Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Lakeland 100 - Part Two

One week on a few things have changed and life moves on from Lakeland 100 Part One

This last week consisted of only a couple of days rest and TLC before being out on the fells again working on Mountain Leader Assessment Expedition.  My blisters are healing nicely (plenty of old skin 'exfoliating' nicely) and the knee I managed to hyper-extend gave me some grief on rough and gnarly ground, expecially in the dark.

Thanks for all the feedback and comments; I'm sorry if Part One was a bit blunt, but people seem to appreciate my honesty, and races don't always go well and result in happy-clappy blogs.

'So, How was The Lakes 100?'

Well, I set off nice and steadily with Sharon McDonald running her first 100. The route climbs steadily for the first four miles, and with a strategy of 'not running up any hills' we quickly slipped towards the back of the field, but I was happy with this on a warm and very humid evening.  We we had good company with Ant Cooper and Sally Ozanne, both very experienced adventure racers, with some epic events under their belts.

So, over Walna Scar and steadily on down to Seathwaite where I made a quick stop to scoop up some stream water in my bottle. Unfortunately, this proved to be the first little problem; as soon as I removed the cap a strong musty smell belched out and despite rinsing it thoroughly the after taste was to stay with me for 60 miles.  Bit if a school boy error. Incidently, I tend to use Platypus collapsible bottles with sports caps and have half litre and one litre sizes; this one litre size hadn't been used for a while. These are excellent 'bottles' that can be folded away small or folded into a pocket of any size, and the contents don't slosh about.

A quick 'in and out' at Seathwaite - Checkpoint One, avoiding the temptation to stop and eat too much, but why was the 'dibber' buried at the back of the small crowded hall? Out across the fields and with the first real flat section everyone starts to settle into a rhythm. After another steady climb then undulating terrain around underneath Harter Fell we start to pass a few fast starters and still have good banter with Ant and Sally.  Every opportunity to walk, rather then run is taken in an effort to conserve the legs.
On the rough and tricky descent into Eskdale we gain a few more places past people not quite as used to The Lakes as ourselves but still keep the pace steady.  A flat couple of kms along Eskdale means that I'm obliged to jog along with Sharon close behind and a pied piper trail of a dozen or so others behind.  I feel a little bit like a marked man and many people say 'hello' but that could just be that we all have our name printed below our race numbers on the back of our sacs.

My ex-employers sponsor the event and the Eskdale checkpoint is staffed by ex-colleagues, so after a bit of 'fat boy banter' I start to relish the long easy climb over Burnmoor towards Wasdale. Again it's an easy steady pace and I smile inwardly at those who seem to be 'racing' and keen to gain a few seconds by upping their efforts, knowing that we probably will be passing most of them a bit later on.

Perhaps I should say a bit more about our schedule and expectations. I was aiming for sub-30hrs, having done 30:30 in 2011 and finished really strongly.  Just a few days before Sharon had been talking about a 28 hour target and so I had roughed out a 29hour plan.

Now I like Sharon, and I like schedules but I'm also experienced enough to know when I'm going fast enough.  But, I'm also happy to accept that I'm a bit lazy and appreciated Sharon's attempt to get me to race harder and faster.  So, strangely, knowing that we were ahead of the 2011 splits and feeling the pace was just about right I was happy to let The Captain handle the schedule, especially as she was well prepared with a small laminated copy tucked in a pocket.

Darkness fell as we reached Wasdale and the surreal 1970's disco themed checkpoint. Another quick 'transition' - no time tasted and a quick word with 'Mrs Sportident', the very experienced Debbie Thompson, as she carefully watched over the dibber box.

With hands full of food a drink, head torches already set prior to the checkpoint, I was ready for another big steep climb up to Black Sail Pass. Again we'd passed 10-12 people in the checkpoint (why do people run fast the stand still and waste time?) and was looking forward to gaining more time on the climbs and descents over to Buttermere. And so it was; our legs are definitely hill fit and we coped with the rough dark terrain much better than many who obviously lacked experience and confidence on rough Lakeland fells.

After another few flat runnable kilometres along Buttermere, Sharon was beginning to stretch the invisible elastic a wee bit, interpreting 'flat' and 'up' differently to me.  Ant and Sally both had need of some preventative foot taping so they pushed on to the checkpoint as well.  There was more jolly japes at Buttermere as 'The Chuckle Brothers' Charlie Sproson and Mr Burton were running a slick checkpoint.

Sharon and myself were away again quickly looking forward to another big climb. This one, over Sail Pass is actually a lot bigger than Black Sail but the terrain is less rocky and the climb more gradual. Again a steady pace took us passed one or two people and gains a few minutes despite me feeling a but wobbly just before the final steep pull, and resorting unusually to a 'gel.' Sadly, we seemed to have dropped Ant and Sally as they hadn't caught up. On dropping steeply towards Braithwaite and then jogging the log rough track towards outer side, I suffered my first twinge of cramp but it was short lived.

Early Breakfast - Pasta?

Braithwaite is the first checkpoint that does 'real food', meaning pasta and sauce, and as I much prefer savoury than sweet food, and we've done a third of the route with a big chunk of climbing a few minutes of stationary eating was time well spent.

'Beware the Chair' is a sound bite I heard a few years ago, referring to sitting down at checkpoints and the nullifying effect it has on momentum and pace, and it was very evident here as we stood and stuffed our faces. Once again we left quickly having past another dozen or so people enjoying an over-leisurely food stop.

More flat kms and I feel I'm moving OK but twinges of cramp in the quads are a worrying sign. I took a bit of a tumble on the flat, but dark railway path, which resulted in a comedy tumble before getting up and starting to run the wrong way. Fortunately The Captain was there to sort me out.

The route up Spinney Green Lane is familiar to all Bob Graham runners, and the easy climb leads to a great run around the Glenderterra valley. Dawn started to break around here which was a little worrying as I'd hoped to be further along, and past the Blencathra Checkpoint before daylight. Not too worry, we are still ahead of schedule and moving OK.  The long stretch from here to Dalemain is not without interest but I find it a drag despite the very good views from the Gowbarrow traverse path. All these sections I know very well, and, with hindsight it's actually 27 miles from Braithwaite to Dalemain, much more than it feels from my local knowledge.

Our underlying aim, and that of many Lakes100 'runners' is to get through Dalemain before the 50 runners start along the same course. We certainly achieved that arriving just after 9:30 and leaving by 9:45, so two hours or so head start on the 11:30am '50' start. Consequently, we'd be over Whether Hill before the lead runners would pass us and the field would be strung out by then.  My friend Marcus Scotney was running in the '50' with high expectation so I was keen to keep a look out for him.

One of my dislikes of the event is how the '50' route parachutes it self onto the main 100 route even after a their four mile loop around the fields of Dalemain. I can't imagine what it must be like being wrapped up into those crowds, but I am a bit of a cynical old crock and like my own space!

Dalemain (at 59 miles) is where you have access to your 'Drop Bag' so it was a quick sock change for both of us, great service from Laura (www.sportsunday.co.uk) with tea and drinks, etc. Sharon made good work if patching her quite badly battered feet, I picked up a pre-cooked and partially frozen pizza for later and we both devoured a large juicy Tuna Mayo roll.  All good food ...great fuel.

Homeward Bound

So ... into the second half; well last 45 miles.  Time to start counting down rather than up, and keep an eye on the rising temperature. The route drags on through Pooley Bridge and it's tourists and up to The Cockpit Stone Circle. I climbed well but had been struggling with water intake due to the musty smell and after taste in my Platypus.  Fortunately, Sharon had collect a 'FGS' Shake at Dalemain, so I was able to use the empty bottle for water, once we'd drunk it's Chocolately contents. Again on very familar ground, from there down to Howtown is one of  best MTB trails in the Lakes, and so suitably frustrating with sore and tired quads. It was also becoming evident that Sharon had more running in her legs than mine! 

We had been lucky with the weather; there was some minor cloud cover and a bit of a breeze, so even in the shelter of the valley the temperature was OK.  The Howtown Checkpoint marks the start of the last big climb; up Fusedale and over Whether Hill - a total climb of 530m on quite open lakeland fells. It's certainly got a tough reputation and coming after 67 miles is not easy.  But it's a good steady climb on nice small 'trods'.   Towards the top, just as it steeped for the last time, I needed to keep the pace steady and once I stopped for a pee.  From here, Sharon started to draw ahead and once over the top she was a soon a couple of hundred metres ahead and wanting to run fast, where as I was struggling to get the downhill legs going at all.  It was with some regret but much relief that I watched Sharon run effortlessly on the long descent towards Haweswater, but having lost touch with Sharon I enjoyed the company of Max Howard for a while.

The descent is actually quite easy and grassy, before dropping steeply through thick bracken to the Lakeside path.  The path starts off easily enough but becoes narrow, rocky and very undulating and the breeze had dropped to compound the hot temperature.  Marcus did coming screaming past us here, with at least a ten minute lead over second and third placed runners, and then a total of around a dozen more before Mardale Head.  There was very little running water in streams we crossed but I did manage to scoop a few half bottles as well as dunk my cap in before placing in back on my head.

Mardale Haven

The Mardale Head Checkpoint - staffed by Delamere Spartans - was very well run.  They seemed very well organised and empathetic to the runners' needs; no gimmicks, no unnecessary fuss.  Bear in mind here, that they have both '100' and '50' runners coming through each with quite diverse needs.  I stood quietly in the shade by the water bouser, drinking tea and a quick (*warm) tea and munching on my cold pizza whilst Nick filled my water bottle with Coke.  (* warm is good - not point giving us boiling hot tea)

'Oh, its nice to sit down for a while' said one runner - 'Beware The Chair' - was very evident here!
I might have been hallucinating here, but I'm sure I saw Charlie Sproson come into the Checkpoint on the '50' route. Charlie had been our host at the Buttermere Checkpoint - good effort Charlie!

Gatesgarth Pass is yet another easy / steady climb and it passed without incident. The descent into Longsleddale is quite 'boney' with large cobbled sets on much of the ancient by-way.  So, I was well aware that I'd be losing time but not running well down here and the passing of '50' runners shows just how slowly you are going.  Pushing on as best I could, I felt I was climbing well but losing time on the descents.  Bizarrely, I didn't feel the need to consult my schedule preferring to carry on based on gut feeling.  With hinsight, I was still on schedule for a 30hr finish here, if only I could move well down hill and on the flat. Sadly the blisters were starting to creep around the front of by 'pads' and on the side of my right heel just like it had done at The Dragon's Back Race last September.  The heel blister only causes pain when twisting and turning but the 'pads' (around the front edge of the ball of your foot) is a liitle more disabling.

The Kentmere checkpoint appeared chaotic (busy with too many people including a very beautiful young lady in a stunning dress bearing a supporters sticker - Ying and Yang)  so I quietly got what I need and marched on. Garburn Pass is rocky, but not so warm; more 'supporters' (who shouldn't be there) I found irriating, but that's my problem not theirs, so I quickly forgot about them.

The route from here is very 'runnable' if you are fit and without sore feet.  On the final tarmac descent into Ambleside my rright 'pad' blisters nearly erupted and I decided that I should look after them and avoid them popping.  I'd just made the decision to stop at Ambleside and take a look at them, when the heavens opened with torrential rain. It was very welcome at first but with only a few hundred metres to the Checkpoint I was saturated and the road was awash with running water.  Consequently, inside the checkpoint was busy and the floor wet and there was little chance of treating the blister with any success.

The Long March of Doom

The was nothing to be gained by staying - so out I went into the rain. The first part of the route is sheltered by trees and the rain was still a welcome relief.  Higher on the slopes of Loughrigg I needed to but my jacket on and strode on keeping plenty warm enough in shorts, T-shirt and good mid-weight waterproof smock.
The descent off Loughrigg was painful and slow.  The Cumbria Way (that the route follows up Langdale) is very fast, quite smooth and runnable and I managed to maintain a good 3mph on the flat section to the Langdale Checkpoint.

The very experienced 'Team Howard' host the Langdale checkpoint and I had a quick chat with a very busy Ross Howard (brother of Max who would be along shortly)  Standing once again (Beware The Sofa, here, not chair!) I had some excellent soup and bread, before pushing on with The March,  knowing that I'd be out a few more hours yet and a racing finish was dwindling away. I smiled quietly as a few '50' runners passed me for a second time, having taken a longer break.

Darkness began to fall towards the top of Langdale, sort of opposite the New Dungeon Ghyll pub.  It's great to hear the noise from the pub as you slip quietly by, climbing up towards Side Pass.  The '50' runners were comng past now in pairs and small groups, many of which were very complimentary and good company, but I must admit it is hard being past by those who you wish you could keep up with.   Last year I was able to keep pace with some of those passing me.

On the very rough ground around Blea Tarn it became very dark and wet.  The '50' runners seemed to come through in very gregarious gaggles; some very lightly dressed and still without waterproofs on.  The path is easy to lose but I stayed high and true to the instructions to arrive at the extra unmanned control at the bottom of Wrynose Pass.  Looking back there was many people not taking such a good or efficient line.

'Just one more climb' one of the passing '50' runners said as they ran down the tarmac.  'Well, not really!' I thought ...'There's a little lump between here and Tilberthwaite before the last climb.  'Just One More Climb' passed me again and as I started the climb; I'm not sure where they had been.

Strangely, it went very quiet on the next section with no-one passing me for a long while.  I was very conscious that I was working hard physically and mentally, and momentarily worried that I'd drifted off onto the wrong route.  Around the same time I spied a half eaten '9Bar' still in it's wrapper on the track, so stabbed it with my walking pole (I'm not adverse to clearing litter or gaining additional sustainence!)  Luckily I missed as the '9Bar' quickly jumped away and revealed itself to be a frog - same sort of colourings but not as tasty I assume.  After that I saw many frogs and at least I knew I wasn't hallucinating.and another couple of runners came past just as we reached the descent to Tilberthwaite ... er, just by the bit that usually wipes me out on my mountain bike!

The Final Count

My most vivid memory of the Tilberthwaite checkpoint was having a great cup of tea (with a top-up of cold water) with my hood up closed tightly around my face, whilst watching a runner being treated for mild hyperthermia.  He was sat in a deck chair with a foil blanket wrapped around his shoulders, topped by a tarten blanket and appeared to be dressed in just shorts and shirt.    I spoke quietly with the checkpoint marshal, mainly to prove I was very awake and quite normal, but suggested the runner put some spare clothes on. Apparently, he had none ...

The Steps mark the start of the last climb and 3.5 miles to the end.   I knew it was now past midnight as I'd asked if it was Sunday yet. Since we started this event on Friday ... it was turning out to be a long plod.  I don't know why I hadn't been looking at my schedule since Sharon had headed off, but new I'd missed my 30 hr target. Once again, I climbed really strongly, only stepping aside off the track when a train of '50' runners came past and even then they weren't going much better than me.  Simply finishing was the game now; conditions were deteriorating and the humid rain had become cold and persistent.  I was still comfortable in shorts, cycle shirt and mid-weight waterproof as I climbed and psyched myself up for a fast and painful descent.

 A stiff breeze heralded the top of the climb and arrival at the subtle col before the final descent.  It's rocky and wild and I was prepared to burst blisters if needed and run the final descent on painful quads.  The first few minutes went OK, but then I slipped and hyper-extended my right knee, bending it backwards in a sickening bout of pain.  I sat for a few seconds thinking that this might be a '999' call, but the pain subsided and I grounded my walking poles more vehemently than before.

It was a long slow descent.  I finally sunk below the glow of some skylights meaning I'd reached the houses in valley bottom and there would only be a couple of km down the rough valley road. The rain was coming down as heavy as ever and I was chilling rapidly. I tried just once to run, but without success.  I finished in a very 'flat' mood.  No elation or sense of acheivement, just a small glow of satisfaction that it was over. Once I'd put my dry spare based layer on, topped by the correct race T-shirt ('Yes, I've done the 100!') I soon warmed up, and felt OK. After what can only be described as very average pasta meal, I was way to my bed.

No beer for me this year ...

Lessons Learnt:

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