Direct Running (where I work as a Brand Manager). It was my first stab at a race that was more than 26.2 miles. A baptism of fire some would expect, given that the brutal terrain and the changeable weather conditions. I didn’t want to turn this opportunity down because I knew how exclusive race places are and I am in the habit of saying yes to difficult and challenging things.
Training had gone well, and I had tapered off quite a lot as race day drew nearer. My legs felt fresh and I was in the fittest state of my life! All of a sudden I was at the race village collecting my last minute essentials and realising what I had signed up for. No turning back now.
I set myself the aim of going sub 12.5hours at the Lakeland 50. I didn’t know what that meant or how hard it would be, and I had nothing to compare it by but it meant that I would be back in before midnight, without having too long running through the night and that sounded ideal.
As I made my way to the start I had already made friends with several strangers and seen a few familiar faces, all joking about how stupid we were for signing up and comparing our phantom leg pains that most likely were all in our heads.
The weather at this point had already changed from heavy rain to beautiful sunshine and the changeover from full waterproofs to vest and shorts occurred multiple times before the race began.
As the gun set off I took it steady and let lots of people charge off, knowing that it probably wouldn’t end up so well for them later in the race.
5 miles past so quickly as we eased into the run, then 10 miles and suddenly the first checkpoint as I had begun catching and overtaking lots of people.
After a quick refuel and several rain showers I pushed on a bit harder. My legs felt remarkably fresh and I was full of enthusiasm. People overtook me on the uphills, but I made up for it on the downhills at times I felt like I was flying down them dancing around runners and it felt awesome.
From looking at the course elevation I knew that the first 10 miles was going to be the easiest and the worst parts were yet to come so I made the most of that to try and bank some time for later on. I pulled into the 20 mile checkpoint and had a little moment to myself while drinking a cuppa tea and thinking ‘I don’t want to climb up that massive hill’ but I did. I think at one point I calculated roughly 4 miles of pure uphill. when you get to the top of a climb like that its pretty euphoric and it’s a pleasure to start running again!
That is until the heavens opened and anything that had not been soaked in sweat got soaked by the rain. At 25 miles I was cold, wet, starting to cease up and wanting to lie down in a warm environment. I really didn’t like the idea of running 25 more wet and long miles.
I stopped at the next checkpoint, ate hot food, changed my top to a fresh dry one and as I set off again I felt like a new man. I had a second wind and started to really enjoy the race again, overtaking on the downhills, struggling through the uphills. I got talking to so many people on the route that made the miles pass so much faster and it felt awesome to be sharing this passion for being outdoors, running with like minded maniacs, hearing other peoples stories. I really enjoyed that section of the race.
At 35 miles I lost all ideas of pacing and expected finish times, doing basic maths became a struggle as I tried in my head and out loud to estimate my pace and calculate when I would be finished. All I could focus on was moving one foot infront of the other, walk run, jog, whatever I could muster.
As night began to fall the atmosphere totally changed for me and my body was beginning to feel the miles that were behind me.
I really struggled to visualise the end of the race and went to a bit of a dark place for about 4 miles. I knew I would finish, but my back was hurting, there was a hail storm, thunder and a crack of lightening. The conditions were ridiculous considering a few days before it had been scorching hot with record highs!
I took a long break (10-15 minutes) in a checkpoint, I lay down and lifted up my legs, ate more hot food, my back was in pain at this point but nothing major, just a sign of the long miles. I stared into space and made really bad jokes to people around me. Nobody laughed. Could this get any worse?
After that episode I dragged myself back out. I had been in there too long and felt rough as I started moving again. I was astonished that my legs actually felt ok, just that they had started to stiffen up. I had imagined they would have started to show more severe pains in my knees or ankles, or that my muscles would have been cramping massively, but to my surprise 40 miles in they were not too bad. It was more of an all over body tiredness, a slight desire to want to throw up, and an inability to enjoy eating anything. My nutrition plan had completely gone out of the window and I knew that with 10 very hilly miles to go it would be a long slog in darkness.
From that point on I just felt better and better and better. I stopped worrying about how far I had to go and knew I would finish, I found a good group of people to run with that were just ahead of me and keeping me motivated. With every big hill I seemed to drop back to the next group behind me but tried my best to catchup again on the flat and downhills.
As I approached the final few Miles I didn’t actually believe it could be the end. My Garmin watch said I had 1 mile to go as I descended the final hill and I didn’t believe it. I asked some nearby runners, and didn’t believe them either. Then finally asked a spectator and they confirmed it was very close to the end.
I ran/walked my way into the town to finish up my run and was hit by a wave of emotions as I approached the finish line. I could not believe I had done it. I was really confused about the whole day. It’s a very different experience to spend your entire day just running, hiking and constantly moving without any logical purpose other than getting to the end. The roller coaster of emotions is truly exhausting in itself and 100% drug-like in its addiction. When you break through barriers you unlock more potential, more questions, more ‘what if’ thoughts. But accepting you are better than you think you are is emotional, overwhelming.
When I signed up for this race, I genuinely didn’t know if I could finish it, and if I did I thought I’d be stumbling on crutches to hobble over the line. But here I was running down the road with 49 or more miles behind me heading for the finish and 45mins ahead of the time I expected to complete it in.
Despite a few dark moments in the race (more mental that physical) everything had gone pretty well and it was finally over!
I crossed the line and peered at my watch to see I had not quite hit the 50 mile mark. Any elation from finishing the race was soon crushed as I decided to do 4 laps of the car park to top it up to 50 miles.
Finally it was over.
I have never experienced anything where you want it to stop, but you equally don’t. It’s rewarding, but its painful. Bitter Sweet. As I tried to make sense of what had just happened I sat and stared into space for a good 20-30 minutes, phoned family members as they shared their delight at me finishing in one piece.
This race was the best solo challenge I have ever done and just fuelled my hunger for more. At this point I don’t know what is next, but I know it will be worth it.
I want to thank Montane for the race place but mostly thank all the volunteers and the amazing race organisers who put their time and effort into making the checkpoints as fun and entertaining as possible. The spectators do a great job of lifting spirits and stand out clapping even in the rain and thunder.
I can’t even express how much I would recommend this experience to anyone. If you want to feel truly epic and reach beyond your current understanding of self… do an ultra, and make it the Lakeland50.
‘Til next time…
Thanks if you made it this far!