Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Lakeland 100 Revisited

When the Lakeland 100 course conspires with the weather it will find any chink in your armour and rip a dirty great big hole in it.

I thought my main chink was the sprained ankle that I suffered on the recce a month earlier which was still hanging around. It turned out to be the grumbly digestive system which I've had for a few weeks now.

After last year's delay at Kentmere which I estimated cost me a couple of hours I fancied my chances of getting inside 32 hours at least.  Once again my clubmates Paul H and Peter D were taking part as was Will M who upgraded from last year's Lakeland 50.  Both Paul and Peter were hoping for a sub 30 finish time. Paul had a 32 hours under his belt from last year but Peter had DNF'd due to stomach problems.  Also running were Tom H and Brian L from Tring (where I live).  Tom also had a score to settle having DNF'd last year. Another DNF returnee was Steve K who we'd met and ran with on most of last year's recces.

My training had gone really well up until spraining my ankle on the last recce weekend in June.  This prevented me from topping off my training with some decent mileage.

The weather forecast for the event was cool temperatures (15-16 deg centigrade) and showers which looked like pretty good good running conditions but the Lake District weather is unpreditable if it's anything.

I drove up to Coniston on the Thursday and stayed at Coniston Holly How youth hostel.  My room was full of others doing the race including the aforementioned Steve K and Brian L.  On Friday morning it was down to the school to pitch the tent and register (plus a trip back to the youth hostel to get my food which I'd left in the self catering kitchen. Duh!).  I weighed in at a couple of kilos less than last year and was given the race number 267.

There was no Joss Naylor this year to give us our pep speech which as a shame as I'd hope to have a word with him about doing some prints of a painting of him which I've just finished, and selling them for charity.  The idea being to get him to sign them. I'll have to contact him some other way.

Joss Naylor, Wasdale, 1970s - Artist: Mick Wren
Anyway,  as the start time approached the weather improved (that is if you're a tourist and not about to run up Walna Scar Road!).  It must have been over 20 degrees.

So, 5:30 arrived and off we went.  Up front it was going to be very interesting as the winners from the previous two years (Stuart Mills and Terry Conway respectively) were there as was the highly placed Paul Tierney  and a few others I wasn't familiar with.

Photo: Susan Graham (Me in blue on left and Tom in blue on right)
The usual dash ensued until we hit the Miners Track then it was out with the poles and walk up the hill.

Me and my poles (Paul on right).
The first leg went pretty much to plan.  I passed loads on the downhill section to the bottom of Walna Scar Road. I managed to keep most of those behind me on the climb up (thanks to the poles) and passed a few more on the way down to checkpoint 1 at Seathwaite.  It was here that I had make my first call to the loos.  It was all downhill from then (so to speak).  Leg 2 went well.  After the usual trudge through the bogs round Harter Fell I comfortably ran the rest of the leg passing a few more runners on the way. However, I still lost some 30 places due to my pit-stop at Seathwaite.  The Boot checkpoint was the same as last year.  The helpers were inundated with a flood of runners in a rush to get on in this early stage.

So, it was then the steady incline to Burnmoor Tarn and a drop down into Wasdale where I caught up Peter who was complaining of blisters on his heel bottoms.  On the road stretch before Wasdale Head I was just thinking that we'd get into the checkpoint and Paul would do his usual trick of appearing, whizzing through the checkpoint and disappearing, when who should come up behind us but Paul.  We jogged into the checkpoint where Paul whizzed through and disappeared (never to be seen again).  He was a man on a mission.  I donated my large Compeeds to Peter for his heels.  Ironically this year I'd gone through my first aid kit and cut it down to size so I had no spares but hardly ever suffer from blisters so it wasn't a problem.  Will also turned up at this point and took off after Paul but didn't manage to catch him.  At this point I reckon I was about ten minutes up on last year's time but it was still time for the head torch (Petzl Myo RXP).  I left Peter to put his shoes back on knowing he'd catch me on the up hills. A steady jog along Mosedale and up onto Black Sail pass followed, all the while looking for a reasonable hiding place for the loo (it's even harder to hide at night when everyone has a head torch and you're covered in reflective gear!).  In the end I held out until Buttermere checkpoint.  Having snapped my poles while descending Black Sail pass last year I made sure they were safely stashed away this year.

I was glad to get the descent off Scarth Gap out of the way.  The showers started on this stage some very heavy but not lasting too long so it was difficult to know whether to bother with the jacket.  This was reflected in the variety of body cover in use at any point in time.  There were people in shorts and t-shirts alongside people wearing full body waterproofs.  That set the pattern for the rest of the event.  I had to get the cag out on this stretch as the rain brought the temperature down.  I also had one of several falls going down here.  Running along a grassy trod on a bank parallel to the rocky path I tripped on a rock and went arse over tit down the bank.  Thankfully I missed the rocks but did get cramp in both calfs which I soon stretched out.

As it turned out Peter didn't catch me up on the hills but, looking at the results he passed through Buttermere as I was inspecting the state of their plumbing.  I'd decided to walk the first part of this stage, to the top of Sail Pass anyway to give myself a rest.  While doing this someone behind asked if I was Mick Wren (the race numbers had our first names printed on them).  I'd apparently given him some advice on the Lakeland 100 facebook page regarding poles and he was very grateful for it.  This was the first of many instances of people recognising me for one reason or another to the point where I began to feel a bit like a celebrity.  Must practice my autograph.

Going up the steep section to Sail Pass I had a very weird experience.  On a previous recce in 2011 I'd sailed (forgive the pun) up here using my then new poles.  However, on the actual 2011 event I really struggled which I'd put down to not have the use of my freshly snapped poles.  This year I found it extremely hard even with poles.  About three quarters of the way up I started to keep losing my balance and falling (fortunately to the left and not down the hill to my right).  It was just like trying to stand up when totally pissed.  This had me very worried.  Eventually, as I approached the top of the pass my left ear popped and my balance improved (although I still felt drained).  I can only assume that the air pressure in my ear was affecting the balance mechanism in that ear.

I chucked down a small bag of oat and fruit biscuits at the top and proceeded to descend the very steep path towards Barrow Door.  About 20 minutes before this my head torch had flashed telling me that the batteries were on their way out and now the light was really dimming so I waited for some other to catch me up so that I could piggyback their light.  I had spares batteries but didn't particularly want to change them in the open.  That was another attempted weight saving I'd made this year.  I normally carry a spare head torch (a very small and light Petzl Zipka) as well as spare batteries but I put that in my drop bag this year.  I'll not be doing that again as I felt very vulnerable without that spare.  I only had to drop one of my spare batteries and I'd have been stuffed.

Braithwaite checkpoint eventually arrived and I entered to find Peter in there (not thinking at the time that I hadn't seen him pass me).  After another plumbing inspection and a change of batteries we left together.  Two minutes later it was raining stair rods as we jogged along the road to Keswick.  I paid my respects to my ancestors as we passed Crossthwaite graveyard then it was up onto Spooney Green Lane.

Back in the checkpoint I'd put some boiling water into a chicken tikka freeze dried meal (from Expedition Foods) that I'd been carrying with me and left it to rehydrate in my rucksack planning to eat it going up the lane.  I've used these food several times before on the overnight camps of mountain marathons and they've been great but there must be something about taste buds while on the move.  The chicken tikka was far too spicey and the the texture felt wrong so I just couldn't eat it.  This had happened previously when I tried the same thing during the Bullock Smithy challenge.  So, I've given up on the idea of having a 'proper' meal while on the move.

While travelling up the Glenderaterra valley I noticed it was getting light which shocked me as last year I was approaching Dockray at this time of day.  Those toilet stops and the bad patch over Sail Pass had cost me dearly. We eventually found the new unmanned checkpoint (on the second sheepfold after searching for it on the first one) then walk/jogged to the Blencathra checkpoint but not before I had to make an emergency stop behind a wall to inspect the bracken.  There were no free socks this year at Blencathra but at least it was indoors this time.

By now we were well aware that any chance of a decent time had long gone so we mentally dropped into 'just finish' mode.  It's interesting how this affects the performance.  We walked where we probably would have run if going for a time and, being effectively a team of two, we ran at the speed of the slowest runner at the time.  This had the cumulative effect of our time slipping more and more.  We souped up at Dockray and plodded on to Dalemain arriving at 10:40 to find Will who had retired (along with some 30 others I believe).

I claimed squatters rights in one of the portaloos while Peter had his feet strapped up by the medic. We then refueled on the wonderful soup/stew and cake and custard served by marvellous checkpoint staff, and had a change of clothing.  The spare poles I'd brought along stayed in the drop bag.  In the end we were there for at least an hour but eventually set off walking across the field.  My plans to minimise checkpoint time had long since bitten the dust.

After a jog along the river we entered Pooley Bridge where I popped into the public conveniences (convenient being a very apt word in my case) to see how their plumbing compared to elsewhere in the Lakes. I can report it was adequate.

On the climb out of Pooley Bridge I received my second shock of the day.  We were walking and this guy came sprinting past.  "He's keen" I thought then another ran past then another.  It dawned on me that they were the L50 lead runners. Last year I'd been at Sadgill when the first L50 came past.  This was depressing. The fourth L50 runner was my mate Kieran Davis with whom I'd done the Old County Tops back in May. Ian Corless (of Talk Ultra fame) who I'd spent a few hours with on the last recce soon passed as well.  It was then time for another photo-shoot.

Nice colour scheme (Peter in red)
With hindsight I'm not sure that fluorescent yellow was the best choice of colour for my new role as chief  bracken inspector.  Marc (event organiser) had asked us during the pre-race briefing not to smile for the photographers as they wanted to show how hard and tough the event was but he shouldn't produce such a happy event so we ignored him.

Peter had come up with a cunning plan at this point.  We were going to let the first 20 L50 runners go then tag onto the back of the next one.  Like most cunning plans this one melted in the heat of execution as we watched a good 50 runners go by.  Eventually though I saw one I wanted to follow and tagged on in tow at what felt like a cracking pace (it was downhill).  The fact that it was a very nice looking young woman in short lycra shorts was pure coincidence I can assure you.  This very pleasurable stretch came to an end after about a quarter mile when I noticed that Peter hadn't followed.  I guess my backside doesn't have the same motivating effect.  So, normal service was resumed and we trotted down towards Howtown.

On the last official recce weekend in June I'd met up with two guys in Windermere youth hostel who were also doing the recce, workmates Mikey and Dom.  They were on the L50 and came past Peter and I just before Howtown.  Dom was still suffering from an ankle sprain and was considering his options when they got to Howtown.  As it turned out they both continued and when Mikey got to Ambleside he found out that Dom was still going and waited half and hour for him to make sure he finished.  That just about sums up the spirit in this event.

Last year the Howtown checkpoint was centred inside the building but this year they'd decided to put most of it outside (probably to cope better with the numbers) but after dibbing in I went inside and Peter lost track of  me.  He caught sight of someone leaving wearing a fluorescent yellow top and chased after them.  While he was doing this I was came out to look for him and couldn't find him.  He realised it wasn't me when he noticed the rucksack colour and came back.  I would have popped into the loo here but there was a queue so off we went.

I really suffered here last year in the heat.  This year the heat was much better but being amongst the L50 entrants I was forever acquiring a trail of people behind me.  This pressurised me into going a little faster than I'd have liked to until I had to pull over and let them past.  In the meantime Peter was obviously feeling stronger and took off for the top where he waited for me.

Running as a pair is much slower than solo running.  We each had sections where we felt better than the other and had to wait.  Next time (if there is one) if there's chance of a good time then I'll have to run my own race.

Anyway,  we made our way across the Kops and down to Haweswater, hacking through the bracken at the bottom rather than climb down the rocks.  Along the bottom track I had to find a water source as the drink in my bladder tasted very strange.  I'm not sure what it was but I didn't trust it so had to refill my bottle.  Having done so I then climbed up into the bracken for another 'inspection'.  The noise from the stream hid any noises I might (did) have made.  I then caught up Peter and chugged round to the Mardale checkpoint.  It was getting colder, wetter and windier by now so we put an extra top layer on after a couple of welcome cups of tommy soup.  Then it was up the Gatesgarth Pass path.

This time it was my turn to get to the top first where I waited for Peter.  The weather had set in now so it was cagoules and gloves on.  Coming down the other side was it's usual steep and rocky self until we reached the point where the appropriately named Wren Gill meets the track.  It was like a giant had scooped a three foot deep, two foot wide trench out of the middle of the track. The track was destroyed. That must have been quiet a sight when that happened.  We were walking at this point and I started getting very cold so down in the bottom of the valley we resorted to wearing overtrousers.  It shows how I was feeling the cold as I didn't resort to overtrousers in the 1998 'Howling Howgills' KIMM or in the 2008 Borrowdale OMM.

It was around this point that I had another weird episode. I was walking alongside Peter when I suddenly realised I didn't know who it was next to me.  I went through a whole list of people (runners and non-runners) in my head before getting back to Peter.  This happened a couple of times.  I didn't tell Peter about the episode but I suspected this was a sign of hypothermia.  I spent a few minutes considering this and decided that it would be foolish to risk continuing.  I did have another top and some leggings in my bag but if I put those on I'd have had no back-up clothing.  With 20 dark, cold and wet miles to go it would have been
dangerous.  Having completed last year there was no pressure for me to prove anything so I had the luxury of being able to quit without feeling any loss or guilt.  This was all ironic considering last year I was held up in Kentmere by the medics with suspected hyperthermia.

So we arrived at the Kentmere checkpoint at around 9:00 p.m.(via the Sadgill track which was also torn up by the weather and was also a lot longer than I remembered) where I dibbed into the retiree dibber box being informed that the coach back to Coniston would leave around 10:30 p.m..  I made sure that Peter had anything he needed from me then dashed into the loos while he bravely set off into his second night to get his first completion.

It was at this point that the wicked god of retirees took over.  The first thing he did was to empty the header tanks for the loos in the checkpoint ten minutes after I arrived so they were closed.  He then made sure that the bus back to Coniston didn't leave until 1:00 a.m. So there I was with a very dodgy stomach in a checkpoint with no loos for 4 hours.  On arriving back in Coniston (after hallucinating a woman holding a bike outside the checkpoint) I was told we could have a t-shirt (which was fine as they aren't dated) but the wicked god had the last laugh as when I got home I found it was a L50 t-shirt!

While waiting at Kentmere both Steve and Brian came through and both very determined to finish, as they indeed did.

Back at the event centre I found that Paul had finished in 30:50.  Not the sub 30 he wanted but a brilliant determined effort nonetheless.  Ian had done a brilliant sub 10 and Kieran 10:39.  Mikey and Dom finished as I was there in 14:01 and Peter, Steve and Brian were still out on the course. I'm afraid I couldn't stay awake long enough to see them in.

Photo: Paul Hunt.   Peter at the finish
The journey home provided more opportunities to inspect plumbing as I called into almost every service area down the length of the M6.

In hindsight I'm very happy with the decision I took. Whilst I didn't actually feel too bad in myself during the event it was tiring feeling the need to go to the loo for 30 hours and it probably affected my digestion and energy intake.  I was certainly feeling the cold a lot more than I should have done.  Two days later and I'm already thinking about doing it again having said twice was enough.  However, I should have a guaranteed place in the UTMB next year so I might do the 50 as a training run.  We'll see.


Stephen Kavanagh said...

Excellent write up Mick. A very enjoyable and honest account. Steve

Umberto said...

Congrats. Running until mile 80 ist a huge accomplishments given your conditions. I am impressed. By the way brilliant report! See you in September. Umberto.

Steve Mee said...

Great write up Mick and glad to hear that Peter finished. You came into Dalemain as I was leaving and I kept waiting for the two of you to come blasting past. When you didn't I assumed something must be wrong. Good luck at UTMB next year...will looking forward to reading about it.

PAUL HUNT said...

Jane Austin eat your heart out!

Great write up Mick, brought those lovely memories flooding back.

Gatescarth Pass was a real struggle for me this year.

Hope you'll be back fitter and faster than ever.