Lakes Sky Ultra – Race Day

Soooo… the Lakes Sky Ultra. Ultra steep. Ultra technical. Ultra hard. Ultra beautiful. Ultra awesome. But let me start from the beginning.

The view of Striding Edge just before the summit of Helvellyn.

The view of Striding Edge just before the summit of Helvellyn.

I was pretty apprehensive the week before the race. More so than before any other race I’ve done. Partly I think that’s because I had done a fair bit of training and recce on the actual race course. As a result I had a pretty good idea of what I should be able to do on race day (given I have a good day).

All of a sudden I was hyperaware of every little niggle. Was that my old tendon injury coming back? Was that cough the start of a cold? Why is my foot so sore from walking to work? Luckily, I was fine and felt surprisingly laid back the night before the race.

Meeting so many cool people at the safety briefing the evening before the race was awesome. It was nice to come back the next morning for the start and see some familiar faces.

And off we went...

And off we went. Photo by Janneke.

At 7:00 on Saturday morning we were all off, running up the stairs through the campus of the University of Cumbria in Ambleside. A lot of runners started very fast and I felt like I needed to take the foot of the gas a bit. After all, it’s a pretty long race. So by the time we got to the first ascent I was pretty much at the back of the pack. By the time we were on Fairfield however I had overtaken a fair few people and I managed to overtake some more on the following descent. The next ascent, up Dollywaggon, was pretty steep and my legs started to feel worryingly tired this early in the race. I also started to feel a bit nauseous. A whole bunch of people had then overtaken me again on the way to the top of Helvellyn.

The following descent down Swirral Edge was a lot of fun and the marshal on top of Catstye Cam was cheering everybody on with drums and absolutely delicious baked goods (thank you!). I felt a lot better and was able to take on some more food at the next small aid station before following the red flags marking the course through the bogs around to Hole-in-the-wall. I managed to catch up with some other runners on the technical ascent up Striding Edge.

By the time I got to the top I was pretty tired and again struggled to take on enough food, but the descent down Eagle Crag lifted my spirits. I loved all the technical sections! In fact I kept leapfrogging with other runners who were definitely fitter than I am. On all the runnable bits they’d overtake me, but I usually managed to catch them again on the technical sections, both uphill and downhill.

Before tackling the steepest ascent of the day (up the steep grassy slopes to Pinnacle Ridge) I stopped briefly to empty my shoes from the little stones that had accumulated after running down the scree slopes on the other side. Pinnacle Ridge was definitely my favourite part of the course. It was surprisingly busy on the ridge, but I think everybody was in high spirits and more concerned with taking in the scenery and enjoying the exposure and the scrambling than a few seconds here or there.

A photo of me (red top) and others on Pinnacle Ridge I found on Instagram:

A photo posted by ross leblanc (@rossleb) on

The relatively long descent down to the Patterdale aid station gave my quads a bit of a pounding and made sure I was thoroughly ready for a refuel. Because I hadn’t eaten anywhere near as much as I’d hoped to I didn’t actually need to pick up any extra food from my drop bag, but I enjoyed some of the snacks (including an egg at the race directors recommendation) and had my water filled up (thank you to the aid station team!) before I headed back out for the second half of the course. I felt pretty good leaving Patterdale after a very quick stop, but soon after started to feel very tired. The route took us past some beautiful remote lakes though, but I clearly wasn’t the only one struggling at this point. One of the guys helping out with the event (sorry I can’t remember the name) was running to the Haweswater aid station too and we ran together chatting for a while, which was a welcome distraction from my fatigue.

Coming into the Kirkstone Pass aid station. Photo by Janneke.

Coming into the Kirkstone Pass aid station. Photo by Janneke.

After a quick refuel I set off for what would be the toughest couple of hours of the race (maybe even any race) for me. I felt really tired and struggled to drink and eat enough. It’s odd because I’ve never had problems with nutrition before in my long races. Anyway, I kept leapfrogging with a couple of other guys as we were all faster or slower than each other on different sections of the following kilometers. I sped up a bit towards the last aid station at Kirkstone Pass as I thought that my girlfriend and a couple of friends might meet me there to cheer me on. They didn’t disappoint and their cheering gave me a lot of extra energy I didn’t really feel I had. I really had to fight hard the previous two ascents, and all of a sudden I felt relatively strong again (although they say I looked pretty knackered). Up the final ascent I managed to keep the distance to the runners who previously always caught me on the uphills about the same all the way to the top. Again, brilliant marshall up there with some musical encouragement!

Looking slightly confused but happy at the last aid station. Photo by Janneke.

Looking slightly confused but happy at the last aid station. Photo by Janneke.

Setting off to tackle the last ascent of the day. Photo by Janneke.

Setting off to tackle the last ascent of the day. Photo by Janneke.

I then set off on the last descent of the day, the last few kilometres down to Ambleside and the finish line. I don’t know where, but somewhere I had found a whole lot of extra energy and I was running faster than I had run all day. I reached the short road section in no time and was weaving through the traffic there before shooting off to the right again down a track back into Ambleside. I even had the energy to sprint the last couple of metres, joined by my friends, uphill and up some stairs across the finish line.

Sprinting towards the finish line.

Sprinting towards the finish line. Photo by Janneke.

I took a couple of minutes to catch my breath before saying goodbye to the other competitors and then I was off to my girlfriend’s birthday party (thanks for letting me run!).

After finishing: tired but happy! Photo by Janneke.

After finishing: tired but happy! Photo by Janneke.

The Lakes Sky Ultra was definitely one of the toughest races I’ve ever done. It was also one of the best days out in the mountains though! The course marking was excellent, so you never had to worry about getting lost. The entire LSU team was brilliant and super nice. Huge special thanks to all the marshals and aid station volunteers, you guys were fantastic! Great camaraderie between all the runners, too. Obviously it was a race, but everybody I met was super friendly and encouraging at all times (and I hope I was too!). I guess these kind of events just attract a certain kind of awesome people.

Overall I’m super happy with my result. I finished 39th out of 91 starters in what I think was a pretty strong field (full results here). I’m definitely excited for next year when I’ll be touring the mountainous areas of the Americas rather than living in London. Training for these kind of events will definitely be a lot easier…

You can read the race directors report here (has some cool photos too).

Here’s the epic video of the event:

The photos of the competitors by one of the photographers on the course can be found here.

The official Skyrunning UK report with some epic photos can be found here.

I’ll update this with more videos and photos as they become available.

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