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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Here I go again on my own, walking down the only road I've ever known.......

After a messy 2013 attempt, I once again completed the Lakeland 50 the other day, heres the story.....

first of all a brief recap of my previous 5 years of doing this event.
In 2009 I completed (just)inside 12 hours. 12 hours had been my target so I was pleased.
In 2010 I didn't enter
In 2011 I set a new pb time but I can't remember what it was, about 11 i think.
In 2012 I won the race outright in 8 hours 30 mins -happy days
In 2013 I had a free entry (part of my 2012 prize) so I entered, but only ran as far as CP1 then DNF'd.
(look back through this Blogs archive to read previous race reports)

This year I was ever hopeful of doing well and my original plan was to try to pb again. In truth I knew I was unlikely to pb because when I won, the course was mistakenly shortened by a mile, or possibly even 2. (for every runner, not just me, that not why I won) Then when I found myself running some tough races recently  (Snowdon and Skiddaw) on top of my usual road and fell training and no taper because the 50 wasn't a target race, I figured 9 hours should be my best hope

Race morning came and by 8 am it was already getting V warm. I don't really do hot weather running. Only 2 days prior to the 50 I was on the track doing some 400metre reps in +25degC heat and was struggling to hit 82 secs/lap (82 secs/lap would be about the slowest I would normally  expect to run for FOUR laps i.e. MILE reps). I therefore adjusted my target again and figured anything up to one hour longer would still be a good time.

I got near to the front and we set off across the fields around Dalemain. It was indeed roasting hot going through those open fields and I deliberately kept my pace V easy. At one early stage, perhaps about 2 miles into the race, I was able to count my position as we all turned a 90 degree left. I was 30th. Then as we began to lose a bit of height and hit the farm tracks I was overtaken by loads more and was only about 40th as we hit the CP area and out onto the course proper. I knew I would overtake people all day and be way higher than 40th by the end so I stuck to my plans and although I chatted to people I was running with, I made no allowance for them and whenever I felt it was comfortable to push on ahead and leave them behind mid conversation, I did so.

I knew it was possible to run all the way from Pooley Bridge up the Roehead track to the Cockpit bend without having to go into the red so I never even considered walking even though many people ahead of me were. I therefore passed a lot there and then another half dozen on the flatter and the  downhill sections of fell side track to Howtown (cp1).  I had actually passed almost 20 people by Howtown and was feeling good so I flew into the cp, dibbed and left within 5 seconds flat - no hellos, no drink, no food, no need!

My hydration plans included drinking one bottle  (water with a ZERO tab in it) by Fusedale waterfall, thus providing one empty receptacle to fill from said waterfall to drink if necessary, or to simply pour onto my head as required. By Mardale Head I had emptied the other ZERO tab bottle so I got them both refilled by the cp staff with water. But I had also emptied a sachet of Kinetica energy powder into each bottle prior to reaching the cp, thus now giving me a fresh, different taste which I enjoyed, and ensured I consumed (1 of) as I climbed out of the Mardale valley up the Gatesgarth Pass. At most cp.'s I also quickly necked at least 2 or 3 of the small plastic cups of coke or juice. At Kentmere I took on plain water as I knew the cps came closer together after that (just 2 cps in the first 26 miles then 4 (including the finish) in the next 24 miles), and would never be far from sustenance.

My eating plan was simple - eat a small deli style pasta after about 4 hours and have some snack items (tracker/crispy peanut biscuit etc) available in my various pockets at all times. I also had a small packet of sesame seeds with me. By accident I had omitted to pack them and they were in my shorts pocket with the plastic packaging rubbing my leg  annoyingly. So opened the pack, emptying the seeds directly into my pocket. This turned out to be perfect. I was easily able to grab a small mouthful most times I took  a drink. I shall implement this "plan" again.

Climbing Fusedale was tough in the heat. I walked! In 2012 I had caught the race leader going up onto High Cop and had descended to the Haweswater path with a lead I never lost. Very different feelings in 2014, only just in the top 20 I reckoned! But still moving well and passing people, and anyway, what did I have to prove?  I'd won the race previously and wasn't trying for a pb time today so why worry, just enjoy yourself Steve - running in the Lake District in the sunshine, this is what you do.

Descending to the Haweswater path the heat was torturous. And its ALWAYS further than you remember to get to the carpark at Mardale Head. But then I was there, and I was fuelled, and I was gone again. Heading up Gatesgarth I glanced back to see if anyone was closing on me. Nobody was even close. I had made it up into 14th place by the Mardale cp and thats basically where I would stay for the rest of the day.

As usual, the stoney lane down off Gatesgarth went on for an absolute age, but where I used to hate it for being so hard on the feet and legs, I can now generally skip across such rough unforgiving ground, even when tired, managing to pick out the best lines and find good flat surfaces to land upon.
Another smaller pass to climb and finally to drop into Kentmere. Kentmere, an oasis in a desert of lush green countryside.

I really fancied a cuppa by now and by heck it the best cuppa tea I've had in a long long time - hit the spot it did. Walking out of the cp I finished the tea and left the cup with a marshal who had handily placed himself 50yards up the track. I had also necked the pasta, (surely, much to the disgust of the young girl inside the village hall who witnessed a very sunburnt, very sweaty, ponytailed, middle aged man in shorts burst into the calm oasis, rush around giving  "fill these" & "I want tea" orders whilst simultaneously shovelling 4hours-in-the-hot-sun-congealed bacon pasta into his mouth at an alarming rate then hurling the remaining spoonfuls into the open bin bag on the floor before heading out the door again as quick as he entered, just about managing a wave of thanks for the help as his mouth now too full to speak, struggling as he was to contain said congealed pasta as he set about chewing it just sufficiently to keep it down for the remaining 24 miles of running), so I was looking forward to a fresh burst of energy and renewed enthusiasm about 30-45 minutes later when it kicked in.

Indeed, although I was now very tired and had resigned myself to walking the uphills, even the little ones, I did feel quite good as I made my way to Troutbeck. A chap passed me coming down into Troutbeck. Perhaps because I had eased back a little to run with Ste Weston who was in the L100 and going OK still. But when it became obvious that I was holding myself back TOO much, even on this day when nothing mattered really, I left Ste behind and pressed on just a little bit harder. The guy never got far ahead of me though and I finally left him behind after the Chapel Stile cp.

Before Chapel Stile was Ambleside. A superb atmosphere with dozens of holiday makers, tourists, locals and race supporters all cheering us runners through the streets. At the cp I was keen to get some orange juice but they had none at the table outside and I wasn't going up stairs and inside for some so made do with water (plus my now customary 3 cups of coke). I also had a cheese and pickle sandwich here, just saying.

As I had come into Amblesode cp my pal Richard Ellwood was leaving. He was doing the L100. I caught him as we turned left up the climb to Loughrigg. He was actually returning toward me so it was a right turn for him - no idea where he had been........?

Richard is good craic at the best of times and was also moving very very well for a man who had ran 50 miles more than me already. So we walked the uphills together and I chivvied him to run whenever I felt it possible to do so. As we got through beyond Chesters and were on the flatlands approaching Elterwater I noticed behind us A GIRL was catching us up. There was zero possibility this was a L100 runner so it must be L50 runner, and she was therefore CATCHING ME UP!

Richard insisted  I pressed on at my own pace and by the time I reached the Wainwright pub I had not only put a lot of distance between myself and girl, but also caught the chap who had been just ahead since he passed me back at Troutbeck.

I spent a little TOO long in Chapel Stile cp to be honest and as I left I noticed girl was merely 20 yards off arriving at it. Within half a mile she caught me and passed me. Quite frankly I was amazed at how well this lass was moving along. There were no climbs as such around here but often small inclines, which she was running up! I made an effort to catch her back up and we chatted on and off for several miles. Me always losing ground on the uphill but somehow managing to claw back  on the flatter stuff.  As we left the Wrynose road to head over the short pass to Tilberthwaite there was a big ugly bull in the field near our path, and several cows actually on the path. Girl was ahead by 50 metres at this point but was V unsure of the beasts and waited for me. The next gate was only 20 metres past the bull so I just ran as normal, ignoring the bull, it therefore ignored us back (though it was having a good look).

5 seconds after bullgate, girl turned her head to speak to me, but I was suddenly incapable of keeping up with her any longer. She skipped ahead and in the 4 or 5 miles we still had to complete, beat me by 8 minutes! Well done Lizzie Wraith. as if 2nd place in the L50 wasn't good, she had previously WON the L100 in 2013!

I was utterly gone by the time I reached the Tilberthwaite cp. As I left it, I climbed those big stone steps, the final climb of the day, as if they were the steps to heaven and I was climbing them on the very last day of  a very long life. Just as someone might do who knows the end of their days has come and they have no option but to climb, I had no option but to climb. Its not that I didn't want to climb because climbing, as tough as it was to do, was now the easiest way to get to Coniston and be finished. Its just that it was really hard work and really slow going and not nearly as much fun as it had been when I had previously done that same final climb as leader and then winner of the race.

I must have been tired because even the final mile on tarmac and gently downhill took me over 10 minutes to cover. But cover it I did and I was soon in Coniston and running in to applause and cheering as I crossed the line again. Not as the race winner this time, just a reasonably well placed finisher. (Although the only officially crowned British Champions were the Male and Female winners, I was the first V45 to finish the L50 so am claiming to now be the British Ultra Trail running Champion V45 category.....any arguments?) Not that it makes any difference to the supporters, they cheer everyone, from first to last, just as loudly.

Thats what I noticed most about the UTLD this time - I noticed the event as a whole. Previously I had either turned up as late as possible to register then driven myself home as soon as I could after finishing, or I had gotten myself to Dalemain for the start, thus missing the camaraderie of the 'dreadful' coach trip from Coniston. Or I had omitted the compulsory race briefing (but did attend the L100 briefing so please don't retrospectively DQ me Marc) because I wasn't even in Coniston on the Saturday morning. I attended the prize giving at noon on Sunday this time, not because I HAD to because I was the winner, but because I wanted the whole race experience, the atmosphere, the EPIC event that is the UTLD to last as long as possible and to enjoy it all and experience all of it, right to the end.

Chatting to Marc Laithwaite  afterwards I mentioned how I'd like to do some of his other events but that they always seemed to clash with something else I was committed to. Without really explaining exactly what he meant he said "yeah but they're nothing like THIS". And I knew exactly what he meant.

He was referring to the fact that the UTLD is kinda special.

Its special to me because when I first ran it in 2009, it was the first Ultra race I had done and thus furthest I had ever ran.

And it's also special specifically to me and only 3 other people per year  because I have won it and my name will be on that trophy for every future winner to read when they get home after their own special day.

But its also special to the dozens and dozens of helpers and marshals who literally beat a path to Marc and Terrys door to volunteer year after year. They all work so hard and seem to do at least 3 jobs each (the lady who registered me was also the Tilberthwaite tea lady and would surely be there until the early hours of Sunday! and a chap who I saw directing cars for 5hrs+ on Friday night was also on a CP then also working all day Sunday helping in the presentation hall).

And of course it is special to EVERYONE who completes either of the courses. They are not high, they are not hard to navigate, but they are relentlessly tough, and few finishers medals are more well deserved.

I may do the 50 next year, I may do the 100. I may do neither. But if I do neither then there will surely be a very good reason why.  Thanks Marc, Terry, and the staff, and the volunteers. Please never stop inviting me back to your event - its bloody brilliant!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Taking the high roads

Recently I ran (ok, I admit, I walked most of the 8th) from/back to, Keswick, on a route that saw me visit all Eight of the Lake Districts 3000ft+ summits.....

Because I hate early mornings I had camped overnight in Keswick to save an hour, allowing the luxury of a 7am rise to eat then make my way over to Brundholme Rd at the foot of Spooneygreen Lane where the day would begin and end.

Craig Smith was there with Simon Veitch and Richard Ellwood. Richard, as I understood, was joining us for the day in prep' for his forthcoming Lakeland 100miler. The other two were just due to run up n down Skiddaw, our first summit.  Andy slattery was last to arrive. Slats had the Three Thousands on his 'to do' list and he was running the whole day too.

Skiddaw was cool, cold even as we got nearer the upper gates. We each put on a coat and spoke about how we hoped this clag and low temp wouldn't be the order of the day. Good craic from the lads meant we hardly noticed the 67minutes it took to reach Skiddaw, summit 1 of 8, 3054 feet

The drop off Skiddaw was a bit of a sedentary affair, taking about double what it could be done in. Not that that mattered at all, this was to be a day out bagging the summits and to say we had done it, not how fast we could manage. Back at the cars we changed shoes for the 9 mile road run down Borrowdale. Craig kindly offered to drive there before then going home, taking all our packs, food etc (and my dog). This was a welcome saving - cheers fella.

On a rough schedule I had allowed for 9 minute miling  for the 9 mile road section. We were nearer 8 pace in fact, and even a stop in Rosthwaite to use the public wc's saw us arrive at Seathwaite only just after Craig had got there himself.

Taking 10 mins or so we enjoyed a decent feed before setting out again, this time with all gear on our backs which, combined with rough climbing, a full stomach and reasonable heat of the day, made the first mile or so toward Styhead quite an uncomfortable run. I walked on and off but Slats was having none of that. I had to catch up.

Incredibly, I had only ever used Stockley Bridge to get to Styhead. Slats took us up via Taylorgill Force, not that there was much force, or even much water at all in it during this dry spell. Chatting as we climbed higher, it turned out Richard hadn't time to complete the whole route with us and was going to turn back at Esk Hause. Turned out also that prior to meeting us that morning he had already been for a TEN MILE FELLRUN! Much later, as I first began to feel a little weary, Richard must surely have felt VERY weary? I didn't envy him his solo run back to Keswick.

Once past Styhead, (where Slats recounted the occasion he helped carry/build said box as part of MR team) we began to cross paths with competitors in the 10 Peaks challenge. They were coming down the corridor route as we climbed it. As we drew ever nearer to Scafell Pike we then deviated away from it, crossing the nadir between Lingmell and the Scafell massif to  reach the  Lords Rake which was to be our way up to the next two summits.

Immediately below the Lords Rake is a vast field of scree which is tricky to climb up at the best of times. Today we had the added danger of loose scree, stones and boulders constantly falling out of the Rake, dislodged by the myriad 10 Peakers who were going up or down the narrow, stone filled corridor above. (what are the odds that over the years, many people have used Lords Rake to reach Scafell then gone home believing they had used the Corridor Route to reach Scafell Pike?)

Once in the Lords Rake itself I was simply amazed by how many people were also there. Almost certainly all 10 Peakers. Some were making their way up, some coming down. A couple were stood filming on their phones and everyone was busy chatting.  Despite the perilously placed stone above you at all times which, had it fallen (as it surely will one day)  would certainly have wiped out everyone in that chasm instantly, I love being in the Lords Rake, it's great fun using hands to help grapple your way up the loose ground below feet, trying to find a hold on the vertical rock either side of the chasm to help propel yourself up. And once up near the chockstone you can take a look behind you, back  across to the summit of Scafell Pike, invariably with  a line of trudging walkers heading to or from it, all no doubt laying claim to having had the adventure of climbing as high as you can climb in England but little realising what extra adventure they could enjoy with just an extra couple of hours added to their day.

Near the chockstone I scooted up to my left to get into the West Wall Traverse, a couple of 10 Peakers asked where I was going. I told them and they asked if it was OK. "it's a lot better than the loose bit you have just climbed up so far" I said, and they followed me up. Unfortunately Richard either didn't know or didn't realise we were going that way and was away up beyond the chockstone when Slats called him back to the WWT.  I let the 10Peakers pass me while I waited for my two to come into sight then I was off again, relishing the easy climbing which is always a good way to help stretch leg muscles.

At the top of the WestWall Traverse you pop out of the gloomy rock chamber onto a always brighter, wide summit plateau. Although I had been here many times, I had never then gone on to any other place than Scafell. But slats had said we needed to go right and indeed I could see a small rocky summit to my right which I headed up. It had been about 3 hours since we had bagged Skiddaw but now we were at Symonds Knott, summit 2 of 8, 3146 feet

The next top, was much sooner coming. A half hearted path leads across to it, interspersed with big rocks but still runnable, then another small climb through desk sized rocks to reach Scafell, summit 3 of 8, 3163 feet

I had already said I thought Foxes Tarn descent was the way we should get off Scafell. And with all those people in the Rake I certainly wasn't keen on changing my plan by going back the way we had came. Well towards the bottom of the ravine that leads down from Foxes Tarn Richard said Andy had gone  across to the left to gain the climbers traverse that leads to Mickledore. I had never done this route before but Stustod had. He told me it was slightly tricky but nothing to be worried about.

I couldn't see Slats ahead on the traverse, he was too far ahead, but there is a faint trod denoting the line to take. In fairness, although I found it very easy to negotiate, there is at most times a pretty big drop off close to your right hand side and I admit I sat on my backside for one small section of rock which looked like it might be slippery and was angled ready to pitch me off to a certain helicopter rides followed by hospitalisation. I don't think I would use this route in winter or in wet weather, but it is a heck of a lot quicker than dropping all the way out from Foxes Tarn into the valley then trudging back up toward the Mickledore Stretcher box.

Richard hadn't been keen to try the climbers traverse so we had to wait a few minutes for him before we started the rock hopping ascent to Scafell Pike, summit 4 of 8, 3209 feet.

Slats showed me where to go on the Borrowdale race to get to the scree chute down onto the corridor route which saves having to double back to the nadir of Broad Crag/Scafell Pike. It looked like fun. (Little did I realise that 4 days later I would be there once again, going down it. It wasn't fun when a large stone the size of a shoe hit me at speed on the back of my calf) still hurting as I write this, another 2 days later). As Richard wasn't doing all the tops so we suggested he stuck to the path (not that its much of a path) toward Esk Hause while me and Slats bagged the next 2 which are outliers from the direct route. But when we then got to Broad Crag, summit 5 of 8, 3064 feet, he was right there behind us. He was persuaded to miss out Ill Crag summit 6 of 8, 3054 feet, however, and once me and Slats had bagged it we found him waiting just above that final bit of the Broad/Ill crag plateau area that then drops away sharply down toward Esk hause.

Esk hause is where we said cheerio to Richard as he hung left toward Sprinkling Tarn and Styhead again, and we hung right towards Angle Tarn and Rosset Pike.

So just me and Slats now. When I first mooted this day out he was first to sign up. Others said they would come along. Most pulled out for one reason or another. Some did come but only for certain bits, and now it was just the original two soldiers trooping Eastward toward the last big hill of the day.

I endured a right bad spell as we contoured around Rossett Pike toward High Raise, then on High Raise itself as we contoured around to Greenup Edge I was constantly playing catchup with Slats. It turned out that Slats was just keen to get this rubbishy section out of the way as quick as possible and had been pressing on to do so. I was probably not moving too bad at all myself in fact, just felt slow compared to him. One thing I was very much looking forward to was a fresh sandwich and milkshake at Steel End farm. The evening prior, I had placed various food and drink in a drybag which I had then hung by a shoelace over the wall alongside the road. Slats had done likewise but utilised a Morrisons carrier bag for the purpose. ( I admit it may have been Sainsburys but you get the picture right?)


I was stunned that this had happened to my food while Slats was fine in a flimsy plastic carrier. I was also loathe to eat the rest of the sarnie but I was V hungry and it was one of those that come in two halves, each in its own section of a plastic box type arrangement. So I risked the untouched half.

I had stashed loads of stuff as well as the sandwich and it weighed a ton. So I put Scamp on his lead and walked slowly up the road to Wythburn Church eating stuff and transferring other stuff to my pack. There was no way I needed as much to eat  for the final couple of hours and there was also no way I was going to carry it all for no reason. So I tore off half a malt loaf and fed it to Scamp, chucking the remainder across the hillside. A milkshake was emptied out so I only had the weight of the bottle to carry, and I ate an apple with haste.

Now during this short period of sorting stuff out we had both been walking pretty slowly. But now everything was done I imagined we would resume our previous brisk pace as we climbed the steps up away from Wythburn, ever higher toward Hell'y. But Slats was crawling along and said it was as fast as he could manage. I felt pretty good and could have gone a tad quicker, but not a lot so there seemed little point in gaining a lead just to then wait later on. So we toiled on up, sweat pouring out of our no doubt drained looking faces.

We knew we were tired and must look it. So when we met people coming down, we felt compelled to mention that although we both looked, and were, bloody knackered, we had already covered 30+ miles and 6x 3000ft summits, and hadn't simply just set out from the carpark half a mile below us.

The climb to Helvellyn took an age. But we knew it signalled the start of the end of our day and we were in good spirits as we glanced around the clear skies to see where we had spent the previous numerous hours. At the top we me two chaps who were taking photos. We took one of them together and they took me and Slats. Even though this was Helvellyn, summit 7 of 8  3118 feet and we still had one more top to go, it was only a couple of minutes running to get to it and with little about Lower Man save for a rough pile of stones marking the top, this, Helvellyn, felt like the end of our day, the accomplishment of what we set out to do, and it was a better photo opportunity anyway.

Minutes later we were on top of Lower Man, summit 8 of 8 3035 feet. Job done.

Descending to Swirls carpark seemed to take forever. Not because were were going slowly, but I think its just quite a long way and we were tending to remain on the stepped path a lot of the time which forces smallish quick steps rather than loping down at your own preferred stride length.
When we hit the main road we knew we had nearly a mile to do to the St Johns Vale road end where there is shortly afterwards a sign saying "5miles to Keswick".  Not a pleasant section of the Lakes to run along at any time, never mind when 40 odd miles already in legs.

Slats was on a mission though and kept a decent running pace for at least 3 miles before, upon my insistence, we took a small walk break. We then walked and jogged until the big hill into Keswick where we both seemed happy to walk only. Then a nice jog into the town and back to our vehicles where couple of people were stood waiting for 10 Peakers to come out of Spooneygreen Lane.

We had just sat down on the grassy bank opposite the Lane when a chap pulled up and asked if we had an OS map of the nearby area. He was wanting to look up where to go later that night, as he was part of a Coast to Coast relay run. Anyway, I said I had maps in the van and reluctantly struggled to my feet to get it for him to look at.

After sorting him out he asked how we had navigated our way around our own route. The simple truth was, we knew the way! Visibility was always good enough to see as far as we wanted or needed to.  Slats knew it better than me and had often taken us along a different line to one I would have chosen. I'm not saying I wouldn't use a map if I tried to do this route in poor visibility, but its great to be able to run so far as we did and always know where we were and what the next bit would look like. Perhaps not so challenging as some people would like but the distance/terrain/climbing were challenge enough for me.

I may do this every year from now on - I may never do it again -who knows

Craigs accidental selfie

The photo Craig was taking when he did the selfie - Seathwaite lunch stop 

Me waiting on the WestWall Traverse
Lingmell (and Skiddaw) from WWT
took photos while I waited

Richard making his way up  the WWT
Mickledore. Me pointing out Broad Stand and also some climbers on the Central Buttress of Scafell

Me nearing Greenup Edge. and, correct me if i am wrong but I think Bowfell - Esk Pike -Scfell Massif -  Gt End is the skyline?

Slats said the 10 Peaks was expensive but still drank the water the marshals lugged up there for those who did pay

Me and yer man Slats on Helly with Swirral Edge path on the left  and Catstye Cam  behind Slats broad shoulders