Written by Paul Ali - https://ultraavon.com
Written by Doug Fernandez
Earlier this year, I’d finally won my age group (AG) in Boston. Even though I’d run it 4 times, even setting my PR there, the AG win had proven elusive. The Boston AG win was the cap of a project to win as many of the AG in the major marathons in the world (Boston, NYC, Berlin….). I decided I was finished with competing in road marathons, and that It was time for me to hang up my gloves and retire.
I was burned out with the same routine, season after season. Running 9-10 times a week; the track; the tempo runs, strength training, plyometrics and all that good stuff. I either needed to take a break or find something new and different. Maybe hit the trails, run in the mountains, breathe some fresh air and/or simply run for beers and food, stress-free and forget about the competition.
But what I had yet to do plagued me. No matter how much anyone can feel that they have seen and done it all, there is always so much left to do. Some other running projects that have kept my interest include completing the 7-continent marathon club (Antarctica left), Big Sur, The Great Wall of China, Mount Kilimanjaro and Le Marathon du Medoc in France.
Ultramarathoning also sparked my interest. I had run a 50K 4 years ago, but I hadn’t run anything longer than 31 miles. Well, what a perfect opportunity to correct that! But which one? I had always heard local ultrarunners talk about the JKF 50 miler. OK, That’s it!! JFK50 mile here I come!
Ask NOT what your legs can do for you, but what you can do to your legs!!
Why did I decide to run it? ‘Cause it is the oldest and largest 50 miler in the country. Because its location, is not too far from where I live in Richmond, VA (a 3 ½ hour drive), and certainly ‘cause it’s a highly competitive race, ‘cause of its unique combination of different terrain, and ‘cause I am an Army Veteran, and if there was one ultra that I would do, I’d run one that honors our military and our country. The race website tells the races origin story and history:
“The JFK 50 Mile was first held in the spring of 1963. It was one of numerous such 50 mile events held around the country as part of President John F. Kennedy’s push to bring the country back to physical fitness.
When Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, most of these events were never held again. The one here in Washington County, MD changed its name from the JFK 50 Mile Challenge to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964. The JFK 50 Mile in Washington County, MD is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event to be held every year.
Although open to the public, the JFK 50 Mile is in spirit a military race. It always has been and always will be. In 1963, the initial inspiration behind the event came from then President John F. Kennedy challenging his military officers to meet the requirements that Teddy Roosevelt had set for his own military officers at the dawn of the 20th Century. That Roosevelt requirement was for all military officers to be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to maintain their commissions. When word got out about the “Kennedy Challenge”, non-commissioned military personnel also wanted to take the test themselves as did certain robust members of the civilian population”
So, after a 2 month break from running and 20 lbs. heavier, my preparation for this race began in earnest the 3rd of June 2017.
Training: My training plan was based on input I gathered from talking to and reading about what other ultrarunners had done for their 50 mile races and from a basic, generic plan that I found on the Runner’s World website. It was a low mileage plan of not more than 80 miles a week at its peak, with some long, back-to-back runs on Saturdays and Sundays.
I ran a total of 5 runs of 30 miles or longer during the summer, mostly on trails. I didn’t feel that I ever got myself in the kind of shape I usually would have before my major road marathons, because I didn’t think that kind of speed was required to run a decent 50 miler. I did minimum speedwork, and ran a few races at the distance of the half marathon or shorter. I also neglected going to the gym or doing strength or core work because I thought that was unnecessary as well, since the race only had a few climbs. Well, I was wrong about all that, and I wish I would have done it.
As I found out, to run the JFK 50 well, you need strong quads, ankles, and glutes for those first 15.5 miles on the AT, and you would need good speed as well once you hit the tow path, all the way to the finish.
One month before the race I drove up to the area (Brunswick, MD), to familiarize myself with the AT section of the course and the C&O canal towpath. There was a free shuttle service offered by Structural Elements. They dropped us in Boonsboro, from where we ran the first 15.5 miles of the route to Weverton Cliffs Parking Lot. That day I found out that the AT portion of this race was not as difficult as I had heard some people describe it in race reports that I read online. Although it was rocky and technical in some areas where you definitely must pay attention and watch your footing, it was otherwise very runnable for the most part.
The following day, Sage, a friend of mine who lives in the area and who has successfully run this race in the past, rode her bike and gave me company as I ran 30 miles on the towpath. She gave me lots of useful information about the race as well.
The Race Course: The JFK 50 mile course is a point-to-point “horse-shoe” configuration starting in a small town in Maryland called Boonsboro and finishing at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland. The first 5.5 miles of the race is a good climb that gains 1,172 feet in elevation. It starts on a road surface and joins the Appalachian Trail at 2.5 miles. The course from 2.5 to 15.5 miles is on the Appalachian Trail, except for two miles of paved road between 3.5 and 5.5 miles, where it reaches its highest point, 1732 ft. The AT is very rocky in some sections as it rolls along the mountain ridge. Towards the end of this trail the course drops over 1,000 feet in 1 mile. The AT is followed by 26.3 flat miles of dirt/gravel on the C&O Canal towpath along the Potomac river. The route leaves the C&O Canal towpath at Dam #4 and follows a gently rolling paved country road for 8.4 miles to the finish in Williamsport.
My Objective: I had a difficult decision at first about what my goals for this race should be. I had run over 30 road marathons in the last 10 years. My PR is 2:34:43 from Boston 2014 and I had won the AG in Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Boston. To run the JFK 50 simply to finish and get the medal wouldn’t be honest and true to myself.
Mark Guzzi, a fellow Richmond runner who has run JFK50 15 times once told me that I “would crush it “and that I was quite capable and should aim at setting the 50-59 AG course record. But I am already in my late 50’s, and quickly approaching the next AG decade, and that’s on top of being in the midst of a mediocre, down year. I had no experience running any distance over 50K, nor any idea how to properly train and execute a 50 miler. Breaking that record seemed way too ambitious! But, if you want to do your best, you’ve gotta aim high. Go big or go home, right?
Judging my current fitness level, my goals for the JFK 50 were to finish unhurt, run sub-6 hours and 30 minutes and finish in the top 10 overall. If the race unfolded any better than that, I hoped for a sub 6:20 hours (which would break the current 50-59 age group record of 6:21).
There was also the possibility, that in the process I could roll an ankle, trip and kiss the rocky trail, but I would surely finish the race in under 12 hours, with bleeding knees, carrying my teeth in my pocket, with people laughing behind my back saying “Doug, what a rookie, he thought the JFK50 was going to be a piece of cake!”
My Strategy: I wasn’t sure what my per mile pace should be for the AT section. I thought it wise to be cautious, play it safe and save energy on those 15.5 miles that had 1100 ft. of elevation gain, but at the same time not so slow that I could get trapped behind hundreds of people walking the trail. If I tripped on one of those rocky sections of the AT, or twisted an ankle (which I am prone to do) it would mean game over. The goal was to get off the AT at Weverton Cliffs and onto the towpath at around 2:10 hours.
The plan then was to run a solid 7:00 min/mile pace on the flat 26.3 miles C&O canal towpath section and average the last 8 rolling miles of country roads, when fatigue would start to set in, at about 8 min/mile pace. That would give me a finish well under 6:30 hours, and probably within the top 10. And hopefully, the course record for men over 50.
My Fueling/Hydration Plan: The JFK 50 course has a at least 14 fully stocked aid stations on the course. There was no shortage of food and hydration support. Among other items, there were sports drinks, water, chicken noodle soup, broth, soft drinks, PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, cookies, cakes, sweet items, energy gels, energy bars, and more. I even saw pizza! If you want to finish a 50 miler, you better take advantage of all these provisions offered in all these stations, or else you will pay dearly later on during the race.
Unfortunately, if you are running for fast times and to be one of the first to make it to Williamsport, you need to take in very easy to ingest and digest stuff only, such as water or Gatorade and energy gels. So that was my fueling plan, to carry VFuel gels which I would take approximately every 30 minutes. Tressa, who volunteered to crew for me, would meet me at Weverton Cliffs, Antietam and Taylors Landing, where she would resupply me with 2 or 3 gels tucked in my arm warmers and give me some Mountain Dew. I could supplement with water and Gatorade from the aid stations along the route.
Race day: I made the 3 ½ hour drive to Williamsport, MD on Thursday afternoon, checked into my hotel and had a long night’s sleep. You know what they say, the night prior to the last night before your race is the most important one, as far as sleep is concerned.
The following Friday, I picked up my package at the Homewood Suites in Hagerstown and then stopped by an Italian restaurant close to my hotel and had spaghetti to go. I ate, made my final preparations and I went to bed early to try and get some sleep. Despite the melatonin, tryptophan and Advil PM pills that I took, I didn’t have much success. I was too tense. I finally fell asleep, but woke up around 1 AM. I tried counting sheep and counting from 100 to 1, but without any luck. Apparently, that was all the sleep I was going to get.
I had a very early breakfast, took a warm shower, read the news and then looked up the weather. It was chilly (37 F) and gusty outside. According to the weather forecast, rain would start coming down around 9:00 AM. Not the kind of weather that you want to have if you are going to be outside, running for hours. But oh well, there was nothing we could do about the weather but be tough.
I left the hotel and drove to Boonsboro around 5:00 AM. Some friends got an Airbnb a couple of blocks from the start, and I went there to stay warm, drink some coffee and have my 2nd breakfast. Tressa was staying there. She would drive my car to the points on the course where race organizers designated that personal handlers and crew were allowed. After someone sang the National Anthem and without further ado, the gun was fired and off we went up Main Street Boonsboro.
The weather was cold and windy. There was a group of about 15 runners who quickly pulled ahead. I stayed with the 2nd pack, a few seconds behind. It is a pretty hard 2 ½ mile climb to where we would get on the Appalachian Trail. After 3 ½ miles we ran on a paved road that got very steep towards the end and that is where I started power walking. That’s right, to save energy, I power hiked this hill to the highest point of the course. I did not train my butt and quads in the gym like I should had. I better do that next year!
Our first 2.5 miles on our way to the AT
We were on the trail for good after having reached the highest point of the course, 1732 ft. It was all net downhill from there to Weverton Cliffs Parking Lot. I consider myself a decent trail runner, and I knew that even though I had about 30 runners ahead of me, pretty soon I
could start reeling some of them back in. I just had to be patient and play it safe.
I had a few issues on the trail. I forgot my handheld amphipod bottles at the hotel, so I had to carry this huge water bottle that became very cumbersome to carry. Also, the fanny pack, where I stored my energy gels was moving too much around my waist. I knew I would drop those two items once I was done with the trail. The prescription glasses that I wore so that I could see the trail better got too foggy on me and I had to put them away.
Except for some rocky areas, where you must watch your footing, the AT on this course is very runnable.
But my Hoka Challenger ATR shoes were performing excellently on the trail and I did not feel any of the sharp rocks under my feet as my Garmin 35 kept on hitting every mile in 7:30sh. It didn’t take long before we hit the 2nd aid station in Gathland Gap, mile 9.3. I refilled my bottle of water and kept on going.
After 2 hours of running, I finally reached the Weverton Cliffs switchbacks. This is where the course drops 1,000 ft. in 1 mile. I made it to the bottom in under 2:08, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I met Tressa there, took some mountain dew, grabbed a couple of gels, dropped my waist pack, headband and bottle, and kept on trucking. The flat towpath was next, and that is where I knew I was gonna catch a lot of the runners ahead of me.
The picture right before the fall. I managed to stay upright on the roughest parts of the AT, only to fall down at the bottom of the switchbacks in front of a thousand people, that was a little embarrassing :-)
Some people feel that the towpath is too boring. Not me. I thrive in this type of terrain. I put my mind into cruise control and let the miles click away.
As I grabbed some Gatorade at the aid station at mile 16, I asked a fellow there, “how many runners do I have ahead of me?”, “At least 20,” he said. As soon as I went over the railroad track, I shifted gears, picked up a 7 min/mile pace and went on Wolf mode, like chasing a herd of elk.
It didn’t take long before it started drizzling, a rain that continued until the end of the race. Once I passed Harpers Ferry, I could feel the strong gusts of wind on my left side coming from the river.
I heard “Go Doug!” a couple of times and wondered how these strangers knew my name? Then I realized my friend Sage, who knows some of the people volunteering at the aid stations, gave them the heads up about my bib #412.
One by one I caught at least 10 runners before I made it to Antietam Aqueduct (mile 27.1). There, I met Tressa for the 2nd time, and she re-supplied me with VFuel gels. I continued my nutrition plan of ingesting a VFuel gel right before every aid station, where I could gulp it down my throat with some water.
The face that I make every time I ingest an energy gel. It shows how much I like them. My plan was to take 12 throughout the race. I only managed to force 7 down my throat.
At Antietam, someone said “Number 12, looking good!” All right, I thought, I need to pass a couple more, and that would put me within the top 10. I could see 3 runners way ahead in the distance. I edged closer and closer until I caught all 3 of them once. One of them was Michael Wardian. “Wow!” I thought to myself, he must be taking it easy today, and probably running another race tomorrow, or I am probably going too fast (he was running a half marathon the next day!).
Though the towpath was getting muddy and heavy, but I was in my zone. I reeled in a couple more runners right before I made it to Taylors Landing (mile 38). Tressa and Sage were waiting for me. I took my last gel, two cups of water, and a coke and kept on going. I told Tressa that I didn’t need any more gels, that I was good to go without them. I had 4 miles to go before I would get on the rolling country roads to the finish, in Williamsport.
Tressa tucking some gels in my sleeve warmers. But they were so wet that they became sleeve chillers.
Aid station at Taylors Landing- they were fully stocked, but the most appetizing thing I could find there was coke.
Some of my cheerleading support on the course. Sage and her kids.
At Dam # 4, I finally left the towpath. I looked at my Garmin, and I had been 5:17 hours into the race so far. My pace was right on target.
I had 1 hour to run a little over 8 rolling, paved road miles to finish the race in under 6 hours, 20 minutes for the new AG course record. I thought that was a pace that I could sustain on that road. But before we got on the road, there was a very steep hill to climb first. A runner caught me there and introduced himself. “I’m David,” he said. “I am Doug” I replied back. I tried to stay with him. He was David Lantz, who later on finished 7th overall.
At that point, it started raining pretty hard. The rain was icy cold, and the wind started whipping. So, there I was, out in the open, with my glycogen reserves totally depleted, fatigued, freezing and trying to dig deep to sustain some kind of a jog. It felt like all of a sudden I was bonking. I tried not to panic. I had done some math in my head, and calculated that all I needed was 8 min/miles for the next 8 miles, and I would finish under 6:20 hours, but I couldn’t even do that. The best I could do was about 9-minute miles, no matter how hard I tried. I also spent too much time at the aid stations, trying to consume some calories, but it was too late. The damage was done.
After being in 6th place overall, I started losing ground on my last 8 miles. Here, # 32 David Hedges passing me at around mile 44. He eventually got 6th overall.
I saw Sage and Tressa drive by and they shouted some words of encouragement. Tressa yelled, “I believe in you”. At that point I was starting to have doubts about myself. The wolf was in trouble.
I was passed by another fellow somewhere around mile 44. He was David Hedges. Now that I was in 8th place, I tried as hard as I could to protect and hang to that position. But it didn’t take long before I was caught by Michael Wardian too. I said to myself, well, so much for bragging later on that I beat Michael Wardian at the JFK 50!
It was a long and miserable death march to the finish. With about 1 mile to go, I got chicked. Emily Harrison, the women’s winner, caught me as well. I had nothing left in me to respond. I looked behind just to see if there was anyone else sneaking up behind me to knock me out of the 10 overall, and I didn’t see anybody. Thank you god!
I looked at my watch and noticed that I just needed that last mile in about 8 minutes to be under a 6:30 finish. That was one of the longest miles that I have ever run. At last I could see the finish line, and said to myself thank you “sweet baby Jesus” as I heard my name on the loudspeaker, “Doug Fernandez from Richmond, Virginia!” I was so cold and shivering that one of the medics there asked my name and I couldn’t even get it out of my mouth. My jaw was frozen.
Approaching the finish, this 50 mile race was finally over- What a relief !! and what a miserable weather.
They had to rush me out of the finish area in a hurry, straight to the warm showers in the school gym just to raise my core temperature. I stayed under that shower for about 10 minutes. It took a couple hours, some cups of chicken noodle soup, some warm food and warm beverages before my shivering went away.
It took a while for the whole thing to sink in. I had run 50 miles. I was 9th overall man and finished in 6:28:45. I also got the men over 50 AG win. But I didn’t get the men’s 50-59 course record. Overall, I was very happy and pleased with my race result, despite the struggles at the end. I learned a few lessons and that will help me prepare better next time.
Top 10 men. I may be a whole generation (or two) older than these fellows, But I am not old, I’ve just been young for a very long time !.
I want to thank the organization of this race and all the volunteers that made this great running event possible, they were superb. I also would like to congratulate everyone who completed this race. Running 50 miles, no matter how fast or slow, is nothing to sneeze at. Last, I want to thank everyone who supported me before and during this race, who tracked me online and who wished me well. Hopefully I will come back next year, I still feel that I have to take care of unfinished business. Now, that I have been accepted to the Tokyo marathon (one of 2 marathon majors I have yet to run), in February 2018, I have to un-retire from road marathons, and continue my training throughout the winter, yikes !!
Written by Marcin Krzysztofik - http://wolnybiegacz.pl/en
Welcome to my blog after quite a while! Almost 2 months have passed since my last entry (http://wolnybiegacz.pl/en/kacr-2017-race-report/). In a nutshell, in August I was recovering from Kennet & Avon Canal Race. The 145 miles left their mark on my body and mind and, aside from an occasional trot I properly resumed my running in September. My aim was to do a reasonable mileage and condition myself for the upcoming race Cotswold Way Century. In September I even recced a couple of stretches of the race route in order to familiarise myself with some tricky bits. One week before the race I felt fit, strong enough and ready for the race.
Cotswold Way Century is a 102-mile race in the lovely Cotswolds. It follows a designated National Trail Cotswold Way. The race starts in Chipping Campden, from where, with many steep ascents and descents, it winds along the Cotswold escarpment, finishing in Bath.
There’s a 30-hour limit to finish the race, with some internal cut-offs. It’s quite realistic to finish it under 24 hours. I had targeted 27 hours, which I assumed is a reasonable time for me, considering my state of preparation.
On Saturday, September 23rd I left home in the morning and before 10:30 arrived at the race HQ. I had my kit checked, prepared my drop bags (to be accessed at miles 27, 47 and 80) and my finish line bag.
Just before 12 o’clock I walked to the centre of Chipping Campden, from where the race starts. A few minutes after 12, 106 competitors set off for a long run!
Part 1: Saturday
I started relatively slowly, conscious that this was a 13-mile stretch to the first checkpoint. Moreover, it was quite warm, so I was extra careful not to get dehydrated.
After the first ascent there was a long, flat bit, where the runners were able to spread apart while falling to each one’s respective pace. Once I reached the view point by Broadway Tower, I could then enjoy a long, pleasant downhill to the picturesque town Broadway.
Having run through Broadway, the trail climbed up again. And that’s how it went on throughout the whole race pretty much: up and down, up and down. A lot of beautiful vistas, plenty of greenery so overall beautiful scenery. I reached the first CP in decent shape, drinking a lot along the way and regularly gorging myself on gels and bars.
The second stretch was the longest: 14 miles. However, the reward at the end of it was access to my first drop bag of goodies.
My best memory of this stretch is the crossing of Cleeve Common where I was offered fantastic views of the area. Just before the hill, a fellow runner Thane Hall chatted up to me and for quite some time we continued together. It turned out that Thane runs his own running podcast called Runners on Trail (available on iTunes). He actually recorder some of our ramblings with the intention of publishing them in the 2nd episode of the podcast. It was an enjoyable conversation we had, due to common interests such as orienteering, or, of course, ultramarathons.
Chatting the distance away we eventually reached the 2nd CP. It took me 5 hours and 52 minutes to cover the 27 miles from the start. I sat for a while at the CP, changed my T-shirt to a long sleeved one, refilled my supplies and ate some bits and bobs. I also prepared my head torch, as it was obvious that I’ll reach the next CP after sunset.
I left the CP ahead of Thane, but at the end of a long, gradual descent he caught up with me and we continued together. After a series of ascents and descents we reached Leckhampton Hill where Thane fell back. It got dark enough there, so I installed the head torch on my forehead and started the night part of the race.
Part 2: Night
While at Leckhampton Hill I felt fairly positive, because there started the 25 or so miles that I had recced before. So, on the navigational front I felt confident. Past Leckhampton Hill Thane and a bunch of other runners overtook me as I was struggling on an uphill. I caught up with them though soon thereafter before Crickley Hill Country Park and we continued together until the checkpoint at Birdlip at mile 38.5.
After a bit of rest, food and drink, I swiftly moved on. It was very nice to meet Keith Godden there, considering that 2 months before I received from him the medal for finishing the Kennet & Avon Canal Race. Keith was manning the CP rather than running the race. He asked me if I’m up for some 145-mile racing along canals in 2018… No decision on that point yet 😊.
I was familiar with the stretch to Painswick, so I confidently followed the Cotswold Way. Confidently, but not very fast, as my legs felt tired. Some 2 miles from Birdlip, Thane and the guys swiftly overtook me and left me behind.
Ascent up Coopers Hill was a huge struggle and I lost my will to live there. I felt so exhausted at the top, that I was unable to take advantage of the subsequent downhill, where a few weeks ago I had so vigorously sprinted down. Focusing only on the next CP I shuffled like a zombie. I lost a few minutes at Painswick golf course where I took a wrong turn and a few runners overtook me. This was very frustrating. Eventually I reached Painswick and having jogged through the town I luckily reached the 47.5-mile CP after 11 hours and 18 minutes from the start. That was almost half of the distance in less than 12 hours’ time, so I was actually pleased with it and felt confident that my 27-hour target is doable.
I spent about 15 minutes there to gain some Energy, eat, and rest. I accessed my 2nd drop bag and stuffed my running vest with goodies. Some hot food and a cup of coffee re-energised me a bit, but still, I wasn’t looking forward to the next, 11-mile-long stretch.
Soon after the checkpoint I caught up some guys and with Thane who got a bit lost and for the next few miles we continued together in a group of 5 guys. After a series of viewpoints, a nice downhill followed. I took a caffeine gel which gave me a nice boost and I set quite a hard pace. Having recced some tricky bits before really helped me and I could barrel down confidently. The guys were in sight for some time but soon they fell back and it was the last time I saw them.
Continuing at a good pace I crossed the Stroudwater Navigation canal and soon thereafter climbed up the hills again. 2 miles later I checked in at the Coaley Peak CP. On the plus side, I was in a power mode and I was glad to have put 58.5 miles behind me. The downside was that this was the extent of my recce, so I head terra incognita ahead of me. In spite of, what I considered a strong pace, the 11 miles took me as much as 3 hours and 12 minutes!
Fuelled by hot noodles I continued. A bit of a flat land, followed by a steep downhill, followed by a painfully steep ascent up Cam Long Down and then descent to Dursley. After Dursley a slog back up and a funny, frustrating bit around the Stinchcombe golf course. Frustrating, because 2.5 miles could have easily been shortened to 300 or so metres. But rules are rules, if one has to follow the trail, one follows the trail.
Another landmark along the way was the William Tyndale Monument, standing atop yet another hill. When I passed it, it was still dark, but I was aware that sunrise was almost upon me. Indeed, soon thereafter, when I ran down to Wootton-under-Edge, where the next CP was, it was light enough that I no longer needed my torch. It took me 18 hours and 31 minutes to cover 70.5 miles. This meant ‘only’ 31.5 miles left. I had 8.5 hours for that if I wanted to stick to my self-imposed limit of 27 hours.
Part 3: Sunday
After a short break at Wootton I left towards the next CP, but going was very slow. My legs felt heavy and I had no will for running. On the upside, I was glad that my feet were in prime shape with no evident blisters or chafing. That made me force myself to run at least short bits at a time. My memories from this 9.5-mile-long stretch are blurred; I just remember that each mile was dragging on and I seemed to cover the ground painfully slow. I jogged n flats and easy downhills, otherwise pretty much marched. The whole stretch to Horton took me 2 hours and 33 minutes, resulting in roughly 10 mins/km pace. That was faster than on the 2 previous stretches, so not too bad!
During my short stopover in Horton I took advantage of my 3rd drop bag and took onboard supplies for the last 22 miles. There were only 7 miles until the next CP in Tormarton. Moreover, mentally it was an important milestone due to crossing of the M4 motorway which in my mind signified the proximity of Bath. I covered these 7 miles at roughly the same pace as the previous stretch. Cannot report anything from this stretch, apart from putting one feet in front of the other and regularly analysing the map to monitor how close the CP I was.
There were just 5 miles from Tormarton to Cold Ashton, but this stretch dragged on and my pace decreased to 12 mins/km. From Cold Ashton just 10 miles remained until the finish line, out of which 7.5 until the next CP in Weston. The stretch to Weston was tough and it felt like to cover each mile took an eternity. My legs were heavy: I would slowly lumber uphill and had hardly any energy to run or jog downhill or on flat ground. Nevertheless, I did reach Weston after 27 hours and 24 minutes from the start. My 27-hour target was obviously overshot, but I decided I will push hard on the last 2.5 miles to finish under 28 hours.
Uplifted by a rush of adrenaline, or endorphins (whatever), I ran hard through Weston, swiftly conquered the final climb and then ran hard down to Bath. I passed the Royal Crescent, the Circus and continued to push hard towards the Bath Abbey. At one point however, I panicked at one intersection. Have I just overshot the Abbey? Nooooo!!! After a moment of reflection, I fortunately realised that there were two intersections more. Indeed, the end was around the corner and I crossed the finish line in 27 hours and 57 minutes. I needed 33 minutes for the last 2.5 miles, so not too bad.
I was the 41st runner at the finish line. Out of 106 starters, 62 people eventually crossed the finish line; out of them 15 people under the 24-hour mark. The winner set a new course record of 17 hours and 34 minutes. What an amazing feat!
My Garmin Forerunner recorded a total distance of 166.5 km (104 miles), 11,910 calories and a moving time of 26 hours and 33 minutes. This meant as much as 84 minutes spent at checkpoints. Plenty of time wasted one could say, but I’d argue, that for the level of my fitness and preparation, completely necessary and justified.
While writing these words a week after the race I feel quite well. I had serious muscle soreness for 3 days after the race. My feet survived really well: I didn’t get any blisters at the balls of my feet (which is often my major hindrance). I had 3 insignificant blisters on my toes only.
I finished and ticked off the race, so job done. I am however not very pleased with my performance, because I know I was slow and that I could have finished the race much sooner, if I had had proper training and preparation. Because of a very intensive year, packed with too many races, I missed out to be in top shape. Lesson learned: in the future go for fewer races, but prepare better for them.
I’d like to finish with a positive note. Cotswold Way Century follows a spectacularly beautiful trail and offers a multitude of pretty sights. Not many roads, not much mud, lots of forested areas and well-equipped checkpoints make it a wonderful experience. As it’s also tough because of many hills to climb and descent along the way, it’s a viable candidate for one’s main race of the season.
All the best,
Written by John Kynaston - https://johnkynaston.com
Saturday 10th September 2016
Ever since I came across this race last year I’ve been looking forward to taking part and it didn’t disappoint!
Katrina and I were able to leave work early for the long drive to South Wales. We left at 1.10pm had a couple of stops for a drink and then some food and arrived at the Danywenalt YHA at 9.45pm.
The driving conditions on the way down went from very wet to sunny and back to very wet when we arrived at the race HQ. We missed the 9.30pm briefing but had time to register, get my number (174), be issued with my sportident dibber and leave my drop bag for checkpoint 3.
We headed back to the car and settled in for a comfortable sleep. I woke before my 4am alarm and quite quickly had changed, ate some cereal for breakfast and headed over to the HQ marquee for the race briefing at 4.30am.
Katrina wished me a good race as she continued to sleep. The last thing she said was I hope I can drive the car off the fields as it had rained quite heavily all night. One of the reasons I decided to do this race was that it would give Katrina a chance to visit her family who live very close to the western end of the course.
The race briefing was short but thorough. We were told that as the weather forecast was good we didn’t need to carry waterproof trousers but I couldn’t be bothered to dig them out from the bottom of my rucksack so left them there.
Just before the 5am start it started raining again and I did consider getting my jacket out but I knew there was a climb right from the start and I prefer to start cold as I will soon warm up.
The race has a start which I’ve never done before. Instead of a mass start on a shout or a whistle everyone lines up in single line and your time starts when you dib in the first control.
Those who wanted to run faster were encouraged to go to the front and those who knew they were slower to wait at the back! Someone shouted ‘there will be a lot in the middle then!’ and that’s how it turned out.
I prefer to start about half way down which means I’m not tempted to go off too hard but it was a little trickier to judge. I thought if I wait too long it may take a while to get going. As I was deciding I saw the only person I knew who was running, Karen Nash.
I had a quick chat with Karen and before I realised it I was lined up behind her for the start. I was off at 5.02am in the pitch dark. It was raining very lightly but felt warm enough so I was glad I didn’t put my jacket on. In fact I didn’t wear it at all for the whole race.
The route with checkpoints (CP) and Peaks (P)
CP 1 to CP 2 – 11.35miles
I had a rough plan to try and get round in sub 17hrs which was my silver goal. Because I didn’t know the course I was guessing a bit but felt that it was a realistic goal. If I had a great day then maybe my gold goal of sub 16hrs might be possible.
Due to the staggered start it was very relaxed early on. Over the first half mile or so I caught a couple of people and a couple of people went past me. Once we came out of the woods things settled a bit as we made our way up to the first dibber at Carna Pica.
There are two races the long course and the short course. The short course follows the same route until CP2 when they cut up and join the route after peak 6. So that they also go over 10 peaks there are a couple of extra ones for us which we have to dib as well.
I didn’t work with my heart rate as usual for this run as there is so much climbing I knew it would be hard to control it but I was keen to try and take it as easily as I could so tried to control my breathing.
Half way up I could see a group moving ahead and there seemed to be a bit of a gap behind me but it didn’t take long for a number of them to catch and go past me. I was quite happy as I knew there was a long way to go!
One of those who went past me was a lady who was breathing very hard. I did think that she was maybe pushing it a little too much as there is a long, long way to go and a lot of climbing to do.
My rough plan had 58mins to cover the 3.10 miles so I was quite happy to see that I had reached the marshall at the dibber in 1:01:48. I also noted that it was 3.26 miles so my distances estimates were going to be a little off. I see from the splits I was 35th out of the 113 starters.
Once we were over the top and onto the open ground runners in front were taking various lines. In this race you are allowed to choose your own route as long as you visit all the checkpoints and peaks in the right order.
I had downloaded the gps trace from Evan Davies from Strava. Evan finished 4th in 13:24:41 so I assumed he got most things right! Evans was running again this year and finished in 9th place in 15:13:28 which was almost two hours slower this year. He commented on his strava ‘Not my day.’
Evan’s trace was more to the left so I followed that line whereas most of those in front of me were further to the right. There was a guy in an army type jacket on who was also on my line and he looked as though he was confident in his route choice!
Soon enough though we all came back together and headed towards the second extra dibber called trig 642. The group ahead were moving a lot faster than I was so they were away.
I caught up with the army jacket guy and we chatted for a bit. He told me that he lived locally and ran last year but at about the point we were at he went over on his ankle badly. He carried on even though it swelled up and finished the race but when he visited hospital the next day discovered he had broken his ankle!
He too headed down the hill. Another guy in a yellow jacket went past and I did start to wonder when I would settle into my position. I was happy with my pace and hoped that I would be seeing some of these runners again!
I switched off my head torch about 75mins into the race and it’s always nice to be able to do that so you can see a bit more of what’s around rather than just following a small patch of light in front.
Upper Neuadd Reservoir
We reached a road and I could see the guy in yellow went right. I checked my watch and it said left so I trusted the trace and followed it left. I could see a couple of guys behind me so I wasn’t the only one going that way.
We ran around the head of the dam and then headed up the hill. As I arrived at the gate another runner came towards me who had presumably also got right. I’d not seen him before so figured I’d gained a few places!
I moved up the hill quite comfortably passing a few people on the way. At the top of the hill I could see runners heading off in the distance right but my trace said to go left then right and I soon realised it was to visit the second dibber.
It had taken me 1:08:50 to cover the 4.27 miles against the 1.02:00 I had planned so I was a 10mins down on my plan but as I wasn’t sure of the distances on my plan it didn’t bother me.
The next mile for so was along the ridge with a steep drop to the right. The mist was lifting now and the visibility was getting better all the time. I caught up with a guy and after a quick greeting pushed on as I could see a group of three not too far ahead.
Ridge from trig 642 (photo thanks to Karen Nash)
I was caught by two runners wearing just vests and moving very fast. I had been running for two and half hours by now and was surprised they were running so quickly. As I thought about it I realised they must be the short course runners as they start an hour behind. Either that or they started our race late and were catching up!
The path joined a wide main path to Pen y Fan which we would visit a later. We were heading down to the first checkpoint. I was overtaken by guy wearing the same North Face rucksack as I use. He was moving a lot faster so I watched him disappear down the hill.
Heading towards CP 1
I could see the cars at the CP and soon enough it appeared. I had drank my bottle of Tailwind and had eaten a Chia bar and a yoghurt covered muesli bar. As I approached the CP I emptied the Tailwind powder into my bottle to be refilled.
I had covered the 11.35 miles in 3:02:12. My plan had been 2:50 so I was a bit behind but I felt good and happy with how things were going so far. From the sportident timing I can see now that I was 37th.
CP 2 to CP 2 – 5.84 miles (overall 17.19 miles)
I was in and out the CP in under a minute. The route crosses the road and heads steeply up peak 1 – Fan Fawr. I could see a line of runners ahead to the left but my trace was further to the right so I duly followed that.
It seemed to be a better line as I moved ahead of a few people as I gained 8 places from the checkpoint! From peak 1 to peak 2 there was a boggy section downhill and then another climb up the hill.
There were several sections over wet boggy ground but I didn’t find them too bad. To be honest I was expecting a lot worse and there was a lot more good paths to run on that I expected.
I felt strong on the way up and I certainly felt that my Arrochar Alps run three weeks ago and my double Ben Lomond prepared me for the race.
Fairly near the top I went past two runners who asked me whether I was a short course ninja! When I said no I was doing the long course they looked a little surprised.
As I reached the top of peak 2 Fan Fila I was catching a female runner but then suddenly there was four other runners coming from a slightly different angle.
As I headed down to CP2 I realised that one of the runners was Karen Nash. She explained that she had made a couple of errors which had cost her a few minutes. Again I was thankful for my gps trace that was keeping me right on line!
We headed down to the CP on slightly different lines but arrived together. When Karen gave in her number they said, ‘HQ are trying to get in touch with you as your van is blocking the road!!’
My plan to arrive at CP 2 was 4:32 and I arrived in 4:31:38!! Not bad eh??
CP 2 to CP3 – 5.50 miles (overall 23.09 miles)
I refilled my water bottle, took some jaffa cakes and jelly babies and was off to CP 3. Karen and I left together and chatted as we climbed away from the CP.
I’ve met Karen a few times on the Hardmoors races but I don’t think we’ve run that much together so it was great to chat as we moved along. There are no peaks to dib between CP 2 and CP 3 but there is some climbing to do but it didn’t feel too tough.
Chris Davies soon caught up with us. Chris is over 60 but obviously a very good runner as he was moving very well! Karen and Chris know each other well so I listened on as they caught up with various races they have done recently.
Chris and Karen just ahead
Chris pushed on while Karen and I ran together. After a while Karen, who only got back from a month in the Alps on Tuesday was was till recovering from her biggest race of the year just 3 weeks ago, said not to wait for her as her legs are a bit trashed. I’m sure I’ve heard that before but pushed on.
I wasn’t too far behind Chris and when I arrived at the CP I realised that Karen was just behind me!
This CP had hot food so I decided to have a few minutes here to enjoy some soup as well as my chocolate milkshake which I’d put in my drop bag. I had a space pair of Drymax socks but my feet were feeling fine despite the several soakings so I decided to push on with the pair I was wearing.
CP 3 to CP 4 – 10.69 miles (overall 33.78 miles)
I left the CP just ahead of Karen and Chris. I tried to ring Katrina as in a few minutes the route would cross the road just 400 yards from her Dad’s house. The plan was for Katrina to cheer me on as I went past.
The call went straight through to voice mail and I did wonder whether Katrina had been able to get out of the field. I really hoped so but there was nothing I could do.
Running with Chris (photo thanks to Karen Nash)
Chris and Karen caught up with me and I asked them which way where they going up to peak 3 Fan Brycheiniog? I don’t think they realised there was a choice!
The route on the map we were given was to go straight up onto the ridge to the top but I had seen on strava from previous years that lots of runners had gone right after crossing the river and following the lower ridge before heading to the top. That is the way I had gone last year when I met the race so I had decided to go that way.
When we reached the road there was no sign of Katrina so I did fear the worse. It turns out that yes she couldn’t get the car off the field until 1pm. By then she had rung her dad and he went over to see her but couldn’t find the YHA!
So Katrina spent the whole day at the race HQ which was a shame but at least there was food and somewhere comfy to sit and read! When one of the mountain rescue teams came back to the race HQ they helped Katrina get our car off the field so thanks so much to them for their help.
When we reached the point of decision the guy with the North Face rucksack went straight on. I turned right and I thought Chris followed me but after a while I realised that he wasn’t following me.
I thought it would be interesting to see who reached the top first. Obviously I was expecting it to be me and I was feeling quite smug as I climbed up!
For the first time in a race I had brought poles to use on the climbs so I took them off my pack and set them up to use. I had borrowed Jonny’s poles and after my Ben Lomond run I had ordered a pair but they hadn’t arrived so Jonny very kindly let me borrow his again.
I really did feel they made a big difference on all the climbs from this one onwards.
Climbing Fan Brycheiniog with the higher path to my left
As I reached the tarn there was a big group of walkers heading up but they very kindly let me power past!
When I reached the ridge I couldn’t see Chris or Karen and hoped they we’re still making their way up but I did suspect that they might be ahead!
There were two marshals at the top waiting for all the runners. The climb from the CP 3 had taken me 1:36:08.
From this peak there was an out and back to peak 4 Bannau Sir Gael. It was only 0.89 miles so I knew that either I would see Karen and Chris coming back down towards me or I would see them as I climbed.
Sadly for me it was the latter!! Firstly I saw the guy with the North Face rucksack who must be William Sweeney. He arrived at the peak 16mins ahead of me. David Morris, Chris and Karen were 8-9 mins ahead so they all took some time of me.
It is hard to know whether they would have been quicker anyway even if I went the same way. Maybe they were just stronger up the hill! As Chris went past he said ‘I’m not impressed with your route choice!!’ Thanks Chris!!
I tried to make sure it didn’t affect me as I was moving well and ahead of my sub 17hr schedule. As I descended I passed a couple of guys heading up and then passed another 5-6 as I made my way back to the marshals on peak 3.
View from Peak 3 (photo thanks to Karen Nash)
It was pretty warm by now and I had ran out of water so found a stream with fast flowing water to refill. When I reached the marshals I stopped for a couple of minutes to add my Tailwind to the water and put away my poles for the long descent to CP 4.
I also got out my power pack as my Suunto watch only had 10% battery left. I was relying on my watch for navigation so knew I needed to take time to recharge the battery.
As I left the marshal told me the Man Utd v City game. City were leading 2-1 at half time. The marshal was a United fan so was hoping for a better 2nd half!
As I made my way down one of the runners (in a red top) I saw a few minutes earlier went past me. I felt I needed to regroup a bit as I set off on the descent to CP 4.
From the profile and Andy Cole’s race report I knew that this was another potentially boggy section with a grassy hill to climb half way along.
I was following my gps trace which kept me close to the river. I could ahead that the guy in red had gone further left. I made my way down to the first road, crossed over and headed up the grassy hill.
I could see another runner in black not too far behind me who seemed to be on the same line as me. I couldn’t see the guy in red at all.
The climb up the grassy hill was hard going and I was grateful for the poles as they definitely helped me up the climb. It wasn’t too long until I could see the CP on the road.
I arrived ahead of the guy in black. The descent from peak 4 had taken me 1:31:34 against the planned 1:40. Overall I was now almost 30mins up on my sub 17hr plan and feeling good!
I had a quick stop to refill my water bottle and a chat with the marshals. One of them gave me a helpful tips on the line up Fan Gyhirych. After the first couple of rises aim for the black line in the gully which will lead you directly to the summit. Thanks!
CP 4 to CP 5 – 10.87 miles (overall 44.65 miles)
I left the CP with the guy in black. Once more I got out my poles to help me up this steep climb. The guy commented I wish I had brought some poles!
As I climbed I remembered a chat I’d had with Andy Cole the day before the race. Amongst other helpful tips Andy said that once you had climbed up this peak you had broken the back of the race so that kept me going.
Once again I was grateful for the Munros I had done recently as even though this was a steep slog up it was nothing as hard as Ben Lomond or any of the other mountains I’d climbed in Scotland recently.
The line on my watch was bang on the same tip the marshal had given me so I knew I was spot on. My watch battery was now up over 70% but I decided to keep charing until it reached over 80% as I reckoned that would do me to the end.
Sure enough following the black line which was actually a path I came out right at the cairn at the top. It was always reassuring to see the dibber box waiting for me!
Cairn on Fan Gyhirych (photo thanks to Karen Nash)
From here to peak 6 Fan Nedd I knew it was about 3 miles and with the visibility so good I could see the route quite clearly. I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind which was fine.
I made good progress on the descent and then across a grassy path to the start of the climb to the top of peak 6. I was heading up a path to the left when I realised my gps trace was a bit further over to the right so I headed that way.
It didn’t seem to take too long until I reached the cairn on Fan Nedd. According to my watch it was 2.61 miles and it had taken me 43:59. I had planned 48 mins so again I was a few minutes up!
Sportident dibber on Fan Nedd
A few minutes away from the summit I passed the guy in red and the guy black heading up to the top. I see from the splits that they were Dean and Philip and I was about 7 mins ahead of them.
I knew that the next section to peak 7 Fan Frynych could be tricky as I had seen on strava from last year that one guy continued north and added on another few miles so I was making sure I kept a keen eye on my gps trace and stuck to the line!
I had ran out of water again and as I descended I hoped that I would find a stream to refill. Otherwise the trek up to peak 7 was going to be even tougher!
As I made my way down I could see a car which looked like the mountain rescue waiting at the road. Sure enough it was the mountain rescue with water, coke and some food. I was very grateful to be able to refill my water and have a drink of coke.
I took a few pieces of Soreen and headed off over the grassy moor. This was the point that the short course rejoined the long course.
The next mile or so was on a wide track and I ran as much as I could. I was very pleased with how well I was moving. I had been moving for almost 12hrs so obviously starting to fatigue but really encouraged that nothing was really hurting and I felt I had plenty of energy.
When I had studied the course I saw from the various routes I’d seen on strava that there were a couple of options to the top of Fan Frynych. The route on the map followed the road around like the shape of a goose’s head. But the trace I had cut off the head and so shortened the route.
I was a little uncertain whether to follow the trace I had or just stay on the road further. When I arrived at the point of decision I decided to stay with the gps trace I had as it had served me well so far!
It was a tough little climb over grassy mounds but soon enough I was on the main path and heading up to the peak so I think it was a good move!
As I approached the top I could see 3 people ahead. For a moment I thought that maybe I was catching Karen and Chris but as I got closer I realised that they were on the short course.
I hadn’t really thought about whether I would see any of them but I realised that it did make sense. If they started an hour after us but were going to take over 18hrs I would be catch them.
It was good to dib in to peak 7. The 4.71 miles from peak 6 had taken me 1:31:42. My plan called for 1:15 but I had thought it was 3.80 miles so pace wise I was probably about right! Time wise though I had now been going 12:09:33 against the plan of 12:30 so I was still had 20 mins in the bank!
I thought it was 1.90 miles to CP 5 but it was actually 2.84 miles and I must admit that this section did drag a bit. Once I was over the first rise I could see the Storey Arms building in the distance but the path was taking me a lot further right to avoid dropping down and having to climb back up but it seemed to take for ages to arrive!
The thing that kept me going was another part of Andy’s race report. He wrote that at this checkpoint there is a burger van and as part of your race fee you get to choose any burger and drink.
Now I don’t normally eat a burger during a run but if it’s part of the fee it would rude not to! Anyway it spurred me on to reach the checkpoint!
The 10.87 miles from CP4 had taken me 3:33:07 against the planned 3:13 but I had thought it was 9.30 miles so I felt I was just about right. Overall I was still 11 mins up on my sub 17hrs.
Sure enough I was given a ticket for any meal and drink from the burger van. I did ask whether they had any soup but sadly not! So I asked for an egg, bacon and sausage bap. As I waited for it to arrive I refilled my bottle with pepsi and water and chatted to the marshal.
She explained that some people were going down the road to where CP 1 had been and then going up the path we had come down earlier to the top of Pen y Fan. The way the map showed was straight up from the CP and after the first climb had a short descent before the climb to the top.
I decided to go stick with my trace and race route and go straight up.
CP 5 to finish – 10.02 miles (overall 54.67 miles)
When my bap arrived I couldn’t believe how big it was! It almost took two hands to hold it! I decided to eat it on the way up. I realised that there was no way I could eat it all so decided to eat the egg, bacon and sausage and let the birds enjoy the bread!
It was really tasty and I did it justice except for the bread! Once that was eaten I got out my poles and set off up the hill on the very wide and manufactured path. I could see a number of short course runners ahead and I slowly but surely reeled them in.
Some of then looked as though they were struggling a bit and I thought they were going to be out for a good while yet. I started to think about my finishing time. I had 10 miles to go and 4hrs to do it in if I wanted to get under the 17hrs. I thought that was doable as long as I kept going.
It was just after 6pm and I thought it would be dark by 8.30pm or so. I decided it would be good to try and reach peak 10 or even the extra spot height before it got dark.
I reached the first climb okay then the short descent before tackling the climb up to the ridge. It was all on good paths so I could get a good grip with the poles. It was a case of head down and get this done.
I decided to count up to a hundred clicks of the poles before I was allowed to look up and see where I was! It took me quite a few of them to reach the top but reach it I did!
As I came over the ridge a group of short course runners were coming up the other path. One guy had music blasting out as he walked! He said I’d done well to come up the steps path.
There was a pile of stones at what I thought was the top with a dibber so I checked in and set off for peak 9 Cribyn. I thought it was about a mile away so was quite surprised when I saw another cairn quite soon with another dibber on.
I was just about to congratulate myself on gaining quite a bit of time when I read the plaque Pen y Fan! The earlier one was Corn Du which was one of the short course peaks!
I had climbed the 2.22 miles in 59:12 which was 10mins faster than my plan so things were looking good for my sub 17hr finish.
It was such a lovely evening now with the sun starting to set and clear views all round. The route down then up to peak 9 Cribyn was straight forward and again I could see a few short course runners ahead.
It didn’t take too long to reach the top of Cribyn. A quick stop to dib in and off for the final peak number 10 Fan y Big. Again a clear view of the route around to the peak.
I hadn’t done a video clip for a while so I paused to do that and when I looked back the sun set was amazing.
There was another steep descent before the next climb up to Fan y Big. I was still moving well and the top arrived quite quickly. I dibbed the final peak but there was still one more to go before the final descent to the finish.
There wasn’t much descent and ascent so I could run the majority of the way. It was getting dark by now and I really should have stopped to put on my head torch but decided I should just be able to make the spot height dibber. I passed a few more short course runners who did have their head torches on.
I came to 90 degree turn and I assumed the dibber would be there but it wasn’t. It was a bit further down the track. I stumbled a couple of times in the dark as I ran but I was feeling stubborn by now and wanted to get to the dibber before getting out the head torch.
Thankfully it arrived and I was able to fish out my head torch and set off for the final leg with confidence I could see the ground! It did make a difference.
According to my plan I had 4.60 miles to go and I thought it would take me 1:20. It was now 15:27:52 so I had 1:32 to cover the final section and most of it was downhill so I felt confident of making it. I had thought earlier that I might be able to get nearer 16hrs than 17hrs but sub 16:30 looked a little ambitious.
The race organisers had put out some glow sticks to guide us across the open ground and it helped though my faithful gps line was guiding me home as it had been all day.
I caught another group of short course runners who looked as though they just wanted to get it done now. I was ready to finish but still feel I was going well. Normally in an ultra I’ll have a section where I’m struggling and I have to battle through it but I can honestly say that I never once had that in this race.
Yes I was tiring but nothing was really hurting. I was running strongly downhill which is always a good sign that I have paced it right.
I could see a head torch ahead that kept looking towards me. I thought either he is not sure of the way or expecting someone to come. Once I caught up with him I discovered it was neither! We started chatting and he said do you mind if I try and keep up with you as your torch is so much better than mine. He said he could see me coming for ages!
His name was Arun and is a doctor from Southampton though his family is from India. We had a great chat as we headed down the hill. Arun explained that he had been part of a two man team but his partner was finding it hard and they had been near the end of the field to the first two peaks for the short course. He dropped out after 6hrs so since then he had been working his way through the field.
It was quite slippy coming down the hill and I was glad I kept the poles out on this descent as they did help me stop falling. We reached the woods and I kept a good look out for the gate on the right so I could take the right path to the finish.
Once I reached it I knew I was going to be well inside 17hrs so we pushed on down the hill and over the dam. I was running as hard as I could and wanted to keep going right to the end. Arun suddenly stopped to walk and wished me all the best.
I arrived at the entrance to the YHA and walked the slight rise before running to the finish. Just before I got there I saw our car in parked before the YHA and Katrina looking out for me. I arrived at the marquee finish to dib in for the final time.
I finished 15th in 16:36:14. I was also the first M50 finisher but Chris was ahead who is M60!
Photo with Arun at the finish
Katrina came down and I found out all about her day! Not quite what we had planned. I was able to get a shower and have a cup of tea before heading to bed. We were able to visit her Dad and 93 yr old grandmother the next day before heading home.
I really enjoyed the event and would like to thank the race organisers and all the marshals for all their hard work throughout the preparation and the weekend itself. Also a special mention again to the mountain rescue team who helped Katrina get our car out of the field!!
I would definitely recommend the race but be warned there is a lot of climbing on rough terrain so prepare well!
Written by John Kynaston - https://johnkynaston.com
Saturday 8th October 2016
The ‘Lakes in a Day’ ultra was my fifth and final ultra of 2016 and I was really looking forward to it. When I was looking for another race to do at the end of my season it ticked all the boxes. My good friend Andy Cole had run it for the last two years and really enjoyed it. Also I’d heard lots of good things about the race organisers Open Adventure.
The main decision though was the route. I love the Lake District and wanted to do another race there. The two other races I’ve done in the Lakes, Lakeland 100 and Lakeland 110k are circular routes, whereas this one was an A to B down the whole length of the Lakes so I would see lots of different views and terrain.
I left Paisley at 5.15pm and drive down to the finish at Cartmel arriving just after 9pm. I was on my own for this one as Katrina decided looking after Micah while Laura was busy at a church event was more fun than waiting for me all day!!
The registration was very easy and relaxed. It was good to chat to race organiser James Thurlow. James had entered my ‘Guess My Time’ competition with a guess which would be the course record! He wondered whether anyone appreciated his joke!!
I had a good chat with a couple of guys who are doing the White Rose ultra in four weeks and had seen my video. They are doing the 100 mile version so I tried my best to give them an idea of what it will be like. It is 3 laps of 30 miles plus a 10 mile loop at the end. I reckon one of the hardest things will be the mental side of things. I hope they do well!
I was sleeping in my car so went to bed about 10.30pm, read for a bit before drifting off to sleep. I woke about 4am and dozed until my 5am when I got up. In the next half an hour I dressed, visited the toilet and boiled some water for my porridge. On the way down I realised I’d forgotten to pack my skins that I’ve been wearing for every ultra since 2008. I hoped I would cope without their protection!
In was still very dark but the guy next to me, Jim, recognised me from the Lakeland 100 and some Hardmoors events. He had also slept in his car but was feeling a bit cold. Once we were ready we wandered over to the coaches that were taking us to the start at Caldbeck. I did have a quick look for Andy who was running again but most people were on the coaches. I sat with Jim and we chatted most of the 90min journey to Caldbeck.
It was light by the time we arrived so I had plenty of time to get myself ready, take some photos and look through the route on the map for the last time.
I was just doing a video clip before the start when Andy walks up so I interviewed him asking him for two top tips. Firstly he said make sure you take enough water for the stretch between Threlkeld and Ambleside as the only place to replenish is Grisdale Tarn and secondly watch the navigation between Ambleside and Cartmel.
With a brief race briefing from James we were off right on the stroke of 8am. It seems all Open Adventure races start promptly. Maybe James should have a word with Jon Steele as all the Hardmoors events I’ve done start late!!!
Photo thanks Mountain Fuel
Leg 1 Caldbeck to Threlkeld (10.29 miles)
Even though I’ve not done the race before I was able to work out some mini-splits from previous years. In particular I had the gps trace was Kim Collison who won the race last year on my watch. The only part of the route I had done was the first climb up to High Pike as the Tour of Skiddaw goes the same way.
I was keen to start very easy making sure my heart rate was comfortable and I wasn’t breathing too hard. I had a slight problem with the first …. my heart rate strap wouldn’t talk to my Suunto but I was relaxed about it as I’ve done enough now to know what my breathing should be like if I’m trying to go steady.
Photo thanks to Mountain Fuel
I’m always fascinated by the size of people’s packs. There are the odd ones where I really wonder how they have got all the compulsory kit in but there are far more that look as though they have two of everything and some extra. It doesn’t make sense to me to carry any more than you need to especially on a day like this one.
The weather was superb with no wind, blue skies and a very pleasant temperature. Plus the forecast was more of the same all day and it wasn’t wrong. I wore my favourite long sleeved green top, shorts, Drymax socks and Sketchers. Plus a visor to shield my eyes from the sun!
Once we got onto the open fell and started climbing up High Pike I tried to count how many people I could see winding their way up the hill ahead of me. I reckon there were between 70-80 runners in front of me. I settled in behind two guys who were chatting about various races they had done and were planning to do which was really interesting. One of the guys said after only a year or two of running ultras he got a place in the Western States!
Long line of runners heading up High Pike
Everyone that I could see was following the same path up the hill except for one guy in yellow who took off to the left and climbed higher sooner. I lost sight of him but caught him later on so it looks like he took a better line than the rest of us!!
I reached High Pike in 53mins 01secs which was a couple of minutes under my target. I had splits for 13hrs 30mins. My plan was to keep just ahead of those and if things went really well to achieve my gold time of sub 13hrs. I certainly wouldn’t be able to blame the weather.
A few people went past me on the downhill before the stone hut but I caught them again by the time we crossed over the first smaller river. It was quite boggy ground so my feet were wet but with the super qualities of my Drymax socks they were soon dry again.
Heading down with Blencathra in the distance
There was another climb followed by a longer descent to the larger river called Graigiegill Beck. The route from High Pike to Blencathra was marked on the map as open route choice. I was following Kim’s line which took me off to the left with a few others whereas the majority were going right.
Photo thanks to Mountain Fuel
We all came back together to cross the river. In previous year’s they had built a temporary bridge but the river wasn’t too bad so we had to wade through. It was deep enough to come up to my thighs but my feet were soon dry again. Did I mention how good Drymax socks are??
According to my plan I had 45mins to cover the 2.60miles to the top. There was a line of runners ahead so I settled into my pace and headed up. Over the climb to the top I must have gone past at least 30 runners. I didn’t feel I was pushing particularly hard but maybe others had gone off a little too hard on the first climb.
As I passed one group of runners a guy, who saw my poles strapped to my rucksack, said ‘I see you are using poles now.’ I didn’t recognise him but he said that I had run with him at the Lakeland 100 last year and when he dropped his poles I said, ‘Best place for them!!’ I apologised and moved on!!
It was misty on the top so the views were hidden a little bit but you could still see the ground below. As the race uses a tracker you don’t have to dip in anywhere but there a number of marshals to cheer us on and make sure we took the Hall’s ridge down.
Reaching the top of Blencathra – this was the only poor visibility all day!
This was the only bit I did my aborted recce so I knew it was fairly technical and tricky for the first 5-10 mins before getting easier. A few people commented that they had watched my video when I fell and cut my hand!
I was extra careful on my way down but still managed to overtake a few people. One guy said ‘I’m not very happy on this terrain as I’m a townie’ as I passed him.
Photo thanks to James Kirby
It was getting quite warm now as I had finished off my first bottle of Tailwind I was looking forward to being able to resupply at the first feed station at Threlkeld.
My good friend Dave Troman had said he was planning to come out to see me pass through the checkpoint. I had said my plan was to be at Threlkeld for 10.50am and I was pleased to see I was going to be spot on. As I went past a farm there he was coming towards me with him camera out for a photo.
Photo thanks to Dave Troman
We ran the quarter of a mile or so into the checkpoint chatting about various things. Dave told me he had done the Keswick parkrun and then jumped in the car with Tracey to come to see me. We have done so much running in the Lakes together so it was great to see him.
Arriving at the Threlkeld with Dave. Photo thanks to Mountain Fuel
We arrived at the checkpoint in 2:47:07 which was very pleasing especially as I was feeling really good with no issues at all. Dave very kindly filled my water bottle with Tailwind and my soft flask with water while I had a couple of cups of orange juice, three pieces of melon and took with me half a banana and a bag of jelly babies. There was a whole variety of food available including massive cobs with ham and cheese but I didn’t fancy any of that!
Getting my Tailwind out to refill. Photo thanks to Dave Troman
Leg 2: Threlkeld to Helvellyn (9.02 miles Overall 19.31 miles)
As I left the checkpoint Tracey was there cheering on the runners. I paused for a quick high five and sweaty kiss on the cheek (sorry Tracey!!) and headed off for the next climb up Clough Head. Dave ran out with me for half a mile or so and we chatted about doing some recce runs for the Ring of Fire race around Anglesey that I want to do next year.
Once Dave headed back I continued to run along the cycle track catching a few runners. I was really pleased with how I was feeling. Three hours into the race and I felt as though I was just getting going which was just as well as there was a big climb coming up next!
Just as we left the cycle track to cross the road and back onto the cycle track I caught up with Gus Bowman. I’d seen Gus before the race and he was telling me he had his 60thbirthday recently so this was his first race as a M60 runner! His wife was there taking photos and cheering him on.
I passed another runner just before leaving the cycle path. I tried to leave it open for him but it closed before he got there. I did apologise but he said, ‘Don’t worry. It is a race we are in!’
As I walked up the road before going into the open fell I got my poles from my rucksack and got them ready for the climb. I’d not used them until this point as I wanted to leave them until this climb. It was a good decision as the field was spread out by now and I won’t have to worry about stabbing anyone.
Not long after going through the gate a guy went past me running up the hill. My strategy is to walk all the hills and run everything else. I feel I could run some of the hills especially early on but I think it takes more out of you than you gain.
Sure enough by the time we reached the top I had caught him and at least 8-10 other runners. I was slowly but surely working my way through the field. I’ve done a spread sheet of the results and I reckon I was 75th at Threlkeld and 51st by the time I reached Helvellyn so I had gone past a few runners.
It was a long slog up Clough Head but I kept moving steadily. I do a lot of counting on the climbs. My favourite for this climb was to count 50 clicks of the poles then look up to see how far to go then head down for another 50. Sure enough you reach the top!
View towards Keswick from Clough Head
It had taken me 1:02:57 from the checkpoint to the top which was a few 5mins slower than my plan but it was 3.49 miles against the 3.20 miles I thought it was. My Suunto showed that I had climbed 1926ft.
The views were absolutely stunning. Blue skies, no wind and lots of hills and lakes to enjoy. I didn’t stop to ponder as Dave had said that the next section to Helvellyn gave lots of opportunity to run. The race route basically follows the Bob Graham route along this ridge but don’t need to go over all the Dodd peaks on the way.
I packed away my poles and stored them in my waist band as I knew I’d need them again pretty soon. There were a few runners around me as I passed a few and then got passed by a couple. This was repeated a few times with the same and different runners.
There was one climb where runners were taking a different line. There were some runners ahead going higher before bearing right while others were heading right sooner and staying lower. My line had the higher line so I stayed with it but I could see the runners who had gone right sooner seemed to be ahead of me so I maybe lost a few minutes on that one.
I stopped at one cairn to refill my tailwind in my water bottle with the water from my soft flask. It took a couple of minutes but well worth it as it was pretty warm and I really needed to keep drinking. My main fuel supply was my Tailwind so I needed to make sure I was drinking enough. I did eat the jelly babies on this section to Helvellyn.
The view towards Helvellyn was superb. Striding Edge looked very formidable. I thought back to the first time I met Katrina. We had walked from Glenridding to Helvellyn over Striding Edge with a mutual friend. Katrina had never climbed a mountain at that point and she absolutely loved it even though her boots were two sizes too big! I remember thinking she’s the girl for me! I wasn’t wrong.
The final climb to the summit was very busy with walkers and I caught up with a Dad and his young son and daughter. He asked what race we were doing and seemed impressed with how far we had gone and how far still to go. His son was keen to run with me!
It had taken me 2:30:42 for the 9.02 miles from Threlkeld to the summit. I had now been going for 5:20:42. My sub 13:30 plan was 5:33:00 so I was encouraged that I was ahead of schedule and maybe my gold of sub 13hrs might be possible. There was still a long way to go so I felt encouraged with how things were going so far.
Leg 3: Helvellyn to Ambleside (9.15 miles Overall 28.45 miles)
I didn’t hang around at the top though the views were amazing and I could have stayed there for a while to enjoy them.
One of the reasons I like doing a recce run is to really take time to enjoy the views. I find in the race I’m a lot more focused and wanting to get on with the race.
Looking back towards Helvellyn
There was a good downhill section, then another short climb before a long descent to Grisdale Tarn. There were a few mountain bikers going up and down. I don’t think I’d fancy either way on a bike! I didn’t have too much water left so I rationed it knowing that I could refill at the tarn.
I was on my own but I could see a couple of runners ahead. I wondered whether I could catch them by the time I reached the tarn. The descent was quite steep but zigzagged down on large stones that had been laid out. In the race instructions we were told to stay on the path as they are trying to reduce the amount of corrosion.
I slowly caught and passed two runners on the way down. I remarked how quiet and still it was. I think it was in contrast to how busy it was on Helvellyn. It suddenly felt we were miles from civilisation on a glorious autumn day.
I mentioned to a guy in yellow that he had been a speck in the distance. He replied, ‘Don’t rub it in!!’ After the race he sent me this tweet ….
It was good to reach the tarn and the stream. I stopped to drink some water then fill up my water bottle so I could add my Tailwind as I started up the hill.
Photo thanks to Ian Corless
I knew the climb up Fairfield was going to be steep but I also knew that it was going to be the final big climb of the day. There would be lots of smaller ascents to come but this was the last longer effort.
I had my poles out again and returned to my counting, looking up, counting again. I must admit I found the final few minutes hard going. One of the runners I caught on the way down was now right behind me. I asked whether he wanted to go by but he was happy to follow.
After a few more minutes I paused to drink and let him go past as I felt I was trying to go at his pace rather than mine. I followed him up and it was good to reach the summit of Fairfield. The 1.07 mile from the tarn had taken me 32:15 which was by far my slowest mile of the race!
View from Fairfield
I decided to stop for a couple of minutes to pack away my poles and reattach them to the outside of my bag as I knew I wouldn’t need them again for the rest of the race. As I did so I chatted to a group of walkers who were resting in the stone shelter.
Looking back towards Helvellyn from Fairfield
They encouraged me that I was almost half way. I replied that the hardest half was now over, I was feeling good and ready to keep going to the finish and that’s how I felt.
I thought it was 4.10 miles to the next Feed Station at Ambleside but it turned out to be 5.69 miles. It did feel a long descent with plenty of ascent as well. There were some rocky sections that I was starting to struggle on and a couple of runners caught me. I find after 6-7 hrs of running my legs are tiring and I find it hard to skip down as others do.
But there were also sections of gradual descent on grassy paths and I was running really strongly on those sections and caught up with the runners who had passed me. So we all have strengths and weaknesses.
Ambleside and Lake Windermere
Not too far from Ambleside I went right into a bog so both feet were covered in mud over my ankles. Initially I had thought I wouldn’t change shoes at Ambleside. I had put a spare pair of Drymax socks and Sketchers just in case as the race offered that opportunity.
As I ran down into the town I decided I would take a few more minutes to change my socks and shoes as I thought it would be good to have clean socks for the final 20 miles to Cartmel.
It felt strange running through the busy town of Ambleside after the quietness of the hills. I few people knew a race was going on so clapped and cheered as I ran past. Others had no idea that we had run almost 30 miles!
I reached the checkpoint in 7:47:50 which was just outside my 7:45:00 plan. The leg from Helvellyn had taken 2:27:08 against the 2:12:00 on my plan but I was still pretty close to my 13:30 plan.
The checkpoint volunteers were superb. Before I asked they brought over my shoe bag. I spent 10 mins and in that time I changed my socks and shoes, ate some pasta, drank some coke, refilled my water bottle with Mountain fuel and took some water in my soft flask for later.
There were other runners sitting and some seemed to be a lot more relaxed that me! They were sitting back chatting whereas I was all action as I wanted to get going as soon as I could.
Leg 4: Ambleside to Finsthwaite (14.18 miles Overall 42.64 miles)
I ran out of the checkpoint on my own but was joined by a lady who had been out for a run and was returning to her car. She said that people had mistaken her for a runner in the race and she been clapped through the town!
My feet felt superb and even though I took a bit longer in the checkpoint that I planned I knew that it was going to be worth it as it felt so good having clean socks and shoes.
I ran all the way to the road, crossed over and onto the cycle path. When it started climbing I walked as my plan was to walk all the hills from now on and run everything else. Not long after a runner in blue went past me running up the hill. I was impressed that he was running strongly but wondered whether I would see him again.
For the next couple of miles the route followed the road then went onto a lovely man made trail to side of the path. I was running strongly and slowly caught up with a runner in black and then I could see the runner in blue not too far ahead.
Once I caught up with him we ran together off and on for the next couple of hours. He was Alex Reilly. I’d had various quick chats with runners as I passed them but this was the longest chat I’d had all day and it certainly helped pass the time and miles.
Alex works for Rat Race as their marketing manager so it was interesting finding out about how that works. He had also done the Cape Wrath ultra this year which is the 8 day race in the north of Scotland. Alex is 27 so I did smile to myself that I was 30 years older than him!!
Alex just ahead with the light starting to fade
We caught up with another couple of guys and the four of us ran together, separated and came back together a few times over the next few miles. It was a lovely section for running through the woods to the side of Lake Windermere. There were a couple of times when we were very close to the lake but most of the time it was out of sight.
As we reached the YHA HQ Alex was just ahead and the two guys were behind. We reached the road and I thought I saw Alex running down the road to just followed him. It turns out the route crosses the road and heads up the woods.
Once I turned the next corner I couldn’t Alex ahead and the line on my Suunto was off to the right of where I was going. I looked into the woods but couldn’t see anything but trees. Certainly no path so I carried on. I heard someone shout but couldn’t make out what they were saying but I suspected they were trying to help me.
Just when I thought I might have to turn round and retrace my steps I saw a gate and a path heading up into the woods. I decided to head up there and hope that it would rejoin the race route. I got out my iphone and checked on my app UK map and sure enough I could see that the path I was on would get me back on line.
It was a very steep climb and I thought that I had added some distance to the route but hopefully not too much. I also assumed that Alex and the other two guys would be ahead now.
My arrow and the line on my watch came together and I was relieved that I had not lost too much time. I went up the path a bit too far. I turned round and saw that the signs were there pointing right. As I had come up the path I had missed them.
Red line = race route Blue line = my route!
It was getting pretty dark by now but I was happy to be back on track and decided to try and get to the last Feed Station at Finsthwaite before getting my head torch out. I assumed that Alex was ahead still but I couldn’t see anyone ahead. I went past Ian Corless who set up his camera and large light to capture some night photos.
I ran into the final Feed Station in the dark at 11:06:42 against my 13:30 plan of 11:08! Pretty close. I was surprised that Alex wasn’t in the checkpoint and thought maybe I had lost even more time than I thought. I had a quick drink of coke, ate some watermelon and refilled my water bottle with flat coke.
I was keen to get going as soon as I could so after just under 3mins I was out the door.
Leg 5: Finsthwaite to Cartmel (8.04 miles Overall 50.68 miles)
Just as I left the hall Alex walked in! He told me later than when the guy shouted me he thought they were shouting him so he went back down and wasted some time. So that was why he was behind me rather than in front. I apologised and was on my way.
It was pitch dark as I made my way across the field and headed to the finish. I wasn’t sure of the distance but thought it was at least 7.50 miles. According to my watch it was 8.04 miles. I was still feeling good so was able to run all the downs and flats and walked hard on the ascents.
I was a slower on the more technical parts but happy that I was moving okay. I couldn’t see any light ahead and I don’t like to look behind so I was very much on my own.
After about 30mins a couple of guys caught me. They were moving better over the tricky stuff than I was but I was able to stay with them on the path and road. We chatted about our finishing time. They were keen to get under 13hrs.
I realised I wasn’t going to make that so had decided I wanted to be closer to 13hrs than 13:30 which kept me working as hard as I could. There have been times when I know I’m comfortably inside my goal that it’s hard to keep the intensity going.
Once we reached a trickier bit again they were away and I didn’t see them again until the finish. They told me they missed 13hrs by a few seconds!
I hoped that no-one else would catch me but if someone does there’s not much you can do! I was running as hard as I could and if someone was going better than me then well done to them! A runner in black did catch me and pushed on to finish 7mins or so ahead.
One of the two guys who went past had done a recce run recently of this section and said there is one final hill up a field before dropping down to the road for the final couple of miles into the village and the finish at the school.
Once the field arrived I knew I didn’t have too far to go. I took a split at the road to see what pace I could finish in. It was a small country road with no cars and downhill all the way to the village. I ran all the way and was looking forward to getting to the finish.
There were a few people out in the village and three ladies in particular gave me a big cheer as I ran past their house. The school was at the far end of the village so it seemed to take for ages to arrive.
I crossed the road and ran into the school grounds, under the finishing banner to be greeted by James. He gave me a medal and gave me my time 13:09:06.
Photo thanks to James Kirby
I was really happy with that! I explained to James by navigational mistake but as it didn’t cut any of the course it was fine.
Over the next couple of hours I rang Katrina, had a lovely hot shower, a superb massage from two students from Cumbria University and enjoyed a lovely baked potato with cheese and beans.
Students from Cumbria Uni who gave me a superb massage
It was good to chat to various runners who had finished and cheer others in as they reached the school. Andy Cole came in on 11pm for a time of 15:00:41 Andy had enjoyed his day out as well.
I really enjoyed the race and have nothing but praise for James and all his team of volunteers. I would definitely recommend the race!
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