I've just completed The Lakes 100 in a time of 32:03:51, and have very strange and mixed up feelings about it. Why? Well, I'm pleased to have finished but very disappointed not have broken my target of sub 30 hrs. In 2011 in ran 30:30, finishing strongly and with little pain and no real blisters. This time I'm nursing some very sore feet and pondering over what might have been and 'Why?'
OK, the Lakes 100 is a tough route (105 actually) and covers a large loop around the Lakes. The route is a really mix of trails, some tough going over rough Lakeland Passes, with rocky terrain underfoot. Navigation skills are needed, and a few recce runs can be very useful, but overall good 'hillskills' and experience are very valuable for success.
This year the weather was warm and humid for the first 24 hours before Saturday evening's thunder storms, initially welcome, later turned into heavy cold rain. What all this means is that after a 6pm Friday evening start, I was to finish at 2.00am on Sunday morning. I have a love-hate relationship with Lakes 100. The route is contrived in parts and the start time simply bizarre and incongruous with my target time. There is also a certain amount of crass over-hype that I find distasteful and many entrants seriously under estimate the terrain and skills required.
There is also the fifty mile event that starts around halfway at Saturday lunchtime from Dalemain and completes roughly the second half of the 100 route, so you are being passed by fitter and fresher runners, which can be a bit of a mixed blessing. When the majority of those 200 passing runners have all said, 'Well Done' or 'Awesome effort Mate' ...and you are feeling crap and know you've under achieved again, it's sometimes a struggle to be positive! Oh well, I've done 55 miles more than than they have!
So, what happened? I basically slumped in the last 20 miles, losing two or three hours against a 29/30 hour schedule. Unfortunately, my feet started to blister from around halfway, not too badly but it prevented me from running the flatter and downhill sections, which is crucial to maintaining a good average pace. And once the body, soles (and soul?) starts to decline the issue of 'enduring' an event becomes bigger than endurance. So, Saturday's evening finish dragged into Sunday morning, with darkness and heavy rain adding to the factors against me.
I'm pleased I kept going; a rational decision would have been to withdraw at Ambleside (90 miles). Afteral, I've nothing to prove and did my aprenticeship of hobbling around for a few days decades ago, and this week I've got three days on the fells assessing a Mountain Leader Expedition. So, I've done a 'pb' for 100 miles, (my worst from c.20x 100 milers) and that last 15 miles took me 6.5 hours mainly due to some very painful, and very slow rocky, wet and slippy descents.
But to me, it's not just about time but the quality of the performance; how much you enjoy it, the fun and banter you have with other runners, the sense of well being at the end. And that is where I'm confused and disappointed.
Blisters? Why, same socks and shoes as previous successful events, did the hot and humid conditions cause this? I guess I let myself down with regards to training. I may have been complacent, and certainly missed out on a few long days out in the past few weeks due to the very hot weather and spent the days road biking instead in order to get the breeze. Consequently, my legs didn't seem to have much 'running' in them, and I cramped up across the top of my quads occasionally from around the 40 mile mark. Stretching helped that greatly for a few hours but I finally resigned myself to the 'Long March if Doom' just to reach the end, from about 30 miles out.
A quick scan of the results show that I didn't slump too badly. My running mate Sharon McDonald pushed on from the 70 mile mark and finished in 29:20, and excellent performance in her first ever '100' and despite bad blisters. I've just been reading some stuff on the Lakes 100 Facebook page and there is a thread about what makes for a successful result. There is much to be said about reccing the course (after all it gives you specific experience of the terrain) but equally so, navigational skills, experience and hill skills are just as important and contribute to a strong finish. There is no doubt the event organisers do a great job of marketing their commercial recce's but equally, if you don't recce at a realistic pace and distance then it will lull you into a false sense of security. Professionally, I'm really concerned about people throwing themselves ill prepared at events, especially when they lack hill skills / navigation, etc. By just recceing the route in short fast sections you are playing a dangerous game. It's rather like just learning one recipe in the kitchen. I might be great at making that one dish, but throw in a few variables such as bad weather, getting off route and having a 'mare... and the plates will stop spinning. Ok, so this is a bit of a plug about 'navigation skills' but people with such skills tend to have good hill skills and experience too. They can cook and few dishes, and improvise when the menu changes at short notice. Take a look at www.nav4.co.uk for info about m Tour de Helvellyn and Lakes Mountain 42 events, as well as our 'Mountain Running Skills' training days which will give you a good insight into navigation skills, hiilcraft and much more.
I'll finish now; suitability bemused. Perhaps I'll be able to write part two and focus on preparation for 2014 once I've had a nice glass of Merlot and a snooze!Joe