It’s summer after all
So in the last 3 years of Lake District events it’s been hot I’ve done a marathon and ultra attempt in temperatures close to 30 degrees, so it’s understandable that my packing thought process was dry trail shoes and sun cream…famous last thoughts.
It’s 7 am and I wake up to the sound of heavy rain and no views from the lodge on the Langdale Estate; summer it isn’t but at least dehydration won’t be an issue. Despite being wet, it’s warm enough to just wear my short sleeve top and club vest under my newly acquired Rab jacket. I have my usual pre-long run breakfast of Skyr yogurt and granola plus a glass of Mountain Fuel energy drink and some tea. One lesson learnt from my Lakeland 50 DNF was not to think you can have a full English just because your running a slower ultra, my digestive system certainly couldn’t cope so its tried and tested from now on. I do a final check and its time to go, getting in the car with David and Carrick, its definitely still raining.
I’d envisaged sitting happily under a tree before the start of the event, well the tree part was correct but this time it was to shelter from the rain. I definitely just wanted to get going, so it was a relief to hear the call to meet at the start area for the safely briefing. We were informed of minor route alterations, due to Storm Desmond re-landscaping the course (see previous post) and reminded that the weather was not going to change, but might get worse (note: possible thunderstorms). We lined up and were on are way.
Over the top (1) to Glenridding via Kirkstone Pass
Having recce’d (see previous post) the Ambleside to Grasmere stages, I knew what was coming, however a) it had been lovely and warm, b) dry underfoot and c) on my own. The previous days rain, coupled with the current weather meant that the nice dry rocks, grass and trickling streams were no more. Add in several other pairs of feet and my shoes that were meant for dry conditions it was slow progress once we left the tarmac single track road. It would set the scene for the rest of the day, a case of patience and just accept the situation (I love yoga philosophy); be happy to get a round and let anyone who wanted to risk falling on their face get ahead. That said I made it to Kirkstone Pass in the same time as on the recce, their was confusion as we’d all expected a checkpoint here not just a feed point; double confusion was it appeared that other events where also in progress, as we had it politely pointed out that the portaloos were not for our use.
It was now onto the downhill, I’d finished my Mountain Fuel energy drink in my soft flask and made sure I ate some flapjack and sweets before moving on (lesson learnt from recce, the uphill slog to this point uses up lots of energy). Its fair to say the downhill section to Brotherswater was a mix of major bog, slip hazard rock and grass; I executed an Olympic standard bum slide and saved my knee from popping out when my foot slid from under me. It was a happy sight to see the farm at Brotherswater, as it marked the undulating gravel bridleway and the start of the run-able section to Glenridding. I was clearly managing my energy better, as I felt good and pushed on with a slow run; I had no dips in energy unlike with the recce, so felt fine running along to Patterdale and before I knew it I’d reached CP-Glenridding village hall, 10 mins quicker than on my recce.
My plan was no more than 10 mins at a main checkpoint, so I grabbed a cup of tea, some cake and crisps and went to the kitchen to make up a new flask of Mountain Fuel. I was keen knowing the weather to push on and get the hardest and worst section of the course out the way, It was to be a grim section.
Over to Grasmere, wind, hail, ice rain and slip harzards.
If you read my previous post on my recce, you’d recall I almost packed in here. During my recce this section over Lantys Tarn and up Grisedale was a mental battle due to dips in energy. I was on top of my energy this time and left the CP running. It started out fine, a light drizzle and I ran to the steps and start of climb to Lantys Tarn, however on getting through the gate and turning onto the (correct) route to the Tarn; the mother of all rainstorms unleashed itself. I stuck my hood over my AR collective trucker hat and battled on, it was a happy sight to reach the Marshall with cowbells at the top who commented on my good colour co-ordination; this would not be the only point I have to say they were outstanding for being out there in mental conditions; at least we were passing through and moving. I ran past the tarn and carefully made the descent into Grisedale Valley, the rain at least eased of but the track up the valley was now a stream and it was only going to get worse. As referenced in my recce report, the path starts as a narrow single track until the point below Rutherford hut, where the climb begins to Grisedale Tarn. At this point it becomes a mix of cobbles and rock scrambles, which when dry isn’t a issue but after days of rain turn into mini waterfalls; coupled with shoes that weren’t designed for wet rock and being blasted my gale force side winds and hail, this was a grim section and the Tarn was a very happy site. I had a quick munch on a 9bar and some of my Mountain Fuel drink, before beginning the final climb to the Hause that marked the descent down into Grasmere; here was another epic marshal camped out in a small tent, guiding the two sets of runners onto the right path (the 110km runners take a longer route), he mentioned something of ‘your at the top, now a beautiful descent down’
The only positive for the drop down to Grasmere, was the rain stopped and the cloud lifted revealing an actual view for the first time. I happy let those who wanted to risk slipping on their face, pass me as I slowly shuffle stepped down the rocks, and I was very happy when it gave way to a gravel track. The track was fine and I could run on it, the problem was the track was intersected by cascading torrents of water; in the recce they’d been a trickle and easily stepped over; know they required careful crossing. On one I had some assistance from a lady with a set of poles, most the time I just picked a sensible spot and got my feet wet; its worth noting that almost every stepping stone was submerged to some degree. We had a final laugh on the one detour across a grass bank before another Olympic standard bum slide down to rejoin the intact path. The worst was out the way, just a paddle across a path to open a gate and finally I was on the track down to meet the path, before running along into Grasmere. I managed a slow run to CP-Grasmere the relief at getting to this point and having a much needed cup of tea and some cake, I’d abandoned the will to eat sandwiches by this point.
I kept to my 10 mins per checkpoint, I was still on schedule at this point, making it in slightly quicker than on the recce and in a good mood, I texted my support crew to say this, before topping up flasks and moving on.
Tour de Langdale Valleys
In my training recce’s this section was where I’d planned to make up ground, once into Langdale it was good run-able tracks, just the climb over the saddle below Silver How and a tricky descent section first. In the recce, I’d got up to the saddle in 30 mins, it was dry then. It was a river on the day, rocks were wet, streams were torrents and grass was slippy. It was a mental slog to the top, and it felt never-ending. At the top most section we faced a tricky down climb on rocks to cross a stream. I didn’t check my watch, but I knew it had been much slower. The bit that had worried me, was actually fine it was no worse than when I’d recce’d it, we were warned to take it easy on the descent due to loose gravel which was highlighted when a girl lost her footing in front of me. But I made it down to the junction and through the bracken. This should have been a section to run, but the bracken made it impossible to see where your feet was, it was incredible slippy and the sections of rock scramble were streams again. We also got lost at the very end, this was by no means the organisers fault it was just a victim of the weather. We made it as a group to Harry Field Farm, we were meant to take a sharp left down some large cobbles to a stile, but as there was no waymarking or course signage and the said track was a river, we kept going through the farm, down some very wet cobbles before clambering over a fence. Its fair to say I’d taken a lot longer to get down to the road in Great Langdale, but my thought now was the crossroads checkpoint to Little Langdale.
At this point we meet runners who were on the last section to the final checkpoint, I gave a quick smile and pushed on, I didn’t want to dwell on the fact I had only started this loop. I managed to walk/run to the next checkpoint. I was speed walking all uphill sections now, to save my legs as the wet conditions were energy sapping. Still I was in a good mood and gave my number at the CP before a quick drink of cola and some flapjack and jelly babies. The climb up through the woods was wet and slippy but it was okay, I hummed a song in my head to keep me going and it wasn’t long before I was running down the gravel track to meet the byway into Little Langdale.
Never before has a gravel/ tarmac road been appreciated it was a relief to have a reasonably dry surface to run on after 6 and a bit hours of ankle deep water, I made it quickly to the gate that would lead us to Little langdale Tarn and for a quick evening photo. Time to just enjoy the fact it wasn’t raining. Perhaps its my life as a Yogi, but at this moment I was just happy to reflect on the fact that I could do this its nice to do a good time but its not everything, sometimes appreciating the moment is more important. Having crossed Slaters Bridge, I ran on along the track to a short climb past some NT buildings before another paddle to open a gate. At this point you join the path that you run up for the lakeland50, it not a bad track when dry, today it was a river of ankle deep water. At this point my right little toes was unhappy at the constant sock soaking, I gave up trying to run through it and just speed walked downhill. It was a happy sight to get to the bottom of it and to the flat track to meet the road up Wrynose.
So here it was, the final big effort on the course; those of us that were still out were quite spread out, which I was happy with. I had a quick energy top up and got my head down and power walked up the road, before heading over the bog. Here I executed another Olympic standard bog slide (my TNF running skirt know has a permanent stain as a reminder) and after pushing through more bracken, it was up a wet and slippy path to Blea Tarn, then a very loose gravel track to the top of Side Gate. The descent back down was not as bad as I thought, one positive of the rain is that it had bedded down the loose gravel so i managed a slow cautious run appose to a slow shuffle walk. I was down to the NT Campsite in good time, time to cross over and begin the cobble an rock strewn bridleway to Sticklebarn. Here the rain gave it final call, on a already hellish section and knowing that Sticklebarn isn’t a CP anymore it was grim, the final drop down to Sticklebarn is all rock, now which was a waterfall and not easy to descend on but I got down and pushed on passed the inn.
A final climb up some cobbles I meet a girl doing the 110km route, she told me it would be here only 60 mile ultra and she was sticking to shorter ones after it. Here we came across James ‘ jumpy’ Kirkby the official photographer, so it was back to running and smile. I kept running down to the track at Baysbrown campsite, I was on track to get to the final CP at 8pm, but had to keep taking walk breaks due to my little toe. I reached the path up to the CP at Langdale Primary School where I meet David’s brother Peter who was over with family from New Zealand to visit us for the final week. He informed me that David and his Dad, Keith were outside the school watching, which spurred me on to keep running.
It was great to see familiar faces, as I reached the school fields; even better I’d made it to the final CP, just one more stretch to do. It was 8:10pm and I’d been on my very wet feet for 9 1/2 hours. I’d long removed finishing in 10 hours out of my mind, which helped as I wasn’t concerned about trying to run to the finish. I did a quick pitstop, grabbed some flapjack and cola then headed back out; passing David to say ‘see you in Ambleside’. My legs felt fine, but my little toes was rubbing bad on my shoe but I really didn’t want to have to remove a soaking sock to stick a plaster on it. I manage to keep up a run into Elterwater, were we climbed upto YHA Langdale. The route at this point would have cut through High Close woods to meet the road down to Little Loughrigg, but Storm Desmond had obviously compromised the path, so we had to keep on the road. As much as my legs were happy to run, my little toe was not so it became a walk/run effort; as we turned of the road to run around Loughrigg Tarn, someone shouted 5K to go, which normally would’ve been great but we still had a rough track over Lower Loughrigg to deal with.
The one thing you really don’t want near the end is a stile, and yes we had one; it at least provided a laugh as we all attempted to get our quads over the obstacle. It was then the final short climb over Loughrigg before the run down into Ambleside. At the start of the climb a lady shouted only 1km to go; I wasn’t convinced, it was a long 1km if it was. I hit the final stony descent down tho the road; my toe was complaining a lot but I was 100% determined to run all the way to the finish and I did; not with much control on the final stretch as the windy road down into Ambleside is not great on tired quads, so I had to zig-zag quite a lot. I finished running, 11 hours and just before darkness really crept in. More than that I’d did it, my first ultra and one large monkey of my back after the DNF at lakeland 50, 3 years earlier.
And so where to know, Lakeland50 2017 hopefully; I feel I’m in a much better mindset for ultras now; no more about the time, just think about the experience. On top of this I’m a Yoga Teacher, so all training will be sandwiched into practising for classes and teaching, I’ll be making sure injuries don’t creep in, but equally I’ve got the perfect job to keep any niggles away.