The Lakeland 50

IMG_20150722_221520As planned I travelled up to Cumbria the weekend before raceday and I was already
terrified. Not a great surprise, I had signed up for the Lakeland 50 because it scared me but I had hoped that I would have felt better prepared going into it. A combination of illness & injury meant I had fallen off the wagon at the start of the year & struggled to get back into routine of training.

I have discovered over time that my performances are better if I don’t taper so the
plan had been to head up the mountains to get my legs working. Unfortunately a number of events conspired against me & although I did get some time completing some mountain ascents it was far less than I had hoped & I went into race weekend with misfiring glutes, a niggling groin strain & zero confidence.

20150724_180102Friday night saw the start of the Lakeland 100 and arriving in Coniston I was taken aback by the scale of the event, the small road to the school that hosted the start/finish was gridlocked with supporters & 50 runners there to watch the 100 start & register afterwards. The rousing rendition of Nessun Dorma performed by Alexander Wall saw the 100 guys set off & then I had to register & suffer the kit check. This is taken much more seriously than other events & saw my waterproof trousers fail, so I had to pick up a more suitable pair from the onsite Endurance Store.

I arrived back to Coniston early on race day and got a front seat at the briefing. A very busy briefingThe usual safety instructions delivered by Terry Gilpin were followed by a more amusing & motivating speech, by Marc Laithwaite delivering the theme of the weekend… to #liveinthemoment. This was something I kept in my mind & probably helped me enjoy it more, or at least recognise the positive moments as they happened rather than enjoying it in retrospect . The long coach journey to the start at the Dalemain Estate provided plenty of time to attempt to eat & fail to fight off the ever growing nervous tension. I had to wait anxiously at the start for just under an hour, during this time I watched the 100 participants pass by. I was struck by how comfortable they looked as they headed towards the CP, despite the fact that these guys had been on the go for over 17 hours. All of them ran down the stretch of tarmac into the marquee & very few seems to be in much pain, rather than fill me with confidence it again instilled the sense that I didn’t belong in this company & I was setting myself up for failure.

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

Thankfully we were invited to enter the start pen before 10.30am, I gladly joined the throng of runners & loitered in the middle ready to go. The countdown commenced & we were finally on the move. The first loop around the Dalemain Estate was hilly & hot, I struggled to get into a rhythm with my glute and groin problems causing discomfort within minutes & I was glad to finally pass by the start area & join the track leading out of the estate. It was here that I passed the first 100 competitors with many 50’s giving them encouragement as we passed.

The path down along the riverside to Pooley Bridge was lovely & provided some much needed shade. We arrived in the village all too soon, reaching the point I had started my recce of the route from. Passing a number of bemused tourists & unhappy drivers stuck in a tailback probably caused by our presence the steady stream of runners then turned uphill for the first of many ascents, the long grind up to the stone circle known as the cockpit. The steady slog was worth it for the phenomenal views over Ullswater, which we were treated to throughout the long descent along the fell side to Howtown. I was frustrated that I unable to run as easily as I would like downhill, with my groin in particular causing issues but I still felt strong as I made it to our first CP.

Receiving a rowdy greeting from the Howtown Chia Charge Cowboys & Indians I  dibbed in, grabbed a drink, filled my bottles, ate a few jelly babies & took a packet of dried banana pieces before heading straight back out on the route. Mistake. A mistake that almost ruined the entire race for me.

From CP1 the route heads into Fusedale for the first of the big ascents to cross High Street, the highest point of the race. Previously climbing had been my strength, I’m not a fast runner but I’m lithe which makes me a good ascender. So my plan had been to make time on the climbs, sadly the diagnosis of anaemia earlier in the year has further repercussions, most telling here is my stamina on climbs has been reduced. Dramatically.

But I still attacked the climb with my usual short step, fast cadence style… and I blew up about ¾ of the way up the first section of the climb. I was done. I should have rested longer at the CP & I should have eaten more. It was hot, the blazing sunshine beating down on us with nowhere to hide took its toll and other participants I’d just passed started going back by me & I knew that this was only the first half of the overall climb. The next steep section broke me & by the time I struggled to the top my legs were shaky & I felt nauseous. I didn’t want to stop here & stubbornly continued on, but in retrospect I should have stopped to refuel & recover as this would have save me time in the next stretch.

When I completed my recce  in February the frozen descent from High Kop & Low Kop to Haweswater was great running with good views & I found it a pleasurable plunge down. On race day I didn’t enjoy it at all, in fact, I disliked it intensely as it was no longer frozen and the top was boggy and tough going. My stomach felt like it was going to empty at any point when I tried to pick up the pace & I had little control over my legs which made the descent slow, painful & hard going. The sun came back out as we dropped to the lake side to take the track around Haweswater, nicknamed ‘Death Valley’ due to the fact it captures the heat & is a hard rocky path. I was circling the drain. I struggled slowly round this 3 mile section, unable to gather the strength to push on as competitors passed & quickly disappeared into the distance. At the top of every incline however short I had to stop with my hands on my knees & I was asked repeatedly if I was ok, I answered “yes” each time… but I wasn’t – at this point I genuinely believed I was going to DNF at 20miles at the CP2 in Mardale Head.

I finally staggered into the marquee & collapsed in a spot of shade next to a young guy & a 100 runner who had passed me after chatting on the climb out of Fusedale. I looked at the food available but couldn’t stomach the sandwiches even though I knew I desperately needed to eat, I drank a couple cokes & inhaled 2 cups of soup while I was slumped in the corner for a good 30mins. After chatting to a couple guys who were concerned having seen me limping I wished everyone good luck & as an afterthought I took some painkillers hoping they would help reduce the pain in my glute & groin before heading towards the second big climb of the day, Gatesgarth Pass.

Following my struggle up the previous climb & my distinct suffering I made the decision to climb slowly, literally one foot in front of the other up the long steep ascent. I was passed by a lot again, including the young guy from the check point but I tracked an older guy up passing both near the top. As I rounded the top I felt a revelation… my legs felt good. I had energy again. I didn’t feel sick anymore.

I started running.

And I kept running.

I made good progress down the descent, not quite letting my legs go like I have previously but still making good time passing many that had overtaken me on the ascent, I started to feel happy & my groin no longer hurt. I was enjoying it for the first time all day.

Reaching the bottom of the descent I caught 2 runners, the woman dry heaving continuously. I slowed to see if they were ok & was told she hadn’t been able to hold anything down all day.  I slowed to accompany them over the next short sharp climb before losing touch heading through the twists & turns into Kentmere.

I entered CP3 a different person form the one who had gone into CP2, I was focused, happy & confident.  I picked up a coke, bowl of pasta & a famous fruit smoothie before taking a seat with mixed bag of 50 & 100 entrants. We had a chat while we ate, the 50 guys all had stories similar to my own which added to my new found positive mental state. I didn’t stay long before heading off towards what, when I recce’d the route had been my least favourite climb, Garburn Pass.

I again took my time on the ascent, making steady progress but not pushing too hard.  I remembered to #liveinthemoment enjoying the views as we headed into early evening & the shadows became longer on the fells. This time of the day is probably the best to be in the mountains of Cumbria, the colours are stunning.

Reaching the high point I hit the descent & found I had got the legs for a comparatively fast descent for the first time all day, quickly finding myself in Troutbeck & onto Robin Lane, the track I knew we followed into Ambleside.

I was still having a ball, passing various others when I caught up a small group on a short sharp descent. One of them followed me down & we got chatting, she led me through Skelghyll Wood & paced me onto Ambleside, Di was great to talk to & I was thankful for the company. I saw my Dad & partner Anna as we entered the town & after a very brief hello Di & I trotted on past a group of Orc & Rohirrim sparring in the street & raucous encouragement from the pubs before reaching CP4.

I hobbled up the steps into the warren of hallways, taking a couple cokes & a couple soups I went back out to meet my support crew. It was brilliant to be met by people you know & even better to see the pride in their eyes. They seemed as surprised as me at how comfortable I was, that said I wasn’t averse to asking a marshal to go up the stairs for me to top up my bottles! I spent a little longer than necessary here, but this gave me the chance to prepare for the night putting my jacket & headtorch on.

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I set off towards the climb out of Ambleside, realising it was now quickly getting dark & I was on my own I looked for my route description, only to realise I had left it at the CP. I called Anna, asking her to go back &  I’d meet her halfway, but a very kind pair offered me one of theirs just before I started descending again. Bonus! Saved me a leg burning & soul destroying trip back! Having done this climb earlier in the week I dispatched it quickly and it was on the following descent that I had another #liveinthemoment. I was running along a track, completely alone in the inky darkness of the Lake District Fells after covering 40 miles & I had an epiphany.

THIS is what I DO.

I’m not good at it. I’m not competitive & I’m never going to be but I love it & I’m capable of doing it.

This affirmation was then added to when I headed towards Skelwith Bridge Hotel & there were supporters on the corner give encouragement as I passed. I plodded along the next section that follows River Brathay into Elterwater past Chapel Stile into CP5. I was well looked after here & enjoyed a nice bowl of beef soup & a cup of tea that was brought to me where I sat. I made the decision to stick with a trio of Lakeland veterans to the next CP as I knew it was over a less defined path & I was more unsure of the route, particularly in the dark. I introduced myself to the Grange Hobblers who I had been leapfrogging since before Kentmere. We took it steady and I again enjoyed being in company & having a chat, by the time we had made it to the manual dibber there was about 10 of us the group. I said my goodbye’s as I wanted to push on they left me with the advice of making sure I had company on the last climb from CP6 & ran down the road enjoying watching the bouncing spots of light as other runners made their way round the side of the fell.

I again made easy work of the next short ascent reaching the final CP, the Stairway to Heaven before I knew it. I grabbed a quick coke & knowing I’d only got 3.5 miles to go I disregarded the advice given by the experienced runners & went off alone, I wasn’t alone long as I caught & passed several 100 competitors before reaching a 50 pair nearing the top. I followed them to the start of the descent where letting my legs go I plummeted off the top, I dropped off in good time, leaving the others a long way behind and my legs feeling remarkably good for 48miles in them & 15hours on the go.

Reaching the road I started to feel the first real pain in my feet, I could feel my nail lifting but despite the increasing pain I didn’t want to stop. I wriggled my feet until they’d moved enough that the nail didn’t lift & continued the slow trot down into Coniston.

I was struck by how comfortable I was as I headed towards the finish, despite the fact that this guy had been on the go for over 15 hours. I ran into the entrance & was met by 3 marshals, one who led me into the school suddenly shouting “Fifty Finisher” to which I received a rapturous round of applause – a completely unexpected & outstanding end to a fantastic event. I picked up my medal & t-shirt & wandered to find a seat a little dazed & confused but euphoric.

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I sadly only stayed a short time as I started to get cold & needed to change, once I got to my car I decided I would be best driving home to get sleep or I might get stuck there I’d hoped to see Grange Hobblers again to thank them properly & I never spotted Di again as I wanted to say thanks to her too.

I went in to this completely unprepared, undertrained & unconfident. I know I could & possibly should have finished far faster & in the usual after event analysis I started looking at where I lost time unnecessarily. But completing it feeling as comfortably as I did has filled me with a new confidence that I have at least a little aptitude for this & more importantly rekindled a love for running.

The ‘Pony Express’ New Forest Multistage Ultra 2015

I’d had my eye on the Pony Express for a while as a multi-day ultra marathon in a location reasonably close to home, The New Forest. It has a cumulative distance of 60miles, split in half & takes a meandering loop to the overnight stop before taking an alternative route back to the start/finish in Brockenhurst.

I signed up for it not expecting to be successful in my ballot application for the London Marathon but as Sod would enforce their Law I did get a place. So turning up on the morning of the race I had ‘run’ 26.2miles dressed as a Tiger with ITBS causing severe pain for over half of the run just 6 days earlier. Not ideal preparation for only my second ultra distance event.

I met my friend Tony and we shot the breeze awaiting the start, I was pretty relaxed as I had absolutely NO expectations of performance. I had decided just to take it easy, get round & enjoy it. I’d taped my knee & taken anti-inflammatories and when we set of in the second wave at 8am I felt surprisingly good.

It was a chilly start, but soon warmed up as we set off & straight out of the village the route soon takes you onto the forest trails that the majority of the race is run on, we plodded on making reasonable time chatting happily & speaking to many of the runners that overtook us. Using the popular, walk the ascents, trot the flats & run descent strategy we got to 10km in just over the hour. Tony feared the pace was a bit fast but I felt it was good & still felt strangely comfortable.

We started to catch the walkers that had set off an hour before us at about 10 miles & it was good to have them as targets , then the fast runners flew by us at a frankly unbelievable pace at 15miles… the vast majority even returning our praise  – even though we really didn’t deserve it in comparison to their performance!

The route takes in some varied terrain with many undulations, but very little too technical. There were a couple of periods leading up to about 20 miles that were long drags on a straight disused railway that Tony particularly found tough mentally.

The Best Race Photo Ever, The Pony Express The New Forest Ultra

The Best Race Photo Ever, The Pony Express The New Forest Ultra

I didn’t really notice as I was just plodding on, pushing our pace a little & enjoying the morale boost catching several of the other runners that had pulled away from us earlier in the day. I also had fun posing for the best race photo ever taken of me passing a mean looking cow, courtesy of race photographer Carel Du Plessis!

Tony Not Happy - Me Happy

Tony Not Happy – Me Happy

At the end of this section I had dropped Tony by a couple of minutes, so that when he arrived at the final CP I’d been there long enough to refuel on the great choice of goodies & hydrate already. He was obviously battling & told me to go ahead. I did as I was told, although an element of guilt did set in immediately. From the CP the course follows a series of short sharp climbs over more technical single track, for much of this I followed a pair of Scandinavian guys, but passed them when we got to a road & they started walking.

I continued to push on feeling  strong, the only concern was at this stage of the route I only saw other runners at sporadic stages.  Although the route markings were very good & at no point did we lose our way self doubt did start to set in & as I didn’t see another runner for the last 3 or 4 miles I was relieved to see every marking & over the moon to spot the marshal telling me that the overnight stop was just round the corner.

I crossed the line at the 30mile stage in 5.59, which I was very happy with considering I had taken it easy & felt really good. The ITBS never reared its ugly head & I kind of wished I could just carry on – something I felt double the following morning!

The overnight stop was in Moyles Court Prep School & after Tony came in just a few minutes after me we sorted our kit out & lay it out in the school hall before hydrating & refueling. The food provided as part of the price was good & Neil Thubron provided the evening entertainment giving a talk on his win in the Yukon Arctic Ultra. A massage & an early night followed, surprisingly sleep wasn’t too bad considering we were in a school hall shared with about 200 other ultra runners – the earplugs passed out at lights out probably helped somewhat!
School Hall BedroomSchool Hall Bedroom

Next morning saw VERY different weather with torrential rain greeting us as we surfaced. A good breakfast, also included in the price set us up for what was to come, but I felt sore in a number of paces & muscles were tight so I knew that I was going to find today’s 30 miles hard going.

Sadly parts of the route marking had been tampered with overnight so the walkers start was delayed, this was unfortunate as picking them off through the day before had kept me plodding on faster when I may have slowed down and I REALLY could have done with this on the Sunday.

We set off at 8am & the route took us straight up a wooded hill in a heavy downpour, but as we got to the plateaux it started to clear up & as we continued along the undulating moorland the weather continued to improve, as did the views.

Day 2 of the Pony Express, New Forest

Tony Happy – Me Not Happy

I was struggling from very early & was grateful for Tony’s company to take my mind off my suffering, he kept me going all day… and put up with my moaning!

The section to the first CP at 10 miles felt very long & by the time we’d arrived temperatures were soaring, I had started to boil in the bag wearing my Montane Minimus Smock & was very happy to peel it off. While we were there having a rest & grabbing some of the usual pretzels & Haribo, the lead runner who had set off an hour after us belted past & disappeared off round the corner at a full on sprint. He didn’t stop at all & barely looked out of breath, still had time to say well done to everyone & thank the marshals though!

Over the middle section we enjoyed ourselves playing cat & mouse with a couple, the man obviously did NOT want to get overtaken by us & every time we caught up they pulled away. We amused ourselves by getting near & chuckling as he pushed on, we suspect this was causing some friction though & she was less than complimentary as we finally passed them for the last time.

The next stage took a mix of forest trails through woods & across the grasslands, it was warm & the locations was picturesque – just a shame I was in pain for much of it. Tony kept dragging me on & making me run, I was thankful for this though as again at about 20 miles we started catching a people that had got away earlier. As we arrived at a couple of river crossings we caught the same Scandinavian guys I had passed at an almost identical stage of the course the day before. As I hobbled by they recognised me sighing “not again” which spurred me on, but physically I just hadn’t got the ability to go much faster. We kept moving forward but I suspected Tony was a bit frustrated as the tables were well & truly turned & he was obviously far more comfortable on Sunday.

Over the last 3 miles Tony pulled away & I lost touch just before we headed back into Brockenhurst. It was an odd feeling as I’d had many holiday’s here as a kid and recognised sections, but I didn’t have time to get too sentimental as I my competitive streak had kicked in & I still wanted to finish in good time. Entering the village I struggled round the corner into the college & a low key finish to a truly fabulous event. I crossed the finish of day 2 in 6.30, giving me a cumulative time for 60miles of 12.29, which I was pretty chuffed with all things considered.

I can’t recommend XNRG enough, incredibly well organised, friendly & inclusive. They are great value, have well stocked CP’s. You can sign up for just one day if you don’t fancy the multi-day option, but the camaraderie over 2 days is exceptional & I would urge you to do the full event.

Pony Express New Forest Multistage Ultra MarathonAll photos taken during the race weekend by Carel Du Plessis

The Official Montane Spine Race Film

What they say:

Simply put it is the story of Britain’s most brutal race.  Follow the athletes as they get to grips mentally and physically with The Spine Race 2015, as they learn to cope with sleep deprivation, the threat of hypothermia, the highs and lows, experience the incredible & unique camaraderie, the relationships that develop and the life changing experience, which is The Spine Race.

Summit Fever Media is a small independent adventure film company based in North Yorkshire, UK. The team consists of Ellie & Matt who own Summit Fever Media and we have Jez and Jamie, two of our crack team of freelancers. Within the team we have two drones, which will be able to give incredible footage of the wild areas of Britain, from a perspective rarely seen before.

We have worked on The Spine Race for the past two years, building up relationships with runners who are returning in 2015, the organisers and support team, and knowledge of the course.2015-09-05 15.22.50-1

What I say:

Have you noticed that cinema’s these days are full of movies about super heroes, from Avengers to X-Men and everything in between? Well, this is the chronicle of a completely different breed of real life super heroes.

As they say “simply put it is the story of Britain’s most brutal race” told by following the competitors as they progress through the race. This however doesn’t capture the essence of what it is about. Matt & Ellie skilfully capture the bleakness & beauty of the Pennine Way in January. Merged with the sparse soundtrack of nature at its wildest, the film manages to portray some sense of the extremely challenging conditions the racers are battling.

Throughout you view or are told about what makes this race (& the film) special… the people involved. It cleverly blends action with interviews not just with the competitors, but all those that make the race happen or the volunteers that help & support. The GoPro camera’s given to some of the competitors give a glimpse into the mind of the competitors & the trials, tribulations & thought processes they go through. These recordings  combined with the footage from check points provide a number of inspiring, poignant or amusing moments, one of the key things that struck me when watching this film (other than the wind) is the humour the runners and volunteers maintain.

I was lucky enough to see this film at the Like The Wind Magazine London Premiere & must add, if you have the opportunity to view it on a large screen then it’s well worth the effort, The impact of the conditions is that much greater than the small screen & as they’re currently on tour, they should be coming to a venue near you soon.2015-08-12 21.43.44The Spine Race bills itself as Britain’s most brutal race. It takes in the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm non-stop in the middle of winter. And as the heroes undertaking this have a time limit of just 7 days, I for one am not going to argue with this.

So I end with a solemn warning.

Regardless of the clear brutality shown in all its gory glory by this film, if like me you enjoy a challenge, the second those credits begin you’ll be searching to find out how you go about entering…