So the conversation may have gone something like this when I came up with this last weekends running trip to the lakes.
“Do you fancy doing the Trail 26 at Grizedale forest?”
“Yes that would be a good one to aim for.”
“There’s a Night Runner 10K the night before are you up for that as well?”
“No, a marathon is quite enough for one weekend. Are you doing it?”
“Yes sounds like fun I’ll just have steady plod round for the experience and there’s a free t-shirt!”
So it is off to the lakes for a run round Grizedale forest. For a race weekend this one had a refreshingly late start. Rather than the more usual predawn starts that have been more common for trips to races or up to the lakes. A night race meant a mid morning pickup for the other protagonist in the above conversation Gary, running buddy for the weekend. And we we’re away up to Ambleside. A pleasant afternoon was spent bimbling around the gear shops and coffee houses, before checking in to the Youth Hostel and getting sorted for the evening’s entertainment. Gary, having forgone the night running also unsurprisingly chose to forgo the standing freezing in a field waiting for me so he headed for the bright lights of Ambleside. While I headed off to Grizedale against the most amazing sunset.
Petzl Night Runner - The Valentines Day Massacre
The drive to Grizedale was along suitably windy Lake District lanes especially after Hawkshead and when the “little” hills of Grizedale forest came in to view they had quite an intimidating appearance. In the gathering dusk they didn’t look that little and also rather steep gulp. Having found the car park and parked up, there were the usual formalities of registration and coffee drinking to be attended to before gearing up and doing my warm up routine of sitting in the car. Someone more keen than me was doing laps of the car park. Why is there always someone running laps of the car park? With an air temperature of Zero at this point I was happy sitting in the car and with that in mind it was then left until 15 minutes to go before heading to start line.
There was the option of Fancy dress for the Night Runner and I had a quick chat with a lady dressed a fairy, she was doing the Night runner and supporting a friend in the Trail 26 next day. She though I was mad when I said I was doing that as well. We were all called in to the starting pen beneath Marc Laithwaite’s Night Runner/Trail26/L50 Inflatable arch, and the inaudible race briefing followed there are some cheers, something about Ice, probably the usual other stuff and is that a count down? Then we started running and stopped at gate, and again as we negotiated the Ice Patch on the first hill. I’d started right form the back so as the field climbed the first hill I started to pick my way up the field finding my natural spot and was constantly overtaking people for the first 2 miles. Looking at the results that probably means I over took about 150 people which is meaningless but feels good anyway. By 3 miles I found myself in a bit of a gap I was running well and felt really strong on the hills the run to work with a Bag must be starting to pay off. I thought of our Oxfam Trail Trekker team that used to go up hill faster than we walked the flats. On this Stretch up to about 5 miles I was largely on my own, running well and enjoying the view of the night sky the forest being free of light this was particularly spectacular. Some technical-ish descending with Ice for extra interest brought me to the last mile marker and some runners a head into sight and here it happened. I hadn’t been going quite as steadily as perhaps I should have been so far but I hadn’t been too quick. But as a runner goes past me that competitive streak kicks in and I go with them…… The last mile was largely down hill and I let go, buoyed by a big group of spectators ringing cow bells I gave it the beans down the hill. I actually ran a mile PB of 6:45 taking about 25 seconds off my flat mile best, which is of course just what you should do the day before running a full trail marathon. The Hairpin bend was a bit of a shock but not quite as much as the cattle grid that followed it, having negotiated both powering on over the a little crest it was back on to the hill we started up. I managing to pick off another few runners and avoid the Ice rink. Mr Sports Sunday was snapping away on the last turn and it was back under the arch to finish in 56:07 in 99th place. Medal collected and timing chip removed it was time for some confusion over the parking meters which were not accepting the free parking code and a mad dash back to get food before the pub stopped serving. This was duly achieved and fine Cumberland Sausage and Mash and a Pint helped with post race recovery. All that was needed now was to sort out kit for tomorrow and have a good night’s sleep.
Trail 26 and a bit – Grizedale forest
If you are ever given room 235 in Ambleside YHA you need to put an out of order sign on the door of the toilet outside the room. After a less than restful night which might have featured an hour’s sleep but did feature noisy plumbing and someone arguing over the price of a taxi at 3 am. The alarm went off, doesn’t really matter what time it was I was awake but it felt too early anyway. We get kit packed, sort out breakfast which included Gary producing 8 rounds of toast! This is man with an addiction or a new nutrition strategy or both. We hand in the keys and step out of the Hostel F@#k me its cold. It’s also very foggy and we pile kit in to the car sliding around on a rather hard frost. I scrape Jacks finest work from the windows and we head off in to mist which turns out to be very patchy giving some stunning view and meaning there are a couple of Kodak moments on the way over.
Parking up, I’d pulled in next to a Brass Monkey that was crying his eyes out. The Car said -4c. We head off to do the registration thing and acquire the necessary caffeine fix. Registration done, but disaster the Café is Shut WTF! So no coffee not good after a night without sleep and it was in our caffeine deprived state we manage to swap our entry packs on the way back. We try to sort out what to wear. My head saying you ran the Frostbite 30 in these conditions just go with 2 Base layers that’s all you need, my heart going, why didn’t you bring a sleeping bag to run in? I settled on 2 Base layers and the Valentine’s Day Massacre t-shirt because I had to being I think 1 of only 3 people stupid enough to do both. During this we noticed some strange goings with the group in the next car; you’ll perhaps remember my conversation with a fairy yesterday. Well, next to us there was a Clown, a Nun and Wally. Who looked genuinely unimpressed when enquiring what we’d come as? We said were impersonating runners and didn’t you know the fancy dress was last night? Credit to them though, they went through with it. We also bumped in to Andrew Lowe and friends who’d we’d met at the Rivington event last year and who ran in with Gary after his meeting with the wall. They came over to see if I was going to abandon him again I said he was going in the ditch at the first sign of trouble. To continue the reunion theme I also bumped in to Ben Richards who I met in the poring rain at the Hardmoors Goathland Marathon, still doing well at finding the most un-desert like conditions to train in for his upcoming Marathon des Sables in April.
And so to the start but not before I realise I’m wearing 202 and Gary 121 now, Martin comes before Wood in the alphabet…….. We check. We have the numbers the wrong way round oopps, they are swiftly swapped and ready for the start. There is another inaudible briefing. We start off from the back and I chat with Ben as we walk up the hill I’d blasted up last night. Marathons requiring some what of a different strategy especially with a quick 10k in my legs and no sleep…… This is a course of 2 lollipops and lollipop 1 follows the trails to the wilder Coniston side of Grizedale. The tracks wind round and up and down and back up through dense plantations and we start to break out of the fog and in to some welcome sun, which really does feel like its warming my bones. After 3 miles we clear the trees on to some open fell and Its here that the front runners for the Trail 13 start to overtake us. We work out that with our head start they’ll have been knocking out 5 or 6 minute miles to catch us here… We’re weaving along some tracks that has some impressively iced puddles where the ice is broken it reveals 2 inches of ice just to confirm it’s a bit parky and has been for a while. For the next few miles the racing snakes on the 13 are going past which makes for some interesting race OCD checking to make sure it’s an orange trail 13 number going past not a green trail 26 one. This part of the course is directly above Coniston Water which is shrouded in mist but the view is still stunning across to The Old Man of Coniston with Just his head above the clouds. All too soon we’re back in to the woods, where I am attacked by a tree as a Halfer over takes me just as the track narrows. We’re starting to think we must be getting close to check point 1 advertised at 5 miles but that comes and goes the check point it arrives at 8 miles beginning the theme of a few extra miles which will continue through the day. We’re logged in and then let loose on the cocktails sausages and Jelly Babies, bottles are refilled and we head on. Mr Sport Sunday is snapping away shortly after the checkpoint (I looked better by Night) and there is a very interesting photo of Gary practicing for The GB Gurning team J after what feels like a long time we finally seem to be closing in on half way and I recognize the course from last nights run. Just before the big decent we find a chap who appears to be nailed to the spot we check he’s OK and he says No. He’s stuck to the spot with Cramp but declines rescue. We hit the big down treating it with less gay abandon than last night and in the light the Hairpin and the Cattle grid cause us no surprise. Down to the Halfway check point/Finishing area, where a Marshall directs us to more food and drinks. There is only one Marshall with the checkpoint who watches me struggle with 2 bottles and Nuun Tablets and a cup to fill the bottles out of the water barrel. They were standing between the barrel and a table so I have no where to put anything not that I would have noticed at the time brain was not really in gear. Now Marshalls are bigger hero’s than us runner on these events and you MUST be nice to them and I was, I kept it to myself but this really annoyed me at the time. I was having a bit of a low point and feeling rather tetchy with lack of sleep and not really enjoying myself and now I’ve got wet gloves, water in my remaining nuun tables and I am getting cold which doesn’t help. I feel very close to a sense of humor failure which all sounds a bit petty but that’s how these lows hit you and turn you in to a petulant 5 year old. What I need about now was a metaphorical hug, to be told I am a Legend and sent off with a “go get ‘em tiger” but I didn’t get it. Grumpily I stuff the lid on the remaining tablets which are fizzing away and stow the now useless tube As I stuff my bottles back in to my vest there is an almightily pop as the lid of my nuun tube is fired across the field by the buildup of gas in the tube, at least the Marshall fetched that back. We also noted that the GPS’s read 14 miles…… Hummm will the second half be shorter or is Marc Laithwaite in league with Jon Steele……
We start out on lollipop 2 to the Windermere side of Grizedale. The route goes up a climb and we march in to the forest again. Once up the biggest bit of climb its back on the roller coaster of tracks until we head off the main tracks and pick up a really technical decent, which is a popular mountain bike run we crawl down over greasy broken rocks being passed by a couple of bikers till we find John Bamber track side taking photos. When I grow up I want a beard like John’s. Reaching a road I was still cold from the brief stop at the halfway checkpoint and the temperature is plummeting as we drop to the side of Esthwaite Water, so it was finally on with an extra layer and a second buff. Feeling warmer we followed the undulating road section along the lake chatting to a couple of lads who are doing this as their first marathon in training for next years Lakeland 50. Bit of a baptism of fire this one! We climbed away form the lake trough Near Sawery past Beatrix Potter’s old home and on to some more typical Lakeland fell country for the first time on this loop, before heading in to more woods for a long winding decent down to Windermere. This must have been the longest section of continuous running for us in the whole race. The next section wound round the lake until checkpoint 3 at Thompsons Holme “20” miles, this again was a roller coaster and the continual stop start nature of the running was really taking its toll on me and each transition to running getting more painful. We were adopting a slightly conservative approach due to Gary not wanting to hit the wall as he did in Rivington and I might have done a bit of a run yesterday which was perhaps counting against or did it keep us fresher for the bits we were running? Who knows? Gary was getting a little bit twitchy as we approached the distance where he had previously met with the bricks and mortar, but the toast of all nutrition plan seem to be paying dividends and he was doing OK. We we’re warned of the imminent arrival of checkpoint 3 by a walker with those famous words its only over the next hill. It wasn’t. It was over the one after that. But it was worth the wait the checkpoint was fab and thanks to the lovely Marshalls who sorted us out filling bottles, plying us with rola cola, cake and generally checking we were all OK, cheap Swiss roll has never tasted so go. There was then a sod of a climb up a greasy footpath to gain the ridge over to Far Sawery and a very nice looking pub. I was tempted. We cross an area of farm land and a couple of road stretches playing leap frog with runner who would eventually over take us on the next long climb. Which started through the woods and then arrived on a road section at the same time a really friendly group of mountain bikers were going past and shared the climb up with them going back off road the climb continued on a bridle path which brought us to a hugely frustrating part of the course on completely anonymous forest tracks with no idea of how far was left to go finally after an indeterminate amount of up and down we finally found a bit of course we recognised as the stick to our lollipop and we made our way down the technical decent to the finish finally home in 06:01:22 Gary’s chip was first across the line attached to my foot. Medals received chips removed and a General consensus says we completed 28 and bit miles so safely an ultra and all that up and down in little bits totalled about 1100m which is not insignificant. I do like a bit of extra value for money all though a few people were heard moaning and I did spend the last few miles willing this to be the last turn but you have to enjoy the extra.
Time to get changed and a brew before the drive back. Having failed on the brew front as the café was again shut we headed back to the car checking if the car park code was working with a Marshall it wasn’t. We bump in to Andrew again and swapped stories of the day and chat about whether to do the Howgills Marathon in May I think so. And it was time to head home via a coffee or 3 and perhaps the most disappointing bit of the weekend arriving at the Little Chef 20 mins after it had closed… Bugger.
All it all it was a good weekend. The night runner was great fun and blasting round trails in the dark under the stars was really enjoyable we’ll gloss over the lack of sleep. As for the trail 26 there was naturally a big sense of achievement and relief at the finish, but I have to be honest I didn’t really enjoy this one as a run this wasn’t helped by the lack of sleep and coffee. The amount of anonymous forest tracks made it more of a run for running’s sake rather than feeling like your on a journey which is what I enjoy most about doing these long events and the roller coaster profile made it tougher as we never managed to find any rhythm I think that this is the toughest of the runs that I have done it felt harder than the Frostbite 30 which has more climbing and was 7 miles longer.
So running a 10K and a marathon in weekend? That would be madness but running a 10k and a ultra that must make you a legend?
My name is Richard Martin I am a Mad/Legendary/Stupid/Heroic* Ultra Runner
*Delete as applicable