Race Report: The Lakeland100
At the top of the pile when it comes to ultra running is completing a 100mile event. They don’t come much bigger than that (there are a few exceptions obviously like Badwater 135miles). However, in terms of ultra marathon distances, the 100mile mark is the Don. Next comes the type of ultra marathon route. This is something I’ve been learning a lot about following the various types of races I’ve done. You can run an ultra marathon consisting of fields, parks, forests, country lanes and roads with just a few hills thrown in. It means you can run properly and post good times. Then there are ultra marathons that take place in mountains, consisting of open fell, steep gradients, boggy terrain and rocky paths. The UTLD is a mixture of both although it primarily the latter. Its actual stats are as follows; distance 105miles, ascent 6800m/21,760ft. It’s a point to point course, starts and finishes at the same spot, so it’s a 1 loop course which essentially circumnavigates the Lakeland district. Just to give you more of an idea of what this course involves, the ascent from Everest base camp to the summit is about 18,000ft, so we basically ran up Everest and more ! The race is divided up into 15 stages by 14 manned checkpoints. Each stage is between 5-10miles long, taking anything between roughly 1-2hrs to complete each stage (depending of course on individual ability and gradient/terrain). So, all in all, it’s a beast, not for the faint hearted and realistically, only a small of people are capable of completing such a course.
Myself and support crew consisting of my mate Mark and my Dad arrived in Coniston just before lunch. The race HQ was a school with plenty of surrounding fields which was converted to a campsite for the weekend. We set up camp alongside my training buddies, Bob and James Smith who were already registered and catching some z’s before we woke them up ! Race start was scheduled for 5.30pm so I had plenty of time to register and prep. Registration involved a “weigh-in” and then the usual race number and dibber. The weigh-in is used to monitor people’s hydration status, particularly if you weigh more after the race, then there is a big problem, most people lose weight. Once I had registered, I then sorted out my kit bag and race kit. Number pinned onto my OMM backpack which was loaded with waterproofs, compass, first aid kit, bivvie bag, phone, head torch, drinks bottles and food. I tried to be as lightweight as possible but I reckon my bag weighed in about 3Kg or so which obviously added to the challenge. Some others I noticed weighed probably twice this and I sometimes wonder what these people are packing !! Once I had all that done it was a case of just relaxing and getting into the zone. The pre race meal was eaten about 3hrs before the start and consisted of white basmati rice with chicken, courgette, some pepper, some broccoli in a pesto sauce. Breakfast earlier in the day had been a sweet potato omelette. I had carb loaded the day before too. So in terms of glycogen loading, I was well topped up, all I needed to do then was some pre race priming.
With a couple of hours to go before race start, I had my beetroot shot and pycnogenol (now, I’m not going to get into what this does here, another time). I had decided not to do my normal caffeine loading as the race duration was simply too long to rely on a constant caffeine hit. I did however take some Guarana, which is essentially a milder more slow release version of caffeine. I will say that there are not many studies on it to support its use but I’ve used it before and it’s a case of N=1. 45mins before the race, I then made up my own little drink with approx 10g of BCAA’s. I’ve been experimenting with these of late in my attempt to limit/reduce the onset of muscle damage (which as I’ve mentioned before, is what the main determinant of performance is when it comes to ultra endurance). So I was happy with my nutrition prep, think this is as advanced as it gets, anything further than this and it just gets too complicated. This is one of the tradeoffs when it comes to nutrition. You need to be careful not to overdo it as it can be counterproductive and just lead to stress and worry. You can get yourself all worked up with foods, quantities, supplements, dosage, timings etc and end up feeling like crap. The easy option might be to have a sandwich and a cup of tea and a biscuit, with no hassle whatsoever and feel great on the line. Now, I’m not saying that this is the better option, I just realise that individuals have to do what suits them best and what they are most comfortable with. I’m comfortable about the way I eat and what I do before races, however, I wouldn’t expect everyone to do what I do. Sports, especially ultra endurance events, are very much psychological battles, and often these outweigh the physiological ones. This is my roundabout way of saying “do what makes you feel good and listen to your own body” !!
Right so, back to the race. The start line was held just outside the school and a nice crowd had gathered to witness the proceedings. The sun was beating down, it was a beautiful evening, warm aid, barely a breath of wind. There were 220 of us all kitted out and ready to go. I walked up to the front as my intention was to go off with the lead group. Just a little on my race strategy before we go. So with an event like this, preparation is key. Last year’s winner, Stuart Mills, who I ran with during a recent recce and had a great chat with is the man to talk about what he calls “TOTAL PREPARATION”. Now this can have various elements to it and individual theories. But you can break it down into things like training, nutrition, kit, navigation, route familiarity, race strategy and of course mental preparation. I was going into this race with most of these area’s covered except one major one – route familiarity. I had only recced 2 sections of the course, approximately 60miles, so 40miles of the course I had never seen. On top of that, the section which I had never recced, was the section which I would be running at night. There were other unknowns which I was conscious of – sleep deprivation, running longer than 8hrs (which up to this stage was the longest I had ever run for). So with this in mind, I was not going into this race with a “win” mentality. I was going in with a “lets stay up there and see what happens” mentality. I knew that my Irish team mate Paul Tierney (who finished 24th in the 2011 World Ultra Trails) would be racing as well as a few others that Stuart Mills had pointed out as potential race winners . So I knew there would be a front group of about 6-7 guys that I could get in the mix with. So my strategy was this – enjoy the experience, focus on the process not on the end result, build into the race and try to stay with the leading group, switch off my “race head” but have it on the ready if the opportunity arises later on into the race.
Stage 1: Coniston to Seathwaite (7miles)
So I’m standing up near the front, shake hands with James and Bob, then the start gun goes and we’re off. I had no intention of going off like a mad man, but still wanted to keep the front runners in eyesight. 10 or so mins of running up the roads and out of the village into the first mountain section and already a front group had formed exactly as I predicted. In it were Paul, myself and about 6 other guys.
The first section involved a fairly long steady climb up Walna scar, followed by a steep descent into Seathwaite. Our lead group of roughly 8 of us were moving along at a decent pace, nothing crazy, but we were making a big lead on the rest of the pack. The descent was rough and steep, the first damage applied to the legs and feet, not welcoming considering we were just 5 miles into a 100mile race ! 1hr11mins of running and a few introductions amongst this front group and we’re into the first checkpoint. Now, I had been told that the checkpoints were great, manned by very welcoming marshal’s with plenty of food and drink. Checkpoint 1 didn’t disappoint. We entered to cheers and to a dude holding the dibber dressed up as a Wizard ! There was plenty of food and drink available but it was too early for us to really bother, most just dibbed, maybe a quick refill of the water bottle and then we were off. In fact, 2 of the guys (Terry –eventual winner and Ian Bishop), went in and out of the checkpoint so quickly that we lost them ! I left with Paul Tierney and fortunately I had recced this section so I knew where to go. It was a tricky little section where you had to go through some woods and cross some streams. After a few minutes we were back on track and 2 others (Adam Perry and John Tims) had caught back up with us.
Stage 2: Seathwaite to Boot (7miles)
The next section didn’t have any major climbs but was still fairly undulating through a lot of boggy terrain. The 4 of us ran more or less together, again, the pace was steady, nothing crazy, so I was comfortable enough. It was a very warm evening though and the sweat was rolling off me. Luckily I had 2 full drinks bottles and I noticed that I was drinking a lot more than usual. After the boggy section, we hit a technical rocky section which involved a bit of clambering over big boulders. It was here where the 4 of us caught back up with the 2 leaders (Terry and Ian), Ian looked to be in a bit of trouble. I asked him if he was ok and he told me he was just suffering with stomach cramps but he looked to be slowing. The 6 of us continued on in a fairly relaxed manner and chatted away. We passed through a farm and then along a river path as we approached the village of Booth. I was feeling pretty good at this stage, we had been running for 2hrs20mins , which seems to be the time it takes me to “get into” a race. I know this might seem strange but it might be something to do with my physiology and fuel economy. Don’t want to go off on a complete tangent here but in terms of in terms of energy systems and metabolic pathways, I need a couple of hrs for things to switch on. Anyways, the 6 of us lined out and started joking about having a pint in the village and I think most of us probably would have if we had the cash ! So the mood was good, I moved to the front of the group, just to stride out a bit and led the group into the village. There was a nice little crowd of people hanging outside the pubs, my Dad and Mark were there and we got a nice little applause from those sitting out in the beer gardens. Into CP2 and I was first to dib, my first time (and my last) ever leading the lakeland100 ! Once again, some of the guys were in and out in a flash, I gave my 2 drinks bottles to the marshals who refilled them for me which meant I was last to leave the CP. I was just a minute or 2 behind so I had to catch back up with the others which I did.
Stage 3: Boot to Wasdale (5.4miles)
The next section was one of the shortest of the whole route and flattest. Our group of 6 started to spread out a bit, with Terry moving off ahead on his own, followed by Paul and Adam, with myself, John and Ian just behind. I was feeling fine but was conscious of not pushing it too hard so early in the race. The section took us through another boggy lumpy area and then down a rocky descent. This was the fastest stage of the race and we were into CP3 in less than an hour.
Stage 4: Wasdale to Buttermere (6.9miles)
Another refill of my drinks bottles, this time I filled one with a sachet of Whey protein. This is something I had planned and I knew that the next section was pretty arduous and long. Protein is something that is usually not available at checkpoints (more on this later) nor is it something that most endurance athletes use. Yet, in terms of reducing muscle fatigue, muscle damage and even energy production, protein is vital. We were 3.5hrs into the run and I had eaten 1 x banana and 1 x flapjack. Energy wise I was feeling fine so didn’t take on any more food at this checkpoint. Off out of CP3 and myself, John, Paul and Adam moved off together. Ian had been dropped off the pace at this stage so we were now a leading group of 5. I think Terry decided to switch into race mode and he moved off ahead of us at a fair pace and that was the last I was to see of him. As I mentioned, this section was a tough one, I had recced it in January so knew what to expect. I was treating it as a “recovery” stage, where running is put on hold and trekking is the name of the game. This was because the route involved over 2000ft of climbing up one of the highest passes (Black Sail Pass) of the course. This is where our group officially split up with Terry going solo, Paul and Adam moving off just ahead with myself and John not far behind. However, the gaps between us grew a little bigger as we continued the climb and within 30mins or so, Terry, Adam and Paul were out of sight. I was fine with this and didn’t want to get myself too worked up about it. I knew it was still very early stages of the race, I didn’t want to push the boat out, and I was just enjoying the scenery and the occasion. And the scenery and the occasion really was something. It was approaching 10pm, with the sun setting, warm air, barely a breath of wind. As we reached the highest point of the climb, we were surrounded with a silhouette backdrop of mountains and the faint reflective glare of Buttermere Lake. Honestly, it was an amazing site and myself and John were both in awe. It was this moment that made me realise why I love trail running. The outdoors, the freedom, the simplicity, the adventure… I won’t go on, but anyone who is a trail runner will feel my vibe ! After the summit it was a long descent, again over very rocky terrain, and down into a valley. From here, we crossed a river and followed a nice path along a river which took us up another pass, not as steep or long, but still hands on the knee stuff. Up over this climb and down into another rocky descent which took us to Buttermere lake. It was getting dark by this stage so the head torches came out and the night section was about to begin. With a mile or so to go before the CP, I decided to chat to John about staying together for the rest of the night. He had been with me more or less all the way since the beginning and I could sense he would go fairly steady. I also knew that I needed to pair up with someone simply because I did not know my way nor had I got a GPS !! My navigation skills are average at best, I could have given it a go, but to be honest, I had no intention of taking the risk. 100miles is more than enough distance to cover. I had no intention of adding to that ! Thankfully, John had not only recced the next sections but also had a GPS system so I knew we would be ok. He was happy to have the company too and I think he was surprised with himself to be up in the top 5 of the race. Having said that, he was keen to keep up the pace and I think I was helping him to maintain it. So after an arduous 1hr50mins, we were into CP4, pitch black, and a nice crew of marshals were waiting to attend to our needs. The ever enthusiastic Stuart Mills was there to greet us and take pictures as well as give us the time gaps on those ahead of us. Terry was 20mins or so ahead with Paul and Adam about 10mins ahead of us. Again, I was in no rush, just happy to be feeling quite comfortable and looking forward to getting through the night in one piece.
Stage 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite (6.5miles)
So off we went with head torches on into the dark night. Conditions were absolutely perfect. I couldn’t believe it, I was still wearing shorts and t-shirt and felt no need to put on extra layers. The sky was clear but there was no full moon so it was dark. Still though, probably one of the mildest, driest and still nights in the Lakeland district ever ! This section involves a few mountain climbs, crossing over becks and contouring. It was more of a trekking section than a running section with a lot of uphill work. I was moving away from John on the uphill but he was catching up on the descent and flats so it was working out fine. The navigation was tricky and I was blessed to have John with me. We did however take one wrong turn which delayed us by about 7mins. This meant that a few people started to catch us and we could see a few head torches in the distance. One runner got ahead of us but we caught up with him by the next checkpoint. He happened to be last year’s 2nd place (Andy Mouncey) so I knew we were still going fairly strong. Into CP5 anyway and there was lots of food and drinks on offer. Unfortunately however, the food options were poor. I’m going to have to go on about this too so bare with me ! So it’s late at night (12.30am), lunch would have been our last real meal and we had been running for about 7hrs. The food available at most CP’s was apples (which have no place in the diet of an ultra runner !!), jelly beans (which people usually have enough of and need the least of), slices of buttered bread (which is not exactly very appetising never mind the fact that many people now avoid wheat especially when running) mixed nuts and dried fruit (again, not entirely appetising and doesn’t really go down too well while running) rice pudding with jam (not too bad, but again, mainly sugar), fruit cakes (again – sweet and wheat, ok for some but you not for the likes of me). Then the “hot” food options at some designated CP’s were pasta + sauce (the glueppiest pasta imaginable!) and soup (the most refined, processed packet type soup you can get!). So for me, that’s a problem and from the feedback and discussions I had with other runners, the feeling was the same. Fortunately I had prepared a lot of my own food. I had “Baz Bars” and “Baz Savoury Cakes”, along with my protein shakes. I was then just choosing things like banana’s and flapjacks at the checkpoints. So I was ok, and by the 6th or 7th CP, I wasn’t really bothering with the food as I knew what to expect. They really need to sort this out though as food options are critical for something like a 100mile overnight mountain race. Foods like rice, cheese, cold meats, baked potatoes, decent soups, even decent sandwiches are what are needed. From a nutrition point of view, savoury foods with a bit of protein, salt, and wheat free are the requirements. I think I’ll write to the organisers with these suggestions although I do understand that this was the first year where the catering was outsourced. Anyways, note to file.
Back to the race. Leaving CP5, Stuart informed us that we were 17mins behind Adam and Paul which meant that we were going at the same pace as them albeit for the 7min diversion that we took. Terry now was over 40mins ahead of us so he was obviously out of sight. Andy was literally 1-2mins ahead of us which meant myself and John were in 5th and 6th place overall.
Stage 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra (8.5miles)
The next section involved a couple of miles of road running then onto the Cumbria Way for more trekking. The main part of the section involved a up and over loop around a beck which was a fairly long slog. Other than that it was a pretty uneventful section. Approaching the checkpoint we noticed a few balloons tied to the fence to welcome us in which was a nice touch. Into CP6 and there was another nice crew of marshal’s attending to our needs. This time, they had a box full of new running socks and they offered a pair to me which I gladly accepted. After almost 9hrs of running through a lot of wet land, it was nice to put on a dry pair of socks. Drinks refilled, a cup of tea for a bit of warmth and we were off.
Stage 7: Blencathra to Dockray (7.7miles)
This section was one of the flattest, with not much ascending or descending. However, the legs were fairly shot at this stage so we were just jogging. Still, I think we were moving at a decent pace, a lot faster than most, and again, energy wise and head wise, I was feeling good. About 2miles covered and we were running through a narrow tree lined lane. Up ahead I notice a faint torch light and this figure in the bushes. It was about 3am in the morning so I didn’t really know what to expect ! As we got closer, I hear my name being called out “Barry, is that Barry”… turns out it was my friend Dave Bailey, who had been tracking us all night and decided to wait up and catch us before he went to bed ! It was nice to see a friendly face and Dave is an experienced sports scientist who has worked with elite athletes for several years. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it which really makes a big difference when you’re racing. He ran alongside us for a bit, gave us the split times and words of encouragement in a relaxed manner. No drama, here are the facts, you’re doing well, keep going. We arrived into CP7 literally just as Andy was leaving so I knew that we were not dropping off the pace. We had been running for over 10hrs at this stage, it was close to 4am in the morning and my hat goes off to the marshals once again, all very friendly, helpful and encouraging. I had a routine going into the checkpoints at this stage, I would hand both bottles to the marshal, ask for one with water and the other with juice which I would add BCAA’s or protein to. To my water bottle, I would add a few drops of Elete Electrolyte. This is critical in my view, to avoid hyponatremia you need to keep your sodium levels up. A typical “sports drink” might deliver about 40mg of sodium per 500ml bottle. Considering some individuals can lose up to 1gram (i.e. 1000mg!) of sodium per hour, you can see why I think “sports drinks” are fairly pointless when it comes to endurance events.
Stage 8: Dockray to Dalemain (10.1miles)
Ok, back to the race. 7 checkpoints done, 7 to go. Next stop was Dalemain. Dalemain is a bit of a landmark for the 100mile competitors as it serves as a sort of base camp, the place where you can pick up your drop bag, change clothes, change trainers, refuel, stretch, sit down, lie down.. Whatever’s needed ! John had said to me that his target time for Dalemain had been 13.5hrs. We were leaving Dockray having done 10.5hrs so I knew we would be there well before the 13.5hr mark. Both of us started to tire a bit over this next section. I don’t know how to really explain the tiredness. It was starting to get bright again, we had missed a night’s sleep and had been running all that time. However, I didn’t feel sleepy or tired from lack of sleep. I also was fine energy wise. I was nowhere near bonking and I was never really over hungry. I’ve felt like bonking after a hard 3hr bike ride and feel starved when I finished. But this feeling was entirely different. It was fatigue in the lower half of the body. I guess it’s a severe case of muscle fatigue, legs are sore, drained, thrashed, which probably sends signals to the brain that you should stop. However, aerobically and physiologically in terms of lungs, energy production etc, I was feeling fine. With the sun rising, mild air and still wind, we were treated again to another panoramic view as we contoured around a mountain overlooking Ullswater lake. Again, it was another moment that reinforced to me the beauty of trail running. With a couple of km to go before the big landmark CP, we started to hear voices behind us. We looked back and there we saw 2 runners chatting away and making up a lot of ground on us. We were both surprised by this as we had just spent the past 5hrs running through the mountains in the dark on our own with no others really in site. Soon enough they caught up with us and I made a point of staying with them all the way to the CP. Arriving at Dalemain was a bit of a milestone. We had done 60miles, the night section was over, a new day was about to begin. I was greeted again my Dave Bailey who had his mates Ian and Kate with him too. My Dad and Mark were also there and looking anxiously at me to see if I was still alive ! Into the checkpoint, and we were given our drop bags, and there was no hurry to leave any time soon. Some of the guys sat down on the grass, others lied down, I kept on my feet as I just didn’t want to have my legs shut down or even let my mind know that I was resting. Once again, the food options were poor. Luckily I had plenty of my own food so I restocked and avoided most of the crap (sorry guys but it was) that was being handed to me. At this point, I also decided to change my trainers. I had been wearing Mizuno Wave Riders up to this point which had worked out pretty well. I knew however that the remaining 40miles was a lot drier with no boggy sections. So I chose to change into my Brooks DS Racers which are not designed for trail. However, with the dry conditions, the trails are compact and the Brooks are just a lot lighter and more comfortable than the Mizuno’s. I then went to use the “facilities” and it was nice to know that things were still working (sorry but had to put that in, hope you’re not reading this while eating!!). Back to the tent, packed up my bag and the rest of my kit. I wasn’t really in talkative mood, it wasn’t that I was feeling low, I just was trying to focus on what lied ahead. I felt like the race hadn’t really started for me yet. This was how I had planned it so I was content. But in the back of my mind, with 40 miles to go, lying in 6th place overall, I was thinking I might start switching into race mode. So we had spent over 15mins in the checkpoint at this stage and I noticed Simon and Terry (the 2 guys who had caught up with us) were leaving. I probably should have went with them but I wanted to wait for John as I felt like I owed him, seeing as he pretty much guided us through the whole night section. So I asked John if he was ready to go and the two of us then set off together. A new day had begun and we had gone past the point of no return !
Stage 9: Dalemain to Howtown (7.1miles)
Myself and John slowly trotted through a few fields which led us into Pooley Bridge. We were now heading into a part of the course which I had recced so I knew I didn’t have to rely on anyone for navigation. Myself and John had discussed this and he mentioned to me that I would probably leave him after Dalemain. I had no problem with him staying with me and in fact I probably would have preferred if he did just for the company. However, once we hit the trails I upped the pace and John immediately dropped behind. I knew this part of the course pretty well as I had ran it recently with Stuart Mills and I knew that it was a fairly long downhill trail section to the next checkpoint. I started to feel like a “runner” again, and covered the ground at a fairly decent pace. When I say “started to feel like a runner”, this is something which I started to have an issue with the further into the race I got. With the muscle damage, leg soreness etc.. It became difficult to actually run. Yet, like I said, my head and lungs and energy levels wanted me to run. For me, this is a problem as I’m taking part in a “running” event, not a walking or trekking event. I want to run and know that I can run at a fairly decent pace over long distances. But mechanically, I wasn’t able to run properly and it annoyed me. I guess this was the only negative thought that I started to have over the whole course, which is pretty good considering. Negativity is the enemy when it comes to ultra endurance events, it’s imperative that you stay positive and optimistic. So anyway, the fact that I was running again was making my feel better. This was reaffirmed to be me as I approached CP9 as just as I passed Simon and Terry who were just leaving so I knew I had gained a few minutes on them. I did a quick stop at CP9 and now it was race on as I knew I had to catch Terry and Simon.
Stage 10: Howtown to Mardale (9.4miles)
This next section was a tough one. It involved the biggest climb of the day (2500ft) and was also pretty long, almost 10miles. The start involves a long trek up the valley to the summit called High Kop. I had Terry and Simon in my sight which was reassuring and my aim was to catch them before the next checkpoint. I didn’t mind being on my own at this stage, I was quiet content really, the sun was starting to beat down though and I knew it was going to be a hot day. I had to stop just a couple of times to read the map but having the two guys in front of my meant that I didn’t have to do too much navigating. Once we reached the top of the climb it was a long traverse of the summit and then a descent onto the lake shore. This section I knew was going to be tough as it’s a rocky, stony undulating path that runs alongside the lake. It’s a bitch really, especially with shot legs and having already run 75miles. But I kept going, and knew that with every bit of running I did that I was catching the two guys up ahead. As I neared the end of the lake shore path with Mardale in view, I caught up with Simon who had been dropped by Terry. I was actually motoring at this stage and flew by him which probably didn’t help ! However, I did say to him as I passed that I would wait at the checkpoint for him which I did. It was a demanding stage, the longest of the day, taking 2hrs20mins to complete and at this stage it was starting to get tough. I refilled my bottles, had a glass of coke (time for the caffeine now) and set off then with Simon.
Stage 11: Mardale to Kentmere (6.5miles)
This is when the wheels started to fall off. The first couple of km involved an almost vertical ascent followed by a vertical descent ! Exactly the opposite of what I needed. My legs were shot, and I had pushed it a bit to catch up with Simon. Trudging up the hill in the heat was painful. I got talking to Simon and again I was happy to have company and share the grief ! That’s what sort of happens during these races. Its human suffering and if you can share it and experience it with someone else, exchanging words of encouragement and even the odd joke, it helps immensely. And that’s exactly what myself and Simon did. We laughed and joked about the state that we were in and cursed and groaned at the pain we were experiencing. We started to make rules and set standards for each other. One was that on every flat path and descent we would run. We only allowed ourselves to walk if it was an incline. Simon was going through a bad patch at this stage so I think he was happy to have someone with him. I always like to find out about the person I’m running with just to see what they’re background is and what level of runner they actually are. With John(whom I had spent most of the night with) I found out that he was a former triathlete with a PB Olympic distance time of 1hr58min, so I knew I was in good company. Simon had lots of ultra running experience and had top 5 finishes in big races like the Fellsman. So again, I knew I was in good company. Anyway, back to the grief. We were both not enjoying our time along this section. It was rocky, hot, steep and unforgiving. It was either hands on the knee’s stuff going upwards or trotting down diagonally using extremely sore quads. Once we got to the bottom of the valley, the pain continued as it was another stony path up to the next checkpoint. I think I did the least running on this section, it was a 6.5mile route but it took us 2hr12mins… so roughly 3mile/hr which is slow, mainly walking . Getting to kentmere was a relief. Again, Mr Bailey was awaiting us, with more calm words of encouragement and time stats. I started giving out to him about my legs, I just wanted new legs and wanted to start running again. Again, Dave had some calm words of advice which were “you can’t prevent the damage just manage it”. Just before we entered into the checkpoint cabin, we hear a voice behind us which turned out to be Jeff, a South African dude who I had met briefly during my last recce. He came out of nowhere as I left him at Dalemain where he looked to be in serious pain and I doubted whether he would continue. He actually ran straight past myself and Simon and dibbed into the checkpoint ahead of us. We got into the checkpoint (in 6th and 7th place respectively) and the 3 of us must have looked like seriously wounded soldiers. I could barely stand, Simon was in tatters too, Jeff was lying on a physio bench and started to get a bag full of tablets out of his backpack. I decided it was time for the Nurofen (which I would never use outside of a race), and took 400mg. More bottle refills, some coke, a caffeine gel and myself and Simon were off ahead of Jeff.
Stage 12: Kentmere to Ambleside (7.3miles)
This was another nasty section. It started with another steep rocky climb which just completely drains you especially in the heat. Myself and Simon were struggling but again we kept amusing ourselves by making jokes and laughing at each other about the state that we were in. Jeff miraculously caught up with us and passed us on the climb. After the climb, there was a long stony path which again hammered the quads but we kept the pace going and caught back up with Jeff. The 3 of us then trundled along with running on the flats and downhill’s and walking up any hill. Jeff started to gain a bit of ground on the climbs and ended up getting a little ahead of us. Myself and Simon made some more rules, we decided to go through the next checkpoint quickly and we set a target finish time of 26hrs, knowing that Ambleside was only 16miles from the finish. So into Ambleside and the town was buzzing, a lot of people were sitting outside having lunch and clapped as we went by. The checkpoint was located in the main running shop in the town and my support crew of my Dad and Mark were there to greet us. We entered the shop and Jeff was sitting down in a heap, myself and Simon just refilled our bottles and continued on. The end was in site now, over 90 miles done, roughly 16 to go.
Stage 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile (5miles)
So we left the town, through a few lanes and back onto a trail. Again, it was a stony undulating path which was hard on the feet and legs. Myself and Simon were struggling here with our pace, reduced to a trot most of the time. Jeff caught us again and this time went off ahead of us without us being able to catch up. I didn’t really care at this stage, I just wanted to get to the finish and I knew that I was well in the top 10. This section was short too (5miles) but it took us 1hr25mins which is extremely slow. On a good day, I would probably cover that route in 50mins or less so it shows just how broken down I was. As we approached the next checkpoint, running along what should have been a nice easy section along a river, we were caught by another runner (David White) which was a bit demoralising. He was actually looking pretty strong, I couldn’t believe it really, I just figured everyone would be in the same boat. Anyway, I tried to stay with him and Simon dropped back as we were running along a flat section. Despite my legs being thrashed, I could still run on the flat as I didn’t have to bend my legs too much ! I was running almost with a sort of straight leg stride. I didn’t care what way I was running as long as I was running ! And I was as I kept up with David to the next CP in Chapel Stile. This was a nice little checkpoint in the shade but again I wasn’t availing of the food options too much so I continued with my caffeine hits and took anoth gel. David was munching on a few biscuits and was not in too much of a hurry but I wanted to try and stay with him. We left together for the last checkpoint. One more to go.
Stage 14: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite (7.1miles)
I kept up with David for about 5mins but he was just too strong. He left me and went off into the distance. This put me in a bit of a predicament as this was another section I had not recced. I looked behind and couldn’t see Simon so I just ploughed on ahead reading the map and road book. This certainly wasn’t an ideal situation given that I had been running for 23hrs, the sun was baking hot and I had only 10miles to go to the finish. The route contoured around the lower edge of Langdale which should have been easy but again, my running was reduced to a plod. David had gone out of sight but in the background I could see Simon. I dropped my place a little and he caught back up with me. I was happy with this as I knew he was familiar with the route which meant I didn’t have to spend time reading the map. We trundled on together in pain and noticed we had another runner (Stuart Walker)gaining on us. Again, we both didn’t care, we were wasted and we were just focusing on the finish. He caught us and passed us fairly quickly, another guy who was looking fairly strong so late into the race. The time was passing very slowly at this stage, we were so close to the last checkpoint but we were covering the ground very slowly. It seemed to be taking an age when all we had left was about 5miles to cover to the finish. With a mile or so to go before the last checkpoint I noticed this lively guy running along and taking pictures. It happened to be good old Stuart Mills again and he bounced down to me to give me all his positivity. He told me I was running at a great pace and that if I kept that up I could catch at least 3 guys who were ahead of me. This was another flat section where I could actually run but once we hit any trail, climb of descent, I just couldn’t use my legs properly to run. But anyway, it was nice to get some encouragement. Finally, CP14 was in sight and there was about 400m of tarmac path to get to it. I was able to run again and I moved away from Simon. My mate Mark ran up alongside me as I approached the checkpoint and my Dad and all the marshals were full of encouragement too. I dibbed in and again refilled my bottles. The marshals were keen to let me go quickly but I was happy to wait for Simon seeing as we had come so far together. I trotted off and climbed up the steps which were a pain and Simon soon followed. So this was it. 3.5miles to go and we were there.
Stage 15: Tilberthwaite to Coniston (3.5miles)
This was like kicking a man when he was down. 3.5miles through some nice grassy fields, with a slight downhill would have been lovely. But no, it was a climb up over a mountain and a steep rocky descent down the other side !! I said to Simon to just keep ploughing ahead, that every step we took had to be with a purpose, there was no fading away now at this stage. I was feeling ok, as I explained before, energy wise, mentally, lungs etc… I was fairly good… it was just my frickin legs !! As I ploughed on ahead, I noticed that I was dropping Simon. I was soon a minute or so ahead of him but kept going. I suppose my competitive instinct kicked in and I wanted to finished ahead him. Having said that, if he kept up with me I would have been happy to cross the line together so if you’re reading this dude – hope your cool with that !! Right, so I get to the top of the climb and then it’s all downhill from there. This is what I had been finding the toughest, the eccentric muscle damage to the quads was killing me and this descent was steep. I kind of tried to block out the pain and just say to myself “nearly there, one more step”. This worked and when I got to the bottom there was a good gap between myself and Simon. The last bit was a 1 mile road section back to Coniston. I ran, and I once again was happy for it. I rolled into the village and people started clapping as I went by. I continued my run down to the school and crossed the line in 25hr51mins. Yet again, the marshals did a great job; they led me into the school hall, applauding as I was paraded through the canteen (this happens to everyone by the way!). My Dad and mate Mark congratulated me and then I was handed over to the medics. They just make sure you’re not going to collapse, keeping a watchful eye on you for a few minutes. They weigh you and compare your pre race weight. I had lost 4Kg. Nothing to worry about, they are more concerned with people who gain weight. My medal and time splits were then handed to me and that was basically it.
I plonked myself down on a chair, the first time I sat down in over 26hrs. The physio’s were set up and I was keen to get my legs treated. There was no way I could take a massage so I asked for an ice massage, which is basically where they rub your legs with ice cubes. I can tell you, it was good. My Dad then handed me my recovery shake which I had made up (30g protein, 100g carbs) and I just went into a bit of a daze as the physio’s continued with my ice treatment.
Simon came in just under 5mins after me and I went over to congratulate him and shake his hand. Cheers dude, it was great to run/trundle with you and I’m sure we’ll meet again !! After that, I was driven down to the local lake where I stood in it for 10mins or so. I knew the most damaged area of my body was my legs so I was trying to do everything I could to treat them. Back then for a shower and the body was slowly starting to shut down and I started shivering. I had a shower and started to realise how battered my body was. My hips and back were cut from the abrasion of the backpack. My ankles and feet were bruised from the rocks and stones and my toenails were black from the steep descents. My shoulder wasn’t in great shape (4months since I shattered my collar bone) and the trapezius muscle was hurting. So I was a bit of a wreck but mainly superficial damage, nothing too serious. After the shower it was time for food. I went along with my Dad to the local café and tucked into a homemade double cheese burger with bacon and all the trimmings !! Surprisingly my appetite wasn’t huge, but I still enjoyed my food and cleaned the plate. Within 5mins of finishing my meal, it started to hit me. I felt like I was going to black out. I left the café and had to use my Dad’s shoulder as a crutch to get me back to the campsite. At this stage it was over 2hrs since I finished and I was keen to see Bob and James come in. Bob actually finished ahead (28.5hrs, 16th place) of James and had already finished by the time we arrived. Bob is a series vet, 55yrs of age, 13 ironman’s done, and a very experienced ultrarunner. James, his son and my housemate, had suffered badly in the heat and had to spend some time lying in rivers and lakes !! We sat and waited for James and it wasn’t long before he came in just under 30hrs in 25th place. That was it for me. I was out for the count and hobbled back to my tent.
You would think after an event like that you would sleep for days but that wasn’t the case. I’d say fell asleep around 11.30pm but I woke up about 5am. I think my body was telling me to get up and start eating and drinking as I knew I was still dehydrated and depleted. Now, getting out of a tent when your legs are like bricks isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It took me about 30mins to get crawl out ! When I did get out, I couldn’t stand… so I crawled over on the grass to a car and hoisted myself up ! I then started to hobble back over to the school when a car drove by me. I stuck my thumb out and the driver kindly stopped and let me climb in. This saved me a walk of literally 200m but that would have taken me about 15mins !! I then sat down in the canteen and chatted to other runners, some who had just finished after 36hrs !! The rest of the morning then was spent back at our tents where Mark put together a great breakfast of Cumberland sausage, bacon and free range eggs!! Bravo my man and thanks again.
The awards ceremony was well attended and Marc Laithwaites presentation was excellent with some great stories and tales. The winner (Terry Conway) set a new course record of 21hr58min, which is a phenomenal time. His time last year was 27hrs, so that’s over a 5hr improvement ! It just highlights the difference the right preparation can make and from talking to Terry, he devoted a lot of time to course recce’s and training specifically for this one race. Andy Mouncey was 2nd and my Irish team mate Paul was joint 3rd along with young Adam Perry (23yrs of age !!). I finished 9th overall and to be honest, I was content enough with that. I had no intentions of winning the race and I feel that no-one can win the Lakeland100 unless you are completely familiar with the course and can run it without using the map. I was happy with my approach to the race, my pacing, my nutrition, my hydration and my mental attitude. What I’m disapppointed with is the amount of time I lost in the latter stages. Once again, this issue of muscle damage is the governing factor and it’s something I need to address.
This is an amazing event and an amazing experience. It’s really is a privilege to be able to take part and complete something like this. The organisation and coordination is first class and Marc and Terry deserve a special mention. The logistics involved in setting up a race like this are immense and practically everything is spot on. The one single downfall, and it is literally one thing that they got wrong, is the food at the checkpoints. The good thing is that is quite an easy fix so I hope they sort it for next year. Big shout out to all those to came to support, obviously my Dad, my mate Mark, Dave Bailey, Ian Roche and his girlfriend Kate. Finally, respect goes to the two guys that I ran most of the course with, John Tims and Simon Deakin, see you guys in the next cartoon !
Will I do it again ??? Most definitely… for now though, I’m off to play frisbee and drink some beer. If you made it to this stage, shout out to yourself !! This was an ultra blog !