Ascent: 6800 metres
Warning: This Post is way too longwinded!!
The Lakeland 100 was my main goal race for the year so when the time came and I was standing on the start line at 5.29pm on the 29th of July last, it only then really hit me that it was finally here and I was about to run a 105 mile circuit of one of the most beautifully scenic places in the world. Looking back now I think the World Trail championships race three weeks previously was a blessing in disguise, because it meant I had to rest up if I wanted to be right for the Lakes. So while a hard race of such importance so close to my goal race may not have seemed like a good idea on paper, in hindsight I wouldn't have done things any differently.
I arrived at the John Ruskin School in Coniston, the race headquarters on Thursday afternoon and had a look around. There wasnt too much happening at this stage as Registration didnt open until Friday morning. I did recognise one or two faces around the village though and my mind was put at ease by finally getting here. We went from here to Ambleside, a short drive away where we were staying at the local YHA. The place was buzzing with people of all nationalities, many there to walk the famous fells of the Lake District, a fact evidenced by the many sets of hiking boots on show. After settling in to our shoebox (room), myself and Laura took a walk down the town and I managed to carry out a recce of approximately 500 metres of the course from checkpoint 12 at the Lakesrunner shop, down through a small lane beside the hotel to the road that led to Rothay Park. So at least I now only had another 104.7ish miles which I wasn't familiar with. EASY!!
I headed to Coniston early on Friday and got registered and had my kit checked. Each competitor was weighed here too as a precaution. We would be weighed again immediately after the race as a way of guarding against the effects of hyponatraemia(somethingI suffered from after Ironman UK in 2007. It was not a nice experience but is easily prevented by making sure to manage fluid and electrolyte intake). After this I headed back to the youth hostel for a lie down. The 5.30 race start meant that my routine was a little out of kilter and I had a bit of time to kill before heading back to the race start.
On my return to Coniston, it had become really warm and and the sun was beaming. Personally I was delighted. The night would be clear and navigation would be made easier. The scenery wasn't going to be spoiled by lowlying cloud which was also a positive. What better way to see the Lake District than to basically run a big loop around it! Another treat was in store at the race briefing where the legendary Joss Naylor imparted some of his fell running wisdom on his captive audience. To put that in perspective for those that may not be familiar with this legend of fell running, it was probably the equivalent of Haile Gebrselassi giving the briefing at your next local road race (apart from the fact that Joss lives in the lake District and didn't have to travel from Ethiopia). I had to stop my starstruck self from doing something stupid like asking for his autograph on my chest.
After the briefing I had another hour to kill so I headed out to the car and made sure I had all the gear packed and was ready for action.
|Chatting with Stuart Mills before the start, last minute panicking about route changes|
It was quite warm now and had turned in to a cracking evening. As we were being corralled in to position for the start I spotted Barry, my Irish teammate from the World Trail Champs and made my way over. It was good to see a familiar face and chat to calm the nerves. I then spotted Terry Conway, the eventual winner just to my right. I had not met Terry before but knew of him from reading his blog and exchanging the odd email. It was good to finally meet Terry, as reading his account of the previous years race, along with his journey from being an orthotics and heavily cushioned shoe wearing runner to Eventually running in minimalist shoes, seemed to be very similar in a lot of ways to what I had been doing in the previous 6 months. His account helped me to finally believe that I did not need heavily cushioned shoes and orthotics to run, and if anything they were inhibiting my performance. The fact that I ran the full 105 mile route over some of the most unforgiving of rocky trails in a pair of Inov8 F-Lite 230's, a shoe which isn't much more than a slipper in comparison to the average pair, has convinced me fully of the merits of a minimalist approach. I could go on eulogising about the merits of barefoot/minimalist running but that is probably best saved for a separate post on the topic. So back to finally meeting Terry. He introduced me to his training buddy, Ian Bishop and we had a quick chat about how we were all feeling and what lay ahead. It was easy to see straight away they were both sound lads and I was thinking in my head that these were the lads to stick pretty close to, with their in depth knowledge of the course and undoubted ability as runners.
Que Joss with the air horn to get us all going and it was time to go! I wanted to go out with the leaders at the start and stay there as long as I could. The problem for me was no matter how good I felt I knew I was probably going to have to rely on following someone who knew the route. I had a GPS with the route downloaded on to it for backup and I had also invested in the Lake District 1:250000 mapping card which proved later on to be well worth the price. It was so accurate when needed but having never used it I was just happy to follow the leaders early on. A group at the front quickly established itself and myself, Terry and Ian were leading it out followed very closely by Barry, Jeff McQueen and John Tims.
|Terry, Ian and myself enjoying the evening sun at the 2.5 mile mark on Walna Scar Road|
I had not met Adam Perry yet but I would get to know him pretty well over the course of the next 101 miles or so when he caught up to us on the long descent in to Seathwaite. I didn't hang around too long at the First checkpoint, only stopping to dib and fill my bottle but I was left for dead by Terry and Ian, both of whom I was eager to stay with. Myself and Barry left together and were soon followed by Adam and John. Just after the checkpoint I pulled out the GPS for the first time when we came to a fork in the trail. Barry was pretty sure about the route we should take but I interjected with my tuppence worth and said we should be going in the opposite direction. Luckily for us Barry had reccied this section and he overruled my "brilliant" GPS. It must have just been warming up because it didn't let me down again. We continued on over some pretty boggy sections. Nothing like wet feet for a full 23 hours! On the descent just before the road section to Boot we caught back up to Terry and Ian and so our group was 5 strong again as we were greeted by a small crowd enjoying the evening sunshine and local ale outside the pub. Stuart Mills was here ready with his camera and Barry's Dad was shouting encouragement alongside His good friend Mark. A short distance beyond here and we were at the checkpoint. There was a TV camera here filming and loads of friendly staff milling around. This all made it feel quite hectic around here and I was glad to get moving again after a quick bottle refill.
|Arriving at the second checkpoint. Barry out in front with John, Terry Ian and myself in tow|
|Quick refill at the checkpoint|
|The climb out of Boot checkpoint|
Myself, Terry and Adam seemed to pull away from the rest of the lads here, although not very far. This next section brought us down to Burnmoor Tarn and more soggy underfoot conditions. The pace still felt fine and I was really enjoying the banter getting to know Terry and Adam. It was around this time that I learned that Adam had already completed a successful Bob Graham round and had done numerous other ultra races, finishing 2nd to none other than Jez Bragg at this years Fellsman. I was highly impressed given his youthful 22 years and knew I was in good company. My only worry at this stage was a tight calf I had been nursing for the previous couple of weeks. It was around this time that I had begun to worry about whether it would hold up, especially given how early in the race it was. I said nothing and just hoped it would ease out.
The scenery along here was awesome and the lads pointed out the mountains of note in the area including England's highest peak Scafell Pike, and Great Gable. Now this is what I came here for. The views were worth the wait and it dawned on me how lucky we were with the weather. We landed in to Wasdale where I decided to sample the soup from some of the very helpful and enthusiastic checkpoint staff. I also grabbed a handful of dried fruit and nuts and went on my way again. Terry was gone ahead again and so began my partnership with Adam as we began the long ascent over Black Sail Pass. This was probably my favourite part of the whole course with the vast expanse of some of the lake District's finest scenery opening up in front of us as we came over Black Sail. The descent was pretty technical and I was glad to be doing this while it was still relatively bright. We made our way down to the very cosy looking Black Sail hostel where a couple of it's residents were sitting outside soaking up the last of a stunning evening's light. I imagined coming back here on holiday and being able to stop and soak up the surroundings at my leisure. We continued on and were soon descending again, this time past the lake to Buttermere. It was along this flat stretch that I felt my calf and Achilles become quite painful again but I resigned myself to the fact that if that's how sore it got then great! There would be 101 other painful bits later to take my mind off it! Stuart was here again with the camera and Terry wad just leaving as we came in to the checkpoint.
|Bottle refill for Terry|
|Looking happy with ourselves at 26.3 miles, Buttermere|
I can't remember what I ate here but I do remember Adam grabbing an apple from the table and thinking to myself "that's a first, apples in a race".
|Adam's apple :)|
|Barry and John arriving at Buttermere|
|The following group, with Kevin Perry and Stuart Walker refuelling|
It was here that the headtorch had to go on for the first time as we left Buttermere and headed up a dark trail. I was still wearing just a singlet and shorts and found it hard to believe we were enjoying such mild and calm conditions.
|Onward to Braithwaite|
The next Section felt like a bit of a slog from what I can remember (note to self: don't wait almost 3 weeks before writing a bloody race report). It was difficult to find the right path given the predominance of thick vegetation and it was now well and truly dark. Still, we were going in the right direction and the conversation was still flowing. The valley finally opened up in front of us and the bright lights of Braithwaite came in to view. It wasn't long before we were running along the deserted road to the checkpoint at the church hall. Once again Stuart was here but this time he was joined by Ian who had unfortunately had to drop out. He had been suffering with sickness during the week and it was obviously still affecting him. He will no doubt be back to make up for it next year but was still full of encouragement for us, which is just typical of so many within the ultrarunning fraternity, and typical of runners in general. I had some rice pudding at the checkpoint and a little coke. Adam continued to munch anything that moved in an attempt to stay well fuelled.
The next section to Blencathra began with a long flat road section, the only place along the whole route that I remember being absolutely pancake flat and straight. It wasn't long before we were hopping the road barrier and taking a right turn through a wooded section. After another short road section we were heading for Spoony Green lane which eventually brought us to The Cumbrian Way and a long out and back section around the valley. As we approached the Blencathra Centre we noticed there was balloons tied to gate posts and I thought we might get to gate grash someone's birthday party but it was the checkpoint staff simply exhibiting their creativity for us and we had arrived at the centre. It was here I got a nice, and totally unexpected boost when I recognised one of the voices at the checkpoint. It was my girlfriend, Laura. Bearing in mind it was now around 2am in the morning and she struggles at the best of times without sleep, not to mention how the hell she found this place in the dark, I was completely taken aback but obviously very happy to see her. It turns out when she had gone back to the hostel in Ambleside earlier in the evening, she had been on the Internet tracking my progress, when some of the staff asked what was happening. They kindly offered to go on a mini road trip when their shift finished and ended up here. She had great craic with them and I was also very grateful for how well they treated her. Needless to say I recommend the Ambleside YHA for anyone planning a visit to the Lakes!
From here we were heading for The Old Coach Road. This section of the route had a couple of tricky bits of navigation and we took a couple of wrong turns, but luckily we realised our mistake and managed to get back on track and not lose too much time. My stomach was starting to give me a little trouble by now, which is something that always seems to occur after 7+ hours of activity. I have come to realise though that it is usually trying to tell me something, like I have eaten too much too quickly or I need to change the type of food I'm eating, or possibly I need to take on more electrolytes. I was using saltstick tablets and I think they were responsible for finally settling my stomach much later in the race, combined with just eating less during the second 50 miles. I never really got completely sick of sweet foods, which normally happens to me during these events, and this allowed me to just eat very small amounts of sugary foods to keep the calories going in. I would agree with what Stuart Mills has talked about in the past regarding how much one needs to eat in an event like this. When operating at an aerobic level, it seems (for me anyway) that I don't need to eat an awful lot and my stomach tends to act up if I do overeat. Adam on the other hand seemed to be the exact opposite and would eat whatever was on offer at the checkpoints! They could have put buckets of raw sheep testicles on the table and he would have given them a try! It seemed to work though and just goes to show everyone is different. Anyway I would just have to put up with a little stomach discomfort for the time being.
Once on the Coach Road I noticed that it seemed to be getting ever so slightly brighter and I began to think about Dalmaine and the official halfway point (actually 59 miles). But before that there was some really nice trail to enjoy. At Dockray we were met by the checkpoint staff who were all wrapped up and looked to be suffering a little in the cool early morning air. It was then I realised that it probably wouldn't be that warm at all if we were not running. And I did feel a little chilly leaving the checkpoint armed with a small bag of jellybeans.
After Dockray we made our way passed Ullswater Lake. It had now brightened significantly and we were treated to some stunning views across the lake. It helped to take my mind off feeling tired and sore, although I was feeling pretty good, relatively speaking. A long road section brought us to Dalmaine Estate and to the Checkpoint on the grounds of the Castle. I decided a change of socks would be nice here and without asking my drop bag was placed in front of me by one of the lads at the checkpoint. I also put on a pair of compressport calf yokies, I'm not sure what the proper name for them is. I dont normally wear them but thought they might help the calf. The checkpoint staff really went above and beyond to make sure the runners only needed to worry about running. It was also here that I had my first and probably only taste of Rolly Poley, a swiss roll type cake with custard on top. I don't know why I accepted a bowl of it because I certainly didnt fancy eating cake for breakfast, but I dont eat pasta and that was the other dish on offer. I had a couple of spoonfuls of cake and left it. I probably would have appreciated this delicacy under different circumstances but at the time, couldn't stomach it. Andy Mouncey arrived at the checkpoint as we were readying ourselves for the off and he looked to be going well. I knew we would do well to stay ahead of him but at the same time I felt we could.
By now it was well and truly bright and the day had dawned dry and sunny. By the time we had passed through Pooley Bridge Andy had closed the gap to within a couple of hundered metres of us. We managed to increase the gap a bit on the descent into the Howtown checkpoint. Again Andy arrived as we were about to leave for what I was assured was one of the toughest legs of the race with a tough slog over Wether Hill and High Kop and Low Kop. It was here that Andy passed us using his walking poles which I remember looking at enviously! As we approached the top of the climb, we had caught Andy again. If you read Andy's blog, you can get his version of what happened next. My take on it was slightly different. Myself and Adam moved ahead of Andy on the flatter section after Low Kop and I noticed Andy stop and fiddle with his shoe. He seemed to be taking an awful long time to tie his lace! I thought to myself "there's something strange going on here" and sure enough when I glanced across to my right, I caught a glimpse of Andy thundering down the steep slope, chopping a little chunk off the course in the process and taking over in second place. By the time we made it to the path along the lake, Andy was out of sight and that was the last we saw of him untill the finish line. Still, its not as if the time Andy made on us couldn't be made back up in the last 30 miles. So we cracked on to the checkpoint at Mardale head. Again the scenery along here was stunning but I could say that about almost every inch of the course. As I drank some coffee at the checkpoint I noticed a runner come in who I had not seen yet during the race. "Alright Dad", Adam said matter of factly as Kevin approached the table. I thought this was the best thing ever at the time. No fuss, no surprise, just a normal run of the mill thing, meeting your old man 75 miles into a race like this. So I now had two generations of Perrys to share the trail with.
The next climb up to Gategarths pass seemed to go on for ages (probably because it did go on for ages), but I was feeling strong and was just really enjoying the whole experience now. My feet were now starting to hurt and I kept getting small stones in my shoe adding to the pain. The skin on the soles of my feet felt like they were burning but thats the price I was paying for my footwear choice. I think its good to have a bit of pain like this to take your mind off the thought of having another x amount of hours to run. It wasn't excrutiating or anything and I actually think it probably helps in many ways, so I didnt let it get to me.
Going down the other side of the pass, I was glad of the dry conditions, given the prevalence of smoothe, Tour of flanders like, cobbles. Recceing this section in the depth of winter would have been fun! After a long stretch of rocky, foot crushing path, we arrived in Kentmere and the 82 mile mark. I remember drinking a lot at this checkpoint as it had gotten quite warm by now and my urine resembled the original flavour Lucozade (I know people really want to know that kind of gorey stuff). The climb out of Kentmere was another slog but once over the initial part, it was easy to establish a rythm and just keep moving. Kevin was falling a little behind on the climbs while I was a little ahead of Adam, but never too far ahead. Halfway up I met a mountain biker who told me Terry was aready gone through Ambleside but that Andy wasn't too far ahead, maybe 15 minutes or so and he looked tired. I was just concentrating on moving in the right direction and if that was good enough to catch Andy, then so be it. I was really looking forward to getting to Ambleside now, as I knew Laura and my parents would be there for a bit of support. It was great to finally arrive in to the town having run along the hills and throught the forests above the town for what seemed like ages.
|Ambleside - 89.4 miles|
|Lakesrunner Shop - should have brought the Lazer card!|
|Arriving at Tiberthwaite|
|Tough Old Station, eh Lads?|
|Who's idea was this 101.5 miles into the race?|
I made my way inside to be weighed, where I was told I had lost 6kgs. Hmmm, Lose a stone in 24 hours. I wonder could I market this thing! I had a lie down then and a quick word with Terry who had been finished for more than 2 hours. He had an amazing race and proved all his hard work and specific training paid off big time. Kevin Perry came in a short time later, obviously sorting out that rough patch pretty well. Barry wasn't long after that and had a really good race too so all was well with the world.
|Barry looking strong at the finish|
After a while we headed back to Ambleside to get a bite to eat. I rarely eat any meat but had a craving for pizza with meat, meat and more meat on top. So what better place than an italian restaurant. I should have looked more closely at the name though as we picked a vegetarian one! Oh well, the meat could wait until tomorrow.
The next day we headed back to Coniston for the prize giving and a couple of pints in The Black Bull Inn. Terry, his father in law(almost...no pressure TERRY!!), Barry and his dad, Karl and Mark, myself and Laura all enjoyed the banter and local ale for an hour or TWO to round off a great weekend
|Andy, Adam, myself and Terry at the prizegiving. There must have been a sale on those shorts!!!|
I have been trying to recover over the last three weeks and have only been doing short runs in an effort to clear up the niggles in my legs. I have combined this with some mountain biking and some great circuit classes at Fitnessworx
Next up is the Dublin Marathon on the Holloween bank holiday weekend, where hopefully I can improve on my marathon time. The speed work at Lakeland 100 will stand to me I'm sure :)
Ps: Thanks to Stuart Mills for some of the photos. Great job