For one weekend every summer, the Lake District hosts a trail run like no other: an action-packed extravaganza for ultra runners. The Lakeland race brings together some of the best long-distance runners in the UK (and further afield) all seeking to conquer either the challenging 50 or 100-mile routes. On the trail, racers explore the National Park’s lesser visited gems, encountering a kaleidoscope of fancy dress at the various checkpoints along the way.
Since the first Lakeland race back in 2008 (more on that below!), the event has raised an incredible £60-90,000 per year for various hand-selected charities. This makes it an event that really goes the extra mile. We caught up with race founder and organiser Marc Laithwaite to discover more about the unique and legendary Lakeland 100 & 50, including what inspired him to set it up, his route highlights and how you can get involved…
Where it began
Lancashire-born runner Marc Laithwaite is the mastermind behind the Lakeland race. Having participated in several trail runs himself, the seeds for the Lakeland race were sown by Marc’s ultra running friends, back in the mid-2000’s. At the time, there were very few events of this kind in the UK. A few were popping up around Europe, but there was growing interest for a long distance running race here.
As a member of the Achille Ratti climbing club based in Langdale, Marc was familiar with the area and so it made perfect sense to base the race in the Lake District. Together with his training friends Dave and Phil, they plotted a suitably challenging circular route around the Lakes. The trail deliberately took in lesser visited peaks, ultimately aiming to avoid the tourists and ‘the stereotypical thing’. After several weekends of reccying the route (and a lot of faffing involved) a road book for the Lakeland was finally crafted. These scribbles lay the foundations of what we now know as the Lakeland 50 & 100. Incidentally, every racer who takes part receives a road book, which largely remains the same as it did when it was first created.
Now heading into it’s 15th year with almost 2,500 people on the start line expected, it’s hard to believe that the Lakeland almost didn’t make it past its first year. 2008 saw the first official race take place and just 60 people took part. A lot of things didn’t go to plan and a financial loss was also incurred. Despite this, the organisers were overwhelmed by the support of the racers - whose feedback was they wanted it to return. Bolstered by the participants kind words, Marc decided to give it another go and the following year saw a jump in entrants - with 200 taking part. From there the race went from strength to strength, with growing numbers each year.
“Once you’ve ran a marathon - do you then run it faster, or go further? The Lakeland is perfect for people who are looking for a new challenge, something a little bit extra, to motivate them” Marc Lathwaite, Founder and Director of Lakeland 100/50
Any race based in the Lake District is undoubtedly going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to great views! The Lakeland is no exception, passing by many beautiful valleys, dramatic fells and lovely lakes. The event itself is split into 2 races. The lengthier and more challenging 100-mile route (ML100) starts and finishes in Coniston. This forms the hub of the action, with a festival-like feel setting the scene - complete with marquees and live music.
As previously mentioned, the race organisers wanted to incorporate some of the regions lesser known highlights into their race. On the ML100 this includes Scarth Gap Pass, near Buttermere Lake and Blacksail Pass - 2 of the Lake District’s toughest passes. Runners will also take in Eskdale and Wasdale - covering a gruelling 6,300m of ascent in total. Whilst racers won’t tackle any iconic Lakeland summits, they will be able to admire them along the way. With a 40-50% failure rate usually expected on this race, it puts this challenge firmly into perspective.
Runners on the ML100 race set off the day before the 50-mile (ML50) kicks off, which picks up the route at Dalemain Estate. Here the two races merge, with the trail curving south. Racers will pass by another Lake District gem, often overlooked by tourists: the impressive Haweswater reservoir, as well as Kentmere, Ambleside and Langdale. Don’t be fooled that this is by any means an ‘easy option’, at almost double the length of a marathon, with 3100m of ascent thrown in for good measure, this is still a tremendous test of both physical and mental resilience.
To help lift the ultra runners’ spirits along the way are the 14 manned checkpoints en route. Each is an opportunity to take a break, refuel and seek out medical attention (if needed). What makes them so special is the effort each checkpoint team takes…not only with their choice of refuelling snacks, but also their fancy dress attire! Whilst the overall event has a designated theme each year (in 2021 this was the Blues Brothers), checkpoints are actively encouraged to think outside the box. The result is a mash-up of all sorts of fun…with everything from unicorns, to Alice in Wonderland characters and Beer Festival Lederhosens seen gracing the event in previous years. It’s weird and wonderful, and these quirky checkpoints usually never fail to crack a smile on even the weariest of racing faces!
A particularly memorable checkpoint is number 14, the final stop off at Tilberthwaite quarry. Afterwards is the last 3-mile push to Coniston. Often the team here like to have stoves on where, in the past, they’ve been known to make notoriously delicious cheese toasties (though note, these aren’t guaranteed!). Racers here will also find a set of steps they must ascend. These steps are now fondly known as ‘Jacob’s ladder’, in memory of one of the regular racer’s sons, who sadly passed away from cancer. It has become a mark of respect and a race tradition for every runner that passes here to place a pound in the bucket, which continues to raise essential funds for the Cancer Trust.
“The route itself goes away from all the major mountain climbs. Most people visiting the Lake District will typically want to climb Scafell Pike or Helvellyn. We worked out a route that helped you visit amazing places in the Lake District, away from the tourists hot spots.” Marc Laithwaite
Raising funds for a good cause
Alongside pushing runners to their absolute limits, since it’s first edition back in 2008, the Lakeland 50 & 100 has been an event dedicated to doing good. Each year the team personally select local charities they would like to support. So far this has generated an incredible £60-90,000 PA for a variety of organisations.
Each year the Lakeland opens up 300 charity run places, with a minimum of £100 needed to be raised by racers. Some of the good work these funds have helped to support includes, footpath repairs with Lake District charity Fix the Fells. The Lakeland have also helped provide grants to local schools, enabling activities such as free triathlon training to take place. In 2022, the Lakeland have teamed up with Baby Basics, a UK wide charity helping low-income families and refugees.
Another way the Lakeland is helping to raise funds is via their virtual event - an opportunity for everyone to give the distances of the Lakeland a go! Taking place in the 2 weeks leading up the Lakeland weekend, entrants have this time to complete either 50 or 100 miles. To enter costs £20 and all funds raised go to charity. Head to the Lakeland website to learn more about how you can get involved in their virtual event.
Keep up with the Lakeland Action
Feeling inspired and eager to keep up with the action? Head to the dedicated Lakeland event hub to find out more and keep up to date with all the latest event action.