Flake in the Lakes
Posted on 3rd August 2021 at 22:18
Race report of the Lakeland 100
It’s 10am on a July Saturday morning, heat surrounds me like a thick fog, pulsating its high temperature energy draining radiation at my skin, I’m sat underneath a marquee at Dalemain, an area of incredible beauty. But I’m struggling to appreciate that at this moment.
I’m 59 miles into the Lakeland 100 event which started at 6pm the previous day, this is a circular run around the Lake district, which despite its name, is actually 105 miles long, the extra 5 miles are given as a bonus hill climb at the very end of the run. Just in case your legs aren’t tired enough.
I send my wife and kids a text.
But it’s more than that, so I send them another text
At this point my wife rings me, and I have to leave it, so I send yet one more text.
I’m completely overwhelmed, mentally, physically, and emotionally broken.
I’m not my usual self, this isn’t me, but it’s all gone wrong, this is too much.
To start with, I had inadequate preparation coming into this race.
I turned 40 on July 13th, so I had entered this race as just a little way to say f**k you to aging. Eight weeks before this event on May 28th I ran the Hardmoors 160, my recovery was OK, but I’d been struggling with some knee issues, I wasn’t sure if it was sensible to do this run, so I finally got booked in with a physio, and had an MRI.
The physio gave me the all clear, I have some tearing on the inside of my patella cartilage, it’s permanent, and may get worse, but so long as I’m sensible when it flairs up it shouldn’t be an issue long term.
By the time I’d been diagnosed I only had a few weeks to get some weekly milage in, so I was nowhere near my best, instead of my usual 70 to 80 miles a week volume I had averaged less than half of that, about 35 to 40 miles at most. I tried to get in what ever I could whilst continuing to run my boutique littler Personal Training studio in Hull.
Also, and to be completely honest here, I just wasn’t motivated to eat sensibly, and so it was I started the race at 86kg, about 13.5 stone, which realistically is at least 5 to 10kg too heavy to run at my best, that extra weight becomes a burden to carry over longer distances.
I never get blisters, like ever. But this event I made some crucial mistakes which caused me to lose time. It started with my trainer choice, some Saucony classics recommended to me by the guy in the running shop. I’m kind of fussy about which trail shoes I run in, I like a wide fit, low drop and good grip with a deep tred. If it has a little cushioning and can handle a bit of wet weather, then that’s a bonus.
These shoes had a higher drop and were much narrower than my usual choice, but I did like running in them, they took me a lot longer to break in, at first, they pinched my feet so runs became painful, but eventually I managed some decent long distances in them.
They might still have been fine were it not for two crucial mistakes I made on the day with my shoes, the first is that I used a runner’s knot, something I hadn’t done with these shoes before.
A runner’s knot pulls the back heel into the foot more to give extra support, it can be helpful for stability but if you’re not used to it then it can cause the back of the shoe to rub into your heels and create friction. The second mistake was to wear thick socks, I’ve had a lot of issues with my feet so I reasoned that although it’s hot the thicker socks would give more cushioning and protect my feet more.
All of the above resulted in blisters just seven miles into the race, at the first check point I had to stop, take my shoes off and put some rock tape over the sores, unfortunately this just slipped off so a few miles later at the next check point I had to go through the same procedure, this time asking a marshal for some kitchen paper to help dry my feet to help the Rock tape stick.
Again, it didn’t work, and with feet even more sore a few miles later at the next check point I asked a paramedic if she could help me to get the tape to stick, she used a band aid plaster and then taped around the front of the ankle and looped it back around my heel, which seemed to do the trick.
From that point on, my feet still hurt, but I daren’t take my socks off to look any more in case I disturbed the taping. It was painful, but it was just about bearable, on top of the blisters that had been taped up I developed more blisters around the side of my feet, my heels and under my big toe on both feet.
Look away if squeamish.
And of course, then there was the heat and with that, the dehydration.
The first two hours of the race where in high heat conditions, around 26 degrees, there was little wind and the air felt clammy, buckets of sweat seemed to pour out of me and whilst I tried to hydrate the more water I drank the more sickness I felt. This seemed to plague me throughout the race, on the few occasions I managed a piss, it was like dark treacle, a few miles before I broke down at Dalemain I felt dizzy, my vision went blurry and I became a little disorientated, I knew I had to keep an eye on myself because heat exhaustion can be serious, like intensive care serious.
On a side note, I should point out that hot conditions are preferable to wet conditions, speaking to runners who had ran the race in previous years the tricky terrain can be even more treacherous when pouring down with rain, and as a consequence more people usually drop out when conditions are wet.
The conditions couldn't have been too bad this year, because the course record was broken by Mark Darbyshire, who ran an incredible 19 hours and ten minutes.
And of course, moreover, I was just tired.
The race starts at Coniston, which is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my house, so I got up early on Friday for the drive, then I ran through the whole night without any sleep, which isn’t usually a problem, hallucinations and being more divvy than usual don’t start till the 2nd night, but I think the tiredness had took its toll a little earlier on this race, perhaps combined with the heat.
Oh, and the hills!.
Lakeland 100 is a 6300 M climb, to put this into perspective, the national three peaks challenge involves Britain’s biggest mountain Ben Nevis which stands at 1345 metres tall, Scarfel pike at 978 metres and Snowden at 978 metres, which totals 3064 metres.
So you could climb the national three peaks and still have enough height to also climb the Yorkshire three peaks which consist of Whernside 736 m, Ingleborough 723 m and Pen-y-ghent at 694 m.
After doing both of these challenges you’d still be able to climb the height of Britain’s biggest building the Shard (310m) twice and after completing the National three Peaks, Yorkshire three peaks and climbing Britain’s biggest building twice you’d still have 120 Metres spare to climb up..
And entwined into all of this you have to run 105 miles.
The height doesn’t really bother me that much, in fact I like climbs, this height is similar to the 160 I ran at the end of May across the Tabular Hills and Cleveland way in North Yorkshire, except it was all squeezed into 105 miles. This meant the hills were very steep, lots of little mountains around 600 metres.
In addition to this the terrain was what we call technical, lots of loose rock, steep drops and awkward little paths covered by thick foliage winding down and around the side of high hills with big falls.
To break down into a blubbering mess is one thing, to admit to it on my own website is another, and most of what I have written so far is my way of trying to explain why I had gotten into such a state at Dalemain, I was just simply tired, dehydrated and I knew I still had some of the biggest hills left to run, but the truth is that even though I felt broken down, I was still not despondent, there was a 2nd part to my text.
I knew that I would still get through this, with all that had happened I’d made the decision to abandon any pretence of competitiveness to this run and just try and get through it, no matter how long it took me. Even if I had stepped onto a bear trap a few hundred yards after the checkpoint I would still finish the race.*
And so it was I cracked on, one foot in front of the other, I had paid good money for this struggle, and now that Hull is my adoptive home, I was determined to be a good Yorkshire man and get my money’s worth.
The rest of the race went well, lots of high hills to climb, the heat bore down on us, though not as bad as the day before, and we continued onwards to the end.
I must have spent about four hours in total in check points, sometimes lying down for ½ hr to allow some water to settle, it was hard to get going again but once I did, I felt fine.
Before setting out on the last twenty miles I had a strong cup of coffee, got my headphones on, blasted on the music and got running, as it was my last twenty miles where strong, smashing out some ten-minute miles as the adrenaline numbed my painful joints. As I overtook my fellow 100 runners, I would tap them on the shoulder and shout “tig your it” as I ran by. It made me chuckle and spurred me on to get to the end as I felt their eye daggers in my back.
As midnight came and went, my runners high did eventually come down, and the last few miles of the finish were spent slowly trudging up a steep hill in the wonderful company of an inspiring lady called Nicola who has also been a Marshal at these events in the past. She helped keep me going and stopped me from falling arse over tit down a steep embankment of sharp rocks with just a couple of miles to go.
At 1:30am, I lightly jogged into the finish line, people had stayed up all night to clap and cheer us in, and the reception was overwhelming and emotional as I walked into the tent to be given my medal and finishers T.shirt.
The race took me thirty-one hours and thirty minutes to finish. I came in 99th place out of the five hundred and twenty-four people who started the race.
One hundred and eighty-six people had to pull out of the race, some very good runners amongst them, they deserve recognition for even starting.
Not only must I trial shoes before a race, but also the sock choice and lace tie, in retrospect, a runner’s knot isn’t great for ultra as the feet swell up anyway and expand the shoe, I also need a much better blister pack, rock tape just doesn’t cut it. In the military we had a zinc oxide tape which was strong enough to have stuck Boris Johnson to a decision, but alas I can’t find any civilian equivalent.
Chunking came into its own for me in this race, especially going uphill, this is the process of breaking down large task into smaller chunks and focussing on these rather than become overwhelmed with the whole. So looking up at the large hill I had to climb, I would instead focus on the next 10 or 20 yards, and once I had achieved them, I’d refocus on the next 10 or 20 yards, after doing this a few times I found I was already near the top of the hills.
When getting too hot in the lakes, the abundance of fresh streams is a great resource to wet your hat and pour cold water over yourself.
If I succeeded in anything it was to manage my energy levels enough to have a strong finish, in past events I’ve ran out the blocks too quick and drained myself too early, if I can manage this in future races, I stand more success of a better finishing position.
Ultra-running is unique in the likely number of ups and downs a runner will most likely have. When feeling low, reduced to a slow trudge as other runners pass by you, it’s important to remember that it’ll pass, and you’ll get through it. There’s a life analogy in there somewhere.
If struggling to hydrate, it’s worth taking large amounts of water at a checkpoint with any salt or electrolytes and then giving it five to ten mins to settle before moving on again, small sips seem to suit me better whilst running, too much and it sloshes around the stomach causing nausea.
I’ll be back to run again next year, not only to improve upon my time, but also because of the amazing event organization, from the very beginning it was clear that this was something special, just before we set of all the runners were treated to a solo operatic performance of Nessun Dorma, an inspirational start as we set of into the evening sun.
I may have mentioned it already, but the scenery was absolutely stunning, I saw more of the Lake district in thirty-one hours than I could have hoped to see on a two-week family holiday, there was also the spectacular sight on the first night of seeing a stream of headtorches snaking up and around and down the big steep hills as if they were lit up by fairy lights.
And finally, but by no means least, the amazing work of the marshals and volunteers who make the event so special, every checkpoint had its own theme, there was fancy dress, loud music and an abundance of help as a hoard of tired runners approached the check points in need of water, food, first aid and some encouragement. In the early hours of Saturday morning, I sat drinking a cup of coffee at the rock themed checkpoint whilst next to me a young couple were asleep on each other’s shoulders with a speaker behind their head blasting out Thunderstruck by ACDC.
If you can spare five minutes, then check out the video below of the weekend, which captures a snippet of all I have mentioned in this article..
Recovery went well, a couple of days after the run I managed a few miles at a steady pace, over the next few days I managed to get a few more short runs in, and just one week later I started a new training block for my next Ultra challenge.
In November I’ll be running the Wolds way again, this was my first ever Ultra event and I’ll be looking to destroy my previous time over eighty miles in what might hopefully be much better weather conditions.
Another race, more lessons learned, onto the next one.
*There is absolutely no way I would have finished the race having stepped into a bear trap, I’d be casevaced onto a helicopter and took to the nearest hospital, why would there even be a bear trap in the middle of the Lake district? Since when were bears even in England?
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