I woke on Saturday morning to a clear day and was treated to a beautiful sunrise at Kents Bank station as I embarked on the 55-mile bay limestone round. I started my GPS trackers, lathered a healthy dose of Vaseline on my groins and posed for a quick photo… and before I knew it, 07.00 showed up and I was off.
After a week where storm ciaran dominated the news I was delighted to hear the south lakes had experienced a comparatively dry week. Not so ‘grim up north’ for once. However, the lowland sections of the round were still very wet, which made for a lot of energy sapping running early on. It actually made me relish the climbs up to the dry limestone tops of Humphrey head, Hampsfell and Lords seat, where I was treated to some amazing views and easier running.
I had gained 10 mins on an ambitious 9 hour 30 minute schedule by the time I reached my first road stop at Underbarrow and was feeling good. My 2 road stops were efficient, 2 minutes at each one, mainly thanks to my support team (my wife Niamh and parents Jill and Pete). Nutrition and hydration was going down well and my legs felt relatively fresh. Cunswick scar and scout scar came and went smoothly. Even though Cunswick scar is only a third into the whole round, the fact it is the most northerly point gave me encouragement, in a twisted, ultra marathon mindset, kind of way.
By road stop 2 at Crooklands canal, the tables had turned. I wasn’t stomaching solid food, felt nauseous, and even on the flat canal sections my legs felt heavy. My mate, Matt McVey, joined me from Levens which was a pleasant surprise. I had supported him on his successful Bob Graham Round this summer so it was great to catch up - even though I wasn’t much craic by this point on the round. Running with someone really makes a difference and this got me through a real rough patch. Cheers Matt!
I was also lifted by the introduction of my hiking poles, particularly considering the biggest climb of the day, Farleton Knott, was approaching. The highest point of the round is always followed by the inevitable “it’s all downhill from here” monologue. More irrational ultra marathon logic. The steep scree slopes, from the foot of Farleton look rather daunting but this was my local fell - one I’ve walked, climbed and ran up and down hundreds of times as a boy. Poles in hand, I powered up the slope, desperately clinging on to my schedule, and onto Hutton roof crags. Buoyed by the fact the route passed my parents back gate, I descended with vigour despite an increasing ankle pain which had started from scout scar and slowly but surely increased. I reach my parents house. Not quite grasping the urgency of the situation, my mum stood there with a flask of tea, a box of home baked goods and tempted me to a “brew and a breather for a few minutes”. I laughed it off and pressed on towards Yealand before the temptation got the better of me and my heavy legs.
At this point in an ultra, you’re obviously physically tired but you also have to account for the mental fatigue. Despite having GPS watch and done recces of the route, I had a couple of minor but costly navigation errors on the ascent and descent of Warton crag. It only cost me a couple of minutes but it was frustrating nonetheless. Retracing your steps always feels like twice the effort.
I was soon onto the flats near Leighton moss and had resorted to wading through rather than hopping over puddles by this point. Heald brow and king Williams hill were marred by clock watching anxiety as I continued to lose time on my schedule.
This melted away by the time I reached the foot of Arnside Knott. The finish line (or pier) was just the other side of this hill and I powered on snaking my way through the trees on a path made fainter by a healthy scattering of autumnal leaves. Reaching the peak, I briefly looked at the view over the bay all the way across to Kents Bank where I’d started that morning. They say to run an ultra is to live a lifetime in a day, and it felt like a lifetime ago I had stood at Kents bank station and took those first steps.
I bloody done it, barring a catastrophic injury, which I still wasn’t ruling out as I hurtled down the final, slightly technical descent off Arnside Knott. I could smell the finish line now but also the fastest known time (FKT). More importantly, I could (quite literally) smell the chippy that would greet me after the run. I bombed it down the last road section, letting gravity carry me towards the promenade and onto Arnside Pier. I grasped the flag pole in a mix of desperation and elation only for Penny (Bay Limestone Round founder) to shout “touch the buoy, touch the buoy”. A couple more staggering steps and I had done it! What a day and what a route - big congratulations to Penny and Tom for creating a fantastic round and a brilliant, growing community.
I would encourage anybody to take on this challenge, whether you’re aiming for nine or nine-teen hours, you will have the greatest day. The route offers such a diverse range of lanes, trails, roads, summits, woodland, canal towpaths, fields, bogs and limestone crags.
We have raised over £550 for Anxiety UK and Kendal Mountain Rescue. Thank you to everybody who donated and everyone who supported me on this adventure.