I think blogging about a DNF is pretty low rate. Let alone writing a long blog about one.
But I'm sure I will at least look back over this post in the future as a reference point. And I'm sure Paul Navesey and Robbie Britton will read it.
The Lakeland 50/100 events are fantastic. Really well organised with a huge community spirit to them. It was my second race of the year and I planned to go as hard as I could and do the 100 justice. I trained inconsistently from March to mid-June after a good 100 at Rocky Raccoon in Feb, simply because I hit the inevitable dips caused by the Centurion race calendar. But I ran my peak block well, with weeks of 108, 97, 42 (SDW100 week), 115, 153 and 103 miles with lots of vertical and time on the race route. In truth I was slightly over trained, but I tapered hard and felt confident.
I've been running in the Lakes a lot over the past couple of years. A few Bob Graham attempts including a success last September, pacing others attempts, a visit to the majority of the Wainwright tops and exploration of almost all corners of the area meant that it wasn't just the route that I knew, but all the fells and features around it. It made me really excited to race, almost as if I had an excuse to go and visit old friends but with full support of the race framework behind it.
I knew the competition would be stiff, with Marco Consani and Paul Tierney both racing. Marco won in 2014 and Paul was 2nd in 2012. My plan was really ambitious not least because those two guys are faster runners than I am. Simply, to try and win the race and to do it by virtue of two things. Descend fast and waste absoultely no time, anywhere. I spent a lot of time on my kit, I made sure I recce-d everything such that navigation wouldn't be necessary at any stage and I made sure I was physically as well prepared as I could have been. I made sure I had footwear I knew would handle the huge variety of terrain the best all around, my La Sportiva Bushido's, and a blazing bright headlamp for confidence in coming down hard in the dark.
Fueling wise I went simple. Start to the drop bag at Dalemain - 21 Salted Caramel Gu. Dalemain to Finish - 20 Salted Caramel Gu. Perhaps taking on a few bits of anything at the CP's if required and a Handheld bottle to fill up at stream crossings. With that plan I figured I could cut out all Check Point time.
Race: Start to Seathwaite. 0 -7 miles.
As we lined up on the start, I thought it likely that Marco would disappear in to the distance and I wouldn't see him again all race. Ken Sutor went off like a rocket as I think we all knew he would and honestly I just ignored him because whilst volunteering in 2013 I'd seen him come through Boot ahead of Stuart Mills and then fade hard after just 35 miles. But Marco eased past too and I figured I'd just be dealing with an increasing gap from there on.
As it turned out by the time we reached the top of the first climb up the Walna Scar Road, Marco's lead was only 42 seconds. It had been pretty much the same all the way up as we both dropped in the occasional hike break when the effort level got too high. Ken was out of sight ahead as he ran the entire climb. We started what is a screaming fast descent in to Seathwaite and I wondered if I would make those seconds back. In the end I came in to the check point a minute up. But 63 minutes for that first section is far too quick. Marco and I were 5 and 6 minutes up on record splits already. I wasn't happy about being ahead of Marco either. That being said everything felt alright so I just backed off a little and got on with it.
Seathwaite to Boot. Mile 7 - 14.
The aid station team told me Ken had turned right out of the check point but instead of following him on to the old course, I went with what I knew was the correct route and ended up hitting Wallowbarrow at the same time as him. He looked totally confused and asked me if I was running the 50. With the 50 starting the next day on the other side of the Lakes I really didn't know how to answer. He then took off and was out of sight in under a minute in a pace that I can only describe as flat out. As I got to the end of Grassguards about mile 10, hiking a lot of the boggy area to keep my effort down, Marco caught me. We proceeded to run together through the numerous gates down to Penny Farm. I pulled away slightly on the short descents, before Marco eased away on the flat once again. A pattern was forming. I reached Boot in 2:14 a minute or so back of Marco.
Boot to Wasdale. Mile 14 - 20.
On the gradual climb out of Boot, Marco extended his lead, but stopped for a call of nature at the tarn and we linked back up all the way down to the road in to Wasdale. He then eased away yet again, but with my zero second Check Point strategy, we left together.
Wasdale to Buttermere. Mile 20 - 27.
One of the guys at the check point shouted to us as we ran on, 'that's it run together!' but I laughed and said goodbye to Marco as he once again forged ahead to the climb up Black Sail. Not much of that climb is runnable so the gap stayed pretty constant, looking behind me after the beck crossing I could see no other runners where I had expected to see Paul. I descended well off of Black Sail and as we hit the bridge by the Hostel, Marco had slowed to a walk and he complained of stomach problems. I know race tactics were probably on his mind at this point but I didn't really care this early on and slowed with him. I told him that I'd just drained 1.5 litres since Wasdale less than an hour ago and was still drinking. I'm sure he was behind on his, and he maybe thought the same.
We climbed Scarth Gap together, switching our headlamps on at the top as we passed Charlie Sharpe eating a large pizza out of the box and I again put some time away on the descent to Buttermere. Marco made that up on the flat and we reached the check point almost together in 4:44.
Buttermere to Braithwaite: Mile 27 - 34.
The section from Buttermere to Braithwaite is my favourite of the race. If the whole event was 100 miles of that section on repeat I'd be delighted. Lots of the climb is forgiving and runnable. The descent is probably one of the fastest 3 mile downhills in the Lake District. It's just a dream ride. I left Marco at Buttermere check point and as I got on to the fell, I could see Ken's lamp miles up the hill in completely the wrong place. With him out of ear shot I just got on with the job. It was the first time I took the lead.
Ken kept scanning down and pointing his lamp at me and eventually as I turned left up to the first beck crossing, he hammered it down past me and I assured him he was now on the right route. He then ran the entire climb up to Sail Pass which once again I just couldn't get my head around.
Off of the top of Sail Pass, I went for it, no brakes. My plan for that section was 1:20 and I was exactly on that as I reached the CP. I looked back up at the fell and could see no lights which was a good sign.
Braithwaite to Blencathra. Mile 34 - 42.
As I walked in I saw Ken, who left a few yards ahead, eating. I hammered it past him and down the A66 to Keswick, firmly believing that was the last I'd see of him. I felt great, I had the lead, Marco was suffering with stomach issues and I didn't know of anyone else close behind so I tried to settle in and move as efficiently as possible. The first support point was out the back of Fitz Park on the BGR route and Drew met me there to say I had a 9 minute lead over Paul Tierney who was just behind Ken. That seemed like a big lead at this point and I felt amazing, so I was pretty happy.
On the out and back up the Glendetarra Valley, you get a view of everyone in front or behind, and sure enough all the way back to the Blencathra Centre check point I could see three lamps, evenly spaced about ten mins back. I figured it was Paul, Marco then Ken, but actually Ken was still closest at that point. I wasted three minutes having a sit down call of nature just before the CP, but didn't stress about it and consequently I hit that check point and felt the best I had all race. Everything was just working.
Blencathra to Dockray. Mile 42 - 49.
Out of Blencathra I ran hard down the flat rail track, before beginining the climb up to the coach road. I kept checking behind to see how close the lights were, and it was just as I turned left on to the Road that I saw the first lamp appear down by the Farm. I had at least 12 minutes.
I ran the Coach Road well. At this point I'd spent a total of maybe 90 seconds at check points, I'd run every step that it was efficient to run, eaten a Gu every 30 mins and had zero issues to complain of. Until my headlamp battery died. Post race I wrote a list of all the things I would do different for next time and it reads:
- Change your headlamp battery inside at Blencathra
- Concentrate on not falling over (to come)
I could not get the connection on my otherwise phenomenal Petzl Nao 2 to hook in to the replacement battery. In the end I resigned myself to being caught there. I don't know how long I was there but I was literally sat on the ground, with my jacket on as I was geting cold and my pack sprawled on the ground behind me fiddling around with it. Eventually I found my back up lamp and used that to light up my other torch. I switched it on and bolted hard to Dockray. I reached there in 9:03 elapsed, 6 mins behind of plan.
Dockray to Dalemain. Mile 49 - 59.
I went straight through that check point and made the pub exactly 1 mile away in 7mins30, then ran hard all the way to the bottom of Gowbarrow. It was on that section that I started thinking to myself, no one else is going to be running faster than this at this point in the race. I started to really believe that if I could crack the next 15 miles to Howtown, then the big descents in the Howtown to Ambleside section would allow me to put the race away. That's how confident I felt.
As I climbed up the side of the fell looking out over Ulswater, I saw a light coming the other way which turned out to be a supporter. At 0330 this was a completely random sight. Caught up in my own world I booted a rock and went down on my hip and forearm. It was the kind of crash where you just lie there assuring yourself out loud that it's going to be ok. I lay there for a minute then hobbled away trying to put weight on my left leg. It wasn't totally useless but it was really sore. I got on with the descent in to Swinburn Forest, and on a section which is all runnable, from there in to the Dalemain Check point, I started to move slower and slower, increasing walk breaks and trying to stretch my hip flexor out. I wasn't totally disillusioned. I knew it was bad but I still felt I could maybe get some warmth in to it and push on with the light of the new day just coming up.
Along the track in to Dalemain from Dacre, however, it began to dawn on me that I was totally screwed. I ran on and off but it was a horrible looking hobble and I started to get really hacked off. I could not generate any power through my left leg, as if it was going to collapse underneath me. I arrived at the check point at 10:59 elapsed, now 12 mins back of my schedule and proceeded to go through my plan as if I was going to finish the race, but I knew that was it. I replaced my gels, put my jacket on as I'd got cold where I was moving slower and stood there to have a snack. I wouldn't have dreamed of doing that had I been fit. Then Marco arrived and told me he'd heard about my fall from the supporter up on Gowbarrow. I told him see you in a minute and 'jogged' out of the check point. But that was the last running I would do.
The Last Steps Run. Photo c/o sportsunday.co.uk
Binning It. Mile 61.
As I began the incredibly shallow grade climb up the field out of Dalemain I just couldn't put any weight through that leg. In the next field Marco caught up to me and was incredibly sportsmanlike telling me I looked pretty bad, was I ok, but I told him just to crack on. Despite our independent various issues we were only 15 mins or so behind Terry's splits and he was moving well enough that I figured he could still go on and do it after he had turned it around to come past Paul on the coach road.
I hobbled in to Pooley Bridge where Drew was with the car at the support point. I had no idea if he would be there but I was massively relieved that he was. The thought of waiting it out on a bench in my emergency gear was less than appealing. We stood around chatting, at which point Paul came by. He looked really strong and totally focused.
So that was my race. I went back to Coniston with no questions about whether I should have tried to press on. No way I would have made it in any amount of time. Perhaps if I'd had poles, but I didn't.
Two days on and my left leg has swelled to approximately double the size of the right one, with a lump mass over the hip bone where it cracked the rock.
The rest of the race
Paul went on to pass Marco up Fusedale and stretched away to victory. His time of 20:45 was fantastic. Marco did really well to keep it going through a rollercoaster ride of a race, and came home 2nd an hour behind Paul. Paul's winning time was just under an hour off of Terry's 2012 record. I think in the right race, with people pushing each other all the way and for someone who has saved enough to get going from Howtown in, that time can go. But it is an exceptional time. Terry thought his time might go this year. I think we might see a race next year where, if conditions are good, a few people could push each other to get close. Maybe Terry will have a go at his own CR. That would be really good to see.
So in summary, I had the best race of my life and had it cut short by one of those freak accidents that can happen in a race of that length on terrain of that nature. I learned a lot, and if I can secure a slot for 2016, I will certainly be back.
As a runner and a fan of the sport I'd like to say thank you to everyone behind this event. Brilliant organisation. Down to earth and timely communication. A great course. And a community spirit to be proud of. So much good is done here, particularly on the fund raising side that perhaps some aren't aware of. But I would urge any runner to support this race if they can.