Lakes In A Day 2018
Photography by Henry Iddon, Paul Mitchell & Paul Hands
What is ‘Lakes In A Day’ … 50 miles, 4000m ascent
A journey on foot from the very top of the Lake District at Caldbeck to the very bottom, at Cartmel, via the stunning Helvellyn Ridge and the western shoreline of Lake Windermere.
A day never to be forgotten by all who participated!
Here we share a selection of stories from a range of women who decided, for their own diverse reasons, to take on Lakes In A Day 2018.
I signed up for ‘Lakes In A Day’ back in February. A birthday present to myself. The next challenge to keep me focused over the year ahead. I had joined a local fell running club, Helm Hill, only 10 months prior and training had started for the WWW 36 Hour Relay Challenge. By June I would be covering 36 miles over the Lake District Fells… what was another 14miles hey?! There was plenty of recovery time between June and October as well as opportunity to recce the route! Plenty of time!!!
I threw myself into training early in the year. I had run a couple of marathons in the past but they had been on the road and flat! It wasn’t so much the distance that had me nervous… but the elevation gain! I scheduled in the long fell runs, much of which were focused on recceing the route for the relay challenge. June came and passed, the relay was a success… an adventure in its own right (more to come on this in a later post!), but the training and sudden increase in weekly distance had taken its toll. I was injured. I was also mentally exhausted with juggling training and ‘life’, and so I took a much-needed month off from running.
No sooner was I feeling back to myself and it was time to head off on a (nearly) 4-week adventure to Canada. I spent the first week running regularly & exploring our friends’ local trails around Revelstoke – it was then time for the Kamloops Marathon. My road running had taken a serious back seat since channelling all my running energy towards the fells, but I was excited to see what I had in me! The route was beautiful! It didn’t disappoint! And I was absolutely thrilled to finish 4th female. It wasn’t my fastest marathon time but that didn’t matter – I was there for the experience & I loved it! The rest of the trip saw little to no running at all – just quality family time and adventures – it was a trip of a lifetime. Jetlag and holiday blues then set in once home and with-it weeks feeling completely unmotivated. Energy depleted. But time was ticking on. I still hadn’t recced ANY of the LIAD route and I felt like I had lost ALL my running fitness which I had worked so hard to build up earlier in the year. I hadn’t of course but a racing mind does little to sooth your worries! My diary was packed. September had only a couple of weekend opportunities to get out and see what the fell section of the race was all about, leaving the trail section from Ambleside to Cartmel to be done in the evenings after work!
Recce one – Threlkeld to Ambleside: Following an evening at The Grasemere Guzzler and subsequently spending the night sleeping on the back seat of my VW Golf spooning the dog, I awoke early to get going – a lunch date with a friend was calling. Kit ready, I thought I was prepared before bedding down but awoke to realise that I had left my breakfast in the family van – only two parking spaces away, but housing a sleeping child! NEVER WAKE A SLEEPING CHILD! I’d have to set off without it! It was too early to grab anything on route – Sunday morning in the lakes… nothing opens before 10am and so my emergency bumbag flapjack would have to get me through! I set off – the weather was grim – visibility was poor. It was a tough recce, out there alone, feeling tired, hungry and emotional! Time ticked by and I felt stressed that I was going to be late to meet my friend. I eventually reached Ambleside, was greeted by the family and shuttled back to Threlkeld for my car & lunch was quickly consumed. Reflecting on the morning I thought ‘Well I’ve done that at its worst at least it couldn’t be harder on the day’ … hmmmm!!!!
Recce two – Caldbeck to Threlkeld: This recce started a bit more positively. My daughter was with the grandparents and there were no real time constraints. Even the weather looked ok. I got to Caldbeck, parked up and was quickly off. With no one around to run with me or pick up, this was going to have to be an out and back. All was going fine – visibility went as soon as I hit High Pike but the route was fairly clear and I was able to straightline for the river once on the other side. Once at the river I then had a good 30 minutes trying to scope out the best place to cross. After a few tries I eventually made it across and was on the ascent up towards Blencathra. Once Blencathra was in my sights the wind had picked up and I was suddenly aware of being pretty cold. Movement had been a little slow. The cloud was whipping through and I really didn’t fancy the prospect of going up. After a bit pf a pep talk I decided to bail, turn around and head back… this was a recce after all to learn the sections I didn’t know and I was fairly familiar with Blencathra and Halls Fell ridge from my days recceing the 36-hour relay route. After this recce I became a bit nervous regarding my fitness levels. If I didn’t have the energy to get up and over Blencathra this time how on earth was I going to get all the way to the end in just a few weeks?!
The next couple of weeks passed in a blur of illness and back pain! Once out the other side there were a couple of frantic post work evening recces of the last two sections, one being the Monday before the race and before I knew it I was on to the home straight and ‘tapering’. Throughout the week I was checking the weather constantly (much like I’m sure the other 300+ runners were!). Repeating my mantra ‘it’ll be fine’ over and over again I tried not to panic. I live in the Lakes after all, I’m used to a bit of rain… BUT THAT WIND!!!! I do not fair well in high winds particularly when on the tops of mountains!!!
I was late to the party in terms of joining the Facebook group dedicated to those running LIAD. It was a double-edged sword – no sooner had I joined and I was wishing I hadn’t. The barrage of posts discussing the weather, kit, travel arrangements etc were NOT helping my nerves! It’s important to highlight that when I say late to the party I mean the week before the event – it had TOTALLY snuck up on me! Where had the summer gone?! and I’m sure had I joined earlier I would have found it invaluable for support! Since the event itself it has been great to see and hear everyone’s take on the day!
I awaited eagerly for James (Open Adventure) email insisting that the lower level route would need to be followed. That email never came. I soon realised that this was no ordinary event organiser! I have to admit though that if we had been forced to follow the lower route I would have felt cheated in some way and I would have definitely felt compelled to comeback next year whether I really wanted to or not!
As it was, the run was to go ahead as planned. The hectic schedule didn’t slow down in the run up to the big day! The night before I raced around registering, grabbing a very healthy and energy fueling bag of chips for tea and headed to Kendal to support my husband and his ‘One More Brew’ project. A lovely evening seeing friends and watching some great films centered around the biking world. 10:30pm arrived and it really was time to be getting home – I rounded up my daughter who was insistent on ‘helping’ clear up… just get in the car already!!! And dropped her off at the grandparents on route to home. In bed for 12am, alarm set for 4:45am… not the restful night sleep I had envisaged!
Thankfully I didn’t sleep in!!!! I was up and out the door by 5am – luckily, I only live 2 miles away from Cartmel. I had my change at the ready for breakfast and I was looking forward to my egg butty on the bus drive up to Caldbeck… Que the sit down on the bus, bite of my butty… and yolk all over my water proof trousers! Delightful!
My bus neighbours got chatting and the journey up went surprisingly quick! The egg butty was only half demolished as race nerves kicked in and I found I just couldn’t stomach anymore. Upon arriving at Caldbeck everyone made the expected pre-race dash for the loos and then it was time to question everything I had packed. Layers went on, then came back off again. Bananas were relocated to less ‘dangerous’ pockets and I eyed the giant map wondering whether I could be bothered to get my phone out of its waterproof housing and ask someone to take a photo of me in front of it. I couldn’t, and so instead skulked off to find my spot within the crowd, ready to start.
A little intro from James, informing us the river had risen significantly and as a result a rope had been put in place to aid our crossing, a cheer for all the incredible type 1 diabetic athletes taking part and we were off!!! I got settled into a good pace. The weather wasn’t anything too challenging at this point and before I knew it I had crossed the river and had Blencathra in my sights. The ascent up Blencathra saw people head off in three directions… I aimed for the middle and took the line which traversed the scree hitting a trail a little further up. Next came the decision – Halls Fell Ridge or Not Halls Fell Ridge?? … The wind had dropped significantly and so with only the wet to worry about I figured it HAD TO be the ridge! I started my decent. This had to be the most fun section of the whole run! I was also really happy to hear from a marshal half way down that I was the third female at that point. I was buzzing!
Arriving into the feed station I spotted a friend Holly who was volunteering. A few Danish pastries and a chat later it was time to get going. By this point the rain was bouncing again but I was really enjoying myself and feeling psyched for the hardest section to come. I was moving fairly steady, happy with the pace. Conversation with other runners was non-existent until I reached the ascent up to Clough Head. I got chatting with a guy who hadn’t done the race before and had no idea what was before him… I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be a ‘local’ and have had that time, however brief, to prepare.
I had no sooner been saying “I’m really glad the wind is not as high as what it was forecast” and I reached the summit of Clough Head. Whoosh! 50+ mph winds and utterly rubbish visibility. Luckily there was a good stream of runners and I wasn’t out there on my own. Heads down, just keep moving… and so that’s how it went. I stopped briefly to get some stones out of my shoe, which had nestled in there on the Halls Fell decent. Mistake no.1 – I blinked and everyone had gone. In my head down, keep moving state I hadn’t kept a good eye on the map and now here I was in the clag completely disorientated! Unfortunately (for them), someone else had also been following me and we tried to figure out what had gone wrong. “I think its this way”… “No, it can’t be this way – we are losing too much height, we shouldn’t be dropping down like this” … “how on earth have we ended up over here when we should be there… over there on THAT ridge! I just don’t understand!!!” – panic set in and my breathing got short. Uhoh a panic attack!!! I fought to keep as calm as possible – got out the emergency GPS, worked out where we were and as the cloud blew through we saw the other runners on the ridge like little ants. We saw a way back to join them and it was ‘game back on’. It turned out my route error wasn’t quite as bad as I had thought at the time and I had simply done a little loop round and back on myself.
Upon joining back with the pack, I realised I was much further back in the group – my goal of finishing top 10 female suddenly felt out of reach and I realised I had lost quite a bit of time. The next challenge the undulating Dodds & the constant questioning… “Is this one Helvellyn?! Oh no, must be the next…!”. Once comfortably back on track I started on one of these ‘undulating’ sections and wham! I totally bonked!!! The energy zapping weather and the energy zapping panic
attack meant I could have sat down on the trail right where I was and stayed there until someone came and got me. Thank you to all the runners who passed and checked to make sure I was ok, and the lovely lady who said “oh I hope your legs are warm!” which reminded me that now probably was a good time to put my waterproof trousers on!!!
A whole pack of shot blocs were consumed, along with a couple of boiled eggs and half a litre of water. It did the trick and I was very soon moving and moving faster. What a relief. Helvellyn was reached, and Dolly Wagon was descended, Grizedale Tarn was crossed and the ascent up to Fairfield began. An unrelenting track of scree switchbacks. I discovered the packets of sweets in my pocket that I had snuffled from the Threlkeld feed station and they were quickly inhaled… I felt the energy levels drop and in the bad weather it had meant eating at any height along the Helvellyn range was practically impossible. The sweets were a welcomed boost to reach the top.
On Fairfield, visibility and wind conditions didn’t improve, however, I had made the age-old Fairfield moonscape ‘which way now?’ mistake before and was confident in my choice of direction. This time I WOULD NOT be heading off down towards Patterdale… nope, not today thank you! Descending down Fairfield to Ambleside saw the wind really pick up here. I was bent over trying to keep low as I scrambled over the slippy rock, looking for the best lines and in the end just settling for moving in the right direction. It was on this section where I saw a guy being wiped out by the wind, his legs swept from beneath him, landing on the rock. Another guy further down, who the wet & harsh conditions had got the better of him. Wrapped in the emergency bivvy bag that was a ‘must’ on the event kitlist he was being well looked after by fellow runners. By the time I reached the field of cows and shale path I had passed 3 mountain rescue vehicles making their way up. I genuinely hope all who needed assistance were ok and have made full recovery since.
Ambleside! Hurrah! I ran through Ambleside following the smell of pizza with a big smile on my face!
I had made it! Relief! On entering the feed station, I was grateful to see a familiar friendly face behind the table dishing out pizza and cake! I filled my mug with tea and headed first for the toilets for a full outfit change – I was soaked to the bone! No waterproof kit of any kind was ever going to keep that amount of water out. Mistake no 2 – always pack a spare pair of pants! I am usually rigorous with this rule but oh no, EVERYTHING BUT in this case! Warm and dry, it was time for food… PIZZA!!! Warm, cheesy pizza. Amazing. The atmosphere was pretty electric and there were many who were taking the time to sit, chat and change their shoes ready for the last 20 miles. I had taken the decision not to change my shoes, but had listened to the advice of past runners and packed a spare pair of socks… two spare pairs of socks in fact… but oh no, no pants!!!
Conscious that I had lost some time when getting lost and then bonking I decided to not stop for too long and there was no chance that I was sitting down! I’d never get back up again. So 20 mins later I was back out, smug in my dry new warm layers. At Rothay Park the route took a different direction to what I had anticipated – I later learned that two friends who had been on marshalling duty had been working tirelessly to reroute out of Ambleside in order to keep the race and runners moving and avoiding the dangers of burst river banks and flooding. Thank you Davy & Gillie!
Then came my first supporters! I could have cried I was so relieved to see my husband and a couple of friends waiting to cheer me on. I quickly relayed the events of the previous 30 miles, had a hug and was eager to keep moving. I hadn’t even got out of Ambleside and I found myself wading through some flash flooding up to my knees. There goes the dry socks and warm legs!
The final 20 miles went past in a dark blur of torrential downpours, wading waist deep through Windermere, shifting floating debris & climbing over fallen trees. This should have been the faster runnable section but the weather had different ideas! To my blessing Jackie showed up, a good friend who had been tracking me and was there for moral support, along with the husband and co who kept leap frogging me and cheering me on just when I needed it. At High Dam Mr P and Riley waited patiently for me to appear through the darkness and lifted the spirits once again. This was the leg for supporters! They are invaluable! On a race as mentally challenging as this – its those positive interactions which help to shift your mindset and get you through it!
Coming off Bigland into the final few miles I was able to relax – if not get a little bit bored pounding the pavement, as I followed the road which is my usual lunchtime run at work. I’d done this bit goodness knows how many times over the past five years – I knew Cartmel was only a mile or so away and yet it seemed to take forever! It was a surreal moment reaching Cartmel at just past midnight. One of my bosses was at the pub and we had been talking in the week about how she would nip out to cheer me on for the final few hundred metres! Being later than expected, I didn’t think she’d be still there but as I turned into the square I saw her silhouette ahead of me… “Sarah?! Sarah is that you?!”… “Hi Margaret!” *frantically waves*… “Yeh, go Sarah!” shouts the random lady having a smoke a no doubt slighting tiddly! I couldn’t help but laugh.
And there it was Cartmel School. The finish. What a day!
Over the course of the day there was ABSOLUTELY no chance that I would be putting myself through that ordeal again! But as the race analysis took shape the discussion gradually changed to “Well maybe! If I can get through it in those weather conditions then I’d love to see how I’d do in clear weather!”… This also goes for the winner Katie Kaars. I seriously hope the weather improves next year! I would love to see just how fast she can run it!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO MADE IT TO THE START LINE! It will be 16 hours & 13 minutes I will remember for the rest of my life!
Lakes in a day – 2018… A big ask at any time of your life. Big miles, big hills, wild weather and the pressure of time limits in the form of cut offs!
But this had become more than a race for me. You see I’d sat in bed with my husband and watched a tiny blip that was my friend Jane completing this race 2 years previously. We’d decided that we needed a piece of this in our lives and pledged to run it together.
We had other race commitments last year so this was our year… Then in April the most unimaginable event turned my life upside down.
My husband took his own life.
As you can imagine, this took the life from my soul, the wind from my sails and most definitely the energy to run from my legs! But during those months of fog that is known as grief two things gave me a chink of light. My running buddy plagued me daily until I ran again. No agenda, no set distance or plan….just to run.
Then I received word that the race organiser was offering all type 1 diabetics (I have type 1) a free entry to LIAD. So…….I entered.
Before I knew it race day was here and I had to face the music of not enough trainings, too much weight gained and a head that was still weighed down with grief. Packing for the event, the lead up to it and the weekend itself was a very good distraction for me. It’s the best I’ve felt since Ian died.
I met up with friends, ate in pubs, chatted nervously with other runners and generally absorbed myself in anything that had nothing to do with the death of my husband. Don’t get me wrong Ian drifted into my thoughts on several occasions throughout the race weekend. When the weather was biblical and blowing me off my feet I giggled to myself and thought ‘Ian would have loved this’. When I was struggling and getting negative thoughts I heard him say ‘come on chick, it’s temporary pain’.
That run was so much more than a run, it was camaraderie that you can only achieve by shared suffering, it was life affirming, it was wild and windier than I knew possible, it was an all day buffet, it was a lesson in nature (who knew leeches existed in the lakes) it was everything that my life of grief wasn’t!
So I ran the length of the Lake District over lots of hills in one day in absolutely horrific weather and I loved every single second of it!!!!
Lessons I learned from that race;
Mother Nature is a tough bitch….but so am I!
I don’t like leeches!
My body will carry on for much longer than my head thinks it will!
My bum cheeks chafe when wet!
I have a life to live!!!!
So I am eagerly waiting for entries to open again for next year.
I did LIAD as my first ultra (and first over 26 mile run) this year in the midst of storm Callum.
I naively downloaded a runners world ‘how to train for your first ultra’ back in early summer and started trying to for the training runs around my shift work. I was already a keen fell runner and managed to do many of my runs as summer fell series races or with my running club, Pensby Runners.
About 2 months out I got tonsillitis and was off running for a couple of weeks which really knocked my confidence and so before race day the longest I had managed was 30 miles over 2 days. Then I saw the weather forecast and told all my family that I wasn’t going to do it – including the night before the race.
We were in Ambleside for a week’s holiday anyway and I woke up at 5am on race day just to check..and yes it was raining. I started to try to go back to sleep but got so annoyed at myself that I woke up my partner and got him to drive me to the start. That was probably the hardest bit.
Once I got going I really enjoyed it – often in a type 3 fun kind of way- but being out with so many others, laughing at how crazy we were really pulled me along. I found the last 20 miles the toughest, with the never ending lake wading, but at that point the camaraderie of ultras really kicked in and I found a well matched lovely gent from Durham to run the last 20 miles with. I was very excited to come in 3rd lady – but more pleased that I had made myself get out of bed and over the start line in the first place!
I entered Lakes in a Day after hearing two runners talk about it in a pub. At that point I had been running for just under two years, my furthest race was a marathon. I wasn’t a ‘proper’ runner but enjoyed getting out for some peace away from a busy home.
The week before, as my tapering began, my anxiety hit the roof. I expected to have low points during the race but not in the run up. I did lots of yoga and tried to rest as much as possible, sticking affirmations around the house, to which the kids added their own ‘do it do it do it do it…’ My aim was to finish in under 20 hours but as the weather forecast worsened, my aim was to finish alive.
Stood on the start line, the anxiety eased and as I started running I felt strong. Without a doubt Lakes in a Day was the hardest thing I have ever done, for me it was much harder than either of my labours. I hadn’t considered that I would be so wet and so cold for the entire race. I didn’t know that it was possible for the wind to blow so hard it could shift the contact lenses in my eyes. I had never been on the fells in such conditions. I didn’t know that when the wind was so strong you had little control over where your feet landed or that paths turned into rivers. I didn’t know that after Ambleside it wouldn’t get any harder but it certainly wouldn’t get any easier.
If I had known how hard it was, I wouldn’t have carried on. But I did. For the first time I understood exactly what it was like to run a race in your head, the little mental games I played to keep one foot in front of the other. I ran across that finish line after 19 hours and 17 minutes so pleased with myself to make my original sub 20 goal in such conditions. Before I showered I was thinking of the next ultra. Within 24 hours I was thinking of the next Lakes in a Day.
Having been inspired by a few female friends running adventures, I decided that my next big challenge was going to be an ultra marathon. I have never considered myself a runner, but I am mountain fit, so I decided lakes in a day was the event for me. I signed up, but didn’t dare tell anyone. I plugged away with training, getting out as much as I could. As my training progressed I started to believe the challenge was achievable, so I committed to telling people what I was planning.
The week before… You should never believe a weather forecast a week out, they are fickle things, but as the week before the event progressed the low bringing storm Callum showed no signs of abating. I packed lots of extra food and clothes and prepared for a ‘proper mountain day’. The first part of the day wasn’t as bad as expected, but the weather started to spice up once up high on the Dodds. Visibility worsened and the gusts picked up. I found a friend Sharon, a friendly Scottish music teacher who had some mountain sense. We stuck together, working as a team to navigate.
Descending Dollywaggon was the worst part of the day. Gusts stopped you in your tracks and if you were stood on the wet slabs, you would be blown over. Fortunately you could see the gust coming over the lake before they hit you. I was so glad when we reached Grizedale tarn, but the weather didn’t stop, head down we carried on. Fairfield was grim, but we knew we just needed to get to Ambleside and off the mountain before it got dark. So many people at this point were packing up, I didn’t really understand, they had done the worst of it…. there was quite a lot of negative energy for those on the verge of retirement. At this point retirement didn’t cross my mind, the back of the day was broke .
I left Sharon here and picked up two friendly chaps Richard and Stuart to carry on with. The next few hours were mainly walking and wading in the dark. Although slow going this was enjoyable. As we approached the finish it felt like a day of two halves. We crossed the finish line and felt that great sense of achievement. At times the day was certainly ‘type 2’ fun, but in hindsight a grand day out.
To me running means having time to gather my thoughts and a wellbeing remedy. I’m a mum of two and one of my sons’ has Autism. Nothing defines me more that his condition; my nationality, background, education or work. If I want it or not I’m a so called “special needs” parent and this very often comes with mental health issues in a package. Running helps me to keep positive.
LIAD was my first ultra and signing up already felt like a huge achievement. Then, another accomplishment was to keep warm during the race, my waterproof clothing was simply too old and I was soaked wet through before reaching High Pike.
Stage 2 still feels unreal, I kept moving simply because I wanted to survive (in my wet gear).
Wading in the waters of Windermere would not have happened if I was on my own, our little group of 8 made it, but if I had to make it by myself I would have stayed in Ambleside.
I did finish the race and it gave me a huge sense of achievement.
Before taking the challenge I assumed that all that would happen on that day would be just up to me, my choices and my decisions. Our real power is not in our bodies (or not only), but in our minds. I kept walking and running because I knew that my husband, family and friends are tracking me and hoping that I will get there. Reading texts in Threlkeld gave me so much energy and seeing my 3 boys in Ambleside powered me through the second half of the journey.
Two weeks on and I am still hugely impressed that I, actually, ever decided to run 50 miles. And I’m back next year, since I could not stop thinking in these 20 hours that I would like to run it again, with my better and faster half.
Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn
This year’s Lake In a Day wrote a story I least expected. A story of mutual understanding. Of friendship.
I wanted to see if I could break my own record.
My number one goal in every race I do is always to do my best. To get to the finish line knowing I gave it my best shot. The record comes second.
What happened on race day I never imagined. Just over half way through the race I found myself in the lead group with the boys. We linked arms and waded across Grisedale Tarn, which looked like a wild North Sea – we were a team and I was having so much fun!
By the top of Fairfield, the team of four had become two. Me and Clarens, and to my surprise we were leading the race.
Leaving Ambleside I wondered if I might win outright – a bit of a pipe dream, but maybe it was possible. As we continued, I realised I didn’t actually want to beat Clarens, I realised I just wanted to beat myself. And the best way to do this was to work as a team.
We worked really hard together from Ambleside, exchanging words and sharing snacks. We didn’t need to talk about the prospect of what might happen in a sprint finish. There was a mutual understanding, I sensed we were finishing this together. And we did.
Ultra running can be a lonely sport but on that day it became a team sport, where we were better together than alone. A record may have been broken but more importantly a new friendship was made.
What other sport can you start as strangers and finish as friends?