“Do you see that over there!?”
“That there…can you not see it?”
“What is it?”
“It’s like a huge teddy bear made out of rocks…look, I can see his wee nose…”
6pm. Saturday 28th July. Somewhere in the Lake District. And the Teddy Bears are beginning to look like rocks…
You should really get yourself checked out…
People had generally been questioning my sanity ever since I entered this race. The Lakeland 100 is pretty well known on the Ultra scene as being one of the most difficult 100’s there is. The 50% – 60% annual drop out rate kind of says it all. With 6300m (20,700ft) elevation & 105 miles which takes in the entire lakeland fells, I thought what better way to see the Lake district for the first time!? I was on the waiting list & I got the call that there was a place for me at the end of May…Perfect timing 3 weeks after Evan has arrived on the scene…sure I’d been getting plenty of sleep! :O It was for this reason that I wasn’t going to do it but Stace told me to go as an early 30th birthday present. (In the end the whole family packed up and went for Evans first holiday! Woop Woop!)
After getting a few big runs with plenty of hills, I knew I really needed to do a couple of runs through the night so I hooked up with Declan and hit the Mournes for an all nighter & ran through the night in Gosford with Matty. I also ran (& pooped & boked) my way around the Mourne Ultra (52 miles) so it was great preparation as I knew what it was like to feel terrible in the first half of an ultra and how quickly the body can then recover for a quick second half!
So I’d done the training & felt pretty fresh for the big day although I have never been as nervous in all my life as I was on the day of the race. I wouldn’t say I was the best company for the wife & the in-laws that day!
The usual doubts crept in…
Have I bitten off more than I can chew?
That guy over there…he has luminous tape on his legs…why didn’t I think of that!?
What is this magical tape?
Why do they call it after dark, when its really after light?
What was the best thing before sliced bread?…
Well, you see thats the thing…my actual recollections of the race are quite sketchy!! I think my body has decided to reject some of the memories from it, I couldn’t remember very much of it the day after so thought I’ll just leave it a few days & it’ll slowly come back to me. Well, bits have, but I’m afraid there are just sections that I don’t remember at all!
Maybe by the end of my ramblings, I will be able to look back on the race better as a whole but bear with me…I really can’t be arsed with drafts, so its going onto this blog as it comes out of my head…:) So instead of a checkpoint breakdown, lets call it a ‘How I remember it’ breakdown.
It was a beautiful evening for the start, as I mentioned earlier I was pretty nervous but this died down once I was on the start line. I dibbed in and chatted to Stace & her parents, gave Evan a kiss & off I went – More on leaving the wee man later! We started the climb up out of Coniston towards I think, the Walna Scar road. Everyone was going quick enough here & I remember thinking….”Is it going to be like this for the next 105 miles!? I may die.” On the climb up here, I saw both Dave Troman & John Kynaston on separate occasions. These lads have become Lakeland celebrities ever since they uploaded their recce runs to YouTube & I must have watched those videos 100 times! Being in Norn Iron & only getting onto the starters list 2 months before race day meant my recce-ing of the course was going to have to be done from a distance! Really helped me mind. It was great coming upon different parts of the course in real life that I’d only seen on my TV!
First Half of the Race
The first checkpoint, Seathwaite, we got there & I dibbed in quickly & stowed my road book in the side of my rucksack as I’d been running with it in my hand until now but the race was still pretty bunched up so I knew it’d be a while before I was on my own & needing it! So off through the Squeeze stile and over some pretty boggy ground. A few people ended up covered in mud at this stage as there were patches that were well over knee deep here, but not me! Oh no, like a Gazelle, I leapt my way through this bit without falling. The least graceful Gazelle you will have witnessed, but a Gazelle none the less 😉 From here, I think it was open fell (Ok, I’m having to cheat & look at the course profile here as I just canny remember!) and through a wee farm into the Boot checkpoint. I remember this checkpoint because of the amazing flapjacks & nuts….so good. Topped up water here (And basically at every other checkpoint) and started climbing.
We then ran across Burnmoor Tarn here, which was beautiful as the sun was beginning to set. I remembered worrying that this would be hard to determine where to go but once I was here, the tracks were fairly obvious. I think we descended into Wasdale after here. It was along this leg that I met up with Ryan Bowen. He was running behind me when my road book shot out of my backpack & I heard someone shout ‘Paul!’….Who could know my name out here I thought!? But then I remembered I had it stuck to my number!! Great idea from the race organisers, especially as the 50 runners passed later in the race. So we chatted a bit before making it to an old lit up barn which was the Wasdale checkpoint. It was head torch time so just as we were leaving Ryan asked should we stick together? Flippin’ right we should! I’m afraid of the dark…Little did I know that we would stick it out together for the rest of the race.
So now to climb up good ol’ Black Sail Pass. This was going to be a bit of a bugger to climb, I knew it before & I knew even more now as I could see headtorches stretching off into the distance & up into the sky. It was great to have some company here as I was pretty worried about this section as it was dark & I just wasn’t familiar with it. It was great chatting to Ryan as we climbed this brute. We were talking about our training & things when I mentioned that I had a 12 week old son, his face lit up & he said ‘Same here!’. Turns out we were both new dads to wee boys & although we hadn’t mentioned or let on to anyone, we were both feeling pretty terrible leaving the wee men for the whole weekend to run, so it was perfect that we’d met up as we could totally relate to one another. Ryan had ran the L100 in 32 hours last year & is taking on the UTMB at the end of August so I did wonder how long I was going to be able to keep with him as he was obviously a fairly fit dude!
Looking back as we ascended the pass, an amazing line of headtorches decorated the night, just an beautiful sight. Wish I had have taken a photo! We then dropped down from Black Sail pass after a long and steep climb and it was here that I was greeted with another big ass climb! Up Scarth Gap Pass this time. I had completely forgot about it! After this climb, it leads round by Buttermere lake into the Buttermere checkpoint. Looking at shots of the lake in daylight, it looks beautiful but we could only see glints of light at this time of night, still pretty cool though! I think I put my jacket on somewhere around here as we ran along the side of the lake & through a wooded area, this bit was really enjoyable as it was a good trail & we were both feeling really fresh. I think this marked the first marathon distance covered. Only 3 more to go eh?….
We got some Pasta with Beans in at this point which went down a treat….Mmmmm I love your Beany Pasta ways Mr Beany Pasta. We then set off after getting ourselves together again, when it started to bucket it down. This was a road section towards Keswick & was such a change from what we had just completed, but it was nice just to get yourself adjusted a bit & to also make up a bit of time on the road.
We then ran some nice trail to Blencathra. <——The preceding 8 words here are an example of my patchy recollections of the race, I know more happened here but sorry, I know nothing! What I do know, is that there was extra dibber at Blencathra which caused us some panic as realised that we’d passed it. I remember balloons on the trail here but as this was the end of the first night and time to take my headtorch off, they may have been ‘balloons of the mind’….more on the seeing stuff later…So, great! Through our first night and I didn’t feel tired at all really. What I do remember is that my feet were starting to feel pretty soggy and sore which wasn’t what I wanted so early in the race!
This was pretty hard part of the race as I’ve just checked & this section included the Old Coach road, which went on foreverrrrrr! It was rough, uneven & just not nice. Add the boggy climb up to it & this leg really did nothing for my feet. The Blister Express was leaving & I was about to get on it….So we jumped in and out of the next aid station at Dockray…I really could have done with a fryup at this stage!! We continued on now to Dalemain which marked halfway. This was a longer leg too, somewhere around 10 miles so mentally that was tough but we got a lot of decent running in around Gowbarrow & we could see Ullswater Lake as we ran along side it which was just gorgeous (Darling) We had met in with 2 South African guys here and we helped push each other along. We stayed on each others tails, not to race but just to keep us chugging along. This is the type of running that in my opinion is what its all about – running along a small winding trail surrounded by mountains through a forest with the early morning sun just clipping through the branches. We kept up a great pace here until about 2 miles from Dalemain when we hit a road section again. This is when the good old blisters started to really grab hold of me, I don’t suffer from blisters ever so I felt like my foot was torn to shreds. For the first time, I had serious doubts that I would be able to run another 46 miles on these feet. I chatted to Stace on the phone here & told her my tale of woe. She told me to try my best to push on but not to seriously injure myself. So I ate a Dime Bar & as if by magic I was cured!!….
No, it was a pretty amazing Dime bar to be fair but it wasn’t that good. We arrived into Dalemain & all the 50 mile runners had just been dropped off by bus. Perfect timing as we were both pretty quiet at this stage & I was feeling a bit low with the whole blister situation. The whole crowd of them started clapping and cheering us as we got into the checkpoint. A goosebump moment. Such a great feeling to have that kind of reception, it made the blisters more worthwhile to be honest!
So I got some soup into me, change socks, shoes & taped my feet up (In a pretty bad way but not as bad as they felt!) & started walking. I popped a brufen tab & as if by magic, I felt almost like it was 5.30pm on the Friday again. I was feeling good. So I started running again and caught up with Ryan and informed him of my ‘miracle’! He seemed to have got a good lift from that last checkpoint too so we both just kept motoring on.
Second Half of the Race
We ran through Pooley Bridge which seemed like a stereotypical Lakes town & we got a few cheers from some of the locals at the pub. Of course, in my excitement at the last checkpoint, I forgot to top up on water but it was ok as I could take from a beck on my way….only this leg didn’t seem to pass any becks!! Ah! This started to play on my mind a bit & I was starting to worry only for another miracle to happen! On the climb out of Pooley Bridge, we came upon a photographer & her friends at the top of the hill & she had a bottle of water which she gave me. Thank you Miss Photographer Lady, you don’t know how much good that did me!!
So now we were to begin the leg of the race that I had been dreading and looking forward to all at once. Dreading because its the biggest climb of the race but also probably the most beautiful part of the course. And I can tell you, it was an awesome sight when we reached Haweswater. Just an Incredible view. How blessed was I to be fit and able to run along this wonderful part of God’s creation!? I’ll never forget it.
I can’t emphasise just how great it was to have Ryan with me on the course. I had panicked so much about navigation & to have someone that had done it last year with me was great as I was able to concentrate on my running a lot more rather than panicking about directions. I did recognise a lot of the course but it lifted a huge burden from my mind that I knew we couldn’t go too far wrong. So we started the climb up Fusdale which was a dirty brute. Yes you heard me. A dirty brute. We both struggled a bit up this bad boy but we got there eventually & ran across a large grassy area which signified the highest point of the entire course. I was then informed that the worst part of this leg was to come…I remember John K talking in his recce video about how it would be great to run this next part as it was a great wee technical trail for about 3 mile along Haweswater but combine that with absolutely knackered legs & feet which were just in bits, and it just doesn’t become as runnable! It descended into a lot of start/stopping as we let some of the 50 miler runners past. They had started to pass us on the ascent up Fusedale & were a fantastic encouragement. Its the reason I got into Ultra running, its just made up of a group of very special people that may not know each other at all but really appreciate why we’re all here. Some of the comments from the guys passing honestly had me swallowing deeply as they were so so encouraging. And also because I was quickly becoming a tired & emotional wreck!!
Mardale Head checkpoint took forever to come but when it did, I was so glad to see it. I dreamt of Pizza, of burgers, of Chilli….Mmmmm. I had soup & bread 🙂 All good. The marshals here were the same as every checkpoint on the course, absolute stars. They could never do enough for you, Heros in their own right. Oh yes.
So here we are at another sort of patchy memory for me. I remember climbing here, and I remember myself and Ryan exchanging knowing glances of ‘We’re bucked’ but I’m not sure of the next bit…this is where I think I opened this blog entry with the Teddy Bear rock thing…It was descending down the other side towards Kentmere on really rough rocky terrain that I saw the Teddy Bear shaped rock across the valley. Ryan, gave me some strange looks here & let on that he could see it too but then we just kept running quiet hard into Kentmere. I think he was hoping this wouldn’t degenerate into all out hallucinations! So I held back on telling him about the Humphrey Bogart poster that was stuck to his shoulder around Gatesgarth until later… It was difficult & harsh terrain but we kept moving well. My blisters were back giving me a lot of grief by the end of this leg but I got them sorted again at Kentmere.
Now Kentmere was the king of the checkpoints. Just mad craic. With loads of food & even fruit smoothies! We could see a lot of people getting very comfortable here so after no more than 5-6minutes we were out of there…& climbing again on our way to Ambleside where my lovely wife & family would be waiting! Woohoo!
Climbing up out of Kentmere, I actually felt good as we started ascending the Garburn pass. Of course, after Mardale I had it in my head that we had no more climbing but I couldn’t be more wrong! There was plenty left for us!
It was coming up here that I finally met up with Steve Mee, whom I’d never actually met in person but had chatted to a bit over the last couple of years on Fetch. In fact I addressed him by his name on fetch, so it went like this….
Now I really think Ryan was starting to wonder had I completely lost it!
It gave me a good lift meeting him as he just seemed like he was this man on a mission, his right shin had given up on him & his feet were in tatters but I knew by talking to him that he was definitely for finishing this one. Seeing that it meant so much to him really brought into significance what we were doing here. It wasn’t normal, It wasn’t easy, It wasn’t even right. If my mind was wandering climbing up here, It was now sharply back in focus. Lets get ‘er done big lad!
So we powered on ahead down a really rough descent which kicked the arse out of my feet (Hmmm…strange imagery)…I was starting to suffer a bit but knew Ambleside didn’t just bring a checkpoint but also a wife & son! So through a wood which was quite dark but none of us put on our head torches yet. I couldn’t believe we were about to enter a second night of running. Mad craic this eh.
We then descended into Ambleside where we got some great cheers from the pubs. I could see Stace standing so quickened my pace then…POP! the blister on my right foot (which was basically the size of my foot!) had decided to explode. So straight into Lakes Runner to sort it out. My feet were a mess but thankfully, another very generous runner gave me a pair of new socks. He’ll never know how much he helped me here.
I must say it was a bit of a surreal experience sitting in a running shop just after 10pm at night taping my foot up and trying to simultaneously eat a flapjack at the same time!
I went out to Stace & got a hug, got a look at the wee man & off we went again. This was a huge lift to the rest of my race as my spirits were now sky high & another brufen sorted out the feet pain. Only 16 miles to go….
Head Torch time! So now we head for Chapel Stile….another patchy bit where I was feeling a bit sleepy by the end of it. Its the flattest leg of the course. We climbed up out of Ambleside & then seemed to go round in circles forever with a few other runners including the 2 Andrews who were also running the 100. This leg was honestly a complete blur to me!
We arrived at the next Checkpoint and it was like seeing a mirage in the desert. Extremely random indeed. I remember running through a caravan site (maybe!?) & then seeing this beautifully lit tent with people shaking bottles of coke outside it. Oh the food was good here. Stew & bread. Delicious. Tried not to stay too long here, so ate up & beat on down the road after thanking the Coke shakers for their coke shaking.
Ryan had said he was a wee bit sketchy on the next leg, especially in the dark so we set off to keep up with the 2 Andrews…we saw a luminous coat yonks away in the distance so literally. Yes literally, sprinted after them. I couldn’t believe how hard we were running with only 9 miles or so to go!
But it wasn’t them!! They were still at the checkpoint, so we’d busted ourselves for nothing! So on we went. This was a very tough leg through a good bit of bogginess from what I remember and I remember that bogginess meeting my burst blister for the first time. Not nice. I screamed like a girl. At this Ryan told me to just grit my teeth and maybe hit something. So I ran straight into a stile. That did it. We were running hard this entire leg as we were trying to keep with some 50 mile runners in front of us and it was not easy. I was lagging a bit but I did manage to get it together eventually! Well, until the point that we got lost looking for the mandatory dibber. After about 5 or 10 minutes of pure panic standing in the middle of the mountainside not having a clue where we were, we made it over to the dibber & down the road to the final checkpoint before the finish. Nearly there.
This checkpoint was a wee caravan looking job. Nice on any other day but it was small. Its smallness then masked the MASSIVE climb behind it. Yes the last leg was only 3.5 miles…but over what felt like by far the steepest climb yet! And it was here that my head torch decided to run out of battery…drat!! So I was climbing and trying to follow some 50 milers head torch beams…an awful lot of conversations like this occurred…
“No, After you”
“But, I don’t know the way”
“I don’t have a head torch”
Anyway, it turned out to be pretty much straight to the top & then a very technical descent down the other side into Coniston. The soles of my feet were independent to my feet at this stage so this was pretty excruciating trying to negotiate. Ryan was feeling it too for the first time I could see visibly all day.
My head started to go at this point, and for some reason, I decided this path had been built for a Japanese Princess & we had to cross it as it would be seen as a slur on her families name if we didn’t. Really. I didn’t want to put that in, as its such a load of nonsense but, just to give an idea of what the sleep deprivation was starting to do.
It was getting lighter again so we’d actually made it through 2 nights. Mad. I also made my return from the land of the rising sun & just told myself to hold it together for about 15 minutes…thats it. 15 minutes. The rough descent ace way to easier trail until we were off the fells for the last time.
As we entered Coniston, we caught up with a few of the 50 guys that were finishing their race. We all were quite giddy & having a good laugh as we knew we were nearly there & some of the lads were laughing at how I was running at this stage. To describe what we were doing as running would be a gross exaggeration. In fact it was more like a wonky version of this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wippooDL6WE
So this was it, I was about to finish the biggest race of my life. So just on the finishing road that turns toward John Ruskin school (The Finish), myself & Ryan broke away from the 50 mile guys we were with to run it in together. I thanked Ryan for the company round the course & it was great to run this beautiful route with someone else. I crossed the line in 88th place from 263 runners in a time of 35 hours 19 minutes 29 seconds. Phew. (I think about 50% of the field dropped out over the course of the race)
We were then walked into the canteen where a crowd of competitors & marshalls were still milling about (Even at 5am!) and introduced loudly to everyone as 100 finishers! The applause for that was such a great end to such an epic event. I loved it! Myself & Ryan picked up our medals & t-shirts before sitting in silence for about 5 minutes…we just had nothing else we could say. We were done. So, before I went back into Japanese princess territory, I got myself together & ate my free meal before going to my tent for a sleep.
Before putting my head down, I had a look at my feet. It’s best I don’t go into detail but horrific would not be too strong a word! (They’re much better as I write this!) Then, the in-laws rescued me about an hour later & I’m almost certain they saw things when they opened that tent that would burn the retina off many a person! And with that my Lakeland 100 was complete.
I still don’t know if I’ve fully got my head around last weekend and the fact that I finally completed this race. It took 2 months of planning, training and watching some guys I don’t know running with head cameras over and over again, it took training runs of running right through the night & Getting up at really silly times of the morning to squeeze in a long run. But I know it’s all cumulative & really it’s took me 3 years of training and running Ultras to finally get my first 100 miler in the bag. It takes a huge amount of your time, trying to train for these events & I know I couldn’t do it without all the support & well wishes I’ve had from my friends & family (I know, a bit of a cliché, but very true.) But I would never have even made the start line without Stace, who continues to put up with my stinky washing, my long training, my constant talking about running & picky eating requirements. Thank you wee woman, it means alot!
So, on that soppy note…a picture of my main man with the spoils of battle!!