Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A perfect day in the Lakes

So here I am, getting off the bus on the lawns of the Dalemain estate in the Western Lake district, surrounded by 500+ people all with a similar goal of tackling a tough 50 mile trail route from here to Coniston. Not for the feint of heart, this route climbs as high as 2200" and is basically series of Lakeland passes linked together mustering nearly 10000ft of ascent and even more descent - the ascent may sound tough and tire you and take your breath away, BUT its the descent that will wreck your legs everytime! And the paths, mostly, aren't your friendy tarmac or even nice compacted trail or grass, but damp muddy moorland, rutted rock and - worst of all - the "erosion control" paths. This latter type of path seems to have been created by dumping boulders, smashing them up and scattering them all over the path. This creates a carpet of fairly large stones so every footstep is a workout for the plantar fascia and ankle, especially downhill (as many of these paths are).

In a tent nearby an even more determined bunch are being patched up and refuelled along their way to a 100 mile version of this trail race, having already completed - what maybe an even tougher and slightly hillier per mile - 59 miles. I say hello to Jon who is just set to continue his quest along the 100. He say's he's feeling the amount of miles he's run this year (more than an ultra-marathon nearly every weeked towards his target of 50 for the year), but is still going and I know he won't give up, he just isn't sure of the way out of the grounds to continue the route (something which may be obvious to those around who haven't already covered the miles... overnight to boot).

I was here a year ago almost to the day, when my second attempt at the 100 finished at Dalemain in exhuasted failure. I was also here a year before that when foolishly I persisted and completed my first and only 100 mile trail to date - with the standard issue battered and sliced feet, pulverised legs, fuzzy head (from two nights of no sleep) BUT an enormous sense of self achievement.

Though only the shorter option this time - this is the first of two big summer challenges that my running year hangs around and will hopefully be defined by. My best training ever will I'm hoping lead to what I consider a fast completion. I'm hoping long and short runs in the Wolds a few times per week stitching together usually six to a dozen (occasionally more) hill climbs to form runs with 150ft of ascent and descent per mile to try an emulate the effect of running bigger hills in Lakeland. You may think the wolds aren't that challenging to run and walk, if so try half a dozen Mt Airey reps (alternating run and fast walk up) and then for good measure a few ascents and descents direct up the much steeper banks of Brantingham dale near the layby (especially tough when wet as it often has been this summer).

As I filter into the starting area it's the thought of these tough, but enjoyable training days that will hopefully keep my resolve from breaking over the next dozen or so hours. I'm confident in my preperation  so much so I have set myself an 'A' target of 11:40, B' of 12:30, 'C' of 13:20. Then just after 12 midday and were off. A ludicrous number of people to be attempting a 50m trail challenge surround me, I'm far more used to lone runs or LDWA challenges around the north with usually less than 100 runners, sometimes maybe not 10. I'm hoping they don't know something I don't as my first mile, a slight climb around the grounds of the estate, feels uncomfortable and hard work and half the field seem to pass me. It's not a warm day, drizzling on and off, but I decide to risk taking off my windproof top and hope a t-shirt and my efforts will keep me warm for awhile.

I take a few places back as I hit a few downhills which lead to the exit of the grounds and a few easy opening miles alongside a river to the village of Pooley Bridge. Through the settlement, onto tarmac and I seem to have found my place in the field as I naturally match those around me for pace. And here comes the first hill....

Most people immeadiately slow to a walk on the first shallow slope up the narrow road. I could afford to myself, usually if your running and others a round aren't, your in the wrong. But I place trust in my training sessions where I almost saw a mile without a hill as wasted and drop down to a low gear to run marginally faster than those walking, but at what feels fairly easy effort. I follow a run/walk pattern up this hill as the tarmac turns to stoney track - after initially feeling  like the "black sheep" some others seem to be, reassuringly, doing likewise now. All feels good barring a stabbing pain in my left second toe I've felt on an off from near the start.

Onto the moor and we intersect and join a south-west bound track. The uphill is no mostly slight so I take advantage of this to stretch my legs and try to figure out if I've got a toenail digging in. Stretching and splaying my foot out in my shoe so the toes touch the top of the toe-box seems to bring on the jabbing more - so maybe this is not a toenail. I've made good pace so far so decide to stop and whip off my shoe and sock. I soon see the culprit, a razor sharp piece of undergrowth has come right through my shoe and is sticking out of my toe like a pin! I whip it out and get the shoe back on, congratulating myself inwardly for performing the shoe-off-on operation quickly. The pain in my toe quickly disappears.

The track heads gradually intersects the lake, offering an unudlating, sometimes slightly stoney, but overall runnable downhill section. This seems like a section where the biggest danger may be to go too fast and waste energy early on. Others may be less concerned as a few really hammer pass me, esepcially on downhill bits where I don't tend to slouch. It's drizzling and there is a slight wind now, so I prepare myself to re-don the windproof at any time. The people I pass are mostly 100 milers, no doubt superfit people, but definately a lot steadier than me with over 60 miles in their legs. The other visible difference between 50 and 100 milers right now is that they without exception seem to be in water or windproof tops already - their internal heating probably a bit compromised by their efforts so far.

I'm soon descending into Howtown and their is the usual melee in the CP, with 50'ers dashing about and 100'ers keeping well out the way - often inside. Amongst the latter, I think, is Jon (who I saw leaving Dalemain prior to my start) as I don't recall passing him, but do before the next CP. I keep to my scientific eating plan here grabbing the things I listed from this CP, based on a plan I knocked up based on the organisers - much appreciated - CP menu notes. Going well, this section was much quicker than even my plan 'A' pace! 74th of 482.

Sunny moments at Haweswater
I walk away down the tarmac track pulling my windproof on as the drizzle continues with the odd blast of actual rain. People are rushing around rather a lot here and a few pass me, but I repass most of these people soon enough. Through, boggy, Fusedale before a climb wth a false summit to the highest bit on route at about 2200ft and over a 1000ft of climb from the lake. I slow down to take it easier on the way up as I encounter Mark and Simon on there 100 attempt and slow for a few minutes chat. It's been wet and Simon had a bad reaction to the organiser provided kinetica sports products, but apart from that they appear to be going strong. On top the route plateaus a bit and makes for a nice grassy run until Haweswater comes in to view and I'm trying to pick the best way down (there are several turns too early or late). I'm still fairly closely surrounded by others, who confirm my route choice.

Mardale Head bound
 Down to the lake the ascent is fairly fast in places and technical in others and I'm not going great downhill, even slipping on a dry rock. As I pick up the rocky and undulating trail around the lake I realise I'm actually suffering a bit for the fastish start and section before the descent. I keep going, stubbornly trying to keep close to a guy in front who has the legs on me, probably losing as many places as gaining for the next few miles winding around the lake, up and down small climbs as the path clings to the hills alongside Haweswater. It's also warmed up as the sun is out so the acket is back in the bag. I soon do the sensible thing and decide not to run all the mini ascents on this section.

This works out ok as I still get to Mardale Head CP in good time and take a sightly bigger feed than at the last CP to replenish - following the tough 9.5m and hilliest section on route from Howtown. I've maintained the advantage over my 'A' plan I carved out on the first leg - 75th of 478 - which buoys me as I walk and jog to the foot of Gatesgarth Pass.

Gatesgarth Pass
 It may seem strange, but I quite relish the climbs on this route. This one, like many, long and steep enough, as it zig-zags up to the pass, to make a good "march" the best option up here and save m running fr the long descent to follow. Much like my previous experiance here in 2010, the weather turns whilst going up,wind building and enough drizzle to make me reach for the windproof. I chat with others heading up, including to one guy about the HOKA's he's wearing. Unlike many in them he doesn't seem over the moon about their qualities and has been slipping a biton the wet grass.

I get to the top in good shape and break almost straight back into a run. I know from 2010 the descent here isn't too steep, but is very stoney. So I concentrate on trying to land my feet lightly and my legs and roclites oblige, taking e down quite gracefuly and without a bashing for my underfeet or toes. I pass a few people down here and nobody in the aforementioned, super-cushioned HOKAs appears to be cruising past me.

I feel good, but I've learned by now that long downhills aren't a free ride as I tackle the final undulations to the Kentmere institute CP, which is usually the culinary highlight of the route. The hospitality is great here and I get sat down and provided drinks, my bottles filled and some pasta. It'stemting to stay awhile here, but I push on. I'm over halfway and have tackled the marginally hillier half and am still about 30mins upon plan 'A' so want to push on with my advantage (up 5 places to 70th of 471).

The route again obliges with a big climb almost straight from the CP so I have to walk and digest my dinner. This is Garburn pass and from the top I recall this is one of the better surfaced long descents for me to push down and maintain my good pace. The field of nearly 500 50'ers and half as many 100'ers is pretty spaced out now and I don't see anybody on the climb or descent until Troutbeck, when I manage a good paced march past some strong looking 100'ers up the small hill from river to village.

Through the village and back onto a climbing track, contouring around the hillside towards Ambleside. I catch a couple of 50'ers as I slowly run bits of the climb, one of them I have ran a few sections with earlier already and figure he's a good standard of progress so - intending no offence - try and run away from him in the woods down to Ambleside.

After some fun woodland descending I hit Ambleside early evening to the support of many an in-the-know local as I run through the streets and many race supporters near to and outside of the next CP at Lakes Runner. In 2010 I was here a good few hours later and support was thinner on the ground and possibly more intoxicated in the streets at least. Today I was well looked after again, bottles filled, eat and drink served to me, but got moving again quickly as wanted to get the next section - the flattest on route - out of the way quickly (was down 4 places here, 74th of 464).

Not to say this section is flat though, still 768ft ascent and 699ft descent in 5 miles. Through the park out of Ambleside and I'm onto the climb up the steep road, then track, before a short section of open moorland and a descent off the other side. Then there is a section of road and 1.5m of parkland on a super-flat hard-packed path alongside the river.

There is another short climb after Elterwater and then I make a small nav error in the woods trying to locate a foot bridge crossing the river. Although its a very runnable and fast section I've lost more time on my plan, though still up on my 'A' target, I'd started to believe I coould go sub-11 hours for this run. To make this second "low" of the run a bit worse a whole group of people catch me and some pass near the end of the leg before the CP (I didn't keep track of places lost or gained here, but was down to 76th of 454).

The Langdale CP has built a reputation as an Oasis of Calm, offering music, armchairs to rest on and a good food selection. Even a move from a permanent property to a marquee further outside the village hadn't done much to alter this. As my mind plundered the negatives of my low - if I've lost time on that section, it'll only get worse on this and it'll be dark soon, this section broke you during the 100 in 20120..... I tried not to be innactive and got myself ready for another section. Out the door fairly quickly, not as quick as others and not dwelling in the calming atmosphere as long as others.

Onto the muddy and undulating tracks of Langdale, but immeadiately things were going well. I was progressing fast around the valley and the muddy and rocky surface weren't half as bad as I recalled from 2010. A timely boost and I started to catch and pass a few people - mostly 100ers - but by time I start of switchback climb out of Langdale (Side Pike pass) I had 9 people in front of me and I set myself the target of trying to pass all by the next CP a few miles away.

I feel revitalised as I march up this short pass, I've passed about 5 people by the top and then as the good surfaced trail descent passed Blea Tarn. As a group split to rund a puddle I simply jump over it and pass on, I'm feeling a massive surge of adrenelin as I continue down the descent - which gets slight more techinical and a lot more muddy towards the bottom - and I manage to drag a few of the people I passed along with me.

We locate the new self-check dib point on the road above Blea moss - put here to stop people attempting to cut though a very wet area - after a brief search in the gathering dusk. A descent on road for about half a mile follows, my feet flap a bit on th harder surface, but I'm going well still. Back onto trail again to tackle the short climb over fell to Tilberwhaite. One of the guys I passed has stuck near me and we spur each other on, he only pulls ahead a bit as I decide on the descent that putting on the headtorch can't wait till the next CP.

At the roadside CP and I only stop to dib in and down a cup of coke as I've now got the bit between my teeth and about 59 minutes to complete the course to make 12 hours - Now 68th of 453 after a very strong penultimate leg. But being able to complete the last 3.5m in one hour is by no means certain, the steepest climb of the course is followed by a gradually climbing section of fell, before a steep and techical descent, which is by no means a doddle for tired legs. With a generally exhausted body and badly blistered and cut up feet I had a nightmare trying to descend the techical part of the 1250' descent at the end of 2010's Lakeland 100, this 1 mile probably taking me an hour alone on that day, as each step down stabbed my feet, painfully opening up wounds.

But, it's been a very different day today, I've completed each section at a much greater pace and with the benefit of less miles I'm still moving nearly as fast as I was at 25 miles. I was actually quite looking forward to the climb up onto Coniston moor from Tilberwhaite, stepping up the path of odd shaped slate steps is my climbing strength moreson than walking or running up a lesser climb. I was soon up the steep bit and now just had to avoid the navigational pitfalls some people suffer up here. You simply have to stick to the path across the moor with beck on right and not go off either into the beck or randomly across the moor and you also don't want to go anywhere near the sheer drop into the quarry (thankfully I know of no L50/100 competitor who has done the latter). easier said than done now its dark.

I'm only really managing a run/walk on the gradual winding ascent of the moor, lights of those ahead seem out of reach - what happened to the guy who left the Tilberwhaite CP just ahead of me? - and there seems to be a string of lights behind, I can even hear them in the quiet of the moor. Losing places now after a strong last section seems like a defeat and this spurs me to keep up my pace with the prospect of a descent, difficult in the dark, but I suspect I still have the confidence and legs to make good time down.

I go over the "summit" lip of the moor with about 20 minutes left to break 11 hours and after initial hesitation soon hit my stride and from nowhere start to catch and pass people, mostly 100'ers I think, but I do pass the guy who was just ahead of me at the last CP and we encourage each other on - he is american and they generally do encouragement really well!

I hit the cross track at the bottom of the tough part of the descent with 10 mins left. Then a route choice, I mistakenly go right as this is downhill and lose about two minutes including tracking back. I repass my american compatriot who is going well, but looks to be slowed by a limp. Can I descend to the finish in less than 8 minutes? I'm not sure how far it is, but its good track and then road to the end.

I monitor my effort, keeping check that I'm not easing off and soon I'm in Coniston. There is some support gathered around the pubs in the centre and I acknowledge and push on through at full throttle effort.... if not speed. Brief climb after crossing the bridge, tough at this stage and pace. Then I turn down the lake road, now knowing I have about 5 minutes left and will easily break 11 hours, I'm elated and, as I turn the corner into the School drive to a wall of noise from supporters, organisers and other competitors, I get a bit emotional too - I challenge anybody not to be.

I soon see a familiar face, Nick Ham, helping with organisation and taking pictures of finishers (cheers Nick) as he's been unwell and couldn't run the 50 himself this year. I pick up my medal - very nice - and meander around before getting some food. I'm pretty much on cloud 9 for the next few hours as I talk to others including John Vernon and Chris Hare

My final finishing stats were 67th of 453 (so I'd gained positions throughout) and a time of 10:57. My good preperation and concerted effort to eat and drink the right things really paid off and now I just need to maintain and build on this for the much tougher Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie just a month away and an imposing 20 miles longer with over twice the ascent and descent.


  1. This is extremely delayed so I hadve already been out for TDS and a report will follow on here soon (I hope).

  2. Awesome Dan, well done. I was expecting the TDS report, but thoroughly enjoyed this.

  3. wow thats some going dan..well done again. are you there next year..perhaps i can get a piggy back off you :)