It's been two-and-a-half weeks now, but seems like a strange dream, that I was out there for attempt two at the Lakeland 100 (really 104'ish). It was even all going well for a while. Despite a plan to start off steadier and hopefully have more in the tank for the second half I was actually consistently picking up a few minutes per leg - upto 1h our up. But then it was over, after about 18 hours, almost no time really.
So back to the day. Start steady, afterall the first stage over Walna Scar pass is no picnic at all. And only seems the easiest of the sojourns over 2000ft due to lashings of glycogen and adrenalin coursing through the bodily systems. Concentrating on not running much of this stage, even some of the slighter uphills, and then taking it steady on the sometimes technical descent worked well enough. At CP1 I was a six minutes or so slower than last year. Running with Mark Dalton and Simon Webb, we figured this a safe start.
I reckon it started going wrong for me just after we left Seathwaite. I'm pointing my finger of blame at the good conditions underfoot - not an excuse you would expect eh?. Stage 2 has half the climb of 1 in a similar distance, but passes some of the wettest, muddiest ground I've experianced on pathed/tracked land. Except this day, barring some permanently soggy ground in what is effectively a marsh crossing, it was pretty dry. Apparently it had been a fairly dry few weeks before this event. This made it very runnable and a route change probably made this stage easier. I arrived at CP2 feeling good and already up on last years mark.
Progression was similar over to Wasdale Head and as per last year we arrived high above the lake with enough light to tackle the descent and footpaths to Wasdale Head without a headtorch. Up again.... feeling ok.... but can't help thinking this isn't good. I'm just getting swept along, running where I thought I should, or Mark and Simon were and walking where I had to. I'd discussed with Mark the Stuart Mills idea of running "as fast as you can for as long as you can", but had told myself I would use the cautious approach, which I now wasn't.
The first brute of a stage is Wasdale to Buttermere. Lots of time spent walking, firstly up and over Black Sail pass and then the ascent to Scarth Gap. Couple this with a techical descent on an often invisble path to Ennerdale and a very hard, rocky, slow descent from Scarth Gap and you only get about two miles of good running ground in the dale bottoms. Somehow though, despite walking the same bits as last time - we were again up! Not single figures now either - over 20 minutes.
This pattern repeated through to Braithwaite on the long continuous climb section with a finishing few miles descent. Several groups of competitors merged together here as often seems the case on a long ascent. Amongst our new team was Nick Ham, who had been changing places with use throughout the event so far. Nick, Mark, Simon and I must have been going ok as we broke three of the group heading into Braithwaite. Stiffening a bit now, but I'm sure I felt worse last year AND now 32 minutes up.
After a good feed up I left the CP with Mark and Simon, but then couldn't match their pace on the roadside section. They actually made a slight detour on the route, but were going well enough such that I didn't make contact again until I caught them in a group on the climb up to the Blencathra out-and-back horseshoe. Being up on last years time was evident now as I'd turned the headtorch up at the bottom of this ascent last year. This bit is quite runnable, but I couldn't run it all. I was struggling to keep pace with mark and Simon by the Blencathra centre. My run just wasn't up to theirs and perhaps I should have revisitied plan A and slowed down about now? 40 minutes up and it was great to look down on the lower land blanketed in morning mist.
The next section is nothing if not a chew, flattest section yet, but much of it is on the dreaded, stoney as you like, Drovers road. Simon was flying and Mark was with him so I kept going along at my comfortable run pace. I could see them both and Nick up ahead for much of this section, edging ahead. My run seemed slower than that of all around right now. But I kept good pace with others by running as much as possible. Somewhere towards the end of this section I was starting to think I was exhausted and the possibility of retirement had become enticing. I was quite suprised to see I was now 59 minutes up on last year.
I talked to Mark at this CP and told him to push on and that I would be taking this section easier. As I walked away though, I felt stiff, tired and was battling over whether I should give up at Dalemain or not. The demons won quickly and I walked much of this section having all but give up. I retired soon after arriving at Dalemain. I felt crap, but how much of it was mental and how much physical. I'm a little shocked now, writing this and thinking back I didn't have a slow decline. Just like that I'd given in.
The day was now pretty warm and I proceeded to sleep most of the way back to Coniston. I then slept a further hour or two in my tent, consoled with other retiree's and visited the race HQ to have some dinner, track progress of others and watch the early finishers in the 100 and 50. I then slept a good 9 hours in my tent. I'm sure I've never slept so long in a tent.
This 'brought forward' recovery and only 59m in the legs meant that I awoke on Sunday feeling pretty good. Perhaps the first good thing to come out of this early retirement.
Long Tour of Bradwell
After struggling during this event and getting injured last year with two weeks to recover from the 100 I hadn't even entered this years event which was just a week post-Lakeland. But the Monday after my 59m misdemeanor, I felt suprisingly good and also that I needed a positive long run experiance with just 3 weeks to UTMB. I didn't want to go in on the back of a disappointment. I looked online and entries were still open for the LTOB, despite supposedly closing a few days earlier - surely a sign.
During the week I was sparing on my, suprisingly fresh-feeling, legs. I arrived at the start line of this low-key ultra feeling optimistic and ready to enjoy, work hard and enjoy some of my own kind of self-help therapy.
I got my dibber, much like the previous week at registration, but apart from that the start was a more low key affair than at Lakeland. The Lakeland event has grown quite quickly, with its challenging and interesting route and a growing reputation as a very friendly, supportive event, to 800+ 50 and 100 mile event entrants. The Bradwell event is a year younger, entries possibly suffer a bit for its calender proximity to the Lakeland events, but also offers its own interesting and challenging, rollercoaster route and everything else the non-fussy ultra runner needs for a good day out too. With a few tweaks it could become very popular in the next few years.
Off at 9, nearly starting in my jacket on this chilly morning. The route is pretty quickly onto a slight rise then drop through the cement works - unfortunate centrepiece to all the valleys views - where runners were warming up fast. Then onto a runnable track climb before a drop through the intriguing and slightly slippy rough-hewn rocky steps of Cave dale. A dib and drink in Castleton and were out of town again for the first sizable climb up to Hollins Cross. Straight down the other side and its over fields and tracks to Edale - dib and stop for drink and biscuits - then an even bigger climb - with switchbacks - to Ringing Roger and beyond to a Dib up high - in the clouds as per last year - at Druids Stone. Then its a very direct route off Kinder, down through heather, then along a stone wall back down into the valley. With another climb soon to come its a really hard start making excellent use of the compacted, natural, peaks of the area. And the halfway distance is still some way off.
Onto a brief section of road and under the railway line and were soon heading back uphill again. I seem to have put some space on a large group of runners behind me on the last descent, but many are soon with me again as they seem to have more attack on the uphills onto the mid-valley ridge to visit Back tor and Lose Hill before a longer descent and the longest flat section yet to Hope and a welcome checkpoint to have a drink and refill a bottle.
Feeling a bit tired from that opening mountain mauling the large group behind pretty much all pass me as I take awhile to get going up again in several stages to get up to the ridge at Win Hill. About now it starts raining at a steady rate. Dibbing up top, its now a descent to the half-way'ish checkpoint and 5 hour cut off. Its not an easy cut off by any means, I've taken quite an aggressive approach to this front-loaded event and this didn't work well for me the previous week. But after a flat section I work hard to run along, yet still lose ground on others, I dib in at 3:55. The route description would have it that this was 27km (16.8m), but I know the route and description hasn't changed from last year and its was marketed as 31m total then too, I can add 2 or 3m to that.
I consider putting the waterproof on as the rain is a constant rythm now, but think positive and decide tom reevaluate if it keeps up longer. I was right to, it soon stops and the sun comes out for much of the last third. I'm slow from this checkpoint, but catch three others who are struggling with navigation. I do feel a bit for them as the route description is brief compared to many an LDWA event and certainly the Lakeland 100 with its waterproof, plastic comb-bound roadbook. This coupled with some extremely obscure dib point locations in the second half adds an unusual navigational challenge and those returning to it like me, know they've gotta be on their toes. I think this may bother some people who say this is meant to be a running event, not orienteering. But for my two-pence, I quite like the originality and know that I know what to expect.
Another descent and a bridge, come stepping stone, crossing of a river with an unusally located dib point at the central refuge. Then is through a village to the toughest climb of the day and perhaps the last long one. The first stage foes up Bamford clough, an often arrow straight steep climb on rocks and sometimes slippery smooth stone. Pretty much unrunnable by all I'd have thought. After this long climb there's a bit of undulating road before the climb recommences up to Stanage Edge.
I pass the couple who I'd earlier helped with nav as they had overshot the dib point 2/3 the way up the path from road to Stanage Edge. Easily done, its about 20ft off path, partly obscured by foliage on a stile. As I get to the top I recommence running and find some energy for a steady jog most of the way to the next dib point.
Here I stop for a drink and a few people who are looking a bit stronger pass me by as I walk down th path nibbling on biscuits. I get going again on the good, level, path which runs in a big arc beneath burbage rocks to drop to Toads mouth bridge. This seems to be the most popular of the three route choices. Last year I took the scenic valley bottom route, more interesting, but also more tiring. Next year I guess I take the third option via Fiddlers Elbow - wonder how it got that name?
Anyway at Toads Mouth bridge there is another Comedy dibbing point. 15 foot off the track down a steep riverbank hanging from a tree branch almost over the water. Kind of kills the running momentum from the last stage and obviously causes problems for the unitiated, three runners who must have been a good 3-5minutes ahead of me were just leaving.
More flat-trail fun along a pleasent green section along a stream, the last few miles have been a nice respite from the near constant hills of the first 20+ miles. Navigation gets tricky again as I follow a very indistinct path marked with occasional ribbon away from the riverbank over a bit of moor and into a plantation. Another runner catches me and asks if were near the next CP. I reassure him its still ahead, only 90% sure myself. After dibbing at a gate the route drops steeply down a small bank. The aforementioned 3 runners were at the bottom and had missed the CP so I directed them back on route. They didn't seem that chuffed to have to climb the bank.
I pushed on down to the river chatting with the runner who caught me at the last CP. Turns out he was another who had completed Lakeland 100 in 2010. Having not done it this year he certainly had more in the tank than me and pulled away on the flat riverbank section with a steady run, to my jog/walk. I focused on the next CP, recalling its the last food and water point, a landmark towards the end of the run. It's quite warm now with the sun out and I seem to be findiningt the energy to run all the bits I can. But I do welcome the uphills where I can do no better than a steady march, much like everybody else.
I pass the guy who'd pulled ahead of me at the last CP as I run strong along this undulating woodland trail section. A group gathers behind me, perhaps the word is out I know the route? But the only people to pass me are a couple I only keep catching because they aren't sure of the route. I'm strong down towards the last dibber at Stoke Ford.
I march up the next hill, gradually pulling away from the gradually disipated little group behind me. Though I've lulled midway, I've certainly found a reserve near the end and I don't feel dehydrated or overly stiff for the distance. Through the hamlet of Abney and the climb continues steadily up a road and stoney track. I compromise my efforts with run/walk and only briefly chastise myself as I overshoot the the stile and path off this track which descends to Bradwell and have to track back 100 yards.
A strong looking finisher has closed on me and comes onto the steep, narrow path between gauze bushes and wall. But I now have all the energy I need and enough to pull out a good pace down semi-technical trail, one of my strengths. Coming into town and hitting a proper road I even pass two guys who passed me well before halfway, One of them says something along the lines of "thats how to go down hills", which only fuels further my effort. As I fast jog through town to the end I have the occasional over the shoulder glance. Its not really a competitive outing, but I don't want to be run down by another strong finisher without a fight!
I cross the line, very much happier than a week earlier. this has been the ideal "lift" after disappointment in the Lakeland 100
Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc
This is just a few days away now. In the three weeks since Bradwell I've not done that much. Bradwell felt good, but over 90m in two ultra's still demands some respect with regards to recovery. I think, if anything I feel more confident about UTMB than the Lakeland 100. I know nothing of the route other than a few col or pass names. All I have to do is go out steady and look after myself as best I can. The extra 6 hours of time to complete this over Lakeland may well be needed - but however long it takes I don't much care. The challenge is to complete, that is the goal that suits me best and a stronger motivation than to revisit a previous challenge.