Challenging Events for 2013


Read his full account and obvious anguish over his brave attempt at this awesome challenge.....

'Oh God! What am I doing here?

It’s  approaching 6:00pm Friday 27th July, I’m standing in a school field in Coniston with nearly  300 others. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m bricking it! At least half of us standing here will not cross the finish line, and this group is supposedly  made up of the best endurance athletes around – Yep looks like I’m in the wrong place.

This is the start line for the Lakeland 100, regarded as one of the toughest single stage Ultras in the UK, 105 miles and 22,500 feet of ascent (and descent) I’ve got 40 hours to go the long way around the whole Lake District to get back to Coniston.

After finishing the Lakeland 50 last year, the choice was one of two options:

               Try the 50 again, and see if I can complete in under 12 hours

               Step up to the 100

Never one for speed, and more interested in how far can I go,  the choice seemed obvious at the time.

Last year the event was sold out within 2 weeks, this year – 2 days! But I’m in, Karl and Pete from Southport and Waterloo are also back – both trying to improve on their times for the 50, though Pete is watching how I cope, with a view of trying the 100 next year.

My main worry is the cut-off times – LOTS of long duration, easy(slow) running to try and build up endurance has left me with little (if any) speed.  recceing the route has shown that the first 35 miles to Braithwaite is far harder than any other section (3 or the 4 BIG climbs, and very tough terrain/descents include Black sail, Scarth gap and Sail pass back-to-back and at night)  Can I keep ahead of the cut-off times through this section,  then still be able to jog the easier sections up to Dalemain, and can I then go on into a second night and finish the 50?

The recent heatwave and bad ankles have limited training efforts, still at least I can say I’m not over-trained.

Friday morning,  and Les drives up to Coniston, I’m trying to sleep in the back, there’s no point in starting  knackered!

Coniston, and the now familiar field at John Ruskin school. Set up tent, register etc and then try to rest before the briefing and start. It’s too hot and pre event nerves limit the chances of a descent rest, but it will have to do. Last check of the kit, lube up (enough said) calf guards, socks and trail shoes on, make sure the drop bag with the kit I hope to need at Dalemain is in the right place to be collected, the sit down in the shade and wait the last few minutes to the start.

10 minutes to go – all competitors are called forward to ‘dib’ through the control, a few well known faces – Stuart Mills – he has run most of the Lakeland 100’s, Terry Conway – winner for the last 2 years and current record holder, Nick Ham – back again, John Kynaston – on marshalling duty this year. Not people/names  most would recognise, but all  synonymous with long distance running events.

As usual, I try and slot in near the back – no point in being trampled at the start! Inspiring music reaches a crescendo, 6:00pm, and a hooter blasts, followed by a cheer and we’re off – under the inflatable arch forming the start/finish line – will I still be on my feet when I see this again?

A gentle jog through Coniston – briefly brought to a halt to watch and support the runners as they pass through, then off up the track towards coppermines. Early evening, but it’s still very warm, shorts and a base layer are more than enough on the uphill as we loop around the bell, and an easy descent down to the carpark on the Walna Scar road. This is one of the big 4 ascents – the leaders probably run this, but most of us are walking, crossing over the top, the views are astounding! Dunnerdale below, Eskdale beyond,  the Scafell range stretched out to the North, all bathed in soft early evening light. What a privilege to be able to be here, it makes all the cold/wet training runs worthwhile.

Easy running down the top section of the descent, then more broken as we boulder hop down the Long house gill section of the path. This turns to road and pleasant jogging down the valley into the first checkpoint at Seathwaite.

7 miles, 2162ft of ascent – so far everything is going OK

1:42 (14.5 min/miles)  near the back of the pack – but that’s where I expected to be!  Approx 45 min up on cut-off time.

From Seathwaite, the route works around Wallowbarrow crag and over to Grassguards. On the SFWC walk (Coniston-Tover on 14-04-2013) the rivers had burst their banks requiring wading up to my waist at tarn beck and crossing a bridge after Grassguards – the bridge being 2’ under water!  the normally deep bogs on this section were definitely uncrossable. After the recent dry spell, it’s now  totally different, even the Grassguards bogs are dry, and it’s still clean, dry feet as we descend into Boot as the evening draws in and views take on the indistinct grayscale as the colour drains away with the light.

14 miles, 3425ft of ascent – so far so good except slight niggle in left ankle.

3:44 (17.4 min/mile section, 16min/mile overall) – still near the back! Approx 60 min up on cut-off time.

Darkness is rapidly descending, so its headtorch at the ready as we head off towards Burnmoor tarn. Before the tarn, the light finally goes out – bad news as the route is indistinct to the ridge between Illgill head and Hard rigg. A line of bobbing lights is a guide and we are soon jogging the descent into Wasdale.  The lights of the pub at Wasdale head guide us in to the next checkpoint as the night sky erupts with a million stars – visible because of minimal light pollution.

19.5 miles,  4400ft ascent – left ankle is starting to worry me! Sore toes and blisters forming on my left foot.

5:28 (18.9 min/mile section, 16.8min/mile overall) – nearer the back.  Approx 60 min up on cut-off time.

From Wasdale head the character changes – no more nice paths, it’s steep ascents, even steeper rough descents, all covered in the dark. The next 2 sections are the true test for the Lakeland.

The ascent of Black sail is the second of the big 4, still warm enough to only require shorts and a base layer. Its steep uphill, but the moon now appears to join the stars, not bright enough to do away with the headtorch, but enough to show outlines. It is so beautiful, it’s worth an occasional pause, just to experience the pleasure of being part of the landscape, completely displaced from normality and ‘out of time’

Back to reality – the descent off Black sail into Ennerdale is very steep and rough, just trying to stay on a path is time consuming. The general rule is keep the stream to your right and eventually you will reach the bridge across the river Liza. Small crags to avoid, scree slopes to cross, eroded gullies to slither down, but eventually the angle eases and the bridge appears.

Past Black sail YHA hut, quiet – people are asleep, then back to the uphill with the pull up over scarth gap.  Scarth Gap – previously I had been enjoying the journey, OK its hard – but it’s meant to be! But now? Ankles are giving serious grief, limiting me to a walking pace. On the few runnable sections I try, but it’s a painful hobble for a short distance to slow back to walking pace – NOT GOOD.

The descent off Scarth Gap down into Buttermere is seriously rough, an indistinct path through boulders/scree is particularly difficult to follow in the dark further aggravating foot and ankle problems. The gap through the wall confirms I’m on the right path, but it’s still rough terrain.  I finally hit the track running along the lake shore with the hope that I can pick up the pace, but it’s no good. The realisation that at this pace the cut-off times will roll over me at some point between here and Dalemain is shattering! Up to this point I’ve been pressing onward as best I can, but now, realising that a finish is not going to happen, all the enjoyment and purpose is gone, and it’s a sorry trudge into the Buttermere checkpoint.

26.5 miles 6736ft of ascent – ankles destroyed!

8:43 (28.3 min/mile section, 19.75 min mile overall) – pretty much last by now. Approx 30 minutes up on cut-off time.

 I’m still ahead of the cut-off time but reduced to walking pace. At best there is no way I can stay ahead of future checkpoint cut-off times, so I tell the marshalls I am retiring. They suggest a few minutes rest, food and drink before committing to a decision,  in the hall there are at least half a dozen semi-comatose retired runners. Food and drink help, but delay the inevitable, I’m OK to carry on, but I would be setting out right on the cut-off time and  I know I would not make the next checkpoint before its cut-off time,  attempting to would probably aggravate further god knows what is happening to my ankles, so I confirm I am retiring.

Dibber cut off and reduced from competitor to casualty, we all wait patiently for the broom wagon to collect us. A few competitors arrive after me but before the cut-off and carry on, my whole being wants to join them! The cut-off time rolls over us and some more late arrivals are withdrawn and join us in the broom wagon.

Back to Coniston, its morning and the 50 competitors are up and preparing for their start.  I hobble back to the tent and collapse in a very unhappy heap!

Saturday brings a sunny, hot and humid day – not the best conditions for those still out there, including  the 50 competitors now also on the course. Saturday evening and the rains come,  heavy and persistent - throughout the night. About 3:00am I go to watch some of the finishers – there are a lot in a very sorry condition, but regardless of their state,  they are finishers, cheered and clapped in – usually with the biggest smiles and content that they have achieved their goal.

The final results for the 100 showed a drop-out rate of approx 60% with only 120 of the 275 starters   achieving a finish, even Terry Conway (twice winner and course record holder pulled out at Buttermere – albeit 3 hours earlier than I arrived)

Checking the results I look-up the competitors who arrived after me but carried on (I don’t know why, but it would be even more devastating if they had carried on and achieved a finish – proof that it was possible?)  No-one who continued from Buttermere after I retired finished, further scrutiny of the results showed that the last finisher (40:22) went through Buttermere an hour and a half ahead of me – so on reflection, pulling out was probably the right/only decision.


What have I learnt from this?

I’m more competitive than I  thought I was – I desperately wanted a finish and am still devastated to have failed so early on in the event.

I was too slow (even without the ankle problems I now doubt I would have achieved a finish at the pace I was going)

You cannot ‘compete’ against the  course, it is what it is, you can only compete against yourself (and the negative feelings that can drag you down so effectively)

A cheap tent from Argo will tend to leak in overnight,  heavy rain!

Even though I only managed a quarter of the route, the  terrain, ascent and descent, the darkness all managed to strip away any pretentions – you are down to the bare essence of what running in the mountains is about. It can be beautiful, but it is also brutal. Just shows I have a lot more to learn.'

He has clearly had plenty of time to explore his thoughts and express them so honestly in this soul searching account. Thank you Chris