It’s 9am. I’m standing next to a trail winding up a Cumbrian hillside in the Lake District National Park looking out across a rugged valley carved steeply into the rocky terrain by a lively stream far below.
I’ve been running (or, at least, travelling on foot) through this kind of landscape since 6pm last night and in the 15 hours since then I’ve covered about 45 miles and have just taken my 3rd wild wee.
What kind of insanity is this? Why on earth would anyone do this? In their free time, no less. With no hope of financial reward. There’s no emergency that’s called on me to do this… so why am I here?
I probably can’t answer that question fully, but if it helps you make any kind of sense of this I can tell you that I’m not alone out here. I’m sharing this path with around 450 others who had entered the Lakeland 100 ultra-trail race.
With over 6,000 meters of vertical ascent and no course marking (you have to carry a map and compass) Lakeland 100 is quite possibly the UK’s toughest and most beautiful 100 mile trail race. It certainly has a kind of magnetic attraction for whatever type of person I am.
There’s something about the landscape, the distance, the elevation and the sheer scale of the event that just seems to draw me in. I’d decided to enter the 100 mile event immediately after completing the 50 mile version a year ago and by this point I’ve already all but decided I’ll be back for 2020 as well.
It’s 15 hours into the race and the runners have spread out thinly along the route. I’ve been running alone for several miles but I can just make out half a dozen or so tiny figures moving steadily along the trail on the other side of the valley, indicating the route ahead.
I begin to move off, but as I start jogging up the trail I spot something just up ahead. The low bushes growing around here are covered in tiny little wild blueberries. The clock is ticking, but I stop for 5 minutes longer to pick a big handful and eat them as I carry on.
I’ll eventually go on pull out of the race at 60 miles when some nasty waterlogged blisters on the bottoms of my feet reduce my pace to a crawl. But this moment beside the trail, eating wild blueberries, looking out across the wild landscape and feeling closer than usual to the wild parts of my soul, has already made the effort seem worthwhile.