10 Peaks ultramarathon: race report & preparation

In June 2016 I finished my first ultramarathon: The 10 Peaks in the Lake District. In this article you can read about my preparation and how I experienced running 73 km and climbing 5600 metres in one day.

It had been on my bucket list for a while already: doing a long trail-run in the mountains. As a relatively unexperienced runner, I was not immediately thinking about an ultramarathon. When my brother-in-law asked me to join him on the 10 Peaks ultramarathon in the Lake District in the UK, crossing the 10 highest peaks over 73 km (50 miles) and 5600 meters of ascent, I logically had to think a little. A few beers and a lack of common sense, however, quickly made me forget my concerns and I promised to register. Not long after, I enrolled on the website. I had 8 months to get ready!

Training for an ultramarathon

At this point I had been running at a running club for almost one year. I had done a few half marathons and a few shorter runs. Although I had done several long mountain treks, serious mountain running was new to me. My biggest problem was that I live in the Netherlands, a place devoid of any hills, let alone mountains. In order to be ready for running up and down all these mountains I needed to have an ambitious training plan. I came up with the following weekly schedule:

  • 1 long endurance run (2-3 hours, 20-30km)
  • 1 interval training (1.5 hours, including warming up)
  • 1 tempo run (consistent, quick pace, between 10-15 km)
  • 1 boot camp (high intensity strength and cardio)
  • 1 gym session (leg strengthening and treadmill uphill walking – this was not the most inspirational part of the schedule!)*

* please note that this was my ideal schedule, I have to admit that sometimes life got in the way of executing it fully!

These were more or less fixed. Next to this I would also try to get as much little runs in as possible. For example, I would jog to the boot camp (another 10km there and back) and if I would go for a coffee with a friend, I would run there. The boot camp would function as a way to get my leg muscles stronger for going uphill and to be better able to deal with the impact on my knees when going downhill. I also trained in the dunes a lot, as running on sand helps to strengthen all the little joints and muscles in the feet, which is also very beneficial for running on rocky paths in the mountains. To prepare for the big race, I also ran two hilly 40 kilometer trail runs in the Ardennes in Belgium. In the last months before the race I started to do back-to-back long endurance runs to get my body used to running for hours on end.

You can read more about my training schedule here.

The Race

The evening before the race I report for duty at the registration. We get a GPS chip pinned to our backpacks, so we can be tracked by family and friends during the race. We also receive a map of the area with the route on it, although we have some navigational freedom, as long as we prove we reach all the 10 mandatory peaks and we “punch” the boxes on top of them. The race organization also checks our kit. The Lake District obviously isn’t the Alps, but they are serious mountains nonetheless and the weather can be harsh and unpredictable. We have therefore brought a whole range of mandatory kit, such as a compass, survival blanket, first aid kit, whistle, headtorch, and waterproofs. There are only a few support points, so we also have to carry all our food and water.

After a short night in a tent, we get to start the race at 4 o’clock in the morning together with 120 other competitors. I quickly stop being nervous after we depart. Even though I am still unsure whether I can make it, I only think about the current moment and I just want to go for it! We start with the ascent of Helvellyn (951 m). Even though I have only slept for a measly 3 hours I feel fit. On top of Helvellyn we have an impressive view of the whole mountain range and I realize that we will be crossing all those peaks that day. We run quite fast on the descent and overtake quite a few people. We decide to go a bit slower, as we still have a whole day to go.

Registration in Keswick.

Going up the first peak: Helvellyn

In the first 40 kilometers of the race we climb 9 of the 10 peaks. This includes a lot of steep ascents, scrambling over rocks and some tricky navigation. When we have finished 5 peaks around noon I start to feel the fatigue. We already stop running for long stretches to save energy and because the ruggedness of the terrain hardly allows for it. It becomes clear that our goal will be just to finish within the maximum of 24 hours – the 10 Peaks race is notorious for the low percentage of finishers.
I try to eat something every half an hour in order to keep the engine going and I’m happy that my stomach seems to cope well. We also try not to think too much about the finish, but only keep the next peak / goal in mind. That way we try to trick our mind into thinking it’s actually doable to run, climb and walk for at least 20 hours on end.

The view when descending from Scafell

After 40 kilometers at around 7 o’clock at night we arrive at a hostel on a mountain pass, where we get a meal, a chance to change clothes and see our family. We are exhausted, and the weather has turned bad, but we are determined to continue. For the next stretch we get support from my girlfriend, which helps a lot! The last 30 kilometers of the race are less hilly, but we have to climb the last peak, Skiddaw, in the dark and in the rain. We get lost while trying to find the right path and lose a lot of time. We eventually reach the top after a long climb and even manage to run a little bit on the descent.


We reach the finish in the middle of the night and although I’m feeling happy and euphoric, I am also completely exhausted. All my joints and muscles ache and I’m starting to develop “trench foot”, because my feet have been wet for hours on end. We are very happy to see our family again, and the pizza and hot chocolate are very welcome.

The finish in Keswick in the middle of the night.


Before the race I worried whether my body would be able to cope with such a ridiculous amount of ascent in one day. This turned out to be hard, but not the biggest of my problems. In the end, the descents were far more grueling for my untrained Dutch legs (and knees). They were totally wrecked at the end of the race. For a next ultramarathon I would definitely do more leg strengthening and also some focused technique training to be able to deal with the downhill in a better way.

A once in a lifetime experience?

During the last few hours of the race I kept telling myself I would never put myself through this again. But already the day after, when we’re driving back in the car and I get a last glimpse of the mountains the euphoric feelings of having made it already take over. What an adventure and what a shame it would be to never experience something like that again!