It is now almost two months since I successfully completed the Lakeland Trails 110k Ultra and, in my eyes at least, officially became an ultra runner. Given that this was the entire purpose of this blog, I feel slightly sheepish and embarrassed that it has taken me this long to pen my review of the event. There are a few genuine excuses; school work inevitably had to take a front seat for a few weeks, a fortnight abroad followed soon afterwards and, before you know it, time has passed! I read some excellent blogs by other competitors** but still couldn’t rouse myself from post race slumber to actually write my own! Eventually, this week, I cobbled together my family’s pictures of the event, along with my own video footage (I borrowed a friend’s GoPro – what a bit of kit!) and it finally spurred me on to write about it. I think the two months have certainly wiped the pain from my mind, leaving just joyous memories. I will try and recount as honestly as possible, before leaving you with some things I have learned on my journey and maybe persuade you – yes, YOU – that it is possible to become an ultra runner yourself.
** Please visit the Ultimate Trails facebook page and follow the links to other race reviews. All well worth a read, especially if you are considering having a go yourself.
Saturday 27th June, 2015. 00.15hrs.
How many times can you check a headtorch? At he start with Mrs Sticks looking equally apprehensive! (All official photographs courtesy of James Kirby @jumpyjames)
It’s finally here. I feel as if I am in a strange parallel universe. In all honesty, I have been thinking about this moment almost exclusively for six solid months – it seems surreal in the extreme to actually be here.
I’m definitely apprehensive. A subtle difference to nervous. I’m not scared, but the fear of the unknown is trying to drag me towards the latter. This wasn’t really helped at the pre-race safety briefing. I suddenly felt totally out of my depth. Everyone there looked so…. well, ultra. All chiselled cheekbones and not an ounce of body fat to spare.
“Relax, you look like one of them!” said Mrs Sticks reassuringly. Hmn, I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t feel like one of them.
Still, the thing keeping me calm was that this was what I had wanted. I wanted to enter something to focus my mind, something truly challenging, something – yes, scary. So I could at least console myself with knowing that, whatever happened in the next 24 hours, I had at least achieved that aspect successfully!
As cool as a cucumber. A nervous cucumber.
12.15. Start delayed by 15 minutes so as not to baffle the German timing systems with a 00.00 start! The countdown begins. In whispered form so as not to disturb the locals. And we’re off. That’s enough worrying. Time to run 110k in one go. In the Lake District. And to start with at least, in the dark!
Stage 1 – Ambleside to Kentmere.
12.4km (12.4km), 7.7mls (7.7mls)
Troutbeck climb (250m).
Garburn Pass (447m).
A gentle start through Ambleside to encouraging shouts from supporters and locals leaving the pubs (so much for keeping the noise down!) An extra boost for me as the route leaves town passing the cottage that my family have hired as, ‘Supporters’ Base Camp,’ for the weekend. They were all having a great time with beer, wine and bolognaise while I tried to catch the last few winks of sleep a couple of hours earlier and I couldn’t help thinking that they were going to have a great weekend while I flogged myself up fells in the night!
Within minutes we were off tarmac and onto trail, climbing above Windermere with stunning views of the lake below; reflecting silhouettes of the surrounding hills and the beautiful star and moon filled sky above.
It had rained heavily on Friday until about 4pm. It was to rain heavily for most of Sunday. However, we had perfect conditions – as guaranteed by Graham Patten, race director!
Ultra running, I have learned, is the art of energy conservation. I needn’t have worried about setting off too fast. As the snake-like trail of headtorches reached the narrowing paths and first inclines, your pace is dictated by those immediately in front. With each steeper section of path, the runners in front would slow to walk, meaning you would too. When you heard the footsteps in front break into a trot again, you knew the climb was over. Unless someone was running in the wrong group of runners pace-wise, no overtaking was necessary. Everyone found their pace and their natural position in the pack.
The only thing I hadn’t practiced properly was night running. I’d had a go on roads but never done it on trails. I loved it. You have to run at a pace slightly slower and more cautious than you may do otherwise. And that is perfect for the opening stage of an ultra.
We climbed gently before dropping more steeply into Troutbeck. Then we climbed again, this time with a bit more altitude gain towards the Garburn Pass heading for the first food station at Kentmere. The first proper descent was a good test – I was a bit apprehensive in the dark given my recent ankle issues, balancing on the high soled Hokas. But before I knew it we could see the welcome lights of our first food station at Kentmere. 1 hour 30 minutes. Perfectly paced. All was good. (So was the tea and flapjack!)
Stage 2 – Kentmere to Mardale Head, Haweswater.
9.82km (22.22km), 6.1mls (13.8mls)
Nan Bield Pass (approx 600m).
And so to the first proper challenge. Nan Bield Pass is steep and technical whichever direction you take it, but especially the way we were to descend it. But first, the climb! The view on the way up was simply stunning – one of the highlights of the whole event. Walking up the switchbacks afforded us brilliant views back down the valley. A mist had built at village height, meaning we now looked down on cloud. For over a mile behind us, and on the snaking path below us, all that could be seen was a procession of headtorches. I wish my camera had been good enough to pick up the image – it was spellbinding.
I had really come to understand the benefits of power walking the climbs training on the cliffs of Devon, and it paid dividends here. Before I knew it I could hear cow bells and the enthusiastic greeting of the summit race marshals. (More about these amazing people to follow.)
At the top we were greeted with another stunning view. It was about 2.45am and the first glow of morning light was becoming visible in the sky. Seemingly miles below us was the black of the descent, only made visible by the reflection of the sky on the surface of Small Water half way down and Haweswater at the bottom. Breathtaking.
The path is rocky, uneven and technical in daylight, so this was very knarly at night in race conditions. I overheard other competitors discussing broken legs at previous events in this area and it is fair to say that everyone was being ultra-cautious. They must have been, because my descending is rubbish and I overtook a good number of people in this section. Reaching the more comfortable path on the lower slopes was a blessed relief and I reached the second food station at Mardale Head in good nick, ahead of schedule after 2hrs 45mins.
Stage 3 – Mardale Head to Bampton.
12.96km (35.18km), 8mls (21.85mls)
Full length of Haweswater.
Stage three was a flatter one, but one I was a little apprehensive of. Basically it was a run along the full length of Haweswater. I had walked this before on the Coast-to-Coast with my brother and we had endured a boiling hot, dehydrated slog along an uneven path in very hot conditions. (Granted, we had got absolutely bladdered in Glenridding the night before, so you could say it was self-inflicted!)
Apprehension soon gave way to enjoyment though. The path was mostly flat and runable, a blessed relief after concentrating fully on the illuminated circle of light 2 metres in front of me for the best part of 3 hours. Visibility was improving with every five minutes that passed. And I suddenly found myself in total isolation. In fact, I would not see a single runner for the entire hour it took to run the reservoir.
Early morning light at approximately 3.30am around Haweswater.
I cruised this section, pleased with how good I was feeling, trying not to get carried away. I did have a little energy wobble approaching Bampton, but I think that was more of a mental thing as I was looking forward to a proper sit down, cup of tea and, most importantly, a bacon butty! All these things I enjoyed, taking about a 15 minute breather, leaving food station three at 5am – 4hrs 45mins race time.
Stage 4 – Bampton to Howtown.
14.95km (50.13km), 9.3mls (31.1mls)
Askham Moor – Stone Circle (325m).
The longest stage of the run, but another flattish one. There would be no more ‘flat’ stages until the last one – stage nine. In actual fact a route diversion (thanks to an unsupportive farmer who didn’t understand the 24 hour clock) meant that this stage was in fact approximately 3kms shorter than advertised, and now had a bit of tarmac bashing.
Still, this meant quicker progress and, after a brief climb up onto the moor, we could all enjoy a long, steady descent on good running trail all the way to the next food station at Howtown. The early morning views were again stunning. This time it was the full length of Ullswater appearing below us. Pooley Bridge at the near end; Glenridding, an eventual destination, way away at the far end of the lake.
Ullswater, approximately 5.30am.
I passed marathon distance for the first time ever somewhere on the descent. I don’t know exactly where – my old Garmin 405 watch hasn’t the battery life for this kind of thing, (another expensive investment required for future ultras!) But I still felt pretty good arriving in Howtown. The food station was a magical little building so I had another brew and some porridge to spur me on. A big chunk of time gained on my 7.30 estimation (partly because of the shorter route). 6hrs 15 mins.
Stage 5 – Howtown to Glenridding.
9.93km (60.06km), 6.2mls (37.3mls)
Boredale Hause (399m).
Glenridding was billed as ‘Half-way House’ but it was actually 60k in, therefore over halfway. Quite a bonus. Even more of a bonus as it was where Mrs Sticks and my parents were going to meet me. I certainly hoped they had risen early, as I was going to be a couple of hours quicker than the time I estimated! The legs were showing the first signs of weariness here, but there was a flat path into the climb of Boredale Hause, so I figured on a trot to the foot of the climb as I would definitely be walking up that! It was now a beautiful, sunny morning and the scenery was spectacular. Unfortunately this meant we had a clear view of the impending climb as we neared the end of the valley! I was now learning that there is a blissful ignorance to nighttime running when you can’t see the climb ahead!
Sorry fellow ultra-athlete, but I don’t know who you are! I had quite a laugh with this lad and his mate as we huffed and puffed our way towards Boredale Hause!
The climb was a brute but, as earlier mentioned, it is amazing how quickly you climb. 20 minutes of pain is usually enough to get you within sight of the summit and, sure enough, before I knew it, I was staring down on Patterdale and Glenridding as I began the descent down another well-known section of path. The descent is tricky but not overly steep and technical and I was soon heading into Side Farm – well-known to walkers as a popular bacon butty/tea bar to begin a day in the fells.
I was surprised there wasn’t a race sign taking us left at this point on the well trodden path to Glenridding but decided to follow the runners in-front of me going straight on. I knew Lakeland Trails run an autumn event here (I haven’t attended that one yet) so assumed they must use another path that I didn’t know of. However, after a couple of minutes, I began to have doubts. So did the lads in-front, who were now peering over a wall. None of us could see another path, so we all decided to back-track and use the path we knew. A good decision, as it turns out as the sign had been ‘removed’ at Side Farm by some unkind soul – several runners didn’t realise this and unwittingly added on quite substantial needless miles. We lost maybe five minutes. A little frustrating, all the people I overtook on the climb were now in front again, but not a disaster.
And so into Glenridding I pottered. Tired legs, but amazed at the smoothness of my progress. 8 hours dead for the first 60ks (well, 57!) And an extra bonus – everyone had got up to come and meet me! Leanne with our girls, Hannah and Nancy, my parents and my parent-in-laws all lined the street! A lovely surprise. I enjoyed a sociable half hour changing into fresh running kit, eating and drinking, re-applying plasters and vaseline, putting on sun-cream (it was only 8am but it was hot) and generally relaxing. Maybe relaxing too much, as the next stage nearly finished me off!
Up and off early! My fantastic support team on their way to Glenridding!
The girls, proudly clad in their Meningitis Now t-shirts, patiently wait for my arrival.
60k down, 50k to go. Fresh kit (slightly wonky!) ready for the 3 killer stages! Just time for another bit of flapjack first…
Stage 6 – Glenridding to Dunmail Raise.
11.75km (71.81km), 7.3mls (44.6mls)
Grisedale Hause (approx 600m).
This was the make-or-break stage. I knew the route well. Or rather I thought I did. What I actually knew was the ascent section. I didn’t know the descent – I do now!
The climb to Grisedale Hause is one well-known to me through the Coast-to-Coast and lots of walking in a popular corner (well, centre) of the lakes. Most of my experiences of this bit of path involve descending from the high fells on my way back to a parked car in Glenridding. And I associate it with being knackered. Every time. And that was going downhill! So I was mentally prepared for the climb upwards to be no fun.
After a steep little pull from Glenridding itself, the views were lovely. It felt so hot, and I had been up so long, that my mind was playing tricks on me. It was just after half past eight but it felt like midday! Fortunately it was much cooler the higher we climbed so the heat didn’t play too much of a factor.
Despite thinking I’d eaten a lot, my legs felt hollow by now, so I decided that I was going to walk the whole climb, even the flattish valley path to the foot of the climbing proper. This probably paid dividends later on, but at the time I felt quite sluggish and a few runners passed me here.
I was still enjoying the climbs though and caught a few of them back up again once the path reared properly upwards and forced everyone to walking pace. Once again, after a hard-working half-hour or so, Grisedale Tarn appeared over the horizon and my heart skipped a little beat, knowing I had knocked-off a section I was worried about.
Grisedale Tarn, with the destination of Grisedale Hause just above – cracked it! (Or so I thought…)
I wanted to run along the top path but it was actually quite tricky underfoot. ‘Just walk it and run the descent’. I knew the contours were tightly packed on the map for the descent but just didn’t realise the path would literally go straight down. And I mean straight. Underfoot was so tricky, like a scramble or down-climb in many sections. That’s what it felt like to me, nearly 70k in, at least.
My legs went to jelly, and instead of skipping down a descent, I suddenly found that my legs didn’t want to bend to the steepness of the path. Different muscles would cramp up with each over stride, each downward step was such a huge effort and the road at Dunmail Raise seemed miles below me. I was passed several times and even ramblers coming up the other way looked as if they felt sorry for me. I felt sorry for me. It had totally taken me by surprise.
At the bottom there was about a kilometer of flat path to the food station but I could only manage a slow walk. My mind and body were temporarily shot. I was still way ahead of my 20 hour schedule but was having my first doubts about the distance. Especially knowing that the next two stages were equally as difficult. I sat at the food station downing flapjack, jelly babies – anything I could get my hands on. I needed an energy boost. Flat coke? Who would have known it would taste so good?! The other runners obviously agreed; it was in short supply at all the food stations! Crucially, I also ate every piece of Soreen malt loaf in my pack here too. Malt loaf had been my running food of choice during training. I reckon my well-being on the next stage was down to you, malt loaf!
I had a ten minute sit-down and generally gave myself a good talking to. I was doing very well and had simply had my first blip. 71k, approx 10hrs 45mins. Pull yourself together, Sticks!
Stage 7 – Dunmail Raise to Rosthwaite.
10.91km (82.72km), 6.8mls (51.4mls)
Blea Tarn/Watendlath Fell (530m).
This was a step into the unknown. The only stage I had never stepped any foot on before. Descibed as ‘the boggy bit’ in most recce notes, I knew it involved a steep up and down with a moorland, Pennine type section in the middle. I walked into the climb, still re-enthusing myself, and attacked the uphill in my now familiar route-march fashion. It was steep and pretty relentless, although at least the terrain changed. Bracken, tarn side paths, woodland tracks – I wasn’t particularly seeing the beauty at this point! I did recover uphill though and began to catch the specks in front of me. Once over the summit there was another spectacular view – right down Bassenthwaite Lake in the North, with Skiddaw and Blencathra gazing over from the distance.
By the top I had recovered enough to have a little run. The soft, peat-like moorland underfoot certainly helped and, fortunately, there wasn’t as much ‘bog-hopping’ as I’d expected. A steep drop down towards Watendlath Tarn followed. There were loads of groups of teenage outward bound students in the area. At least 7/8 groups of up to 10 at a time. I have to say each cheery ‘Hello!’, ‘Keep it up!’ and ‘Well done!’ were a huge pick-me-up. I heard a few snidey grumblings about ramblers and day-trippers during my weekend in ultra-land but I have to say that, practically without exception, the general walking/day-trip public that I ran into were massively supportive.
Mum and Dad had warned me about the sharp little climb at Watendlath Tarn before dropping into Rosthwaite and I’m glad they did. I was ready for it. Psychologically it could have been a killer.
I ran the descent and tottered into the food station feeling tired but much happier with life. This was temporarily crushed when the advertised pizza had run out! I figured that, as one of the later runners, it was only to be expected. Only later did I realise that was inside the top third of runners! I consoled myself by eating every other available item… 82kms down (over 50 miles). Approx 13hrs 15mins.
Stage 8 – Rosthwaite to Stickle Barn.
13.72km (96.44km), 8.5mls (59.9mls)
Stake Pass – safety check point (480m).
The other stage I’d dreaded. Although it wasn’t the whole stage I dreaded – just Stake Pass. A proper beast of a pass, steep in either direction. Another path I associate with feeling absolutely knackered at the end of a day’s walking. However, there were positives – it was the last major climb; break this and it’s downhill (sort of!) all the way to Ambleside! Plus there was the bonus of the final food station – the Sticklebarn Tavern! A welcome sight on any day of the year. The last food station would stock everything a weary runner could possibly require – and they definitely wouldn’t run out of coke! Coupled with the fact that all my family were going to be there again, and possibly the family of Alisha Bartolini too (see previous blog) and I generally couldn’t wait to get there!
But first – Stake Pass…
It was a long path to get to the valley head which Stake Pass climbs from and, as it was pretty warm, I decided I was going to walk to it regardless of running energy. Walk this bit, then hopefully run all the last stage at a decent pace.
This I did. Tired legs, but comfortable enough. All the time though, Stake Pass began to loom ever closer. A relatively new path has been built from this side. I began counting switchbacks on the approach and got way past 20 – it was like a mini Alpe d’Huez!!!
I crossed the stream at the bottom and steeled myself. ’30 minutes, 30 minutes, just 30 minutes’ I chanted to myself, over and over. (Making sure I did it in my head when passing anyone.)
The zig-zags of mini Alpe d’Huez, aka Stake Pass, from about half way up. Just what your legs need after 90ks!!!
Following the pattern of the rest of the day, I found going uphill OK. Sure, I was blowing out of my arse. It was so steep you just put your head down and kept going, stopping every couple of bends to admire the ever more beautiful view – and take in oxygen! But, as I knew it would, after about 20 minutes the crest of the ridge was in sight.
There was a little bit of respite at the top before one last knee-crunching descent. Not as bad a Dunmail Raise, or Nan Bield for that matter, but knackering none-the-less. Despite that, I could barely conceal my grin at this point. I now had a wonderful view down the end of the Langdale valley, one of my favourite places in the world, I knew the pub wasn’t too far round the corner where family and friends were waiting, and I also knew that, whatever happened from now, I was definitely going to complete my first ultra.
As I neared the bottom I could make out my Mum and Dad who had walked up the valley to meet me. Another welcome boost. Little did I know they were on their second lap and had been part way up Stake Pass once already themselves. They even spent a bit of time with the official photographer, James Kirby, and bagged themselves a little bonus treat…
My Mum and Dad halfway up Stake Pass, the stunning Langdale valley behind. Thanks @jumpyjames!
My legs felt hollow again at the bottom so, despite it being a mile or so to the pub on flat, good tracks, I decided I was going to walk it. I was in good time and knew that, with a decent run on the last stage, I would have a good chance of breaking 18 hours – a time that I considered would be very successful during the months of training.
It was pretty warm and I was generally drained but, with the thought of the pub keeping me going, I finally spotted a few orange t-shirts in the next field! Leanne had to run alongside me as I marched straight past – the thought of food and flat coke spurring me on!
Aahhh, The Sticklebarn! I wasn’t going to be able to make myself as comfortable as I usually did in there, but I would enjoy it none-the-less! There was the bonus of Michaela, Sean, Sonny and the rest of the Bartolini/Bradley family there to greet me which really made my day. I’d broken the back of the race – now I was determined to actually finish in style! 96k done, 15hrs 45mins.
Han and Nan outside the Sticklebarn – the orange Meningitis Now t-shirts got a lot of attention. Oh, and Hannah was chased by a sheep, which amused the entire pub!
My fantastic family outside The Sticklebarn Tavern in the wonderful Langdale valley – not many better places on earth.
Stage 9 – Stickle Barn to Ambleside.
11.73km (108.17km), 7.3mls (67.2mls)
Nr Loughrigg Fell (190m).
12k to go. And a lovely 12k at that. I knew the route, with one little diversion. Flat or rolling, a little climb at the end, then one last descent into the finish. I wanted to stay at the Sticklebarn longer. I wanted to chat to everyone who’d given their time to come and support. But… I was getting finish line fever. The last 3 stages had taken longer than I estimated due to all the walking I’d done, but I felt good and I was still well inside the 20hour timetable I’d set. It was approaching 5.15pm, so I had 2 hours to run the last stage to break 18 hours.
I had some soup and sandwiches, a lot of coke, a cup of tea and I then began apologising to people, telling them I wasn’t hanging around!
The atmosphere at the pub was amazing. It was a glorious afternoon, the terrace of both the pub and the hotel were heaving and there was a fantastic marshal with a cow bell practically announcing each runner down the lane to huge applause! It was like being a famous athlete for a fleeting moment! Definitely another highlight of the day!
Suddenly I was re-invigorated. It just goes to show what a mind game this ultra lark is, but I knew I was going to run this entire stage. James Kirby was hidden in some bracken round a corner to capture the moment…
Another great @jumpyjames shot. Maybe Leanne was right at the briefing, I do look at least a little bit ‘Ultra’. I didn’t even recognise myself on the photo initially.
It was such a joy to run through Langdale. Partly because it was the first ‘flat’ in quite a while, partly because it was a beautiful day. Mostly I think it was the pressure lifted knowing the next stop was the actual end. There was one moment of confusion when the 55k route crossed the 110k route in the opposite direction. Fortunately, knowing the area pretty well, I knew I was on the right path.
It was a lot busier in the valley but clearly the tourists had got used to runners passing and there was still lots of encouragement from bystanders. Past the Wainwright’s pub and then the Brittannia Inn at Elterwater (more places I like to ‘rest’ in!) before the race director, Graham Patten, delivered one last kick in the pants!
There is a path straight towards Loughrigg and Ambleside at this point, but no – we had to run straight up the hillside one last time, just to get a nice view of Loughrigg Tarn! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against Loughrigg Tarn, but at that particular moment I had seen enough gorgeous views to last me the year and would rather just have run on the path to Ambleside! Still, we’d have had to climb at some point, so no big deal…
Up and round Loughrigg Tarn we went. Then a gentle, flat section and one last raise before the drop to Ambleside. And one last treat for me, too. An old work colleague, who retired to the area a couple of years ago, had heard about the run and was sat on the pathside waiting with water and a piece of lemon drizzle cake! (She’s a great baker!) Water and cake were devoured in seconds! A brief chat – for which I felt very guilty as she’d been there a couple of hours – but I really wanted to finish now. I was off.
One last ridge to climb, then a very steep descent. Strange how they don’t hurt anymore with just 1km left isn’t it?! By now I could hear the drummers at the finish line and the commentary, which also quickened the pulse. Then footsteps behind? How come? I’m flying here, there’s no way I’m being overtaken now! It turned out it was the winner of the 55k race, overtaking me at the bottom of the last hill! That made me mad! Should have eaten that lemon drizzle quicker!!!
Finally into Rothay Park and a sprint finish of sorts, accompanied by Hannah and, eventually, Nancy.
I had made it. Officially ultra. 17hrs 37mins 50secs. 67th place on 194 finishers. 380 entered so I have no idea what happened to half the field. I was pleased with the time, obviously, but mostly I was pleased to have managed the race well so that I could actually ‘enjoy’ practically all of it. Immediately after the race I said that, although I did enjoy it, I probably wouldn’t do another one. But that feeling was long gone by the next day. I know I will. After all, I’m an ultra runner now. (And I’ve spent a fortune on kit…)
Is that it?!
“Will you stop going out running all the time now, Dad?”
Footnote/Video Footage – Trek & Run.
I mentioned the filming I did during the race previously. I will get round to editing it soon and will post it. However, during my epic sprint finish (!) I overtook a guy called Dave Wise who makes the ‘Trek and Run’ films. Mad really, cos his films inspired me to borrow my friend’s GoPro! So I filmed him filming me! You can view his great effort here…
I am in it 3 times. Briefly just after Glenridding, running infront, then I am in the Sticklebarn getting stuck into the buffet as he enters, then finally he captures my finish! Good job, Dave! Congratulations on your run. His film does give a great insight into the race, what it looks like and how it feels. Please check out his many films on You Tube!
What Have I Learned?
First, the technical running stuff…
1 – Train properly!
Have a plan over 6 months, build up gradually, take your time with injuries (better to miss a few weeks than months – or miss the race), mix up distances as per any training plan, put in hills – if you are entering this specific ultra, LOTS of hills! Practice descents the same as ascents. Go to places with terrain similar to that of your course, some do course recces – invaluable. My week in Devon made my race – lots of miles more than usual on hills much steeper than usual – invaluable practice for the race. I never ran over marathon distance once. You don’t have to. Quality training will win over quantity but don’t use that as an excuse to shirk out. Every bit of training is invaluable. CORE WORK – I must include more core work!
2 – Respect the distance
Walking is my new running! Conserve energy wherever possible in the race! I trained by running up hills. In the race I walked practically all of them. There’s no point burning out your legs running up a hill in 10 minutes that you can walk up in 20. Walk up, get down as best you can, run the in-betweens. Obviously this advice depends upon your level of expertise! Kim Collison, the winner, finished in 10hrs 48mins!!! Obscene! I bet he didn’t walk much! How the hell did he manage the descents, never mind the ascents?! My Mum and Dad watched some of the leaders descending Stake Pass and said they were lunatics!
Here I am at Sunday’s presentation with the winner, Kim Collison. He looks scared doesn’t he? He knows I’ll beat him next year… Photo courtesy of @jumpyjames
3 – Get the right kit.
You cannot short change on this one. Or you can, but it will just be more uncomfortable. Shoes are crucial. I used Hokas but they’re not for everyone. Back pack is vital, they can rub terribly. Mine was recommended and is great – Ultimate Direction (kit blog to follow). I bought kit over a period of months to spread the cost, but it was all well used before the event. The trainers and bag are useful for the long training runs so get them first. Clothing, waterproofs etc can be picked up later.
4 – Know the route.
I don’t necessarily mean recce, although it is useful. The more you know, the less surprises. I was lucky to have perfect conditions on a waymarked route. There was only 3 occasions when I wasn’t quite sure if I was right or wrong. But I’d studied the route and, at worst, I knew where I was even if I wasn’t sure of the exact path. However, if the cloud had been down on Watendlath, for example, I bet spotting the next marker would have been very tricky. Psychologically, knowing which bits are going to be difficult and where you can have a ‘breather’ is very helpful.
5 – Don’t take descents for granted.
It may be a personal thing, but I am much happier going uphill than down. The descents really got me – especially Dunmail Raise. Partly because I didn’t know the terrain (see point 4!) But descending batters tired legs, and I bet they’re where most injuries occur. Go steady!
6 – Try to remember to enjoy it!
It’s hard work. It wears you down. You’re tired, obviously. Reading other people’s accounts, some get into a right state – either by bad luck or bad planning! But I was lucky enough to always be able to look around and enjoy the scenery. It’s a day out in a beautiful place. Try and remember that! (Much easier said than done!) You are doing something amazing that you will remember for the rest of your life. You’re doing something that will make other people’s legs hurt thinking about it! So give yourself a little self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back and get on with it!
Now for the peripheral stuff around the running…
7 – The support of your family (and friends)
No-one can make you do it. The training is long, hard and, mostly, utterly thankless. Things that you need to do in other areas of your life simply won’t get done. The one thing that has surprised me more than anything else is how totally ‘all consuming’ this event was. It was in the back of my mind for six months. For the last month it was pretty much all I thought about. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Every conversation I had seemed to be about it. I was boring myself. Have I got the right kit? Am I eating properly? How will this run affect that run? When can I run? How will that feel? How are we getting there? On and on…
I cannot say ‘Thank You’ enough to Leanne, Hannah and Nancy who have supported me every step of the way. No-one can make you do it. But I tell you something for definite – family could easily stop you from doing it. They support you clearing off running every given hour, they don’t mind you hijacking family holidays to turn them into training camps, they let you off for not sitting down to meals with them because it’s not convenient for the running to eat at tea-time – I could go on forever. I am very lucky that I have that support because I know a lot of people don’t. Leanne will be sick of me ‘supporting’ her marathon debut this October, just to try and repay her a little bit. Love you guys!
8 – The Lakeland Trails Team
I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time chatting to the event director, Graham Patten, and his family/friends/support team over the weekend. What a military operation it is! And all from a band of amazing, willing volunteers. Truly incredible. Thanks to all of you. Without exception the marshals were supportive and cheerful. The food station people did an amazing job and were also rays of sunshine when required! There were loads of other people behind the scenes but, on behalf of everyone who ran – thank you to you all! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at Sunday’s presentation – it may have been sleep deprivation, beer, or both. Congratulations, Graham!
Yes, there was the odd teething problem. But what can you do if some ###### nicks a sign? I’m sure there will be coke lorries arriving like the Christmas adverts for next year’s event and Graham had better share the pizza out next time too! Feedback has been asked for, and responded to, and I’m sure that next year will be even better again! And the weather is guaranteed!!!
9 – Could I go faster?
Short answer, yes. I could definitely spend less time in the food stations eating for a start. I know you need to refuel, but I think I got a bit carried away! Also, if I just ran in the valley to the Grisedale climb, the valley to the Stake Pass climb, and ran from Stake Pass to Sticklebarn it would make a big difference. I was being conservative there. But I wanted to finish and enjoy it – and I did. There’s every chance next time I’ll try to go quicker, but blow up and end up slower. You need a bit of luck in ultras I reckon. I would do the first half (to Glenridding) exactly the same, then try and improve the second half.
10 – Charity
I’ve never run for charity before. I may never run for charity again. But this time I had a cause I believed in. It was truly an honour to run in Alisha’s name. The support it generated from people who wouldn’t normally have been interested meant that I definitely had extra motivation – especially when training early mornings when the weather wasn’t great. Knowing all those people were asking how I was doing was huge. When I felt a bit down at Dunmail Raise the thought of Alisha laughing at me actually made me laugh out loud! I wish Alisha was still here. But the awareness being raised this summer as teenagers go to university – knowing there is a vaccine out there for free for all students, is a small consolation. Please support this charity where possible and if you know anyone heading off to university in the next few weeks, let them know too.
Thanks to Michaela and the extended Bartolini family for allowing me to run in her memory and thanks so much for actually coming to support – especially given the journey you made that day! It was great to see you all.
If you are interested in raising money/awareness then please follow the link below;
11 – Last, but not least, YOU could do it!
Yes, you! It doesn’t have to be this race or this distance, but you could. Set yourself a challenge and go for it. It may be only 5/10k. It might be a walk or a mad expedition. It might be something for charity. I don’t know. But you could do it. Others could stop you, you might have a million excuses. So write the excuses down, knock them off one-by-one, because you could do it. You have to want it. You have to dedicate some time and effort to it. But you could do it, you know…