Updated: Sep 13
The Ambleside 50k is a fabulous, varied trail ultra that starts and finishes in Ambleside. The event is run by Brathay Challenges and thanks to our collaboration with the event sponsor, The Climbers Shop, I managed to wangle myself a place on what would turn out to be a tough day out on trails.
The route is 50km, holding 1650m ascent.
If you've been following my 2022 journey you'll see I've be packing it in when it comes to running, however the Ambleside 50k would be only my 4th organised event in 7 years! In 2015 I ran the Lakeland 50, in 2021 I ran the Keswick Show 5km fell race, and then earlier this year I ran the 4.8km Latterbarrow fell race run by my new run club, Cumberland Fell Runners. To say I was out of my depth getting involved in an organised 50k would be an understatement - oh, and to add to that, I wanted to run it in under 6 hours....
The Event - Sunday 11th September 2022
After a 6am alarm, a couple of boiled eggs and toast, and a relatively quiet pootle down to Ambleside, I was suddenly on the start line. After a minute silence for HM Queen Elizabeth II we were off.
There were two factors that were going to be against me for this event.
1) Lack of experience in pacing a 50km - I needed to run 8.5km an hour to sneak in under 6 hours.
2) Lack of experience in not going off too fast and getting sucked in with the racing snakes
The start of the route is steep as it climbs up towards Loughrigg and this is a great way to bring on a great oxygen deficit within the first KM. I did settle down fairly soon, but with the mentality of wanting to give the race everything I could, I was running as much as I could even though it was early on. The lead pack didn't disappear out of sight until we were through the first checkpoint at 8km in, and then without the pressure of too many folks around the race whole atmosphere settled down a bit. The checkpoint was really well stocked and if I wasn't in such a hurry I'd have gladly pulled up a chair and feasted on the ace selection on offer.
Unfortunately though, my ITB injury that I sparked up on the Lakes, Meres and Waters was also now rearing it's head. I was in two minds whether continuing on the 50km was the wise thing to do, but I figured I could get a bus from somewhere back to Ambleside if it all hit the fan. I cracked on, but the pain in the side of my glute stuck with me for the bulk of the race.
Up until this point it had been a lot of narrow trails and a few fields, and then from here we made our way over towards the firetracks of Grisedale forest. This section was great for just churning up the miles, and I also got chatting with some great folks too. I linked with a guy called Mark (maybe Marc) and we put a great joint stint in together down to the head of Coniston. He pulled away from me as we made it into the second checkpoint at 24km in, but I didn't linger long here and that was the last I saw of him. Now on my own I trotted around to the Coppermines, preparing myself for the toughest part of the race. The biggest ascent of the race (350m) heads up and over to Tilberthwaite, which is the reverse of what you'd do if you were to run the Lakeland 50/100. Ordinarily such an ascent wouldn't be too much, but by this point I'd given quite a lot and it was also flippin' humid. It was a steady walk up and I was glad to be able to get running again once at the top of the route.
As the hours rolled through I kept checking my progress against where I needed to be for sub-6. After the first couple of hours I managed to get 2.5km up on where I'd needed to be, but by the time I was over into Little Langdale I think this had shrunk to about 1km ahead, if that. I continued my trot, running as many of the gentle uphills as possible. As I neared Blea Tarn an older chap sat on a stool said 'I think you're about 20th'... This didn't sink in for a few steps, and then I realised what he'd said - Me! Top 20 in an event! This gave me a nice little spike of adrenaline and I soon hunted down the chap in front of me. We'd been leapfrogging each other a bit but once I was past him and heading for Chapel Stile the last time I would see him was the finish line.
The Chapel Stile checkpoint is at 41/42km. The array of fresh fruit was very welcome, and I bundled a load of sweets into my pockets and set off. My watch read an elapsed time of 5 hours. I had to do 9km, and a final 350m of total ascent to get to the finish. I felt my chances of sub-6 we're probably gone, but I wasn't going to ease off, I needed to go and find out. I set off and jogged until the gradient kicked in to super steep. This ascent is a real sting in the tail and without a doubt the steepest part of the entire route. I was once again relieved to reach the top of the hill. By this point we had rejoined the 25km route and so hunting down 25km runners was a great motivator, all of which were having a fab time too.
As I hit the road that runs into Grasmere my hamstrings and calves were showing signs of cramps so I smashed some more gels and fluids and just willed the tarmac to end as soon as possible. Thankfully, it was just a short stint and then it was time to run along the beautiful shores of Grasmere. The route along Rydal is the higher level option and I think this is where my sub-6 ambitions went. I was still running, but the undulations in the trail just meant the average pace just wasn't quite fast enough. Nonetheless I carried on, and as I reached the start of the final tarmac section on the 'Under Loughrigg' road my watched clicked over to 6 hours. The target had been missed, but as above, I was going to get in as quickly as I could and so I just kept the legs turning. The cramps kept rearing their heads, but even as the road undulated I wasn't going to break out of this jog.
I then heard the tannoy at the finish, I had just a few hundred metres to go, and as happens at the end of every long run, you find a little more form, and little more pace to get over the line.
I swung over the little bridge and into the field where I could see the finish gantry staring at me. Sat next to the finish line I could joyfully also see my wife Naomi who had completed the 25km event, her toughest run to date. I crossed the line and bent double instantly. I was spent.
I was awarded my bottle opener medal and a bottle of Hawkshead Brewery Brathay 50k XPA. I was then given my timing print out which informed me I finished in 6 hours, 9 minutes - in 16th place.
I'm so glad I set myself the target of sub 6 hours as it meant I was really able to push myself. I'm more proud of myself for leaving everything out on the course and finishing totally knackered then I am gutted for not hitting the target. On reflection, I possibly started a little too fast, and had my ITB not have been grumbling, I may have been under, or a little closer to 6 hours, but that is the way it goes.
A big thanks to Brathay Challenges and The Climbers shop for laying on this event. Also to all the marshals, volunteers and course markers. If you're looking for a well organised, super friendly, but fairly tough ultra event, check it out! https://www.brathaychallenges.com/events/running/ambleside-50k
Repping Athletic Brewing Co, and celebrating with an 'Upside Dawn'