Wednesday 30 July 2014

Race Report : Lakeland 50 : Ultra Tour of the Lake District

Drew & Claire waiting for the 100 runners
Ouch, that was an uncomfortably hot afternoon running around the Lake District.  Sitting here writing this blog, that is the first thought that enters my mind when I think back over the weekend.  Then I think of the huge positive that I took away from it, the very fact I was very close to quitting and I didn't.  I kept going and got the job finished; it wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy and it most certainly wasn't plan A or plan B for that matter but I crossed the finish line and that is all that matters.

The trip to the lakes was typical of a Friday with accidents and traffic jams galore as we headed up the M5 and M6.  Rather than the 3-4 hour journey I'd expected, it took us 6.5 hours, so when we arrived in to Coniston the campsite was already pretty full.  We covertly parked up the tiny camper (borrowed from Mum & Dad), grabbed my kit and went off to register.  Unfortunately due to the traffic the queue for registration was a little larger than anticipated and I was asked to come back later after the 100 milers had kicked off.

Rather than watch from the start line, we tagged along with Drew Sheffield, Claire Shelly & James Adams (he has a book out you know!) and headed up the first climb skirting around the edge of the Old Man of Coniston.  It was a beautiful evening, perhaps a little warm but certainly preferable to the cold and wet that is so often on offer in this part of the world. Perched on a rock overlooking the climb we waited for the field and it wasn't long before Marco, Charlie and the other front runners were upon us.  

Marco Consani
Winner Lakeland100 2014
Given I hadn't yet registered and being slightly panicky about this, I decided we should head down after the front runners had passed us and get back to base, which is exaclty what we did, wishing all of the runners good luck and I think I only told a few of them "not far to go now".  Steve Navesey had a big smile on his face, as did Tim Laney, both of whom finished and had even bigger smiles at the finish line.

Back at camp I got myself registered, weighed (by James Adams, he has a book out if you didn't know already) and chipped up.  I was now ready for my evening meal and a good nights sleep before the 0830 race briefing.  Of course being sociable we had to visit the pub with Mr Adams and Justin (sorry don't know your surname) and put the world to rights post dinner.  And so it was 11pm ish when Nikki and I crawled in to bed and I drifted off to sleep thinking of the next days events.

I was dressed and ready to role by 0730 with coffee in hand and breakfast in my belly, my bag was repacked and now I was clock watching.  As the minutes ticked by and along with Jamie Woods who was camping next to us, we drifted over to the school hall in time for the briefing.  The hall filled up and soon Marc was up on stage giving us the low down on what to expect, who would and wouldn't make it around the course, finally reminding us that we had plenty of time and finishing was more important than anything else. With those thoughts in our minds, we left the school all hoping that the next time we were in Coniston, we'd be running over the finish line and not arriving by some other means.

The coach journey could have been worse to be fair, with the temperatures rising I'd expected to be sweating my nuts off on arrival in Dalemain.  After about an hour and a quarter's journey around the countryside, we arrived at the start with about 45 minutes to spare before the off.  My brother Mike and his wife, Lynsay were already waiting for me as were Nikki & Bev Navesey who we soon located in the large crowd of people.  This was the halfway point for the 100 runners and they were coming through to great cheers from the spectators and 50 competitors alike.

At the end of the Dalemain loop
The start of the race is a 3.8 mile loop around the estate which helps to make up some of the distance but its main aim is to spread the field before getting out on to the hillside.  This loop you are allowed, even encouraged to run with friends and family and it was great to have Mike come along for those first few miles.  The stiles and single track we had to follow meant it wasn't always possible to be side by side, although we did manage to crack a few jokes and have a giggle as we made our way round.  

After waving good bye to Mike, Lyns, Nikki and Bev, I got my head in to the first section of the course, which according to Plan A was a 2 hour section to cover 11.2 miles to Howtown.  There was only a few small climbs, nothing massive and with 3.8 miles already completed around Dalemain, this hopefully wouldn't be too tough.   After crossing a road and running alongside a river, I found myself in Pooley Bridge and to my surprise saw Nikki again as I crossed over the bridge.  It's always so nice to see a friendly face when out on these types of events, even if I was only 5 miles in, especially when it's unexpected.

I arrived at the first checkpoint ahead of schedule by 2 minutes or so.  James Adams was working at the aid station (he'll do anything to promote his book) and he asked if I now regretted the climb up the Old Man the previous evening, to which my bullish reply "No of course not" may have been a bit telling. Secretly I blame James for my failure to hit either of my A or B goals, so I'm not going to buy his next book.

Running over Pooley Bridge
Departing Howtown, there is a long steady and almost never ending climb upwards out of the end of the valley to High Kop before you run across the top and down to Haweswater reservoir. It was on this climb that I started to feel awful; over heating and constantly thirsty, I had to keep stopping on the way up. With people passing in what appears like a constant stream I felt like I was at the back and couldn't believe how things had changed on this leg.  It was at this stage, around mile 13 that I knew plan A was out of the window and that I'd have to push to keep plan B on track.  As I dropped down on to the path on the side of Haweswater I knew that even plan B was going to be tough as I stopped at every stream on the path to cover myself in water and to fill my bottle.

Looking back on this part of the race now, I can see that I made some mistakes early in the race.  I probably pushed too hard on the first leg and should have run a little slower, so that I wasn't as hot and potentially dehydrated for the climb out of Howtown.  I also didn't fuel well enough during the first 2-3 hours and so on arrival in to Mardale Head I was suffering from the heat, dehydrated and running on an empty tank.  I also took one S-Cap on this section of the course and I think this massive input of salt may have caused me to drink more initially, although I needed the electrolytes getting this one massive shot of them may have impacted my thirst.

At Mardale Head I took the decision to sit down and sort myself out, as my head was telling me to just stop this stupid affair but my heart was saying otherwise.  I've only run a few ultras but I've never sat down before for fear of not wanting to get up again, so I knew times were bad when I plonked my arse in the chair.  I found Jamie sitting opposite me, looking how I felt, he was suffering from stomach issues as well as the heat. I was really surprised to see him as he'd passed me on the climb up to High Kop and I didn't expect to bump in to him again until Coniston.  The heat was clearly having an impact on other people as well, which helped my mental understanding of the conditions; it wasn't just me who wasn't able to deal with it.  

Time to stuff my face!  I had some soup, a cup of tea, a peanut butter wrap and a bit of a cheese sandwich.  The result was almost immediate, I felt so much better being hydrated and having taken on fuel.  After 20 minutes rest I told Jamie to get up and that we'd climb the next hill together.  He was muttering about quitting at Kentmere but I wasn't having any of that and told him to just keep going and see how he felt.  We pushed ourselves out of the chairs, filled our bottles and began the climb.

Getting to the top wasn't anywhere near the effort I thought it was going to be and I felt stronger as I pushed down the other side, saying my goodbyes to Jamie and enjoying the fast decent.  I pushed on with one of the 100 runners (John?) and soon arrived in to Kentmere where I topped up my water, grabbed an apple and took a few minutes to eat and drink on the grass outside.  The temperature had dropped significantly now although it was still sunny and there was a pleasant breeze.

Running in to Ambleside
After scoffing the apple I left to head over the hill to Ambleside, where I knew Nikki, Bev, Mike and Lyns would be waiting to offer a cheer and tell me I looked strong.  This section went well, I was feeling better and made up a few places arriving 20 minutes ahead of the ETA at the next checkpoint.  Mike and Lyns cheered me in and Nikki jogged in the last 100m, it was great to see them all.

I grabbed some salted crisps (why!!!) and something to drink and kissed Nikki goodbye and left the checkpoint.  Ten yards up the path I felt awful (again) and sat down to eat.  I forced myself on to my feet and began walking up the hill as the rain started to fall.  I'd put too much liquid in to my stomach too quickly and then shovelled in some nasty salted crisps making my stomach churn over and over.  God I felt crap and I contemplated walking back to the checkpoint to quit.

Remembering the statistics Marc had shared before the event; something like 95% of competitors who make it to Ambleside finish, I was determined not to become part of that 5% group.  I had to make it to the finish line and so onwards and upwards, plodding along, one foot in front of the other.  Slowly slowly catchy monkey...

As I appeared in Skelwith Bridge I was once again greeted by the support crew of Nikki, Bev, Mike and Lyns and this time Paul Navesey too.  I was feeling rough, which was confirmed by my grumpy attitude towards everybody (apologies).  I think I offered Paul my race number and asked him to finish off the last 12 miles for me, but for some reason he wasn't interested.  

A rare moment of running
Feeling rough I decided to put on some music as well as my waterproof and push on as best I could.  After another surprise hello from Mike & Lyns on the course, who walked along with me almost to the next checkpoint.  These appearances are such a morale booster especially when feeling rough and even more so late in the evening, by now it was after 10pm and I was using my head torch.

Chapel Stile aid station was another life saver for me.  I must have looked terrible upon arrival, as they sat me down, took my water bottles, gave me vegetable stew and plied me with sweet tea.  I'm not sure how long I sat there and I haven't looked at my watch data but it was time well spent taking on fuel.  Before departing I ensured I had my gloves on as I'd started to feel the cold, moving slowly and being soaked in sweat from earlier along with the wind & rain weren't helping matters.  

I left knowing I had 6.5 miles to the final aid station and my belly was full and I was feeling human again.  It was dark but I'd recced this part of the course before at night and so knew the way and I had my watch to guide me on those couple of tricky turns.  I knew I was moving faster and I soon warmed up and started to overtake people.  I had one thing on my mind and that was ensuring I didn't miss the mandatory unmanned dibber at Castle Howe. After finding this dibber, I jogged down the road overtaking yet more people who appeared to be finding the downhill hard work.  I'm blessed with big quads and so downhill running is something I find slightly easier than most on top of which I really enjoy pushing how fast I can get down a hill.

Tilberthwaite steps
I arrived in to Tilberthwaite up on the ETA of the timing system and decided to take a few minutes to drink another cuppa and take on some sugar...with only 3.5 miles to go it was time to hit the sugar.  Then it was back out in to the darkness and up those steps, climbing the last hill (or is it a mountain?) before descending down in to Coniston.   

This last climb was fuelled by jelly babies and I caught a few people on the way up the hill, remembering to keep the beck on my right and not cross it, turning left at the lone tree near the top.  At this point I could see head torches ahead of me and the same looking back down the hill and across the valley, this is a view that I'll remember for a long time and my only regret was not being able to photograph it.

As I crested the top I packed away my poles and decided to see how quickly I could get down and in to Coniston and so began a fairly quick run down the rocky pathway.  I over took a number of people and pushed onwards with the rocky path getting better and better to run on.  Finally the pathway becomes a gravel track and then finally a tarmac road and it was somewhere along here I found Nikki walking up to meet me.  It's hard to work out who is who with head torches shining at each other; I recognised her right away, if only she'd recognised me.  I didn't slow and she soon caught up and we jogged in the final few hundred yards down the hill and in to Coniston, over the bridge and with a final left turn and down the hill in to the school to great cheers even at 0156 in the morning!  

I had made it, after 14 hours and 21 minutes I was in Consiton at the end of the Lakeland 50.  I'd got my monies worth, spending a lot longer out on the course than either my A or B goals had allowed for.  You could say these goals may not have been realistic and perhaps my A goal was a stretch and things would have to have gone perfectly to achieve it.  My B goal was certainly within reach, I was only 50 minutes outside of it which is less time than I spent in aid stations around the course, so I know it wasn't out of reach.

Having had a few days to think about my result, I've got both positive and negatives to take away with lots of things to work on before the next big outing around the Alps in August. My positive is that I had the mental strength to gut it out and get over the finish line.  The going got tough and I got going.  

So what are the areas for improvement?  I need to work on my fuelling and hydration more. I think I need to try something other than just S/Caps, perhaps supplementing with Nuun or similar in my water to give me a more regular intake of electrolytes.  I need to also work out how to get back to having my Salomon back not cause such severe burns on my back.  It never used to do this and none of the older packs did it, so I'm not sure if this is because I'm not carrying more mandatory kit or if the pack is too tight or too loose.  Whatever the issue, it needs sorting and quickly.

The final decision I've made is that I'm going to go back in 2015 and re-run the LL50. I consider my result a failure as I missed my A and B goals and I know I can do better.  The only way to prove this to myself is to go back, having spent more time training, more time in the lakes and having run more races in the meantime.  I want to immerse myself in the Lakeland spirit and I want to get to the finish line on the same day the race starts, I know I can do it.

Big thanks go out to Nikki, once again for spending a whole weekend travelling around the countryside supporting my weird desire to punish myself running silly distances over mountains.  I also need to thank Mike and Lyns for doing the same, especially having had car issues and having to sleep in the car on Saturday night, you're amazing!

Bev Navesey also deserves massive thanks for (A) putting up with Nikki all weekend and (B) driving her around the course so she could see me at all the viewing points.  Bev, I hope to be able to return the favour when you and Steve run the 50 together in a few years time.

Now it's time to rest and get myself ready for the next event...