Lakeland 100 – Feck that’s tough

img_3278Prepare for a long one, I got carried away.

It’s been a cathartic process trying to get this all down. Like a kidnap victim I’m not sure I enjoyed the event but find myself looking fondly back on the experience with Stockholm syndrome. Most of the race I wanted to stop, or regretted not stopping earlier. Then I moved into getting it done so I never, ever, ever had to go back. Now I sort of wonder if I could do better next time.

I’m going to open with some revelations that will shock you. The Lake District is really gorgeous. It’s also really bloody hilly. If you can handle surprises like that then keep going.

The Lakeland race event has been going for many years and is arguably one of the most challenging events in the UK if you exclude mental events like The Spine or deliberately masochistic events put on by Cockbain Events. They do a 50 or a 100 mile version. The 100 comes up nearer 105 (or 107 this year it seems). This may appear minor but when your body is in meltdown that can easily be an extra couple of hours of more. The 50 is challenging enough to satisfy most people. It also has relatively achievable cut offs, with a full 24 hours allowed. I’d recommend it to sane people. Only an idiot would pick the 100.

This was my first time in the Lake District (why isn’t it called the Hills District though?) and first at the event. I found the organisation, volunteers and process all top notch. If the worst organisational issue you have is the toasty warm showers were a bit blocked then the event has been run well. One of the volunteers at the last aid station punched me in the face whilst putting my bottle in but I like to think that was accidental.

Arrival –

img_3276The race starts and ends in Coniston with one big loop of the hills. Parking up on the school field I wander over to the tent to check in. My kit is loose in a large bag to make it easier to check. Even though I’ve been through the mandatory list several times I’m still worried I might have forgotten something.

In the tent I bump into Jon, my regular ultra-acquaintance having crossed paths regularly since Thames Path 100 back in 2018. Months go by and we randomly stumble into each other at mile 23 on some deserted footpath on a hill like Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant in Four Weddings but with less kissing and no funerals yet. Probably about the same amount of rain though. He’s not been able to run since his fall two weeks ago at the Wendover Woods 50k due to stitches on his knee so will either have had the perfect taper or is in line for some discomfort. Only time will tell.

Kit check passed (my cheapie waterproof ebay trouser passed whilst many others hadn’t it seems) it’s time to weigh in and attach trackers. Two weeks of taper and kids birthday parties mean they need to get the truck scales out for me. Good job it’s a nice flat course then.

Camping

img_3275Time to sort the car out. Reasoning it’s the Lake District I’m not keen on packing a wet tent up on Sunday morning with wrecked legs so I’ve gone scumbag camping and have an inflatable airbed in the car and sheets and card over the windows. Classy.

 

img_3279Next I wander into Coniston to find some Wi-Fi to steal and call the wife. The place is alive with hikers, runners and walkers. I hear someone call my name and running mate Glyn is outside the Bull Inn enjoying a cold pint in the sun. I first met Glyn seven years ago when I was a fresh-faced runner with one marathon to my name and he was the intimidating 100 Marathon Club member and ultra-runner with legs of iron that seemed to never tire.

There’s an empty seat next to him so it seems rude not to join in and pick his brains on the event. Whilst I sup down a local ale he recounts how despite a long ultra career he’s never finished the LL100. He’s got as far as 68 miles before realising he wasn’t enjoying it, questioned his reasons to be there and called it a day. He’s now bagging Wainwrights in his own time and spent the previous week knocking some more off his list. Not the motivational speech I’d hoped for sadly.

We’re joined by another ex-clubmate Veritie who’s relocated to the Lakes and is down for a volunteering stint this weekend. Next up is Lou and her son Aaron who are also here for volunteer duties and to shout obscenities at runners. Four hours drive and I’m increasingly surrounded by friendly faces.

Briefing

Soon it’s time to head back to the school and the pre-race briefing. There’s three course alterations this year. Two are covered in the course notes, one isn’t and the diagram on the screen is meaningless to me so I make a mental note to follow someone else.

The briefing is a friendly affair with many runners bumping into compatriots from previous skirmishes with the course. There’s a lot of friendly ribbing “How far you gonna get this year Steve?”, “Back again Sally, never one to quit eh?” Mark is on stage and we’re instructed to shake the hand of the runner next to us. Statistically one of each pair won’t make it.

The list of those due to receive their slate for five successful completions is shown on the screen, with three women in the running to be the first female to receive one this weekend. This must really be a special race for people to fight time and again for the finish. Briefing over the assembled runners rise painfully from the school hall floor and wander off to make last minute checks.

Shoving some Eccles cakes down and emptying a Lucozade I lock the car and stare wistfully at the bed and sleeping bag inside. I’ve packed a small bag with shower stuff, dry clothes and flip flops. I may not be the fastest to the finish but I’m prepared to set a course record for the shower to bed Strava segment.

Start – Leg 1 to Seathwaite – 7 miles

img_3277In the start pen I look for Jon and instead find workmate Andy, attending with his club and wife (who goes on to smash a 2hr PB). He’s been telling me for years I should enter. So I know who to blame if I die on the mountains.

The course starts and runs through Coniston with crowds to cheer you on. They gradually fade out as the road turns to track and rises towards the first ascent. We’ve covered around a mile and I am drenched with sweat. Despite keeping the pace easy this feels like hard work. I’m worried I might be coming down with something. Everyone else looks fresh and fine. I’m a fat sweaty mess already. Later I learn from other runners that they went through exactly the same thought process and it was just the heat and nerves. General consensus is a lot of the early drop outs went off far too hard for the heat and suffered.

As the climb steepens we tend to bunch up. So early into the race that none of us can pace sensibly there’s a mixture of over conservative walkers and keen sprinters with everything in between. The descent looks runable and after holding back on the climb and getting frustrated I run down hard, whipping past Jon on the way. I wait for him at the first checkpoint at Seathwaite and we head out.

ll100 during

Leg 2 to Boot – 7 miles

Leg 2 is awful. It seems the most technical and frustrating of the 100. Your legs are fresh, you feel good and want to race. Instead you’re clambering up and down rocky paths and swearing a lot. Still relatively bunched up it feels like everyone is either holding someone up or being held up by someone else. I nearly fall several times, breaking my fall with my knee against a rock is not ideal. Jon has pulled ahead and vanished. For someone nursing his knee he’s certainly motoring. Twice I blindly follow runners in front the wrong way before we’re called back. I’ve got the route on my watch but missed the off-course alarm.

Not surprisingly, I get the same slump as I did in the early stages of the Transgrancanaria. The realisation that unless you’re Kilian Jornet this is not a running race, it’s a mixture of hiking and running. How much of each is down to your abilities. I will never have the fitness or technical skills to swing the balance significantly towards running and the knowledge of just how slowly the miles tick by and how far is still left hits hard.

It’s around 8pm. If I dropped out now I could be back to the car and drive home, wake up with my family and spend Saturday doing something more fun than kicking rocks and sliding on my arse down a cliff. I’ve not DNF’d a race before. Lakeland 100 is notoriously difficult but binning it at 10 miles because you can’t be arsed is defeatist. I’d have spent longer packing my race pack than I have running the event.

More by accident and fortune I’m better trained for this event than I’m ever likely to be again. Transgrancanaria happened to coincide with a holiday. Centurion put on a one-off hilly 50k race at Wendover Woods for a final night run a couple of weeks ago. A few weeks before that was the inaugural Milton Keynes 24 endurance ran where I knocked out 104 miles like it was no big deal. Prior to that was a ridiculously hilly trail race in Spain. If I can’t do it this year I won’t be more able in the future so a DNF here would be permanent. I needed to at least get to a respectable distance before calling it.

Fortunately Boot checkpoint comes into view and it’s Christmas themed. Somehow it lifts my spirits and I remember how soon these doubts passed at Transgrancanaria so instead focus on catching back up with Jon who left the checkpoint as I arrived.

Leg 3 to Wasdale Head – 5.4 miles

Just as dusk approaches we pass by a lake at the top of a climb. It’s so peaceful and tranquil I want to stay. Once this herd of runners pass they’ll not be another soul until morning. You could camp here and never even know the outside world still existed. Fortunately I don’t have a tent so strap on a headtorch. The night begins to come alive with a steady stream of lights into the distance ahead and behind as each runner admits the daylight has gone and settles in for the night. Except one runner. We’re in a lose group of half a dozen and one is keen to win this game of chicken with the dark. As it gets darker it appears he has no intention of using a headlight at all. He must have had one for kit check, did he leave it behind for weight saving?

In the dark I catch Jon and we run together and chat randomly, heading into and out of the Ocktoberfest themed checkpoint at Wasdale Head. Sadly no beer.

Leg 4 to Buttermere – 6.9 miles

Jon struggles a little on the climb back out and we begin to drift and regroup at times. Running at night avoids me having vertigo issues with steep drops but does make the climbs more formidable when a never ending stream of headlights snakes up into the clouds and you realise that yes, this hill is still going and going.

Checkpoint 4 at Buttermere Hall is Halloween themed and in keeping with that they’ve heated the hall to the same temperature as Hades. Wolfing down a hotdog I resolve to keep pushing and not warm up only to freeze outside. Relentless forward progress is the plan as I start on the small ascent alongside the river onwards to Braithwaite. Then I realise I’ve left my poles at the village hall and start some backwards progress to retrieve them and be told I’m the third person so far to do the same. As I’m leaving (again) Jon arrives. He’s slowed a little and plans to refuel a bit longer, bids me on my way so I set off. This is the last time I see him and sadly I later learn he dropped at Mardale Head after deciding he didn’t want to risk injury by pushing further.

Leg 5 to Braithwaite – 6.5 miles

Leaving the checkpoint again I fall in with some other runners and we work along the course. People come and go and eventually it’s just three of us. Crossing the millionth stream with Ed and Richard in front and he warns the last stepping stone is bit wobbly. Richard confirms that’s because it’s not actually a stone, it’s a dead sheep carcass. Naturally my eyes snap down mid-crossing and I enjoy staring Dolly the sheep full into her cold dead eyes. At night. In the middle of nowhere. Not nightmare inducing at all. Consoling myself that the terrain is so harsh even a sheep can’t survive out here I wander on.

Many people prepare themselves mentally for this race. They study the route, learn the sections and attend recce runs so can wax lyrically about Panda Pass, Sheep Stream, Cow Crossing or Aardvark Ascent (yes I’ve still not learnt the names). I had a vague notion it was a single big loop and only confirmed it a month before the event when I though it was time to stop pretending it wasn’t happening and plan some stuff. I’m wondering if ignorance is bliss after all.

Some of the navigation on the next section is tricky with piles of rocks indicating that yes you really do need to leave this lovely path and clamber up a shale strewn mess of an ascent. One of these we evidently miss as my watch beeps alarmingly and the runner in front doubles back to us. Our path is dropping down the hill. The route is climbing up the side of the hill above. With no idea where we missed this turn it’s simplest just to turn and climb straight through the bracken until we regain the route, meeting up with runners we passed many miles back who aren’t as useless as us.

Eventually we make Braithwaite at CP5. The room is warm and welcoming and in a familiar theme there are far too many runners slumped in the corner with little indication they plan to continue.

Leg 6 to Blencathra – 8.5 miles

After some pasta I leave just after Ed and Richard. The sun is starting to peek over the hills. There’s a long road section so I decide to run on and leave them chatting to some other runners.

I fall in with a chap called Darren who does an amazingly elegant landing as he trips over a root as we leave the road. This is his 9th go at the 100 so he knows the route well. Apart from that tree root. He’s finished it twice and has his eye on the five finish slate. I’m settling on just the one. Threats of physically violence couldn’t get me back after today.

Day is finally here and the route to Blencathra is beautiful. A light shower is coming and the relief from the muggy night is welcome. We’ve sweated throughout the night and couldn’t be any wetter anyway.

At the unmanned dibber at Glendeterra I completely fail to recognise what I’m looking at. Missing one of these unmanned points means disqualification so it’s lucky Darren is there to point out that the thing that looks exactly like the previous six dibbers is indeed also a dibber and I should probably dib in.  As we turn back on the other side of the gorge we can see the route we’ve taken high along the hill line. There are very few runners visible as we’ve spaced out so far in the last 40 or so miles. Of the 461 starters we are already down to below 400.

img_3280Blencathra checkpoint is Rock and Roll themed. Sadly no cocaine or beer but there is whisky. I elect instead for toast and coffee. The rain is getting heavy outside and we debate merits of sweating inside waterproofs or getting drenched and keeping cool whilst I charge my Garmin. Eventually I head out in just my top accompanied by Darren and two faster runners. They’re used to reaching Coniston in 27 hours but have been beset by stomach issues and are unsure if they can mentally manage finishing in the night. Oh to be that good.

Leg 7 to Dockray – 7.7 miles

img_3282The next two sections pass reasonably well as we chat. For 2019 there’s a revised crossing of the A66 and the unmanned dibber is in a new location and now manned by a super polite marshal, ensuring everyone manages to dib in and cross the busy road in one piece. The coach road to Dockray is runable but never ending and the aid station is being battered by the wind.

Leg 8 to Dalemain – 10.1 miles

img_3290Any optimistic target times have passed but I’m still keen to make it to Dalemain before the 50 mile runners start so I can see club mates Chris and Gerry before they start. Sadly my legs aren’t so keen and I’m getting hungry and slow. Darren pulls away and I lag on the seemingly unending track to the checkpoint. I might not make it before they start after all. This in entirely runable but I’m out of energy and need food.

I recognise a familiar running style ahead. Chris has decided a little warmup before his 50 is needed so has jogged down to drag me in before getting ready to run. I’m unsure if this is really considerate or just showing off!

Sat in the large marque at checkpoint 8 and I shovel down double helpings of stew washed down with my halfway beer I left in the drop bag. We’ve covered 60 miles so far, 45 left. I feel OK apart from my foot. Knowing I’ve left it too late and may regret what I see it’s time to attend to it. Right is mostly damp, the left has a large blister on my midfoot that I’ve been trying to ignore. I can’t find the k-tape I packed so make do with plaster and surgical tape. Fresh socks feel good but it’s the same wet shoes on top. The spares I’ve packed just don’t have enough grip for the conditions in hindsight. A decision confirmed by the weather gods as the heavens open. We’re warm and dry in the tent and the 50 mile runners are just outside about to start. It’s probably not the fanfare they were hoping for.

As we’re about to leave workmate Andy arrives, ribbing me for still being here. My optimistic race plan had me somewhere on the next checkpoint by now and he knows it well.

Leg 9 to Howtown Bobbin Mill – 7.1 miles

It’s clear the weather isn’t going anywhere so we set off in waterproofs into the midst of the 50 runners having completed their lap of the estate to make the distance up. It’s good to be with other runners again after being so spread out, but do they have to be so lovely, supportive and full of energy and well wishes?

Coming into checkpoint 9 at Howtown and I bump into Matt, an ex-colleague and regular at the event. He’s doing the 50 this year and sets off, keen on a decent time. As we leave the aid station I meet Chris and Gerry coming in. Both look fresh as a daisy. Gerry in particular is grinning in joy despite the first seven miles of her first ultra being in torrential rain.

Leg 10 to Mardale Head – 9.4 miles

The next section is basically awful. In a long snake of runners we climb up a bloody big hill in the clag, get to the top and then wander around a boggy mush on the top. In the rest of the world water behaves logically and runs downhill. Up here it’s reversed just for shits and giggles. In good weather I expect the view is worth the climb. Today it’s just lots of runners in the mist many of whom are feeling the cold setting in and deciding if stopping to get more gear on will be prudent.

Coming down is a mixture of good flat sections and tight paths through bracken that have been washed slick by the rain and then churned up by runners. Even with poles and good trails shoes it’s a challenge, like running in fresh dog poop. For those at the back of the 50 mile pack they’ll be lucky to get down without skiing. After the descent is a path alongside a lake. On the map it looked pleasant. In reality it’s an off camber, undulating slew of rocks. Chris and Gerry catch and pass me as do half the local population. Darren is having to back off the pace so I can keep up.

The doubts come back and I consider binning it again but there’s little over a marathon left. I can do marathons. Later I remember the course comes up nearer 107 miles, not 100 so I’ve got a lot more than a marathon left.

Finally we make it to CP10 at Mardale Head just in time to see Chris and Jerry heading back out, still bloody loving it even though the weather is showing no sign of relenting and is keen to take the aid station tent with it. I’m shovelling in soup flavoured soup (can’t be more specific) and dunking cheese sandwiches in, making a conscious effort to eat as under fuelling is often an issue for me on ultras. I get angry and irrational, eventually swearing at f*cking footpaths and twatting towpaths. When I manage to eat cheese sandwiches quicker than they can make them I start dunking jam sandwiches. Pretty good. Keep an eye out for me on Master Chef.

Leg 11 to Kentmere – 6.5 miles

The climb up from Mardale is congested. We’re in the midst of the 50 runners so it’s a curious mix of 100 milers with raincoats on, moving at controlled paces and 50 milers in light vests trying to move quickly enough to keep warm. One bloke is receiving a full on rant from his female friend about his bloody stupidity at not getting his coat on and has the face of a puppy scolded for pissing on the floor as he digs in his bag for his waterproofs. Always worth putting the item you’ll need most on top fella.

Regret is a key feature of the event. Barely a conversation with another runner doesn’t lead to a story of how they had to DNF a previous year and lost sleep over not pushing on to get that finish. For much of the race I’ve been regretting not dropping on stage 2 and heading home. I’d be warm and dry and in bed by now rather than on the side of a mountain in the rain.

A couple of stiles come up ahead. In the rest of the world they make these from wood. In the lakes they’ve seized on the almost zero friction material of slate and construct primitive steps to clamber over the dry stone walls. If the wet slate doesn’t kill you then the loose boulder at the top will on your way back down. It’s not just the weather that has it in for you.

I’m looking forward to the aid station as it’s Disney themed and indoors after the near-disaster of the Mardale kite marque. Greeting each other with a “F*ck You Buddy” I dib in with Lou and grab some food. Aaron is doing a sterling job at his first volunteer stint. I wonder what a fresh faced lad makes of the absolute wrecks of humanity that wander in for assistance. Many are at the point they can’t even recall if they have milk in their tea or not, and probably not even sure what milk is anymore. There’s now less than 300 in the race and a third of the starters have dropped. The pasta is a short wait so Darren and I head out to make the most of the daylight, Ambleside beckons. It’s only seven miles away but I’m not hopeful of reaching it before dark so headtorch is back on and ready to go.

Leg 12 to Ambleside – 7.3 miles

The rain comes and goes but water is an ever present companion and I can’t even remember a time when I had dry feet. The Lake District covers over 2000 square kilometres and is mostly empty but they still haven’t worked out that streams and footpaths are meant to be different things. At times we walk on stream beds that pass over other rivers. They have so much water here they have to stack the bloody stuff.

As the darkness comes down I notice my watch has frozen at some point and is stuck on 85 miles. It won’t respond to any button or be any use for navigation. The Garmin is waterproof and suitable for swimming. Apparently not suitable for the level of rain up here though so I’m reliant on Darren’s watch and his previous knowledge of the course.

The watch and weather gets the better of me and I descend into a funk again. Darren suggests I should probably snap out of it. I take paracetamol for the foot and a Caffeine Bullet. Within a few minutes my brain wakes back up and I run to catch him up. I don’t want to stop so we pick up the pace and fly down the hill passing many runners on the way.

img_3286Reaching Ambleside, CP12 before last orders we’re greeted by shouts and cheers from the pubs and it lifts your spirits as we stumble in. Darren has been struggling with chaffing so needs to take some time at this checkpoint. He’s right to do so as his pack has rubbed his back and sides raw and the assembled volunteers wince at the angry welts. A lesser man would probably drop but he can see the finish in his mind and after some kit change and lotion he forces some food down whilst I go back for seconds.

Leg 13 to Chapel Stile – 5.6 miles

Leaving the checkpoint with only a few short legs to go we’re told by volunteers and spectators that the hard bit is done and this is in the bag. We could literally walk it in from here which is handy as my feet are now so wrecked I can’t manage much more. They also lied as the climb from Ambleside is not for the fainthearted.

It becomes clear Darren is suffering brain fog. We’re a few hundred metres from the warmth of the aid station when he realises he hasn’t charged his Garmin so we shelter under a tree to sort. A mile later it’s apparent he neglected to push the button on the battery pack as his watch is now dead. We elect to follow the runner ahead, Dan who we’ve been bumping into for much of the race. Sadly he’s gone wrong and soon we’re stood in a group, all lost, two of us with watch issues and none of us awake enough to use a map. Dan has completed the 50 before so has covered this section in the daylight. Darren has covered this at least twice on the 100 miler. I’m not even sure what county I’m in.

Eventually we get back on course and continue the stumbling to Chapel Stile, climbing some tall stiles made of… wood. Like the rest of the world. There are lots of runable flat footpaths but it’s seldom all three of us are in the right mental or physical state to make use of it. Some sections of the path have been paved by a psychotic lunatic who’s also keen to use slippery slate as a footpath. Finally up ahead are the landing lights laid out for Chapel Stile and the airport theme. The marque is warm and welcoming. Dan and I seem to be fairing better than Darren but reluctant to leave him so force caffeine tablets into him. Looking up I think I have seen Andy who’s caught us up and wave enthusiastically. It’s not him. I’m a twat.

Leg 14 to Tilberthwaite – 6.5 miles

There’s just two legs left and Darren and Dan assure me they’re pretty good sections. 6.5 miles to Tiberthwaite and then a final 3.5 miles over the hill to the finish. We agree to a short stop at the final checkpoint, water only, and power through.

Unfortunately the next section includes the hopeless meander through the fens trying to find an unmanned dibber at Blea Moss. Darren and Dan can’t quite agree on the route but by general consensus we clamber over the hillside following Darren’s watch. It’s like a scene from Lord of the Rings as hallucinations pop out and we’re never going to find Bilbo but probably have to die trying or Gandalf is gonna be pissed.

The first sign that Darren is struggling is when I pass him on the technical sections, something that hasn’t happened since we paired up at dawn. He’s not even got the climbing skills of a bloke from Milton Keynes anymore.

Finally wet and miserable we spot some flags in the dark and follow them onward. So far I’ve hallucinated frogs, sheep and people so I’m hoping these exist.

We stumble off the grass onto a road and meet the legendary Tony at the ‘unmanned’ dibber. He’s not an official volunteer and by rights should be home in bed. Instead he’s spent the last four years turning up to a windswept fenceline on a dark night to guide shell shocked Lakeland runners into the dibber and wish them on their way, all without being asked. Even the organisers don’t know who he is, just ‘Tony’.

After the dibber is a decent road and track section. Our trio is getting strung out and it becomes clear Darren is fading. He’s the only one of us to complete this event before but is showing undue wear and tear at this point and resembles a low budget zombie as he stumbles along. Dan and I guide him as best we can, glad this section is relatively safe and the worst that could befall him is a low speed stumble into a wall rather than a long drop off a narrow path. We’re all reaching our limits now. Dawn is approaching and we’ve been through two full nights. Darren announces he’s having a nap at the aid station. I’m confident if I stop I won’t start again.

What fells like hours later the tent that has been hovering on the horizon finally appears and we sit down at Tiberthwaite. Our plan to blow through with just a quick drink is laughable. I need help to get into the seat. More than 200 runners have dropped by this stage. They’re probably all warm and dry in their tents now. Bastards.

Darren sits and asks for a blanket, confirming he doesn’t feel safe for the final climb so is planning on a nap. Dan and I begin to discuss if we should leave him only to be interrupted by his snores. He’s gone. We’ve both got wrecked feet and just want to finish so eat the tastiest cheese toasty and prepare to make a move. A volunteer fills my bottles and manages to punch me clean in the face whilst putting them back in. It’s oddly refreshing.

Leg 15 to Coniston – 3.5 miles

The final section is 3.5 miles. A long parkrun. I’m expecting this to be challenging given the online predictors show even the faster ladies and gents can take as long as an hour to do it and hobby joggers like me could take over two hours.

Dan and I climb slowly. At various points on the race I’ve joked with other runners about finishing it in the light. Turns out I will only it’s not dusk at Saturday but Sunday morning as I scrabble over a mound of rock that without Dan I would have ignored. Even by the sketchy paths seen so far this one is idiotic.

LL100 hillThe rest of the climb is pretty achievable were it not for every step being uneven and concentrating weight on the most painful sections of the foot. Mostly we climb in silence, occasionally swearing and then thanking the fresh 50 runners as they pass by and wish us well.

Towards the top we’re greeted by Darren who flashes by. The 25 minute nap has done him the world of good and with working feet and new reserves of energy he’s pelting past. Had we waited for him he’s have dropped us before we left the car park.

The final descent comes and Dan is somewhere behind and we’re both picking our way down, trying to balance shorter descents against rockier terrain and increased trotter pain. We are passed often. It’s not the happy and healthy competitors that are most noticeable, it’s the really broken ones. See that man who can barely walk and looks about to pass out? The one somehow at 45 degrees and smells like death? Yeah? Well he’s just passed you so imagine how monumentally f*cked you are. Loser.

Finally at the bottom and Dan has an entourage to greet him which is well received. I stumble on over the rocky paths keen to get done. Gradually the gap opens and when I look back he’s gone. Fearful I’m too knackered to work the route out I speed up to a shuffle to keep someone ahead in sight. As we reach the smooth track I have the choice of a final pathetic mile of stumbling into and through town, or to condense all that discomfort into one short agony and get it done. So I run on, passing some of the runners who had the benefit of working feet on the last section. It’s downhill and with my bumper weight added to sufficient soup and bread to feed the Hovis family I gain momentum and reach the town. Lines of marshals are at the junctions which is handy as I’m not sure I can stop for traffic and would leave a sweaty animal poo streak across a car bonnet if one refused to give way.

I just about recognise club mate Veritie on the bridge by the Bull Inn where I stood nearly 40 hours ago taking photos on the hill behind. Back then I was basking in the sun and wasn’t damp and decomposing.

ll100 finishFinally at the top of the lane to school and my feet are balls of pain. Nearly done. The post race beer I’ve been planning is replaced by a kinky fantasy about taking my socks off and climbing in a sleeping bag forever. Finally at the line I dib the dibber one more time and try to avoid crying on the marshal. I’m handed over to another and he leads me into the finish tent to the claps and cheers you hear so much about.

Lakeland make a big deal out of every finisher and it’s a memory that will stick with you. I want to soak it in but can’t. This is more emotion than I can handle and as the volunteer handing out the medal asks repeatedly if I’m OK I’m somewhere between screaming in relieved anguish and shutting down completely so just make random mouth noises. There is just enough brain activity left to try not to ruin the finish photos before heading to the car. Without enough signal to ring home I text Cloe instead and she orders me to bed.

My socks have formed some sort of symbiotic relationship with my feet and don’t want to part company. My feet are indescribable. I’m not sure what’s skin or blister or something else. There might even be some dead sheep mixed in. It all looks like a punched lasagne. I still need to drag my calf guards off over these appendages. Why did I not pack scissors? Finally off I debate bed or shower. The rain and sweat has dried so I could reasonably just sleep. Unfortunately my own stench is making me wretch so I just about squeeze on flip flops to go find the shower before bed.

107 miles done in 36h44m07s. An average pace of 20 minute miles. Or slower than your Gran around Tesco’s. Last year I cover 153 miles in 38hrs at the GUCR145.

I’ve finished 170th of 265 finishers. 196 runners have fallen by the wayside, a 57% finish rate.

Prologue

Still don’t know what to make of this race. During the race and immediately after I used a few choice words to describe it. My last message to my running mates was “3.5 mile left. Up and down a mountain. The Lake District can go f*ck off.” Since then the PTSD has faded and I’m proud I finished it and pushed through. I sort of fancy another go.

Positives –

  • Handled the food much better than any other ultra and kept on top of it.
  • Remembered a half way beer.
  • Didn’t give up.
  • Avoided too much faff at aid stations on the whole.
  • Gradually moved up the field rather than plummeting down.

Negatives –

  • Once again I ignored feet until too late.
  • Packed completely inappropriate second pair of shoes.
  • Didn’t make the most of the runable sections.
  • Only realised my poles were at the wrong height at mile 103 when Dan pointed it out. Worked much better after. Dan nearly cried when I stopped to adjust them “Seriously? Now? After 100 miles you adjust them NOW?!”
  • Realised the week before my gear wouldn’t fit in my pack so purchased a new one, untested. Rubbed a lovely line in my chest until I realised it had three straps so could just undo the one that hurt….
Location Time of Day Leg Elapsed Position
Pre-Start Coniston Fri 17:50:11 00:00:00 -00:10:18
Start Coniston Fri 18:00:29 00:10:18 00:00:00
CP1 Seathwaite Village Hall Fri 19:34:34 01:34:05 01:34:05 199th (461)
CP2 Boot Fri 21:21:58 01:47:24 03:21:29 240th (459)
CP3 Wasdale Head Fri 22:50:02 01:28:04 04:49:33 223rd (450)
CP4 Buttermere Village Hall Sat 01:33:29 02:43:27 07:33:00 214th (434)
CP5 Braithwaite Church Hall Sat 03:54:34 02:21:05 09:54:05 211th (407)
Glendeterra Sat 06:00:24 02:05:50 11:59:55 207th (394)
CP6 Blencathra Centre Sat 06:29:04 00:28:40 12:28:35 204th (395)
A66 Underpass Sat 07:12:25 00:43:21 13:11:56 206th (380)
CP7 Dockray Sat 08:41:06 01:28:41 14:40:37 199th (380)
CP8 Dalemain Sat 11:22:07 02:41:01 17:21:38 189th (370)
CP9 Howtown Bobbin Mill Sat 13:40:40 02:18:33 19:40:11 173rd= (330)
CP10 Mardale Head Sat 17:09:48 03:29:08 23:09:19 170th (318)
CP11 Kentmere Village Hall Sat 19:45:32 02:35:44 25:45:03 169th (298)
CP12 Ambleside Sat 22:29:16 02:43:44 28:28:47 163rd= (277)
CP13 Langdale Sun 01:06:33 02:37:17 31:06:04 166th (266)
Wrynose Sun 03:27:11 02:20:38 33:26:42 167th (263)
CP14 Tilberthwaite Sun 04:37:52 01:10:41 34:37:23 169th (265)
Finish Coniston Sun 06:44:36 02:06:44 36:44:07 170th (265)
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Petzl Wendover Woods Night 50km

Four males gather in a car in an unlit field in Buckingham. Normally the gate is locked but tonight it has been left open and a group has formed. The occupants are nervously drinking beer to give them some courage for what they’re about to do. They’ve put varying levels of planning into this but know anything could happen and ending the night in the hospital is not to be ruled out. Despite all appearances they are not going dogging, nor are they planning to cattle rustle. The only crimes they’re likely to commit are against steady pacing or fashion. All four share a love (or at least mild enjoyment, low annoyance) of the occasional podcast Bad Boy Running.

It’s Friday night, it’s Wendover Woods, it’s time for the Petzl 50k Night Run by Centurion Running. Oh and thanks to Dan Barrett for the beer and possibly illegal imported off-brand Soviet energy drink.

If you’ve not been to Wendover Woods before (I haven’t) it’s a big wood on a hill. It’s used by Centurion Running for a 50 mile race in November where idiots run five laps of ten miles covering the sort of elevation gain you’d not think possible in the centre of the UK. For 2019 James Elson decided to hold a 100 mile event in July for even bigger idiots and they’ve been lapping since 8am Friday, questioning their poor life choices for a whole 15 hours before the slightly less stupid runners set off at 11pm for a mere three and a bit laps to cover 50k (31 miles). I’ve run ultras before where shorter distance races set off behind you but that was by a couple of hours and with only 10 or so miles difference. These guys have covered 50 or more miles and are the walking dead compared to the youthful (drunken) abandon of the 50k runners. They must hate the sight of us.

I entered the 50k as a final long run before Lakeland 100, figuring 1800m of climb in 31 miles would be a fair approximation of the 6000m in 105 miles of the LL100. Up to the day before I couldn’t decide whether to run it hard or take it slow and carry the full LL100 gear as a test run. In the end I went somewhere in between with a little extra gear and no real race plan. Standing on the start line at 11pm it begins to feel a silly idea when I could be home in bed.

Fortunately stupid things are always more fun with mates and seemingly everyone I know through ultra running is there either volunteering or running. If I die tonight it would be very expedient to hold the funeral immediately and cut down on travelling. After registration by Lou and Spencer I bump into Stuart who gave me a lift to my first Centurion event at the CW50 a few years back, then some Redway Runners from MK. Next pops up Jon who dragged me around the final stages of TP100 and ran most of Country to Capital with me. He’s also figured this would be ideal prep for LL100. Running celebrity Dan Lawson is there to make the mere mortals look a bit pants in comparison. He’s lucky I’m tapering for LL100 or I’d have shown him who’s boss. Him obviously.

Starting events at night is mentally hard. I struggled at Transgrancanaria with a brain that wanted to sleep not start an 85 mile race. It seems a little easier today as ‘only’ 31 miles. In the starting gaggle is a lady named Jane who’s never run more than a half marathon before. She’s tackling this as her first ultra and looks raring to go so I resolve to man up and stop pitying myself.

We set off on a short 1 mile loop before starting the first of the three main loops. Even in that first section you have some surprising climbs. Running with Jon for most of the lap we chat about other races and life. At the top of the first big climb are a group of whooping hollering supporters who have limited imagination to think of someplace better to be on a Friday night. It’s Lou, Becs, Whiffers, Spencer and Brian doing a poor impersonation of ninjas as they sit in the dark giggling like school kids who’ve stayed out past curfew.

The hills are steep and a couple need to be run on tip toes as you can’t get your foot down. I’ve had these in Gran Canaria and remembered how much they broke my legs for any running so resolve to take them easy and keep the legs fresh. We finish the first lap and a bit in a shade over two hours. Gradually Jon and I play tag as one surges or falls back and we’re joined by a friendly bloke called Robbie, training for his first 100 miler at NDW100. Robbie is using a birthday candle for illumination judging by the brightness. Looks about a lux level of 0.5 so he’s keeping with us to make sure he doesn’t run into a tree.

Second lap takes around two hours again, which given it’s a mile shorter shows we’ve slowed but still slowly gaining places. Robbie fixes his headtorch so it’s actually useful to see where you’re going. The course has a mid-way aid station that you very nearly pass at 5 miles before being sent off again for a further mile before getting back to it. The delayed satisfaction is cruel. The station is manned by MeeMee and it’s good to see another friendly face. Somewhere we’ve lost Jon but Robbie and I keep motoring on as a pair. We’ve been running together for hours in the dark and have no idea what each other looks like, just a dark face with a light on top like slightly less ugly angler fish.

Midway through the final lap and the sun comes up. Sadly we’ve passed the Gruffalo already so miss out on a daylight photo with him. It’s been warm and muggy all night and I’m a sweaty mess despite only wearing a tee. The course that has been hiding it’s beauty in the night now shows itself and after two laps we can anticipate the route better and plan the runs and walks so we don’t waste energy running a short section before a hill or miss out on a runnable section expecting it to end sooner than it does.

Being full daylight now it’s far easier to see the myriad of tree roots so only an idiot would fall over now. Good job I’m here. When I pick myself back up my knees are throbbing and I’ve got a graze on my elbow. My right hand is sore from the impact where I’ve seemingly punched a tree on the way down in a valiant attempt to get even with the big bastard. It’s slightly perturbing to flex your fingers and notice one is refusing to move with the final joint at a jaunty position. Not quite bent but definitely out of line like a poor photoshop where the graphic designer hasn’t quite managed to stitch two photos together properly. It’s not race-ending but is going to make the final six miles uncomfortable. We walk for a bit and the throbbing gets no worse. It doesn’t really hurt, more feels uncomfortable like mild cramp. For some reason I decide a career as an engineer qualifies me to re-set dislocations so with a swift tug I pop it back in. All seems good and we run on.

After the first lap I had an optimistic goal of 6hrs. Slowing of pace and tree boxing has slowed us a little more (as you wood expect) so we approach the final stile looking set for 6h30. Up over the stile and we cross together in 6h27 having moved up from 42 to 31 overall almost like we know how to pace a race well. I’ve forgotten about my hand until various people shake it, and some tree-mendous grimaces result.  Ok I’ll leaf the tree jokes away now.

Managing to grab Dan Lawson for some photos I head back to bed and the exciting prospect of a six hour footie tournament with the boy.

Later I learn Jon also picked a fight with a tree and sadly had to DNF via the hospital for some stitches. Hopefully he’ll be back to keep me sane at LL100.

Eco-bit – When not narrowly beating me in races by a mere two hours, Dan Lawson runs ReRun Clothing, aiming to cut down on waste and encourage re-use of sports wear. I ran the event in upcycled shorts made by Gins Running Stitch and some pre-loved trail shoes from ReRun. They all stood up better to the race than my finger did. Go check out their ReRun HERE and visit Ginny HERE.

 

Love Trails Festival 2019

lovetrailsThis was my first time at the festival and I was looking forward to a great weekend. Clubmates had attended previously and spoke very highly of the relaxed, friendly festival and the amazing running on the Gower Peninsula in Wales.

Location

img_3134If you’ve not been to Gower Peninsula before it’s a series of beautiful Welsh hills nestling the sea with some wide open salt flats and gorgeous beaches in between. Transport wise you reach it from the M4 after passing Cardiff and Swansea, or via train. There’s also organised coaches from London saving you the hassle of lugging tents on the tube. From chatting to other runners it seemed like half of London had vacated to Gower for the weekend.

Camping

Two main camp sites were on offer, either Estuary View or Castle, with the latter being a slightly further walk away (10 minute) from the main festival village and seemed quieter for those that wanted to sleep. Campervans also set up in Castle car park. Both sites were a short walk from respective car parks as you can’t drive up to your pitch so worth bringing a trolley if your tent and other gear is heavy.

Both camp sites have toilets and water points. Showers are located at the Castle site, and just inside the festival village for those in Estuary view. The Estuary spa is set up at Weobley Castle so if you’re planning to go there it would be sensible to pick the Castle camping.

If you’re less nimble of foot or expect to be pushing buggies then the walk from Castle camping is off road and has some off-camber sections that might be an issue.

ltmap

Activities

There are so many options it would have been impossible to do everything so it’s worth planning your day to ensure you’re not halfway up a hill, 4 miles from the site when you realise the talk you really wanted to attend starts in five minutes.

Guided Trail Runs (GTR)

Free to attend and on throughout the day, they had everything from social 3km runs to full on 55km ultras, with a good smattering of running to pubs and wine tasting. In particular there were many women specific runs which is a great touch for anyone who’d rather not stare at the hairy back of a sweating bloke for 2 hours. Booking on for these runs could either be done on the website before you attended or by going to the run start tent.

Extra Adventures

These were extra runs you can pay to attend, most of which involve some sort of activity after a warm up run such as coasteering, surfing, or sea kayaking.

Just Show Up Runs

Similar to the GTR, free to attend, just turn up at the start time and go for it. Also a mixture of lengths and included runs to wild swims, orienteering and trails.

 Note – the terrain in Gower does not make for fast times. If you’re used to smashing out a sub 18 minute parkrun then you might well be surprised how long it takes to cover the same distance on the routes due to incline, technical trail, cattle gates and crashing through undergrowth. Taking your time and enjoying the route is key for most of the above and the run leaders will be regrouping as needed to avoid losing people. Of course there’s nothing stopping you grabbing a couple of mates and caning yourselves around your own run route if you’re keen to steal some Strava segments.

Talks / Panels

3e660ee6-1ae1-41ed-a6fb-821591e1711aThroughout the weekend there were talks from the great and the good of trail running, sharing tales, advice and inspiration. There was also a light-hearted comedy sessions led by Huw Jack Brassington where I got to attend, drop subtle plugs for the book and try my best to not look out of place next to Elise Downing (ran the coast of Britain), Huw Jack Brassington (Special Forces Hell Week, Team GB Triathlete), Danny Bent (cycled 9000 miles London to India, set up Project Awesome) and David Hellard (BBR podcast, sells laxatives).  

Yoga, Movement & Fitness

A favourite of the wife, there were many stretching, fitness and yoga classes available, open to all ages and abilities. The music choices were so good even I was tempted to have a go. Yoga to Queen medley is inspired.

Salomon and Vivobarefoot put on a good mixture of workshops, talks and runs including more yoga and advice sessions from their sponsored athletes.

Kids & Crafts

2019 is the first year they’ve invited kids to the festival and it worked well. There were short trail runs, and lots of arts and crafts activities. My two (8 and 10) loved it and came back with windchimes, tees and posters they’d made and are already pestering me to attend next year (hence the 2020 poster design). With a relaxed vibe to the whole weekend and plenty of space around the festival and camp sites there’s ample room to let kids run around and explore nature.

 Dogs

img_3129Trail runners are possibly the most dog-friendly segment of society. I took Bella along for some of the runs and when she wasn’t pelting through the woods dragging me behind she spent most of the weekend laying on her back having her belly rubbed by random runners and being told how beautiful she was. There was a dog station in the main festival field with balls and Frisbees to entertain your canine friends too.

 Sample the gear

img_3091Many of the stands from Adidas, Salomon and Sunto allowed you to not just try on the products but take them away for a run and really put them through their paces. This is ideal as picking new rugged trail shoes by running a few steps up and down the silky smooth floor of a sports shop is a flawed process.

 

Getting around – Adventure Bus

Throughout the day a courtesy bus toured the main beaches and camp sites to help everyone get about if they’d had enough of running.

Drink & Food

A highlight of the weekend for me was the choice of food vans. These were of the gourmet burgers and stone baked pizza standard, not a greasy roadside trailer. We sampled from every vendor and the only criticism was just a few were open for breakfast with long queues if you were trying to eat and get out on a run. Definitely potential for some more breakfast options next year.

Drinks were in the main tent, the pub tent, the gin stand and also a bar by the Estuary Spa. Queues were never too long but some of the beers did run out on Saturday due to how thirsty the runners got.

Water was available either from taps in campsite or from large 1000 litre containers in the festival ground. A great step towards eliminating single use plastic water bottles.

Our Experience

Billy and I arrived by car on Friday with a boot full of stuff and an excited dog. Setting the tent up in the Castle Campsite took a little longer than expected as it was only our second go but luckily some clubmates helped out. This and a desperate need to eat Pizza and drink beer meant I didn’t get out fimg_3147or any runs on the Friday and also needed to find Huw to have a run through for the comedy session on stage.

The plan was for Charlotte and my Wife to get the train down and arrive around 6pm, ready for dinner and a handover prior to going on stage. Sadly a few train delays occurred and then the final train caught fire just two miles out from the station. Wales is famous for a warm welcome but this was possibly excessive.

After further delays getting another train despatched to push the now marooned carriages they finally arrived around 8:30pm, over 7 hours after leaving Milton Keynes. We’d managed to do it in just over 4 hours in the car including two stops.

Trying to direct half your family to a tent whilst keeping an ear out for being called onto stage was tricky “yep ours is the big tent, you know, green, basically looks the same as every other tent in the massive field. It’s by some hedges and on some grass. You can’t miss it, it’s made of tarpaulin and has some guy ropes attached!”

Sadly the delay meant they missed much of my stint on stage so if anyone has the video I’d be grateful. I managed to get energy gels confined to Room 101 which is probably my biggest life achievement.

img_3100After that it was back to tents and bed. We’ve only camped once before, at Endure 24 so we’re still relatively new to it all. Despite airbeds, thick sleeping bags and extra blankets it got cold in the night, especially escorting each child for a night time wee when they awoke at different times. For once I was glad of the dogs fondness for sneaking onto my feet to sleep at night.

Saturday arrived and after some porridge from the van on site I took part in the Tribe 10k guided run. It ended up closer to 8 miles due to diversion for tides but was beautiful and Bella enjoyed her first taste of the Welsh countryside.

Rest of the morning was spent in yoga (the Wife) or craft making (the kids). Then a team run in the Track Mafia “Don’t Back Out” event where mixed teams of three, or all female teams compete to run to the sea and bring back sufficient sea water to half fill a cup. It sounds easier than it was, especially given the steep ascent back up. Our team was third in the mixed category, or second after the first place team was disqualified for using a bottle to transport the water. So close to the £300 cash prize!

In the afternoon we popped to nearby Three Cliffs Beach in the car. It’s a beautiful beach although weather wise we picked the most overcast section of the whole weekend to attend. Billy and I swam and coaxed the dog in. Having never been to the sea before she was a little nervous but soon learnt to swim. The girls decided it was a bit too nippy to brave more than a paddle. For anyone going to this beach, it’s a good 15-20 minute walk from car parks depending on the tide so be prepared.

Back at campsite we drank from the bar at the Estuary Spa (much nearer walk) and went back to the festival for dinner, slightly disappointed to see the axe throwing stand packing up and leaving site, as we’d hoped it would be available all weekend.

Sunday was more yoga, another Tribe run with Bella (a slightly long 5k) where she met some llamas, and more crafting during which I customised my top as a reminder of the weekend.

img_3151Being indecisive at the best of times I struggled to pick from the plethora of options for the afternoon. Downhill running technique looked good, as did navigation skills for runners, both of which would be useful for the forthcoming Lakeland 100.

I finally settled on a trail workshop with Salomon athlete Beth Pascal which covered body positioning, running form and uphill and downhill technique. She was a great coach and I particularly enjoyed her no-nonsense approach. Being too flexible was bad, the best way to improve running is to run. All good in my book. After that it was pack the tent, eat some dinner (couldn’t resist the pizza and halloumi fries again) and head home. Traffic was good and we made it four hours including a stop. It’s taken longer to get back from Bournemouth after the marathon weekend before.

img_3149

Improvements

Whilst an amazing weekend, there were some tweaks that could make it even better.

Personally found most of the runs being condensed into the 9am-4pm window limited options due to clashes. Especially for those with families some earlier or later runs would be beneficial and aid child care. A decent length 6 or 7am run would be my suggestion.

As above the food was great but some extra vendors for breakfast would be welcome. Nothing fancy but someone selling breakfast rolls would go down well and help keep the queues down. Looking forward to next year already!