Friday, 6 August 2010

The BIG ONE - Ultra Tour Lake District (conclusion)

Howtown to Mardale Head - 8.6m, 2421ft asc, 2152 desc, 3h32m

The Mardale Head CP was like an asteroid field. With a few lumbering, comet-like 100'ers doing their best not to be struck by the fast moving, every second counts, from all directions, 50'ers, who even seemed to be talking in a fast pace language disimilar to what I thought was my own. But then these guys and gals would probably be in the top third of the field. Mark and I saught refuge behind the treat table and a few other 100'ers hid away from the frantic action in the millhouse. 

We moved off at our own steady pace treading the boggy fields on the way up to the next big climb to a pass at the highest point of the course. As we moved away from the gill, on the narrow path upwards the relentless stream of 50'ers tried to get past slowed a bit. Which was good as I was fed up of feeling obliged to run near the side of the path to let people through and keep looking back over my shoulder. I tried not to show my current grumpiness, but felt a bit justified in being so. Mark must have been feeling the same and we agreed to make no spectacular efforts to let people through. This was a big hill, we were doing people a favour in steadying them whilst they found a way past. Despite this Steve passed me about this point, still full of life and on the way to a good 50m time - he was gone in the blink of any eye.

I think this was the single longest climb, possibly taking us up a large chunk of that 2440ft. As far as a false summit near Gowk Hill. Moving on slowly across the wet moorland plateau the stream of 50'ers behind were now less reluctant to overtake. One last push up to the pass between Wether Hill and Red Crag, hardly a pass it was nearly as high as the peaks! On top we ran into low level cloud on the moorland. Rain droplets were distinctly chilling me more now then on the less exposed journey up. We ran for a while on this high plateau passing the highest point of our journey at near 2200ft. I was glad of the descent, a further chance to move at speed and downhill, a double warmth bonus as we moved closer to lake level. Dave and Charlie passed on a parallel path, but was gone before I got chance for a chat. I may have been a pace-match to the 50'ers around me on the ascent, but on flat and descent, freshness won out for most.

It was a slightly technical descent to the shore path of Haweswater. Despite the wet ground I was still able on the technical downhill paths I thrive on. Despite Hawesater being a reservoir the seemingly undisturbed and innaccesable nature of this valley made it a highlight for me on the recce. I remembered that warm day as I ambled on the often hard going shoreside path to the south of the lake that goes on, and on, and on.... The people around us now were more scarce and often had the yellow numbers of the 100 mile event. The 50'ers tend to overtake and be gone. You may notice I was slightly envious of this freshness on this section. Quite a long time later we approached the end of the lake and the weather turned, hard, lakeland style. Heavy rain was unleashed and despite being less than half a mile from the CP I didn't wait for then to pull out the waterproof smock. A long section, the growing tiredness being reflected in our first three hour plus time on this hard section.

Mardale Head to Kentmere - 5.9m, 1657ft asc, 1945 desc, 2h52m

The results show that 14 people dropped out at Mardale Head, only two of them from the 100. That may seem backwards, but thinking about it if I'd gone this far and wanted to pull out I might have my mind changed by the current downpour, at an outdoor CP, in a remote area where it could take hours to get a lift back from. Keep moving and warm if you still can. Maybe the inexperiance of some 50'ers led them to a premature decision? Just an opinion. I had some soup here - starting to appreciate how great hot soup and a roll is on a long run - and for the first time ever decided to don the waterproof trousers for the first time on an event.

The ascent after Howtown was long and high, but the ascent here felt harder work. So steep it had switchbacks up to Gatesgarth Pass. The higher we got the stronger the wind and the lashing with rain. Apart from my face I was completely waterproofed, but this was only a small mercy right now. Things didn't improve on the descent that followed. It was very steep and rocky at first, which was starting to really bother my feet again. Couple this with the fact my cheap, impulse purchase, "I'll probably never need use", waterproof trousers were too long and were getting under my feet when I ran. Eventually a smidgeon of ingenuity grasped me and I rolled them up at the elasticated waist-band, giving me sufficient 'ground clearence' while not quite garrotting my 'gentlemans bits'. I still wasn't breaking speed records though. After often setting the pace on downhills I wass now struggling to keep up with Mark on the punishing rocky path.

I was lifted for a moment when Claire passed. Nice to see another familiar face. She had not had it easy, falling twice and breaking her garmin.... gutted! The interlude was soon over though and Claire and her 3 girl team were gone. The section dragged on without highlight with just a slight lessening of the rain and wind at lower level. It was good to get to the Kentmere Institute and the third major food CP. It had been another slow going section. I was hoping for improvementy now as the trckiest sections were behind us.

Kentmere to Ambleside - 7.1m, 1594ft asc, 1936 desc, 3h23m

Kentmere was a-buzzin, tiring runners slumped on chairs all over, many taking opportunity to remove wet layers. The same pasta and rice pudding were on offer here as previous major foodpoints. However, this time there was delicious fruit smoothy as well... mmmmmm. A nice zing to it, a treat for the palate and I hoped maybe it could give my legs some zing too. I saw Claire for the second to last time on the run here. Nick also entered here not long after me and Mark. He seemed to be 'dibbing in' sometime in the 10mins behind us all the time up to this stage of the second half.

Mark and I headed out again, the gloom of the weather and low cloud now further emphasized by the hastening of darkness. To mimic the pattern of the last three second half stages we had a slow climb over an high pass to start with. Thankfully this one was shorter and less exposed than the previous two. A little ray of light entered my conciousness, "all downhill to Lakesrunner in Ambleside now, then just three short stages" - the highs and lows were coming thick and fast now. There was a long and pleasently less rocky than the previous stage descent  to Troutbeck next. And after Troutbeck, just one ascent and longer descent to Ambleside. Project Ambleside was going quite well. Even the rain had stopped.

Just before Troutbeck the headtorches were necessary again. My feet were hurting more and more now. It felt like the bandages - my saviours since Dalemain - were now rubbing against my soles at the front and the balls of my feet were also very sore on every impact. Ambleside would be my saviour, touch up my feet there and that'll see me through! Not much memory remains of the end of this section, one climb and some undulating farmland and very stoney and slippery woodlan descents (ouch, ouch, ouch). I kept dropping of the pace of Mark and the small group that we were with now. My energy levels were barely depleting, I was being limited by the stiff short strides I was taking to limit foot impact. We descended into a fairly sedate Ambleside, not many revellers walking about considering it was a Saturday night in summer - though it was now twenty to midnight. The 30-35 hour pace was slipping away fast! In fact I was ten minutes over 30 hours when I dibbed in.

Ambleside to Chapel Stile - 4.8m, 804ft asc, 659 desc, 2h43m

The shoes came off at Ambleside assuring a long stop. In the 30-40 minutes here I made what turned out to be very inneffectual repairs. Fortoying the bandage with more zinc oxide tape and putting on some padded plasters. I was also down to my last Ibuprofen, having only packed a mostly used pack containing three strong ones and forgetting the extras from my drop bag at Dalemain.

When we got off again I could tell instantly my repairs had brough no respite. It was a dagger through my heart! Hobbling painfully up the moor ascent I convinced Mark to push on ahead as he was noticably moving better than me and had nearly fallen asleep at the last CP whilst I dithered with my smashed 'plates of meat'. It wasn't fair to slow him further and he wouldn't have left me had I not asked. His torchligh soon disappeared over the brow of the hill.

The stony path off the moor was awful and I was moving in geological time until I could find smooth path again. Thankfully this section had very modest ascent and descent, mostly over at the start. I perked up a bit as I ran through parkland on the super smooth Cumbria Way footpath past Elter Water - the lake - and through Elterwater - the village. I maintained efforts of fast walk/slow jog along bits of this section. Another short woodland track and I was onto the road near Wainwrights in - very much closed for the night - and down the road to the CP at the school.

Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite - 7.7m, 1319ft asc, 1096 desc, 4h16m

I caught up with Mark and Nick at the school, but let them get along while I fed and watered up. Just this longish section now and then the final section is just a compact if steep ascent and descent. Just got to get through this. I made ok, if slow progress up into Great Langdale. This would be a highlight by day, but tonight it was cloudy, or maybe foggy, at quite low level so even with headtorch I couldn't see that far. It was all going reasonably well along the muddy, and well wettened footpaths, I could walk ok up and on the flat, even if I couldn't run these bits now.

I navigated without issue and was glad to be at the zig-zag ascent up Side Pike pass. A high maybe?..... well if it was the lows were about to get pretty damn low. Past Blea Tarn, there is a rocky, stoney, muddy, rutted but by no means awful path compared to some I'd tackle. But I couldn't run down. Every footstep fired sparks of pain up my body, I tried to ignore it and push along, but this only worked for a few minutes. I was now truly a pedestrian and my ambitions were reevaulated to completion in the 40 hour cut off. It started to get light again and I stopped to remove my headtorch and eat. A group of 50'ers went passed me, I assured them I was ok and just taking a breather. I put my windjacket on, my enforced pace meant I was starting to cool down despite the warmish morning. I set off again a few minutes later, hoping maybe I could try and get into or near the group just passed.

Down a muddy bank - "ahhhh, soft ground" - and through some low vegetation into the little wet valley to thye road. I had brief hopes of catching 'the group' as they'd taken a long route around the wet parts of the valley. This had been near dry on recce day, but a lot of rain had fallen since then. Still my navigation was still doing me proud as I found a feint path that took me over some of the less soggy ground and over the streams at narrow points. The group we just diosappearing around the corner of the road as I got upto it. I'd lost them now, I couldn't run on the hard tarmac descent for very long or at any speed and I was soon lonely again, trudging up a rocky track over a low pass. The descent down to Tilberthwaite was a helping of pain to match the previous few descents and I was realy starting to let it get to me. A few 100'ers started to repass me, which didn't boost my morale.

Coming off the hill. I saw the CP van up ahead along a short tarmac drive to the farm. I'm not usually one for emotion, but I welled up. I was seriously thinking of giving up. I had 2 hours 50 minutes to do 3.5m, but I wasn't sure I even could, I could probably get up there, but the descent would be hideously painful. Approaching the CP I decided I would pull myself together and go on if I could get an Ibuprofen or something to numb the pain or at least offer the placebo effect.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston - 3.5m, 928ft asc, 1236 desc, 2h43m

My composure failed, as I opened my mouth to talk to the lone marshall I started to blub. As I left the CP I felt a bit of a wimp for this, but on the other hand it had been a massive challenge, I was suffering and I hadn't given up. The marshall had no pain pills, but Julia, who I knew from a recce, who had been in the group ahead got me two cocodamol from her friend and running partner who was, ironically, a pharmacist. I don't know if I would have given up there without these, I feel probably not.

I took the pills, had an eat and drink and started up the steep path up between the slate quarries and deep ravine. I'd loved this bit on the recce, it felt like a wonderful short fell race on fresher legs. A big climb, a breather over moorland and then the kind of technical descent I thrive on down. The descent being significantly bigger than the ascent it should be running nirvana. Not so today.... quite the opposite. The night is always darkest just before the dawn is a proverb I don't understand - technically its untrue - but maybe it relates more to struggle. Whatever, it epitomised this section for me. Not exactly like going through hell, but at the time it was deeply unpleasent.

Th cocodamol didn't seem to help much with the pain, if anything the seemed to contribute to oncoming drowsiness as I was getting near the top of the climb. I seemed to drift off and then awaken, try to push as my pace slacked to nothing at these times, but then drift again. I was pretty much asleep on my feet at times on the early partof the moor alongside Crook beck. When at one stage I figured I'd probably moved half a mile in thirty minutes on flat I knew action was needed. I pushed on, concentrating on a fast walk, get to the start of the descent in 30 minutes. It kind of worked, though I took a gel to sharpen up before the rough descent.

As I started to go down the feet were at their worst. I wan't even walking, literally picking my way down the early steep bit, stopping to lower myself down any bits where the path dropped a foot or two over rocks - which it did a lot. More runners from both length events passed me. I felt like I shouldn't be in this position, I'd probably outpaced these fine atheletes for 75 miles, but my fall hadn't been gracious. Still, many were very supportive, especially 50'ers, and I did my best to reciprocate, though it probably sounded like incomprehensible mumbling.

It seemed to take and age to get down the quarry path, one point I stopped and sat down, head in hands, hoping for inspiration and nearly fell asleep again. 1000ft descent can take an eterntity and its something I don't want to repeat. By the bottom I knew if I could have 30 minutes before the timeout I could get home, could I, I really hoped so. I'd hated the way I'd fallen apart, making the 40 hours was all I had left, timeout would be a bitter pill even if I finished the 104 miles!

Then Claire appeared, coming up the hill. She'd finished some three hours ago, had seen Mark come in and then decided to run up and find me. It was a massive assistance to have somebody to plod the final mile or so with. Having gone on about how hard it had been to her on as we talked on the way into Coniston I feel quite humbled in that she was running along with an undaignosed broken elbow! and probably had been since a fall last week. That is just super-tough.

Into Coniston, passed the pubs, not quite open yet, and down the road, into the school. I got a massive applause as I headed in. I felt unworthy, but attempted to show my appreciation of the support. 39hours 51minutes. I got weighed in, sat awhile, started to nod off, so decided to head for food, much as I wanted to sleep.


I borrowed Claires stick to walk across the field to the tent. I saw Steve on the way over, he'd had a good sleep and looked as fresh as if he'd been finished for days. I then attempted to have a guinness with Claire and Mark, but couldn't see it through. I need to sleep, but first had to drive my car back over the field as the bowels were kicking back into life. I'd have probably sh*t myself had I walked. Even walking over the gravel road from my parked car to the school was murder on my now unshoed feer. Upon returning to the tent I was out like a light for at least 3 hours and missed the presentation.

I was awake earlay afternoon and removed the bandages and put fresh socks on my feet. I know had huge blisters on the souls of my feet where the bandages were probably being rubbed by my socks. I felt a bit better for the sleep, a few cans of cider and my soft "walk around" trainers. Mark, Nick and I even managed a walk to Coniston for some good grub in a local pub. All washed down with some of the excellent local brews - Bluebird and one called Langdale (I think). Clinical disection of the event was performed between us - the summary being; mega tough but worth it.

I was up early the next day and got back in good time with a snooze break and strong coffee on route. Once home I washed my feet and got to work on the blisters, grazes, broken skin and the loss of a big toenail. The blisters were of suffiecient size that I had to bleed them. Had I jetted all the green-tinged gunk into a shot glass there would have been what looked like a generous shot of some exotic liquer. A week on and the plasters were mostly off, blisters healed or well on the way. I ran the following Saturday, a nice jog around Swinton estate from Masham. Slow, but pleasent on the country road. I was however almost stopped by a stabbing pain inside my right knee whch came on at about 3.5m and remained for the next 1.5m.

Thankfully, even this seems to have receeded and I managed a good hill session with the club yesterday, distinctly steadier than usual, but I finished in one - tired - piece.

Again? Right now I'm thinking I'd like to try and do the 50 and try and finish up the field next year. But I won't rule out the 100. I'm so glad I finished it, not the easiest 100 to start with and it gives me real confidence that I can now take on any physical challenge I set my mind to.


  1. That is one awesome story, Danny. I'm dead proud of you. And for a first Hundred as well it's even more impressive. I thought my feet felt painful but the pain I felt must have been nothing in comparison. Your final comment is so true.

  2. Cheers Nick, I'm wondering now if it was as bad as I remember. Hopefully one of these things that will get easier to handle with experiance. Or I'll get better at the preventative measures.

  3. I could relate to your comment about "moving in geological time". it seemed like that for me also in some parts of my recent adventure. hats off to you Danny for keeping going and maintaining forward momentum all the way to the end! The fact that you even comtemplated stopping with just 3.5m to go shows what a dark place you must hav been in but you saw the light!! great courage and determination. I hope to join yourself and Nick on the L100 next year!! disco stu. However before then hoping to make it up for the peak 40 mile challenge in September. Are you doing this one Danny?

  4. Sadly not doing HP40, every year something intervenes in the participation of this one for me. This year a friends wedding in Czech Republic - next year, definately. I'm doing the Long Tour of Bradwell tomorrow which from all accounts is tough for its 33m

  5. great account, great effort, great endurance ude..inspiring (and at times alarming) stuff. cheers for such a good write up. oh..and well done!

  6. hi daniel, nice post & good blog, i think u must try this site to increase traffic. have a nice day & keep blogging!!!