Silver as gold. (Photo credit: No Limits Photogrphy.)

Stablemate and wannabe ultrarunner Ashley “Choo-Choo” Holbrook took on his second ultramarathon in as many months—the Lakeland 50. Set in and around the picturesque village of Coniston in England’s Lake District, the railwayman finished his first-ever 50-miler in 11 hours, 31 minutes, and 45 seconds, placing 162nd/1,300. Fandabidozi!

The Stable News cub reporter, Ally “the Chin” Smith, was enjoying a family holiday in Blackpool. Once he’d finished being rattled about on roller coasters at the Pleasure Beach, he bombed over to Ash’s for a debrief:

Ally: How’s it going, bud? Please accept my apologies; I would’ve been over sooner, but I was on holiday mode. 

Ash: Don’t worry about it, Ally. I normally take a full week off all running-related stuff, but after this, I took two weeks off, so I might’ve missed you if you came knocking any sooner. 

Ally: All good, then. Tell me how it went.

Ash: Well, this was my first rodeo at the 50-mile distance (pun intended, as there was a “Western” theme this year for the race).

Tooled up.

Ally: Yee haw, ha-ha. Was Cumbria kind to you with the weather? 

Ash: Started off pleasant, before in typical Lake District fashion, it completely turned on its head, and we had horizontal rain accompanied by high winds—which mainly occurred whilst I was on the biggest climb of the course.

However, I’ve been in worse, so I couldn’t complain.

Ally: Nice. Wouldn’t want all sunshine and smiles in an ultra now, would we? When did you sign up for this? 

Ash: I originally found out I had a place back in September 2022. I was surprised that I would be the first Stablemate who John would have coached to toe the line at the event, given its status of being one of the largest and most popular ultras in the UK.

A few months ago, I ran my very first ultra at Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 55K in the scorching heat of Llanberis (you did a blinding write-up of that one, Ally!)

Ally: Thank you. 

Ash: That was a steep learning curve, and I was determined not to make the same rookie mistakes this time around.

The Lakeland 50 course was advertised as more “runnable” than UTS. But it still boasted 10,000ft of elevation gain.

Ally: Hahaha, I always love it when they have to put “runnable” in quotation marks, haha. Go on. 

Ash: I couldn’t get sucked into going hard from the start, like I did at UTS. Stazza had advised that I run “within” myself for 75% of the race (similar to a road marathon) and to be patient …

Ally: Good plan. 

Ash: So at 11.30 on Saturday morning, I set off. A set route south/south-east, starting in Dalemain, on a journey to Coniston across the Lake District fells.

Early hours. (Photo credit: No Limits Photography.)

The weather was cruel in parts, particularly as we ascended the notorious Fusedale climb, where the heavens opened, and the wind came with it.

Ally: Oof

Ash: I made sure I was efficient in the aid stations, taking no longer than I needed. Majority were just a water top-up, and I chucked in my Mountain Fuel carb drink on the move, while others stayed and faffed with kit and had full-on meals. My nutrition of gels and carb drinks worked well in training, so no need to change anything now.

Ally: Excellent advice. Don’t change nothin’. 

Ash: 50 miles later, with just under 10,000ft of climbing and descending in my legs, I made my way off the final descent.

Darkness had well and truly set in, and, with my head torch on, I was greeted by rowdy but welcoming crowds that were lining the streets of Coniston village, as I somehow found a fresh pair of legs to pick up the pace on the final straight.

11 hours and 31 minutes after leaving Dalemain, at what can only be described as the most unique finish-line experience, I arrived in Coniston and was inducted into the “Lakeland family.”

Hands down the best event I’ve ever done. I can see why people go back year after year.

Every single finisher is treated exactly the same, like a rock star, as they come through the finish line and get a personal greeting as they’re presented to the crowd in the finisher’s tent. This goes on as the 50 and 100-miler finishers trickle in throughout the night and the following morning.

A very unique experience. 

Ally: What a rush you must’ve felt. Absolutely brilliant, mate. Think you’ve made the cut to get in the “Ultra/Trail Runners” list in the Weekly Training?

Ash: Hahaha. Well, I have been pestering The Stablemaster to be moved from the “Road Warriors” group.

After UTS, he said I was “almost there …”

Ironically, next up is a road half-marathon in November. I’m hoping to gain a bit of speedier work in the legs after slogging it up and down hills for the majority of the year.

Then, we’re looking at a flatter 50-mile ultra in the spring.

Ally: An eclectic mix of races then, haha. Need to keep it fresh, mate. 

Ash: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t contemplating throwing my name in the ballot for the Lakeland 50 next year, too. Maybe I could try and get around without putting my head torch on …

But that’s some way off yet.

I’ll be concentrating on the half-marathon for now.

Ally: Aye, get your name thrown in the ballot and let the fates decide. Amazing achievement, Ash. Really chuffed for you, mate. Enjoy easing back into training before the speed work comes. 

Ash: Thanks, Ally. See you next time. 

The Stablemaster was zipping about in the Indian Ocean in his 540 Sundancer when the News called his special speedboat hotline: 

“Way-hey! This is some machine … It goes like the clappers when it wants to and can settle into a nice cruise around the marina for a bit of showing off. How’s about our man Holbrook … He can also shift when he fancies but has taken to ‘cruising’ around the Cumbrian fells. A first-rate effort on a tough but “runnable” course … A future in the ‘Ultra/Trail Runners’ could be on the cards. We’ll see how you do in the half before we move you from the ‘Road Warriors’ … Good man.”