Friday, 6 August 2010
The lakeland 50 12,000 ft of climbing through the lake district fells.
The lakes on a sunny day
I decided to camp for the Lakeland 50. Although the start was at 12 mid day I wanted to be up and prepared in good time. I set up my tent on the official camp site over looked by the looming hills of Rigg Head, Yew Pike & Yewdale Crag. It was Friday evening with a few hours of sunshine still left of the day. It was interesting watching fellow competitors milling about, checking kit, reading maps, generally chatting about the events to come.
I'd picked up a few cans of beer to share with CD post race, cracking one open I sat fairly chilled thinking about the 100 competitors (three of which I kind of know through these pages). They had left at 5.30pm and had already been running 4 hrs. Across the way there was a competitor dressed in his skins going through his evening Pilates ritual, This inspired me to finish off my beer and crack open another knowing the carbs would come in useful soon enough. Coniston proved to be very lively come throwing out time, with groups of youngsters shouting and screaming way into the early hours. Next morning I cooked myself a king size breakfast - Packet of Bacon and double egg sandwich followed by a huge bowl of pasta and 4 cups of tea soaked up with chunks of cake. I'd kit-checked, pre registered and weighed in the evening before, so all there was to do now was make up my supplies for the day and drink more tea.
'Collie Dave' turned up with Charlie his dog. Before we knew it we were on the coach taking us to the start at Dalemain an hour or so away. Sitting on the coach at 11.00 am my thoughts once again turned to the 100ers who had now been running 17 hrs. The coach seemed to take an age winding through the same big hills we'd be running through. Eventually arriving 20 mins before the start. It must have been a sight to see as a coach load of well hydrated competitors piled off and headed straight to water the trees. Herded into the starting corals the atmosphere picked up as we were to begin the 4 mile loop of the fields, this was a pain. A quarter of a mile up hill we came to a standstill as a small style into a wood had to be negotiated. I could have walked to that point, saved energy and not lost any time.
This happened 3 more times and became irritating. It was an obvious design to string the field out to the advantage of the fast guys and to the disadvantage of most others. At least 8 minutes lost to queuing so early in the race. Within the first few miles I picked up a runner I'd run with at last year's HP 40 we ran together in good weather chatting. On quickly through the first check point at Howtown. We’d passed one or two 100ers on the way and it wasn’t long before I caught 'Brit Nick' who was looking great at 60 odd miles and 20+ hours under his belt. Heading along Fusedale Beck climbing up to the first serious ascent of Wether Hill. Next 100er up, and just ahead of Nick was DE who looked a bit peaky but was moving well. As we topped out at High Kop a thick mist changed the atmosphere. There was group ahead debating which invisible track to take. I took advantage of having done my homework and led the way traversing at a decent speed to eventually drop down to Haweswater where I’d now left my previous group to catch another.
About 17 miles done and I was moving well along horrible ground underfoot, bobbing up and down along the edge of the never ending Howeswater. I picked off runners who were beginning to feel the effect of Wether Hill. Along here I caught another competitor who I’d recognised from previous races, our times had been close at Osmotherley twice, the last being in my favour. I passed and ran into Mardale Head Check Point. I knew now that I’d found my pace in the field. The runner I’d recognised ran into the Check Point as I was running out. We were to see each other time and time again during the race and eventually we’d ‘race’ over the last 7 miles.
Ok I’ve arrived at Checkpoint 2 Mardale Head 19 miles done. I’d felt the chill for the last couple of miles and it was time to ditch my club vest and put a long sleeve top on. From here we were heading high up through Gatesgarth Pass into some nasty weather (jacket soon on) which could be seen sheeting horizontally against the sodden slopes of Adam Seat to my right and Branstree to my left. I lost a few places on the ascent but was confident of gaining them back on the gnarly wet descent towards the ironically named River Sprint. I did my best along here to catch and hold onto a group of twenty somethings, but I wouldn’t exactly call it sprinting. I passed a tail ender from this bunch and desperately tried to hang onto the group. As soon as we came to the next little climb I decided to let them go or risk burning out with more than 30miles to go.
I dropped back to the straggler who became my running partner right up to Chapel Stile some hours away. We worked well together my overall stamina and non-stop encouragement keeping us going at good pace on everything but the steep climbs. His strength dragged me up faster than I’d been able to alone. It was still very wet but not cold. Kentmere checkpoint was brilliant. The food was novel, someone thrust a freshly made fruit smoothie in my mitt and I ordered a tea and pasta. The guy handed me the pasta which I grabbed by the edge of the polystyrene plate. SPLAT! Another one please! I bent stiffly to clean up the splat but the staff would have non of it, one saying “you eat” ...”I clean” in Red Indian speak. Looking round I spotted a 100er mile 88 for him. He was slowly re-packing hi sack after a dry change – it was slow motion watching him. A quick nod to Chris and we were on the hoof again cheered up by the brilliant support from these guys.
Running into the checkpoint was my shadow and partner, they were right on my case. I needed to stick with Chris and get him moving faster along the flats and downhills to keep these guys off my tail. Next up was the Garburn Pass another big slog climb then the long ankle eating stony descent of Garburn Road into TroutBeck. This was difficult, tedious running yet I managed to make decent time. I was glad to arrive at the road into Troutbeck. More climbing and on towards Windermere and Ambleside. Before long we were running through the main streets along the path alongside a string of restaurants. I glanced in the window to see my sodden, tired reflection and through that to someone tucking into an expensive meal oblivious to the soldiers running by. How strange it must have been for those fat diners watching half starved runner after runner filing by and staring bug eyed at them tucking into dinner and pudding.
The locals on the street in Ambleside gave us a hero’s welcome as we passed pubs and doorways, what a lift that was. Once into the shop (Lakes Runner) we were greeted with more enthusiastic support and lashings of coke, soup and hot tea- fantastic and better than that rubbish they were eating in the restaurant next door! One of the guys worked hard on my jacket zipper which had jammed at the neck. My Vaselened and wet fingers had no chance of undoing it. This was about mile 33 and it had taken me over 8hrs to get there. 3 weeks earlier I’d run Osmotherley 33 in just over 6hrs. That’s how much tougher this run was. We spent too long in here and my shadow hadn’t let the opportunity go by, looking over my shoulder as I ran towards the Park which led to the next hill I saw my shadow following.
Over the hill towards Tarn Foot and down to the River Brathay. The river was running still, swollen with fresh rain like liquid glass it run deep. It was that kind of evening stillness you get occasionally after a lot of rain. The running here was flat and steady. I relaxed a bit along here allowing for young Chris who was beginning to flag a little. He kept asking me to run on, being only half a mile from Chapel Style I wasn’t going to leave him. We arrived at Chapel Style and through the village past a pub garden full of totally uninterested people. In complete contrast to the rowdy Amblesiders. Never mind, I was more interested in the Beef stew at the check point than applause from the locals.
It was here that my shadow and partner caught up. Being my chirpy cheeky self, I cracked a bad joke to the shadow - some thing like ‘You keep catching me up – it’s getting irritating!’ It went down like a lead balloon. I could see what was to come right then. Chris and I filled up and headed out of the checkpoint, the shadow and partner left 20 feet behind obviously rushing their stop. Along the flat of Great Langdale Beck I picked up the pace which killed off Chris (we were at 43 miles-ish, with two climbs to go.) it was now becoming darkish. I shouted encouragement back to Chris and said he’d catch me on the ascents. I didn’t see him again until after the finish. Pushing on, I began picking one or two tired runners off and didn’t really look back for the shadow and partner. I pretty much knew they’d be there, just out of sight somewhere.
A short fierce climb up Side Pike slowed me down again. It was now dark. I sensed footfall behind an stepped to the side expecting to see one of the guys I’d just passed. It was the shadow and partner. The race was now on. I was now the shadow, and I made sure I stuck with them. I was now able to observe for the first time how they were operating as a tight team. I tailed them for a mile towards Blea Tarn they were head-torched up, I was not. (Those who have read some of my winter accounts will know that I’m comfortable running in the dark without a torch - obviously on reasonable ground that doesn’t need navigating) The shadow however didn’t know this.
On arrival at the gate into the wood at Blea Tarn the shadow stopped and invited me to run ahead (Obviously because it was pitch black in the wood and heading to a tricky navigating section looking like I didn’t have a torch) I declined the very kind offer! There was no advantage to gain either way it took me seconds to pop my head torch on and regain their tails. On exiting the the wood they had now come to a standstill. I made a point of taking the initiative and forging a path through the initial horrible boggy mush and a million crisscrossing sheep tunnels through the bracken. I didn’t need their torches. A small group soon gathered here as it was slow progress through the blanketing mist and horrible ground.
The road was soon found with no one at an advantage. I must admit to feeling little annoyed at the head torch ‘gamesmanship’. The group were strung out again as we climbed a few stony lanes just right of Little Langdale Tarn. The shadow and partner were making a push along here and I needed to make a plan to compete. Only a matter of minutes before Tilberthwaite and the last check point. I decided to drop back a few hundred meters, take a breather and arrive at the check point as the shadow was leaving. Let them go ahead and then once over the top of Yewdale Fells. I figured there was enough nasty descent for me to regain the advantage. I felt good about the plan. And strong enough for a fast flat finish. I Dibbed and Filled. And set off up the steep steps. 2mins or so behind. 3 plus miles to go.
On from the last checkpoint and a steep climb up the side of the working quarry avoiding paths right and definitely paths left which would have been a free fall into blackness. I could see no torches ahead but a glance back saw many torches strung out to the distance with a noticeable concentration gathered at the nasty bog section of Blea Tarn. The memory of the slog through there inspired me to push on and up. The path faded into open fell here. A slight hesitation as I checked the road book. All was correct, however I was solo now with no torches in front, nobody to cross check with and no obvious path. I moved on looking for the path to pickup again.
Some bobbing torches appeared behind and I decided it would be worth checking with these guys. They were a bunch of friendly young southern lads, without breaking their stride they assured me all was right. I made an instant assessment of these guys and had decided on the one I was going to run in with. We soon arrived at an obvious stepping stone crossing with a lone tree. All that remained now was a simple skip across the stones and on to catch the shadow and partner on the gnarly descent. But hang on? wasn't this the FALSE crossing? you know, the one a trusted friend had said to be aware of - as many who had recced had crossed here wrongly? Yes this was the one, we needed to avoid this crossing even though it has a huge neon arrow sign saying 'VICTORY & HOT TEA THIS WAY' I convinced the lads of this and off we went following Crook Beck for another 200 meters up to another lone tree and gully.
A quick cross here, another 200 meters and we were in no-mans land. I felt like one of those movie cops who's been chasing a villain through streets and gardens only to run up a blind alley with the villain well gone laughing. Map out for the first time (the road book was useless now). for all my prep I'd not figured out that I couldn't read the Harvey's map without my recently required reading glasses, they were at home in their nice little leather case wrapped in their comfy soft lens polisher fast asleep. A quick compass bearing and a plan to pick up the path lower down and we were away. Too much sand had slipped through my fingers sorting that one out. BALLOCKS! Lessons learned. Race over.
Never mind, it had been a great run. I decided to run in easily with one of the lads and enjoy the last two miles reflecting back over the day knowing that a recce would have seen me knock a huge hole in my time of 12hrs 53min. The Shadow and partner had gained over 15 mins in the last 3 and half miles. Well done them. Next time. The weigh in at the finish reported a 3.5kg weight loss. They asked me how I was feeling, I was fine, no blisters, no cramp just my usual lack of appetite. I'd run the 50 on the food that was available at the Check Points and only 1 energy gel at 30miles. One bottle of SIS energy drink and three Nunn electrolyte tabs. I felt like I had more hours in me for sure. May be a good sign for the 100m? As dawn started to break Collie Dave and I shared beers and packets of Cheese and onion crisps outside my tent, what a feast. Until we were told to Shhhhhhh! by a knackered runner trying to sleep off the miles.