Stu Taylor gives us an insight into his Lakes Traverse 100km, just 6 weeks after completing the Atlas Mountain race.
“How long do you need to train for a 100km ultra run?”
With the Lakes Traverse looming in the back of my mind whilst recovering from an unexpected body battering during the Atlas Mountain Race. Neck issues, sore feet along with numb toes and fingers being the lasting effects, with only 6 weeks to go having an enforced two-week exercise break, the clock was certainly ticking to get some training in and time on my feet!
So, what exactly have I got myself into?
The Lakes Traverse is a 100km race that starts in St. Bees and crosses the entire Lake District, finishing in Shap. The route traverses Ennerdale, Borrowdale, over Grasmere Common and Fairfield, through Patterdale, over Kidsty Pike and along Haweswater into Shap taking in nearly 3500m of ascent along the way, this is a challenging yet beautiful ultra……. gulp!
Trainers laced up it was time to get out running, toes still tingling from the AMR but improving by the day I began to get some training miles in. One thing I needed to decide was whether to use poles? Having never used them before but heard such good things about them I opted to try some out Alpkit Carbon Marathon Ultra Twin poles at only 205g each and packing down to 37cm these were ideal.
With the race only, a matter of days away it was time for the usual ritual of packing and unpacking kit until I was happy with how it was all looking and feeling. We had a mandatory kit list that had to be carried on the hill, here's what I took.
After what felt like weeks of wet weather we must be due a break! Luckily enough we alI lined up at the start line of the Silva Lakes Traverse 2023 it was a beautiful morning by the beach at St Bees the sun was shining, accompanied by a chilly breeze but it was dry, that was the first tick off my wanted list.
At the start mingling amongst another 200+ runners ready to tackle this brutal race I was actually feeling strangely excited, this was all so new to me in terms of running, I mean the furthest I had ever run was 40km and it was further to the first checkpoint halfway along the route. I kept thinking and relating back to my bike-packing races and the experience gained, one thought was if I could pedal my bike for 7 or more days then surely, I could run for 20 hours or less, the competitive me was thinking 15 hours but as with anything this epic the goal was to finish.
At 7.30am the siren sounded and we set off on our journey too and through the Lake District. Runners were snaking the cliff edge of St Bees as we made our way around the coast to head inland. Within the first couple hours of the run I was counting down the time as a way of dealing with the distance, I never had any device enabled to tell me how far I had gone at any point, I found it easier to think of it as there’s only 10 hours left to go, I knew I had the endurance in the tank and the mindset to plug away it was more about will my body hold out.
With a roughly estimated target of reaching the first checkpoint in 5 hours, the going was a slowly than expected with technical sections on the ups and downs with some climbs almost a scramble in a part. The path alongside Ennerdale water was super rocky and slow which was difficult to find any flow on with the risk of going over on an ankle pretty high, it was on this section that I had the toughest point on the whole traverse for me at around 30km. I injured my big toe somehow, maybe stubbed it or kicked a rock but it was throbbing feeling like I had ripped the nail off. My pace slowed as I battled the pain for a while then I slipped and my foot went into a deep pool of cold water this numbed my foot and in particular my toe reducing the pain all together, result! So, when the pain came back I just submerged my foot in some cold water again. I had found a nice rhythm to my pace and was loving using the poles, they saved me a few times from falling over on the rough stuff and helped me stay running upright helping keep my recent neck injury from showing its ugly head. With the first big climb of the day to tackle Black Sail pass sitting just before the first check point at 40km in. Wow this was a shock to the system straight up from the YHA, legs screaming, a couple of tactical “I’ll stop and take in the view moments” to have a little rest on the way up. The scenery was stunning as we were gaining height, looking back from where we had come and forward to where we were heading was insane and all this with no bike! Plodding into checkpoint one 6 ½ hours later having run my longest distance ever 47.5km my spirits were high and looking forward to a sit down with some real food and to change my socks.
After sharing stories with other runners of our journey so far and gorging on food, snacks and coke for around twenty minutes I was on my way to Patterdale to the next checkpoint a further 24km away. Heading up Grisedale Tarn the temperature dropped as we entered the low cloud and the wind increased, a few runners were stopping to add layers as I did putting on my gravitas waterproof to keep at the wind and the fine rain you know that stuff that make you really wet! Up an over the summit I had the realisation that I couldn’t actually feel my fingers they were so cold. Stopping to change my gloves I found myself caught in the wind and rain not being able to actually get my gloves on resulting in me just ramming my fists inside the glove with the fingers flopping around I began the descent down in a bid to get the blood pumping and some feeling back in my fingers.
19.30pm the welcome sight of checkpoint two 12 hours since leaving St Bees and nearly 75km into my first ultra I felt like I well and truly deserved the burrito, chips and fresh coffee that I was tucking into. There were mixed of emotions at the checkpoint with some runners struggling bad with blisters, others scratching trying to organise a lift home and plenty who were enjoying themselves eager to get going, but ready for it to be over. I was in the amazingly in the latter camp super happy to be feeling as well as I did all considering, I was now at three times the furthest I had ever run…ridiculous!
Was the run going to plan well as I had no plan then it was absolutely bang on, and now the end was in sight 25km that’s on 5 x 5km runs I can do that! These are thoughts I had throughout the race breaking down sections along the way. Reaching the top of the last summit and the highest of the day Kidsty Pike 780m, head torches were now on a visibility down to a couple of metres due to the fog, the light reflecting of water particles like a scene out of Star Wars. Due to the condition’s navigation became tricky relying solely on my Garmin Etrex to take over and lead me home it was at least all downhill from here, well undulating. They had been a lot of walking during this last leg so once the bright lights of Shap lit up the skyline it was time to pick those feet up and put this incredible ultra to bed. At this point everything began to ache maybe because the finish was in site and the realisation it was so nearly over.
Just after 2am to my relief, excitement, fulfilment and monu…bloody…mental achievement I crossed the line and finished my very first 100km ultra and what an epic it was!
“Could I do the Northern Traverse 300km".