Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 19 August 2017

14th August: Lakeland Tails

There were a couple of tales to be told from the Lakeland 100 - one from the briefing and one from the race itself that I did not hear about till after the event:

The anthem of the Lakeland 100 event is the operatic standard ‘Nessum Dorma’ - most famous here in Britain for being sung during the 1990 world cup by Luciano Pavarotti, but in this case sung by Paul Potts.

When people race stupidly long distances of 100 miles or longer that involve running through the night eschewing sleep and rest for longer than 24 hours they become prone to having hallucinations, which was thought to have been the case of one runner on the Lakeland 100 when he was descending Blencathra in the fog of dawn having run through the night.

Enveloped in the all shrouding murk with sight diminished his hearing was all the more sensitive and over the silence dampened by the fog he could swear he heard some singing, a singing that was slowly getting louder… Soon the singing could be recognised as the song Nessum Dorma, then all of a sudden out of the gloom appeared Paul Potts jogging down off the mountain singing at full volume, running past then disappearing back in to the gloom, the singing slowly fading away.

After finishing he went to the organiser and told them what he saw, only to be roundly dismissed as suffering an hallucination, which let’s face it appears very real at the time… But the runner was incredibly insistent that it really happened, so much that a couple of days after the race the organiser opened twitter and messaged Paul Potts. Asking him if he had been out in the lakes at dawn on the morning in question he thought nothing of it until a couple of weeks later, when Paul Potts sent him a reply saying that yes he had been out in the lakes and he enjoys getting out in remote places early in the morning for a good jog and practice his singing as he goes without troubling anyone!

With Paul Potts last year, Mel Giedroyc this year, it makes you wonder what ‘C’ list or lower celebrity will be out on the course next time!

The route for the Lakeland 100 is 95% on trail, be it over moor or field. The one thing in common is the open nature of it where at any one point you seem to never be more than a few metres from a sheep or some other livestock, which includes cows, and in this case big hairy cows with mahoosive horns!

On the way from the self-clip checkpoint to the final aid-station at Tilberthwaite in the pitch darkness at 1am I was in a steeply sloping field from left up to the right with the stony farmers track we were traversing the only level surface. We were also amongst a herd of Highland cows who were either lying sleeping or standing and chewing away bemusedly, their eyes reflecting back in the torchlight of us runners, their coats glistening with the gathering dew on them.

I thought nothing more of this other than mentally noting the sight, the same could not be said of a lady who was about 15 minutes behind me.

As she entered the field, she saw in front of her a lovely little Highland calf wander up off the slop onto the track in front of her and stop… She then sensed something behind her and saw the mother walking on to the track behind her. The mother then realised there was a human between her and her calf, so she lowered her well horned head and charged the lady, connecting with her and tossing her about 20 feet forward and up on to the bank on the right!

Even in the darkness at this time of night, the field of runners is still fairly tight and just behind witnessing the event was a group of other runners who themselves hurried at the cow who now safely reunited with her calf trotted away from the on-rushers back off to the side. Tending to the lady who was on the bank on the right of the trail, apart from a bit of shock and winded from the unexpected flight and landing, fortunately she felt fine.

These runners accompanied her the last mile or so in to the aid station at Tilberthwaite and relayed the tale to the marshals who made the decision on the spot to hook the lady from the race and get her to hospital even though she felt fine.

The reason was based on safety as the last 4 miles are up a steep climb on to a remote moor with an equally steep descent through a quarry, so once you leave the aid station you are in a very remote spot that will require mountain rescue to get you down from in an emergency, so if there was any risk of internal injury that might not be apparent now, such as a ruptured spleen, it could manifest whilst up there which would have put the life of the runner at risk plus those of the mountain rescue sent up there. A sensible decision as much as it was frustrating for the lady in question; having got to within 4 miles of the finish well within time for the organisers to pull her from the race and she was taken to the nearest A&E to be checked-out.

Mercifully she was absolutely fine but no longer in the race. After the event, taking pity upon her and her predicament, the organisers gave her a finishers tee and in doing so made her the only person to have ever been awarded one without having crossed the line as it was the organisers who hooked her so close to the finish!

I wonder what tales will be told from future races?

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Monday, 31 July 2017

7th August: Haigh Woodlands Parkrun

Over the last week I’ve been recovering at LSS’s parent’s place just outside Chorley. Conveniently there’s a Co-Op just round the corner so I’ve been taking trips there to buy convenience food so I didn’t end-up eating the in-laws out of house & home.

The day after the LL50 I was struggling to walk - the soles of my feet had taken a right battering and were killing me. Walking to the Bluebird Cafe the morning after for a sausage sandwich with LSS & Spud was a feat of endurance - I say walk, it was more a slow painful shuffle!

With yesterday being Parkrun day, I had persuaded LSS that we should check-out the local one at Haigh Hall, the Haigh Woodland. With the in-laws in tow with their faithful hound we all traipsed down there to check it out and for Spud & me to run it.

Haigh Hall
Haigh Hall is a stately home perched on a hill overlooking Wigan to the west. The run route takes you on a route through the grounds. Today was apparently the alternative route due to ongoing works on the normal trail through the woodlands, so what we were to face was a 1.5mile blast downhill to the turn and then making it back the way we came to the finish.

The drop and climb of 335 ft each way was certainly a test… As soon as the hooter went Spud led me on a sprint as we flew down the hill notching a 6:40 first mile, then the dawning realisation of how fast and enjoyable this descent was we were going to be suffering on the way back. Sure enough, the 2nd & 3rd miles were nowhere near this initial pace!

Basingstoke Parkrun has nothing to offer in the way of hills by comparison - although the runners there will bleat and moan about the ‘tennis court hill’ with its height gain of about 20ft, so this was a bit of a baptism of fire as the first leg of any Parkrun tourism that I do.

Here's a link to my effort on the day.

If this was your local Parkrun then it would be a terrific test of your mettle and good training for any trail runs you might do with the climbing and descending which makes you realise that when you leave the ‘soft’ south behind things tend to be a bit harder ‘ooop north’.

The view down the hill over Wigan & the DW Stadium, home of Wigan Athletic & Wigan Warriors.
The walk to and from the start line past the Hall itself was very pleasant and it looks like it will be our Parkrun to undertake when we are up visiting LSS’s parents.

Eat Pies.
Drink Beer.
Run Far.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

30th July: My Lakeland 50 cents

Ah the Lakeland 50, how I have been looking forward to thee with a mix of hope, fear and trepidation… The race in itself is in 2 parts: getting in to it, then getting to the start line some 9 months later. When entry for this year’s event opened back in October ’15 the 650 places in the ’50 sold out in a little over 5 minutes, the 250 for ’100 in 20!.. For the unlucky but determined there were a further 250 charity places released a week later making a combined race field of 1300. The 100 doesn’t just let anyone in though; it has vetted entry on ability - so you have to meet the criteria of finishing over the last 2 years: the ’50 in under 16 hours, another mountainous 50 in under the same time, or successfully finished a 60-100 mile mountain ultra… So for this race to sell-out in that time shows the huge demand out there to take-on this notorious of challenges.

What lies before us!
Some might say the Lakeland 50 & 100 are THE races of their respective distances in the UK held each year - to the point they are considered a British equivalent of the UTMB & CCC. As such the organisers of the Lakeland refuse to pay the UTMB to have the race carry their qualifier points as the Lakeland’s ethos is akin to the the ‘Field of Dreams’: Build it and they will come,  where people will want to race for the challenge the course offers, not as a stepping-stone to something else. At the start line of both races the cream of the UK’s distance trail runners can be found (their schedules permitting of course) along with faces from around the world drawn like moths to the flame of the challenge that running in the Lake District presents.

The event is a weekend long festival of running in Coniston. Based in the grounds of the village’s school with pretty-much everyone competing camping on the playing-fields, it turns them in to a sea of tents and camper-vans full of excitable outdoorsy types, their families and supporters as only a lucky handful manage to snap-up the few b&b/ hotel rooms in Coniston village itself!

Being briefed, where we were told we are not 'only' doing the 50, we're doing a tough 50 mile race!
I knew a few other people running alongside me in the ’50, so I was sure of at least bumping in to a friendly face in the starter’s enclosure and all 3 of the ‘Leek-y Ladies’ were going to be there for the weekend, one running and 2 supporting their other competing friends thanks to a sizeable contingent of the hardcore trail runners from the Peak District racing over both distances. With this knowledge and through her love of Coniston, LSS decided to accompany me (along with Spud for some company during the day), as she knew there would be friendly faces with whom to socialise when us loons hoon around in the wilderness for a few hours.

The compulsory kit list for the race is quite a comprehensive one and this year there had been an addition with all runners required to carry a cup on top of everything else (First aid kit, waterproof top and bottoms, spare base layer top and bottom, head torch, phone, whistle, hat, gloves, foil blanket, map, road book, compass & emergency food - 2 mars bars or 400kcal equivalent to remain uneaten at race end). This addition of the cup had proved to be a bit of a debating point on the race’s Facebook page (not all of it serious I may add) which made a change from people banging-on about whether ‘cheating sticks’ should be allowed (walking poles to the uninitiated) and if they are any good and whether Hoka’s really are just expensive ‘clown shoes’.

Ubiquitous Starting pen shot!
For the second journey in a row this month, the drive up to the lakes was crap with heavy traffic and jams from the A417 north of Swindon to beyond Manchester. Rather than arriving in plenty of time as planned and able to cheer-off the 100 racers on their 6pm start, we arrived at dusk with barely enough time to get the tent pitched in the remaining light and for me to get in to register for the race. LSS had not travelled well and having to rush around was not agreeing with her… Having managed to squeak in to registration by 5 minutes I was very efficiently processed by virtue of being pretty-much the only one doing so at that time. Part of the registration process was a weigh-in. You are encouraged to register with your race pack and wearing what you will race in for them to get the most accurate reading. I asked if it was to see if people lost too much weight on the run to be told that they expect us to lose weight, it is more for establishing if people have put-on or maintained weight, as then there is a high risk of them suffering from potentially fatal hyponatremia through water retention.

Now all registered I was on a quest for something to eat. I rushed up the hill from the school to the main road through Coniston to get to the chippy around the corner, which caused LSS to have a melt-down at me walking too quickly for her, only to get in the door just as they went to lock it and secure the only thing they had: a final half portion of solid crunchy dark coloured chips off the bottom of the fryer that were about to be binned as they cleaned-up for the night. Emerging with this paltry prize from the now closed chippy (which the bastards had the gall to charge me full price for) LSS appeared around the corner, so we did the only thing we could do which was head to a pub for some liquid dinner.

Suzanne & the Carthorse
Passing the village petrol station, LSS noticed they had not locked the door even though it was 5 past their 10pm closing time and she dived in and grabbed a couple of sausage rolls, so that was our dinner: half a bag of crap chips and a cold sausage roll each!.. We retired to the Bull, grabbed a drink and sat outside to eat a pretty miserable looking supper, now able to laugh at our rubbish day stuck in traffic with us having a place set to sleep in and something to line our bellies without an added worry of early emergency registration the next morning.

Having slept well after drifting-off to the symphony of tent dwelling snorers, I awoke to a lot of buzzing people all very eager to get going. After breakfasting I made my way in to the school for the briefing. The event is tracked so on a projector screen in the hall there was a chart showing where the 100 runners had reached - with amazing distances already covered by the front-runners and predictions of it being a record-breaking year… I had suggested to organisers that when people drop-out of the race they should show their pictures on the screen and have the sound of a canon firing just like in the ‘Hunger Games’, but it seemed they had not adopted this idea.

The first tentative steps on the course.
All briefed and it was time to get on the buses for the trip to the start. As I said goodbye to LSS & Spud I saw the Leek-y lady who was running today and went to say hello.

The drive to the start of the 50 at Dalemain was a slow and boring affair. We were dropped-off in the middle of the Dalemain estate that serves as the notional ‘halfway’ aid-station for the 100 with all the racer’s drop-bags there for them to access. In reality for the 100 milers there are only 46 miles left at this point. For us runners of the 50 we have to complete a 4 mile circuit of part of the estate before we are let-loose on the course for real.

On the lap of the fields of the Dalemain Estate.

Awaiting in the pen for the start I bumped into fellow Farnborough fan ‘Carthorse’ and his better half Suzanne. About a year ago, Carthorse left his old life in Farnborough behind to start afresh with Suzanne up here in the lakes and it really seems to have lifted his spirits no end; certainly proving a very good decision for him. It also means he has all these wonderful hills and fells to scamper over in his free time to practice, unlike back down in our part of Hampshire.

11:30 came and we were off, lumbering en-masse across the unremarkable fields of the estate like a migratory herd of wildebeest before being unleashed onto the course proper and the first leg down to Pooley Bridge, or just ‘Pooley’ as it was after the winter’s storms when the bridge was swept away in the floods. Fortunately there’s a new bridge now, although completely lacking in the character of its lovely stone predecessor.

The stretching 'field' amongst the fields
From Pooley we properly headed-out into the wilderness for the first time. At this stage I was running with a chap living about 5 miles down the road from me which was one of those ‘small world’ moments. As we we jogging and chatting at one point we went through an open gate and my headphone cable snagged on the latch snapping it clean off from the jack… So around a tenth of the way in to the race in I was now faced with the inevitability of just the company of my own wandering mind in the harder parts of the race without the ability to listen to any podcasts or music to help with some escapism. Once we had climbed on to the trail, It seemed to be downhill all the way to the first of the day’s aid stations and 7 miles of the 50 completed at Howtown.

Everyone just wants the lap over and to head out on to the route!
All the aid stations on the Lakeland are themed and this one, manned by ‘Chia Charge’ with plenty of their tasty product to be scoffed, had the theme of Cowboys & Indians! With it not being too far in to the race and my energy levels still being high, I decided to crack-on almost immediately to hit the trail after grabbing a couple of their excellent sea salt flap jacks to nosh along the way.

The 14th Century Dacre Castle.
Back on to the course and we now hit the hardest part (or the first half of the hardest part) of the day: Fusedale… or to give it its proper name: ‘Effing Fusedale’. This stretch is renowned for being the graveyard of Lakeland runners. It is a 2 mile 1500ft climb pretty-much from the waters edge of the lake to the top of the moor, but its geography is brutal… This year we were lucky as the sky was overcast, but other years were not so when the sun has been out. You are essentially walking through a bowl so the ground slopes up either side and in front of you and consequently the humidity is choking as it is just held there like a soup through which to cut a way through… When the sun is out in a Lakeland its normal on Fusedale to find runners bent over puking their guts on the trail’s edge, others lying down by the path side trying to recover some breath with the sapping heat and humidity sucking all their energy out of them. At this point I was with Carthorse and Suzanne, who I was struggling to keep-up with, although Carthorse was suffering on this climb as much as I was: we kept yo-yoing past each other as we could only make about 20m at a time before having to rest and recover for about a minute, gasping for breath in the atmosphere.

Nearly done!
Around halfway-up there was a small squad of supporters cheering us onwards who had put motivational slogans onto balloons staked to the ground - with one slogan particularly catching my eye: ‘Don’t be shit’!.. One can but hope I thought. This was a lovely gesture from some people who obviously had experienced the suffer-fest of this climb themselves and were there to help us through what I found for me to be the most taxing part of the whole course.

The new Pooley Bridge
At the start of the climb I had passed a group of walkers coming down Fusedale - one of the group had a bag of Werthers Originals that she was offering to all us runners with a cheery smile. Her face looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it, I politely declined the offer of the sweets having not long been out of the aid station, put the encounter to the back of my mind and carried-on going.

The further I ascended Fusedale the more the sun seemed to emerge from behind clouds, and by the time I had overcome the plethora of false summits to arrive at the top, it was out in full, so at least I had missed the worst of the humidity during the climb. Up on the plateau of the fell there was a welcome cooling breeze, but soon we were descending off the other side towards Haweswater and back in to the humidity. The path here was overgrown with ferns so you could not see where you were putting your feet and with it rocky underfoot it was not long before I tripped on one, fortunately regaining my balance, but my instinct to make good time on the descent was put paid to, and when the section was finished we hit the stony path around the lake as the sun began to bake us, reflecting off the light coloured stones under foot. Combined with the rising humidity it became stifling and uncomfortable. Fortunately there were a few streams crossing the path so I was able to wash my face and fill my cap with water to cool-down.

Finally into the wilds.
Round the headland of the lake and we reached the next aid station at Mardale - where I was told-off for trying to get some water for my cap, then when I asked for a cup of water they refused to give me one as they said I would just pour it over my head and suggested I just leave and find a stream… Seeing there was nothing of note I wanted to eat from the fare on offer, now in a proper ‘fuck you’ mood I stomped-off out the aid station before I said anything abusive that I might regret and come-across as a complete ‘see you next Tuesday’.

On our way to CP1 at the 'Bobbin Mill'.
Back on the path I climbed half way up the immediate ascent of Gatescarth and sat down to have something to eat, looking back down on the aid station to see if Carthorse and Suzanne were approaching… Eventually I saw them rounding the corner for their descent to the aid station before I turned and carried-on the trudge the rest of the way up to the top.

Ullswater once more.
Once summitted, the descent towards Kentmere was something that kept you awake and paying attention: the path was loose stone, so to get any speed required total concentration in picking your path over the rocks so as not to stumble and fall, making your knees and quads ache like crazy the whole time. Fortunately what awaited at the bottom was a Harry Potter themed village hall of Kentmere, where some jelly beans in a bag were given to everyone who entered as well as a bowl of hot spicy pasta, which I eagerly ate seeing as we were now in the realms of dinner time, with the heat beginning ease a little and the shadows lengthening. One of the people manning the aid-station was none other than Marcus Scotney, the ultra runner of some renown who would be chasing the win if he was running but was instead just giving something back today by helping-out.

Still plenty of runners around.
Mentally I knew what time I wanted to be in Ambleside: any time before darkness! so I was confident in getting there in time, although the climb up towards Troutbeck was challenging me, forcing me to sit on a wall for a few minutes break at one point… Eventually I was able to get up and enjoy the sight of Windermere down below in front of me as the light began to noticeably fade. Seeing the lake meant I was not far off Ambleside which nestles at its northerly tip and I knew that a fair chunk of the route to the next checkpoint in the town was downhill, so I attempted to make as good a time as I could to the town and the awaiting aid station.

The start of 'effing Fusedale'.
There are very strict rules enforced at the Lakeland - you are not allowed any outside assistance, nor are you allowed to stop along the route to take food and drink from anywhere other than the official aid stations or you risk disqualification… This is not really an issue, except in Ambleside as you run through the town passing all the restaurants and take-away joints and the first sight you see entering the centre is a pub… A pub with everyone sitting outside drinking beer and cheering you on that looks unbelievably inviting to stop in for a cold-one, the cheering acting as a siren’s call, but the race rules make a good mast to mentally lash yourself to and push-on through savouring the cheering as you continue to the next aid station at the parish hall.

Nearing one of the false summits on Fusedale.
Arriving safely as the light began to drop I took a seat at the circus themed stop outside the hall and had a brief snack and a rest whilst attempting to fight-off the swarming midges that were gathering to chew on our sweaty flesh… From here onwards I was on territory that was familiar having recce’d it a couple of months before with LSS & Spud. From hereon even in the darkness I would be familiar with the terrain I would be covering, including going up the bit I fell down on the UT55 a few weeks back splitting my knee apart!

Cracking view from up high.
My challenge now leaving the aid station was to try and get as far as I could before it properly got dark and I would be forced to put my head torch on… The steep climb out of the town on the valley bottom on to Loughrigg Fell put me back in to light once more, which I made as good a use of as I could - descending towards Skelwith Bridge where I finally succumbed to the inevitable and put my head torch on to light the way from this point.

Finally topping-out on the moor.
I had been uber prepared for a change and took 3 head torches with me to the race, choosing one of them as the most suitable on the morning and putting it in my pack with 2 spare batteries - it had been a while since I had run with it on so I was looking forward to having an extended session with it. Putting it on it sat comfortably, so I switched it on and thought nothing more until about 5 minutes later it turned itself off, so I turned it back on, which lasted a few minutes more. Cursing my luck I changed the battery (already a fully charged one or so I thought) for one of the 2 spares I had packed, and turned the torch on again - which worked for all of about half a dozen paces before it turned off once more! Soon I was having to run continually trying to turn it on as it was refusing to work for anything more than a few seconds… I was properly fucked!

Fortunately the trail to the next aid station from Skelwith Bridge through Elterwater to the next aid station at Chapel Stile was pancake flat and mostly on the wide mettled surface of the Cumbrian Way, so I was able to carry-on in the last of the light as it reflected off the river and the tarn at not too slower a pace as I would otherwise have run, staying close to other runners whenever I could to use their lights as they jogged on when we disappeared under the tree canopy.

Sun's out!
Reaching Chapel Stile it was now proper darkness as I stopped for a welcome break after my attempt at metronomic running from Skelwith Bridge till I reached here. Once here I took the opportunity to use the cup from my compulsory kit for a cup of tea and some soup (not at the same time), as what’s the point in carrying it if you don’t use it, and realised that whilst the collapsible silicon thing I was carrying complied with the rules of the race it was completely effing useless for holding anything hot as it burnt your fingers, was unstable so could not be put on the floor and held such a small amount it was an exercise in pointlessness more than anything. The upshot was managing a thimbleful of tea and mercifully I was able to blag something bigger for the soup.

The next vicious climb away from Mardale Head.
The aid station here was themed as the wild west with a camp fire to sit around and warm-up by and an old sofa on which to lounge around!.. It was very inviting to settle there for a while, but I forced myself to carry-on. Leaving the aid station I began to shiver uncontrollably with my renewed movement in the colder night, so I was forced to stop as soon as I had started and put my waterproof on, which soon increased my core temperature back to comfortable levels and allowed me to continue as unhindered as I could, whilst reduced to a shuffle with the darkness struggling not to trip over anything.

A last look at Haweswater.
I was relieved to have recce’d this section before so at least I knew what was underfoot: loose rock and boulders, followed by some stiles and crossing boggy fields covered in sheep-shit, so at least I knew what I was going to be tripping, stumbling on and falling over for the next few miles. All I could do was to follow as close to people as I could to use the light from their head-torches, concentrating hard on everything they were lighting so I could hopefully pick my way through the minefield of obstacles - although this was not always successful with a couple of trips and falls mercifully landing on soft grass… This was pretty soul destroying. I was essentially reduced to walking slowly trying to pick my way along the path when there was no light to ‘borrow’. It seemed to be taking forever to get through this section and I knew full well that I had another 9 miles left on the route, 9 slow ponderous miles that could be reduced to a 2 mile per hour shuffle.

Ascending to the wilderness once more.
On the hill up towards the self-clip checkpoint on the way to Tilberthwaite, the hill I busted my knee on coming down it a few weeks back at the UT55, I decided just to sit down and have a rest, to take-in the night sky and try to forget the shitty situation I was in with no torch. In the middle of nowhere there is no light pollution so looking up you could just see the limitless stars in the cloudless sky. There was no moon at all today with the lunar cycle so there was no light shed from that to help with the visibility. It was just inky blackness and nothing else, but hey you could properly see the Milky Way so not all bad.

Having recovered some of my scattered faculties I continued the ascent to the top. It was along here I bumped in to Joanne & Chris from across the other side of the Penines on the Yorkshire coast - both ultra running vets with extensive palmares, who took pity on me and allowed me to tag along, picking our way through the bracken covered rocky path, where after one stumble too many Joanne took pity upon me and lent me her spare hand-torch, so I was able to see once more!

Rolling hills.
Just after the self-clip the path veers off the road once more and a group of spectators had parked-up around this turning, all of their cars with their headlights-on illuminating the turn, cheering us onwards as we arrived. It was like they were a bunch of crap doggers, all meeting-up somewhere remote, turning the lights on and watching the action unfold before them!

Through a hillside field of highland cattle, with their bemused faces above us and below us on the slope lit-up by torches as we ventured onwards in the darkness, down through a farmyard trying to keep our voices low past the houses and we made the last aid-station.

Joanne & Chris pushed-on through the stop much quicker than me - I just felt like having a final rest before climbing the ‘stairway to heaven’ up in to the quarry being careful all the way not to stray off the wide grassy path with its plummet into a gorge on one side and the quarry on the other and a small scramble over some of the rocks on the path to boot.

This final leg was a mere 4 miles - albeit commencing with a sharp climb, crossing the moor and descending down through the treacherous terrain of a slate quarry to Coniston and from there to the finish.

One of the many inviting waterfalls for dipping the cap to cool-off.
Fair to say at this point I was pretty wiped-out so after climbing the steps I decided to sit on the grass and enjoy the stars above me once more, trying to make out the shapes of the hills over which we have traversed or passed-by seeing the few lights of houses here and there… Realising this was not really achieving much and not with not being too far off topping-out on to Coniston Moor I climbed to my feet one final time and mooched onwards. As the climb levelled-out, I was aware of how still and quiet everything was. The only sound to be heard was that of the breeze in your ears, the cascading water of the stream and its waterfalls alongside the trail and the laboured breaths I was taking. Soon I caught back up with Joanne & Chris and carried-on to the finish with the pair of them, which also meant there would be no grief tomorrow of trying to find Joanne to give her torch back to her.

Still had some people behind me!
Slowly the knee jarring descent over the loose slate of the path down through the quarry was negotiated and we had something even and flattish under foot, so the three of us picked-up our pace and shuffled down the slope into the ghost-town of early AM Coniston, past the closed pubs and down to the school.

The three of us crossed the line together (me placing 430/672), and personally delighted to have had made it in a qualifier time for the 100, albeit by just a half hour, but a qualifier time nonetheless - especially after my head-torch failure had cost me I think around 2 hours… Walking around the corner I found LSS & Spud, a very tired duo who had waited-up for me to finish, which for me was as unexpected as it was lovely as any sensible person would have been in bed hours before, so I had a big hug from LSS and a welcome kick in the nards from Spud!..

The long uneven descent to Kentmere.
During the race I mentally made all of these plans of cracking-open a bottle of something fizzy in celebration as soon as I had finished, but having done so at 2:30 in the morning I really did not feel like it - it was now a time where it was so late it was early, so the sensible thing really would be to bed-down and worry about tomorrow when I awoke… I made my way to the showers - still mercifully warm - and washed-off the day’s grime before putting on loads of clothes to ward-off the shivers as my body went in to shock now it was no longer moving after 2/3 of a day doing so, and I slept well under canvas for the few remaining hours of darkness before sunrise.

The next morning I was not walking well to say the least!.. As well as the onset of DOMS I found the soles of my feet were agony with every step!.. Taking advantage of the warm sunny conditions, LSS & Spud slowly shuffled with me to the cafe by the lakeside where we settled for some lunch before the 90 minute drive back to Chorley & LSS’s parent’s house.

The valley opening-up before us.
They say on races you should never wear anything new, something that one of my Leek-y lady friends could probably have heeded. Over the previous week she had been going-on about this lovely new top she had bought specifically for the race and how she was looking forward to wearing it… Let’s just say the material was probably not as thick as she expected it to be as a couple of things caught your eye when you saw her and the morning was certainly not that cold, nor was it later in the race when I passed her leaving an aid station as I entered it and she was still smuggling peanuts!.. After the race I told her about it to which the reply of ‘trust you to notice’ came back, but sure enough when all the photos from the event came-out she was mortified!

Sunlight now waning.
Will I be back? yes I will in a heartbeat. I’m pleased to have finished the race in a qualifier time for the 100 which was my goal, but at the same time I’m a bit frustrated about the whole head-torch issue which really hampered me so meant I was not able to record as good a time as I could have… I now know the course and have a healthy respect for ‘effin Fusedale’ - it will always be a case of managing my heart rate on the ascent and knowing that once on top its a good run down the other side and not to get too despondent going round Haweswater. Once I get over Gatescarth I know that all the real hard work is behind me so can concentrate on getting to the finish… The qualifier time for the 100 is good for 2 years, but I’d be very wary of throwing myself in to a run of that distance just yet, so what my plan will be is to run the 50 again in a qualifier time, then I will have 2 bites at the 100 cherry in subsequent years to have a crack at it with the drop-out rate on it pretty high!

Lake Windermere in front in the lengthening shadows.
From talking to people it turned out the familiar face of the walker on Fusedale was none other than Mel Giedroyc who was out hiking with friends!

I don’t do races for the swag or the bling - its not important to me and I have a collection of more tech tees from races than you can shake a big stick at these days, but I love the tee they gave us for this race - its never going to be run in, only worn with immense pride.

Speaking of tees, the ‘Eat Pies’ got plenty of love from marshals and passing walkers alike. I love the way the shirt makes a lot of people smile and helps to brighten their day.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

July 2nd: The Ultimate Trails 55k - Ultimately Enjoyable.

The drive up to the lakes was crap. I had planned on arriving in Ambleside for the Ultimate Trails 55k with plenty of time to park, register, get a good meal in me and watch the Welsh play Belgium in the Euros. Plans are great, plans rock, but when a third party gets involved they tend to go somewhat awry… In this case with major delays around Birmingham and through the Manchester area I had 3 hours added to my journey, so getting to the event base to register by the 8pm deadline was becoming even a remote possibility. Without having eaten lunch I was forced to dive-in to some services on the M6 in Lancashire to grab a burger to eat as I drove the rest of the way to the lakes as I was unsure of getting to my destination before the pub kitchens of Ambleside closed.

The route for the following days travels.
Fortunately I arrived as darkness was falling and pulled into the parking area for the event - a field next to the local football club - which was nearly full already.

I dashed across to the church hall to register just before it closed - a very professional effort with a full kit check and photo ID session to ensure you are who you claim to be, before you were issued with your timing chip. At least with this done the pressure was off for tomorrow morning and one less thing to worry about… Plus being there at the last possible moment it meant no queuing either.

Retiring to the pub I settled for a couple of beers and to catch what little was left of the game (Wales continuing their remarkable performance in the tournament by beating the Belgians) to kill some time before heading to the start line for the 110k race, listen in to some of the briefing before clapping-off the runners on their midnight start… Before hunkering down in the back of the van for the night.

The start of the 110k race.
All refreshed after a decent kip I woke at a relatively civilised time to get ready for the 11am start - much later than I’m used to kicking off a race!.. It really was a case of killing time in the morning, all keyed-up and excited to go, fired with a desire to give a good account of myself this time after my disappointing display at the Jurassic Quarter a few weeks back.

I attended briefing with everyone else, which unsurprisingly was not a million miles different from what I heard of the one for the 110, so it was just a case of hanging around in the ‘pen’ with the multitude of the other runners - around 500 of us to be precise, all of us eager to get going.

Milling around just waiting and waiting for the start!
Ambleside had been severely hit by the flooding in the area over the winter just gone and during the height of the floods the park in which the event was based was a good 10ft under water - something that was impossible to fathom from just standing there on the lush grass - ok there are 2 small rivers either side of it, but nothing that could make you think of how such a volume of water could arrive and swamp the area… A truly sobering thought, but also amazing in how the area has recovered so rapidly to the point there was no visible sign of the disaster that befell the place mere months before.

Eventually we were off - all of us dashing out of the park and on to the mean streets of Ambleside, crossing the one-way system ready to ascend out of the village, where within about a minute of starting everything ground to a total standstill! Heading up the narrow street leading out the east of the village, a delivery driver had parked blocking the road. The van had just enough space either side for one person at a time to squeeze through so we were all held here slowly passing through the gap Indian file before we were able to start moving again, climbing the long and winding road towards the beckoning green hills.

Feeling like we're leaving civilisation behind.
Soon the tarmac of country lane gave-way to trail and the impression of being out in the wilderness was upon us as the unrelenting ascent continued over the first 4 miles of the route until we hit Kirkstone Pass. Once here the trail levelled-off it was a huge relief for our aching calves to have some respite before the pay-off for this hard work in scaling 1,500ft. As we passed through the parking area for tourists driving past to admire the view, we had our first feed station of the day; its gazebo trying to offer some shelter from the darkening skies threatening rain and from the rising wind.

Hitting the wilderness.
Crossing the car park there was the slightly confusing and bizarre occurrence of a fell race starting at the other end, with lots of bemused club runners arriving as the masses passed-through, all looking very worried about this continual stream of eager well kitted-out racers mingling with them in the car park as they tried to register and keep warm for their race, some of them panicking thinking their race had started and having to be talked-out of joining-in with all of us with another 30-odd miles to go on our jaunt!

Heading through the pass.
Out the other side of the car park and we were presented with a fantastic descent through the pass for a very runnable and enjoyable 10k to the Glenridding aid station.

Starting the descent.
It was on this descent I saw a runner in front drop one of her poles, so I stooped to pick it up and give it back to her and recognised the face of someone who I had met back at Fort William where she and her friend had been as underwhelmed by the pre-race pasta party as I had!.. Today was a training run for her in anticipation of her crossing of the Atacama - a 7 day race across the dessert! Her running buddy from Fort William was also here today but already out on the course on the 110k race.
Picking a path.
Continuing the descent everyone seemed to be following the same path which was causing bottlenecks, so I decided to take a slightly different route off to the side which made me soon realise why no-one else was doing the same as I ended-up knee deep in a bog just a metre or so off to the side of the main path - at least I faired better than one lady on the main path who tried to cross a boggy bit only to face-plant into the watery mess, properly submerging her head and all the way to her chest, fortunately with no damage other than a bruising to the ego.

Fording one of the many swollen mountain streams.
Marveling at the contrast of the lush green of the grass, the slate grey of the exposed rock and matching sky I drank in the scenery as I descended to Patterdale, passing plenty with my downhill speed who had passed me before as I toiled on the ascent dragging my belly up the hillside. Even the on-set of the first downpour of the day did not phase me and it came down heavy, but at least it was warm rain so not too dispiriting… Although once on to the flat tarmac of the valley floor I began to feel the exertions of these hard 2 hours of effort to get to the first proper point for a break as I had to make the metronome tick-over at a constant to get me to shelter.

A bit grim, grey and soggy on the valley floor.
Reaching the aid station they had been incredibly cunning: the timing mat for the race was inside the hall rather than outside, so all runners had to enter and be funnelled past the food and drink that was lain out for us, all the while being visually assessed by the medics - This was a really clever touch as it forced people to make a conscious effort not to take on board any food or a warm drink. Those at the head of the race would have been able to pass through without too much of a time loss before the masses arrived to choke-up the area - so it works for the elites as well as it does those of us just out for the challenge.

The start of the next climb out of the aid station.
I had ignored the first aid station with it only being at 4 miles so I thought I’d have something to eat and a cup of tea whilst here, but none of the scran initially took my fancy; I was not over enamoured of the thought of peanut butter, jam or ham (I was not enamoured Sam I am) but then I saw a cheese and onion sanger - and I mean the cheapest sangers you get in the supermarket kind of cheese and onion and all of a sudden I knew I just had to have one (or three!) and it was the best tasting goddam thing I have ever eaten - it really went down a treat and boosted me immensely - I knew then for the rest of the race I would be hoovering cheese and onion sangers at every opportunity!.. It became an obsession. I just wanted to run as hard as I could to the next aid station to get my hands on the next helping.

The wind and rain setting-in, the hail started soon after!
Out of the aid station and the climbing commenced: away from Patterdale leaving Ullswater behind in the distance whilst following the path westwards just to the south of the mighty Hellvellyn that towers above… It was as I attempted to run up a section of the incline for a change that I felt something shift at my back and turning I saw my backpack had opened and my waterproof had spilled-out from it. I stopped to pick it up, thankful I had noticed in time and debated packing it or putting it on for the sky was looking like it was about to burst once more - so I made my choice; stowing it tightly and ensuring the zip was firmly closed and carried on my merry way… Sod’s law: five minutes later and I had to stop again to get it out and put it on as the heavens carried out their threat and opened for another biblical deluge, with the wind rising to a near gale the higher we climbed driving the rain in to our faces… 8 miles this leg was between aid stations with no cover for us. You were exposed the entire time to what the elements were throwing at you as you traversed 1,500ft of climbing over the first 5 miles and 1,800ft of descent in the final 3 and a chance for a breather.
Ruthwaite Lodge and its surrounding sea of green.

This climb over Grizedale was long and slow with the wind howling, unable to look up a lot of the time through the rain and even hail blasting you in the face if you were to raise your head… I’m sure this stretch looks absolutely stunning without the low cloud and being able to look up around you, but today you were not really able to see or savour a great deal… Until you turned around as you reached a small plateau by the grandly named shuttered shepherd hut of ‘Ruthwaite Lodge’ and saw what you had climbed. Its a pretty awesome sight.

Looking down Grizedale.
Catching my breath here I struck-up a conversation with a fellow racer Sinéad as she grimaced her way towards me up to the hut… As we pushed onwards passing the tarn and up to the highest point of the whole course, I couldn’t help but chuckle about the back-pack she was wearing - now both my girls when they were younger used to love Dora the Explorer - with her brightly coloured back-pack that stores all wonderful things inside it to help with her escapades… I couldn’t but help myself and pointed out to Sinéad that she was in fact Dora the Explorer, which in the midst of the exertion and minds addled by fatigue, hunger and pain whilst being battered by the elements seemed to amuse… And having a couple of kids of her own (or ‘wildlings’ as she says), she certainly got the point of reference.
Crossing the Tarn.
Typically, once over the top of Grizedale, the weather began to change with the wind dropping to a mere breeze, the rain suddenly stopped and the temperature rose along with the humidity, just in time for the steep descent to the valley floor and the aid station at the school in Grasmere.

The descent commences
With the clearing of the weather you’d have thought that progress would speed-up significantly, especially with the descent - but unfortunately with all the rain the going underfoot was a bit tricky so careful was the watch-word with the risk of a tumble down the side of the hill - it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your trainers, all of them are pants on wet rock!

The lake at Grasmere.
As I descended alongside ‘Dora’ we got chatting with another racer who turned-out works with the dad of one of the guys I played footy with. Once we hit the valley floor and the road it was a couple of miles along the black tar way till we hit the aid station with just over half the race completed… Cheese & onion sandwich time!.. I was dead chuffed to find some more there and washed it down with one of the cans of Red Bull I had stashed in my pack for this aid station and the last one of the day.

Out of the aid station and we were off onto the last of the ‘big’ climbs, up and over Silver How before hitting  the relatively benign loop from Chapel Style, through Elterwater & Little Langdale as we covered some of the common ground shared by the Lakeland 50 course but in a different direction for the most part… On this section we caught-up with a couple of Dora’s running buddies from her Radcliffe Athletic Club so there was more conversation to divert.

Closing-in on the last aid station of the day.
On the final third of the loop, descending through Wrynose Pass, nattering away with Dora, I was not paying full attention and my right foot slipped off the path. The trail here has a ditch on the right side, so my right leg ended in the ditch, with my left knee crashing fully down with all my weight behind it onto the gritty hard-packed surface… I couldn’t help but yelp with the pain - I knew it was not good on impact as the electric bolts of the shock and pain shot through my whole body… I decided immediately to adopt my normal coping strategy with a bad cut of not to look, ignore it and get moving again whilst the adrenaline is still strong and prevent things seizing-up with swelling. The good thing was we were descending so I was able to run/ hobble/ walk the rest of the way to the aid station along the reverse of a majority downhill route I had walked in May, arriving at the school in Chapel Stile, where I was safe in the knowledge of having got there with no ill effects and necking some paracetamol I would be ok to carry-on to the finish…

I sat down in the hall for more cheese & onion sangers, a cup of tea and some Red Bull and stretched out my leg in front so I could see what I had done - fortunately it was just a bloody mess that had oozed in to my calf sleeve all the way down to my sock and aside from seeing a fair bit of broken skin I couldn’t really tell what there was and how many stones I had gathered in it was well, although it must have been quite tasty as a lot of people were commiserating me at having to bail from the race at this late stage with an injury like that - so I just put on my best ‘Black Knight’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and insisted it was just a mere scratch and off for the final 10k stretch I forged alongside Dora.

Loved that I only noticed the stack of stones long after taking the photo.
The last leg started off with an easy tab along the flat through Elterwater before the final climbs of the day up on to Loughrigg Fell then over it to our final destination… Fair to say we knew we had it made with only at worst a 2 hour walk to the finish, so the thoughts were now on our timing and getting to the finish before darkness fell.

As we made our way in the fading light across the final couple of miles before the drop in to Ambleside and the finish, I joked to Dora about us making good time and how we stood a decent chance to get in under the 10 hours mark, so if we passed her husband coming out to meet her just before the finish she would end up just waving ‘hi and bye’ to him as she charged-onwards focusing on the finish… And sure enough about a mile from the finish, just before we descended to the park in Ambleside, Dora saw her devoted hubby wandering towards us in the gloom - she briefly slowed to chat with him as he jogged with us before she kicked-on for the tape and the bowl of soup and a roll that awaited.

Ullswater from the climb over Grisedale.
Crossing the line safely under the 10 hours and very happy with the day’s running we were presented with our medal and finishers shirt before going to the food truck to collect that promised welcoming bowl of hot soup and roll to consume in the ‘finishers enclosure’ marquee.

Enjoying the welcome hot meal with Dora and her Radcliffe Athletic Club friends I was eventually peer-pressured in to getting my knee properly checked-out as it was not ‘just a scratch’ as I was trying to pass it off as. I thought discretion was the better form of valour on this as I was outnumbered by 5-1 so I walked over to the medical tent and for the first time ever used the medical facilities as provided at an event.

Chatting with the guy as he set to work cleaning out my knee, he informed me the week before he had been crewing on the medical team for some promo filming that Strava have done in the lakes about ‘kudos’ and doing things together, so I’ll have to look out for that!

His official professional verdict on the knee was ‘it’s a mess’ and needed to be properly stitched, probably in double figures. As he scrubbed away at the open wound he couldn’t believe I was not reacting or even flinching, let alone moaning in discomfort as most people would. I explained it is not me trying to be macho, but purely because of a lack of nerve endings in that knee from a previous footy injury and I genuinely was not feeling it… As my body was cooling down having stopped moving after 10 hours on my feet, combined with the temperature dropping as darkness fell, I was beginning to noticeably shiver, so the doc advised me to go away, have a shower, get changed in to something warm and return for him to do another clean-up.

Taking his advice I enjoyed a good shower in the Ambleside FC changing rooms and sauntered back for round 2. When the doc had finished he reckoned there was about a dozen stitches worth of injury as it was a diagonal laceration across the entire knee-cap. He reiterated I needed to get it seen-to properly at A&E and made me promise to do so before leaving his charge - he asked what my plans for travel were so I told him I was intending on driving back tonight. Reluctantly he said ok to that but to get it stitched as soon as I got back to Basingstoke, if I was to reconsider going tonight he told me where the nearest A&E was to Ambleside.

Having been patched-up I took myself off to the pub for a beer and to watch the end of the footy - not the best of games ending in penalties - before retiring to the van and a kip fully dressed in the sleeping bag as I was struggling to warm-up, with the plan of leaving around 2am to get back home.

Waking in the dead of night I got in to the driver’s seat and started the engine to go home - I managed about half the distance across the field before the van became bogged-down in the churned-up mud from others leaving before me following the deluge Ambleside had experienced for the best part of the day… And at this time in the morning there was no chance of getting out of the mud and away - I tried wedging bits of old wooden fence under the wheels for traction but that did not help get a grip, so I was stuck… I was certainly not getting to A&E either back home or anywhere in the Lakes!

A good night’s sleep and I was awake and eager to get off home at the earliest opportunity, but I had to hang around till lunchtime following all the presentations before the organisers could spare some bodies to help push me out of the mud and I could get on my merry way… By the time I got home after an uneventful drive the window of opportunity to get my knee stitched was not looking good - from experience I’ve been turned away from A&E as once a wound begins to scab they are loathe to interfere with it, so it looks like it’ll be slowly healing from the inside out… Fingers crossed it will be fine for the year’s ‘A’ race, the Lakeland 50 at the end of the month.

Listening to the entertainment as we awaited the presentation.
I really enjoyed this run, which has already become my favourite having knocked the Glencoe marathon in to second place for the overall experience and atmosphere, although Glencoe still edges it on the scenery front. It was great bumping in to ‘Dora’ to while-away the miles on the trail, and it says a lot about her tolerance of motor-mouthed idiots that I did not bore/wind her up to the point that a justifiable homicide seemed a good idea!.. The course was well marked with no wrong turns taken even where the 55 & 100 courses joined and split, which is always a bonus, and I thought the organisers had made a very clever conscious decision over the aid stations and the timing mats.

Speaking to the organiser about the problems with the parking, they were pretty miffed by it themselves - there was a large hard-stand parking area that they had used in previous years under lease but this year they had been denied the use of it by the owners who instead insisted they had just the field to use whilst they provided no back-up or assistance to get the vehicles in or out - so hopefully this is something that will not be repeated. Besides this, what I will do in future is to park on the hard-stand to the side with all the camper vans to prevent a repetition, especially as I now have knowledge of the event and will hopefully arrive in plenty of time.

A big thanks to the medic as well - this was the first time I have had to use one at an event - I know they are there to be used, its just I felt a bit of a plum for being such a muppet for needing to use one.

For the record, my time over the 36 miles was 9:47:20, placing me 270/449 finishers, so I was really happy with that especially when I was so near the bottom of the Jurassic Quarter field a few weeks back!

Doing the 'moose' for the camera.
Oh and in enjoying this day out in the lakes so much despite the crappy weather, at the presentation Dora and myself were chatting about a return for the 110 next year… Its definitely an option. And to finish-off here’s what the knee looked-like after 2 weeks - yep it was a lovely oozing mess for a while from the plasma as it healed from the inside out - it fair put people off their pints down the pub the Thursday after!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.