Written by Jack Casey - http://jackcaseyrunner.blogspot.fr/
50 miles, 13500ft of ascent. A loop starting and finishing in Keswick, taking in Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw.
11:02, 9th place
As with any race, a huge thanks to the people that make it happen- High Terrain Events for organising a great event, and the marshals out on the route and at feed stations; it would be a lot harder and a lot less enjoyable without people giving up their Sunday mornings to watch you suffer!
|Courtesy of High Terrain Events|
This was my 3rd ultra and first 50 miler, and the biggest elevation profile of any of the races I'd done, so it was always going to be tough and always going to take me a long time. Going in to the race and after a recce weekend, I'd estimated finishing in anything over 10 hours, knowing the winning time on a slightly altered course last year was 8:30. On the full course, Ricky Lightfoot won in just under 9 hours, with Sarah Morwood winning in 10:30 for 1st female and 5th overall: both very impressive athletes.
Training had featured one solid block of 5 weeks of high mileage, high amount of elevation and a good amount of specificity, with a couple of weeks at home in Yorkshire, a training weekend in the Lakes and a couple of weeks on placement in the hills of Abergavenny. Other than that, I'd spent a month in East Africa, getting some running in, ranging from a long run in the heights of Iten, to doing 6x3 minutes up and down the only car-free dirt track I could find in a Kenyan city, so it wasn't exactly consistent. And before that, exams had got in the way and I was confined to running on the flat roads and paths of Cardiff. Still, I felt pretty good going in to the race, especially on uphills.
One of the things that excited me about the race, aside from the stunning course, was that some pretty big names were entered into the race, including Ricky Lightfoot and Donnie Campbell, who have some incredible results internationally. It was exicting to be in the same race as these guys for a few seconds; About 30 seconds into the race and they were out of sight...nice whilst it lasted anyway!
I'd broken down the presumed 10 hours of running into chunks to mentally deal with the distance. Basically, it was a 2 hour run in the dark, a total of about 3 hours climbing, and the last two hours were always going to just be a suffer fest. By these calculations, it was therefore only a 3 hour run, which is less than my weekly long run, so it was pretty straightforward really!
The first couple of hours passed with the help of a couple of guys; one of them, Matt, had his dog with him- she ran the whole race and when I saw them at the finish line she looked like she'd barely done anything and was ready to go all over again. For comparison, my black labrador has inadvertently been conditioned to hide from me when she sees me in running shorts, such is her fear of hill repeats, so I'm a fair bit envious of this!
The section in the dark was one of my favourite parts of the race. I knew the section well so didn't have to worry about the terrain, and I think it being dark allowed the time to pass by and before I knew it, we were nearly 2 hours in. It also meant I didn't get sucked into looking at the mileage- I knew roughly the mileage of each point of the course, but I actually didn't look at the distance on my watch at all during the race. (If that makes you wonder why I even bothered using a watch, then you clearly don't have Strava- after all, if it ain't on Strava...). I turned my headtorch off on the climb towards Scafell Pike, and got into a decent rhythm climbing upwards. The gap to the guys ahead wasn't changing, and although a couple of runners behind me were getting a bit closer, I was in no rush. I had no idea what position I was even in, and deliberately didn't want to know- I found out shortly before the climb to High Raise that I was in 8th- I don't think my position altered by 3 places all race, so in general my pacing was fairly consistent- I've just got to get enough strength in the legs to actually attack in the last 10 miles of a race and try and move up the rankings. Small steps, though. (Or bigger steps in a quicker stride).
A couple of runners I spoke to after the race said they think the descent to Wythburn is one of their favourite bits of the route. I'm clearly not as sadistic as these guys, as I didn't enjoy any of it! On paper, it's a rolling 4 mile descent after the first major climb, so should be fun, but I think the bog makes it frustratingly slow, with every step forward also being a foot down into the soggy ground. Coming from Yorkshire and living in Wales I'm used to these conditions, but it doesn't mean I have to like them!
I knew from running parts of the course previously that this was the hardest bit underfoot, and that it marked the half way point of the course, so I felt after a beast of a climb up High Raise and then a boggy descent that it was all downhill from there to the finish, psychologically anyway. In reality, what that part actually marked was the start of a very very big uphill- switchbacks lead you all the way up to Helvellyn in just a couple of kilometres. Still, ultra running is all in the mind!
Since Scafell Pike I'd been running in 8th or 9th, in the middle of a group of 6. For a good 20 miles or so, I was continually within eyesight of 4th place, a few minutes ahead, and no more than a few minutes ahead of 10th place. It stayed this way for most of the ridge running along the Dodds, though maybe 4th and 5th had pulled away by the time we got to Clough Head. The gradient of the descent off Clough Head is ridiculous at nearly 50% in places, so you've just got to let gravity do the work for you and hope you make it down with your quads intact.
From there, there's a few miles of flat running before the climb up to the checkpoint at Latrigg at mile 38. I'd agreed to meet Chloe, my mum and my dogs here, just in case I needed some moral support at this point. I'd roughly worked out I would be passing through this point at 8 hours, and ended up passing through in 8.15- not bad estimations on my part! Obviously, British politeness made sure that the first thing I did was apologise for being late! At this point, if we turned left and down the hill into Keswick, we'd be done and finished in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the reality was that we had to complete a 12 mile loop of Skiddaw beforehand.
The first few miles of this loop were horrible, all ran at a gradual incline- Chloe said she could see it in my face when I looked at the path that I really didn't look like I wanted to go that way. On fresh legs it would have felt like a nice easy jog on smooth easy terrain. On tired and battered legs, it's a completely different story. The final steep slog up to Skiddaw was slower than I would have liked, but I still felt like I had a good rhythm going up. By this point I'd been running in 9th place for nearly half the race, and was still running with an equal gap to the runner ahead and behind. I was almost convinced it would stay like this, so it was actually a surprise when I caught the guy ahead of me, who had a low spot just after the top of Skiddaw and stopped. I stopped to check he was OK and if there was anything he needed (he said he'd run out of water but unfortunately so had I as I'd accidentally left a bottle at the last aid station, so couldn't help) and I was surprised to find myself suddenly in 8th. That position lasted about 5 minutes, however, as the runner who had previously been in 10th finished impressively on the final descent and overtook me just before Latrigg. I felt reasonable coming off Skiddaw, but a fairly innocuous collision with a stone on Scafell Pike was finally taking its toll on my big toe nail and I could feel it separating from the nail bed, which made for a fairly painful last few miles on the downhills.
The final mile into town from Latrigg was straightforward. I passed Sarah Morwood walking the other way having finished, and appreciated her cheer of support as I rounded the last corner and in to the finish line at Moot Hall. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how the race went, as it isn't the easiest race to make your first 50 miler. I'd quietly hoped for a finish in and around the top 10, and I never had any real dark moments during the race, so I definitely think I am managing the mental side of ultras better with every race- there was no point during the race where I felt like I wouldn't get across the finish line, and I think each race I finish breeds confidence going into the next one.
Next for me now is a short break, then a winter of hard training in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons, with a few shorter races thrown in, then my next ultra should be the Kathmandu 50km next spring, during an 8 week stay in Nepal...if that doesn't make me better at going up and down mountains, then nothing will!