As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Friday, August 3, 2012

you raced 50 miles?!?! How did you do? I won.

I made a bit of fuss when I won the Karrimor Trail Marathon in  July because I felt it was a stroke of luck that none of the local top runners entered it and I was a bit jammy really to take victory in such a slow time. I  honestly thought it would be the last race I would ever win.

Even when I took the lead early on in the L50 I remained just as assured I would never win another race, and then later, with just a mile to go, when I struggled to descend into Coniston due to cramp I was still  uncertain if I would hold on to win.

Win it I did though, and in a time that smashed all my own expectations and wasn't too far away from previous winning times. In my 43years I have never been so proud and so pleased. Not just with winning a prestigious, highly regarded and tough mountainous event, but with the way I took on the challenge mentally, stuck to my plan, and dealt with the little demons that mounted their mini campaigns to spoil the day.

Friday in Coniston

Prior to embarking on the race report proper I shall just make reference to the Two previous occasions I have ran the L50.

In 2009 50 miles was to be the longest run of my life. I hoped to beat 12 hours (it just seemed a nice round figure). I struggled with the nav' and ended up running from Ambleside to Coniston with Wendy Dodds who knew the route well. I recall finding the pace very easy but was unwilling to leave Wendy behind as I reckoned I would probably go off course and lose even more time.

Skip 2010 when I didn't enter and lets go to the 2011 event. Many will recall how damn hot it was, not ideal at all. I remember walking some of the uphill parts of the initial loop in the fields above Dalemain - because 50 miles was such a long way. And I also recall taking loads of food on board at Howtown - again because 50 miles was such a long way and I thought I should. Soon after, whilst going up Fusedale eating bananas I started to feel bad. At High Kop I stayed on the central summit path (instead of dropping right) and almost got to the dam before doubling back. By this point though my head had gone and my pal Stu reported me entering the Mardale CP 'ages after expected' and 'looking for any excuse to sit down and avoid getting on with it'. Later in the race I teamed up with my pal Stephen Weston (who completed the 84 mile Hadrians Wall path route in record time, ran his first ever sub 3hr marathon AND completed the L100 this year) and mentally enjoyed the camaraderie of the final 25 miles despite feeling dreadful physically.

So the biggest issue to deal with this time was how to eat during the run without feeling ropey (and to go the right way). I read up on Marcs advice about the stomach being a fine sieve that would allow energy to pass only once it was at the optimum dilution and decided to try the Kinetica products that would be available in the race itself.

Despite regularly running in the high fells for 2-4 hours most weekends I hadn't completed any runs specifically aimed at the endurance needed for the 50. Then suddenly there was only 2 weeks to go until race day and I realised I had better start working on that aspect. One 25 mile,  six hour run (I'll be honest here and admit it was 3.5 hours of vigorous walking followed by 2.5 hours of hard running. Thanks for the company AW) later and I felt happy with the Kinetica though still a bit concerned that the race could easily last twice as long.

Pre race day I looked up my splits from last year and compared them to the winners splits. Not because I thought I could run as fast as last years winner, but so I could get a realistic idea of how much time I could knock off my own splits. 5mph is a pace I can run at for 3-4 hours including numerous high summits and short stops for taking photos/filling bottles etc, and I came up with what seemed like a do-able sub 10 hour finish. I also figured that sub 10hrs might see me in the top 10 overall. A result I would certainly have taken if offered me pre race.

Pre race plan was to run as much as possible, ie not walk, and to stop for the absolute minimum time necessary. To that end I didn't bother packing any gear over and above the minimum kit requirements. I intended to eat only what was provided so didn't pack any food either. But then at the last minute I had a panic about maybe feeling hungry and added 4 eccles cakes and 3 packets of plain Hula Hoops to my pack. Just as well as two of each were eaten in the race.

Section  one. Dalemain to Howtown
I'm not sure what exactly happened in the 4 mile section lead by Richard prior to reaching Dalemain CP again, there was at least one wrong turn leading to us all doubling back, and  at 18 minutes it certainly wasn't 4 miles. I was in the first 10 runners while we were running across the fields but then with the doubling back, the first 30 odd runners were suddenly bunched again.

Once we got out across the main road and making our way to Pooley the order was put more or less right again and I was in perhaps 10th-12th place and running very comfortably.

As we climbed the tarmac hill out of Pooley I knew I would pull away from whoever I was with and this was how it panned out. By the start of the fell section I was in about 8th place and could see all those ahead of me quite clearly as nobody had pulled much of a gap.

I ran very steadily across the open land to the wall and alongside the wall to Howtown. I would put my perceived effort as about 30 secs/mile slower than when I complete 'long' marathon training runs on road (which are usually 6:45/mile). Overtaking another couple of lads not long before the Howtown CP, I got there in 6th place, exactly one minute behind the leader. Crucially though, I dibbed in and left immediately (ie didnt go in the building). I had no intention of eating so early and my bottle wasn't empty and I knew I could fill it at the mini waterfall on Fusedale Beck at the top of the steep climb anyway. So I was immediately into equal third place as we began section Two climbing the tarmac road back to the fells.

Section 1 in 1:14:48 
26minutes faster than 2011 though I suspect 10 mins shorter due to missed miles pre Dalemain)
lying in 6th place
one minute behind leader

When they announced another portaloo had been placed at the opposite end of the field.....

Section Two. Howtown to Mardale
It wasn't really my intention to engage in much conversation with anyone, but when running alongside or right behind another person in the middle of an otherwise vast empty space, it would seem strange to me not to speak at all. So I asked the fella if he had done the race previously. Turns out he had done it twice and been 13th twice, in about 10 hours.

We didn't chat much more, the gradient began to steepen once we were on the way toward the ruin and the bench and this allowed me to pull away alone into a clear third place. I caught second place on the steep steps up to the mini waterfall, just before the very boggy ground to the second ruin. This is very familiar territory for me as its the same route as used in the Day in the Lakes Tri (which I have competed in as relay runner a few times).

The final slog up before levelling out a bit before High Kop I spotted the leader overtake a group of four L100'ers. I also saw him put on a jacket and figured that would be losing him some time so I pressed on a bit more.  When I passed the four L100ers one of them knew me (if you read this, sorry I didn't recognise you).  Even though I was running strongly here (if only tiny baby steps) where the current leader was walking, the encouragement from the group was a real lift as they realised they were watching the L50 leaders racing each other up the fellside.

At the top of the steep climb where we bear left toward High Kop summit was where I took the lead. Only for a minute or so then I was in second place again but shoulder to shoulder. Once we started to lose height I started to pull away. Then as it got steeper downhill I started to really fly. I knew the ground before the bridge near the tall deer gate would be so wet that I could footplant with 100% surety of not slipping on wet rock or hard but greasy grass. Through the high bracken with the falls to my left I was still flying. Then something went a bit wrong. At the bottom of the falls path there is a gate to the left. I know the roadbook says 'dont go through gate'. I had been there on a short recce a month earlier and gone through the gate just to convince/reassure myself that it was indeed the wrong way. I knew fine well that the CP was to the right.....

So I went through the gate.

I realised within 10 metres that I had been stupid and gone the wrong way and immediately retraced and got onto the right path. Just perhaps 30-40 seconds lost, but in that short time I felt my stomach turn over and a horrible sinking feeling  begin to wash across my mind and body.

Its very lucky that I was  timing myself over the sections and I could see that despite still having a decent way to go to the Mardale CP, I was going to be a huge margin up on my 2011 time there. This knowledge and the fact I was running strongly was enough to dispel the sinking feeling - it never returned.

I also realised that if I could just keep a hold of the lead then everybody keeping tabs on me via live tracking would see I was leading the race. No way in the world did I expect at this time, to win the race  - in fact I was certain I would be overtaken by half a dozen later in the day.

I pushed hard all the way to the CP. I knew that I would take on energy drink there and allow myself to walk up the pass drinking it. I got to Mardale with a two and half minute lead. I know this time gap now but at the time it seemed much less when I spotted the lad in second coming to the CP when I seemed scarcely any distance from it.

Section 2 in 1.36.11  
44 minutes faster than 2011
Total time 2.50.59 now 1hr 10mins up on 2011 time at this point
leading by 2mins 31s

My favourite shorts and Blue cap 

Section Three. Mardale to Kentmere
A checkpoint routine wasn't something I thought much about until it became obvious that I should have one. What I did was empty both water bottles in the last couple of minutes prior to reaching the CP and as soon as I was within earshot of the staff I would hold out both bottles and ask for them to be filled with whatever I wanted. This worked well at Mardale and I was able to quickly add water to the Kinetica powder from the open cups of water on the table whilst also swigging a couple of cups of coke  with my other hand.

I didn't want any solid food until Kentmere so again I was in and out in seconds as the marshal held open the gate which I positively sprinted through.

Gatesgarth Pass soon gets steep so I was soon walking. Walking very strongly though and running at every tiny opportunity when the gradient eased for just a few metres. I finished one bottle of Kinetica energy by the top of the main climb and the other before Kentmere. Despite the dreadfully rough stony track I ran well and skipped across the lane from side to side picking out the best lines I could see.

I had a couple of minor reservations about the exact route across the roads and fields in the final mile or so to Kentmere so after crossing Sprint at Sadgill and was going uphill again I took the opportunity to look out the road book and kept it in my hand for easy reference.

Following the climb I was again flying along the levels and downhills and half recognised Ste Weston ahead of me. Unsure at first if it was indeed him I called out a bit late and all he had time to say was something along the lines of "whoa, go on Steve, are you leading?". I felt a bit bad as I almost jostled him
 and just said 'yep' as I  whizzed by Ste and his party of about 5 or 6 fellow L100ers. Angie was also here, just ahead though,  and I had time to call her name and hifive her as I passed.

Though I must have been out of earshot within ten seconds I could hear Angie and Ste's encouragement all the way to Kentmere. I was buoyed seeing my friends and for the very first time I actually considered the possibility of winning the race. I knew for a certain fact that Stephen would not expect me to have slowed up even a fraction to have had a chat or ask about how he was doing, but how much better would it be if I had been so selfish because I was on my way to winning the Lakes 50?

So I decided that I would try to win the Lakes 50.

Section 3 in 1.12.01 29 mins faster than 2011
Total time 4.03.00. 
now 1hr 39 up on 2011 time at this point
leading by 10 mins 42s.

Section 4 - Kentmere to Ambleside
Kentmere was my favourite CP in 2009 and 2011.  They had music playing, fairy lights strung up, jugs of fresh water on the tables and fruit smoothies made to order.

I have absolutely no idea if they had any of those things in 2012.

My only recollection I'm afraid to say is being a bit short with the volunteer who, when I asked for a Kinetica sachet, asked me what flavour I wanted? I couldn't even remember the flavours she had mentioned as being available one second earlier and I just said something like ' any, any it doesn't matter about flavour'. Whilst I was being bombarded with what to me at that time seemed the most ridiculous question ever asked I was trying to fill my bottle with fresh water. The container obviously did not have an air inlet point, resulting in the water leaving the vessel only marginally quicker than a drippy tap. And I was just squatting there on the floor watching the water level scarcely rise in my bottle. I tried putting the bottle on the floor so I could do other things while it filled. But this resulted in half the already piffling flow going on the floor, so I had to resume my holding under the tap regime.

Eventually both bottles were full. I stowed them away and also asked for two energy bars. Being sure to add the words - 'one of each flavour'.

I want to say that I echo the sentiments of the competitors who praise the CP staff and race helpers. It's quite clear that the event could not go ahead without their volunteered input. And when you add in their cheeriness and encouragement as night turns to morning (a part of the event I have never  been personally involved in) then words are hard to string together well to properly thank them and say how much their help and support is appreciated. But it is appreciated, even if at the time of meeting I was so wrapped up in getting in and out again and staying ahead of the next runner that I wasn't the most grateful of participants.

I am grateful.  Thankyou all.

Climbing out from Kentmere up the Garburn Pass I was still feeling pretty good. Leaving Troutbeck up that steep road past the Post office I was reduced to walking - I was knackered. I caught up to a 100 runner and we chatted briefly. He realised I was leading and I said something about "not for much longer if I keep walking".  "I need to run" I said, and wished him well and I ran again.

Coming into Ambleside I felt great - lots of people suddenly - cars to keep away from - noise and shops and a hard floor underfoot - all very familiar as a city dwelling roadrunner.

Section 4 in 1:17:22 30 mins faster than 2011 
Total time 5:20:22 
now 2hrs 10 mins up on 2011 time at this point 
leading by 14mins 12s

Section 5 - Ambleside to Langdale
Lakes Runner CP went smoothly. Bottles filled from cups already on the table. A lady stashed away my roadbook in my rucksack as I knew the rest of the route without its help. Lots of things were offered to eat and drink. All were politely refused. "I just wanna get on with this now and get it finished" I said. And I sprinted* out the door and through the arched lane opposite.

*after 35 miles this description of my incredible pace may not be quite the same as Crammys and Brendons of Mr U. Bolts next week. Just saying.

Just prior to crossing the main road and heading down the lane past the church I spotted Ben Abfabdelnoor, he was standing in almost exactly the same place as he had been one year earlier with Britta. I wonder if he actually lives in a shop doorway near there and only clambers out of his duvet upon hearing rapid footsteps approach? It was certainly another boon to see a familiar face and, when I shouted to him that I didn't know if I was leading by one minute or ten, to hear Ben tell me I had more like 15!!

Once I was out of Ambleside and onto the next climb I felt a tiny bit of cramp in one leg as I ascended the relatively easy gradient. I wasn't overly concerned, but I should have been.  I should have been taking my Nuun tablets hours earlier but had forgotten all about them, and they were right there within easy reach in my pocket. The steep road descent into Skelwith Br was the beginning of a rally bad section for me. The jarring of that descent brought on proper cramping in both legs. Upon reaching the   stone works behind Chesters Cafe I was at my mental low point of the whole run - I felt certain I was being caught - I was knackered and my legs hurt. I walked for a short while but walking action made the pain of the cramp much worse. So despite feeling too tired to run I was forced to do so.

This continued all the way through to Elterwater and Chapel Stile. Brief walks then longer runs. I note now that I only ran this section 4 mins faster than one year earlier. Considering I was knocking 20-40 mins off most sections this one was clearly the poorest performance of the day. Still, if you are to have a bad section then better it be a short one with little climbing on which to lose time.

I had another mild panic at the Baysbrown campsite. I hadn't read up on where exactly the CP would be sited. I didn't imagine it to be much further than last year and so once I had passed last years spot I grew concerned I should perhaps have left the path I was on up a side lane or some such.

I faffed on retrieving the roadbook from my rucksack and was mighty relieved to read it was beyond the campsite. Then I spotted it ahead anyway. I felt a bit renewed to have made no error after all and found a bit of speed for the last couple of hundred metres to the big gazebo. ( I also didn't want the staff there to think how dejected and slow the leading 50 runner seemed)

 Section 5 in 1:00:48
4 mins faster than than 2011. 
Total time 6:21  
now 2hr 14mins up on 2011 time at this point 
leading by 10mins 49s 

Section 6 Langdale to Tilberthwaite

Perhaps I did look slow and dejected after all because I dont actually think the staff at Langdale realised I wasn't a L100 runner and was actually the first L50 runner they had seen. As they filled my bottles and realised I was getting straight back onto the track one of them said 'you're overtaking a few here' . I replied along the lines of "no, I'm the leader". I'm not sure my position was made clear but it mattered little  - I just wanted to get back going again.

I also took a brief look at the road book here and was told it would be 2hrs to Tilberthwaite and another  1 hour from there to finish. I thought - "no bloody way in the world will I take another 3 hours to complete this - I can run Ambleside to Coniston in 3 on fresh legs". In actual fact it took me 2hrs and 9mins to finish from there, but at the time I looked at my watch and realised that even 3 full hours would see me well inside 9and a half.

The ground from the Langdale CP to the compulsory CP is a part of the course I really like to run over. Boggy, not too steep either way, little bit technical with rocks etc to hop around, and best of all, a fresh stream to pile through.

Unfortunately, once you turn right off the main Wrynose road there is a significant (at this late stage) climb with a very rough descent into the farmyard. Once through the farm though you can see the Tilberthwaite CP.

Section 6 in 1:21:29
30 mins faster than 2011
Total time 7:42
now 2hrs 25 mins up on 2011 time at this point
leading by 5mins 13s

Final section - Tilberthwaite to Coniston

It was great to be greeted by the Tilberthwaite staff by my name. It felt like I was being taken seriously as a potential winner as I  was obviously being mentioned on the radios.

A very short stop once again then off up the big steps. Climbing wearily, I constantly looked to my right to see if another runner might be steaming along the road towards the CP intent on catching me. I saw no one but sometimes the view was obscured. All I could do was walk as fast and hard as possible, then run as soon as the gradient and my tired legs allowed me to.

Despite having been over this ground only once in the light (and twice in the dark) I feel I know it very well indeed. Run alongside the beck, get to the small falls with a windswept tree above, then hop over the beck and follow the faint path up the final climb of the course.

Again on this final climb I was always looking over my shoulder to see If I was being caught. I was a long long way up when I did see a figure below. No way could he be a L100 runner so he must be my rival. But I was almost finished climbing. Once I was  descending the speed differential would see the already large gap grow larger so I was fairly confident.

But then the high point came and I began to descend and something VERY MAJOR WENT WRONG.

All leg muscles above my knees cramped up far far worse then at any previous time. The pain that shot through me with every footfall was the worst pain I've ever known whilst running.

To put it into context - In my 2012 London marathon I felt sufficient abdominal discomfort, that despite having trained specifically for 4 months solid I quit the race at 10 miles. And this pain was much much worse than that. The big difference of course was I was still in the lead on my way to the biggest and most surprising win of my life.

I was going downhill slower than I had just ran up it. If there was just a mile to go I knew it would take me 20 to 30 minutes at this pace. If the next guy was feeling Ok he could do it in less than 10 so even a 15 or 20 minute lead would be wiped away.

I wanted to lie down on the ground and stretch my legs out. But I knew that if I did that I would lose lots of time and it would still hurt just as much afterwards - 8 hours of accumulated lactic from running cannot be undone or dispersed quickly.


So I just bore the pain and shouted out loud, very loud

"get down this fucking hill now and win this fucking race"

It was a good pep talk and one which obviously did the trick.

For the previous 7 hours or so I had considered the potential but unlikely chance of winning the race.
For the previous couple of hours I had considered the increasing possibility that I might actually somehow win the race.
And now I was just over a mile from the end and in serious trouble I finally realised just how badly I wanted to win it.

Surely I deserved to win it? I certainly didn't deserve to be overtaken in the final mile and lose it did I?

Again and again I shouted at myself..

"do it"
"win this"

It was still hurting. A lot. But every painful step was one closer to the line.

As the buildings on the track below grew ever larger, the gradient grew less and less steep.
As the gradient grew less steep my legs hurt less
As my legs hurt less they moved faster
As I moved faster the mental image of Coniston loomed
As the mental image of Coniston became a real image of Coniston I knew I was safe and was going to win the L50.

The track turned to tarmac and I increased the pace. Into the village and I increased the pace again. Finally the left turn down to the lake and I ran as fast as I possibly could, I dunno why, it just seemed the right thing to do at the time.

Then I stopped 'cos I had won.

Section 7 in 48 mins 12s
21 mins faster than 2011
Winning time 8:30:51 (3 hrs 6 mins up on 2011 time at this point)
Won by 3 minutes and 45 seconds

Proudest day of my life

As it turns out the best thing about winning the L50 was the 8hrs 30mins 51seconds of my life I spent winning the L50.

Stopping running was good, a relief even.  Getting applauded by the hall full of people was great. Being congratulated by people at the time and now in the days afterwards is good.

But as it turns out, none of those things that come after the race win are really as good as when I was still running the race. Those last 5 minutes when I was alone running fast down the miners track into the village were possibly the best 5 minutes of my life. Over dramatic? Perhaps to many. But I am a runner. I train every day to run fast and to to run long and to find out what my body is capable of doing.

In those last 5 minutes of this, my biggest, most prestigious race win and proudest achievement of my life,  I realised exactly what I was capable of doing.

I realised it, I relished it and I revelled in it.

The Spoils

"I don't know why Steve still bothers doing marathons - he packs in half way round"

Yeah? Well I didn't pack in half way round Keswick marathon and I didn't pack in this one either you clever shite - I won them both. 
(name of my former so called friend witheld)

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