Joss Naylor’s speech on the morning of the race began: ”When I look out at this room today, I see the most fortunate people in the world. You are about to run fifty miles on a lovely sunny day across some of the most beautiful country there is.” Wow. If that doesn’t get you raring to go, what will?
We started off with the lap around the Dalemain estate, which was actually much more enjoyable than I expected. There were a few bottlenecks on the first lap but nothing too bad. Before we knew it we were running past the crowds of family and friends and heading out on the paths to Pooley Bridge.
Through Pooley Bridge, passing clapping but slightly bemused tourists, and after the gentle walk up to Roehead we started the fantastic descent down to Howtown.
This is magnificent running, a good trail, descending slowly with stunning views all around. Before we knew it we were into the first check point.
CP1 Howtown: 11miles, 1:58 (116th).
I dibbed, grabbed a banana, topped up my electrolyte bottle and was quickly away. Before I began the first (and toughest) climb of the day I thought I’d get some food inside me so I ate the banana then decided to have a sandwich as well, both eaten whilst walking the gentle ascent at the foot of the valley. I had been drinking only electrolyte mix and Coke up ‘till now and was really surprised to feel little pinches of cramp in my quads. I’m only 13 miles in and the climb hasn’t really started yet! Not good.
The heat of the day really started to take its toll as the ascent grew steeper. The sun was hot but the heat radiating up from the ground was even worse. It felt like a furnace in some places. My cramp was getting quite bad and I had to really slow the pace down. To make matters worse I was starting to feel sick and a little faint. I decided that I needed to try to take a salt tablet to fight the cramp but that made the sickness much worse. I was plodding onward but was shivering and feeling a little feverish. The cramp in my quads was full on now but stretching them out was not doing any good so I just kept plodding upwards, slowly drifting back through the field.
We did eventually get to the top. Next you have this wonderful run over High and Low Kop on soft ground which generally descends gently. Everyone around me was breaking into a run but I just couldn’t. I was fighting the urge to be sick and the quads were screaming at me. I tried to eat a shot blok but I had to quickly spit it out. I was pretty shocked about how it could all go wrong so soon into the race. Forget the sub-12 target…I couldn’t imagine finishing.
After walking for about five minutes my stomach started to feel a little better but I still couldn’t run because of the cramp. I forced another salt tablet down and started a slow painful jog. I was still loosing places but both stomach and legs were improving with every step. I desperately wanted water. I was carrying two water bottles but one contained Coke and the other Electrolyte mix. I couldn’t bring myself to drink either. I knew there was a fast flowing beck at the bottom of the descent so I just had to keep going until then.
I had a good run down to the footbridge and the stream. Water at last! I splashed loads on my head, had a good drink and filled one of my bottles. I instantly felt so much better and went into the run around Haweswater feeling much more positive about finishing.
We got bunched up on the single track around here and it gave me some time to stop concentrating on the running and assess the state I was in. My quads were sore and would probably stay sore for the rest of the day. They were only causing real problems on the ascents though; there is a lot of ascending still to come throughout the course but only two more major passes to endure. Cramp was obviously going to be an ongoing problem but fuel was more of a concern. I thought about all the gels, powders, electrolytes etc that I was carrying and was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to eat any of them for the rest of the race. I made a deal with myself: CP3 at Kentmere is notorious for its fresh fruit smoothies. I don’t normally like to stop at checkpoints but if I could make it to Kentmere I would stop, sit down and have a smoothie.
CP2 Mardale Head: 21 miles, 4:29 (110th)
I felt pretty good in the check point, as I filled both bottles with water and drank a couple of cups of Coke. Immediately after this checkpoint you hit the second big pass of the day: Gatescarth. This is steeper than Fuesdale but shorter and more honest. Right from the bottom you can see the top…there are no false summits.
I had a tough time but just kept moving slowly upwards with both quads screaming. People flooded past but I just kept moving on. Right at the top a girl passed and said the most positive thing I have heard. “It could be worse, you could be that guy in the red down at the bottom”. I looked down and way below me I could see a tiny dot just about to start the climb. It really lifted me and as I crested the top and I was in a happy place.
The legs still didn’t work though. Next comes a long decent into the valley but the cramp was still too bad for me to run. I ended up walking for about five minutes before the cramp eased enough for me to break into a trot and build into a jog. I got chatting to a 100 runner who looked pretty fresh but was limping badly. He said he was struggling with his feet and I offered him compeed. “No”, he said, “the skin has come away right across the foot”. Eek! He was hoping to make it to Kentmere where they had some foot specialists and he could get it bandaged and taped up so he would complete the final 25 miles! Phenomenal!
The journey to Howtown was quite unpleasant. The cramp hurt, I was still feeling sick and the heat of the day was tiring. I was pouring lots of water over myself to help keep cool. It was fantastic to finally reach Kentmere.
CP3 Kentmere 27 miles, 6:34 (118th)
The checkpoint felt like party central, with fairy lights hung everywhere and fruit smoothies galore! The medical and physio teams were hard at work and I toyed with the idea of having some massage on my legs but I didn’t know what effect it might have so decided against it. Two fruit smoothies later and off I went to tackle the final pass of the day. Garburn is the least significant of the three passes and I started to think that I’d be ok …I should finish. Immediately that made me think about the 20 + miles that I still had to do and I felt phased so switched my mind back to thinking in terms of checkpoint to checkpoint. 7 miles to Ambleside…that’s all I need to think about, ignore the rest for now!
Garburn hurt but when we got to the top I found I was able to run the rocky descent and started passing people. Then I realised that I was enjoying myself! Yes the legs hurt and I felt sick but this was fun! A combination of walking, limping and running brought me into Ambleside and words cannot describe the welcome we got there. Crowds were lining the street and the While Lion beer garden was crammed with people and every one of them is clapping for you alone. It very nearly brought me to tears. Just after passing them I saw my family and had to fight back the tears again…what an amazing place that checkpoint was!
CP4 Ambleside 34.5 miles, 8:35 (108th)
My body may have been struggling but during the last stage I had really got on top of things mentally. Mich was amazed how upbeat I was and I did feel great. My head was getting stronger and stronger as the race went on. I spent a little time here switching Garmins over and having a little chat before heading out again. Time didn’t seem too important and it was great to spend a couple of minutes with them.
The pace dropped in the Langdale valley as the cramp was now getting bad on flat ground too. I was feathering my pace, running right on the edge of cramp until the muscles finally gave in then walking until the pain eased enough to start running again. I was walking at a very good pace though. The daylight went here but I managed to make it to the next checkpoint before stopping to get my headtorch out.
CP 5 Chapel Stile: 39 miles, 9:58 (102nd)
This checkpoint was an oasis. A tent on a trail with fairy lights, lots of chairs and a real fire burning away! I toyed with the idea of trying some beef stew or a cuppa but wasn’t sure my stomach could handle it so I just filled my bottles for the last time and headed back out into the darkness.
This year’s event fell on a new moon, which meant it was completely dark in the valley. Apart from the odd house the only lights came from the strung out line of headtorches, a line that stretched as far as you could see in front and behind. It was beautiful and even though I was alone it was pretty special to know that all these little lights were out here sharing this experience with me. I could see a cluster of lights ahead and slowly caught them while I listened to the warblings of the live band playing in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. We stayed roughly together as a group until the top of the climb after the road section then I pulled away (fast walking rather than running) and reached the final checkpoint just before 12:45am.
CP6 Tilberthwaite: 46.5 miles, 12:12 (95th)
This checkpoint was a bit like a field hospital. People were flaked out everywhere, supping down hot cups of tea and steeling themselves for the final climb of the day. My bottles were still pretty full and I didn’t want to stop so close to the finish so I just walked in, dibbed and walked straight out again.
The final climb was tough and I was really glad to have the route marked on the Garmin. I just had to keep moving forward and follow the breadcrumb trail on the GPS. Right at the top of the climb four lads passed me. I tried to stay with them but couldn’t. The rocky descent that was such a blast on the recce day was very painful to tired feet but there was another special moment at the big zig zag at the bottom of the hill when I looked up to see the line of headtorches twinkling away all the way back to up the summit. It was a breathtaking sight, one that will stay with me for a long time. Then I realised that these lights were all trying to chase me down…let’s get to the finish.
I was able to run the last mile right to the finish, all down hill but with legs screaming at me. Clapping and cheers in Coniston indicated that the end was close…and then there it was! Dib, kisses, hugs and handshakes and it’s all over. 13hrs 26mins, 96th place.
I didn't get the time I was aiming for but I feel really positive about the run; I ran the best race I could on the day. The best thing for me was that after difficulties early on I got on top of things and grew stronger and stronger mentally as the race progressed. I'll need to do that next year when I take on the 100 :-).