Rat Race added a new event in their ever-expanding calendar, Man v Lakes. Promising to be the toughest marathon-distance adventure race in the country, over 800 people jumped at the chance to tackle this new challenge.
From the registration the day before to the wet and windy morning of the race itself, rumours of what we would be faced with in Man v Lakes were abound. From the winner expected to come home in 6 hours (leaving the rest of us wondering how long we’ll be out there for), to being told to double our marathon time to plan our expected finish time, to hearing that the water levels have risen and discussions sand-running and wading tactics, the truth was that nobody knew what to expect or what we would really be faced with over the course of the day. To paraphrase something a wise man said to me before the race began: “sometimes in races like this you realise what you’re doing is really cool. I think this race will have a lot of moments like that.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Seeing the start line – two lonely flags stuck into the Morcambe Bay sands looking out into the void – made a lot of people realise what an epic challenge this was going to be. The start of the race was (in my opinion) one of the best start lines I’ve ever been on and as we all rushed after a tractor through the sands it wasn’t long before we were being tested.
The first few miles across the sandy bay took us on a snaking route that crossed shallow waters, waist-deep waters and surprisingly strong currents. Running on the sand was a bizarre experience as certain places felt like quicksand, other feeling like the whole floor could give way beneath your feet at any moment, others just covered by thick but uneven sand, throwing us off any stride we might have hoped to pick up. Dragging legs over this terrain and through fast-flowing (but comfortably warm) waters surely led to many cases of cramp setting in.
Only 20 miles to go!
Shortly after the bay crossing we approached an area to ‘dib’ our wrist-based timing chip. From the route map we knew the vertical km was just after the bay so myself and others knuckled down and pushed our way up some incredibly steep, winding roads, steps and trails. Long after the lactic acid had made its presence known, I spotted people dibbing their chips again – words can’t describe the feeling then of seeing a sign saying “Verticle KM Start”. I’m sure the marshal at this point will have spent his day seeing faces turn from hope into exasperation. Thankfully the portion that followed felt like more of a horizontal km with a tough hilly section added in. Either way it’s a bit of an understatement to say it was a relief when it was over. Thankfully the photographer at the top reminded me to turn around and take a look at the view – it was stunning, even with the mist in the air the whole bay was visible and once again the scope of this challenge set in.
Only about 18 or 19 miles to go!
We were taken through hills, trails, roads, hills and some uphill trails. The route led us through thick, overgrown bracken, slippery rocks, woodland paths, and of course a few moments of wading/swimming through lake sections. The course was a sight to behold – a lot of it felt like breaking way through brand new, undiscovered fields leaving me with a real sense of adventure and freedom.
The question came up post-race of how this course was found to begin with as it was not only a very long route (!) but travelled through so many unbroken, narrow, winding off-trail sections that to plan out must have been either a nightmare or incredibly good fun.
Man v Lakes left me with a real sense of adventure and freedom
Man v Lakes maintained great scenery for the whole distance which is no mean feat for a course of this length – unfortunately for myself and plenty others I’m sure a lot of that was spent looking at my feet and the floor to make sure I wasn’t going to fall down or trip! The route was marked very thoroughly from start to finish with arrow signs and Rat Race tape leading us confidently through the most confusing of waterside-woodland runs – a few people sadly did manage to go off-course at points but this would most likely be down to running with heads down, focusing on the rocks and trees making it easy to miss a sign.
Of course, with all the uphills we were faced with, there were plenty of knee-shattering downhills which left the post-race event village and part of the Lake District the following day looking like a casting call for The Walking Dead as half-dressed people hobbled around groaning and desperate to eat anything they could get their hands on.
Towards the middle/end of the course we reached Lake Windermere and ran along some treacherous trails alongside the choppy waters, with the threat ever looming that we had to get in that at some point soon! I can only imagine how it looked to the tourists on the ferries as they spotted brightly coloured people appearing and disappearing among the trees, not following any sensible path. The swims across the lake were of great relief, with the water feeling like a nice temperature and the legs needing a respite after all they’ve been put through.
Only about 5 or 6 miles to go!
Not only were we treated to all that incredible scenery and a chance to swim in the largest lake in the UK, but we were given obstacles to play on too. First up was a massive rope swing into the water – a brilliant change from Rat Race’s usual platform jumps. A simple hold the rope and swing into the water to bring the fun back after one of the toughest sections leading up to it. Later in the course we had a mini-jetty jump which the history tourist inside me enjoyed for being inside an old stone-built boathouse (the ‘jump’ itself was from a long wobbly pier at water height), and a floating obstacle course – monkey bars, floating platforms, and ‘Water-Wipeout’ style inflatables – great fun to be had this late into such a tough race and a huge boost just before the end of the race (up a few more hills). On the other side of the coin however while it was definitely fun it was, as mentioned, towards the end of the race so I would not be surprised to hear tales of legs cramping in all sorts of ways at this point!
Only a couple of miles to go!
After an incredibly pleasant run through an ornate garden we were onto the finishing stretch, sliding (literally) into the finish line.
Man v Lakes was a brilliant event, from start to finish I never found that it dragged on – and while it was definitely tough throughout and incredibly challenging personally it felt like the time was flying by. Rat Race organise quality races and I can’t imagine the logistics of mapping out this route and keeping it safe in such a demanding location. Credit to the marshals who spent the day in misty mountains being rained on and BIG credit again to Rat Race for the food stations which were stocked up with all sorts of treats and drinks.
A brilliant day that even the crazy weather couldn’t effect, a great race with a great atmosphere from start to finish. Anybody who took this on should be feeling a huge sense of achievement (along with sore legs).
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.