So this is where it all began 12 months ago. Managing to complete this race in just over 15 hours (the typical cut of for a 50 miler) opened up the world of ultra running to me and has reduce my bank manager to tears on occasion. Back in march The Hardmoors 55 was a big step forwards for me but this is the first Ultra that I’ve been able to do with some “proper” Ultra training all be it that life and man flu got in the way for the last 6 or so weeks, its also the first time I’ve repeated a race so the first time I can have a direct comparison. Gulp and the first race that I have had a target time for double gulp. I had roughed out a plan for 12:30ish finished
I travelled up to the lakes on the Thursday for a couple of days R&R that’s Rest & Retail Therapy pre race, and enjoyed a day pottering round the various cafes and gear shops “Carb” loading yes there are carbs in Bacon! And looking for that last minute bargain.
Friday dawned overcast but warm and following further pottering around Coniston I decided that it was time to head over to the School to set up and get registered. Looking at the camping arrangement, I thought I had timed this to perfection to be quite close but not too close to the school building. Nope. Just squeeze on there said the marshal so I pitched last but one tent to the school oh well thank goodness for ear plugs and a Hotel room for that night! Tent up, it was time to register. There was a short queue but thanks to the very efficient team and I was soon emptying my kit for inspection. Using my cunning plan of having all the stuff on the list with me I was ticked off as passed. Next, ID yes that’s me and then Goody bag with the All important Buff, Map and all new super compact road book etc etc. And then weighed…… 90.7kgs that is lighter last year which was a bonus as I expected to be a touch heavier but at 400g lighter I was very happy. I am taking the David Brailesford view of marginal gains here, not the Peter Kay view of how I may have lost said 400g.
So, I am weighed, tagged and ready to go. The rest of the afternoon is spent topping up the carbs with a Crown Inn Fish finger sandwich (yes carbs there are some in there somewhere) I think this maybe becoming a tradition, faffing with kit and generally chilling out and chatting with my new next door neighbour Rick, for who this is his first Hilly Ultra and first 50 miler.
Come 5:50ish we see the 100 boys and girls starting to enter the pen for the start of the big race and head over to watch them start. I bump in to Andrew Lowe and have a quick chat before Opera Singer Alexander Wall belts out Nessen Dorma (the translation is Non Shall sleep and as some of the 100 runners will run through 2 nights it is fairly appropriate)It’s a fine piece of music but not that rousing. Nick Ham was asking for dispensation from listing to the “Dreadful Dirge” on Facebook but spotting him running past after the gun in his fetching Pink tutu this must have been denied. As always 300 runners heading off up the road through a funnel of supporters is quite a spectacle it almost matches Mr Fox’s Dance warm up for the start of the Lakeland 1.
Time of bed said Zebedee, Well at least back to the hotel for some final Carb loading, I consciously left my now meticulously packed race vest in the car to prevent further re-packing and wandered back to the hotel for Dinner and R&R. I noticing a few other guests have timing chips attached.
Next morning the Hotel put on early breakfast for the 10 or so other guests that were taking part in the Race and I chatted to another competitor while making the most of the Muesli and toast. The Day had dawned fine and clear and walking back to the School there was a stunning view down Coniston Water.
Final preparations were made to water bottles and the like and we were ready of the Race Briefing packing 600 runners in to the school hall is always going to be a challenge but finally everyone makes it. The race briefing was as entertaining as always. Terry or is it Jeremy Corbyn? (Cant be as it’s a clock wise course it mainly turns to the right) covers the important bits, behave, don’t trash the place, look after each other, stick to the route etc etc. before Marc “Mr Motivator” Laithwaite gives us some words of wisdom on living for the moment. Reminding us that we should enjoy the journey and pointing out that were are a bit special in our own way and that there is a tiny percentage of the population that could conceive of running 50 miles and a large proportion of them are probably in this room. And because we ultra runners hang out with other ultra runners we get blasé about distances, how many of us have said we’re “Just doing the 50”? We need to remember what an achievement that this is and enjoy the experience.
“Just because you and all your friends are weird doesn’t make what you do normal!”
With the Briefing done we make our way to the buses for the trip north. There are none of the nerves of last year and the journey passes chatting to Rick who is as you might expect getting a little bit nervous. We arrive at Dalemain to wait. This is possibly the worst part of the whole event! We all just want to go but we pass the time clapping through the 100 runners (the leaders of which would be somewhere near Ambleside at this point but there is still a steady stream passing through. Finally its time for us to enter the start pen we dib in and soon there is the count down and were off.
Dalemain to Howtown, 11.2 miles total, time 2:00:15
I take a steady approach to the “Dalemain Park Run” consciously avoiding running the ups despite continually being over taken by 2 people running a more consistent pace I keep to plan, and I’m round much faster than last year and enjoy the encouragement this time as I run back past the checkpoint marquee heading on to the course “proper” as we head down to the A529 Crossing, It had been bugging me that this section on John Kynaston's Video and the map didn’t match my memory from last year the answer? It is different from the map and “off piste” from the right of way. Still going steadily I lead a train of runners along the river to Pooley. Though the village there is the odd clap and cheer as I try not to run in to the tourists who are studiously avoiding acknowledging that there are people, not just us runners coming the other way and not getting run over as we’re forced in to the road. The climb out of Pooley is one of my favourite bits of the route and once through the gate at Roe Farm then views open up and we enter Lakeland proper. First thing we see though is 2 kids carrying a giant false leg down the track. Hallucinations? Before Check point one? Really? I’d been caught up by Rick at this point and we exchange glances, I joke that there will be an irate giant round the corner hopping down the track, but a man with one leg in an all terrain wheel chair appears instead. We reach cockpit stone circle and a greeted by a group of kids signing out every ones name. The decent down to Howtown is a joy and the checkpoint is reached Manned by the Cowboys and Indians from Chia Charge.
I just about remember to dib 2:00:30. I’m up 15 minutes up on plan, very happy with that I felt steady and in control and so to celebrate by have a good solid faff in filling up with water coke and Chia Charge bars in as inefficient manner as possible. Rick catches me again.
My Checkpoint drills are really shabby I spent about an hour and 10 stood still according to Strava which apart from 2 stone removal stops and 2 water bottle fillings was all at checkpoints. Must do better!
Howtown to Sparta sorry Mardale, 9.4 miles, 20.6 miles total, time 4:31:31
Ah Fusedale, lovely Fusedale I actually mean that I like it. I move well on steep ground maybe its something to do with the amount of Cycling I do, is it similar to pushing down a peddle? Poles come out and so do the cameras as we pass the Sport Sunday team snapping away I rattle along picking groups off all the way up and out on to the top where I end up about 5 meters behind a runner called Emma (we all have our names on our numbers) who remains just ahead all the way down to Low Cop, I follow behind like some sort of ultra stalker not able to catch up without undue effort until she pulls away on the decent. With one graceful pirouette I make it to the bridge and pick my way down through the rocks to the lake side path, and for the next few miles I become Mr Clumsy. I kick a least 3 rocks, 2 roots, snag my laces with my pole and finally head butted that branch, you know the one near the wall before you descend to Riggindale beck, some thing else that is becoming a tradition! I head butted this last year. This was a bit of a low patch and I don’t run as much as I would want and those bits I do don’t feel as good as I hoped. I walk and faff a bit taking photos too and I am caught by Rick again shortly after head butting the tree which while I’m glad he’s moving well this annoys my competitive self but we jog in to Sparta! But despite that little low I am here in 2:31:01 form Howtown which includes faffing which is bang on target so a little lift. Bottles Recharged, Ham Sandwiches eaten and some stowed for later sounds simple took me ages. I catch Andy Lowe here and we exchange pleasantries be for heading off.
Mardale Head to Kentmere, 6.5 miles, 27.1 miles total, time 6:16:02
A liberal application of ham sandwiches lifted my mood as I climb well up Gatesgarth pass. Was my low down to not eating enough? Could well be. I fell in with a 100 runner for a bit and had a chat before pressing on and attacking the zigzags at the top and the top of the pass this is another climb that I really enjoy but most seam to hate. Right time for the 2 miles of downhill to Sadgill I was descending well and passed Mark Roberts who I’d run the last 20 miles with last year we exchanged greetings and had a 30 second catch up and I headed down. I’m getting good at descending and enjoyed blasting down the slightly technical track until the big sets at the bottom which were a little hard going on tiring feet. My feet seam to get a second wind on long days they ached and felt sore here but later on felt fine. There is some stunning scenery on this leg in a rarely visited corner of the lakes. I start just to struggle a little on the flatter section at the bottom in the heat, as I cross the bridge to sadgill farm we are cheered by a group sat by the river. A dip in the gill and one of their ciders would be very welcome at this point. Once over the bump to Kentmere my focus has returned and I was away.
Kentmere checkpoint arrived with some rockers supporting I was dibbed in by a guy in giant Slash style top hat. More faffing, pasta, coke, faff. A Quick chat with a marshal about hyperthermia as I looked to be shivering, I assured him I was fine. Arriving in 1:44 confirms my Dawdling and is 7 minute off schedule. Mark arrives just as I’m leaving.
Kentmere to Ambleside, 7.3 miles, 34.4 miles total, time 8:10:20
The climb up Gartburn pass this is yet another climb I really enjoy maybe because it’s the last biggy or perhaps because you can see the Old Man of Coniston from the top or maybe I am weirder than average and just enjoy climbing. I chatting with a another 100 runner as we summit that pass and work out the skyline before congratulating each other on our now assured finish purely because we’ve seen the end! The Troutbeck side of Gartburn is a great rolling decent and I feel great, having a euphoric phase running down with stunning views down to Windermere pausing only as I pass Marcus Scotney I ask how he got on DNF is his reply. Which given were about 7 hours in was a daft question. Still he ran 30 odd miles and can still take his dog for a walk up a big hill now that is quite some going. I continue down to the road, some supporters are doing unofficial marshalling duties shepherding us across the road and in to Troutbeck. I catch another 100 runner Marianne she’s going well but obviously sleepy and a Scott called David who I bump in to a few times over the next 15 miles. I stop to take a few photos down Windermere as it’s turning in to a glorious evening without a cloud in the sky last year it was getting too dark to take photos here. Jenkins Crag comes and goes as we start one of the best bits of the race. Ambleside, I thought this was good last year at 9:30pm in the rain but this time its about 7:30 and sunny there are loads of people around and lots clapping and cheering and shouts of “well done” all the way up the main street and down to the church. It’s a great feeling being cheered in and the positive energy does wonders for your pace and is quite emotional too. 01:54:18 is only 4 mins behind schedule my dam checkpoint faffing! Which, I continue here bumping in to Mark again “there was a bloke who looked just like you in Kentmere”. It’s boiling in the cp and it is a circus quite literally with clowns and a Man in a bear onesie serving drinks I think he deserves a medal! Coke, Sandwiches, bottles done time to be on my way.
Ambleside to Chapel Stile, 5.6 miles, total 40 miles, time 9:37:56
The light is just starting to fade as I head across the Park to make my way up Loughrigg as the tarmac runs out I was caught by Scottish David, and we walked over the top passing a 100 runner who was in a bit of state and appeared to be being paced/helped along by a supporter….. David was suffering on the downs so I pull away as we descend towards Loughrigg Tarn and down to Skelth Bridge pointing a 100 runner the right way and getting a well done from the few supporters at Chester’s. Making my way through the slate works there is a sign telling us “Run Forrest Run and you to fat girl!” which was err nice of them. Following the river Bathay up to Elterwater in the late evening light is super it looks stunning, and I am feeling ok I’m still going quite well and just about manage to run this not really flat but flat section. I make my way through Elterwater past the quarry having a quick chat with another 100 runner and then past Wainwrights inn with a runner just in front of me that I can’t quite catch again. Passing the campsite the smell of BBQ is quite nice as is the encouragement from the campers. As Chapel Stile comes in to view I realise that I didn’t check my timings on the way out of Ambleside, which was a bit unfortunate as I’d done the leg in 1:27 pulling back 7 mins but didn’t realise. I got my bottles filled for me and Soup and bread was served by the super helpful Marshalls as the race goes on I really do appreciate their efforts more and more I should have eaten more here! But I get prepared for the night changing to a long sleeve top, donning my head torch I was quizzed as to how warm I was again. I must look worse than I feel although I do sometimes feel a little dazed at checkpoints maybe that’s it. Mark arrived as I was heading off.”Are you following me?”
Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite, 6.5miles, 46.5 total miles, time 11:31:58
The section along Langdale went well to start with, a superb sun set over the pikes pulling us on and a bellowing bull encouraging us to be quick through the first open field. I had a quick chat with a guy called Chris for who this was his first ultra but pulled away on the decent to Side farm. The climb up Side Pike pass was a little bit of a shock as my legs felt very heavy like I used to feel on most climbs before I lost weight and once at the summit normal service was resumed again like before I lost weight but the slow climb meant I was caught by a group including Chris which, while we ran will round Blea tarn fragmented some ahead some behind. I resist switching my head torch on until into the woods…. Oh that’s not very bright….. Humm always put new batteries in before a race there is enough light just about but running though the technical section around the moss I get the flash of doom! I persevere with full beam until I reach the unmanned dibber hopefully medium power will see me to Tilberthwaite I make good pace down the road but the legs protest once more on the bump over to Tilberthwaite I think my 12:30 target is well down the pan and I am expecting Chris to come jogging past at any time as I take it steady on the flat with a lack of light slowing me over the top. The decent is really technical in the dark so I take it steady with a dimming torch. Idiot. I jog in to the check point and dib in 1:57 I’m in no great hurry. Had I realised I was only 4 mins down on what I predicted I would have been in a bit more of a rush thinking I have stuffed it I take my time soaking up the last of the CP’s. I have been thinking about having a nice cup of Tea since before Ambleside and not having got round to it yet have a leisurely cuppa and sandwich while changing my batteries and chat with the helpful marshal providing me light and generally being a top chap.
Tilberthwaite to Coniston, 3.5 miles, 50miles total, time 12:36:51
Once I’m sorted and the windproof is on, he gently leavers me out of the check point and on my way. Shouting back my thanks, I head for the stairway to heaven. It’s not the amazing running of last year but a steady lead legged plod. I’m over taken by a couple of runners and point a further overtaking runner on the right track at the 3 way fork having had an “it’s the right hand one, no that right, the other right” moment. They climb away as I reach level ground again the legs come back in time for a bit more ultra stalking, I follow Sarah not able to quite catch up until the Ramp which is a struggle but I manage to over take her and I notice some tiny fury animal scurrying across the track and out of my way. The summit finally arrives and the view opens up. I love that view over Morecambe bay at night. I start the decent within 3 paces the legs start to fire again and with fresh batteries both literally and metaphorically I can see what I’m doing I’m moving well I catch and over take a big group on the technical section. On hitting the track I really give it the beans. Coming past the Ruskin Museum I pass two runners, I think 1 was a hundred runner the other is the guy I gave directions to he decides he doesn’t like being over taken and after 50 miles we have a race to the finish. I’m just about in the lead past the Bull but over the bridge I take the footbridge, It’s a poor line choice he goes for the road and I don’t have the legs on this little up hill past the garage, but keep up the vain chase running full speed (well 9 min mile pace) down the lake road but I cant catch up. In to the school gates. Dib. Done. What a race. 12:36:51. 2:33 faster than last year and only 4 mins off my schedule finishing just past Midnight.
I double up over my poles to get my breath and I’m immediately surrounded by marshals checking I’m OK. I am fine just sprinted down here that’s all. The care and attention that they lavish on us really is second to none. I always feel a little spaced out at the end of ultras I think it must be the obvious fatigue and change of focus from my own bubble which I have been in for the last 12 hours to the sudden bright lights and attention but I am fine and in control. My dibber is snipped off always a bitter sweet moment I’ve finished but it means the fun is over for now. I’m led in to the hall to the usual rapturous welcome “A 50 FINISHER” Shouts my marshal and I revel in the applause and cheering grinning ear to ear. My medal is places over my head, my times and finishers T-shirt are handed over. I head to a corner of the hall to sort out my self out. I spot the guy I raced in and congratulate him suggesting I should have sent him the wrong way at Tilberthwaite. Mark Roberts finishes 10 mins behind me and we head off of food pasta bake and Ice cream and chat to our fellow competitors and spot the well known faces. Andrew Lowe comes in 20 mins behind and joins us with his good lady who finished well in front of all of us. We sit and cheer in the finishers, talk all things running and bemoan our lack of planning that we haven’t a beer to celebrate with. Before finally deciding its time for a shower and some sleep. As usual I don’t sleep well but there were 2 strikes of the clock I don’t remember hearing. I drag my self out of the tent at 7:30 to fetch a cuppa no breakfast butties till 9 though! I Find Rick on my return packing away we exchange experiences. He finished in just over 15 and half hours which is a cracking effort for a first attempt. I start packing up while chatting to those around who are surfacing and I slide away to Ambleside for a huge breakfast with extra toast in Bilbo’s. Before retracing the journey back to Pooley bridge to meet up with some friends driving past Dalemain there is the same sense of realisation I had on the drive last year and a Finishers Medal I did it again, I did it quickly again I really do love this race.
When I arrive at Pooley people are surprised how normally I can walk this year! My mate Gary is heading out for a Run but I turn down the chance to join him choosing to spend the afternoon Rehydrating in the Sun Inn. And so ends another fabulous event weekend, my thanks as always to the marshals and organisers you were superb as always. And apologies to those I spoke to and couldn’t remember your names.