So here we are again. Lakeland 100 week. Three days to go. The training is done. The lists are written. The kit sorting and packing has begun. The hourly weather forecast check is underway – never a good thing to do where the Lake District is involved! The mental anguish is in full flow! Like many events in life that cause stress and worry, I am at that stage where I am thoroughly fed up of over-thinking what is to come and desperately need to just get on with it!
So, how are things looking with 72 hours to go? Well, I have to say the positives vastly outweigh the negatives and, to be honest, I feel I have done a decent job of banishing the negative thoughts. Everything is focused on reaching that finish line. Last year was about the experience; this year perhaps doubly so. But, despite the physical preparation being anything but smooth, I definitely feel a little more pressure to get it done this year. If pre-race nerves are genuinely a good thing, then I am definitely ready to go!
Before I dwell on these things though, let me just look back for a moment at a couple of absolutely crucial days in the Lake District which went my way, fed my confidence, and re-assured me that – at the very least – I should be on that start line at least giving it a go.
Saturday 22nd June – recce/training run: Braithwaite, Buttermere, Black Sail Hut, Black Sail Pass – and back again. 24ish miles, 6500ft climbing.
I was traveling alone. This suited me fine as I did not want anyone else affecting my pace or decision making on the day. I chose, in my opinion, the toughest section of the LL100 route to out and back on. Not for bravado or anything; just that, given how all my training had been on the flat as I recuperated from injury, I desperately needed to be climbing up and descending on the kind of technical terrain that the Lake District offers. Plan A was to get all the way down into Wasdale and back. This would have been about 28 miles.
I parked in Braithwaite rather than Wasdale due to the easier, quicker drive and was climbing by 8.00am. This direction also meant I was returning in the ‘right direction’ for the LL100 on tired legs after the outward journey. Although I don’t normally like ‘out and back’ runs due to the mental torture, I do find for reccying routes that you get a lot more familiar with the terrain by traversing it in both directions.
The other reason for choosing this section is that it is completed in the race at nighttime. I hear lots of people saying you should recce the night bits in the night, but I want to see it in the day and be familiar with what it looks and feels like – it’s a personal thing but that helps me to visualise it in the night when you can only see as far as your headtorch beam.
I made the three mile climb up to Sail Pass reasonably comfortably. As I reached the saddle I was aware of a long line of walkers crossing in front of me and heading up Sail itself. It turns out I had chosen a busy day in this area as the ’10 in 10′ event was on – a charity event where you walk over 10 local summits in 10 hours. Fortunately I was not summiting and dropped off the other side with the path to myself, towards Buttermere. Anyone who knows the Lakeland 100 route will know this bit of path has a bit of a reputation – it’s probably the steepest, hardest bit of path on the entire route. It’s only about three-quarters of a mile but on a very steep, scree scattered path. And I can tell you it is as difficult to descend as it is to climb! In fact, this was the one moment in the entire day that I could feel my calf nagging me again. Once on the more sensibly contoured path below, I could trot the three miles down to Buttermere with relative ease and comfort.
It was in the course of this descent that I realised I was going to face an unusual problem (for me), in that my stomach was turning somersaults. I had had ‘a problem’ the night before but assumed it was just a bodily reaction to a long, difficult week. Now I realised it might be more of a bug – I was extremely fortunate that my route of choice afforded me regular access to public conveniences; I was going to need them!
After the first of what would become regular ‘pit-stops’, I skipped freely down towards the lakeside – keen to spend a moment admiring one of my favourite views. So keen was I in fact, that I continually ignored the diversion and ‘No Bridge’ signs until I reached the end of the lake and – guess what? There was no bridge! So I had to retrace my steps back towards the village and follow said diversion route to the next bridge down river. From standing at the place where the bridge should be, to the same point on the far bank, was probably close to 1.5 miles. I should probably have just forded the river in the first place! It will be interesting to see if we are allowed to do that on race day or if we are instructed to follow the diversion to the bridge.
From that point it is a pleasant, undulating run through the woods alongside the lake until the stiff climb up Scarth Gap Pass – a tricky, technical descent in the opposite direction, in the dark, on race day.
The weather was warming up now and my stomach wasn’t really playing, so I was very pleased when I dropped off the other side and Black Sail Hut, the remote Youth Hostel at the head of the Ennerdale Valley, came into view.
Bag dropped, straight into the toilet, about 12 miles (including my unintentional diversion) under my belt. It was decision time. I sat facing the next climb, Black Sail Pass, considering my options.
I had to be sensible; if I climbed up the next pass and dropped the 2.5 miles into Wasdale on the far side, I was then committed to coming all the way back again. Progress was not fast due to the terrain, my cautious pace, the increasing heat and my unhappy tummy, which was starting to leave me a little weak.
I made what turned out to be a great decision. I knew I would be cross with myself if I simply turned round from the hut, so I decided to climb to the col of Black Sail Pass, but turn around at that point. I could then make a cup of tea – as well as use the ‘facilities’ – at the Hostel on the return route before heading back to Braithwaite. I estimated that would still be well over 22 miles and a lot of climbing too.
It’s another steep, technical climb up Black Sail Pass, but really useful as it is a popular spot for LL100 runners to make a navigational error in the middle of the night. So it was good to ascend and then immediately descend the route again and get used to the right / left path wiggle that so many runners miss in the dark.
And so the day continued, re-tracing my steps from the morning. I didn’t eat a thing all day as I wasn’t sure what would happen, but drank lots and used my electrolite tablets to keep me well hydrated – as well as toilet stops, I was lucky that the same places gave me lots of chances to re-fill water bottles throughout the day.
I had a long stop at The Fish Inn in Buttermere, a beautiful spot on a hot Summers day, and downed a couple of pints of full fat coke to give me the energy for the 3.5 mile climb back up to Sail Pass. This climb had killed Rob and I on our scorching recce the year before and, given that we climb it at approximately 1am on race day, it can also be a point in the race when enthusiasm and energy is waning.
But I plodded it out reasonably steadily – with the exception of the dreaded scree path at the top which is guaranteed to suck the last reserves of energy from tired legs!
Finally reaching the pass, I knew I could enjoy the three mile descent into Braithwaite satisfied with my day’s work. But thank goodness I chose not to drop into Wasdale, as I was utterly drained by the time I reached the car! I found some shade behind a bush and lay out for quite some time, guzzling Lucozade for all I was worth. My calf had survived, but my legs cramped so badly that, being alone, I couldn’t move for some 15 minutes as my leg spasms rooted me to the spot!
Still, on reflection, a hugely successful day and one which eased just about all my mental fears about starting the big race.
Lakeland Trails 100k: midnight, Saturday 29th June. (Legs 1-5; deliberate DNF at Glenridding, 39 miles.)
And so to the following Saturday. The forecast was hot, both Friday and Saturday, which at least made my pre-race decision easier. After my good run the week before, I now knew that there was no need to risk injury, dehydration etc just to prove a point and finish this race. A tough 35-40 miles was an ideal way to follow up the previous weekend. If I dropped at Glenridding feeling good and capable of continuing, then all the more reason to stop and feed my positive energy.
And boy was the Friday hot! Much like LL100 the year before, pre-race sleep was impossible as there was nowhere cool enough to sleep! The tent was like a pressure cooker!
This meant that the midnight start – which I intended to use to test my ability to cope with sleep deprivation, was going to do just that!
So, I hear you ask, how did I cope with the sleep dep – knowing that it was there and was the sole cause of my potential mood? How much had I learned from my reflection of last year’s LL100? Well, in short………
Honestly, you wouldn’t believe it! I was so tired after a week at work, I knew I wouldn’t sleep pre-race, so I knew exactly what was going to happen! Here was my chance to show that I could win the mental fight and know, deep down, that I wasn’t unfit or unable to run, I was just sleepy. And what happened….?
I sulked for the entirety of the run!!!
Pathetic! The night run was magical on a beautiful night. Lines of lights strung out behind on several parts of the course on a humid, crystal clear night.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, NOTHING in running beats the night section of an ultra on a beautiful night. Unfortunately, I was in such a frightful mood that I had to absolutely force myself to look around and take it in. I saw Rob coming out of the first CP at Kentmere (7 miles) and told him that, if Leanne had been there in the car, I would have got in without hesitation!
Still, I persevered (there was nothing else to do after all) and, once the dawn started to break, a funny thing happened. As if to prove how much ultra running is all in the mind, my mood lifted with the light and, by the time I reached Bampton 23 miles in, I was ticking along nicely. They do bacon butties at Bampton as part of the ‘breakfast time CP’ theme but I utilised my new ‘streamlining-time-spent-in-checkpoints’ routine and left after 10 minutes having downed a cuppa and a couple of sarnies.
I gently cruised through the next stage to the Howtown Bobbin Mill, scene of last year’s LL100 biblical deluge but still easily my favourite CP venue of any ultra I have ever done.
I cannot tell you whether I was subliminally happy to be finishing after the next stage, but even the tough climb up to Boredale Hause passed peacefully and the tag on miles alongside Ullswater saw me moving better than I had all race and actually overtaking people. But what it does show is that mindset is everything. The temperature was rising but I knew I would be finished by 9am. There was a big climb looming but I knew I wasn’t doing it. Suddenly everything became easier. If I can’t learn a mindset lesson from this then I never can.
Leanne and the girls met me at the Glenridding checkpoint. Leanne asked me what I wanted to do. ‘Fry up,’ said I! So off we went to a nice little cafe round the corner where we sat outside in the sun and I promptly fell asleep on my plate.
Training run reflections:
Let’s start with the negatives – except there are no negative thoughts from this point on so, in good old performance management speak, let’s consider my ‘points for personal development!’
- My stomach – was very wobbly at Braithwaite and still a bit wobbly a week later. I never normally suffer from this, so hopefully a restful build-up to the LL100 will help.
- SLEEP! – Oh my word, need I say more??!! All I can say is I feel more mentally prepared to battle on in what is my ‘A’ race and, ultimately, the only race I care about this year. I think I was grumpy about the Lakeland Trails as, in my head, I wasn’t finishing it so I wondered why I was bothering! I should be rested on the start line for LL100 so, hopefully, by the time I get sleepy – which is inevitable – I will be far enough round the course to realise that the quickest way to get in bed is to finish the race!
- DNFing is easy! – I had no idea! But I do now. I’ve broken the seal on DNFing: one by accident, one pre-planned, but I need to be hugely conscious of how easy it is to just pack it in. This is the race I need to finish.
OK, I told you I wasn’t being negative! Here is a much longer list of positive outcomes and lessons learned/remembered from the two prep runs:
- I am officially over the calf injury! I have done quite a variety of runs the last few weeks, including a five miler where I significantly tried to push the pace on. I wouldn’t have dared do this a month ago. Both of my long runs were in the 9 hour range and, genuinely, the only time I even thought about my calf was when it was pulling sliding down the steep scree. If I get injured in the LL100, it will be unrelated to what has gone before. In the injury sense, I am fully fit.
- That said, I think I will be sticking with the calf sleeves for long days out and ultra races. When my legs cramped at Braithwaite, my calves didn’t. I couldn’t wait to get them off for short runs, I don’t like wearing them ultimately, but if they are a bit of a comfort blanket for ultras, them so-be-it.
- I made a series of sensible decisions over the last two months which got me to the start line fit instead of jeopardizing getting there at all. First of all, I binned off the Lakeland Trails marathon at a time when I was vulnerable to re-injury but also stressing about lack of miles. Half-term in Wales, and specifically the accidental adventure run with Leanne, was the turning point in the process. Then I decided not to go down to Wasdale – I would have been wrecked! Finally, I stuck to the plan to drop out of LT100k, even when I felt OK and know I could have gone on to finish, (slowly!)
- My legs! They rarely let me down. Let’s be brutally honest here; this is the least fit I have been since 2014 by my reckoning. It’s my biggest race and my lowest level of fitness, but I think we’ve established beyond reasonable doubt that my legs will keep moving as long as my mind wills them to. Last year, during the spell of races I did in the lead up, I was constantly reminded of how, in ultra running, your legs can often feel dead at 15/20 miles but then stay at that level for the the next 30 or 40 miles. I had forgotten this and did panic when I felt tired after 10 miles this year both times. But, sure enough, I never really felt worse after that and, in the case of the Lakeland Trails, I actually felt better after 39 miles!
- Positive mindset positive mindset positive mindset. Forget the broken training, forget the missed races and planned meet-ups with Rob, forget it all. Because, once you cross the start line, it doesn’t matter anyway. I got there and that is a bonus.
- Time to cash in the lucky chips. Last year, I overplayed the enormity of the race and it’s huge drop-out rate – and inadvertently gave myself an easy drop-out clause. Obviously I am still nervous about the race and how difficult it is, but I am definitely not intimidated by the actual route anymore. My legs will get me round if my brain tells them to. And it will. Last year I was comfortable with my decision; I can’t see me being happy this year if I did the same thing.
- If it is hot, I MUST still eat. The second you stop eating is the second you run out of energy. It is so easy to guzzle liquids at checkpoints due to thirst, then feel full so forget that you haven’t eaten. Then, five miles later, you feel dizzy and your legs have turned to jelly and you think you are dehydrated. Nope, you’re hungry!
- Pre-empt the comfort problems: Use toilets when they are there, Vas up pre-race and constantly thereafter, regardless of chafing. Last year my vaseline turned to liquid in the incinerating heat of the pre-race Friday and I was walking like a drunk cowboy the next day! This year, the Vas is going in a cool bag if it’s hot! I’m very lucky with regards to blisters and don’t usually suffer (thank you Hoka Mafate!) but if I feel anything starting treat it straight away. Same thing with any other bits of equipment rubbing.
- Don’t let the weather get you down! The forecast is currently changeable – surprise surprise! But, being positive, it doesn’t appear to be extreme either way. The heatwave looks to be dissipating by Friday and, although rain is forecast Saturday, it will hopefully be of the shower variety – without the biblical rain, violent winds and temperature drops of last year. But, whatever happens happens. Carry the right gear and crack on. (Easily said, but I feel ready.)
- I’ve laminated a jobs list card for Dalemain CP, where last year I dillied and dallied for over an hour in a mental fog that I couldn’t shake. This was the beginning of the end last year. This year I’m going to work through the tick list of tasks and get out of there as soon as possible!
And, finally, the absolute most important thing…
- ONLY THINK ABOUT THE NEXT CHECKPOINT. Don’t think about how far it is to the finish as it will blow my mind. Just think how far it is to my next cup of tea and snack! When I get there, don’t even think about getting comfy and definitely don’t think about calling it a day. Leave the CP as soon as possible and think about the next checkpoint. Repeat. x15!
That’s about it then. Nearly time for the thinking to finally stop and the action to start. I can’t finish without wishing my good running buddy Rob Lister all the best too. He has been absolutely flying this year and, as such, our stars have passed in opposite directions running wise. He has trained with iron will and determination and I am sure he will get the finish and time he deserves this year. Good luck mate!
Next, I’m really looking forward to catching up with a whole bunch of friends this weekend and am going to be embarrassed if I miss someone out now – there are so many people I know running!
On a local level, good luck to Matthew Lavery and Steven Quilliam from our estate! Matthew, a 50 #legend trying to add the a 100 finish to his #legend status. Steven is debuting on the 50 but, if his training runs are anything to go by, he will run straight through the finish line and simply keep going! Good luck boys, let’s do it for Shevvie Vale!
Next up, Jon Cadman from Wolverhampton, my internet running buddy! (This disturbed Leanne no end at first, especially when we met up one Boxing Day morning in Wolves for a run and Leanne gave me the full internet stranger danger safety lecture!) Jon is already a 50 #legend and was hoping to run a fast one this year until the calf injury jinx struck him too. He has been on enforced rest for a month but was going great guns before that. Hopefully see you on the course, mate!
Then there is Jeff McCarthy, who featured in my last blog when I briefly described his battles with Lyme’s Disease. Jeff’s training has been understandably up-and-down health wise but his family have also suffered a terrible loss in the last fortnight. My thoughts are with his family at the moment and I sincerely hope, of all the people participating this weekend, that he is the one who makes it successfully back to Coniston to complete his 50 at 50 challenge. Good luck, Jeff, hopefully we’ll share a few miles out there.
Denise Zacharisz is also an existing #legend who has been struggling with injury recently. But she always pulls the big race out of the bag when it counts and, should I get out before the 50s on Saturday, I know she’ll come past at some point. Hopefully see you out there, Denise.
Chris Kay is back too. He is an existing legend who had an utterly epic year last year, including this 100. He’s had problem after problem this year but is back. If I can borrow some of your iron will Chris, I would really appreciate it! I look forward to you tearing past me on every descent!
I know for a fact that other people have told me they are running, but I can’t remember who has told me! Please accept my apologies and, to one and all – Bon Voyage!
Finally, the usual huge thank you to my amazing wife, Leanne, and the girls. I reckon I’ve been quite difficult to live with at times this year but they support me 100% regardless and encourage me when I doubt myself. Nancy in particular has no idea what effect her regular, pointed question, “Dad, do you think you are actually going to finish this year?” has on me! I know for a fact that, if I falter at any point, I will definitely ring Leanne (if there is a signal) before I make a hasty decision so she can tell me off back onto the trail!
OK, over and out. Let’s go and finish a little running race.
Cheers for now, thanks for reading.