In three days time I will be starting out on my Ultra Running Holy Grail – the Lakeland 100. I have had this race on a pedestal from the day I first heard of it. In my mind I have long considered it to be the pinnacle of single day (ish!) ultra/trail running in this country, (without taking on crazy scrambles like the Skyline series or multi-day events like The Spine or The Dragon’s Back). Training has been injury free (glass half-full) but inconsistent and erratic (glass half-empty). However, as it has been OVER FIFTEEN MONTHS since I wrote a blog, there is a need to go back to the start to fill in some blanks…
Welcome to the World, Lottie!
Daughter number 3 (was it ever in doubt?) arrived on 19th April, 2017. Lottie Mary was born on a lovely spring day and, it has to be said, has pretty much been a little bundle of joy ever since. Clearly she is going to be my excuse for everything that has gone wrong with my running since that date but, hey, I live in a house full of girls now so I should be allowed to whinge every now and then!
Clearly, as I have not blogged since, she is now 15 months old and looks like this:
Time flies. Literally. I have no idea where this 15 months has gone. I am aware of some of the things that have happened. Other things… not a clue. But what I can say definitively, whatever I may be about to tell you in terms of my running, is that our lives are better with Lottie in them. Our little band of five feels complete (it had bloody better be!)
The 2017 Resolutions.
Mainly shambolic. But for the purposes of honesty and integrity here is a brief review:
1 – Beat the 2017 mileage (1800 miles) – er, no. I was just about on target in April – until Lottie was born. (Baby excuse 1.)
2 – Run a 100 mile race – YES! Yes I did! Details later.
3 – Marshal at a race – YES! Yes, we did! (Leanne and I). We achieved this one with distinction too. Details later.
4 – Take Hannah and Nancy to Parkrun – well technically we did, but I’m only going to claim a 50% pass on this one. We went once in Leicester while visiting friends because they go a lot. But, to be fair, whenever we go to races and there is a kiddies race the girls happily take part, so I do at least feel like I am inspiring them, even if I could do a lot more.
5 – Get St Catharine’s running – no, not really. Need to try harder with this next year.
6 – PB at 100 miles, 50 miles, marathon, half marathon, 10k and 5k – nope. I did the 100 and 50 PBs by virtue of running those distances for the first time! But I have only done one road race in 18 months now, the Wigan half, and that is a hilly course where a PB is not going to happen anyway. I’m disengaged and uninspired by road running at the moment and, even if I wasn’t, the PB pace, fitness and form is way off over some distant horizon.
7 – Update the blog regularly – no answer required. Utter shambles.
8 – Baby buggy run! Yeah baby! Went a little bit belly up in the end, but I did it. Details to follow.
In light of recent failures, I revised my Resolution Strategy for 2018; this year there was only ever going to be one:
1 – Complete the Lakeland 100
So, with reference to some of the above, let’s take a look at a few highlights since I last bored you with the details. In no real chronological order:
Holidays continue to be the time I enjoy running the most. Exploring new places and getting up and out there really give me a lift. There were a few new places to try out this year; Lottie has been truly blessed to travel to so many different places for mini-breaks in her first year. In no particular order: Woolacombe (Jeez the cliff up to that caravan park!), Anglesey, London, Yorkshire (Pennine Barrier 50 [2017 & 2018]), French Alps, Snowdonia, Porthcawl, Prestatyn, Birmingham (!).
The Pram Push Resolution – #DaddyDayCare
Due to the fact that I have an amazing wife, and a very understanding boss, I was extremely fortunate to be able to share maternity leave with Leanne. So, after the Summer holidays 2017, Leanne went back to work, and I stayed at home with Lottie for seven weeks until the October half term. Looking back on it now, I can say that I probably spent too much time at home doing washing, ironing and housework and not enough time getting out and about with the baby but I can still say, hand-on-heart, it was seven of the best weeks of my life.
To actually have time to be a real parent, to know that everything you are doing is for the benefit of your family, to have time to spend with your precious baby – was just the best thing. If we could afford to do it full-time we definitely would. Leanne is at her happiest at work; I am at my happiest at home. We were the perfect team. The girls loved it, (I think!) We had half the children on the estate coming round for breakfast by the time the seven weeks were up, and the rest came to play after school. I could do homework with them. I knew what was going on at school. They didn’t have to get up at 6.45am every morning, so they woke up refreshed and happy. And yes, I did sometimes go out and do coffee with some other fellow human beings!
But you haven’t come here to listen to family planning – you’ve come for the running! So, here’s how it worked: every morning I got up and put my running kit straight on. Then I got the baby up, then I got the girls ready. Then we walked to school. And guess what? At 9am every day I was waving the girls into school with my kit on and the baby strapped in. What are you going to do?!
And so the #DaddyDayCarePramPush was born! I became quite a well known figure around the local estates; my fellow parents at the school gate clearly thought I was insane, people would stop me to ask what I was doing, I’d see the same old dears at the same bus stops every morning, I got a bit of social media buzz – I think I could have made a career out of it if I could have afforded to stay off work longer!
The weather tested me – so many showers! I felt like I spent more time putting on the rain cover and taking it off again than running at times. The pavements round here are dire; how Lottie didn’t end up with shaken baby syndrome I do not know. There is so much dog **** around here which just gave me another reason to hate dogs even more than I already do: I loved cleaning those deep buggy tyre treads dog owners – thanks very much. And, oh my word, the hills round here get hillier when you are pushing a buggy up them!
Still, we persevered through all these things until the straw which broke the camels back – Autumn. Things started falling off tress. Sharp things. And sharp things puncture buggy tyres. EVERY TIME. After a couple of weeks of non-stop punctures and buying new inner tubes, I gave it up. Cycling will never be for me – I get far too irrational when things (mechanical things) out of my control stop me doing what I want to do.
But it was good while it lasted. The #DaddyDayCarePramPush got a bit of a dusting off this Easter when we travelled to the French Alps for a family ski holiday. We took it in turns to stay off the slopes and look after Lottie while the girls were at ski school. Might as well be productive, eh?! I can now officially tell you that pushing prams up hills in a foot of fresh powder at 2200metres above sea level is even harder than doing it around Wigan!
The Marshalling Resolution – the Official Wigan Harriers Checkpoint of the UGB200 2017!
Oh my, have Leanne and I found a new fun pastime?! We both think it might be better than actually running! We always suspected that it would be great to help out – and it is. We’ve marshalled a couple of Wigan 10k Trail Races now and love it. I also took the girls to give out bottles at the water aid station at the Wigan 10k and loved that too. But none of these compared to organising the Sykehouse checkpoint, 143 miles into the 200 mile UGB200 race, last summer.
I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that obviously, after 143 miles, the competitors are very spread out and in varying degrees of distress! Thus, work really started on a Sunday lunchtime at about midday, getting ready to welcome the leading runners who had covered the distance to date in a little over 30 hours! And we didn’t stop working until the last of the runners left the CP on Tuesday morning – nearly 48 hours after we had started! It sounds terrible, but it was utterly amazing!
Some runners were in and out quickly, some stopped for a sleep, some wanted pampering, some wanted leaving alone, some couldn’t eat, others couldn’t stop eating! But it was a pleasure to help them all. It was incredible how well you felt you knew people who only flashed into your life for 30 minutes at a time. We were watching the tracker and plotting their progress towards us; much of the time their families would arrive before them to cheer them in, so we felt like we knew everyone before they even got to us!
I cannot possibly name check everyone who we met – but many of you will be reading this now. We made friends for life with people we met for less than an hour. It was inspiring to be part of, regardless of whether those runners eventually reached the end of the course or not. Congratulations to each and every one of you – it was 48 hours Leanne and I will never forget.
Finally, a big shout out to the team at GB Ultras – what a team of heroes they are! You don’t have to do 200 miles – they have other, shorter events as well! Many are ideal for the debut ultra runner, if you are thinking about it! Check out their events on the link below:
The 100 mile race resolution – The Robin Hood 100.
If you have read between the lines so far you will have worked out that, as soon as Lottie was born, running took a back seat. Not through any conscious decision, just that there simply wasn’t enough hours in a day anymore (this is still largely the case – Baby excuse 2) But I had reached a stage where I was finding the 50-60 mile ultras a bit ‘easy’ – this obviously isn’t the case but, mentally at least, I had switched off from them.
I needed something to occupy my mind and I found it – after 3 years I felt that The Lakeland 100 was finally an attainable goal.
I decided that, given the difficulty of the terrain, I didn’t want the LL100 to be my first 100 mile race; I needed to mentally and physically conquer the distance over easier terrain. By chance I stumbled across the Robin Hood 100 in the t’internet, taking place mid-September, and phase 1 of my battle plan was sorted.
The battle plan was a little unusual though! I didn’t want to dedicate my summer to training – so I didn’t! We went to Anglesey and I ran most days, but nothing oppressive – I think the longest I did was 12 miles. I was just ticking over. I did one long run of 21 miles, out and back on the canal at home, as there was a long stretch of canal on the Robin Hood 100. Other than that, training was minimal in the extreme.
The reason for this ‘lax’ attitude? Well, I figured that, no matter how fit I was, the LL100 would be beyond physical; a complete mental battle. So I figured running a ‘flat’ 100 miler at less than peak fitness might provide the same mental battle as the LL100.
See? A valid reason for not really training!!!
Anyway, again I won’t bore you with an extended race report of the Robin Hood 100, too much time has passed. But I loved every minute of it – or at least the first 85 miles!
I got the mental battle I wanted after 84 miles. From there it was homeward bound on a canal towpath in the night, my achilles heel of sleep deprivation properly kicking in – plus I realised it was going to be 103 miles and not 100, which knocked me for six at the time! My only goal had been to break 24 hours, which I was well inside, but the extra 3 miles would make it closer. But finishing was never in doubt. I went through 100 miles in approx 22h45 and finished the race in 23h40. I think I was asleep within 5 minutes of crossing the line!
Lakeland 100 – the Recce Runs.
And so into 2018. The determined plan to be at my absolute peak of physical fitness simply hasn’t happened. In fact, in terms of pace, this is the slowest I have been for four or five years. It hasn’t been a complete disaster by any means but, as previously mentioned, just way too inconsistent. Great training week has been followed by a poor one. Mega mileage week followed by 10 days of not running at all. Life has certainly got in the way (Baby excuse 3) but sometimes you simply have to have other priorities in your life and, ultimately, being a parent is one of them. (The most important one, I hasten to add!)
But, taking my usual ‘glass-half-full’ approach, there have been definite training highlights and positives. I haven’t been injured all year for a start, that’s a definite positive of training less! I have generally managed to keep the ‘long’ training runs going at weekends, it’s been the midweek quick-fire stuff that has been often missing. Consequently, I do feel that my ‘ultra-fitness’ is there – I’m just lacking fast twitch muscles fibres at the moment!
But unquestionably the highlight of training has been the real emphasis on visits to the Lake District to recce the Lakeland 100 route. Along with Rob Lister, my trusty teammate (and also a father of 3!), we made a conscious decision that we had to train smart for this one. There really only is one way to train to race in the Lake District – that is to train in the Lake District!
I ran from Ambleside to Coniston and back (31 miles) by myself in April; a combination of very well known spots (Langdale) and some lesser known corners of the Lake District (Tilberthwaite). Rob and I ran 20 miles in May, including the Mardale Head to Ambleside section. So that was legs 11 to 15 sorted.
Then Rob and I spent the May bank holiday weekend running the 59 miles from Coniston to Dalemain, split over two days. If we thought the first two recce visits were warm, it was nothing compared to the Bank Holiday! Scorchio! We both suffered from wobbles at some point but we were massively under-fuelled compared to what we will be on race day, (bearing in mind that we had to carry all our provisions, whereas in the race we will be fed and watered at checkpoints!) So that knocked off legs 1 to 8.
Finally, we took advantage of a spare day before the Lakeland Trails 55k race to recce Fusedale and the descent to Haweswater from leg 10. So the only leg we have missed is leg 9 and we have used that path before in other races.
Rob and I counting off the checkpoints during our roasting Bank Holiday recce runs. I’ll leave it to the experts to name the CP venues! (Legs 1 to 8!)
As the race day approaches we both feel that, without these recce runs, our chances of finishing the race would be practically zero. As it is, we have given ourselves a chance.
The 2018 Ultra Races.
GB Ultras Chester 50 miles (10th March – 9hrs, 5 mins. 21st place)
It’s very hard to remember that, in this Summer to beat all Summers, we actually had dire weather all the way into April! The entire Winter, and a good chunk of Spring, were spent running through muddy sludge. This race certainly encapsulated that! After a gentle-ish 20 miles on mainly firm towpath, we hit the mud! And mud was all we saw for the majority of the next 30 miles! I was so glad I took it easy at the start as I actually finished quite strongly whilst many wallowed around sinking to their doom! No-one who ran it will forget it, that is for certain! A great event, and a course that I really enjoyed and would do again. I should certainly smash my time given slightly firmer conditions!
GB Ultras Pennine Barrier 50 (23rd June, 9hr 52mins, 20th place.)
Delighted with this run. I suspect I will look back on this race as being my peak of fitness for 2018. Cooler conditions than the inferno of 2017; reflected in the time. 2hrs 25mins faster in fact! I took it steady and, consequently, pretty much held my pace all the way round. I enjoyed route marching the hills and consciously tried to go slower descending (definitely something I have learned this year.) Improved positioning of checkpoints and slight route amendments for the better from the excellent GB Ultras team meant a smooth day out. The Yorkshire Three Peaks were absolutely heaving (I was quite lucky to pass them early, being one of the quicker runners on the day) and, to be honest, I’ve seen enough of that route now to probably pass on the event next year, but it was a great day out and highly recommended for those looking for the perfect blend of hill climbing/descending and smooth running.
Lakeland Trails UT55k (8th July, 7hrs 15mins, 54th place)
Our last long run, 3 weeks before the big one, was the UT55k. We’d completed the 110k previously but that was no longer an event and, to be honest, I’d long wanted to try the 55k route. It was worth the wait. It is a terrific course which requires quite a bit of thought. Attack early and you will definitely come a cropper later. As it was, the muggy conditions meant that, after a really good start, we both decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Leaving the Grasmere CP at 20 miles in 32nd and 33rd place, we could both feel the conditions taking their toll. Neither of us wanted to blow up just 3 weeks before our ‘A’ race, so we settled down and enjoyed the scenery a bit. To be honest, I think if I had pushed on I would have suffered later, so it was nice to wander round and enjoy it, despite having to reign in competitive instincts as runners passed by. I was pretty bushed by the last checkpoint – it really was one of those days when it was difficult to get enough fluids on board. Still, we had a good weekend including the recce the day before. Have we done enough? Time will tell.
IT’S TIME……. THE LAKELAND 100
So this is it. In 72 hours time I’ll be on course. The Lakeland 100 is a 105 mile race (of course it is 105 miles, how long did you think a 100 mile race is?!) in a clockwise loop. Starting at 6pm on Friday 27th July in Coniston, the route takes in places like Wasdale, Buttermere, Braithwaite, Pooley Bridge, Mardale Head, Kentmere, Ambleside and Langdale before finishing (hopefully) back where we began, in Coniston, within the 40 hour cut-off on Sunday morning.
How hard is it? Well the number that has been ringing round my head for 10 months is 45%. What is 45%? That is the percentage of competitors who do not finish (DNF), on average, every year. That sounds bad enough until you realise that this is not a race for beginners; there is a pretty rigid qualifying criteria – I was relieved to be accepted into the race, that is the level we are talking about. Put another way, I am definitely not in the top 55% of runners in this field meaning that, statistically, I shouldn’t really finish the race.
Conditions will play a massive part and, to a certain extent, I believe we are in a lucky spot. The Summer has been so long and dry that many of the well known boggy sections of the route are entirely dry. Whilst that makes hard packed trails very unforgiving on the feet, the lack of boggy ground should at least help the legs. The obvious downside of this is that the weather is likely to be warm again, which brings with it a different set of problems. (At the moment the forecast appears kind – fingers crossed!)
I am not in my best shape physically but I feel I am in my best shape mentally. This should count for a lot because, as I learned on the Robin Hood 100, there is a point when you can’t get anymore physically tired than you already are and that’s when your mental state kicks in!
I have learned so much in the last six months, which surprised me because I thought I was a pretty competent ultra runner before that! Slowing down my pace has meant faster race times, preparing for checkpoints before I reach them and having a plan for those breaks has massively reduced my time spent stood still.
And here’s an amazing thing I’ve only really grasped recently – drinking water is really not a good idea! Doubly so in this heatwave. Keeping hydrated with electrolytes is something I have done for a while but I hadn’t really grasped how vital it was! Sweating out salt and only replacing it with water just means diluting your salt levels. If you do this over and over in an ultra you are going to end up in a mess. Now I absolutely make sure I finish my electrolyte drink before I reach every checkpoint so I can refill and go again. Sounds simple but it’s so important.
I only have two targets for the race; the first is to finish and, ultimately, that is the be-all and end-all. The other is that I would love to reach Dalemain Estate (59 miles) before 11.30am on Saturday. The Lakeland 50 event starts then and I know so many people taking part that I think it would be a huge mental boost to see them all and then be overtaken by them all in the afternoon! Friendly faces go a long way when you are in the hurt locker!
So…… it’s time. If you are interested enough you can follow my progress on a live tracker through the weekend, the link to which is below. I am number 309 and my little dot will be on the move from 6pm on Friday, (I hope!)
My twitter feed will automatically update every time I reach a checkpoint – you can follow me at @GBSticks11 (or use the link to the right of this blog).
Apologies for not setting up my charity for this year – I may have mentioned I’ve been busy? (Baby excuse 4.)
All that remains is to say thanks for reading, special mega huge thanks to Leanne, Hannah, Nancy and Lottie who have again let me go out and do things that reasonable families would have every right to complain about, thanks to running buddy Rob Lister – we have both needed support at times this year and it is invaluable to have someone there going through the same things, thanks to the organisers of all these amazing events – so much goes on behind the scenes that the vast majority of runners don’t even know about and, finally, thanks to all those fellow crazy fools out there in the ultra running world who I share these adventures with – there have been too many people in the last 15 months to name check but everyone we meet at both GB Ultras and Lakeland Trails in particular are great people, (you are probably one of them if you are still reading at this point!)
Good luck to the organisers of the Lakeland 100 and 50 events at the weekend, I hope you have a stress free and successful event. Good luck to my fellow 100 and 50 runners aiming to become #Lakelandlegends over the weekend – I hope to catch-up with you all at some point!
LET’S DO THIS PEOPLE!