Lathering myself up with sunscreen in a field of other like-minded souls, the feeling of nervous trepidation over what was to come in the next 8 or so hours was almost at its peak. How would the day play out; would the preparation be enough; would I be able to dig deep into the place that I knew I had to go for the desired result?
Memories and feelings of the Lakeland 50 back in July feel slightly surreal now, but the thread of contact with my emotions and feelings throughout the day continue to trickle into my focus and motivation every day. Now, in the planning phase for 2016, it is great to reflect on a day that has bitter-sweet memories, of really happy times with friends but also the deep physical struggles and punishment I put myself through.
Rewinding a little to Jan 15 having just come off crutches from an ankle operation, I had a game plan in mind for the year and the Lakeland 50 was at the centre of this. Having this focus in mind helped me to get back up to strength quickly: the fully functional ankle combined with a new training routine seemed to put me in great form. Fantastic support and sponsorship with The Ultra Runner Store providing some really nice X-Bionic and Ultimate Direction kit set things up nicely for the year, though it wasn’t until I did the Hardmoors Rosedale marathon in early June that I realised how good things were. Taking over 15 minutes off my time from 2 years ago, most of which was done in the second half, I felt much more solid over distance and, with some fine tuning in the weeks leading up to the LL50, things were looking good.
2 weeks before race day I had a really good run out along the middle part of the LL50 route. I felt great running at the splits I wanted to do in the race and feeling really good, though things went a bit downhill from there. The week after I caught a bug which really hit my chest, elevated heart rate, tight breathing, all the usual stuff you don’t want going into a race. Kim and I ran some of the course around Ambleside 2 days before race day and I remember struggling to keep up with her (not that she is any slouch!)
Knowing that dwelling on this wasn’t going to help I just tried to relax and enjoy the build-up, seeing so many good friends there and cheering on those crazy 100 mile runners when they set of the night before our race. My head was in a good place and I felt connected with my motivation, the reasons why I was here and what my goals were. Support and encouragement from close friends was great and helped a lot with calming pre-race jitters.
I changed my game plan a bit to accommodate the below par aerobic system. Knowing that I would struggle to keep up with any fast efforts at the start, I needed to rely on my endurance and that the second part of the race would be my best chance to remain competitive. More than ever I needed to think of running my own race; doing my absolute best was all I could ask for.
From the start Marcus Scotney made his mark and pulled out a good lead. I was a little surprised that no-one followed him but at the same time this gave me confidence to know that I wasn’t alone in my choice of letting him go. I found myself out in no-man’s land behind him and just ahead of the chasing pack. As expected I was struggling with my breathing and knew I was pushing harder than I should be so calmed things down a little. About 11 miles in Ben Abdelnore caught me going up Fusedale where he offered some kind words of encouragement and positivity. I battled to stay with him up the rest of the climb but once on the summit and running along the top of the common I started to feel good again, finding my feet and rhythm, and settling down a bit.
All good so far, I was running with Ben and feeling like we had a good pace going. Marcus was nowhere to be seen but I knew we were moving quickly now blasting down to Haweswater and then along the rocky lakeside trail. Then it came: first a few little twinges when I sprang off my toes then about 2 miles from CP 2 my calves went schizo and fully locked out causing my toes to try and get as far away from the rest of me as possible. Reduced to a walk/hobble, all I could do was watch Ben disappear in front. This happening 15 Miles into a 50 mile race was a pretty frustrating place to be. I jumped into the nearest stream trying to ease things off, before coaxing my legs back into a steady and very delicate run, trying not to aggravate any more spasms.
Coming into the second checkpoint I saw John Kynaston on his own 100 mile adventure. Though I felt like I was running on eggshells, he looked really smooth, even having covered 50 odd more miles than me! I was happy to see a friendly face and as I came into the second checkpoint, Ben was bounding up the next climb looking strong. All I could do was try to fix the cramp so I threw a couple of salt sachets down my throat thinking that was the cure, hmmm maybe not the best idea. Obviously it tasted revolting and I had to chuckle at my own stupidity of nearly making myself sick!
Getting my head down up the long steep climb to Gatesgarth pass I resolved my focus and tried to calm things down a little with some perspective: I knew I wasn’t a million miles away from the other two in front and that there was a long way to go yet. I also had the splits from previous years’ times and found that I was still within 1 or 2 minutes of the winning paces, and that was with the issues I had had too. If I could calm down the cramping, then things could still work out.
Coming over the pass and down the steep descent I tried running again only to feel the now very familiar tightening of calf muscles locking solid. Now having to completely stop and face back up the hill in an attempt to stretch them out, I managed to ease them off a bit and found that running downhill and slamming my feet down hard seemed to help as long as I didn’t try to spring off my toes too much!
It was a pretty long descent and by the bottom of here things started to improve. I managed to settle into a rhythm, learning to limit using my calves, then coming onto a flat bit of track I caught sight of Marcus, merrily chatting away with a group who were clearly not racing the LL50. This gave me a boost, but also confused me a bit. I caught him going into the next climb were we chatted for a bit. He told me about his plans for the World 100km champs coming up and that he didn’t want to jeopardise that race, so had decided to take things a bit easier now. I wished him luck and feeling a bit looser got stuck into the next climb up towards Stile end. Getting my head down I felt strong now, pushing on to the next CP in Kentmere. Quickly topping up I saw Katie Boden who was running the LL100 (finishing 2nd lady!) She gave me a big hug and a real boost when she told me Ben was about 5/6 mins ahead.
Heading up Garburn Pass, although feeling tired the cramps were being held at bay and at just over half way, I was feeling better than 10 miles ago. I think this was my favourite part of the route: the climb was steep but still runnable with big rocks and gaps to bounce off and over, and the descent over the other side felt really fast with big lumps of shale and rock keeping me amused!
I came into Ambleside CP starting to flag a bit; I seemed to be managing the cramp by adjusting my technique slightly to more of a gliding approach. I was getting a huge boost from seeing a few of the 100 runners and loads of great encouragement from people in town. I was informed that the gap between me and Ben was now down to 2 minutes. With 16 miles left and after everything so far I felt like I was still in a good place with more left in the tank. Then about 3 miles out of Ambleside descending a short bit of road towards Skelwith Bridge I caught sight of Ben. I felt surprised to pick him up so suddenly looking like he was a bit worse for wear. I genuinely felt for him when he turned to me and told me he was done. He offered me loads of really positive encouragement and told me to push on, which was totally amazing considering how he must have been feeling.
So now we had a bit of a change and it suddenly dawned on me that I was in the lead. No matter what race I am in, I find being in this position quite a scary feeling. Part of me is going ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is awesome’, and another part is going nuts telling me to stay focused and work even harder! The problem now was I had absolutely no idea how far or who was behind me. Anyone could have been having a stronger race than me and I knew there was about 13 miles or two(ish) hours of running left, so plenty of time for anything to happen. Determined not to let myself switch off, I gave myself a real kick up the arse to stay focused.
By Chapel Stile CP, I was feeling pretty beaten up now. Having had to adjust my running style to compensate for and prevent further cramp, then pushing hard in the middle section, I needed to re-fuel. By now I had come up with a bit of a theory as to where the cramp came from. Some of the gels I was using had guarana in them. I had stopped taking these ones after the first onset of cramp, and stayed clear of them since, as it happened things had eased off. However I was now at a point where I only had guarana gels left and my brain really wasn’t processing things well enough to decide what else I should eat, so down they went…
Needless to say pretty much the whole way from Chapel Stile I went through phases of uncontrollable cramping, then easing off and running well to another frustrating stop and stretch things off. Moving as smoothly as possible seemed to help but I was convinced that someone was going to catch and pass me any minute. This didn’t help when I caught sight of what I thought may or may not be 100 runners in the distance behind me. Once over the final pass from Tilberthwaite and only a couple of miles to go, I was now sure I could see someone approaching quickly. I threw myself down the final descent and onto the road which marks about a mile to the finish. Relying on the leg slamming technique from earlier, giving up on any sort of graceful running style by now I threw everything I had into forward motion, almost hopping down the road!
Into Coniston now, a few checks behind me and no one was in sight. Some encouragement from Dennis Atherton and all I had to do was negotiate a pub, some traffic and then in towards the finish line, something I had been focusing on so hard for the last 8 hours. Knowing how much physical and mental relief this would offer, I tried to savour that last 100 yards and arrival into the finish. Crossing the line was incredible: I can still feel the enormous rush of emotions, immense relief, total joy and complete exhaustion. Seeing my hero Jon Steele there and getting congratulations from Ben who even gave me a couple of chips was the cherry on the cake!
I had given this race absolutely everything, physically and mentally. The challenges I had that day were far more than I had expected, but having overcome them gave back so much more too. I spent pretty much most of the rest of the day in and around the finish area, eating anything going and catching up with friends. One of the best parts to the whole weekend was watching other 100 or 50 mile competitors coming into the finish, seeing the emotions on people’s faces, the joy, relief and sense of achievement being shared, from completing something they have spent months or even years preparing for. Sharing in this passion and excitement was very humbling and great to be a part of.
Now on the cusp of 2016, the wall planner is out and I am to-ing and fro-ing with thoughts on which races to do next: leaning towards those that genuinely excite me and I feel a desire to either go back and do better or new ones that are waiting to be discovered, though one date is pretty solid – The Lakeland 50 in 2016. Huge thank you to The Endurance store and Montane, but most of all to those who supported and marshalled, it was a fantastic atmosphere and true showcase for how great the sport is.
Lakeland 50 2015
1, Jayson Cavill 08:04:24
2,Matty Brennan 08:28:24
3, Paul Grundy 08:28:54
1, Sally Fawcett 08:43:43
2, Debbie Martin-Consani 09:04:30
3, Mel Varvel 09:22:27
Lakeland 100 2015
1, Paul Tierney 20:42:07
2, Marco Consani 21:45:50
3, Duncan Oakes/Jason Lewis 23:01:39
1, Carol Morgan 25:47:32
2, Katie Boden 28:36:19
3, Isobel Wykes/Nicky Taylor 29:23:52