Friday 12 August 2016

Lakeland 50

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" this is something my old swim coach used to say, which is profound and try to live by. I'm not someone who believes in luck. Weirdly, I was also a fucking awful swimmer, so some might say it's luck that I didn't drown during my triathlon days, I say I worked fucking hard for months at swimming, to still be a fucking awful swimmer (but not drown).

I've been bouncing around like a kid for 2 weeks (and the rest) looking forward to this race. I get like this when I know I've worked hard for something. I'm not just talking running. Anything. That satisfaction you get heading into something knowing that you're really prepared. That you've done all you can to achieve the best you can on the day.

I'd shared some of my goals with friends, one of them being Doug. With his only hill session in the last few months being Snowdon race he wasn't feeling too confident. I tried not to let his doubts rub off on me though. He was throwing around estimates like better than 18 hours but more than 12 he'd be happy. To which I was thinking, "Well, I'm not waiting for you. See you at the finish then punk!"

I know Doug well. We've raced and trained together for years. He was sandbagging of course (this is the man, that told only a few people he was doing an Ironman; until he came home with a medal and an exceptional time!)

I'm not sure he completely believed I'd achieve my goals but he is also pretty competitive when it comes to the two of us. If we're doing a half marathon or a 5k he'll totally disregard his goal pace and run just on my shoulder for a while before overtaking and staying just far enough ahead that I can't quite catch him.

Obviously we're also a fantastic team when it comes to expeditions and mountain marathon team events and are well matched pace wise and know how to look after one another when required.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends; Ellen, Issy and the gorgeous German Shorthaired Pointer, Milton somehow got talked into a "trip to the lakes". I'm pretty sure I told them what we were doing and that they wouldn't see much of us on Saturday but we'd have HEAPS of fun on Friday and Sunday. When the reality  transpired I'm pretty sure they felt they'd been missold PPI. 

Ellen, Issy and Milton were driving up from the West Country and Doug and I from the east, we'd discussed plans and thought we'd all be up there by say 3pm. In time to register, catch up with familiar friends, see off the 100 mile runners and have a jolly old afternoon and evening. 

What actually happened was an 8+ hour journey up the M6 with every other fucker that was deciding on a lovely northern summer break that same Friday. 

We found time to share some banter though.

It was stressful to say the least. Doug and I arrived just in time to see the kids mile race off(they're swift!) sadly we missed the 100 start, which was a shame as we had some friends running. We registered and I got a text from Issy saying they were still 2 hours away. *sob* .


We got our numbers, weighed in (one at a time fatty!) etc then headed off up to the B&B I'd booked us all into. I put the address into Google Maps as I received a tearful call from the girls (well Issy was tearful, Ellen was hysterically laughing in the background). 

They were still 90 mins away. We'd been trying to get hold of the b&b to let the, know we were late. But to no avail. So, stressed that the girls were upset, the B&B may have given our rooms away (had I even indeed got a booking!) and it was getting near to the kitchen shutting time in the pubs. 

Doug and I drove on a bit crabby at each other. Agreed we'd check in, get to the pub and order pizzas to take away for the girls. I tried once more to call the B&B and finally got through. "What booking?"
"Um.... 4 beds and a dog, under Buckingham?"


It's fine. We'll get there and it will all be fine. My battery was on 3%, Doug's was on 0% the car charger had stopped working.

Finally we found the B&B, Doug waited in the car whilst I ran in.

Only to be told, this was not the B&B we had booked. We were in Keswick. The place we should have been was not far from where we had been an hour ago, in Burness, Berwick, Somewhere beginning with fucking "B".

I sloped back to the car to Doug's hopeful face and told him the bad news. He was mad. I tried to make a call. To who? I don't even know. My phone died.

I got the map out of the back of the car and looked up where we should be.

We drove in silence back the entire way we'd come. Doug was seething. I was sheepish. Better to get the nav errors out the way BEFORE the race, right?

I suddenly realised my work phone was in the car and had battery so I waited for signal and tried a number from the CORRECT B&B. I got through eventually. She'd been trying to call us (on our dead mobiles)
I didn't have Issy or Ellen's numbers on this phone so sent them a facebook message to say we'd see them in the pub.

Anyway, long and short. We all managed to check in, and get to the pub for a right jolly old time before they stopped serving. All we could do was laugh about it. (well once we got a pint in front of us)

We ate pizza, caught up on our shitty travels and drank beer then walked back to the B&B to pack kit bags whilst drinking Red Stripe, some more dicking about and get to bed.

The race wasn't an ungodly start so we didn't have to get up too early, but it was too early to get breakfast at the B&B. There was a briefing at 8:30 which we were just in time for. Unfortunately the hall was overflowing (annoyingly supporters were in there taking up space of runners so we couldn't get in) so we fettled with bags, stuck race numbers on, went to the toilet again and again. Doug realised he'd lost his road book (mandatory) so after the race briefing I went in search of a spare. I bumped in to Conrad, from my running club, gave a quick hug and said I'd see him on the bus (I didn't)

Several buses were waiting in the car park to take all 650+ runners to the start at Dalemain. Just about to get on, I saw Richard Leahy. I had no idea he was running today. We'd not seen him since sharing a tent at Dragon's back. We all hugged and greeted each other and caught up on the coach until I felt a bit queasy and had to spend the rest of the journey pretending to sleep.

We reached Dalemain and I began to get excited. It was still an hour or so until the off so we had plenty of time to go to the toilet and even get a coffee and shortbread. The 100 racers were coming through their halfway point and about 1000 people were cheering them through. It must have been a great feeling for them (despite being 50 miles into a 100 mile race and having been up running all night!)

Before long we were being called into the starting pen. I bumped into Conrad once more with his friends (more on one of them later). Richard, Doug and I shimmied our way nearer the front of the pen and enjoyed the atmosphere and then before we knew it the countdown begun 10....9....


I shot off. I wanted to make a good start but not blow up. Before long, I could see that I was in the top section of the women, 3rd or 4th place. I tried not to get too exciting. It was only a few hundred meteres into a long day. Calm down Bucks. Even though I knew the route well from Dalemain, there was an added 4 miles round the estate to make the route up to 50 miles and it was far from flat.

I set a good pace for myself. Doug wasn't overtaking yet. After a mile or so Richard came past me, he kept intermittently stopping to fiddle with his calf guards, it later transpired he was getting thistles stuck in them.

The ground was uneven in places, thick grass like running through sand, the odd climb and descent. Before we knew it we were running back through the start area (also the CP area for the 100s) to huge cheers from the supporters and racers feeding and resting. I heard her first, then spotted Jenni in the CP pen (Jenni was doing the 100  miler. I'd been following her progress through the night and she was doing amazing, slowly picking her way up the rankings) I ran to her and gave her a big squeeze, she screamed in my ear and I was off again. Now on the route proper.

Doug had caught up with me about 2 miles ago and we were running together, ticking off milestones already "5% done... that's a park run"

Now out of the crowds I ducked behind a bush to go for a slash, letting Doug go off ahead. Also grateful to a bit of a breather. Not interested in pushing any harder (I already thought maybe I'd gone off a bit quick)

I ran back on, not worrying about catching up with Doug. I knew now I had gone off too hard. I love the section over to Howtown at CP1 and ran merrily in convoy of the 60 or so runners in front of me. I knew I was currently 3rd lady. Running through the single track before Pooley bridge I was grinning. These trails remind me of happy times mountain biking. I ran on through Pooley Bridge where huge crowds were cheering everyone through. I saw Rachel Ball yelling at me as I ran by, who I'd not actually met in real life until today. She was meant to be running but was injured but her partner was running so she was out supporting. I'd been watching her from afar on social media. We are of a similar standard and I had thought she'd be my closest rival and had been looking forward to running with her/against her.

Photo Credit: Rachel Ball

Already, I'd realised I'd forgotten to tape an area of my foot prone to blistering (which I'd told myself on my last recce to not forget to tape up) the inside of my right arch was rubbing. Do I deal with it now or hope it doesn't get any worse? It'll be fine. I'm sure. I don't want to waste 5 minutes so early in the race.

From here we met our first significant climb, on the road. Last time I was here I'd ran the whole way up and even managed getting a good Strava Segment position! I let myself have a walk when I felt I needed it. No point in blowing up too soon. I could see little dots climbing up across the fell to the right of the road and couldn't wait to be up there. Its an odd gradient, from below it looks fairly steep but when you're on it, you can run and run. I could see Doug not far ahead but still I didn't want to push to catch him. I finally reached the top of the road climb having overtaken several people, going past some of the 100 milers, cheering them on the way past. I was back on trail now and grinning once more. I ran on and on knowing the route well. Walking when it climbed steeply briefly, to catch my breath then running on once more. The route plateaued and started to gradually descend. Some mountain bikers were patiently waiting to get past so I pulled over to let them through.

I could see another lady on my shoulder as I started to run on again. I was pushing as hard as was comfortable on the descent and let her go by after a brief fight. She was much better at descending than me, even on this non-technical section.

Now, not far from the Check point, I dared to look at my watch. My pace was way up on any of the training runs at 5:39km/h pace which for this terrain was to me, really good. I rolled into the checkpoint in 1hr 35 having covered 11.5 miles and saw Doug stuffing snacks in his face and leaving the CP.

I grabbed a handful of sweets filled my cup with coke and went straight back out again. Before long I caught up with Doug.

The next section is pretty long through to Mardale Head, probably my least favourite section. A colossal climb up then a plateau (the bit I keep going wrong on) a steep descent down then an unexpectedly technical 6/7 km lakeside run. On paper the lake section looks like it should be easy but it's rough rocks, short steep ups and downs and ankle breaking cambers.

Doug and I were now together, we were feeding off each other's pace. We knew this next few k was going to be more of a hike and took the opportunity to get our heart rates down, get some food in and try not to lost any places.

It was much easier to follow the route with people in front than on my recces and found myself at the top pretty soon.

As we reached the plateau, I could feel my stomach tightening and the unpleasant feeling of needing the toilet (sorry!) I'd taken some shitstop before we started as I'd had a bit of an excited tummy! So that may have taken some of the edge off.

I was annoyed as the plateu was a lovely easy run, gradual descent but my tummy was in knots so I had to keep breaking into a hike. I was looking around for somewhere I could relieve myself but it was just open hill tops with people intermittently passing me by as I pulled my pace right back.

By now a few women had overtaken me, but I couldn't do much about it. I knew I'd gone out too hard to start, all I could do was slow down, and get some fuel in before I bonked. I tried to eat some malt loaf (which in training had been amazing) but it just stuck to my mouth and throat and I wretched. This wouldn't do. I had some bloc shots so managed to wash one of those down with water.

Before long the route dropped steeply towards the lake and I spotted in front a familiar slender shape. The long legs, long blonde hair of Jenn Gaskell. I shouted down to her, she didn't seem quite her normal cheery self but was trying her best to be upbeat I could tell. I'd been watching her progress last night too and she was doing amazing in the top 10 of the 100milers. She said she thought I was 8th or 9th lady or something and wished me well and I was gone down the tricky slope towards the lake.

Still I needed the toilet, my tummy hurt so much. Every time I thought I found a good spot, someone came past or I noticed a big drop off the edge of the trail I was bound to fall down.

We'd been going for 2.5 hours now, and I assumed Doug was far ahead. Despite my tummy ache I was having an amazing time. I was making good time, all I had to do was try not to shit myself and not run out of fuel. I wasn't drinking quite enough and the day was warm but not unpleasantly. Lots of people passed me during this section. I was picking my way over the technical rocks, me and another guy were competing for the worst descending award. (I won)

Finally the trail opened up a little and I could see farther ahead and the trail curving round towards CP2 in the distance. I thought I could see Doug too, but couldn't be sure. Around a km from the CP, I could definitely see Doug. He wasn't moving at all well. I became concerned. I was running a little better now and was gradually gaining on him. I caught him just as he entered the check point.

He was in a bad way. He'd bonked. He'd run out of water some time ago (annoyed that I hadn't caught him and shared mine) he'd run out of fuel and felt (and looked) like shit.

I left him getting sandwiches and cup after cup of coke, whilst I finally got to relieve myself as there was a portaloo at the CP. I felt better immediately. Also aware I was a bit low on energy I necked a couple of cups of coke. Checked Doug was OK, offered to stop a while here if he wanted to but he knew I wanted to crack straight on so he stubbornly left with me. I made him take a jam sandwich and took one for myself before thanking the CP staff and setting off up the next big climb.

(it seems to be standard practice to have a big climb after a checkpoint, which is good because you can stuff your face whilst hiking up it, I noticed this when doing Trans Wales MTB race too )

We chatted and Doug explained he'd bonked, totally run out of energy, gone off too fast (much like myself) run out of water and was feeling horribly sick and looking a bit unhappy and worried he might not be able to finish.

I hated seeing him like this, but despite my untrustworthy stomach I felt fairly good myself so didn't want to slow up too much, my legs were strong and mind positive. I led the way up the climb. Doug stopped to heave. I held back with him to rub his back (and hold his hair out of his face) but nothing came. We carried on a bit further. Doug stopping every so often to heave up non-existent bile. He asked if we could stop for 1 minute, so we stopped on a rock, I counted down with my stopwatch a minute, while Doug tried hard to be sick.

We started to move again, I started to push on ahead of him up the hill, stopping now and then to eat and check back he was OK. He saw and would wave me on. I knew he was trying desperately to keep up. He didn't want to be left behind and I didn't really want to leave him behind in this state.  I knew up over the top of the climb was a big descent down, Doug is faster downhill than me so I kept pace knowing he'd catch me.  The descent was tough. It was steep with lots of loose rock. The braking that my reflexes made me do hurt my legs more than the climbs.

The descending was jiggling my insides too much, my tummy was hurting again. I had to stop and find a bush. I found one. Whilst taking care of business Doug came past looking pretty worse for ware not seeing me, I shouted out and told him I'd catch him up.

Once more we were together, my tummy still in knots, Doug trying to force up some of his stomach lining. What a pair.

I knew the route well into Kentmere so felt confident leading the way. Just before Kentmere we bumped in to the legendary David Lee who we have met every year on the Spine sat on a wall cheering people on and taking photos.

Photo Credit: David Lee

We rolled into Kentmere and found Richard who had been there chilling out for about 10 minutes. We necked a smoothie, grabbed some biscuits, refilled water bottles, and were back on our way. My knees were beginning to ache alittle so we took a painkiller each up the next climb.

We were both beginning to feel better now and I was able to describe the next part of the route.  A climb followed by an amazing flowing descent into Troutbeck. My blister was getting pretty sore now so on the next steep descent I decided to stop and tape it up. I was just ahead of Doug at this point having reached the top of the climb ahead of him, and stopped on the side to deal with my ouchie. I shouted once more I'd catch him up. A few minutes later I scurried down the hill to him. We were on a painful rocky river bed. It wanted to be run on, but it hurt your feet so bad so we ran where we could. We reached a corner where I needed a wee. Doug took this opportunity to have one last purge. This one seemed to finally fix him. As we ran the next section in to Ambleside he was finally back to himself. Bouncing along, telling crappy jokes and singing me songs.

We ran through Ambleside full of beans and huge crowds, Once more Richard was there having been chilling for a while. A quick stop to refuel and we were back on our way. We walked for a while whilst we ate, and back up yes another hill before getting on to open moors.

I knew this next 15 miles was largely runnable. A couple of big climbs interspersed with lovely flat trails. Up the next climb, Richard joined us, and we all chatted. I led the way as I knew the route from memory, and we happily ran together through Chapelstile, finding a few minutes to play on a swing, before heading back on to the moor and a short sharp climb up followed by a wonderful piece of singletrack to a mandatory unmanned checkpoint (so you don't cheat and take the road)

We stumbled across a swing and I couldn't resist a little play (and also a sit down)

From here we were only a few km from the last CP. I had been watching my clock. I knew we could get in, in under 11 hours. But we had to push. I suggested this to Doug but he didn't want to entertain it. I knew on a good day I could do the last section in 45 minutes. So even if we left ourselves an hour we could do it.

We hit the final CP with 1:05 to spare to get that sub 11. We had a quick snack, and got back on with it.

It's a brutal finish, straight up a set of steps. The you climb up nearly 300m over the next 1.5 miles. I was watching my watch. The light had faded and we had our headtorches on. Mine immedeiatly flashed that the batteries were dying. I didn't want to stop to change them and waste time. I'd just manage with what light was left and the dim setting from my headlamp.

The descent is equally horrible off the summit and I picked my way carefully down in the half light trying not to get too left behind. Back off the rocks and on the final steep descent, I let myself go, catching up with Doug and both of us catching Richard.

I knew now we'd be under 11 hours for sure. (unless anyone face planted now) My headtorch was slipping so I carried it in my hand. We ran hard into Coniston euphoria beginning to fill us.

Round the corner from the finish, I could hear cheering and above all of that the loudest screaming!!! I saw some commotion to my left and heard then saw Issy and Ellen screaming and jumping around and vaguely gave them a hug as they ran into the finish with us screaming with joy and bouncing around like women possessed!!

We ran through the finish, dibbed out and received more hugs and screaming and the BEST EVER FINISH to a race!

We were ecstatic. We'd done well. We knew we had. We weren't ashamed to admit it.

What an incredible support team. What a team Doug and Richard were. I ended up 9th female and we were all in the top 100 out of 672 runners.

Team work makes the Dream work! Photo credit: Richard Leahy

After the race we headed back to the B&B, drank a couple of bottles of fizz and the girls filled me in on the day they'd had...

Incredibly happy runners

They'd had a wonderful day, walking around the lakes with Milton, Waiting at Ambleside check point, just missing out on seeing us through, but having the fortune of glimpsing "a really hot Viking looking guy, blonde, blue eyes and an incredible moustache and beard"  this ended up in a several day search on social media for him #findviking.

We found him, and it ended up being Conrad's mate.

They'd been in the pub,

chatting to the winners,

and Milton had been getting all the attention - hardly surprising - look at that beaut!

The next day we had a nice walk around Ambleside, refuelled and enjoyed the sunshine.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. If you discount the travel issues. (the girls ended up getting home via an AA van.... )

What an adventure, what a support team, what a result!

Could I have improved on this time? I don't think so. Had I gone off slower, I may not have got tummy probs for a while, maybe I still would have. Maybe that saved the race for me as I was forced to slow down. Really, I don't feel like I would have done anything differently. On the day, it all came together, we were blessed with perfect running conditions to boot!

Can't wait for the entries for next year to open!

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)