Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Friday, 29 December 2017

18th September: Village running.

Hook, the village in Hampshire where I live, has always had an open to all-comers annual village ‘Hook Fun Run’ of 10 miles, 10k and 1.5 miles… Every evening those who live here can bare witness to people out by themselves jogging circuits of the central block (a 1.5 mile loop). There is a thriving kids football club, the men’s football club is one of the strongest in the local area and the village has recently set-up its own rugby and cycling clubs and can even claim to have raised an international class runner in Charlotte Purdue, so there are plenty of active people here interested in their fitness, but until now no running club!

Those in the village who organise the Fun Run wondered why this was the case, so having chatted amongst themselves they approached some people they thought would be like-minded on this matter to ascertain if there was an interest in having one.

Soon some posters appeared around the village mentioning a public meeting in one of the village halls and those who had previously run the Fun Run and lived in the village received an email informing them of the meeting… Neighbourino Pini had seen these, as had Moose, so the three of us all decided to trundle along to offer our support.

The car park at the Elizabeth Hall was approaching full. Looking in to the main hall there was a group of people sitting in a circle, none of which looked to be typical running types judging by their size (says 15 stone of idiot in an unironic manner), then I noticed the signage and realised it was the local branch of ‘fat-fighters’ meeting (“Dust. It's actually very low in fat. You can have as much dust as you like.”)

I thought of the irony of those living in the village looking to lose weight had all driven a mile or less to get to their meeting and clogged-up the car park, as I moved down the corridor to the smallest of the small meeting rooms right at the very end, which was already heaving… All the seats were taken and people were standing around the sides of the room with all the bodies raising the temperature inside to a stifle. Soon the kitchen next to the room was opened and the serving-hatch lifted to fit more people and allow them to see what was happening. Moose, Pini and myself took station in the doorway to the corridor as it had a little bit of a draught and allowed those who wanted to be closer to the action to do so.

As we stood there waiting for the start, Moose took the piss out of Pini and my sartorial choices: Pini had arrived wearing his tee from the Costa Rica marathon and I was wearing my Lakeland 50 shirt - leading to Moose accusing us of ‘bollock waving’ over our choices as he just wore a polo shirt rather than anything marking one of his Iron Man/ ultra marathons or assorted triathlons!

Soon we were joined in the doorway by a guy called Steve wearing a finishers shirt for a triathlon who had also seen the notification of the meeting and was interested to find out how many others in the village were like-minded.

Lou, who had convened the meeting called it to order, and you could tell she was a little overwhelmed by the response from the village. Lou admitted she had expected and hoped a handful of people would attend to get things moving and had never dreamed that she’d be sharing a packed room and more with the 70 plus folks who had crammed-in!

Straight away it was plain to see for Lou that there was definitely an interest in the village to set-up a running club and those of us present all filled-out a sheet of contact details and what we are looking for in one and any assistance we were able/ willing to offer in its formation or running (no pun intended).

After a sweaty hour and a bit in the room, the meeting closed with the idea of a follow-up in the near future to get things moving on a formal basis… In the meantime those of us on Facebook were pointed in the direction of a page that had been set-up for the club and away we went off into the warm dusk… Moose, Pini, Steve and myself opting to walk to the nearest pub for a few beers and a chat outside as the evening was still young.

Fair play to Lou for going out on a voyage in to the unknown by calling the meeting and getting everyone there… It just goes to show how there really was an untapped demand in the village for a running club and who knows what the interest expressed tonight will lead to, even if only half the people there follow-up on their initial attendance.

Watch this space to see what happens.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

28th August: South Downs & Out

Following on from previous exploits of the circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight and the crossing of Devon from coast to coast, this year Dean, Rob, Stu and myself had chosen for our cycling exploits a traverse of the South Downs Way.

Rather than doing the full 100 miles in one day we decided to do it over 2 with an overnight stop booked at a pub in Steyning - roughly halfway, to break-up the journey and not put too much pressure on ourselves.

Convening stupidly early on the platform of Basingstoke station, we headed to Winchester for the start… As we left Basingstoke, the clouds began to darken and by the time we hit Winchester the rain had started… Freewheeling down the hill we stopped in a McDonalds, introducing Dean to the delights of the only thing worth eating on their menu: a sausage & egg McMuffin, which he had somehow avoided tasting in his 40 years on the planet.

Show us the way Alfred!
Once breakfasted on stodge we made our way to the statue of King Alfred and posed for our before pic in the absolute deluge then rode the first couple of miles of tarmac to the trail head and the start of the journey - all soaked to the skin before we had even left the sprawl of Winchester and hit proper trail.

Grim grey drizzle.
On the trail we found in the peeing rain that even here, the very edge of the downs, the ground was churning-up into a very sticky clay-based mud that was gumming-up running gear on the bikes and even with them being loaded and shod with nobbly off-road tyres we were struggling for any traction climbing!

The view would be improved without the clouds!
Finding the first plateau we were overtaken by a group doing the same as us and another couple of riders who were just having fun on the stage to Queen Elizabeth Country Park - they all wished us well before disappearing off down the misty drizzly hill before us… The hill taking us past the site of the recent ‘Boomtown’ festival that a week later was still being cleared-up.

Lightening skies.
It was pretty miserable going in the rain, all of us soaked to the skin already - it was nearly impossible to cycle at speed as glasses were being hammered with the rain and steaming-up and if you did not use them you could only squint to stop flying mud, gravel and the driving rain hitting your eyes.

After seeming like an eternity, although most likely only a couple of hours, the rain eased-off as the cloud began to lift and the humidity rose as lunchtime beckoned and we approached Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Bouncing down the side of Butser Hill, at its foot we weaved through ranks of parked cars for a cycling event (how ironic) we stopped for a bite to eat on the other side of the A3 in the park’s visitor centre cafe.

Lunch in the sun and drying off.
Any hunger pangs sated we remounted our trusty steeds for the trek through the path, reversing the route of the South Downs Way Marathon I’ve been along a couple of times… I even stopped to photograph a sunbathing Red Admiral butterfly on the path.

Soon we were climbing again up on to the plateau of Harting Down, with its views for miles to the north. We stopped for a photo before carrying on - me taking a shot on the move of Rob in front as we reached the edge of the plateau and the descent off the down. I put the camera back in the pouch on my camelbak and let the bike take itself, overtaking the others as the speed increased to what must have been nudging 30 something mph. The further and faster down the hill I went, the grassy path began to become rutted with loose stones filling the ruts making going a bit unsteady with unsure grip, things still a bit greasy after the heavy rain of earlier - at least I could see the bottom was not far away as I bounced more pronouncedly over the stones in the ruts.

Following up the hill on to the down.
I found myself sitting there, with Dean talking to me, telling me to stay still as I felt him wrapping something tightly around my head, which I rapidly realised was a bandage, then the dawning realisation kicked in of ‘what the fuck has just happened?’… I realised I had no memory of the what how’s and why’s. I tried wracking my brain, thinking where am I, who am I, who are these people I’m with? I seemed to be looking through a grey filter. I could hear Stu calmly speaking on the phone… Then I saw the blood, plenty of blood everywhere, but I wasn’t in pain.

Posing on the top of the down.
Trying as hard as I could I just was not able to piece together what had happened. The last thing I remembered was stopping on top of the down for photos, then carrying on cycling. I knew the names of the people I was with, I knew who I was… I went to look at my watch but looked at my Garmin by mistake - I noticed it was still going so stopped-it. I checked the time and realised I did not know what the time was before I got here so it was pointless. There seemed to be some mud on the face of the Garmin, so I tried to rub it off but it would not budge before the realisation hit that it was two large gouges in the glass face of it.

Following Rob... A minute or 2 after this and it happened!
Dean was asking me questions, I was attempting to answer. The questions seemed irrelevant and confusing and irritated me as it was distracting me from figuring out and piecing together in my own mind WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED? I could hear what Stu was saying. He was talking calmly with the emergency services and began saying what he thought had happened, then Dean started to fill in gaps - “You’ve wiped-out quite badly, your ride’s over… We came down the hill and you were just lying there unconscious, fitting, with blood everywhere. The fits stopped fairly quickly, about 30 seconds but you were out for at least 3 minutes - we were all very worried”.

Blood, blood, plenty of blood.
I said to Dean that I was fine!.. There wasn’t any pain after all. I could tell from the blood that I must be in a mess, but I felt like I was in-tact with regards to ‘proper’ damage like broken bones. I’ve cut myself badly in crashes before and at work so I felt confident I would be fine, just a trip to A&E to get patched-up.

Plenty of claret spilt!
Think, think, think. I felt like Winnie the fucking Poo as I still tried as hard as I could to muster my grey matter and piece as much together as possible. Rob came over and took some pictures of me as I sat there as Dean finished binding my head. I stood-up and surveyed everything.

The cap was originally yellow!
My bike was a few metres back up the hill so I went to it to get my phone. The bike was absolutely fine. I took the phone out of the beam bag and said I’d better phone LSS & tell her what had happened. I told the others I’d make the call as its better she hears it from me rather than them, as the worst thing to hear is ‘there’s been an accident’ from someone else as it sets alarm bells ringing of ‘why aren’t they speaking to me?’… So I called and explained what had happened, that I’m fine except needing stitches, so don’t panic, but I will need to be collected from hospital. At this point I handed the phone to Rob or Dean, I can’t remember who and they carried on speaking to LSS, then my mind just crashed… All of a sudden I had an almighty brain fart and thought I’d better call LSS, but then realised I had just done so yet couldn’t remember anything I’d said… Man that must have been some impact as its properly shaken my brain about and reality hit - I’d had a very lucky escape. I went back to the bike and put my waterproof on to hold my body-heat in as I realised the adrenaline would be wearing-off and I may be going in to shock soon.

The score marks of my tyres scratching for grip as they went sideways.
Trying to figure out what happened I looked back where the bike was and I could see scratch marks in the soft ground on the left side of the rut where the wheels had been at 45 degrees or more, scratching the ground for grip as it fell to the right… I could see a skid mark on the ground where I must have had my initial impact, then a second impact and the mahoosive pool of blood from where I had properly landed hard after these initial bounces… I looked at myself and the ground and could see what had happened and became aware that my right shoulder hurt. I ran my hand along it, but it ached - no sharp pain of a break in the bones, but I could see my collar bone was sticking-up at the end proud from my shoulder!

About 30 seconds after I regained consciousness.
As I flew off the bike Superman stylee I must have landed first on my right shoulder, then face, then left wrist, which was now throbbing with my thumb in proper pain as if I’d dislocated it then relocated it in rapid succession, before my head properly smacked-down on to the chalk knocking me sparko ready to be discovered by the others.

The Air Ambulance cometh.
Rob came over and said they were going to send an air ambulance to get me. Stu was still on the phone. I told him to tell the call handler that I’m ok to get to the road to meet an ambulance, there’s no point in wasting a valuable resource on me as I’m fine to get to a road on my own steam. I did the next most logical thing at the time as we waited instruction and took my camera and photographed what resembled a crime-scene after a stabbing.

No sense no feeling.
Soon you could hear the approaching slapping sound of the rotors of a low-flying helicopter and the dawning realisation that they were serious about sending the air ambulance. Soon it appeared low overhead and I waved at them to try and signal that I was fine as they would certainly realise I was the injured party what with being covered in blood and a large bandage on my head.

About to be chauffeured away.
They circled around a couple of times but there was no suitable landing spot nearby as the ground was too uneven or trees too close to any flat area. It was soon apparent that they would not be able to land, so the call-handler relayed to Stu asking could we get to a road - which we said we easily could, so with a bit of map reading it was agreed that we would make our way off the down to a certain point to rendezvous with an ordinary ambulance.

We gathered our stuff and began the descent off the down… The pain was starting to build now, from the battering of my shoulder and wrist and the throbbing sensation of the wounds on my head. I necked a couple of ibuprofen and paracetamol to reduce inflammation and dull the pain. Making our way we could hear the helicopter still flying, then the sound of the engine slowing as it must have found a place to land a little way away, before the engines were killed and the tranquility of the area was restored.

Coming off the down there was a couple of ambulances waiting at the end of a farm track for us, so I clambered aboard the nearest one to be assessed by the paramedics. Pretty soon another ambulance car pulled-up with the crew from the air ambulance.

I could see outside that Dean, Rob & Stu were chatting with all the paramedics carefully out of ear-shot from me as they obviously did not want me listening in to any of the gory details.

The doctor from the air ambulance came over and gave me an examination and agreed with me that I was essentially fine, just a bit banged-up… Because I had been recovered conscious and coherent it was decided not to send me to the QE in Portsmouth or to Southampton with its head trauma specialist unit, the nearest hospital in Chichester was going to be the one of choice.

With that I said goodbye to the guys who were in two minds about continuing, telling them just to carry on as there’s no point in ruining the rest of their ride because of my misfortune! And then the doors were shut and off we drove.

I was cleaned-up as we went by the paramedic, where it was realised with all the excitement I had also put a really good hole in my right forearm right between the bones where I must have landed on a rock that pierced the skin about an inch in length and about half an inch deep!

Courtesy of the nurse!
At the hospital I was taken straight in to ‘resusc’ where I was immediately met by the consultant in charge… He was expecting to be delivered an unconscious or delirious mess rather than someone who was smiling and joking whilst feeling foolish and a bit sorry for himself… It was under the bright lights I could now see out the corner of my eye that my nose really was not quite right!

The consultant mentioned that when they get the call for an MTB accident on the South Downs Way they fear the worse - most times aside from tearing of the flesh its missing teeth, broken limbs, jaw, rib injuries and a lack of consciousness. He said the unit had been put on stand-by as all they had heard was an MTB crash, loss of consciousness, head injury and the air ambulance was needed, so this set-off a lot of red flags and he was being pressured from his boss to ensure a ‘satisfactory outcome’, so he was pleased to see that I wasn’t as bad as it could have been… I could see on the whiteboard in big red writing detailing all the patients which one was me…

Bruising starting after only a couple of hours.
After an initial triage, it was fairly obvious what was wrong with me - although they were very concerned about my head, so I was wheeled-off for an MRI scan on it, which came-back all clear… I was not allowed to get myself off the gurney and on to a trolley, it was insisted that I be lifted, but once there was shown to be no swelling on the brain or bleeds they allowed me to move myself around.

With the extent of my facial injuries they decided they would not risk stitching them up in the A&E as they wanted my ‘good looks’ to be restored as much as possible and the A&E doctors skill levels were good for stitching a sack of spuds together, not something as fine or intricate as a face, so they wanted to wait for a maxillofacial surgeon to become available to do the work.

Now the wait began… The nurse on duty loved a bit of gore and came up to me asking if I had a camera and was I on Facebook as my face was ‘proper messed-up’ so she could memorialise it for me before she cleaned it up.

As she tried to remove all the dried blood that was caking it, she was having to pull-out bits of grass and grit that had congealed in to the wounds. Unfortunately some of it was a bit stubborn so she had to get the scissors and cut away some grass and flaps of skin that were hanging-off that had been identified as unable to be saved by stitching back in place - I sat there and took it all, all the pokes and prods without flinching. She kept asking if it hurt and I kept saying ‘no’ before she told me to stop being macho and say if it hurts, so I told her about my old footy injury on my forehead that had split down to the skull and had wrecked my nerve endings so I don’t really feel pain around there through not having functioning nerves, not through any perverse form of bravado!

Up close & personal!
Soon LSS arrived and saw me - and insisted on sitting on my right side and slightly behind so she did not have to look at my gore-fest of a face!.. After a couple of hours more of waiting I was wheeled-off to be sewn back together - a grand total of 44 stitches, of which 20 were internal to hold everything back together. The hole in my arm was butterflied and packed with a massive gauze bandage - I was told to leave it for a week before changing the dressing to allow the hole to properly scab over.

Cleaned-up well after all!
Eventually we were all done and in darkness and shivering through shock, hunger and tiredness I was able to be driven home!

There’s a post script to all this as well:

Just after leaving me the guys continued on to Steyning for the evening along the road for the most path… Just as they approached the first road they heard the sound of an almighty bang and found when they reached the road a car had just crashed at speed into trees, the elderly driver slumped bloodied and moaning in the driver’s seat. The car behind had stopped to see what they could do but did not know where they were, so the guys had to phone for ANOTHER ambulance as they had a GPS location! The 3 cyclists of the apocalypse!

On the train back to London after finishing his ride on the Sunday, Stu got chatting to a couple of guys travelling with their MTB’s - it turned-out they were half an hour behind us on the Saturday and the lead rider of their pack fell at the same spot I did. When he picked himself off the floor he saw the blood everywhere around him, panicked as he checked himself all over for injuries but could find none - asking his compadres then they arrived o see where he was cut and they confirmed he was fine, much to their bemusement over how so much fresh blood was on the floor! So maybe it wasn't crap bike handling skills if others found issue on the same part of the trail.

Simply put with this accident. If I was not wearing a helmet I would have been dead and if I had not been wearing a £10 pair of sunnies that took the impact of my face then I would have had to have had my face re-built with having fractured eye sockets and cheek bones - yes the impact of the glasses nearly severed my nose, splitting the skin all the way down to the bone (although not breaking the bone) but I’ll take this for a spectacular wipe-out over what could have been any day - I’m pretty lucky it seems with crashes at speed having walked away from this and having flown & barrel rolling a car off a motorway at 70 with just cuts and bruises… Combine this with having been in earshot of 3 terrorist bombs in my life I’ll probably go in a very mundane manner such as being hit by a bus!

Impact damage on the glasses!
A bit of scuffing.
A big thanks goes to the NHS for putting 15 stone of idiot back together in no time with minimal fuss and also to Dean, Rob & Stu for safely getting me off the trail and to the ambulance, for the first-aid given and the use of photos of me.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Ride far.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

14th August: Lakeland Tales

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.