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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.