Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lakeland 100 2021

 My last blog was in September 2018 – let’s see if I still remember how to do this. 

My journey to the start line of the 2021 Lakeland 100 was a long one. My last big race was in October 2017. I’ve written about my injuries previously, A Cautionary Tale and A Cautionary Tale Part 2. I had operations in March and September 2018, started to get fit again then my knee went again. I had further knee surgery in September 2019 and I felt it was probably time to stop my desperate hanging on to ultrarunning. 

And then this global pandemic thing happened.


During the first lockdown I started to get fit again. I stopped being a pig and got in shape again. I “ran” 40 miles round my garden in one of Mark Cockbain’s lockdown ultras. By the end of summer, I was in great shape. I couldn’t run as I had previously but the engine was good and I could trundle and scurry all day. 

My strap line became “High mileage, one not very careful owner. Engine still in good condition, suspension needs treating with care”.

I did a lot of walking through the winter. We had fabulous wintery conditions and I had some greats days out playing in the snow. I felt very strong. 

The lockdown at the beginning of this year began to take its toll on me mentally. I went way down again, put on weight again. But in March, I said “Enough”. I had a place carried over in the Lakeland 100 and that became my focus. I put some big miles in, ran a cracking Abrahams Tea Round with a view to doing an unsupported BGR. I set a PR for Gatesgarth Pass and Rough Crag up High Street. I couldn’t run as I used to on the flats and was still tentative downhill, but uphill I was stronger than ever. I couldn’t really “go for a run” but I could most definitely go out and play big! 

Then it was back to work and full-time working. How was I meant to go out and play now!! My exercise became one long day out and one short trundle after work per week – would that be enough for a Lakeland 100?

But I needed to front up. I needed to do the Lakeland 100. For myself. One last fling. One last medal.

Race week I felt really good. I did no exercise at all and felt rested. More importantly for me I was in a very good place mentally. They say ultra-running is mainly mental – for me its 99.9999% mental!


Only a few people knew I was running – close family and work colleagues – no need to advertise, no need to seek affirmation. Everyone told me that it didn’t matter where I came, what time I did, that I should just aim to finish, and I suddenly realised they were right. No one else would really care. I didn’t need to prove anything to anybody. I just needed to finish…for me. 


My public target was a sub-30 finish, my personal one a sub-28 finish but I really had no idea whether either was realistic. I checked my splits from my 26:20ish in 2014 just to give me an idea, remembering the times at CP1, Wasdale, Braithwaite, Dalemain, and Ambleside. I ignored 2015’s 24:50 something!


On Friday morning I was excited and just a little bit scared. Did I have it in me? Did I really want to put myself through the pain again? The traffic to Coniston was dreadful…but I didn’t get stressed. The queue to park was long…but I didn’t get stressed. The registration process was lengthy…but I didn’t get stressed. I was calm. I was ready. I re-packed my bag without my usual last minute removal of an energy bar or two in order to save 100g. 


Up to the start line and I was focussed. I know my weaknesses and where my critical points might be, so I had a clear plan. Start easily, get to Wasdale Head in one piece, push onward through the night…and then finish. Easy. Most people say the race starts at Dalemain or Howtown. I say it starts at Wasdale Head – this is where the night starts and the big climbs start.

Relaxed at the start...

Let’s talk weather. It was hot. Really hot. I didn’t care. I was happy that it wasn’t going to rain. Give me heat, give me cold, give me wind. But don’t give me rain!


The atmosphere and noise as we ran through Coniston was amazing. Truly moving. “I’m really doing this. I made it”, I thought to myself.

And they're off...

I resisted the temptation to join the “out of puff brigade” up the first hill as I walked  and jogged up. Soon we were on Walna Scar and I felt well within myself. So far so good! I ran down towards Seathwaite as comfortably as I have run downhill for many years. Along the road to Seathwaite I remembered my last start in 2018 when I tripped up just after the CP putting an end to my race. I promptly tripped over my own shadow much to Anna Buckingham’s amusement…I mean concern! Quick check – a few scratches, a sore thumb, but legs undamaged. CP1 in 1:22 was faster than planned but I felt good so, hey, go with it.


A rare photo of me with both feet off the ground!

On towards Boot and making steady progress. I guessed I was probably in the top 30 which wasn’t the plan but, hey, I felt good. Probably ran a bit hard on the last few km into Boot in order to stay in a little group but arrived In Boot feeling great. My plan was coming together – get to Wasdale Head in good condition!


About 5 minutes out of Boot, my legs went. They really went. I crawled up to Burnmoor Tarn. Everyone was dripping sweat but I was wringing it out of my shirt. And my legs were dead. I jogged down to Wasdale and pretty much walked along the road. I made a conscious decision to baton down the hatches, dig in. My legs would come back. Wouldn’t they? 


As I approached the CP, a word came to me, just popped into my head. Commit. Commit to coming out of the checkpoint. Commit to the race. Any negative thoughts dissipated. Any thoughts of pulling the pin went away. I was in this for the long haul. 


I used the rest of the walk in to sort my buff and headtorch out in order to minimise time stopped. To minimise time to think. Into the checkpoint, slug a water bottle of juice, fill bottles and a bit to eat. Said hi to Matt Neale who arrived just after me and then out into the dusk. I had committed.


Now I expected my legs to come back. After all I was best in the hills. But oh no. Not yet. I slowly made my way up Black Sail Pass. I slowly made my way down Black Sail Pass. I slowly made my way up Scarth Gap. I slowly made my way down Scarth Gap. This was testing me. Perhaps it just wasn’t there anymore? Perhaps I should stop at Buttermere? Commit.


Half way round Buttermere, the doldrums suddenly went and I was running again. Happy days. I’d lost multiple places but I didn’t care. I arrived at CP4 a happy boy. Commit.


Now I usually like my sweet stuff – cake, flapjack, etc but didn’t seem to be doing the job. But the cheese sandwiches looked very tempting, and so were the ham sandwiches, and a packet of crisps. My body was obviously telling me something. And thus my CP pattern was set – a bottle of red juice slugged on arrival, bottles filled, cheese & ham sandwiches and crisps. Thank you and good night.


The long haul out of Buttermere didn’t seem as long as usual. I was in good spirits and I was going to get that medal. The final drag up to Sail Gap seemed to go on a lot but soon I was coasting downhill. I turned on my GPS so I wouldn’t miss the turn to Braithwaite…and promptly turned off too soon! Bum! Had to reference maps to check right way down and probably lost a few minutes but no biggie. Re-passed Anna Troup and Jonathan Gibson just before the CP – we had been leap-frogging for a few miles.


Safely into Braithwaite about 20 minutes down on 2014. Not bad at all. Commit.


Out towards Keswick, trundling along nicely, chatting away and missed the turnoff onto the path so took the road all the way. Then onto the Cumbria Way. I climbed strongly up past Latrigg and made good time round to the Compulsory Non-Dibber CP, crossed the valley and made great time down to the CP.




The lady on the door asked me if I wanted “the sticky bits wiping offs?” I said it was OK as “We barely knew each other” Not even a “Hello” first! Then I realised she was talking to another runner regarding his bottles. Much hilarity ensued. Tired runners and tired checkpoint staff = anything is funny. I left feeling full of energy and in high spirits. 


Re-met Anna and Jonathan and our merry bunch fiddled our way onto the old railway track. As the sun came up, I felt great. Head torches off- always a happy time. It was a gorgeous dawn and I felt blessed to be out witnessing it. 

Up past Newsham and onto the Old Coach Road which as usual went on & on. I drifted off the back of our merry gang but we all left Dockray CP together, the good chat was helping us all keep a good steady pace.


Dockray CP, aka Midge Misery was manned by the Hardmoor bunch decked out in their midge avoidance equipment. They (the midges) were swarming. It was great to briefly see Jon Steele who I first met on this part of the course in 2012. Time flies!


We made good time along Ullswater and into Dalemain. I was still drenched in sweat so decided to go for the full kit change. Met Matt Neale out the back of the marquee undertaking the same manoeuvre. Quick feed and top up of essential provisions for the last 50ish miles! Anna and Jonathan left a couple of minutes ahead of me but I was still pleased with my well-focussed stop – no faffing around. I’d got to Dalemain 30 minutes slower than 2016 but saved a lot in the checkpoint. And comfortable, dry kit and socks felt great!

Now this might sound strange, but I knew I had this in the bag. Barring catastrophe, I knew I was going to finish. I’d not had that feeling for a while! Sometime during the night, I had decided that this would be my last race – a Lakeland 100 finish, hopefully around 28 hours, would be a good way to finish. No more flogging my aging body, no more putting unnecessary pressure on myself, both physically and mentally.


I wasted a bit of energy (mostly mental) trying to catch Anna & Jonathan. Then I remembered that funny little phrase “Run your own race”. Hmm…probably some sense in that. 


In and out of Howtown. Matt and I were now playing our own game of leapfrog. We’d arrive at checkpoints just about together, I leave a bit quickly but Matt would soon catch me again. Matt is a master tactician – I’ve always been impressed by his ability to just “run his own race”. 


I’d forgotten how very long Fusedale is – it just goes on & on, up & up. But I was climbing well and felt strong. The post at High Cop was looking a bit forlorn. Down to Haweswater and then the long trawl along Haweswater. Matt told me off for walking when we should be running – I was relaxed!


At Mardale Head, I had a quick sit down with sandwiches and crisps. Although we only live 40 minutes by foot from Mardale Head, there was absolutely no temptation to wander home for a cup of tea. I was on home territory now. I go up Gatesgarth Pass at least once most weeks and often carry on towards Ambleside – just a long training run to go!


Up Gatesgarth, down towards Sadgill, passing a couple of weary looking runners. Up and over to Kentmere. It was good to see Jen Scotney, cheerful as always. The fresh fruit smoothies were much appreciated. Although it wasn’t as hot as the previous evening, it was still very warm.


I powered up Garburn pass with Matt just behind me. On the way down he reckoned we were probably on for a 26-something finish. Wow! That was not expected.


I arrived in Ambleside at 16:20 vs 16:05 in 2016. Sub 27 hours definitely on.But I suddenly felt very tired, very weary. I’d been physically and mentally very steady since Buttermere, but now I just wanted it to stop. Hey ho – not far to go. Pull yourself together. 


John Knapp was spectating just out of Ambleside. 

“You’re having a great run”

“Thanks, I feel really good”

“Do you know what position you’re in”

“Not really. And I’m not really bothered”

“Do you want to know”

“Not desperately”

“Well, you’re in the top 20”

“Bloody hell”


Well, that certainly concentrated the mind. I wanted that top 20. A lot.


I decided that top 20 probably meant 19th or 20th. Just keep pushing. Hard


The first 50 runner sailed past me around Elterwater. Gained a place on the way to the Chapel Stile CP. Quick stop and on to Tilberthwaite. Now the 2nd and 3rd place 50 runners sailed past. In 3rd was Jamie Hauxwell. It gave me a great boost to see him and have a quick chat – we ran every step of the 148 mile Viking Way Ultra together in 2016. He was having a blinder. The last time we’d seen each other was at Seathwaite CP1 in 2018 where we’d both just DNF’d. Now we were both having great runs - it’s a funny old world


Into Tilberthwaite where the fresh fruit at the CP was sensational, and then it was the final push up the quarry. Overtook a very weary runner. Along the top – a couple of glances behind – I was racing for that top 20 place. 

Discussing the merits of fresh fruit!


Charged down to the copper mines – well carefully picked my way down!


Coming down towards Coniston, the enormity of the achievement began to hit me. I was going to do better than I could ever have imagined. I began to feel elated and very proud. I was sure I was going to cry when I finished.


The reception coming through Coniston was staggering. Cheering and applause from both sides of the road. It felt remarkably good.


And then it was over. 


26:24, 18th overall.


I was grinning from ear to ear. Where had that come from? Where did I pull that one from? And I didn’t cry.


But the craziness wasn’t over.


After a shower, I located Anna (who had finished 1st lady) and her husband, Richard who had won his age group in the 50. A few of us sat around devouring pizza.


I thought I just check where I’d come in my V50 age group. I scrolled down. No V50’s in the top 10…11, 12, 13…16, 17…


“I think I’ve won my age group!” 


I checked again. Yes, definitely no V50’s above me. So I checked again. And again. Apparently, I did this repeatedly.


Good Lord!


I checked just before I went to bed at 1am. I checked when I woke up at 5am. 


And so to the morning. I can’t describe the awards ceremony. It was surreal. It was crazy. Mad. But the slate trophy was very real and I felt so incredibly proud as I received it on the stage and as I looked at it (repeatedly) for the rest of the day.

Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would or could finish in 26:24, 18th overall. And 1st in age group. It was like the inverse of a perfect storm. A perfect calm?


Does it get any better? Probably not.


Is that my last race? Probably not!!

Monday, September 24, 2018

A Cautionary Tale - Part 2

Following on from  “A Cautionary Tale - Part 1”

At the beginning of March, having not run since the beginning of November, I had surgery for the bilateral inguinal disruptions. I got back into ‘training’ very gently – some walks, some walks with a little running downhill, a bit more running. I made the policy decision to stay completely of road and stick to hard, technical routes to reduce running time but increase strength. By the end of April I was running relatively freely.

At the beginning of May, Jenny and I spent 2 weeks walking on the Camino during which time I managed one 40 mile day.

Back home I started running more. I entered the Lakeland 5 Passes Ultra at the beginning of June, a tough technical 33 miles. I decided to go all old school and stay off social media – no need for a fanfare. After a couple of weeks of glorious weather, it decided to hose it down all day. It was bitterly cold going over Harter Fell but I was so happy to be out running again, to be in a race. I was absolutely delighted with 7th but that wasn’t the important bit – I was back!

Although my groins seemed almost 100% better, I was becoming increasingly aware of the pain in my knee. During 2017, my groins had been the limiting factor but now that I was able to stretch out and run freely my knee was really becoming an issue. I had a marked reduction in knee flexion which was causing me to stumble over rocks quite frequently. 

This was hardly surprising since an MRI had revealed a complex degenerative meniscal tear, a further posterior horn tear and a parameniscal cyst. 42 years of rugby, triathlons and running had caught up with me.

However, I was running and I was happy. I had a place in the Lakeland 100 which had always lurking in the back of my mind. Being an ultrarunner and indestructible I decided to go for it. I put in some really good miles. I felt fast. I felt strong. I had lost all the weight I’d gained. I set several PB’s for my local climbs including Gatesgarth Pass. All systems go.

I felt great. And my knee was OK…if I took pain-killers prior to running.

After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

2 weeks prior to the Lakeland 100 I stumbled and twisted my knee. Probably tore my calf a little too but what’s a bit of a calf strain to an ultra-runner? I did no running for the final 2 weeks up to the race. 

Only a couple of people knew I was running – no need to advertise, to validate – those important to me knew where I was at, and why I wanted to run.

On race day my head really wasn’t in it at all. For many of us it was a day of great sadness, a day of remembrance for a friend no longer with us. I had more than a few tears in my eyes as we started.

Going up the first few hills, I felt physically great. I felt comfortable and was well up the field. However, going down towards Seathwaite my knee wasn’t haven’t fun so I took it gently and managed not to trip up over the loose rocks. Why was I doing this?

Going through the woods after CP1 I tripped over an innocuous tree root – foot not picking up properly. Gashed my elbow, hand and knee but more critically really wrenched my knee. Tried to walk it off but after 10-15 minutes, I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I started the 2-3 mile walk back to CP1. It felt like a walk of shame.

Back in Seathwaite I discovered my good friend Jamie Hauxwell who had beaten me to the 1st place in the drop out stakes by tearing his hamstring before the CP. It was good to chat and therapeutic for us both, I think.

I haven’t run since. My knee got worse, was hurting on a day to day basis.

Last week I had knee surgery and it’s back to square 1 again. Is it worth it? Well I bloody hope so. I just want to be able to go out all day and play. Whether that is running or walking I’m really not too bothered at this present moment. I just want to be able to do the stuff I love consistently. And I don't want any more operations this year!

Apologies for repetition but…

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Or “I’ve got this niggle, would it be OK/sensible to do…?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

For the 3 months of May-July this year I was back in the bubble, I was running free…and then I broke again. 

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.

Or perhaps it’s time to say I was an ultrarunner.

We’ll see…

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

January 10th 2016. It’s the first night of the Spine and I’m running towards Gargrave. Fresh snow on mud has led to several slips and slides. My groin is a bit sore but no big deal. Leaving Hawes the following day, my groin has stiffened up and takes a couple of miles to loosen off. No big deal. However, after Middleton, I can barely climb over the stiles and have to pull out. I’m obviously disappointed but I assume the injury will settle with a couple of week's rest. After all I’m an ultrarunner and I’m indestructible.

On the running front, 2015 had been a wonderful year. My 2nd Spine finish, running the Camino de Santiago (500 miles) in 12 days, 10th place in the Lakeland 100, and a UTMB finish. I’d run over 3500 miles.

Not being good at the rest and recovery thing, my planned 2-week rest turned into 10 days. I needed another challenge; something to make up for the disappointment of the Spine. Viking Way Ultra at 148 miles was just ticket. Despite never being happy with my running, I achieved my 2nd finish. I had a massive 5 days rest.

I trained really hard for that years Lakeland 100…too hard. I wanted to beat the previous year’s result/time. I was ill the week before the race and despite feeling OK on the startline, had no energy at all and pulled out at Wasdale Head. Had a few days off.

In October, I tied 1st with Tom Hollins in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra. On hindsight this was the last time I ran fluidly.

My groin was still niggling away but no big deal. After all I could still run as per usual and at some stage I would have a good rest. And after all, I’d managed to run 3200 miles that year so couldn’t possibly be injured properly.

Next big race was the 2017 edition of The Spine. I trained hard, really hard. I was in great shape. However, if I stopped for a few minutes during a long run, my groin would stiffen up. But it wasn’t really a big deal. I picked up a flu-like illness the week before the race, swapped into the Challenger and managed 30 miles before my legs totally gave up.

Groin was an issue now, stiffening up after most runs. However, the summer version of the Spine was on my radar – I would rest properly after that. My knee was also playing up now but I could still run OK.

With the disappointment of the Spine still hanging over me, I entered the Viking Way again. I was going along in 2nd place but I couldn’t really get going and I couldn’t really be bothered. I pulled out at 60 miles.

Next up was the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra. By now I was having to really nurse my body in the lead up to a race. I was happy to place 12th on a very flat course but never really felt I was running smoothly.

Summer Spine was next and I totally planned to have a really good rest after it. I had coaxed myself back into really good shape. Although initially sore, my knee and groin quickly settled and I had virtually the perfect 3 days running. I was going to bloody win the thing!! Then my blood sugar decided to sabotage me and I was withdrawn from the race.

I was distraught. Although I had run 190 miles, I hadn’t finished so hadn’t capitalised on all the training. I needed to do one last big challenge before getting myself better. I had 4 days rest before running in the Bampton Sports Day 9km fell race. I had another 3 days off before getting back into training for the Ultra GB 200 mile race.

Thinking you can run 200 miles with a broken body is probably stretching optimism to its limit. I had a dreadful run. I just couldn’t get going. My groin and knee were sore. After about 40 miles, I sneezed and got acute pain into…spoiler alert…my left testicle. Or left lower plumnadular region as my brothers would call it. That didn’t feel right at all. I pulled out at 60 miles.

But I still needed to capitalise on all that training. I needed to plug the hole that the summer Spine had left – it was still torturing me. A stage race in Burgos, Spain, popped up on my timeline. Just the ticket.

By now my knee and groin were taking turns in hurting during nearly ever run. I was also getting pain over my symphysis pubis, and every time I coughed or sneezed I got the aforementioned “lower groin” pain.

Imaginatively, I used the Cumbria Way Ultra as training for the Burgos race. Although I came 2nd ,  I never really felt like I was running properly. I couldn’t really stretch out especially on the downhills.

Burgos was brilliant but I was very aware of my groin and knee all week. Substantial stretching got me to the finish line.

Rest time.

So I had 10 days off. After all, ultrarunners are indestructible…aren’t we?

First run was sort of Ok. After it, I did a few core exercises and felt something ‘go’ in my groin/pelvis. Pain on walking in the morning…after I’d tried to run again. 

On November 2nd 2018, 22 months after the initial injury, I finally made the decision to rest completely until it got better.

3 months later, despite physio, it wasn’t. I was referred to a Sports Medicine consultant who arranged some scans and the full horror was uncovered.

1. Bilateral inguinal disruption = basically hernias (or herniae for accuracy) 
2. Adductor longus & brevus tendonopathy with partial tear of longus = a knackered groin 
3. Complex degenerative tear to medial meniscus = knackered knee


1. At the beginning of March, I had surgery for the inguinal issue. Seems to have been successful. My surgeon has given me the go ahead to do some light training including some short sprints…whatever they are.
2. Ongoing physio but likely to remain an issue
3. Tough…basically

I’ve done a couple of hard walks on the fells with ‘jogging’ the downhills. I haven’t been brave enough to try a run yet. 

The reality is that I’m unlikely to ever get back to the level that I was at. My main goal is just to get onto the startline of something. To be able to go out and play properly. 

Listen to your body.

We all say it but how many actually do?

I often see posts along the lines of “I’m doing a certain race, would it be Ok/sensible to do another the weekend before?” Well it might be OK, and you may be absolutely fine. However, somewhere along the line you may suffer the consequences.

I ran over 3000 miles in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and would have in 2017 if I had managed to run all year. I had a fabulous time, seeing new places, meeting new people and had some great experiences. But I also broke myself and that leaves a big hole.

I’m an ultrarunner but I am not indestructible.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Spine 2018 v7

This weekend the 7th edition of the Spine gets underway. It will be the 1st time that I have not been on the start line. Having steadfastly ignored a niggling groin strain, which initially occurred in Spine 2016, and a subsequent pelvic problem, I now haven’t run at all for over 2 months and am only now beginning to feel any improvement. Old age ensures that things recover much slower.

I have very mixed feelings about missing the Spine. Disappointment, jealousy…and relief.

I’m feeling really disappointed not to have all my kit all packed and be heading to Edale where the excitement and nerves will be palpable. First timers understandably nervous. Frequent fliers more relaxed, understanding that there’s little point wasting nervous energy when you will need every little bit of energy available for forward propulsion. I’m disappointed not to do my traditional, and ceremonial, sprint start. By the way, this is only seen at the Spine!

I will miss the camaraderie of all the Spine family, and I’m jealous of all those who will experience it. I will miss eating at Tan Hill and the fine dining at Greg’s Hut. I will miss having breakfast in Gargrave Co-op. They probably won’t miss me! I will miss crossing Cross Fell. Sorry but I love the sense of isolation up there…it can be a wonderful place. Can be nasty too!

But I am so relieved that I won’t spend a week in January on an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I won’t miss the cold, the rain, the damp, the mud. Definitely not the mud! I won’t miss the 15 hours of darkness – but I will miss the glorious sunrises and sunsets that can occur. I won’t miss the continual battle against sleep but I will miss the tremendous
boost of arriving at a checkpoint. 

And I definitely won't miss the painful toes!

It’s been nice not having the pressure of training hard through November and December and actually not caring about what I eat or how much I train over the Christmas period. My family appreciated having a non-Spine Christmas!

Jenny, I know, is very relieved. She won’t have to spend a week worrying about my well-being. A week dot watching. She will be able to sleep! But I fancy she will miss being part of the support team – she really does run a top-notch checkpoint, and loves looking after everyone.

So, whilst I will miss everything that makes the Spine such a great and unique event, I will enjoy my warm bed next week whilst trying not to feel very jealous of all those who are going to have a great experience.

Good luck to all involved. Stay safe and have fun…whilst we watch your dots.