By 2013 race winner, Stuart Mills
The MONTANE® Lakeland 100 is widely regarded as the ‘premier’ ultra trail race in the UK. 2013 was the event’s sixth year and the third time that I had run it. On my first attempt in 2010, I managed to win in a time of 24:10:54. When I returned in 2012, although I ran twenty five minutes quicker, finishing in 23:45:48, the standard of UK ultra trail racing during the two year gap had improved significantly and I only managed to finish in fifth place. So coming into this year’s race, although I was satisfied with my preparation and was therefore expecting to race quicker than 2012, what my finish position would be was totally unknown.
#The variety of pacing strategies adopted by ultra trail athletes during a 100 mile race is huge. Some prefer to start slowly, progressively working their way through the field. Others adopt a consistent pace approach and attempt to run steady throughout the entire race. Me? I have a simple pacing approach; “Run as fast as I can, while I can!” I therefore start extremely fast while I am fresh and feeling strong and then simply try to ‘hang on’ and not let too many runners overtake me. This approach was therefore implemented at 6:00pm on Friday 26th July 2013, as the race commenced at Coniston in warm, sunny conditions. Take a look at the data in the image gallery above this report which illustrates the amazingly large variation in pacing strategies adopted by the leading runners.
#Although the race is called the MONTANE® Lakeland 100, it is actually 105 miles in length, split into fifteen legs, where one is able to refuel and rehydrate at the checkpoint at the end of each leg. Even though I was running probably ‘ridiculously’ fast, I arrived at the first checkpoint at Seathwaite in second place around one minute behind the lead runner, Ken Sutor. Following a short stop where within an instant I had consumed a cup of water at the checkpoint, the two of us left together and continued to run extremely fast, especially when taking into account that we still had a little less than one hundred miles to go. We reached the checkpoint at the end of leg two, located at Boot, pretty well together. I again passed through the checkpoint very quickly and continued on to leg three, now running on my own, as Ken spent more time refuelling.
#My fuelling strategy for this race was slightly different to previously. As there is a large range of food available at each checkpoint, previously I had tended to consume probably only one or two gels during the entire race and get the majority of my fuel by eating the checkpoint food. Earlier this year I discovered TORQ Gels. Apparently they have been available for nearly ten years, but tend to be used mainly by mountain bikers or triathletes. They are awesome! So this year, the plan was to take on one gel every 45 minutes. I therefore started the race carrying fourteen gels, which would fuel me to the Dalemain checkpoint, where I would be able to pick up more gels to get me to the end of the race from my drop bag. I also decided that I would be very strict on myself in consuming one gel every forty five minutes. In some of my previous races I perhaps had not taken on board enough fuel, so I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. The evidence from scientific literature suggests that probably one gel every 20 – 30 minutes is ideal for endurance performance, but the research is not carried out on 100 mile running events, where “the normal limits do not apply”! So I decided every 45 minutes should be plenty.
#During the next two legs, as I ran through Wasdale Head, then over the two tough climbs of Black Sail Pass and Scarth Gap, the surrounding scenery was unbelievable, with a sunset creating amazing colours to light up the landscape. As I approached checkpoint four at Buttermere, I had no idea how far ahead of the other 273 runners I was. Whilst I am racing I try to focus on what I am doing and try to ignore what others are doing. I can’t control their pace, so I try not to pay my competition much attention. I run hard and fast in order to get to the finish line as quickly as possible, therefore let my actual finish position ‘look after itself’!
#I started leg five (over Sail Pass to Braithwaite) and although night had fallen, it wasn’t actually that dark. There was an amazingly bright moon within a clear night sky. On occasions the headtorches of the chasing runners behind me attracted my attention and reminded me that I was in a highly competitive ultra trail race. However, I reminded myself to focus on the present moment, not to worry about what other runners were doing, to enjoy the amazing journey that I was on and appreciate just how fortunate I was that I was fit and healthy enough to experience this truly amazing challenge that I was part way through. The night time just seemed to ‘fly past’ and it became daylight as I reach checkpoint eight located at Dalemain, having completed 59 miles since leaving Coniston.
At each checkpoint, in addition to taking on food and drink, one also has to ‘dib’ into an electronic timing box. This information is then automatically loaded onto the race website, enabling all my family and friends to track my progress from anywhere in the world, including my brother tracking my progress in New Zealand.
Having dibbed 1st at seven consecutive checkpoints, I reflected on how my family and friends would be reacting to my good progress and found myself getting excited about the prospect of holding onto my lead for the remaining 46 miles and getting back to Coniston to record the win! At that point it was nine hours since I had seen another runner, way back at checkpoint two, however at the last two checkpoints I was informed of the time gaps to the following runners – 14 minutes at the end of leg six, but only 10 minutes at the end of leg seven. I found myself wondering what may happen during the upcoming legs; would they catch me? When might they catch me? Would I be able to keep in contact with them? Etc. Fortunately, I managed to snap myself out of this potential performance inhibiting thought process and reminded myself to take one leg at a time and most of all just enjoy every moment, during that moment!
#As I completed legs nine and 10, that took me first to Howtown and then over High Kop (the highest point of the route at 670m) and onward to Mardale Head, the heat from the sun on another glorious day was making its presence known. It was getting pretty hot! Having lived in Britain for over twenty years since emigrating from New Zealand, the one thing I have learnt to deal with is the contrasting British weather, often being colder than one would like. So at that point, with the British weather finally coming right for a decent summer, the last thing I was going to do was to complain about it. As the sun seemed to get brighter and more powerful, making me feel hotter, I was absolutely loving it. “Yes, give me heat! Yes, give me more!” I was chanting out loud, knowing that other runners may be reacting less positively to this beautiful hot summer’s day.
From Mardale Head, there were still five legs to complete totalling 29.4 miles, however, there was an overarching feeling that one is now on the ‘home straight’, not that the route is flat. No, there were plenty of tough climbs to get over including Gatesgarth Pass on leg 11 and then Garburn Pass on leg 12, before reaching checkpoint 12 at Ambleside.
#Whether it was the effects of the heat, or the tough climbs, or the technically challenging underfoot conditions of loose boulders/gravel, or simply that I had run non-stop overnight for over 18 hours (I don’t really know), getting through legs 11 and 12 had been pretty challenging. So when I was told at Ambleside that I was being chased down, not just by Ed Batty, who had been in 2nd place at around 10 – 20 minutes for the previous 15 hours, but also by two other runners, Charlie Sharpe and Richie Cunningham, who are known for adopting the ‘start slow / burst through the field and finish strong’ strategy, I wasn’t really surprised. But the key issue was, how was I going to respond to being hunted down?
I’ve highlighted that I attempted to focus on myself and disregard my competitors. But by now, having been in the lead for now nearly 18 hours, the thought of winning was getting strong – the desire to win, the anticipated satisfaction of crossing the finish line first… The thought of losing the lead at this late stage, as at Ambleside there was only 15.6 miles to go, would be ‘heart breaking’, it would be devastating, it wouldn’t be fair! Was I going to simply let it happen? No! I decided that if they were going to beat me, they were going to have to work extremely hard. So I started on leg 13 with a really determined mind-set, which resulted in a substantial increase in my running pace.
#The section of the route during leg 13 that travels through Elterwater to Chapel Stile is simply ‘picture postcard’. Therefore whilst maintaining my determination, I also had to remind myself continually to ‘take it all in’, enjoy this amazing moment, during this present moment. Although I was working really hard and finding it pretty ‘tough’, this section of the race was probably the most enjoyable, the most satisfying. I was extremely pleased with myself and the way that I had responded to the news of being chased down at Ambleside. I was also happy with the substantial increase in my running speed since Ambleside. Although ‘suffering’ I was really ‘buzzing’!
As I reached checkpoint 13 I interrogated one of the volunteers – what was my time gap now? How far behind were they? How much time had they gained during the last leg? He informed me that the gap had been further reduced! I couldn’t believe it. How could that be? I had been running really well for the last five miles, but they had still gained time on me.
As you may have gathered, with it now being nearly 20 hours since the race had started, my mind wasn’t functioning correctly. The time gap the volunteer was referring to was the time gap change from checkpoint 11 to checkpoint 12. Not leg 13 that I had just run strongly over. I didn’t really take this on board, so I panicked even more. Right, let’s now give it everything. I just can’t get overtaken now! Some supporting runners who I knew were doing their best to try to calm me down, but I wasn’t really listening to them. I took off on the penultimate leg knowing that even more effort was required!
#In what seemed like barely a few minutes, but was in fact one hour and thirty minutes, I reached the final checkpoint at Tilberthwaite. Although the leg had been tough, it also had been extremely satisfying. I had run well. In fact comparing this leg time to my leg 14 times from my two races in 2010 and 2012, I had run it 25 and 24 minutes quicker respectively!
The last leg involved one final tough climb before dropping down to the finish at Coniston. I worked hard up the steep incline and then as I reached the summit I asked two runners who were watching to have a good look back along the track to see if they could view those runners that had been ‘haunting’ me, chasing me down for the last few hours. They were nowhere to be seen! The watching runner wanted to shake my hand to congratulate me, as I crested the summit. I refused as I hadn’t yet won the race, but at that moment in time I knew I would win the MONTANE® Lakeland 100 for the 2nd time. This realisation drained all of my focus. All of my energy immediately vanished. I therefore absolutely struggled on the steep descent, struggled along the gravel road and then struggled even more along the final half mile of smooth road as I ran through Coniston to reach the finish line.
I crossed the finish line having completed the most amazing clockwise journey of the Lake District in 22:17:50. Nearly one and a half hours quicker than my 2012 finish time. There was a large crowd cheering me which I tried to take on board, but not only is the body pretty shattered, the mind is also not fully functioning. However, over the next hour or so, I gradually recovered and enjoyed welcoming and chatting to the other runners as they finished their equally challenging but amazing journey of the Lake District.
Although the time gap had only been 13 minutes at my ‘panic attack’ at checkpoint 13 at Chapel Stile, the huge increase in focus, effort, intensity I put in following this point resulted in the gap increasing to 45 minutes at the finish line, with Charlie Sharpe finishing 2nd (23:02:45), having managed to overtake long time 2nd place holder Ed Batty during the final leg, for Ed to finish 3rd in 23:07:40. The wait for the 1st women to finish wasn’t long, with Lizzie Wraith winning in the time of 24:15:06, finishing in 8th place overall; an outstanding performance.
Over the next 16 hours there was a continuous stream of weary runners crossing the finish line. As the 40hour cut-off time passes, the final two competitors to complete the 105 miles, Steve Harvey and Paul Brown, cross the finish line in the time of 40:21:58 in 123rd and 124th place.
Out of the 274 runners that had taken on the challenge of the 105 mile journey of the Lake District, 150 of them were unable to successfully complete it. There are many reasons for such a high non-completion, which equates to a 55% drop-out rate, however, no matter what the end result, every runner that stepped up to the start line to take on the amazingly demanding challenge of the MONTANE® Lakeland 100 is in essence a winner. Some may be disappointed with their performance; however I would imagine most, like myself, are feeling a real sense of pride at having really challenged and extended themselves. Each runner will have their own individual story, but if their story is anything like mine, the end result is that they are a stronger and richer person.
Thanks to absolutely everyone that was involved in making the MONTANE® Lakeland 100 the most fantastic successful event one could ever do. Thanks to everyone that helped me on my journey in both the preparation for and the accomplishment of it. Your support is really, really appreciated, and I know one thing for sure, I would not have been able to achieve such a successful performance without this support. A huge thank you.
Original post on – Montane Website HERE
All photography copyright iancorless.com