Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lakes 10 Peaks Xtreme

Last year’s Lakes 10 Peaks was tough, very tough; a 73km route with 5600m of ascent. So when the Xtreme course was announced my immediate thought was “Why not?!”
“The Xtreme course takes things to another level! This 100km circular route, starting and finishing in Keswick takes in all of the 10 highest peaks as well as another 10 compulsory peaks including Blencathra, Clough Head, Raise, Fairfield, Seat Sandal, High Raise, Red Pike, Kirk Fell, Dale Head and Maiden Moor. This is a natural extension to the Long Course which follows a similar, but not identical, route to that of the Bob Graham Round. The tough terrain combined with nearly 8000m of ascent make this one of the hardest non-stop ultra distance races on the calendar”.

Sounded fair enough!

So let me simply state that if the “normal” 10 Peaks course is tough, then this is brutally tough but also so totally enjoyable!

The simple facts are that I finished joint 4th (joint 3rd male) in 21:25. Apart from smashing into the wall half way up Skiddaw (not to be recommended), I barely had a bad spell all day.

This was a bit of an on/off race for me. With a gap of only 4 weeks to the Lakeland 100, I was in 2 minds as the whether it was sensible to invest not only the physical effort but, more importantly for me, the mental effort into another tough event. My rather pathetic attempt at the Hardmoors 160 really made me realize that although my body may recover quickly, it takes far longer to recover mentally from these big events – from the mental preparation before the event and the mental effort during the event.

Family illness a couple of weeks prior to the race and the fact that it was Jade’s birthday the day before tipped the balance so I withdrew. Then a window of opportunity presented itself, and I reinstated myself on the Wednesday before the race!

I decided that the best way to circumnavigate the use of mental energy prior to the race was to not really think about it! So I went for the no taper approach. This seems to have worked previously in the Frostbite 30 (Dec 12) and this year’s Hardmoors 55. So having run just over 50 miles on Monday – Wednesday, I hadn’t spent all week with ever increasing taperitis! With Jade’s birthday dinner on the Friday evening, there wouldn’t be much time to psych myself up either.

I left Lincoln just after 10pm, arriving at Keswick shortly after 1am. I then curled up on the passenger seat expecting to wake up at around 02:30. Next thing I know is that the clock says 02:53. Race start 04:00. Oh well, no stress allowed today! I made and ate my porridge, went into the football club announced myself present, registered and changed. Quick hello’s with Andrew Hayes, Jon Steele, Annie Garcia and anyone else who was listening, and suddenly it was 03:55. Decided I’d better focus a little…….well, at least put my rucksack on!

And then we were off on the approach to Blencathra. Up Blease Fell, I was in a lead bunch of 8 or so runners as we peaked in poor visibility. Down Hall’s Fell Ridge, and out of the cloud, I watched in vain as several of the mountain goats sped off into the distance as I picked my way down – this was really demoralizing.

Down though Threlkeld and over the A66, I worked hard up Clough Head and recaught the lead bunch. Around the Dodd’s in clag, and approaching Raise, the call of nature called somewhat urgently and that was the last I saw of the first 3 runners.

I peaked Helvellyn with Bill Williamson whom I subsequently spent most of the day with. I lost some time going down to Grizedale Tarn but reached the top of Fairfield just behind Bill. This was to prove the pattern for the day with Bill pulling ahead on the downs and then me catching up on the ups.

Up and over Seat Sandal, my first new Wainwright of the day, we raced down to CP2 at Thirlmere. Then it was the long, boggy climb up to Greenup Edge and High Raise. We took the Bob Graham route up Bowfell, with me going a little off piste. Once on top, the clag had lifted and we started to pick off some of the long course competitors. Over Esk Pike to CP3 at Esk Hause where there was a food shortage.  Then up to the Scafell plateau, rapidly dibbing at Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag and then Scafell Pike itself.

I was feeling remarkably strong and full of running. Working hard up the ascents and then running nicely where possible.

Going up Lord’s rake to Scafell, Bill developed bad cramp. I waited for a minute but then pushed ahead. Not the greatest place to get cramp. Before exiting the ‘Rake’ my phone rang – I decided it was not the best place to take a call!

As I reached the summit plateau, there was Bill just ahead of me. He had taken a sneaky direct route - as though Lord’s Rake isn’t steep enough!

Down towards Wasdale there were a few darker clouds gathering and some moderate drizzle started. My prayers were answered and it soon dried up. After some excellent scree skiing, we reached Wasdale CP. The main excitement on arriving at any CP now was the thrill of not knowing what flavour of Clif Bar there would be on offer!!

After the nasty climb of Dorehead Screes, it was up to Red Pike and my 2nd (and final) new Wainwright of the day. I was feeling good still and pushing harder on the climbs. Then it was swiftly round to Pillar. The run down from Pillar to Black Sail Pass was frenetic – I think Bill was making a final effort to shake me off on my weaker downhills.

Up and over Kirk Fell to CP 5 at Beck Head where there was water rationing in force. Great Gable was surprisingly quickly summited. It was a great to get here feeling so good. Then it was the pleasant run down to Honister YH, and CP 6. I passed on the hot food and had a Mars Bar and probably a Clif Bar!

Skiddaw awaits... 
Dale Head and Maiden Head were soon ticked off, and we circumnavigated the summit if Cat Bells before heading onto Keswick. We ran well to CP 8 at Nichol End Marine, passing several Long Course runners. Still feeling pretty good, I had a mini-feast of Soreen and mini-Snickers. Probably a Clif Bar too!

On the way towards Keswick, Bill and I decided that it would be reasonable to finish together – we’d be running together since just before CP2. Shortly after, Bill hit a low patch, forcing us to walk for a while. Fortunately he seemed to eat his way out of it.

At the foot of Skiddaw, I was feeling pretty good but very much looking forward to finishing! A few minutes later the wheels fell off. I started to feel really nauseous and then I could feel the energy literally draining out of me. I really didn’t feel I could stomach any food, but given that I was virtually at a standstill and getting cold, I chewed on a few Clif Shots which helped a little. We stopped to put on head torches and windproofs. I braved a gel and by the time we reached Carlside Tarn I was feeling significantly better, and able to eat a little solid food.

By now, the wind had picked up significantly and the temperature had plummeted. On the Skiddaw summit plateau it felt bitterly cold, and my only though was to get down as quickly as possible.

Soon, we were running down into Keswick and the long-awaited finish at the football club.

Apart from smashing into the wall on the way up Skiddaw, I had felt really good the whole day. In particular, I felt really strong on the climbs. I’m not sure what happened going up Skiddaw as I’d been eating and drinking well all day – just one of those things, I guess. It does throw the whole business of the taper into turmoil. Having already run 50 miles in the week, I had no right or expectation for the race to go quite so well. Perhaps I was just lucky!? Either way, I was very happy with the day out, and it has left me feeling really confident about the Lakeland 100.

It was great to run with Bill. His knowledge of the 'good lines' was a real learning lesson as was the simple 'run on the grass' message

The Lakes 10 Peaks races are amongst my very favourites. A truly tough test in simply superb surroundings. If you like tough, if you like brutally tough, then you can’t do much better than this.

Thanks to Mark and Paul for putting on such great races, and to all the volunteers, often in remote places.

So next year……Lakes 10 Peaks Mega-Xtreme?

The route!