Lakes Sky Ultra race report

Unlike some of my earlier posts this one has to be relatively shorter. I must admit I like writing long and detailed accounts of my ultra journeys, such as those from Viking Way Ultra, Harpagan, or from Kierat. The problem is, that it’s very time-consuming and between the family, running, work, blogging, sleeping and other bits and bobs there is not much time left!

On 15th July I ran in my second Skyrace: Lakes Sky Ultra (LSU). Since my previous race (Vegan 3,000 Ultra) only 3 weeks passed, but the muscle soreness was gone and I even managed to run a few times in the meantime. Anyway, my aim for Lakes Sky Ultra was just to finish it, with no aspirations for a high place.

I had expected the race will be tough and that I’ll have to maintain a good pace to finish within the tight limit of 14 hours (at V3K there was 17 hours, so I was not worried there). LSU’s distance is 56 kilometres, while the total elevation gain is 4500 metres, so quite formidable.

The altitude profile

The race HQ was in picturesque Ambleside in the heart of Lake District. A 7:00 just under 100 runners, with me among them, set off for a long and tough journey.

Compulsory kit check

The promotional clip shows beautiful views of Lake District’s iconic ridges, fells and tarns and I had anticipated such scenery. Unfortunately I was not to see any of it as the day turned out to be cloudy and rainy. Summits were clouded with 10-metre visibility, at some points wind with lashing rain battered the runners, while the valleys were wet and grey.

Ready, steady…
… go!

Part 1 (start – Kepple Cove)

It started nicely: a bit of running and then long but swift ascent to Dove Crag and Fairfield. From Fairfield a steep descent of 300 metres or so to a pass. My legs felt strong and I quite enjoyed the swift downhill.

Somewhere around Dove Crag

The thing about passes is, that once you descend to a pass, you need to ascend on the other side. So a steep climb up to Dollywaggon Pike started and then gradual incline topped at Helvellyn. There the visibility was low and I got a bit lost (as a few others did) looking for Swirral Edge. I had little grip on the wet rocks, so had to move annoyingly slowly.

With Swirral Edge out of the way a steep descent to Kepple Cove followed where the checkpoint and the first water station was located. Took me 2 hours and 56 minutes to get there, so not too bad so far. Unfortunately my legs no longer felt fresh and strong thanks to the steep descents from Fairfield and Swirral Edge.

Part 2 (Kepple Cove – Patterdale)

I ran the first kilometre over a relatively flat ground, but soon another ascent started. Not a very steep one, but tiring. Back in the distance I saw my buddy Maciek who was gradually catching up with me, which I expected him to do sooner or later.

The ascent soon turned into the famous Striding Edge, which normally offers magnificent views. I could see clouds and rain. My legs felt heavy and I was unable to move quickly along the ridge. Maciek caught up with me and we proceeded together for about 15 minutes or so, where he shot off just before Eagle Crag.

The descent was slow and painful; my legs felt weak. When I eventually reached the bottom of the valley the view of the next ascent petrified me. Over a distance of 1 km or so there was 550 metres of altitude gain! The arduous climb towards Pinnacle Ridge seemed never-ending. Most of the ascent was over a grassy slope, which I and other competitors were tackling on all fours: grabbing clumps of grass for additional lift and going up step by step by step by step… I eventually reached the rocks where the most exciting bit of scrambling awaited. Had I not been mentally and physically exhausted I would totally love this bit!

Race route. See the concentration of contour lines just before CP8 (Pinnacle Ridge)

When I eventually made it to the top I realised this ascent cost me lots of time and I actually need to rush to make sure I made it to Patterdale ahead of the cut-off time of 14:15. Thankfully the descent was gradual and very runnable and I reached the Patterdale feed station at 13:55. I refilled my water bottles, ate some soup and a few nibbles, drank two cups of coffee and set off, a bit worried that I’m so close to the cut-off.

Part 3 (Patterdale – Hawes Water)

Relatively little to say about this part of the race. I walked swiftly all the time and ran when I could. There weren’t any technical bits, just an ascent, then a flat-ish bit and then smoother ascent to High Street. From there a descent to a checkpoint and drinks station. This stretch went fairly smoothly and I even managed to overtake 4-5 runners.

16:30 at the checkpoint was a reasonable time. I did feel a bit cheated by the race director though, as, according to the race profile it was supposed to be at an altitude of 500 metres or so above sea level, but it was at less than 300! This meant, that the next ascent was to be much longer than I anticipated, so the pressure was still on.

Part 4 (Hawes Water – Kirkstone Pass)

Having refilled my water supplies I continued, determined to make it to the top of the ridge and then descent to the checkpoint in time. After quite a long, but not very steep ascent I passed Mardale Ill Crag and Thornthwaite Crag from which I ran down to a pass.

From this pass there was a bit of a technical ascent, so I had to lift my heavy body with the help of my hands on the rocks until I reached Stoney Cove Pike. I ran on a slight downhill, with short breaks to get myself out of the omnipresent mud. After the last steep descent I made it to Kirkstone Pass and checked out of the feed station at 18:55, leaving me with just 20 minutes to the cut-off.

Part 5 (Kirkstone Pass – Finish)

There was only one climb left, but at this stage I was no longer worried. With this cut-off made I knew I’ll make it to the finish line. The climb on Red Scress was tough and steep, a bit similar to the one at Pinnacle Ridge, but much shorter. It took me ‘just’ 35 minutes to make it to the top. From there, a few kilometres of gentle downhill to Ambleside was left.

Running was fine, despite intensive rain and muddy ground. When I left the cloud cover I felt very motivated to see lake Windermere and the buildings of Ambleside. I knew I was almost there.

Final push!

I crossed the finish line at 20:18. I was welcomed by my family and by Maciek who finished almost an hour before me. Even Riccardo, who manned one of the checkpoints earlier on, turned up, so it was good to see him.

Summary

Out of almost 100 runners 73 people finished the race. I finished 64th while Maciek 51st. The winner, Andy Berry, needed ‘just’ 8 hours and 34 minutes, so my 13 hours and 18 minutes pales in comparison.

While in the fells, particularly when ascending Pinnacle Ridge, I was telling myself that I hate this race, that I will never do it again, that I hate such steep climbs and what on earth I am doing there.

Let me verify these strong words. I totally recommend this great race, because it’s a fantastic and tough challenge for people who seek challenges as such. What comes with it, in order to enjoy such race, especially its most exciting bits like Swirral Edge, Striding Edge, Eagle Crag, Pinnacle Ridge and Red Screes, a thorough strength training is a prerequisite. Unfortunately this is what I lacked: with no proper hills training (both ascents and descents) your legs get tired quickly and the whole race becomes a bit of a torture. I don’t feel compelled to run this race again because I did it (ticked it off my list), but it doesn’t stop me thinking of other events, no easier than Lakes Sky Ultra. 🙂

Last but not least, here’s this year’s race promotional video. Unfortunately I’m nowhere in it, but you can easily see what conditions I had to endure on the day. 🙂

Pozdrawiam,

Marcin

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