lake district

Lakeland 100 – July 2018 (dnf)

It’s now November 2018, and that fact alone will tell you that I didn’t have a great experience in July, when I did the Lakeland 100.  Hence this is going to be a short (but sweet) report, rather than my usual mega-autobiographies….

After almost surviving the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 50 in May (race report here), but at 26 hours to travel 50 miles…it’s not pretty) my mind was pretty blown for the following few weeks…and by that point there was little point in training seriously for LL100, so I didn’t really.  I’d done the LL50 in 2016, and loved it (race report here…it’s a lot prettier) so I didn’t get too anxious about the 100 mile version, but I knew how rough it was going to be and was under no illusions how bad shape I was in.  My running partner John was back with me, but was in equally poor shape having suffered with a few injuries and mojo-loss in the first half of the year.  However, we’d been planning this trip for a year and were being expertly crewed by Mark & Sharon Foster, who had seen us round the Thames Path 100 & Arc of Attrition, so we set off for the lake district despite being rather unprepared.

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Please note my amazing Super t-shirt…my favourite part of the weekend.

At this point I should mention that 2018 had an unbelievably hot summer, with numerous days over 25 degrees…which is great unless you’re trying to run and basically having massive heat-related problems.  I had my running kit down to a vest, skimpy shorts and a pair of socks…which was just about keeping me cool.  Anything like a t-shirt was far too hot for me.  I was suitably worried about how I would survive in such heat for hours on end…

The drive up was long and slow due to a combination of traffic & a car with old-fashioned air-con (windows) meant it was longer than it should have been but I managed to sleep for pretty much all of it, as usual.  A pleasant night in a B&B in Ambleside, and then over to Coniston on Friday morning.  A swift registration meant it was a pleasure to show John the atmosphere I had been raving about since 2016, and the reason we were here doing such an iconic race.  John naturally got caught out for not having a good enough cup, and had to buy one…which was deeply satisfying.  We caught up with Chris Kay, who we’d met on the Thames Ring 250 in 2017, who looked in great shape.

Then it was out to a field to park the car, and lie about waiting for the 6pm start.  Although in the shade, it was roasting…easily over 28 degrees at midday, and absolutely the worst running conditions I could hope for.  John and I were too restless to lie about for long, and went off in search of something to eat that would power us through 100 hilly miles in a day….but settled on bacon rolls (yum!).

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yummmmmm……

Then it was time to get kit sorted and going. The starting corral was quite full, and John professed to feeling emotional at the opera singing while we waited to start.

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The iconic start…

I was totally unmoved, probably because I knew what was coming in the first 10 miles, and John didn’t (afterwards, he said he could not believe how long / steep / high the first climb was…and that was just the first taste of what was to come).

As usual, John set off quickly, and I gently followed.  We all started walking at the first climb, and I caught up with John and then lost him again in the crowd.  He apparently thought I was still ahead of him (somehow) so pushed on quickly to try to catch me up, while I slogged on behind.

It was hot hot hot, and I remember thinking after 30 minutes that my running vest was absolutely soaked with sweat, and that I must keep drinking to prevent myself getting too dehydrated.  The first few aid-stations came and went, and I was already struggling to eat, after less than 15 miles.  I was going too slow and I knew it.

A few times Mark and Sharon managed to get into position to say hello (no help allowed from crew, other than moral support).  This was no mean feat in the Lake District, where a 20 mile drive might take an hour and only move 5 running miles.  It was always brilliant to see them and helped enormously.  They updated me on John’s progress, which was good, as he was so far in front of me at this point he was pretty much  on another planet.

The first 20ish miles were quite dry underfoot, unusually, and made for decent running.  Having covered the route before, it was nice to revisit some of the more memorable parts.

 

As it started to get dark, I teamed up with another runner, Paul, who was also dragging his heels a bit at the rear of the pack.  It was good to have a bit of company, but I was just not feeling the energy and bounce I should have in the early stages of a race…I was slogging away like I’d already run 50 miles.

I got to Buttermere aid-station after 1am, I couldn’t eat (to be honest, the food wasn’t great) but I managed to get a couple of cup-a-soups down and was happy with that.  I’m pretty sure I saw Jo Barret there, who I finished Spine Challenger with in January, but it’s all a bit hazy.20180728_023828

I set off from the aid station with a resigned head-down attitude.  It was the lowest ebb of the night – that horrible low patch between 1am – 4am when everything is crap.  Paul had the good grace to tell me there was a particularly tough climb coming up and I was not in a happy place.  With the benefit of clear hindsight, I should have stopped, put on some music and taken some chocolate or a pro-plus of something to get my head back in the game.  Although I thought of it, I didn’t want to slow Paul down on the narrow trail, and perhaps that was my undoing.

At about 3.30am, we were going along a very narrow trail, with a steep climb on the left and a very sharp drop down to a ravine on the right.  As I was in front I could see two figures about 15 metres down the slope on my right, seemingly huddled together.  As we got close, we could see that someone had mis-stepped and fallen, and there was someone trying to help, but the slope was so steep there was no way a single person could get them back up the slope.  My first instinct was a lot of “what do we do etc.” as it looked like the person had an arm at a funny angle possibly broken (from where I was) and was only semi-conscious.  It only seemed right to get down the slope to help the other person, so I slid down and supported her from the other side.

As more runners appeared above us there was quite a few different shouted ideas of what to do, including calling out mountain rescue(!), but in the end me & the other helper managed to get the injured runner to the top of the slope by inching up on our bums and lifting her in the same way while she pushed with her legs.  She was still very dazed and shocked, and clearly was not with what was going on at all.

To be fair to the crowd of runners at the top of the slope, I reckon everyone stayed until we were safely up, and had gather the runners belongings that had scattered down the slope…but at that point it was clear she was going no further but would need to return to the last aid station, about 3 miles back.  And she was not in a capable state of getting there (safely) alone.

There were no immediate volunteer to give up their race and return with her.  So I said I’d go.

It was a spur of the moment decision, and I’ve agonised about the consequences ever since, so I’ll give you two different scenarios that might be true:

Scenario 1 – I’m  a selfless hero, who saw the injured runner as clearly needing my help, and my conscience would not allow me to leave someone in such  a potentially dangerous situation (miles from help, pitch black, middle of the night etc etc).  I have some good running friends, who I hope would get similar sort of help if they needed it, even if it came from complete strangers.  Anyway, it’s only a race, right!  There’s plenty more out there to do!

Scenario 2 – I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I was already knackered and I hadn’t yet travelled 35 miles.  This would be a easy way to quit without everyone thinking I’d quit.  Perfect.

Ahhhh,  which one is it?  I honestly don’t know…maybe both.

Anyway, I walked her slooooooowly back to the aid station, passing the back-of-the-pack runners as we did.  At the aid station (which had by then closed) they got us some tea and we dressed the runners grazes and scrapes.  We were given a lift to the next aid station, Braithwaite I think, where Mark and Sharon met us and drove us back to Coniston where we let the injured runner get back to her tent at about 8am.  Even after a few hours in a warm car and a sleep she was still confused enough to struggle to find her tent in the field at Coniston.

I spent the rest of the weekend in the back of car, travelling around with Mark and Sharon, catching John at various points. through the morning the weather steadily deteriorated, and those that had set off with the appropriate kit for a balmy summers weekend were quickly reminded of the changeability of the Lakes.
After we waited at Mardale Head (about mile 75) for an hour, watching the gazebo being lifted off its feet by strong winds, we finally opted to wait in the car, as it was so grim. John struggled in eventually, but he was shot to pieces. Immediately he saw the car, he fell to the ground and was clearly going no further. We warmed him up and tried to get him to carry on, but to be fair he was in pieces and the weather was getting worse. He’d managed some huge climbs and had done awesomely well, but his race was over. I have a sneaking suspicion that the fact I had already dropped made his decision easier…if I’d been still going he would have carried on somehow.
And that was it! We zoomed back to the b&b, managed a very woozy Chinese meal out, and slept like the dead. The next morning we ate well, and then headed south….a little stiff but none the worse for a bit of adventure.

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John looked great the following morning….I think

So, where does that leave us? Naturally John was dead keen to enter the 2019 race, but it didn’t take long to persuade him that I thought it was too soon to go back to the Lakes (for me, anyway.) Me? I’m a bit more ‘relaxed’ about trying the LL100 again. It’s beautiful, but my legs need more in them to manage it comfortably. I’ve become a flat-land runner.
And was it a DNF? I’ve decided yes. I was unlikely to finish, and took an easy way out…but helping someone in the meantime. That’s enough – it wasn’t an entirely wasted effort.
So as always, my thanks to Mark and Sharon for another awesome weekend away. John for being great company and a brilliant training partner. He is now taking a well earned few months break from running, and thinking about what his next race will be.

Thanks to my long-suffering wife, Claire, who gives me leave to do these things.

This may have taken months to get around to write, but it is still a great race even with a patchy ending. It was a cracking experience, and I’m sure I’ll be back there someday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few days hiking and wild camping with Michael – July 2016

It seemed like a great idea at the time!  I would be travelling up to the lake district for a race, the Lakeland 50 on a weekend at the end of July, so why not extend it slightly and have a few days holiday at the same time?

This, over the first few months of the year, especially while my son was slogging away at his GCSE’s, turned into a full week in the Lakes, and although we talked about the whole family coming up…in the end it turned into just Michael and I.

Oh yes, did I mention we planned to wild camp?  I.e. carrying everything we needed so we could just stop wherever looked nice in the evening and make up a camp.  A particularly helpful friend, Mike Inkster, had lent me a little one man tent, sleeping bag & mat, which were unbelievably light, but with two of us going I began the long-winded process of finding something acceptably light but not too expensive that I could use.  In the end, I found a rather useful company called Alpkit who seem to be the ‘value’ side of sports kit – good quality but £120 for a sleeping bag rather than £300.

So, a load of new kit, a couple of practice camps near home (which got Michael used to waking up freezing cold!), and we were ready to go.  The packs we’d be carrying were quite heavy, but I was confident we could cope with some mileage if the climbing was not too bad.

The plan –

Drive up Sunday, and park the car in Coniston.  Get the bus to Ambleside, where we had a b&b booked (for a good nights sleep!).  On Monday we would walk from Ambleside to Coniston, which was about 15 miles, and camp somewhere near Coniston.  The added benefit was that we could be near the car if we were caught out by the weather or had a problem.

Tuesday was going to be the big day, with a route of 19 miles (possibly longer) and some huge ascent.  We would follow the first 20 miles of the Lakeland 100 route from Coniston to Wasdale Gap.  I knew this would be a test for us both…..a long way, over poor terrain, carrying heavy packs, after an uncomfortable nights sleep, in possibly poor weather.  We would camp at somewhere quiet in Wasdale.

Wednesday was the final push to Keswick, another 14 miles or so, and to a b&b and a soft bed!!   Then a couple of days of rest before the 50 mile race (for me).

We would be travelling very very light…the only spare clothes we would have while hiking was a clean pair of socks each day, although we both had a pair of quality waterproof socks to protect our feet from gangrene.  As well as our tents and sleeping bags, we had a tiny cooker, some noodles, and water bottles, as well as lots of ’emergency’ things that we didn’t use in the end (water purification tablets, a sharp knife, first aid kit etc).  We were well kitted-up.

 

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At the start of a long walk.  Monday morning and we look cheerful & well rested.

You can see from the above picture, we were ready for rain…and it did rain all day!  Marvellous!

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The walking was quite good for most of Monday, on a reasonably easy route.  It did rain though, and it was very wet underfoot.  We’d had a massive breakfast though, so were in good spirits.

20160725_121533There was a few of these massive wall-stiles, which were very slippery.  The rain, by lunchtime, had soaked our waterproof jackets completely, so Michael had to put on one of my plastic ponchos to keep the warmth in and the rain out.  It wasn’t ideal but did the job.20160725_133129The scenery was well worth it though.

20160725_140224And the local wildlife was interesting too!

We stopped for a bite to eat at Tilberthwaite, just before a big climb and the last few miles to Coniston.  Luckily it stopped raining for the 20 minutes that we stopped, but as we began hiking again, we sheltered under a convenient bridge while the next batch of rain passed.

20160725_144437I love the climb out of Tilberthwaite, and we met a slightly lost group of Duke of Edinburgh students (doing the Gold award) near the top.  We were all heading for the Coniston, so they followed us for about a mile, until we were at the highest point.20160725_153459

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Useful to find a helpful student to take a picture!

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Spot the ones still standing, and the D of E students slumped on the ground.

So we finished the route for Monday, actually clocking up about 18 miles somehow, which made it a much longer day than I’d planned.  This was supposed to be the easy first day!  Once we’d found a nice spot to spend the night, we headed for the pub and warmth and food.  Very nice it was too!

 

The camp was just by a river, and a nice wire fence that was perfect for hanging things from.  There also seemed to be a huge quantity of slugs in the vicinity, no idea why.  Most important, it was very sheltered by the overhead trees, and dry underfoot.20160725_201441

The next morning was an early start, as we had a long way to go!.  We were up and packed by 7am, and with only some super noodles inside us we needed to walk to the first pub quickly!

I’d had a fair bit of coffee, and Michael had some hot chocolate, to warm us up.  It was cold, but at least it wasn’t raining!

I’d warned Michael that the first climb out of Coniston was the toughest, with both the terrain and ascent being very hard.  To be fair, he did amazingly well, and by 10 am we were at Seathwaite eating Pringle’s.20160726_09215020160726_092157

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Seathwaite, Pringle’s, and a rest!  Phew!

However, Seathwaite was only 7 ,miles in, and we had a long way to go.  On the positive side, the weather was good and we knew there was a good pub for lunch at Boot.

 

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Looking quite happy, at the top of the latest ascent.

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This is what we had to climb down, after the picture above was taken.

We stopped for lunch at Boot, which we both needed.  Michael, bless him, fell asleep he was so tired.IMG-20160726-WA0000

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Mordor!

It was tough hiking, with lots of ascent and terrible terrain and we were both getting tired towards the end of the day.  However, some sections were just gorgeous, with the impression you could see for many miles.  At the top of some of the ascents, we were convinced we could see the sea.20160726_160908Our camp on the Tuesday night was, thankfully, a decent clearing. It had been dry most of the day and although we were shattered, it was great to stop.  We set up the tents and shot off for the pub.  Unfortunately, just as we set off, it started raining, and it didn’t stop until Wednesday morning.

 

20160726_181645However, the pub was good, and the food was better…20160726_191056

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Breakfast was on it’s way!

We’d decided the previous night that we would take it easy on Wednesday, rather than going for another massive day.  Both of us were pretty shattered, and after a fairly bad nights sleep in the rain I think we made the right call.

 

We would walk over another massive ascent, Black Sail Pass,  and then stop for lunch at the most remote Youth Hostel Association hostel, which  can only be accessed on foot.  This would be about 8 miles of hiking, but would allow us to get the bus to Keswick for a b&b without too much effort.

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The start of Wednesday, at Wasdale.  Do we look tired and smelly?  That’s because we were!

20160727_10063920160727_104326This picture shows where we’d walked up, on the way through Black Sail Pass.  Lots of stopping to rest, in order to keep going!  But look at the blue sky…that was great!20160727_10550420160727_11424420160727_11425420160727_120101

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A sheep.  Did not give a toss.

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After Black Sail Pass…do we look relieved!

20160727_12151020160727_121515And so back to civilisation, at Buttermere, where the bus stop was.  We had a tuna sandwich and a sit-down.20160727_145456We had covered just over 50 miles in three days, over massive passes and rough terrain, with both of us carrying everything we needed for two nights of wild camping.  We had eaten well in the evenings, but with minimal breakfast…with hindsight I would make more effort to ensure Michael had a decent breakfast.  I think I’m used to ‘running on empty’ more than he was, and I had the benefit of coffee (caffeine!) to spur me on through the first few hours of the day.

 

It was a spectacular few days though, and was almost worth the four months of GCSE revision…but not quite.