Lakes in a Day 2021 by Dave Mackie

Lakes in a Day 2021 9th October 2021

I am happily shuffling through the gates of Cartmel Priory School at quarter to midnight on a damp Saturday in October. The day’s journey had started fifty miles north on the other side of the Lake District outside the Oddfellows Arms in Caldbeck. It had been a long school run.

When I found out about Lakes in a Day some forus years ago its route immediately caught my attention. Tracing a natural line from the northern boundary of Lake District Park to its southern one, it was a run of two halves: the first from Caldbeck to Ambleside on the high fells; the second on lower lying undulating trails to the west of Lake Windermere and ending in Cartmel. However, prevarication on my part about being able to complete the distance and elevation (50 miles and nearly 13,000 feet respectively) and then covid-19, delayed an attempt until October this year. Key to committing had been Sue’s decision and enthusiasm to join me in the adventure.

We had both prepared extensively over the past couple of years, increasing our running volume steadily and really enjoying some long, hilly days locally, and further afield in South Wales and the Lake District. Lakes in a Day was still considerably longer and hillier than anything we had completed before; neither of us were experienced “ultra runners”. The vagaries of October weather in the Lakes brought a further degree of uncertainty in outcome and added to the event’s attraction/challenge. 

As we joined an excited group of 409 like-minded souls for a ominously cloudy sunrise start in Caldbeck, the confidence from our preparation overcame the trepidation and we were able to relax and look forward to the journey ahead.

Ready for the 8am start in Caldbeck

Energised by a hearty Cumberland sausage bap and friendly pre-start chat we were soon on our way to the first significant climb of the day; the 658m summit of High Pike. Sue and I were running independently. We went our separate ways and found our respective place in the long conga line of runners that were now spread up the fell-side and were gradually being swallowed up by the low cloud enveloping the tops; it was not going to be a day of expansive Lake District views.

The long conga line climb up to the day’s first top, High Pike.

After a long, steady climb to warm up the legs and lungs, High Pike’s summit trig point was quickly passed. The wind blown, moist cloud gave no incentive to linger. The first downhill of the day provided a welcome opportunity to stretch the legs, and also further fragmented the field of runners. In combination with the reduced visibility of around 50-100m, closer attention therefore had to be paid to navigation as there was often no one in sight to follow! The going was a bit rough and/or boggy in places but generally runnable. In what felt like no time at all, the previous height gain was quickly lost as we dropped down a narrow heather-lined trod to ford the River Caldew. In previous wetter years the river has provided runners with waist high wading through fast flowing water or required the erection of a temporary bridge; thankfully our crossing topped out at knee moistening height. 

Happy but damp having forded the River Caldew without any drama.

Wet feet remained that way as the route squelched upwards over the boggy ground of Mungrisdale Common (a fell that Mr Lake District, Alfred Wainwright, had no liking for, commenting that it “has no more pretension to elegance than a pudding that has been sat on”). As the pudding firmed up and steepened towards the 868m top of Blencathra, I trusted reconnaissance undertaken in clearer weather and broke off from the main path to follow a trod that traversed round a false summit and saved a few metres of ascent. The welcome ringing of cowbells subsequently heralded Blencathra’s summit and the immediate steep, direct line descent of Hall’s Fell Ridge to the first aid station in the village of Threlkeld.

Emerging from the clag of Hall’s Fell Ridge on to easier going.

Hall’s Fell Ridge provides a spectacular and exposed rocky crest to the top of Blencathra and is best enjoyed in ascent on a clear, dry day. On a dreich day in skiddy running shoes on slippery rock, tackling it in descent certainly concentrated the mind. Marshals provided direction and assurance at key points but getting down the rocky sections seemed to take an age and involve a good amount of bum sliding with the odd moment of unplanned excitement. In reality the challenges were short lived and a runnable path was soon reached; it swiftly led down out of the drizzly clag and generated a healthy burn in my quads. 

Having been isolated in the cloud for a couple of hours, Threlkeld provided a welcome expansion of the senses with a great crowd of supporters, including Sue’s brother Keith, and a good selection of food in the village hall. Having somehow misplaced my glasses on the one-way route through the veritable feast of tasty treats I had to go around again to find them (and another danish pastry) before continuing the long journey south with just under 40 miles remaining.

A few miles of relatively flat road and firm packed trail provided opportunity for the quads to recover and prepare for grinding back up into the cloud and the long, high ridge of the Helvellyn and Fairfield fells that stretched all the way to Ambleside, some fifteen miles distant.

The imposing bastion of Clough Head was tackled by a long, stiff climb that satisfyingly worked its way up and through some steep and rocky ground to top out at the summit trig point. There it became immediately apparent that weather conditions at altitude had deteriorated in line with the forecast, with a waterproof top and gloves being required to maintain warmth and morale. Despite the weather’s best efforts the broad elevated rolling ridge heading towards Helvellyn provided delightful and rewarding scampering on the downhills, interspersed with relatively short climbs that were taken at walking pace and provided opportunity to drink or eat. Of all the Lakes in a Day route, I was most familiar with this section. With good tracks in the main and gpx to follow on the watch, navigation was not therefore too much of a worry but still had to be closely watched given the very poor visibility and spread out field of runners, which meant I was predominantly moving in my own company most of the way. Other than a brief stop to pull on waterproof trousers, gentle momentum and adequate warmth was maintained all the way to the highest point of the day, Helvellyn, which was reached in just over 6 hours; a Delushious sour cherry tiffin was the taste-tastic, Box-manufactured, high calorie reward.

All that now lay between Helvellyn and the next aid station in Ambleside was the mildly inconvenient loss of just under 1000 feet of height to drop down to Grisedale Tarn before re-ascending much the same height in short order to reach the day’s last high summit, Fairfield. Thankfully the legs were still in good uphill order and, with the assistance of poles, made what felt like short work of the ascent; passing a few other runners also provided opportunity for some banter and further charged morale batteries. 

The route on from Fairfield’s much cairned, rocky and indistinct summit provides opportunity for navigational blundering in reduced visibility. Having blundered a bit in the past up here I was wise to the risk and with concentration navigated the route to Hart Crag and onwards to a large southwards running wall, which provided a guiding handrail down to lower ground. Once there I could relax a little and enjoy the downhill run into Ambleside. The fun factor was further enhanced by my brother and nephew materialising out of the mist at various points along the descent to offer encouragement to me and the other runners. They also got to see me buffoon my way slowly and inelegantly down the last rocky obstacle on the ridge, blithely ignoring the way I had previously, and competently, gone on two previous reconnaissance of this section. That, and seeing a couple of runners take nasty tumbles on wet, slippery rock, reminded me that there was still a way to go and no room for complacency.

Running into the familiar embrace of Ambleside with the hard half of the day done after just over nine hours of effort in poor weather, and without too much faff and still feeling in reasonable fettle, was a fantastic feeling. Also fantastic was my brother confirming that Sue had comfortably beaten the 5:30pm cut-off time at Grisedale Tarn and was over the day’s final big hump, Fairfield, so would be into Ambleside by nightfall (and gave him the impetus to push on – Sue). 

The joy of aid stations.

A change into dry shoes, socks & top, followed by hot pizza, pasta & tea whilst chatting to my brother and nephew, plus more support from Keith, mother-in-law and our dog Willow, meant I headed into the dusk and the second half of Lakes in a Day in high spirits and confident I could extend the enjoyment for a bit yet… 

The ebbing daylight and continuing drizzle gave reason to press on over the runnable road and cycle path that led to the woods and low fells that characterised the second half of the Lakes in a Day route, which ran near to, or along, the west shore of Lake Windermere for the next 13 miles. Navigation was also made much easier by very effective, highly visible reflective arrows that were deployed at key points along the route. 

I was now running into unknown territory distance wise and pleasantly surprised to be moving without too much difficulty or effort. Darkness, with torch light reflecting off water and mizzle, the occasional hooting Tawny Owl and only having to concentrate on the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other further enhanced the experience and gave a peaceful sense of contentment. 

In what seemed like no time at all, but in reality had been over a couple of hours, I reached a familiar section of open low fell scattered with tarns crossed by a good runnable track that led down to Near Sawrey, home to Beatrix Potter at High Top Farm. From there a mile section of road led to the shore of Lake Windermere; eminently runnable terrain it was now requiring increased effort and willpower to manage much more than a shuffle. Heavy rain had topped up Lake Windermere in the preceding days such that sections of the shoreside path were now under water; with no alternative route the dry shoes and socks that had provided so much pleasure at Ambleside became a distant memory. The bright lights of civilization, well Bowness anyway, glinting across Windermere from its eastern shore provided a welcome distraction to the damp going underfoot. 

My gps watch battery had by now run out of battery and I was enjoying running to feel; slowly jogging any flat or downhill, and walking even the slightest uphill. Whilst the second half of Lakes in a Day was nowhere near as hilly as the first, it still had around 3000ft of elevation to contend with. 

Fatigue was starting to make its presence felt and in combination with some more technical rocky sections, including a stiff, awkward climb away from Lake Windermere’s shoreline, forward momentum stalled a little. However, having been alone for much of the way from Ambleside I now found myself in company for the remainder of the run into the final aid station at Finsthwaite village hall. That thankfully provided sufficient to overcome the slight wobble, and we were soon trotting along a well graded trail that led past the lovely High Dam and down into the village.

Finsthwaite Village Hall was a beacon of bustle and business after the past few hours of peaceful nocturnal bimbling from Ambleside. The volunteers throughout the event had been brilliant and the final aid station was no exception. There was a cornucopia of food and drink on offer, all served up by hugely enthusiastic and supportive folk; just the ticket at 9pm on a Friday evening after a long day in moist fresh air. The cheese on toast was a tempting offer but the stomach rebelled at the thought; a mighty fine mix of cold rice pudding, custard and tinned peaches washed down with a brew proved much more acceptable. 

As grand as Finsthwiate was, I was in no mood to linger and headed off onto the final leg to Cartmel after the swiftest aid station stop so far. This was the one section of the Lakes in a Day route that I had not previously run or walked and I was delighted to be told as I left the aid station that the finish was only 7 miles distant. I also had the company of a few other runners, which helped ensure that we collectively kept on the right track and provided the benefit of chat to pass the time. 

Sue had previously run the final leg into Cartmel and raved about how beautiful it was. Even with just torchlight that was certainly the case; what she had failed to mention or, much more likely, I had selectively failed to remember, was the gentle but long uphill section from Newby Bridge. However, morale was improved when I realised I had not been overtaken by any runners for a number of hours now and was starting to catch and move past others. I was certainly not running more quickly but just not slowing down as much as those I was passing. Most importantly I was still enjoying myself despite now knowing I would miss last orders in Cartmel.

With three miles left to go, much of it on quiet country lanes, I found myself running alone again, having been invigorated with the magic power that materialises when the end of a long run is in sight. Reflecting on the long day’s fun as I trundled into Cartmel, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. The long investment in training and preparation had paid off, allowing the simplicity of a challenging journey down the beautiful length of the Lake District National Park to be relished and enjoyed, which was just a marvellous feeling of satisfaction that has deepened with time.

PS: Sue had an equally grand time completing Lakes in a Day, finishing with a beaming smile and looking as if she had more miles in the tank…

PPS: Huge thanks to: 

  • the event organisers, Outdoor Adventure, and their merry band of brilliant helpers for providing a superbly organised, safe and memorable event over a fantastic route; 
  • Keith, Viv, Rich and Hugh for support on route; and
  • all those folk who supported, encouraged and helped our preparation for the event in some shape or form, specifically Corsham Running Club, Keith and Viv Burlison, Andrew Wood, Jane Clarke, Craig Rumble, Annika Davidson, Stewart Unsworth, Precision Pilates and Anna Gardiner at the Treatment Rooms.

Job done and very, very happy!

Race Tracking Data (Event GPS trackers had to be carried throughout):

409 starters/351 finishers, Dave 161st and Sue 285th.

Notes on Training, Equipment and Nutrition

Our training for Lakes in Day was based around a plan form Krissy Moehl’s “Running Your First Ultra” book. The training was a considerable investment in time & effort over many months but absolutely worth it for the results on the day. The book itself contains lots of other really helpful advice for running your first ultra and is recommended. Sue and I will use it again to prepare for our 2022 long distance adventure, the Silva Great Lakeland 3 Day.

The following is for dap lovers and gear geeks only!

Lakes in a Day Kit

Daps. Two Pairs of Scott Supertrac Ultra RC Trail Running Shoes. The second pair, which I changed into at Ambleside, were half a size bigger and pretty much new out the box. Both pairs were very comfortable throughout on terrain varying from bog to tarmac. Care was required on wet rock to avoid slipping but that is true of pretty much any studded shoe in my experience. Sue also changed into Scott Supertrac Ultra RC Trail Running Shoes at Ambleside, having run from Caldbeck in Inov-8 Women’s X-Talon Ultra 260, which she rated very highly for grip and comfort over the fells.

Socks. Just before Lakes in Day I bought a couple of pairs of Drymax Trail Running Socks, which was a bit of a risk. However, they lived up to the positive reviews; they were warm and comfortable, even when sodden. I finished with no blisters and no damaged toenails, which was a surprise given the length of the run and the terrain covered.

Clothing Used:

Top Half: “Old School” Helly Hansen Lifa long sleeved thermal top until Ambleside. There I changed into an Invo-8 merino wool t-shirt, which was nice but unnecessary tbh. Over the top I wore a very lightweight and ventilated Salomon S-Lab windproof jacket, which is my most used item of running kit. This was replaced by a hooded Minimus Stretch Ultra Waterproof Running Jacket between Dale Head and Ambleside to keep the wet and windy weather out; an ace bit of kit. I also put on a thin pair of merino wool gloves for that section and wore a cheap, non-branded peaked cap to keep rain off my glasses. Face mask that had to be worn inside at aid stations.

Bottom Half: Inov-8 three quarter length tights with Runderwear briefs underneath. Decathlon waterproof trail running trousers were worn between from just before Helvellyn until Ambleside.

Other Kit Used:

Torch. Petzl Nao+ Headlight; expensive but brilliant adaptive illumination for nighttime running.

Watch. Garmin Fenix 5 Plus; used for navigation until it ran out of battery juice after around 12 hours use; I wore a Casio digital watch on the other wrist to avoid fiddling about with the Garmin to change screens to get the time. Sue used a Coros GPS watch and had stacks of battery life.

Rucksack. I used a Terra Nova 25 litre running rucksack rather than a race vest. This provided plenty of room for mandatory equipment and food/drink and as there was plenty of room it meant I could easily pull stuff in and out without unpacking the whole thing. Kit was stored in a variety of different coloured dry bags within the rucksack. 

Poles. Mountain King Trail Blaze used throughout.

iPhone with OS Maps for navigation reassurance.

Bottles / Cup: 2 x 500ml Soft Flasks and 1 x Harrier Ultra Cup (550ml and collapsible).

Event GPS tracker

Other kit that was carried but not used on the day:

Alpkit Heko Primaloft Insulated Jacket

Inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ hooded top as spare base layer

Montane Prism Primaloft Insulated Mittens 

Thermal Balaclava & Merino Buff

OMM Waterproof Kamleika Running Over-mittens

Compressport calf guards

Paper Map and Compass

Battery back-up for iPhone & Garmin Watch

Emergency back-up mobile phone

Spare torch (Petzl Tikkina Headlight)

Emergency Bivvy Bag


Spare face mask


I carried enough nutrition to provide around 200-250 calories per hour augmented by whatever I ate at aid stations. I split the nutrition across the four stages of the Lakes in a Day route and put each in a separate labelled bag. At each aid station I simply pulled out the relevant bag out of the back of my rucksack and loaded the gels etc. into pockets on the front of the rucksack so I could fuel “on-the-go” over the subsequent leg without any faff 

16 gels – mix of Mountain Fuel and Science in Sport (SiS), including some that were caffeinated. All but a couple were consumed.

3 x Delushious Sour Cherry Tiffin Bars – based locally in Box and providing an indulgent, taste-tastic and calorific morale boost. All consumed with relish!

3 x Clif “Nut Butter Bar” Chocolate & Peanut Butter Energy Bars. Only managed one of these; just too dry in the mouth to get down on the move.

3 x Tailwind Nutrition Stickpacks – Caffeinated Colorado Cola Drink Powder. All used

3 x Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy Fuel Drink Sachets (neutral flavour). Two used.