Race Date: Sunday 14th May 2023
This is a long report, but it was a long race.
tl:dr great route, wonderful views, well organised, waymarked, first (and last) Strider, great first ultra for those that fancy the distance. Run hills, enjoy life.
The Lap is a bi-annual race running in a loop around the largest “lake” in the Lake District (yes I know it’s technically a mere). While the route itself is the same, the direction changes every six months. I opted for the clockwise, keep the lake on your right, get the biggest climbs done first, version.
While not my first ultra race, this was my longest at 75km and the previous was about 2.5 years ago, so I didn’t really have recent memories that could impact for the escapades to come.
In the run up to the race I was running most of miles on the trails around the peaks, both on my own and with Striders Tuesday Fell group. I’d aim to get out after work having spent 8 hours on my feet and then run for a couple of hours. Trying to up my time on feet through step count and running mileage. I’d also told my self I’d do some strength and flexibility work at home but the reality was I like sitting down too much.
Two weeks before the race I ran the Yorkshire 3 peaks race which you can read about here and had been my longest run in years at 25miles (most of my training runs topped out 20 miles). At the end of the race I was a broken man shell-shocked and shattered, but with two weeks of taper and eating everything in sight I was feeling pretty good as we arrived in Windermere.
Race eve arrived and after a 3 hour drive up to the Lake District we were called to a field in the hamlet of Cunsey, about 1/3 of the way up the western shore of Windermere. A throng of athletes in an organised chaos of a series of queues. Registration, drop bag collection (courtesy of race sponsors Dynafit), route map provided and GPS tracker fitted before a kit check then finally the bar!
The race was sponsored in part by Fell Brewery who are based in Flookburgh, so a pint of delicious and nerve quenching cask pale ale was had while meeting a twitter friend and brewer Scott. The brewery had also put in a £200 prize for any endeavouring souls who could beat the course record (current records – M Ellis Bland 6:59:28, F Emma Stuart 8:08:09).
Race day morning was cool and misty, I arrived suitably early (5am) and missed the toilet queue, before retreating back to the car for coffee and a couple of pastries. The sky shifted in shade from dark grey to off white as the sun rose behind the 420m of cloud layer, and before we knew it the best part of 1000 runners were heading off down a field to a gate I was hoping to see again in around 10 and a half hour’s time.
Like a lot of trail and fell races, the start is a little bit of jostling only to be held up by pausing at gates, styles and planks of wood across streams. But after a mile or so we hit a bit of road and things opened out and we hit our stride.
The first check point was only 1/16 into the distance but I picked half a banana from the selection and continued on from Near Sawry, past Moss Eccles Tarn and up to Latterbarrow. Pulling up toward the trig we left the cloud for a short while so we could see a little further and feel a bit more warmth on our cheeks.
Descending to Skelwith Bridge and the next aid station at 18km, this time was only a water top up. I’m a thirsty runner even in the shade so I took every opportunity to top up throughout the race. As we headed toward the first of the two big climbs of the race, Loughrigg Fell, I walked up a steep grass field and snacked on a peanut butter & jam sandwich and a few Tangfastics in preparation for the 270m of climb over steps up to the cloud clogged summit.
I had a tentative time in mind when I thought I’d be off Loughrigg and in Ambleside’s Rothay Park, around the start of Parkrun where Laura and my parents would hopefully be waiting to do their running for the day. I was a little behind my fastest target, but made it just in time to coincide with The Cheer Team™ and the first corner of the Park Run.
The clag of low cloud stuck through Ambleside, along the town centre, up the road sections to the trail before a well maintained set of rock steps at a gradient of about 1:3 up to the next summit (Wansfell, the highest part of the race) around 460m up. The further we climbed the thinner the cloud felt, more like candy floss, before we looked down upon the temperature inversion sat like a smooth marshmallow above Ambleside, showing the tips of High Pike and Dove Crag across the valley to the North West. I took a breath – alive, awake, free, but also slow, heavy legged and a little tired, and I feel here lies the quandary in ultra racing. Always tired but always appreciative of where you are.
Heading down to Troutbeck a little bit of recurring tendon foot pain said hello, and I opted for a shoe change at the bag drop/half way point (not actually half way)/pizza oven/flat coke dispensary there. An almost Formula 1 level tyre change happened – fresh shoes and socks replaced the damp ones, water was topped up, another banana and a clutch of sandwiches to the outer pockets of the race vest, shots of coke and away I was to climb another hill at around 35km.
The subsequent miles were a bit of a blur. I know I enjoyed the rest of the day, but the heat ramped up a bit. And everything was punctuated by a few hills, a couple of feed station, some lively sheep and a few wonderful few everbrief moments seeing The Cheer Team™, who were guided by the LiveTracker, watching me in the form of a red balloon make my way around the course. I hit a wall or two at the region between 50 and 60km coming off the last named hill of the race, Gummer’s How, grapes and Fruitella helped.
Eventually I reached the bottom of the lake, Newby Bridge. My pal Scott from Fell Brewery was there with water and a smile. By this point I was a toasted sweaty weary mess. The climb from Newby Bridge up to Pennington Lodge was a real stinker, like Twentywell but 3 times the climb with 66km in the legs. Ooof.
Then it was a quick drop down through a heavily logged area with enough felling that I’m sure Treebeard, Merry and Pippin must have been somewhere holding an Entmoot to bring an end to Saruman’s reign of destruction.
The final check point had the same great spread as all the previous points, pretzels and crisps, peanut butter and cream cheese baguettes, nuts, orange slices, bananas, sweets. But also a kid brandishing a hose. By this point running over winter hadn’t prepared me for the highs of 20c (I later found out it was the hottest day in the Lake District so far this year) but everything is cumulative. Heat, fatigue and an unsettled tum were slowing me down a touch, but with the end almost in sight and orange slices in hand I set off with a little more vim.
After a few more hills, a handfull of runners overtook me up the final major climb. But as I seem to be a far more confident downhill runner than I am a strong ascender I nipped past them with 4.5km to go as we hit the lake edge for the very last leg to the finish.
After 10:27, 85000 steps and 76km of running I had finished, also ahead of the lads I’d passed further down the road. Tired, sunkissed, thirsty and ready for the post race curry and pizza. Being greeted at the finish line with a much needed pint of Helles was very welcome, and all finishers received a medal made from locally grown and coppiced wood.
The race was won by Joel Jameson in 07.34.34 and Rachel Piper in 09.22.44. No clubs are listed in the results but I’m pretty sure I was the only Strider, coming 54th in 10.27.20. There were 650 finishers out of just over 700 runners.
Full results are available here