Friday, July 31, 2015

Lakeland 100 2015 - race report

Well...that went rather well!

With a goal of beating last year’s 26:24 and an outside hope of a top 10 finish, I was setting my sights high. However, coming into the race, I felt good. I knew had a bucket load of strength and stamina, especially after running my Camino, even if I had sacrificed some speed. More importantly, for the first time in 3 years, I would be starting the Lakeland 100 with no injury worries.

After a horrendous trip along the M62, M61 and M6, I finally arrived at Coniston just before 2pm. I put up my tent in world record time. Matt Neale arrived just after me so we briefly compared notes, and then Mark Baddeley, from Lincolnshire Runner, appeared.

It took me 15 minutes to walk up to registration – I seem to know a lot a people or a lot of people seem to know me! No problems at registration, got my number (175) and dibber, and then it was back to my tent, via a few more conversations, for some lunch and a rest.

I wandered up to Tony Holland’s caravan. Having been most politely greeted by Jack and led to my seat we had a good natter as ultrarunning friends do.

The race briefing, after some speaker issues, covered the usual points and Mark Laithwaite added his always motivational few thoughts.

I have always managed not to get too nervous prior to the start. I make a point of not getting changed into running kit until after the briefing. However, once the kit is on, the reality of running 100+ miles always starts to hit home. Standing on the start line listening to Nessum Dorma, I felt focused and calm, and ready for the challenge.

I love the first few 100 yards through Coniston with so many spectators, friends and family cheering, cow bells ringing. 

Many runners charge up the first hill already out of breath, but I took it easy up to the bridge then began to get into my rhythm as we skirted Old Man of Coniston and up Walna Scar Road.

The first time I ran this race in 2012, I was overtaken by scores of people on the descent to Seathwaite. This year, I overtook several and was overtaken by none. Obviously getting a little better at going downhill.

I arrived at Seathwaite (CP1) in 1:14, 7 minutes quicker than last year. However, last year I had been nursing my Achilles down to CP1 to ensure no repeat of my DNF at Seathwaite in 2013.

I’d only remembered a few splits from 2014 – Seathwaite, Braithwaite, Dalemain and Ambleside – as I didn’t want to be chasing the clock. I also knew that my downspells last year were coming into Dalemain, on the tops before dropping down to Haweswater, around Haweswater itself, and then Garburn Pass which nearly killed me at the time. So I was hoping to pick up time in the second half of the race if all went according to plan.

Feeling really good, I met ‘the other’ Tony Holland and we ran together towards Boot. Dropping down to Boot, a group of 6 or 7 had formed. I dibbed in & out of CP2 and left with Duncan Oakes and we led the way towards Wasdale Head and CP3. There was a magnificent sunset over Wasdale with the sky an amazing shade of red. I was invigorated.

In my mind, the race doesn’t really start until Wasdale Head. The section from here to Braithwaite is probably the hardest part of the course and I was looking forward to it as I knew I would be very strong on the hills.

Duncan and I pulled clear of the rest of the group leaving Wasdale Head and made good time up Black Sail Pass where we caught 3 other runners including Kevin Perry (Spine 2015). Headtorches went on at the top. This group of 5 was essentially together as far as Braithwaite although I was tending to drop off the back on the flatter sections.

Coming round Buttermere, I went completely A-over-T, winding myself, banging my knee and causing a decent abrasion. Nice one. It took me several minutes to get back into my running.

Out of Buttermere, I spotted the left fork in the path but 3 of the others were adamant that it was too soon so we continued straight on. I should have had the courage of my convictions and been more assertive as we were soon having to trail bash straight up the hill as we realised the error. Back on track we correctly took the left fork towards Sail Gap. I suffered a bit up the next section and started feeling quite miserable. At the top I had a few Shot Bloks and not surprisingly felt much happier.

At the top of Sail Pass, I heard someone shout out “Is Richard there?” Rather bizarrely, it was Charlie Sharpe eating a pizza in his sleeping bag. Somewhat selfishly, he hadn’t ordered 5 pizzas!

Heading down towards Braithwaite I think the 5 of us took the wrong left turn but seemed to rejoin the main path coming down to Braithwaite and CP5.

Time elapsed 7:04 vs 7:26 in 2014 and I felt really good.

Coming towards Keswick I decided to let the other 4 go on as their pace on the flat was a little speedy for me. I wanted to run my own race rather than be pulled along.

At this stage I had absolutely no idea where I was in the field but I was feeling strong. My head was in a great place and I was loving it.

I was soon joined by Dale Mathers, and we ran together for the rest of the night. The section to Blencathra Centre was uneventful and we were running strongly as we came down to CP6. A quick stop for some of the legendary and magnificent Little Dave's Mum's chocolate biscuit cake and we were onto the long drag towards Dockray.

I always find the section along the old railway line a pain – flat and boring! I focused in and soon we were on the Old Coach Road and approaching Dockray. The sun was now up and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day… lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. I started singing to myself.

In the light, I noticed a big, bloody cut on my shin. I had absolutely no idea how that had happened. The Beast of Blencathra?

Dale arrived at Dockray a minute or two ahead of me but after a very speedy stop, I left first.  He soon caught me and I let him go as he was obviously running a bit more freely than myself. I essentially ran the rest of the race on my own.

I love the section around Ullswater; just so beautiful with inspiring panoramas in every direction.

Getting to the road I was a bit wary as I had found this section really tough last year and had ended up walking the last mile into Dalemain. However, there were no such issues this year and I was soon sitting in the haven of the checkpoint.

Time elapsed 12:44 vs 13:17 in 2014. Job half done.

I changed socks and shirt, switched my Salomon Speedcross for Hoka Stinsons for a more comfortable ride, had some famous Dalemain stew and was on my way. Dave Troman had just arrived looking very strong, and I had no doubt I would be seeing him again soon.

Apparently I was now in 10 or 11th place. I was feeling really good both physically and mentally and had absolutely no doubt that I would beat last year’s time. The power of positive thought!

I was also very aware that I was controlling my nutrition far better. Last year I had tended to eat a bit much in the CP’s and not much inbetween, which I think contributed to a couple of the downspells. This year, I was having less in the CP’s but making sure that I kept the calories going in at regular intervals.

The next leg is another beautiful part of the race, with tremendous views across to the Helvellyn range, and I always enjoy the run down towards Howtown.

I passed another runner just before Howtown and, shortly after, Dave caught me. We left the checkpoint together but, heading up Fusedale, he was soon ahead of me, and eventually finished 6th after a tremendous run.

I apologise to all those who suffered but I really enjoyed Fusedale! The sun was out and it was quiet, peaceful and beautiful. I made good time across the top, navigated easily down to Haweswater and then ran quite well around to Mardale Head. I said hello to our house in Swindale just over the hill.

After the race, I found out that I had run this stage 23 minutes faster than last year.

As I approached the checkpoint, Dave and Dale were just leaving. Another quick stop and I was on my way. I quickly overtook another runner who appeared to be really struggling with a calf injury. This was the last runner I saw on the course.

I didn’t enjoy Gatescarth Pass as much as Fusedale! However, I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the top as I had thought it was a false summit.

It was a perfect day for running. The sun was out, the temperature was just right. I was out running in the Lake District and I felt in total control.

The descent to Sadgill always seems further than it should. Dropping down towards Kentmere, I met Neil who was out for a training run. After a couple minutes chatting, we realised that we had met a couple of years ago going up Fairfield and then down towards Ambleside during respective training runs. What a coincidence and a really nice feel good moment.

The smoothie in Kentmere CP was phenomenal and really hit the mark. Just before turning off to Garburn Pass, I spotted Annis off whom we had rented a lovely cottage for a week last summer. I quickly said hello, apologized for the brevity of my visit and headed on up. There was no repeat of last years wall hitting and I summited the last major climb easily and ran off down to Troutbeck.

The village shop in Troutbeck has the most delicious flapjack I have ever eaten but there was no time for that today. Approaching Ambleside, Charlie Sharpe was waiting to cheer me on. Always great to see Charlie. Running through Ambleside, there were the usual cheers from the pubs and a couple of  times I heard “Go Richard”.

This year, there was a mini-checkpoint outside the main CP at Ambleside which conveniently avoided having to go inside. I dibbed grabbed some goodies which I ate whilst walking across the park.

Time elapsed 20:33 vs 22:06 in 2014. Bloody hell, I was on for sub 25 hours!!

I navigated around Loughrigg and down to Skelwith Bridge with no problem, but then found that my legs didn’t want to run on the flat. I’m pretty sure I fast marched around Elterwater most of the way to the next CP at Chapel Stile, with spectacular views of the Langdale Pikes.

I climbed up to Blea Tarn nicely and then got back into my running down to Blea Moss. I hit the road with the unmanned dibber nowhere to be seen. I decided I must be a bit low so I went 100m up the road. Still no dibber. Must be down then. Went 500m down. No dibber. Must have been further up. I eventually found it about 200m above the point that had initially hit the road. Well, that was 10 minutes wasted. I would now have to work pretty hard to break 25 hours.

With no further mishaps, I approached the final checkpoint at Tilberthwaite. I ate half a Chia Charge bar approaching the CP, and dibbed in and was straight out on my way up the steps. I powered my way up to the top with half an eye on the clock. I met a couple of walkers who asked me about the race and seemed a little bewildered when I told them we’d stated at 6pm the day before!

Reaching the top of the pass, I knew it was all downhill from here. I spotted Coniston Copper Mines YH which is a great little youth hostel that I’ve stayed at a couple of times. I ran hard down the descent; well as hard as you can after 100 miles!

Hitting the tarmac, I was running freely and grinned my way down to Coniston. Cheers and applause greeted me as I passed the Black Bull and then it was all over.

10th place.

Last year, I’d shed a tear or two at the finish line. This year I was just grinning. I was incredibly satisfied and felt great as I had done for the vast majority of the race.

I proudly accepted my medal and T shirt, and a sweet cup of tea.

After a much needed shower, I popped to the Fish & Chip shop and had the best fish & chips ever, whilst watching more runners finish. It was great to see my good friend Tony Holland finish the 50 under his goal time of 10 hours.

Having finished just before 7pm, I eventually went to bed at 02:15! I was just too excited and I didn't want to miss anything! I didn’t want the day to end and I also wanted to cheer in as many runners as possible. Several cups of tea and bowls of ice cream kept me fueled for the night.

I greeted Mark Baddeley, from Lincolnshire Runner, as he finished the 50, his first ultra. I also met some of the other runners from Lincoln. Great results by all.

Most runners finished with big smiles as they were cheered through the hall. As the night dragged on, some looked very weary and almost shell-shocked. I have every respect for those who run into and through a second night. A really tough ask.

I was up again by 6am and watched more runners finish their journey.

After a magnificent breakfast butty it was time to pack my tent away and set off home.


As I wrote in my previous blog, I think the Lakeland 100 and 50 are iconic races in the ultra calendar, and have no doubt that the Lakeland 100 is the hardest 100 in England if not the UK.

A beautiful but tough, tough course. Brutal on the feet but easy on the eye.

The organisation is second to none. The registration process should be a lesson to all races. Everything seems to run smoothly. Many, many thanks to Terry and Marc.

As for the checkpoints…well, they are simply magnificent. Well stocked, friendly, nothing is too much. Water bottles filled as you grabbed some food, and ready as you left. Little Dave's Mum - your chocolate cake is worth the entry fee alone.

Back at the finish, some volunteers greeted me in and were still there in the morning having had no sleep. Having announced 100’s of runners in to the finish, it was amazing they had their voices left. The kitchen staff were also there all night – providing endless food and endless cups of tea always with a smile.

So many volunteers gave up their weekend for us so thanks to each and every one.

The atmosphere surrounding the whole event makes the race very special. The excitement and anticipation in the camping field is palpable. The start is always memorable with the crowd cheering as we leave Coniston. Spectators greet runners through every village. Running through Ambleside is an experience every year.

Will I run again next year? Probably.

Can I go faster? Definitely!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lakeland 100 v2015

Tomorrow I will start just my second race of the year, the Lakeland 100. 

My only other ‘race’ this year was The Spine which I finished for the second time in January. I did have a few smaller races planned for the spring and early summer, but these were all put on hold for my Camino at the end of May. The Camino, although not a ‘race’, entailed 12 consecutive days of 35+ miles running and it took several weeks to fully recover from its rigours.

So after 2-3 weeks off not much apart from eating a lot and increasing my girth, I’ve spent the last few weeks reacquainting myself with the Lakeland 100 course. I ran the entire the entire route over 3 days – 40,40 and 25 miles – and was amazed how easy backing up the mileage felt. Obviously the Camino has done my stamina and strength some good.

I’ve also been on an emergency diet in a effort to achieve some sort of race weight. I’m still 2-3 pounds more then I’d like to be but in a race like the Lakeland 100 I don’t think it really matters. It really does get harder to lose weight as one gets older. It puts in perspective how silly we can get trying to reduce our pack weights by a few grammes here and there.

This will be my 4th consecutive start in the event. In 2012, I wasn’t in the right place mentally at all and, after a torrid time, did well to get to Dalemain. In 2013, I felt at peak fitness and then proceeded to blow my Achilles out before CP1, becoming the first person to withdraw from the race that year. Not an honour I really wanted.

Last year, I went into the race with a dodgy Achilles again and remember telling Jenny that I’d either be out at CP1 again or finish. I was hoping for sub 30 hours, with a secret hope of sub 28 hours. I finished 16th in 26:24!
Remember to smile for the cameras!
Focus- leaving Dalemain

So my goal for this year? I’d love to beat last year’s time. I know I can be quicker through the checkpoints especially in the second half of the race. Hopefully, I can avoid the 2-3 bad slumps - I had to sit down at the top of Garburn Pass for a few minutes as I had completely and utterly hit the wall! A top 10 finish would be amazing. However, 105 miles is a long way and a lot can happen, so I'm trying not to put pressure on myself by "imposing an arbitrary target" - a phrase I often use at work! I'm not an elite runner, not a professional, and I do this for fun, and, therefore, pressure just isn't needed. So, I’ll happily take a finish and hope I enjoy it as much as last year. 

I had no doubt I’d enter it again this year. It’s such a great event. The course is beautiful but really challenging - exactly what I love to do. The organisation is exemplary  The atmosphere around the event is tremendous – the building tension in the camping field, the crowds cheering as we leave Coniston, the locals supporting in all the numerous villages, running through Ambleside, and then the finish in Coniston. And, of course, the amazing checkpoints and volunteers.

In my opinion, it’s one of the iconic British races.

So, apart from being a great event, why do we put ourselves through this ? cream and medals :)