Well done and a huge THANK YOU to our friend and trustee Jonathan Ford who has completed the daunting Lakes in a Day challenge to raise money for us.
It’s not too late to Sponsor Jonathan. You can read about his grueling adventure in his own words:.
The View From The Back – by Jonathan Ford.
When I was looking for a new challenge late last year I decided to do the Lakes in A Day – a 50 mile off road run that starts in Caldbeck in the far north and ends in Cartmel in the far south. The route takes in more than a few mountain summits including Blencathra, Clough Head, Helvellyn and the Fairfield Horseshoe. You could say it’s a bit hilly.
I first became aware of the event last year when I’d gone for a night run with the kids over Claife Heights. As we paddled across Windermere we could see a line of twinkling lights on the Fairfield Horseshoe. A bit later we came across a couple blokes obviously in some sort of race. They looked absolutely knackered. They told us what they were doing and that they were headed to Cartmel some 20 miles away. “Nearly there…” they gasped. We ran off thinking what a disappointment they were in for but we didn’t have the heart to tell them.
Something had piqued my interest though and I chatted with my friend Danabout the possibility of doing it together. Dan is a decent marathon runner and he was keen on the idea of something a bit different. I started to have second thoughts though on the amount of training I would have to do. Just before Christmas I decided to go for a run to make up my mind. I heard the sound of a bike behind me and turned around to see a friend who had done the Lakeland 100 mile race earlier that year. Of course, he thought it sounded like a great idea… if a little easy. The decision was made.
The training for the event was great. I love running in the Lakes and had loads of fun planning ‘bus stop’ runs where I’d get a bus to somewhere remote and run back to the caravan in Bowness.
On the day of the race we were up at 4.00am to get ourselves on the coach from Cartmel to the start at Caldbeck. The coach was full of quiet chatter about the route and the weather. In the last few years the race has enjoyed fantastic weather but the forecast for this year was grim. Rain and wind were likely and walking ‘arduous’. We also made a decision about our route off Blencathra. The race gave you two choices – down the scary Halls Fell or down the more sedate Blease Fell – about 2 miles further in distance. A lady we spoke to had timed both routes and thought Blease Fell was actually a bit quicker. I’d been down Halls Fell on the recce and thought then it would be horrendous if wet. I descend hills like a man with a mortgage and three kids so the decision was now easy. Blease Fell it was.
The start of the race soon came and we were off. The first mile is on easy roads but it wasn’t long before we were on the hills and heading for our first climb of the day – High Pike. As we got higher the wind and rain started and it wasn’t long before we were being battered by a strong wind from the side. The route to Blancathra was open choice but navigating was easy with a long line of people in front of us.
After High Pike came a long, leg shredding, descent to a river. On the recce we’d had to wade through this but all the recent rain meant the organisers had put in a makeshift temporary bridge. It was very welcome.
Next up we had a long slog to the top of Blencathra. It went on for miles. I knew a good line to take from doing it before that was a bit off the obvious path. But, in the mist I couldn’t see it and we stuck to the main path. As we neared the top we were struggling to walk in the wind as it gusted right into us.
At the summit of Blencathra a marshal was on hand to direct people down Halls Fell but we stuck to our plan and went down Blease.
The food stop at Threlkeld was welcome and we filled up with extra water for the next leg to Ambleside which we knew was the longest and hardest.
The next challenge was the climb of Clough Head. This is a steep ascent of a grassy slope. On a good day it’s 30 minutes of hard effort. Today it was even harder as the runners before us had churned up what footholds there are meaning constant slips. At this stage every tumble was met with a laugh and we just got on with it.
The route from the top of Clough Head to Helvellyn is one of my favourites with lots of runnable bits and some great views. Sadly, the views were clagged by mist but we still managed to run on in the wind and rain. It was getting steadily colder so we had a quick stop to put more gear on. I’d been spooked by a comment the organiser had made that most people finish wearing everything they’d brought and wishing they’d brought more. Thanks to that I’d packed another warm jacket and I felt quite happy. I was now wearing everything I’d brought with me.
Shortly after our stop we came across another runner clearly in difficulty. She was shivering and struggling to talk. I don’t know if her kit had let her down but she was soaked through. Worrying that she might go down with hyperthermia we linked arms with her and walked with her for a couple of hours until we reached the shelter at the top of Helvellyn and some respite from the wind. We called the race emergency number for help and they advised that it would be at least 2 hours for Mountain Rescue or their own team to get her. The quickest way to get her off the mountain to safety was if we took her down to Thirlmere where a car would collect her. We agreed and set off on the slow descent down leaving the route and the other runners behind.
When we finally reached bottom and the marshal who’d come out to collect the runner, Dan said that he thought we should finish it there too. He didn’t fancy the fact that it would be night by the time we rejoined what were pretty unpleasant conditions anyway. I said, in the most assertive voice I could manage, that I wasn’t quitting. I’d invested so much emotionally over the last year in completing this that I just couldn’t contemplate it being over. I thought that might mean Dan and I parted company but, without any hesitation, he said we’d carry on together.
Rather than retrace our route down from Nethermost Pike we ran along a track through Wythburn and ascended up a gully to take us to Grisedale Tarn. The route back was a fairly tricky ascent up slippy rocks on tired legs. My watch rumbled a warning that it was 10 minutes to sunset. By the time we reached the tarn it was pitch black and the head torches were on. The one bit of good news was seeing some other lights ahead that we knew we’d catch up.
Before the race started I’d told Dan that the worst part of it for me would be the climb and descent from Fairfield. I don’t like it much in the daylight and now we were faced with it in the dark and with our torches barely cutting through the mist. We laboured up to the top and then, thanks to the GPS track on my watch, we were able to safely navigate our way to start the descent.
It was quite soon after that the lights of Ambleside, our next destination, came into sight. It was very deceptive in the night as it would still be hours before we made it there. The descent of Fairfield is full of boulders that need to be clambered over. The path, when we were on it, was often bog that swallowed you past your knees. And it went on forever. Once we were over the worst we left behind the others as they knew they would miss the cut off of 10.30 at Ambleside. We knew we would miss it too but hoped that the race organisers would cut us some slack. As we arrived in Ambleside it was wonderful to see Louise and the kids who’d waited for ages for us to arrive.
At the food stop we got a heroes welcome and were asked if we wanted to carry on. We said we did and all the helpers there ran around after us so we could refuel, refill and change into some new shoes and socks. With a renewed sense of energy we set off on the final 22 miles.
By now running was a big ask so we marched along at a reasonable pace occasionally breaking out into a slow jog when conditions allowed. The route took us over Claife Heights before joining the lake shore. Some flooding meant that the paths were submerged and need to be waded through. So much for the dry shoes.
The next climb was up to High Dam. This is short compared to what we’d come though but still tough. What we didn’t realise was that the helpers at the next feed stop in Finsthwaite were all watching our progress on a screen through the GPS trackers we were wearing. I suspect they had a revised cutoff point in mind that we needed to make or we’d have no chance of getting to the finish by 8.00am. They were cheering us on from from afar willing us to make it. As we staggered in they shouted that we had 11 minutes to get back out again. We drank some soup and tucked into to more rolls before setting off on what we hoped would be a fairly straightforward final 8 miles.
By now we were both really tired. The route meandered through fields and woods and was often boggy draining the little strength we still had. My watch was showing an estimated time of arrival that kept creeping up each time I looked at it. At one point it was reading 7.45am and I knew that any further delay would mean that we’d be in after 8.00am and we’d have failed.
We kept on going and finally reached the road which we knew was the final stretch and, thankfully, mostly downhill. We broke into a jog for the last stretch . It was a real treat to see Louise and the boys had gone to Cartmel to see us finish after watching our progress through the night.
With a final surge we crossed the finish line at 7.30am. Last place but we’d made it!
A big thanks to Dan for putting up with me. I think it’s fair to say I had a bit more of an emotional investment in the race. Thanks to the organisers and marshals for doing all they could to help us finish. Thanks to the family – those who came to cheer us on and those who stayed up all night watching two dots move very slowly on a computer screen. And thanks to everyone who sponsored me to do it. I didn’t want to let you down.
Please sponsor Jonathan by clicking here.