Written by Deidre O'Riordan
Since the start of my trail running adventure, my imagination was captured by the enormity of the Kerry Way Ultra. And I looked upon the ultra runners who undertook this challenge with awe and envy, knowing that I had little chance of ever attempting such an epic 200k trail race. So when the 55k Ultra Lite was announced I pounced on the chance to experience just a taste of what it’s like to run the Kerry Way. I have to say that I signed up one night, my laptop on my knees in bed and my credit card in hand, a very dangerous combination as I tend to be easily enticed by beautiful landscapes and the odd notion that I too could run such heroic trails. But, so far, my odd notions have carried me across the line at some pretty tough races, Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon, The Wicklow Way Ultra and the Mont Blanc Marathon so the Kerry Way...sure why not!
Fast forward to a wet and foggy Saturday morning in Sneem and the unlikely sight of a bunch of already damp runners, tightly huddled under Mrs Doyle’s small Hospitality tent, having a ‘how many ultra runners can you fit under an awning’ competition, passing the time before the race start....as you do! The rain is clearly not having a dampening effect on our mood as the banter flies back and forth at a faster pace than I’ll be running in a short while.
Time for a group photo of the mad people who are about to run all day in the rain for the craic!.... count down....cheer.... and we’re off! Up a soggy lane onto an even soggier lane and on into the first mud bath, followed by a veritable mud fest!! It was as if all the rain and water in Ireland converged upon Kerry that day churning the trails up into the deepest, thickest, stickiest mud ever!!! From the get go shoes and feet were sodden with water, and weighed down by mud and cow shite...yep, looking down at my legs I couldn’t discern the mud from the shite! And you just have to laugh as you wade through yet another field of sludge, slipping and sliding, trying not to fall on your arse and failing..and on and on....is there no end to this feckin shite we collectively think...cursing and laughing at each other’s efforts to run, stumble and shuffle our way through.
Eventually, the runners spread out and I found myself on my own, some runners still visible ahead and behind having reached the open mountain above Kenmare. And in the distance a familiar figure waves...a struggling 200k ultra runner, exhausted and suffering with mangled feet from a gruelling run all day and through the night. Unable to run by a team mate in need, I decided to walk with Duncan off the mountain and into Kenmare where we almost hijacked a lift from a very helpful lady on her way to work. Leaving Duncan to his lift, at this point I started to think my race was over having lost a lot of time and overtaken by a bunch of runners. But there was no way Niall and Pat were going to let me quit at the Kenmare check point, thanks guys. I was swiftly packed off with a few wine gums and sent up the ‘hill from hell’ out of Kenmare! Who in God’s name put that never ending (expletive, expletive, expletive!!!) hill right there?!? Shower of sadists!! And so, powered by expletives and the happy company of the two Pauls, I made it up and was once more on my way, leaving the lads behind me.
The next section was stunning, savage and brutally beautiful with churning black clouds lingering over the mountains, brief splashes of sunlight painting the landscape golden, heather purple and rain drop sprinkled slivery webs, swaying in the gorse. Here I was totally alone, no one in sight and it was glorious!! I ran and stopped to look and soak in this visceral beauty and ran on to stop again and again to look and become part of it. This is why I am a trail runner, for these moments of feeling fully alive and in the right place doing what I’m supposed to do as a human being. Ah feck am I turning into a hippy!!
And then there was pain...dull aching pain in my left hip and stinging pain in the soles of my water sodden feet. There was much less mud from now on but still some rivers to wade through keeping my feet constantly wet. The rivers however were delicious to aching muscles and it was very tempting to linger too long ..but the mantra...’just keep moving, keep moving, keep moving’ kicked in and playing mind games with myself I could keep running...’run until the next tree then you can walk...sure you’re here now why not run to that gate then walk’ and so on and on. Eventually casual walkers began to pass me by in the opposite direction giving me nods, some pitying stares (well I was covered in mud and shite!!) as well as much welcome words of encouragement so I knew I must be getting closer to civilisation again. This spurred me on across the final stages of the Old Kenmare road until I reached Torc waterfall where I just had to stop and like take a selfie like...which will forever stay unseen...the mad head on me!!.
I’d like to say I thundered down the steps and wowed the ascending tourists with my nimble feet and nonchalant speed and in my deliriously weary head that’s what was happening...but in reality, I shuffled slowly and achingly down step by tortuous step, a bedraggled and muddied figure with my own cloud of flies!!. At the bottom of Torc I found myself in a moment close to the edge, on the brink... tipping over...tears welling...holding back a sob....not knowing which way to turn?...up the road?...across into Muckross?...brain just gave up! A handy signpost just here would have been like heaven on a stick to my weary, befuddled brain. Luckily, some homing instinct (either that or the call of beer!!) drove me across the road into Muckross where I accosted an unsuspecting cyclist, shouting at them for directions to Killarney town. I must have looked like some crazed, feral thing as she shouted back directions with a look of ‘oh jaysus!’ on her face as she swiftly pedalled away.
There followed the home stretch that just kept stretching....on a long path through Muckross where I caught up with the worn and weary but heroic Jason. We feckin cursed our little feckin heads off all the way up the very long, long feckin long feckin road, keeping each other going, to the feckin brewery and the finish line for an amazing finish of the 200k for Jason and what turned out to be 58k for me!!!
The story doesn’t end there as the craic at the breakfast on Sunday morning is as much part of the Kerry Way Ultra as the race itself...bragging rights have been won by all, war stories are swopped, tales of mud and shite, and mangled feet are displayed like trophies. And all the pain is forgotten, like childbirth!! Sure we’ll do it again, why not...see you next year lads!!
Written by Stephen McAllister
200km distance, 9 check points, 20,000 feet of climb across mountains, fells, woodland, trail, bog and the occasional bit of road or runnable
trail, a Master Class of Trail Running.
Having heard about the Kerry Way Race since last year I had set out this as one of my highlights for the year and it didn't disappoint, it was through and through the most enjoyable race I've taken part in.
This race is self sufficient, meaning preparation is key. You have 9 checkpoints along the way each with a drop bag (if you remembered to pack one) and a few options to snatch some food in the shops during daylight or chance the Fish & Chips in the evening.
My plan was simple, pack an equal amount of food + drink in each bag with a combination of energy bars, gels, sweets and oats/slow release energy. Plus I made sure I had spare socks, clothes etc in each bag in case the weather turned. I packed much more than I needed but felt its better to go in and have than get stuck at night without any food. Plus anything that you didn't need you could just throw in the bag and collect at the end of the race. While they had water to spare the race couldn't guarantee water so on the safe side its wise to pack a few bottles throughout.
For training I focused on getting in the miles and working on the trail up in the woods. This race has a bit of every trail so you need to be a solid all rounder to do well. My weak point and one area which its hard to replicate is training on the rocks and the technical descents. A fair amount of the course is hard trail and a lot of technical running similar to the Lakelands especially quite early on and also on the closing stages of the race.
To the start about 40 brave souls took up the gauntlet this year and with no clear favourite this was very much an open race. With a 6am start on the Friday, we set off still in darkness. My plan, just go with the flow and wait till day light before checking where I actuallywas or what lied ahead on the route. After the first hour I was told if your trying to follow the route by map “Your Screwed” and insteadjust look for the Kerry Way sign posts and trail markers, which to be fair were pretty solid for most of the trail, although just relying on trail signs for a day and a half starts to mess with your head if you
haven't seen a sign in awhile or thought you missed one.
Having prepared to experience all 4 seasons, you'd couldn't have picked better weather for running and almost felt spoilt as we just had good weather for the whole weekend. Each checkpoint was a good 19km (ish) distance apart so you had a fair amount of ground to cover and a whole lot of climb.
Going through the black valleys, my sugar levels just tanked, I felt nauseous and couldn't get into any rhythm and had trouble adjusting to technical running. I quickly watched Mark & Paul put on their best mountain goat impressions and bounce through the valleys. By the time I'd reached the next checkpoint all the lads I was with had pushed on ahead and I just went back to plan B, take it easy, drop back and just enjoy the weekend and run within myself rather than push it.
The views throughout were just stunning, each climb you'd felt an injustice if you didn't take a stop to admire the land. After then leaving the valleys, getting some sugar in the system and settling into a gentle pace the route from Glengar to Glenbeigh was easy going with a few more runnable sections and a change to softer trail to run on. Although a few folk missed a couple of crucial turns to banking in some extra bonus mileage.
On arrival to Foilmore we were warned that next section to Waterville would be interesting. A two part journey into purgatory. Banding together with two lads, Billy & Darren the first section was a long trek across a fell where false ridges where ever present. After a dozen climbs and 2.5hours on the fell we realised we had only covered 8km and had another monster of a fell to cross. After a lot of swearing we started the second climb. With the second climb came nightfall and reminiscing about times on The Fellsmen without a second set of eyes you could easily lose track on the fell and go miles off course. Especially as you couldn't trust the fence line as a safety net for this climb.
Coming into Waterville I was forewarned of the Charlie Chaplin Statue but still after 100km in the bag its a odd sight to see. Next up heading into Caherdaniel, we felt revigerouted and with a few more runnable sections was able to start making some progress into the night although tiredness and fatigue were starting to play tricks on us.
Arriving at Caherdaniel, my stomach dropped and a tactical pit stop in the bushes was almost fatal as my legs almost gave way. To settle my body I took a cocktail of imodium, ibuprofen and pro-plus, while this sorted my body out for the next hour I felt like I was on an ACID trip with my head going every way but Sunday and unable to think straight.
At first I though I was losing the plot when the ground around you started to move and hundreds of eyes were watching you. Only did I realised there were sheep every where. While it was a grand ride I needed to focus so I knocked but x2 gels and got back into the race to coast into the next checkpoint at Sneem.
Given a bike escort into the checkpoint we were once again picking up the pace and it was now just a case of ticking off the mileage and taking it in our stride. With dawn only a couple of hours away a second wind would soon kick in and a finish was all the more likely. The course became much more friendly and while we didn't make use of the more runnable sections it provided a great rest bite for what was to come.
After leaving Templenoe the route to Kenmare was simply a frustration as you would loop round and round, across numerous hills before coming into town at which point the sun had come into full swing. With a mix of soft trail, a fair amount of road it would have been a great spot to eat up the mileage, however we opted for the cautious option knowing that the last section was a 30km stint.
Arriving in Kenmare we had the chance to see the end of a triathlon taking part and could focus on one last push to home. The route, a monster of a climb up a road hill and then along a ridge back towards the start. From there just a long technical run back off the hills towards Killarney. At this point we split up and just went for broke knowing the finish was in the bag and just had to push on.
Coming into Killarney a lad from Israel caught up with me and asked if it was alright to finish ahead of me on the line, seeing as he had his flag at the ready it seemed no bother to me. I had a comfortable finish just under 36 hours, went off to get some food from the chip shop only to find out they hadn't stopped my tracker so I lost a couple of spots by the time I got back. Early on I decided I was going to hang back and enjoy the ride rather than race it and enjoyed every moment of the race through and through knowing I had much more left in the tank if need be to go hell for leather.
A great bonus the following day was a lunch buffet at the Malton in Killarney, where you could catch up with all the other runners, share war stories and get some food back in you before setting off. It made for a much more friendly feel as you all felt as one team. Although if I went through what Mark Bissett had to I'd have taken a firing squad (bonus miles, no head torch for sections and being frog marched back into the forest for night running, a true machine)
In short I highly recommend the Kerry Way Ultra, has a wide range of trail, great support and the Irish know how to look after their runners. The only thing I will say is you will also be a master on the stair master by the end of the race. Instead of gates the Irish give you 100's of stairs to climb across and the on the last section on the ridge you have to jump from rock to rock and I mean jump or just fall in the stream.
Written by Andy Mouncey - http://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/
‘I really hope this works, Andy…’
15 seconds into the race and Co-Race Director Marc Laithwaite appears to be having doubts about where he’s placed his bets this year. The reason? Last year’s second placer – that’s me, dear reader – has just walked past him right at the back of the field appearing not to have a care in the world as the rest of the 233 runners stream away from the start.
I find out later that he was not alone in the raised eyebrow department: A whole bunch of folks did a big collective ‘What the f***?!?!’
Bless ‘em – but they didn’t know what I knew: I had a plan, and I was just working the plan. It was just that that plan was the exact opposite to last years’.
Truth be told, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that. I wanted to take in the experience of the start – much more support here this year with the bigger field – and I needed a walk to let some emotions bleed out. You see, I’d prepared for a stack of scenarios in advance of this race, but there was one that took me completely by surprise: The number of people who greeted me pre-start with words along the lines of:
We’re rooting for you, Andy.
This is your year, mate.
We really want you to do it this time.
Back at the tent I sit down very quietly feeling quite humbled by the whole experience. Charlotte (my wife) looks at me in that wife way and I tell her.
A huge smile and a hug is her response: ‘But that’s because we all love you and just want you to do well!’
‘I know that, but - oh, bloody hell!’
This would all have been fine except for one teeny weeny detail: I’d had an almost completely different prep period for this race than I’d had for my previous two outings. The length of my specific training period and the content of that was, well, like nothing I recognised. Some of that was by chance and some of it was by design.
A result was that many of my usual indicators of readiness were missing – which meant I really had no clue as to my condition. I mean, I figured I was in OK shape – but how that actually translated? ‘Might as well ask the audience.
Except this audience clearly expect me to deliver a win – and nowhere in The Plan did it mention the word ‘win’.
But you’re not going to let these people down, now are you?
Er…’get back to you on that one, can I?’
So I needed the walk ‘cos there was a bunch of re-framing to be done before Mr Fridge was back in control.
So I walked, looked, took it all in, and went to work on the inside stuff. And I actually thought I held it together quite well as there were indeed a few wobbly bottom lip moments.
And all that in the first 200 yards. Jeez! I’ve got a night and day of this stuff yet!
But it’s a good plan for a goal that has taken me a long time to be at peace with.
The Plan – like any good plan, was simple:
Start at the back.
Walk the first bit.
Keep it relaxed, easy and in your bubble all the way to Howtown (65miles)
Fast through the checkpoints.
Walk anything that’s vaguely uphill.
Use the poles from Howtown on the climbs.
You can start racing at 65 miles.
The Plan got underlined and refined at Race Briefing after a few words from non other than special guest Joss Naylor:
‘Keep it relaxed, easy,’ said the great man.
‘Enjoy it and stay in the present.’
Relax, easy, be in the present.
And The Goal?
Finish having run as even a pace as you can. Do it right and it should only get interesting in the final third/quarter. One out of two people DNF this race, so a finish is special. Remember that. Anything else is a bonus. Finish with a run and a smile. Your boys need to see you happy and making good on a commitment – so finish.
Past the pubs in Coniston and equilibrium is returning. I’m chugging along quite happily in the late afternoon sunshine already starting to weave through the field. Sometimes chatting and fielding the occasional ‘But aren’t you..? And shouldn’t you be..?’ but mostly quiet taking in the scenery and the sights and sounds of being at the back.
So this is what it all looks like from here…
The first plummeting descent from 600m to the valley floor and the first hiccup. I’d not laced my shoes up tight enough and the result was feet sliding around inside the shoes. I can feel hotspots developing under the heel of each foot. Not good. Pull over off the track and sort it out as everyone I’d left on the descent come past. Oh well…
The second hiccup comes two thirds of the way into the second leg as we skirt Harter fell en route to Eskdale. There’s a sharp descent and at the bottom is a sharp left turn. I’ve done this countless times in reccies and races…and I miss it completely and go straight on bringing a few folks with me. Fortunately I realise my mistake quite quickly and backtrack to a chorus of heckling deriding my assumed route knowledge. I have the good grace to wince audibly: Sorry chaps.
Right, so all this ‘relaxed – easy’ is fine, but not so relaxed and easy that you’re asleep. This is a competitive outing. Can we please pay attention as well?
Heading into Wasdale at around 19 miles and everything is very much in the green. I smile as I remember how swiftly I was moving by comparison last year at this point in the company of Adam Perry & Duncan Harris. Duncan is missing today but Adam is here and I expect him to be somewhere up the front. That’s for later – for now I chug into the CP and swiftly out again leaving behind a handful of folks in the process but not before I fail to block someone telling me I’m in 7th place. It’s the last thing I want to hear.
7th place. What the heck am I doing in 7th already? This is waaaaay too early. Oh well…
I ‘black-bag’ that piece of information and set my sights on the upcoming lumpy bit: Two serious climbs and descents totalling 750m that will take me into Buttermere. I’m making a serious effort to relax on the climbs in contrast to last year. I’ve worked on my walking and my power-climbing so I figure I should be able to climb respectably without busting a gut. It seems to be working. I pass a stricken Ian Bishop part way up Black Sail who is wobbling all over the place after a fall. Help is ahead of him and he seems determined to make it. I can only wish him well as I head off.
So that makes it 6th, then...
The headtorch comes out at the start of the final descent down to the shore of Buttermere – bit earlier than last year then, son – and the start of periodic toe-stubbing stumbles which will trash my feet by the end.
There’s just no two ways about it, it HURTS. It really does. Even if it doesn’t floor you – which adds bashed shoulders, knees, hips, elbows, hands to the inventory – it will progress from tiresome-uncomfortable to seriously pissing you off and a trigger for language your mum would be appalled by. Cumulative effect: Oh, it’s lovely!
Night-time is also a great opportunity to see who has the headtorch discipline nailed down.
Good Practice Tip No 1
When turning round to either check the view or the opposition, always turn your torch off or cover the light with your hand.
I’m constantly amazed by how many people don’t do this. Might as well fire off a flare and scream ‘I’M HERE!!’ There are few things more encouraging in a night section than being able to see where folks are ahead of you – particularly if they’ve been out of sight during daylight.
Tonight it seems I am blessed because on a night with no moon – so it was black out there, really really black – I can see some twinkles ahead as I thread my way through the bracken-dense hillside towards Braithwaite.
And a very bright twinkle ( two people?) is close.
Sure enough as I near the top of the high point for the stage two lights come into view just below me.
Ah, missed that last turn then…
It spurs me into making the most of the pass, and without increasing effort I focus on a smooth descent and spot-on nav down what is a steep rock-strewn path with a crucial navigation section in order to hit the correct exit line.
I’m completely in the groove feeling effortless and grinning like a loon as I dance through the darkened hills. Into the CP for the first serious feed:
4th then & just over one third of the way in…
I have a very happy, peaceful night section. It’s dry, warm, the stars are out and it’s all about me. My internal jukebox offers up some 80s classics while I break off periodically to check the ‘relax-easy’ dials.
Climbing upto the Old Coach Road at around 45 miles at the top of Threlkeld Common will be the start of 4miles or so of undulating open stony track. I’ve learned to just relax into this because otherwise it can feel endless – doubly so in the night with little/no references to provide perspective and a sense of progress.
As the hillside opens out ahead I am rewarded with my first objective measure of the runners ahead of me – headtorches: One very faint and about to disappear out of sight, the other – no, wait, that’s two close together – much closer.
Well hello, boys…
I play the guessing game – half an hour to the lead torch? (I’m wrong, because the splits later will show Terry Conway is around 40-50minutes up at this point and going away with every stride) and 10-15 minutes to the pair (which is more like it).
Once that’s done I file it under ‘Future Action’, close the file and pull my focus back to me and right now. Sister Sledge start up on the jukebox and normal operations resume.
Dawn finds me contouring round the western shore of Ullswater heading for Dalemain House and the 59m CP commonly referred to a ‘halfway.’ It’s my second section that has bordered on ‘blissful’. It’s quiet, still – there’s just been no wind at all during the night – and I’m still in my bubble chugging along. The views afforded from this hillside path around Gowbarrow Fell are to die for, and I’m thoroughly enjoying treading the twisting undulating singletrack I’ve not seen in 12 months.
Dalemain. There’s the tent and there’s… ‘Mr Perry – Good Morning!’
Adam & Paul Tierney are doing their thing at the CP and I shout a greeting. I don’t know it at the time but the splits will show later that I’ve closed significantly over these final few miles. The splits will also show that I’m only around 5 minutes slower to this point than I was last year. And last year I was at record pace for the first quarter or so and then was just trying to hold it together. I remember my legs being pretty stuffed and I took an age here and miles and miles to get going again afterwards. It really wasn’t pretty.
What I do know is that 2nd and 3rd are still here which to my mind means either they’ve just arrived, or they’re lingering – either of which is good news for me.
And my legs feel great.
I remove myself to the opposite end of the CP, make my food order and get business-like with my drop-bag.
Sit down, ditch the torch, grab the gel flasks, poles and shoes. I’ve decided on a shoe change just to change the pressure points on my feet. It very dry and the forecast is for hot stuff today. I’ve no blisters but I want the security and relief of worn shoes and a slightly bigger size. I’m quick with the kit, secure the poles for action from the next CP then focus on getting some hot calories down my neck as Adam & Paul get ready to leave.
My already high spirits are threatening to go orbital and I have to give myself a serious talking to while shovelling chocolate cake and custard down my neck.
Calm down, you’ve still gotta relax on this section. Pay attention, let’s see how they’re doing, and stay behind them. Plenty of time to decide how you’re gonna do this. Stay with the plan, man…’
So I do.
The elastic stretches and shortens periodically over the next 7 miles as we all head to Howtown on the other side of the lake. I’m still operating my bubble but this time the forward sensor suite is deployed. I notice a few things:
They’re moving as a pair and running well over level ground.
I’m catching them on the climbs.
They appear to be less than sure about the route-finding.
It all gets filed but this time the file is staying open…
Howtown. 65 miles in and I can’t wait to play. We all coincide at the CP and I assemble my weapons. The ‘to pole or not to pole’ question has interested me for a couple of years now, and in that time I’ve gone from sceptic to ‘it’s not for me but I can see some value’ to the ‘sod it – I really need to figure this out.’
So I’ve had some serious pole-time as part of my prep for this race. The result is that I’m now a fan of the featherweight variety which collapse down into 4 sections, and a decision to use them for this latter part of the race. We head out of the CP 200 yards apart with me trailing and set our sights on the steep climb to the high point of the race at 665m.
Tapping out a great rhythm, I steadily close and we come together about a third of the way up as Adam & Paul pause to check directions. I march straight past.
‘We’re good, fellas – this is the path.’
I crack straight on feeling great as we get onto the long steep stuff. As I make the crest before the final approach to the actual high point I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision of Adam & Paul right behind me.
Time to try an experiment, then…
There’s a key route choice right here and I need to see how confident they really are. So I stop and slowly stash my poles wait to see what happens.
The boys have stopped a few yards away and are in conference.
I leave it a few more seconds more just to be sure, get up and walk to the correct path.
‘This one, fellas.’
I jog away and my mind is made up: I need to drop them on this next section otherwise they’ll be able to tag me all the way to the next CP at the head of Haweswater at 75m.
Paul I don’t know, but Adam I do and have raced him on two previous occasions. Our score is 1-1. He’s talented and tenacious and I like him tremendously.
But today we’re racing and I need to break this elastic.
A footbridge some way ahead is a critical feature to hit en route to the shoreside path on the western side of the lake. The approach is down a steep bracken-covered hillside. There is a maze of paths and trogs all now hidden by waist-high lush bracken.
After two previous L100 races and many reccie trips I now know the perfect line through the maze – and can find it even when it’s hidden. I’m betting that Adam & Paul don’t and can’t – and I don’t intend to hand it to ‘em all gift-wrapped and lovely.
It’s the perfect place to make a break – but I need to manouvre them infront of me in order to pull it off.
One small problem: There’s no cover up here. No trees, rocks, anything to disappear behind. It’s just open moor and on a day like today you can see for miles.
So this ain’t going to be subtle.
A fierce grin at the prospect of what could be a crux move: Sorry boys, I just don’t do freebies when I’m racing…
And so the games begin.
I pull over, kneel down and fiddle with a shoelace.
Adam & Paul come past and move slowly ahead. The track is really faint here and I recall the first time I did this trip – not very sure at all…
Hmm, need to get further on where it firms up…
Ahead again. Stop for the other shoelace. Wait.
Back moving but even though we’re all still pretty close together, Adam & Paul are ahead.
Then Adam stops for a fiddle of his own which has me nearly breaking out in a fit of giggles at the comic cat and mouse routine that’s going on here.
He’s sussed what I’m upto – he must have!
So what. I’m staying right here and you boys are going on ahead…
I stop for a piss and for good measure un-ship my rucksack. And wait.
The path is now visible as far as we can see ahead. We’re all moving once again and Adam & Paul are starting to jog away.
I resolutely stay walking and will them onwards doing my Jedi mind-trick thing.
This is the path you’re looking for…move along now…
Weird Jedi stuff or not, Adam & Paul are gathering speed and heading into the distance. I follow and give them 100 yards, 200 yards then make a break to the right, running hard down the flank of the hill to get out of sight. I’m now behind and below them and going like stink to get to the top of the bracken field before they can see me again. I figure even if they clock me in a sea of bracken they still have to figure my entry point.
I nail my lines and hit the bridge. My ‘eyes-front’ rule means I have no way of knowing what’s going on behind, so I do the only thing I can – keep going to make the final drop to the shoreline and invisibility as fast as I can. I scream around rocks, holes and into yet more bracken-parting stunts and I finally drop onto the shoreline path breathing harder than I’ve done for any of that previous 15 hours or so. Just in case they’re right on me I give it a little extra for a while because out of sight can really be out of mind in this game.
And then back comes the bubble, I key ‘easy-relaxed’ and the Spice Girls start to sing. It’s a long pull round the lake, but all the indicators are in the green and as the clock ticks on to around sixteen and a half hours I trot into the CP at Mardale Head at 75miles.
Terry is on another planet ahead, but the splits will tell me later I’ve put 10 minutes onto Adam & Paul during that stage to put me in 2nd place.
All I have to do now is hold it for the final 29 miles…
The monster climb out of the valley up Gatesgarth is followed by an equally monster descent and then another big pull and drop before the next CP at Kentmere. The footpath repair schemes have meant that fresh supplies of large stones and small rocks have been dumped on what is already a loose difficult rocky path. It’s a horrendous surface to negotiate if you’re trying to do so with any degree of urgency - and has seemed to me to get worse every year. But my weapons of choice are coming into their own helping me tap out a great rhythm and keep a good efficient posture. It’s like keying the turbo-boost and I bless my decision to use ‘em. The drop down the other side to Sadgill is measured, and as the sun starts to really burn I start to look forward to seeing my friends Phil & Annie at Kentmere.
I arrive at the CP to a skeleton crew and am momentarily non-plussed: Wasn’t this place jumping last year? Also there is no sign of my friends. I deflate alittle more – after a long time solo I realise I’d been quite looking forward to this, especially as the edges of first real tiredness are starting to set in. A big inward sigh and I attend to the practicalities and am out of their sharpish. Ahead and Terry is now nearly two hours ahead, but behind me the gap has stretched to nearly 13 minutes…
Garburn Pass: Another loose rocky monster of a climb, but at the end of this leg is Ambleside at 88 miles and Ambleside means Family Mouncey. I allow some leakage and fantasize about seeing our boys and Charlotte. Big smiles inside and out soften the early stages of the climb, but very soon full Attention To Task is required.
Three figures ahead by the side of the track and two of them are…Annie & Phil, Mr & Mrs Alpine-Oasis. A fierce grin around a brief but heartfelt greeting. Phil is on film duty for race sponsors Montane and is snapping away like the seasoned trained professional he is. Run ahead, stop, turn and do the fast multiple shutter thing as I march past. Run ahead, stop, turn and do it all again. While I’m concentrating like crazy part of me wonders how long Phil will keep this up – not all the way to the top, surely?
Yep – all the way up the 450m. By that point I am barely registering his herculeon feat as I’m consumed by pulling off one of my own. My pace hasn’t slackened but it’s requiring more of me to hold it together. Phil’s shouted farewell ‘I’m loving your work, Mister!’ sends me jogging over the top and then it’s wits-about-you stuff for the descent. Another pole-assisted pull gets me overlooking Ambleside before long I’m chugging along the High Street searching ahead for the first sign of Charly and the boys.
And then they’re there. Tom (4) jumping up and down in excitement with Joe (19 months) waving frantically in Charly’s arms. ‘Hi babe!’ Kisses, smiles and hugs all round. But while the happy score is off the scale I’m also now very tired indeed. Worse, I don’t fancy anything to eat from the selection on offer and settle for a cup of tea.
‘How far ahead?’ I ask Charly. It’s the first time I’ve asked on the leader.
She waves a hand dismissively. ‘Oh, long gone – hours.’
Oh. The subliminal message is clear. Forget him – focus on you.
Meanwhile our eldest is chatting away much to my delight and the amusement of the CP crew. I give him some attention around my slurps as I get the run down on his day so far.
Charly tells me later she can see I’m really tired – I’m alittle bit all over the place and my eyes have a hint of thousand yard stare in them.
‘Just finish. You’re doing great…’ (she’s smart enough not to tell me the time) ‘Look after yourself. We want you back safe and sound, remember?’
I remember. More hugs and kisses and time to go. It’s another brief stop while behind me the gap is holding.
The final three stages have hint of death-march. I’m not dying but it’s taking EVERYTHING I have to stay chugging along. I recall it felt slow, but here’s the thing: Running the numbers afterwards (I did not wear a watch or ask for time checks throughout) and a very different story emerged. I was significantly faster over all three final stages than last year, and even widened the gap on Adam & Paul until the final leg. My goal of ‘even pace’ is holding up.
I’m also burning up in the fierce sun to the point where I say ‘f*** it!’ and go and do a dead starfish impression in the river by Chapel Stile for a few minutes – much to the bemusement of the tourists. Full submersion is pure bliss and the reset button has been successful keyed.
Tilberthwaite CP and 4 miles to go. For the first time at a checkpoint I sit down and close my eyes as waves of fatigue wash through me. ‘Time me for 30 seconds, will you?’ I ask the crew. I know I need to get going but sitting and sleeping feel wonderful. I’ve not been able to get anything down me except a few chunks of Kendal mint cake since Ambleside and a few mouthfuls of soup at Langdale. Part of me thinks it might be a good idea to eat something. The other part of me figures it’s just too much like hard work. The CP crew are totally on the ball and fantastically encouraging and I prise myself upright for the final time.
I crawl nearly on hands and knees in slow motion up the final murderous climb. I do get going again at the top and I need to. Adam & Paul will halve the gap between us on this short final leg. I tread a careful final descent and then it’s a very very weary trot down the track to Coniston village. Still doing ‘relax-easy’ and still holding the finish images at bay, I tell myself I can do the finish-fantasy bit when I hit the houses.
Right, left and 200 yards to go and as last year here comes Tom racing towards his Daddy. I remember dropping my composure all over the road at this point 12 months ago, but this time I’m just too tired. I’m barely able to pick him up for a welcome hug and have to put him back down again. He charges off while I wobble towards a very happy wife and waving baby. Big hugs and shining eyes, then all that remains is for Tom and I to do the finish line bit. 2nd again. So yeah, Marc – it really, (nearly) worked.
I was completely oblivious of my time and splits throughout. I ran it blind. When Charlotte told me ’24-27’ a few minutes after I finished I was shocked. ( We have a great photo of that very moment!) If you’d have asked me to guess I’d have said, ‘er, 26ish?’ My time gave me a 70 minute improvement on last year and The Plan gave me a consistently faster final quarter. Something to think about, then…
Written by Andy Mouncey - http://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/
It’s A Taper, Jim – But Not As You Know It
‘Well, Mr Mouncey, the good news is that it’s not broken.’
My entire being deflates about 3 sizes as every orifice that can exhales air.
Except I already know the bad news:
With 10 days to go to the start of the L100 I am sat in a wheel chair outside the X-ray department of Kendal A & E wearing a grimace and a with right ankle the size of a small football courtesy of badly sprained ligaments.
I’ve been out on my final big training run on the western part of the course when my foot just rolled from under me while coming off a rocky descent to send me crashing.
I lay there stunned for a few seconds before the pain came – convinced something was broken.
I was in the middle of nowhere and the only way I was getting back to my car was through my own efforts. So with much swearing and lurching I tried a few experimental steps, and to my amazement was eventually able to get moving again – as long as I kept the foot in a straight line everything seemed more or less OK.
Reassured, I continued and put in the planned two hours intervals and sat in the river when I got back to the car feeling very righteous.
Well, if it’s going to flare it’ll be after 1.5 hours on my arse in the car…
And so it proved.
I drove straight to my physio folks at The Body Rehab in Staveley, but by the time I got there I was in serious pain and rapidly becoming a danger to myself and other road users.
Tipping myself out of the car I dragged myself through the doorway and a short time later was sitting with my right foot strapped into a cryo-boot doing a very poor impression of a grown man in control.
I could see 3 months dedicated prep going right down the tubes.
The gods however, had other ideas, and had sent me an angel called Roxy.
‘I’m 99% certain it’s an inversion sprain, shesaid. ‘But it’s so swollen I can’t be completely sure – it’s off for an X –ray for you, young man…’
So followed 48 hours of intensive R.I.C.E. rehab, then more work, then a half hour test jog with 4 days to go.
‘I can’t believe it,’ I reported to Roxy, ‘That all felt fine…what the heck did you do?’
The angel smiled. ‘We started treatment only 5 hours after the injury – early intervention makes such a difference – and you have been a very good boy with your homework…’
I get home and practically skip through the door.
Charlotte my wife raises a quizzical eyebrow.
‘Well, am I packing my tent, or what?’
‘Well, there is some more rehab to do…’ I’m grinning like an idiot, ‘but we’re on!’
Making The Complex Simple
The day after the race Family Mouncey are relaxing at Coniston race HQ with my great friend Geoff who ran the ’50. We’re catching up for the first time and comparing notes.
So how was the race, Andy – really?
‘Completely consistent – no low points at all. I’m mean, the legs got increasingly trashed to the point where I sat in the river just before the Chapel Stile check…but other than that, mentally and emotionally I felt fine the whole way.’
What went on in that head of yours then?
‘Ah, that’s easy - three words: Relax. Light. Smooth, and I thought about my family a lot – Charlotte and our two small boys – so lotsa happy faces there.’
So internal focus the whole way?
‘God, no. ‘Switched in and out. Really relaxed during the night section. Adam (Perry) and I who I was running with did the ‘torch off, have an ‘ooo’ moment at the moon above Briathwaite, for instance. Lots of moments like that.’
It looked like you held second pretty much the whole way round – that looked like a pretty consistent effort.
‘Not quite. There was some chopping and changing in the early stages, and Duncan (Harris) got away on the Braithwaite section – didn’t catch him again till halfway.
I ran this race completely differently to my other 100’s.
At this race 2008 I walked the first mile, and at Western States in 2004 I walked the first two!
This time I ran from the front ‘cos my primary goal for the race was getting answers to three questions:
What does it take to run at the front?
Do you have what it takes – and are you willing to make the commitment to find out?
So I was prepared to run hard to Wasdale – and I did: ‘Ran the whole way and go out on record pace to get time and distance – especially as the other advantage I have is that I know where I’m going.
I was also prepared to blow up – ‘cos that would’ve still given me an answer.
I didn’t think I would – but even if I did I also figured I could relax and regroup through the night.
I looked at it like this: Everyone slows down over this distance – the issue is who slows down the least.
Out of sight really is out of mind - I just figured my ‘slow’ might still be good enough.
Unfortunately for me, Stuart (Mills) had exactly this strategy and did it better than I did!’
So that, really, was my race. No drama, no screaming and crying or flaying of undercarriage like 2008.
Solid, deliberate, thought-through.
Remarkably, as I said to Charlotte a few days later, this time it didn’t even seem like such a long way. Now that is quite an adjustment.
I am however, all too well aware that a few short paragraphs don’t really cut it from a race report perspective. Y’all want ‘em coloured in don’t you? Alright then, here it is…
Off The Front
So exactly what pace do you run the first 200 yards of a 100 mile race?
No-one except eventually winner Stuart Mills seems to know.
The race is thirty seconds old and already Stuart is out of sight having shot of the front from the start. For those who know him it’s a tried and tested Mills tactic. Sometimes it works, and sometimes...
Well, he’s either going to come back or he’s not, I decide – no way am I following that!
I am however, going to do my thing which is to get moving in these first 20 miles or so, and as I don’t especially want to run with anyone, I fix my gaze to the front and get on with it.
The first little descent gives me a clue – I’m faster than the two guys who have come past me on the climb out of Coniston – and once again I have my desired personal space and a periodic glimpse of Stuart as we head up the Walna Scar Road to the high point of the stage. I’m caught again before the top and this time joined by a new face. I recognise Duncan Harris (Fellsman winner) and we share a quick mutual appreciation of the glorious evening sunshine.
I redress the balance once again on the long descent down to the Seathwaite valley, but not before Duncan takes an almighty tumble infront of me – I mean, wipe out big style! I stop and check as he makes reassuring noises…but you really don’t need a fall of that magnitude this early into this race. No matter, gravity tugs and I follow her lead. It feels awful fast and part of me flashes a warning light or two, but I figure that’s just the girlie cautious part and key the manual over-ride.
Straight in and out of the first checkpoint stopping only to ‘dib’ and a bottle refill and into the woods around Wallbarrow at the head of the Dunnerdale valley. I’m dialled right in now and though I’m not wearing a watch, (and will not ask for time gaps till Ambleside) I know I’m on target pace which will mean 75 minutes to Boot. Relax. Light. Smooth.
I relax into the steep climb running easily through the rocks keeping half an ear open to voices and gate noises behind.
The action’s ahead of you, Mounce…
I dance through the bogs and the rocky sections round the base of Harter fell with a confidence which comes with multiple recces.
A whispered ‘thankyou’ takes me successfully past the site of my fall 10 days ago and I belatedly realise that there’s been not a twinge from the ankle. Wow – maybe it really is gonna be OK…
Before long I’m cruising into Boot to the cheers of a handful of well-wishers outside the pubs. (I don’t know it at the time, but I’m only two minutes down on my estimation. What I do know is everything’s in the green and I’m grinning like an idiot. Having a good time? You betcha).
Another fast pit-stop at checkpoint 2 and onto the gradual climb out heading NE to Burnmoor Tarn above Wasdale. Still running everything I clock voices behind me for the first time as we clear the tree-line and head onto the open fell. Ah, so there you are…
I spot a figure ahead and assume it’s Stuart.
Fleeting delight turns sour as I close the distance and realise it’s a lone walker. Stuart has well and truly gone – already 8 minutes ahead by the Boot checkpoint.
A couple of miles later Duncan and Adam Perry get their chance to move ahead as I pull over for a pit-stop with miles of open moor for cover.
An apologetic ‘Sorry!’ greets them as they run past: At least I’ve remembered to squat in the ‘cheeks away’ position.
Once again I hook up with gravity and run fast to catch them before the final road section into Wasdale Head. Introductions all round.
‘Sorry about the full moon back there,’ I say.
I find out later Duncan is surprised I’m back with ‘em so soon.
‘I thought that would give you much more problems,’ he admits as we compare notes afterwards.
Nah, just a bowel movement. Sorry, fella.
We beat the checkpoint crew to the checkpoint.
Biting down the spike of frustration we get on with the job of being in and out of there sharpish and turn our faces to the first big climb up Black Sail pass.
Duncan forges ahead but by the time we’re down the other side at the youth hostel we’re back together.
A jog and power-hike up Scarth Gap and we’re on the rocky drop to Buttermere.
Relaxing & Recharging
Before long Adam and I are running easily along the western shore of a tranquil lake with Duncan some yards behind.
For the first time in 25 miles I can feel myself relaxing with the aggression-driven battle-grin being replaced with something much more serine.
As Adam and I do the ‘commune with nature’ piece I realise I am almost blissfully happy with where I am right now: At the front end of the race, running easily in the twilight along a beautiful silent lakeside with only our footfalls for company.
Getting here before full darkness has been a real bonus, and while the next section has a couple of tricky nav sections in, I am 100% confident can nail ‘em first time.
I still haven’t used my map or route notes – something I will continue throughout the race.
So I spend a few self-indulgent minutes putting big ticks against a few boxes.
I dally alittle too long at the checkpoint, breaking my rule about no food stops till 30, 55, and 70 miles, but the chicken soup proves a draw too much – or I’m still away with the cosmic fairies…
This allows Duncan to catch us and be gone ahead of us into the darkness.
I’ll see his headtorch twice more, but will only catch him again just before halfway.
I’m still not completely sure whether it’s because I relaxed or Stuart and Duncan pushed on, but I see later that over the next two sections Stuart puts close on 20 minutes into me.
That’s for later. For now, I’m a very happy boy moving at my own pace through the darkened fellside as Adam and I thread our way through the bracken NE to Braithwaite.
I separate myself from Adam as we drop into the village, and one rushed bowl of pasta and rice pudding later he still hasn’t appeared at the checkpoint. I spot a headtorch circling as I head onto the Keswick road.
‘Adam! Over here!’ I can almost hear his sigh of relief. ‘See you on the next section, fella.’
I spot his torchlight catching up as I climb through the switchbacks around Latrigg.
Relax. Light. Smooth.
It’s still coming easily and I’m still scoring 11 on the Happy Scale.
Then on the dogleg around Lonscale fell and Blencathra something strange happens.
I’m not looking but I swear I can feel Adam behind me.
‘Wont be long now, I think,’he’s done well to catch up…’
I get a chance to check for torchlight as I double back on the run-in to Threkeld, but again, nothing.
Next time I see Adam it’s at Coniston on Saturday evening.
‘I just blew big style,’ he told me, ‘had to lie down on the track. ‘Managed to get to the checkpoint at Blencathra Centre, got some food down me, but had to go to sleep again. Then as there was nothing there I decided I had to get to Dalemain – so that’s what I did – walked the next two legs.’ He paused while we all took this in.
‘I’m a bit pissed off, ‘he said, ‘Cos now I really will have to race in two weeks time at Bradwell!’
That’s all later. For now all I know it’s back to me and my favoured personal space.
Something new happens over the next 28km as we head into daybreak and the ‘halfway’ point (actually 59 miles) at Dalemain on the north shore of Ullswater: I make time on Stuart. It’s not huge and I’m still oblivious to relative progress being ‘split-free’ but I learn later it’s enough to cause a few ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ among the watching community as the live feeds come into race HQ.
What I do know is that everything’s still working, and despite slowing over the final section I’m still moving along at a reasonable clip.
Remember, your ‘slow’ will still good enough, man…
I get a massive boost as I spot Duncan for the first time through the trees with about 3km to go to the checkpoint. I get another injection as I can see he’s looking behind him.
So I close to a couple of hundred yards then I sit there.
He solves the ‘how / when do I pass him?’ question by diving into the toilet just before the checkpoint proper.
(He tells me later he was feeling so rough that when he got through the checkpoint he crashed out on a bench somewhere in Pooley Bridge and really struggled through the next section. But he picked up something strong in the later stages and had closed a sizeable gap at 60 miles down to 20 minutes at the finish).
The problem is that I’ve stopped way too long at Dalemain and it takes me an age to get going again. It’s real exercise in patience and belief, and I’m talking to myself almost constantly on the couple of miles between Dalemain and Pooley Bridge.
I remember flying through this section in training imagining how revitalised I’d feel starting the final 40 miles.
Well, while my faculties are all there and firing, my trusty legs are somewhere else.
I do eventually get going again heading down the eastern shore of the lake, but someone somewhere has registered that I’ve lost what feels like oceans of time on what should be a simple section.
Relax, man – your slow is still fast enough…
Let’s hope so.
I vaguely remember someone telling me Stuart was about half an hour ahead at Dalemain, but I really wasn’t listening so I’m not sure how accurate that was.
I do know, however, that he’s not stopping for food – so whether it was half an hour or not, he’ll be a damn sight further ahead by now.
Unless he’s blown.
A business-like stop at Howtown and I set my face to climb up Fusedale Beck to the high point of the entire route at 655m with High Street off to the right.
This was where my world fell apart two years ago in driving rain, so I smile as I recognise that at least one thing will be different.
I climb strongly and get my lines nailed through thick bracken as I descend to the western shore of Haweswater.
And while I don’t know it at the time, I make up my biggest chunk of time on Stuart and grab back all the time I lost between Dalemain and Howtown.
By the check at Mardale Head at 75 miles the gap is the shortest it’s been since Braithwaite at 34 miles.
Back at race HQ the bets are being frantically re-made: Is this the start of a charge for the lead?
In a word: No.
This is as close as I’ll get.
Stuart puts an hour into me over the final quarter as my legs become progressively less able to cash the cheques my brain is writing for them.
I’m still able to power-hike up the steep stuff and hold it together on the flats, but to my dismay I’m getting less and less able to run the descents.
My ankle is starting to give me the finger on the wobbly sections and a combination of recent heavy rain and footpath repair work has given us all big horrible loose small rocks and big stones to travel over.
Throw in some wet stuff from the rain which has now set in and we’ve got one of the most user-unfriendly final 25 miles to cover.
And it’s the same for everyone, Mounce, so shut the **** up and get moving. Remember, your ‘slow’ will still be fast enough…
Fast enough to hold second place, but I can feel my hoped-for 24 hours slip away.
By the time I hit Ambleside with 16 miles to go I know I’ve got a near-impossible task on my hands to hang onto a ’24 time.
‘How far ahead?’ I ask.
‘About 45 minutes’, they tell me. ‘But he looked way worse and he walked out of here.’
That draws a snort: ‘Listen, I’LL be walking out of here!’
A sip of soup.
’45 minutes…someone’s gonna have to shoot him, then.’
Right then and there I consign all thoughts of a chase over this final section to the bin and turn back to paying attention to the internal indicators.
‘Daddy, you’re doing really great running just like me!’
The world is a delightfully simple place when you’re 3 years old, and my emotional turbo-charge has been to meet the other members of Family Mouncey.
So while Tom races round the shop, I have time for a final hug with Charlotte and baby Joe.
‘You look great, babe!’ Her eyes are shining.
You just can’t bottle it – so after tackling our racing toddler for a goodbye, I head out for what I regard as the final section.
And while it all feels slow I also know it’s faster than two years ago, and that’ll do, thanks very much.
I have a blissful beef stew moment at Chapel Stile and pause just to ‘dib’ at the last check.
‘Sorry, gotta get on with it, ‘ I apologise to the crew.
There’s nearly 1000’ to climb over this last 4 miles or so and there’s no time like the present. I allow myself my first look behind as I drop through the mines above Coniston just to make sure…then it’s a very quiet jog through the rain back to where it all started one brief day earlier.
‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy – you’re back!’
Tom cannons into me and I momentarily drop my composure all over the road.
I scoop him - and it – up, registering that it’s my first real fumble in a day that has given me so much.
And yeah, I’ll take it all, thanks.
Total race distance: 104 miles / 6971m climbing & descending.
Andy finished 2nd in 25 hours 37 minutes
Total starters 123 / Total finishers 70
Written by Emily Martha Huxtable - http://embaahux.tumblr.com/
The Lakeland 100 really has been the race of a lifetime for me.
Ever since we stood at the sidelines of the 100 start 3 years ago, I had the feeling that one day I really wanted to have a bash at it.
In 2012, 3 of us travelled up to Coniston to take part in the Lakeland 50, my first Ultra. I had heard there was a 100, but it seemed utterly ridiculous and I laughed (in the nicest possible way) at the 100 participants as they lined up to what was then a quiet and sedate start, runners looking nervous and pale faced; I simply could not comprehend running that far and over such testing ground. It seemed impossible.
That year we enjoyed the Friday evening watching the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony upstairs in the Sun inn. We drank beer and nervously prepared for what was then the hardest challenge we had ever taken on.
The Lakeland 50 is without a doubt my favourite running race in the world, even now, and I encourage all my running friends to enter. Maybe its because its where I lost my ultra virginity. It got me into ultra running and the atmosphere, organisation and thrill of finishing was like nothing else.
We went back the following year to run the 50 again, that was 2 weeks before my first 100 run, the NDW100. And even though I was building up to the north downs 100, I couldnt help myself but push it and take a good 40minutes of my previous time. I went on to complete the NDW100, 10 mins before the cut off, but I did it and I was over the moon to be a ‘centurion’.
The next year in 2014, I had a lot going on. I completed the NDW50, but my running ground to a halt when I lost 2 incredible grandparents in the space of 3 months, and then my horse, who albeit just a hobby, was a large part of my life, was diagnosed with a series of huge back issues and I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep, it was a devastating year.
September came and upon receiving a cheque from my equine insurance company, I entered the Lakeland 100 and that was it, I got my running mojo back.
Loosing my horse gave me some silver lining in that I had a little bit of extra cash each month which I decided to put towards getting myself in good shape for the race in July. Googling running trainers and female ultra runners and there was one name that just kept seeing everywhere. Mimi!
I dropped (Marvellous!) Mimi Anderson an email in January and she called me back right away, set me a schedule and we were off. I had never had a trainer before and I loved it. Checking in once a week I really felt supported and confident in my training. We slowly built up the mileage and types of training and I got better and better. I finished 3 forts marathon in superb time for me, and even got my first placing with 2nd at the Weald Challenge 50k.
Andy and I got up to the lakes twice to recce the first half of the 100. Training was going really well and I felt strong at the start of the Lakeland Ultimate Trails 110k a month before the big race. I made a lot of mistakes in the 110k. Including starting too fast and paying for it later, but got a chance to practice nutrition and footwear. I found myself jealous of people with poles, not just to help on climbs, but to stop me falling head first down some nasty descents.
Following a good taper and some resting we finally packed and made our way up the M6 for the last time this summer.
Andy had the small matter of a university graduation in Liverpool on Thursday, which worked perfectly as it meant we could get to Liverpool, see him collect his degree, have a good meal and nights sleep in a hotel before making the final journey to Coniston on Friday morning.
At the race briefing on Friday Marc pointed out something that really seemed to hit home,
‘Ultra runners hang around with other ultra runners, and it’s not until you are in the real world of normal people, that you appreciate the incredible adventure you are about to embark on.’
I had got into my own little ultra mindset, and forgotten how incredible the next 2 days would be if I could complete them. So on the start line when Nessun Dorma started, I did burst into tears.
The race. Skip this bit if you don’t want to fall asleep!
I started out slowly. Walking up the climbs and getting the first 10 miles done and out the way. Plagued by midges in the boggy sections I found myself picking up the pace to get out of the swarms.
I met a runner from the 110k a month before, he had started the Lakeland 100 last year and got as far as Ambleside before dropping. He had felt tired and after a kip at Ambleside waiting to be picked up, he felt good again, and instantly regretted pulling out of the race. Now I really really like my sleep. I can stay up all night but I know that between 3 & 4am, my body shuts down until it sees sunlight again. I have never tried to nap during a race but it seemed like a good plan. I didn’t want to drop just because of tiredness and from this point on I found myself interrogating other runners for their thoughts on the subject.
On the way down to Boot I was running with Jonathon and Otto (the dog, for those who don’t know him!). We had a nice chat about the race and dog food… I found out that Otto gets to eat Pork pies in the race, jealous!
Getting into Boot before dusk and I picked up some cake and got in and out quickly, keen to spend only a minute or two in these first few CP’s.
Boot to Wasdale we had recce’d previously, there is a small house by the tarn (that I want to buy one day!) and all around there was quite wet, keen to keep my feet dry I took it slowly and put my torch on as we dropped down to Wasdale by which time night really set in.
I had been running with a lady called Caroline for some time and we met again in the Stroller Disco at Wasdale Head. I mentioned that I had recce’d Black Sail Pass and that if she wanted to stick together I would show the way. Quite a few people left at the same time as us, so when we got up to the stream crossing halfway up, I turned around and saw a pretty trail of lights leading back down to the valley.
Getting to the top I felt great, it was dead on midnight and I turned to take one last look at the hill I had had nightmares about for weeks and felt glad it was over. The descent down, up Haystacks and to Buttermere lake was a section I hadnt done before, but we were still quite bunched up and it wasn’t hard to see the way with the constant stream of head torches lighting the path.
Saturday 01.46am (Buttermere 26miles)
Buttermere woodland was eerie and black, and I did little but change socks at the CP. I wanted to get to Braithwaite and Keswick for dawn and to see Andy.
The climb up to Sail Pass was shorter than I remembered, but I had really started to feel sleepy and so I had a few people overtaking me as I tried not to doze off on my feet. The descent to Braithwaite was hairy as I fended of tiredness.
Saturday 04.10am (Braithwaite 32 miles)
Getting to the CP I felt glad to get some proper food inside me. I had a burst of phone signal and received a load of texts from a friend at work who stayed up to keep tracking me and making sure I was ok. By this point it was 4am!
Leaving Braithwaite and around Keswick I saw Andy, he’d gotten up and out the tent in Coniston at 3.15am and driven over to see me here as planned. It was nice to have some flat road to push along for a mile or two.
I met a guy called Raj who I had overheard say this was his 3rd L100 start. He had completed it before twice. I was getting increasingly worried about night 2 and Raj told me of a runner he knows who gets to Howtown, takes a 2 hour nap, then finishes the race 8 hours later. I was getting more certain that I would be sleeping at some point on route.
Saturday 06.41am (Blencathra 41miles)
At Blencathra the Marshall tells us that James Elson went through at 1am. Incredible running to get to there in just 7 hours. I hobbled out with a cup of tea on the go, I am sure James did the same.
The next section to Dockray is a nice run on an old railway, a incline for half a mile then the old coach road, a long windy path which seems to never end.
It was getting warmer and I could feel I was sweating and in need of something more substantial than tea. When I got to Dockray I grabbed some soup and sandwiches took a seat for a moment before moving on. I didn’t have any more electrolyte but was happy to see Andy down the road and mentioned that (although I am not supposed to receive any outside assistance) there was an electrolyte tablet in my bag in the car. He ran off to Dockray village to collect it whilst I hopped after him. When I got to the bottom road he was nowhere to be seen. There may have been some expletives as I cursed him (sorry!)… But with no signal to call and see where he had gone I just jogged on.
All paths now lead to Dalemain, halfway and my dropbag. My inov8 roclites were starting to feel heavy and uncomfortable and I was looking forward to some new shoes and socks at the CP.
Running through the woods and fields to the Dacre road it was now getting warmer and I felt a horsefly catch me on the back of my leg. I picked up some pace to get out of the flies and onto the road. At Dacre, Andy was waiting for me and as I turned onto the path at Dacre Castle I saw the 50 runners on their lap of Dalemain Estate. It had been my aim to reach Dalemain before they started and actually it was brilliant timing because as I jogged along the front runners passed me, then the rest of the field, patting me on the back and generally giving me lovely encouragement. I ran the whole 2k into Dalemain and was glad to sit in the cool marquee and grab some proper food and see to my sore feet. I talc’ed my feet, changes socks and clothes and fuelled up on beef stew.
Saturday 12.09pm (Dalemain 58miles)
My good friend Nick Tippey had lent me some poles - I’d never run with them before - but I thought it would be a good idea to have them in my drop bag. I left the CP with two guys, Nick and Andrew, who I had a good chat with all the way through Pooley Bridge. I noticed that Andrew was in a real rhythm with his poles, hitting the ground in time with each step. I tried to match this but found it difficult and ended up running down to Howtown with them in my hand as much as I could. It was now really warm and I felt disheartened that I was running quite behind what I had aimed to do so. I got into Howtown CP and staved off tears as I picked up some supplies and managed to stomach a Kiwi gel.
Heading out up the path I could see Fusedale climb and was so in my own little upset bubble that I ran straight past the slate bridge which takes you into the ferns. It was only a 50m detour but it was enough to make me start sobbing.
I put some music on and made my way up using my poles to hike in a rhythm. I overtook a handful of 50 runners on my way (including one who took a sick runner back down to Howtown, then climbed Fusedale a 2nd time!?)
When I reached the very top of the hill I turned around, just as the sun peeked out from the clouds. The top of this hill has always been a special point I have always stopped at and admired the view. This time as I looked back I could see some of the route we had come miles and miles away, and I got a bit emotional. I thought about all the hours of time and effort I had put in to get this far in the race of my life, and I thought about the people I lost last year who inspired me to get here and that whatever happened, I had to finish it for them.
I spun back round and pelted off down High Kop… probably a bad idea but I had such a surge of energy, and this is such a great section of soft peat ground that I went for it and didn’t stop till I got to the bridge at the bottom.
Saturday 6.48pm (Mardale Head 75miles)
After a slow trudge along to Mardale Head I was ready for another hill, I stopped just long enough to grab some soup.
When I walked into the CP a helpful person dibbed my tracking dibber for me. Apparently this didn’t work for some reason throwing my crew and supporters into worry as they started to wonder where I had got too. A couple people in the CP were talking about dropping and I got out of my chair before I could even contemplate it.
Up Gatesgarth I felt like I was doubled over but thankfully still moving at a fast walk. I got the top with nobody around and started the long descent of Longsleddale. I ran with a handful of older gents for half a mile or so, but they were moving quickly and I dropped back feeling tired. They very kindly gave me some words of encouragement when I was sat in the CP 20minutes later.
Saturday 9.48pm (Kentmere 82miles)
Jogging into Kentmere and it was getting dark. 2 marshals were running the other way trying to get signal. On their way back in I mentioned that I think I needed a nap, and would they let me sleep for 15 minutes.
As I walked in a very strange site was before me. Harry, a 50 runner, (who is 80 years old!!) had his hand aloft as Zoolander, adorning bright purple rubber gloves, administered emergency first aid to a seriously bad looking cut across his palm. I had been awake for over 30odd hours by now and I hadn’t had any hallucinations - this was weird enough.
The guys in Kentmere were amazing. They sat me down, brought me 3 cups of hot tea, pasta and biscuits, wrapped me up in a curtain and woke me up after a 15 minute nap on the bench. When I woke up I felt loads better. Put some warm clothes on and my head torch before heading out to catch up the closest runners.
I was looking forward to getting to Ambleside and hopefully my crew. On the path through the woodland to Ambleside I met Les and Sharon, 2 runners in the 50. I needed someone to talk to to keep me going and Les was the answer! An incredible man with an inspiring story to tell, he and Sharon and another chap called Karl stayed with me all the way to chapel stile and I don’t think I would have finished without them. Les said one thing whilst we were together that really struck a chord. We were talking about our reasons for running these races and the people we often meet who just don’t seem to understand why…
"I hope that in doing this I can prove to myself I can achieve anything, and show others that if they step outside of their comfort zone, life becomes a bit more special" His words really stuck with me to the end.
Sunday 2am (Ambleside 89 miles)
Ambleside was dark and quiet. We had missed the pub kick out time. When we turned the corner at the chippy we were hit with the bright fairy lights of the checkpoint strung across the path.
We stayed here for 10 minutes. Enough time for me to give my feet a rub and grab some tea.
Andy, mum and grandad were on the road at Rothay Park to say hello. When I completed the NDW100 in 2013, grandad and my late granny had sat at the finish line in Wye for me for 5 hours just so see me in. Grandad was even more determined to see me complete the Lakeland 100. Now 84, and the proud owner of a new fully electric car, he announced a month before that he wanted to drive up himself. Nervously mum said she would travel with him and so at 5am Saturday morning they left home in Kent set for the lakes. Grandad also brought his dog Pip too, just for the trip out …
17 hours later they arrived in Ambleside.
There were bets on that I would get to coniston before they did!
It was nice to see them there and then at Skelwith Bridge a little while later - albeit poor Andy and grandad were fast asleep in the car, Mum stood in the road with a torchlight looking for runners and showing them the way.
Sunday 4.58am (Chapel Stile/Langdale 94miles)
We shuffled on in the cold fog of early Sunday morning. When we reached Chapel Stile it was light.
At chapel stile I came to realise I had a really sore hamstring. I sat pretty much ontop of the fire pit to warm up my muscles whilst a lovely marshall brought me some stew.
I saw Mike Churchyard come into the CP and gave him a wave. I looked at my watch and realised we only had 5 hours left until the race finish cut off. Guessing it was about 10ish miles left I got up and started to get ready to leave. Not wanting to just walk off and leave my fellow runners who had helped me through the night I mentioned to them I was going to get a wiggle on as the 100 finish was 90 minutes earlier than the 50 cut off and I really didn’t want to miss it!
We left the CP hoping the misty fog would soon be burnt off by the sun before we reached Tilberthwaite.
Stumbling over the A frame stiles and across the fields I got a move on keeping an eye on my watch to make sure I was around a 3mph speed. I wanted to build up some time in this section so I had a buffer of a couple hours to climb and descend Tilberthwaite. It was strange to be navigating Blea Tarn in the light for once. When I reached the unmanned dibber on the Wrynose road I could see Mike in front and so I hobbled down the hill as fast as I could after him. He seemed to think we had enough time and wasn’t worried which made me happy!
Sunday 7.37am (Tilberthwaite 101miles)
We stuck together to Tilberthwaite where I downed a cup of coke and didn’t stop. We had given ourselves a couple hours to get through the last 3 miles but the climb was looming and so I didn’t want to waste any time.
On the climb up the steps I turned around to Mike and shouted ‘This is it, we’ve almost done it! Can you believe we are here!’
Mike was powering up the hill so I let him pass me and I continued to use my poles to hike up as fast as I could. The cold fog that was surrounding us through Skelwith Bridge and Chapel Stile had finally disappeared and it was bright and dry at the top of Tilberthwaite. Looking down at the top I could see the first climb we had powered up over 38 hours before. It seemed like a week ago! Even though I was so exhausted and I was physically moving very slowly my mind was going at a million miles an hour, a hundred different disjointed thoughts were going through my head, none of them making sense at all. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t have any hallucinations (that I am aware of!) at all during the race. Some runners I was with said they hallucinated people sat on the floor, or coming out of the stone walls. My mind just went into overload - I can only describe it as white noise.
Picking our way down the descent I was thankful to have poles to put weight on.
I caught up with Mike and he mentioned his kids were at the finish and would be at the line waiting for him, probably extremely proud of him! I tried to keep up with him but thought better of it as I couldn’t stay at his pace, and also felt that, as we were a good distance from other runners around us, it would be nice for each of us to have the finish to ourselves.
When I hit the tarmac at the bottom I saw Andy on the corner. So pleased to see him I jogged down as best I could and hugged him. He said he hadn’t slept well as his phone kept beeping with messages of support. He stayed with me along the last half a mile to the road into the school, where I tried to run to the small waiting crowd. Crossing the line wasn’t as emotional (for me anyway!) as I thought it might be. I had dreamt of this line for months and after I dibbed my dibber for the final time I was just hugely thankful and exhausted for it to be over. I gave a big hug to Andy for all of his help and support for the last 6 months. We did it!!!!!
Finish time in Coniston (105miles) 39hours 26minutes.
- Having a nap is ok. Turns out that having a 15 minute shut eye massively helps when exhausted. I don’t know that I actually slept at Kentmere but just laying down and closing my eyes to the race really gave me some energy.
- Talking to people works wonders; by this I mean in the middle of the night when you are exhausted. Shooting the breeze with a fellow runner kept me going. I could become blinkered to focus solely on getting to the line and letting other people into my little bubble really helped.
- Actually keep an eye on some sort of plan. I had a plan and when I started it went completely out the window. I had no idea of timings (even though I had them noted down and in my pack!) and had it not been for Andy and for Mike Churchyard at the end then I wouldn’t have finished in the time.
- I have developed the opinion that 100 mile ultras of this difficulty are built for people in their 30’s and over. I was the youngest female finisher and second youngest finisher overall. I put it a heck of a lot of training and yes things hit me like sleepiness which slowed me down incredibly, but I get the feeling that to complete these well you need a tonn more experience physically and most importantly, mentally. You need the drive to keep going at a good pace.
- Most of all was something that someone said to me the day before we left for Coniston that gave me some perspective for the race ahead…
“We want to wish you good luck, and wish you a successful race. Success is not determined by whether or not you finish. Success is giving it all you’ve got. Whatever happens, just to stand on that start line is an incredible achievement, and we are in awe.“
Huge thanks especially to Marvellous Mimi (she is really Magnificent Mimi) for turning me into a person who actually trains properly and made me pay more attention to what I am doing, both running and in life! Making me rest and recover when I need to. And even though I didn’t have any emergency calls to her throughout my training, just the feeling that she was ‘there’ on the end of the phone, with her incredible experience, knowledge and advice, was so comforting. If you are thinking about getting some structured help into your training, I would hugely recommend her.
And the biggest thank you goes to Andy, for his all encompassing, selfless support in every way. See you on that finish line in 2 years :)
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