I entered the Lakeland100 on New Years Day as a "sod it, what's the worst that can happen, I catch the bus of shame" new year's resolution. I spent the next three months getting up earlier than usual to do a core session on the Wii and an intervals session on the cross trainer. I also upped my weekly mileage from 10-20 miles to 40-60. I also tried to loose a stone and a half (I started at 13st which is too much for my skinny six foot frame). The weight was a struggle to get off but the fat came off OK. I can only assume the weight stayed due to increased muscle mass. In other words I changed shape without losing much weight. I did manage to shift half a stone in the end. My dodgy knee seemed to have given up the ghost after I'd ignored it for the last six months, which was a relief. Overall, I reckon I did as much as I could in preparation, including recceing the whole course (I had no intention of having to navigate) and was pretty satisfied with my condition as the weekend approached.
I think that I'd cracked the biggest problem that a lot of my fellow entrants seemed to be struggling with, many years ago back in my developing years. Mentally, the thought of running 100 miles has never been an issue for me. My dad was a cyclist and he got me and my brothers on bikes not long after we could walk. I did my first 'proper' bike ride when I was 5 years old (6 miles to the local power station and back). I youth hostelled my way from Doncaster to Scarborough and back when I was 9 and did my first 100 mile bike ride as an 11 year old. I've since done 240 mile 24 hour rides with very little training. I know in my bones that any distance is possible if you just keep going. However, the price I paid is that I'm a tourist and not a racer. I don't mind the distance as long as I can choose my own pace.
My Good Run
After the last recce we had a presentation from last year's L100 winner Stuart Mills. He asked us to discuss what would make a good race for us. Stuart is a racer and not a tourist. He'd been racing since he was a kid.
I set out three objectives in the following order of priority:
- To finish;
- To enjoy it;
- To get somewhere near 30 hours.
I brought my family (minus daughter Lucy who's in the US) up to the Lakes with me to try and make a holiday of it. We managed to get a last minute cottage some 7-8 miles south of Coniston. I also put up a tent in the event campsite at Coniston High School as I was expecting to finish sometime after midnight on Sunday and wanted to crash out there.
Prior to the start I had to weigh in (so that they could detect hyponatreamia during the event) (at 88.1 kg) and register, collecting my race number (140) and Sports Ident dibber (for checking in at the 14 checkpoints on route) and having my kit checked. Here's a dibber:
We all attended the pre-race briefing to be given last minute route instructions and a pep talk by the one and only living legend Joss Naylor. He offered us advice on endurance running "keep the knees bent running downhill" and had a go at the 3-Peakers who clutter up Wasdale with their litter. Then we had a hour to relax before the start.
There were four of us from Goyt Valley Striders (Mark R, Paul H, Pete D and me) in the 100 and one, Will, in the 50. Others I knew were Colin W (Pennine), Simon M (Buxton), Steve F (Bingley) and Steve K(Manchester). We lined up at the start in the hot sunshine. The forecast had been for sunny intervals but this was no cool summer's day. It was probably in the low 20's centigrade but it feels a lot more when there's no breeze and you're heading over the hills. My two pre-race nightmares were hot weather and falling asleep on my feet. The first was already here.
Leg 1 - Coniston to Seathwaite (1h 27m)
Terry sounded the hooter and we were off. The first of around a quarter of a million steps!
The usual rush over the first mile or so was soon over before settling down into the climb up into Coppermines valley. I used my poles, which I'd recently acquired, on this climb. They help enormously with my less than average hill climbing ability. At 135g each they are extremely light but do the job admirably as long as you don't put all your weight on them. I was so glad to have them for the climbs, especially those in the second half when I'd be knackered. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
We went round The Bell then back down to the start of Walna Scar Road where Stuart Mills was taking photos.
Me and my poles 2 miles in Picture - Stuart Mills
Pete D and I to and fro in the sweltering heat up to Walna Scar then drop over the other side together down to the Seathwaite checkpoint. I dib in, top up my water and grab some food before leaving. Pete had disappeared. I though he'd pulled a fast one and dibbed and gone (he hardly drinks anything). So I set off expecting to see him him just ahead.
Leg 2 - Seathwaite to Boot (1h 32m)
Across the valley then up to Glassguards where I had to stop the first of several groups on this leg going off route. Around the farm then up the valley to the boggy stuff through the forest below Harter Fell (we pass both Harter Fells on this route). I'd come down this boggy valley in much much worse conditions on the 2000 KIMM wading through knee deep slurry, so this felt quite luxurious in the dry conditions. They'd even repaired parts of the path even since the recce in January, making parts of it runnable. Then it was over the fence and down through the gap in the crags.
Gap between the grags towards Boot Picture - Nick Ham
Leg 3 - Boot to Wasdale (1h 18m)
My strategy included not running up any hills in order to minimise muscle damage (and also because uphills are not my strength. Neither are downhills since I broke my face on a rock but that's another story), but I found my self jogging up parts of the climb to Burnmoor Tarn. Having seen it on the recce I expected a few people to follow the track up the hill when it turned sharp left instead of going straight on. I didn't expect everyone to do it. It made me wonder if I was wrong but I stuck to my guns and went straight on. The hardly existent path become more defined and my confidence was justified as I pulled back loads of runners who'd gone up the hill to the back end of the tarn and did two sides of a triangle instead of sticking to the route. I allowed myself a little chuckle of smugness.
There had been more footpath repair on this section since the recce, particularly on the tarn outlet and the path down to Wasdale. I remember it being particularly rough going down into Wasdale but a lot of this had been smoothed out. The route had been changed to avoid the stream crossing and followed the route that we'd conveniently taken in the recce. It was starting to get dark as I approached Wasdale checkpoint. It was still warm so I didn't put on any more clothing at the checkpoint apart from putting my buff round my neck. The headtorch came out at this point but I didn't turn it on just yet. Still no sign of Pete.
Leg 4 - Wasdale to Buttermere (2h 18m)
I set off on my own and dropped into Mosedale. It was now dark enough to use the headtorch but I chose not to use it as I could make out the path OK. It was a shame there was no moon. It would have been amazing in this valley with a full moon shining. Even so I managed to get to the top of Black Sail Pass in the dark without the use of a head torch. I only turned it on when others joined me and my night vision was ruined. The trail of head torches bobbing up the path to the pass was an incredible sight. What a bunch of nutters we were. We seemed to group up going down the pass. There we two women in the group (one of whom I later learned was the winning lady Gaynor Prior).
It was here that disaster struck. I had intended to use my poles only on the uphills put they seems to offer some stability going down in the dark. I planted both poles into the ground when suddenly my feet slipped out from underneath me. This was too much for my ultralight poles and they both snapped in the middle. My heart sank. I still had 85 miles to go! I could picture the climbs out of Buttermere, Keswick, Howtown, Mardale and Kentmere all waiting to destroy my calfs and quads. I spent the next 30 miles trying to think of a way to fix the poles. I even considered raiding the campsite at Braithwaite to nick a tent peg or two but chickened out in the end. The last thing I needed was being chased down the road by a furious semi-naked camper!
So, I packed my poles away and got on with the job in hand (on foot?). Half way down from Black Sail there's a craggy bit with a tree next to it. I managed to remember that this can be avoided by simply going left where there's an easy grass path to the bottom of the crag.
Going past Black Sail youth hostel one of the hostellers was sat outside watching us troop past. I wonder how long he sat out there. Must have been quite a sight with the head torches coming down the hill. I was too busy watching where I put my feet to look back. We then mounted Scarth Gap. I missed my poles already but was pleasantly surprised that I didn't get passed. The horrid boulder strewn path down to Buttermere was thankfully navigated safely and I managed to run the rest of the way to the checkpoint. I'd hoped for six hours to this point which was a little ambitious considering it took seven and a half on the recce in January (although I was a lot less fit back then). I dibbed in at 6:36.
Leg 5 - Buttermere to Braithwaite (1h 57m)
Topped up the water and tea and grabbed an apple and a bag of jelly beans then I was off. Halfway through the trees I met up with the other of the two ladies of Black Sail (Gaynor had gone off ahead of her at Scarth Gap). She and another runner seemed to think I knew where I was going (which I did but don't things look different in the dark) and took my lead. Fortunately I chose the right paths and we headed off up towards Sail Pass. At the second stream before the proper climb started I came across another runner. He turned round and said "Hello Mick". It was Steve F of Bingley but how he recognised my with my headtorch shining in his face I don't know. It was weird as I'd just been thinking about him due to his warning me a couple of weeks previously (when we'd both been supporting a mutual friend Dave S on his successful Bob Graham Round) about a very deep puddle on this very path. We went up over Sail Pass (that path seemed ten times longer and harder than when I'd flown up it with my poles on the recce) and dropped down into Braithwaite together dibbing in at 2:00 a.m. I loaded up with pasta and rice pudding while Steve took off. The next time I saw him I didn't recognise him.
Leg 6 - Braithwaite to Blencathra (2h 7m)
Leaving Braithwaite checkpoint I didn't think that I'd be able to run another step. My legs were so stiff. I managed to start with a shuffle which turned into a jog and by the time I left the village I was cruising! I pulled back half a dozen runners and ran all the way up to Spooney Green Lane (can't help wanting to call it Spooky Green Lane), past a couple of sets of supporters cheering me on. One of these turned out to be friends of the aforementioned Simon M.
Between Braithwaite and Spooky Green Lane the route goes along a disused railway track. This passes the back of Crosthwaite Church graveyard. Several of my ancestors (the Borrowdale Wrens) from the 18th century are buried in there. I wondered what they'd make of their ggggggg-grandson running 100 miles for the sake of it.
I power marched up the SGL hill keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable stick to replace my poles. Didn't find one. I ran and walked the path from Latrigg up the wonderfully named Glenderaterra valley. As I approached the turn point at the end of the valley I could see a headtorch coming down from Skidday House (where I'd bunked in my youth when it was still a ruin). I found out later that this was Colin W (more of whom later). He'd overshot the turning.
It was getting light as I approach the Blencathra Centre. I managed to turn off my headtorch for a large part of the run/walk back down Glenderatta to the checkpoint where we were greeted by loads of balloons leading up to the checkpoint. At the check point they were handing out free socks. I certainly wasn't going to risk blisters by trying on untried socks so I didn't take them up on their very kind offer. Plenty of others did. As I was arriving Colin was leaving the checkpoint only to take another wrong turn and paying Threlkeld a visit before having to backtrack to the checkpoint.
Leg 7 - Blencathra to Dockray (2h 6m)
This leg proved to be my most weary. It should have been a good runnable section but I was going through a tired spell. I managed to run most of the railway line but trudged up to the coach road bemoaning the loss of my poles. The sun, a big round orange ball, groped its way into the sky as I shuffled along the coach road.
I could feel my water logged socks rubbing on the arches under my feet so at the checkpoint (which apparently had been organised with 4 days notice after the original group pulled out. Well done gents) I took off my socks, rang them out and applied liberal amounts of Vaseline to the soles of my feet. Maybe I should have tried the Blencathra socks after all. As I was getting ready to go Paul H turned up. I thought I'd see him at some point. He's not naturally as fast a runner as me but he's relentless and has perfected the art of passing through checkpoints without seeming to stop whereas I dawdle and pratt around wasting time. A real hare and tortoise pair we are (plus he'd managed not to break his poles. Not that I was jealous of course.)
I think it was here that Paul told me that Pete had retired with stomach problems. Apparently he'd not dashed off after Seathwaite but had gone to the toilet. No wonder I couldn't catch him up, he was behind me!
Leg 8 - Dockray to Dalemain (2h 39m)
It was sunglasses back on now the sun was up. It promised to be a glorious day, unfortunately.
A painful jog down the road to Dockray proper then it was the track round and up onto Gowbarrow Fell. A group of five or six of us had formed going up the hill. I led the first half but felt I was holding them back so I let them go. They soon disappeared leaving my to my own thoughts. I just saw the last of them entering the lovely Swinburn Park woods as I started the descent. I love this path through the woods. It undulates through shaded areas broken up by the sun piercing its way through and lighting up small glades. I first came through these woods some 20 years ago when I walked with my eldest daughter (she's 26 now) from our campsite at Watermillock to Aria Force. The trees have grown a bit since then.
Out of the woods and along the path then the route left the fells and took to cultivated fields and roads to Dalemain. In the middle of the first field there's a small footbridge across a tiny stream. On the recce we had just crossed this when a cow, thinking we were a threat to its calf, took a lunge at Paul who jumped back and cracked his knee on a rock. The calfs had long gone this time. Three fields later and we were out onto the roads. I'd nearly caught up with the group that had dropped me by now.
I'm not sure how but I managed to run most of this road section to Dacre, past the still inhabited castle (windows need a wash) and along the farm track to Dalemain and past about eight other runners in the process. It was just after 9:00 a.m. Time for breakfast.
Leg 9 - Dalemain to Howtown (2h 28m)
Picture this, a sweating and haggard looking 53 year old bloke sat on camping chair in a field wearing just speedos and a pair of compression socks. Nice eh? That was me for a while at Dalemain. I had an almost complete change of clothes and shoes. The checkpoint crew were marvellous, providing a waited service for the drinks and grub. I washed myself down with wet-wipes and reapplied sunscreen and insect repellent before getting dressed into a much cooler white shirt.
Paul turned up 12 minutes behind me but was in and out in a flash but not before spotting our clubmate Mark R laying down at the back of the marquee. He told Paul that he'd retired. I didn't want to disturb him as he seemed to be sleeping but we found out later (and in Gaynor's blog (where she calls him Marc)) that he'd been throwing up for miles. He is prone to this having done it in the middle of his successful 50 at 50 Bob Graham last year. We'd expected him to be miles ahead by now. He'd arrived at Dalemain three and a half hours ahead of us! I think I'd have been sick running at that pace.
After a good half hour or more of my pratting around I set off into the increasingly hot day for the second half. As at Braithwaite it was hard to get going again but the legs soon freed up enough to shuffle along the river to Pooley Bridge. This 2 mile stretch to Pooley Bridge from Dalemain was the only part of the route that I hadn't recced but it was hardly a navigational challenge.
I walked almost all of the section from Pooley Bridge to the top before the right turn. We'd spotted someone taking a short cut across that corner and we met him as he came off it (not much of a short cut then). I checked his number later and he retired at Howtown so maybe he'd already decided to pack it in.
The downhill into Howtown was nice with gorgeous views down Ullswater. This western view along Ullswater has to be one of the best in the Lakes.
|Down to Howtown Pic - Andreas Mayer|
It was then out of the checkpoint and up Fusedale. I'd recced this stretch twice before so I knew what was coming next.
Leg 10 - Howtown to Mardale Head (3h 32m)
I wasn't feeling too bad at this point. Some walkers asked what event we were doing. I explained, showing them the race number on my rucksac like a peacock showing his feathers. So suitably puffed up I trotted down the farm track to the bottom of the climb.
|The climb out of Howtown Pic - Andreas Mayer|
|Looking back down from Groove Gill Pic - Andreas Mayer|
I made it to Groove Gill and promptly stuck my head into the clear cool water, taking several gulps as I did. That helped cool me down but there was still a way to go uphill. It eases off just after Groove Gill before rearing up again to meet the High Street path. I could hardly move up this section with my shin cramps and had to keep stopping.
|The top at last Pic- Andreas Mayer|
I ran out of drink alongside Haweswater and was beginning to overheat again. Having passed a couple of streams that might have been suitable for a dip I was determined not to miss out at Randale Beck so I stripped off down to my shorts and compression socks (a reoccurring theme starting here but if I took off my compression socks I was afraid of my calf muscles exploding) and got into a nice cool pool. I spent a lovely 5 minutes splashing around much to the amusement of a lady walker just downstream. I hope she wasn't disappointed to see I was wearing shorts when I got out (although I'm sure the compression socks were a major turn on).
|Me and my Gandalf staff at Mardale Head just after my dip|
Leg 11 - Mardale Head to Kentmere (2h 30m)
I met up with Paul at the checkpoint (where one of the Army guys there had clearly neglected the sunscreen) and set off up to Gatesgarth Pass suitable armed with my staff. Partway up I decide to customise it and snapped off a foot or so to make it a more suitable length. Mentally and physically I found this a lot easier than the previous hill. Going down the other side into Longsleddale the conditions under foot were horrendous with crudely cobbled tracks and loose rocks. As we approached the turn at Sadgill the first of the 50 milers came speeding past. "Well done lads" he said as he disappeared up the track followed by a huge gap until his pursuers turned up.
Over the Sadgill track and onto the road we went to be confronted by a pair of fiendishly high stiles. They were 8 foot high drystone stepped monsters which were very painful to negotiate. It wouldn't have taken much effort to fall off one of those after 80 odd miles. As it was we made it over them and down the lane to the Kentmere checkpoint just inside 24 hours, and 85 miles.
I felt no worse, or better, than you'd expect in the circumstances but I was in for a bit of a surprise.
Leg 12 - Kentmere to Ambleside (4h 8m)
I decided that I was sick of drinking isotonic stuff and just use plain old water from here on. I downed a couple of glasses of water but couldn't face the food on offer: pasta and rice pudding, although I did drink one of their marvellous fruit smoothies. The marshals at the checkpoint were clearly on the lookout for signs of heatstroke, hypernutremia and dehydration (hyponutremia). Two of them didn't like the look of me and were clearly concerned. I'd stopped sweating (how long ago I don't know) and my resting pulse was 110 bpm when it should have been about 40. Paul said that the colour suddenly drained from my face and he thought I was about to have a heart attack. I didn't feel too bad in the circumstances but I'd decided myself that I wasn't going anywhere until I got some food inside me. So, they decided that I was dehydrated and insisted on me drinking more isotonic. One of them, Phil, said that I should have been doing this that and the other with my fluid intake, all of which I had been doing so I don't know where I'd gone wrong. I told Paul not to wait for me and he set off after five or ten minutes. Anyway to cut a long story short I sat around at Kentmere sipping my isotonic for about 40 minutes until I felt like eating. My appetite returned and I had two bowls of each. During this time Colin had turned up. He's a trained first aider so he kindly offered to watch me (make sure I drank and started sweating) over the next leg. I reciprocated by offering to guide Colin (his legs were giving him jip and I couldn't bear to let him go off course again).
By this time I'd realised my third objective (to finish somewhere near 30 hours) was long gone so I was determined to achieve the first two (to finish and enjoy it). I had loads of time on hand so was in no great rush to wear myself out.
So, we set off and strolled up the Garburn Pass. I thankfully started sweating again but Colin's legs were getting worse. Coming down the other side we were caught up by Will who was doing the 50. He stopped to take our picture then took off down the hill.
|Colin and me after Garburn Pass Pic - Willis Meredith|
He then caught up with Paul and they finished together. Meanwhile Colin and I took our time down into Troutbeck. The 50s were coming by in a steady stream by now. One of them came past as I was strolling along and said to me "You're looking in good form" to which I replied "That's not what they said an hour ago!". Colin's injuries got progressively worse as we went. Coming down through the woods above Ambleside he was reduced to a very painful shuffle and decided that he would pack at Ambleside. I made sure that he was on the road into Ambleside then took my leave. I'd enjoyed the rest but was now itching to get going again, especially as my family were waiting down in Ambleside. I ran the mile or so to the checkpoint. The clapping and cheering along the high street was unexpected but very nice if not a little embarrassing. I ran the last couple of hundred yards with my youngest daughter Polly and our dog Phoebe. My eldest daughter Vicky was videoing my approach just as the battery ran out!
This checkpoint was in the Lakes Runner shop and it was roasting inside. I was certainly sweating now.
Leg 13 - Ambleside to Chapel Stile (2h 4m)
It was head torch time again. Still no need for an extra top though. I left the checkpoint with my family who came as far as the cinema / last road crossing. Vicky took my picture. This is what you look like after 90 miles and being awake 40 hours.
|"Look into my eyes"|
After leaving the park I joined up with Nick Ham (the man in Union Jack shorts, who also went on to do the Long Tour of Bradwell the following week) for a while. As I passed Skelwith Bridge Hotel who should be stood outside with a pint in his hand but the elusive Pete. After blinding him and his lovely wife with my headtorch we had a chat for five minutes before I set off again along the river. It was along here that I experienced my only episode of sleepiness. For ten minutes or so I found myself dreaming of all sorts of weird stuff (none of which I remember but something about witches rings a bell). I came out of this at Elterwater and soon (30 hours in) found myself in at the Chapel Stile checkpoint where I got a seat right next to the chimnea.
Leg 14 - Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite (3h 1m)
I availed myself of two bowls of their wonderful stews, a coffee and a top up for my camelbak. I also swapped my t-shirt for a long sleeved top, largely because I knew I'd be freezing after sitting next to the fire.
I'd recced this section twice before but was glad that I could just follow someone up to the climb at least. I ended up in a group of 50 milers. I think it was a mixture of 3 teams. Blea Tarn came and went and we set off through the bracken. I knew something was wrong routewise when we started going downhill rather than contouring. I was committed by now so followed them to the road and sure enough they'd cut the corner. I told them but they ignored me and set of down the road. I went up the road to the corner where we should have come out (partly to ensure I'd done the whole route but also to make sure there wasn't a secret dibber there checking for cheats). I caught the naughty ones up on the hill. They'd taken a left on the Tilberthwaite track and were coming back as I passed the turning.
So, down into High Tilberthwaite and along the road to the penultimate checkpoint where on spotting I was a 100 miler they gave me special treatment with a seat away from the crowds and waiting on me with food and drink. Thank you Darwen Dashers.
Leg 15 - Tilberthwaite to Coniston (1h 42m)
The 50 milers I came down with had gone by the time I left Tilberthwaite. I went up the steps lit up with blue glow sticks (the steps not me) and up past the quarry. I got a phone call from Paul going up here. He'd finished and was going to wait for me. On putting my phone away I saw my first sleepmonster. There was a rock and I was sure that there were two sheep sheltering next to it but they kept changing. One minute they'd have two heads then they'd turn into dogs complete with spikey collars. Weird. I went on my way. The recces proved useful here. I managed to stay on the right path but was constantly plagued by more sleep monsters. The shadows and dark puddles turned into buildings. Near the waterfall and tree I looked across and was sure there was an entire derelict village across the stream. This stuff continued until I hit the coppermines track above Miners Bridge. The descent was rough but not as bad as I'd expected. I started running once onto the Miners Bridge track, ran by the 50 milers from earlier and kept running to the finish to be greeted by cheers and claps. It did occur to me then that I was glad I wasn't trying to sleep nearby. That thought soon disappeared as I dibbed in for the last time.
|Objectives 1 and 2 met! Pic - Harshan Gill|
Leg 16 - Coniston to Land of Nod (1h 15m)
|Paul (still asleep) and me|