Thursday, 2 August 2012

Lakeland 50/100. 27-29/07/2012.

Update 12/08/2012. All 348 photographs finally uploaded. (See link at the end of the report.)

In anticipation of getting a UTMB entry I had entered the L50 this year.

[Some might regard last year's L100 + UTMB double as ambitious and a possible reason for the UTMB DNF. However I'm not convinced by this argument. I was going well and holding it together until retirement was forced upon me because I couldn't walk any more, caused by a transient injury that arose during that event and was gone after two weeks of rest. Nevertheless I played it safe in 2012, just in case. I didn't need to. Like many others I didn't get into the UTMB. So next year it is then, but after the L50 or L100? I suppose it depends on how ambitious I'm feeling (or how much wine I've drunk) when it's time to enter, but I'm already leaning towards the L100. It's just so epic.]

The lead-up to this year's L50 was not very auspicious:

2 weeks before L50. On the day after the White Peak Walk, heart palpitations began, with seriously raised heart rate and extra beats or missing beats thrown in for good measure. It's happened in the past and assumed to be my body fighting some evil lurgy that's lurking within.

1.5 weeks before L50. On the Wednesday I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma cut out from the back of my neck (the appointment had been planned well ahead). I was not concerned about this and was quite prepared to run Lakeland with a stitched-up 'Frankenstein neck'.

1 week before L50. The palpitations had eased and I was feeling better so I walk-jogged the final 22 miles of the Bullock Smithy Hike route with a friend. I was more than happy not to be running it. I enjoyed the views and conversation for a change. On the following day I began to feel unwell - usual thing, sore throat, irritated lungs, cough just starting.

On the Monday my neck wound was more painful than after the operation. The Doctor said it was infected and set me on my first course of antibiotics in years / a decade / who knows when.

2 days before L50. The lurgy did not follow the usual pattern of niggling then buggering off. It ratcheted up day by day and climaxed on the Thursday, finally forcing me to take time off work for the first time in years / who knows when.

Was something trying to tell me that I should not run Lakeland this year? I didn't feel well enough to go anywhere, let alone run a step. My lacklustre bicycle journeys to work on Monday to Wednesday had my throat burning as it was. I cancelled my B&B accommodation and emailed Marc and Terry that I would not be able to run.

On Thursday evening I took a different cold and flu remedy that can only be described as good sh1t. It had ingredients I've never heard of before but their vapours calmed the lung irritation and stopped the bloody-tasting hacking that had already firmed up my abs no end. By Friday I could tell I'd turned the corner. I'd spent a more comfortable night and my mind had been scheming. On the assumption that I would continue to improve, I might just be able to drive up to Coniston and support instead. The clincher would be the B&B. If it was still available I'd go. It was so I did.

Well, what a weekend! I might have been denied my weekly exercise but the slightly more sedentary alternative was a privilege to be a part of. Slogging out 50 tough, rugged, wet miles was replaced by chatting, car-park duty, chin-wagging, rubbish clearing, ear-bending, photo-taking, nattering, litter-picking, mingling, bagging of nuts and jelly-babies at Tilberthwaite (don't worry, that's after hand sanitisation), chewing the fat, running with Terry Conway for a hundred yards or so (I could keep up with him with 100 miles in his legs and none in mine), fetching tea for finishers, and removing Stuart Mills' soggy shoes at the finish (I was the right person for that task because my sense of smell had deserted me). I would say I'll never wash my hands again but in the interests of hygiene......;-)

I received a few surprised comments after my arrival. "I thought you weren't .....", etc. No I'm not running but I'm here anyway, like a bad smell. It felt surreal to be in this familiar situation chatting to all these Ultra buddies but without the frisson of excitement that I'd be joining them on the weekend's adventure. I searched out training buddies (no, not mine!) Terry Conway, Barry Murray and Paul Tierney to wish them well. I chatted with Terry last year after he'd won the L100 in 21:58. He has inciteful Ultra fuelling tips which I really must try, to see what it does for my performance - one gel every 30 - 45 minutes until finished. If it works it might even get me into the top half of finishers. Now there's a heady thought. Barry is a stalwart of the Brecon Beacons Ultra series. Our paths cross on the Brecon Beacons 40. Paul, on the other hand, is a rare species in my experience, only ever seen on the Lakeland 100. My conversation finished with Terry. "Have a good race" I said as I prepared to depart. "It's not a race, it's a run" came the reply. That took me aback and is the very thing I hear among LDWA friends (except replace "run" by "walk"). That short reply spoke volumes to me. Humility and absence of elitism, the removal of pressure to compete with others but just do your best on the day. This is the purest form of sport devoid of prize money and commercialism, where you pay for the privilege of taking part and the prize is little more than a handshake and a "Well done" from fellow runners.

The L100 briefing was poignant and nostalgic for me as I tried to recall the previous two years' emotions associated with up to 40 hours of imminent physical exertion, exquisite pain and vivid hallucinations. The Paparazzi was there in force this year, with long lenses and big woolly sausages hiding microphones. I hope most of the runners remembered Marc's instruction to grimace in pain at the cameras out on the course.

I chatted at length with good friend Garry Scott, for whom this was his first Hundred last year. He suffered badly and finished in great pain in 36:33. He expected to beat that time this year. I didn't expect, I knew. Pain is a common feature of this event. His personal account is moving and relevant to the majority of those who might consider taking on this challenge. From the many runners I've spoken to I know it would be lapped up. It just awaits a host site so it can be linked and read by the masses. The L100 organisers were not interested (shame on them ;-). I really must investigate activating my Virgin Media web space to give it the airing it deserves.

The starting dib.

It was not long before the L100 runners were filing through the first Sportident dibber station into the starting pen. I waited in jealous anticipation as the clock counted down to 5:30pm and they were sent off, lolloping up the road in the direction of the fells and soon out of sight. I then made myself useful spending a few hours on car-park duty, welcoming the evening arrivals for camping on the massive school field. It would fill to capacity with the 800-odd competitors. I dragged myself away before dark to my B&B across Coniston for a final comfortable night's sleep. I was woken by heavy rain falling. "This is not right", I said to myself. The forecast predicted a clear, dry night. I thought about them all out there and hoped that the showers were localised and short lived.

I returned on Saturday as the L50 briefing was already underway. It was standing room only in the hall, with entrants spilling out of the back and side doors. One thing's for sure, not everyone will have heard that briefing. At 10am a fleet of coaches ferried them to Dalemain for their 12pm start.

The refectory and hall were already humming gently with a few retirees who had been ferried back to base, possibly some supporters, some marshals, and timekeepers who grappled with the internet connection that was giving the live Sportident timing updates. They got it working reliably again after a protracted internet outage. The kitchen staff were doing a sterling job with the food and drink provision. I needed plenty of tea to keep me going and they were always willing to supply, a Pound a time until they realised I was supporting. I also necked another of those turbo flu remedies to maintain recovery, with the added pleasurable benefit of the vapour. We monitored runner progress on the screens. Terry was proving to be a machine and was extending his lead as the race run progressed. A television had been set up to show the Olympics. I wasn't interested. This was far more exciting.

With Terry through Chapel Stile/Langdale I drove up to Tilberthwaite after 11am to help out on the checkpoint if required and await his arrival. The rain started in persistent showers while the sun tried to shine through watery, wind-blown cloud. It was novel to be at this location in daylight. It was even more novel to look back at the track we run down before joining the road to the checkpoint. That strip of track down the distant hill became etched on our eyeballs as we waited for our first customer. I made myself useful by filling little bags with jelly-babies and mixed nuts (not sure how they would go down; I'd pass if I were running the event). Even though my hands were well washed before leaving Coniston, hygiene protocol made sure that our hands were well and truly wiped by baby wipes before handling the food. The baby wipes were scented quite strongly and very florally, as befits babies. Even I could tell with my medical condition. I hope the runners, those that partook, did not mind their floral nuts and scented jelly-babies.

We got a false alarm when a recreational runner ran down the distant track. Nevertheless the fruitless run up the lane gave me much-needed exercise. Then we were informed what colour shirt to look out for: white with short red sleeves. The time ticked past 12:30pm and we wondered whether the magical sub 20 finish was now out of the window (a pre 1:30pm finish was required). Then a lone white shirt with red extremities appeared, running steadily and strongly down the distant rocky track. We ran up the lane to intercept. As I ran back with him, Terry remarked: "That last section was tough", yet he was still running, not plodding in a self-pitying way like we mere mortals would be doing after 100 miles. He spent the minimum time replenishing supplies - dripping a few drops of Elete into his refilled water bottle before leaving. We had just explained to spectators that no-one, not even the leaders, run up the steps of Tilberthwaite quarry after running 100 miles. Terry turned us into instant liars by running all the way up to the top and out of sight over the brow of the climb. I got back into my car, filled with emotion at the athletic spectacle we had just witnessed, and drove back to Coniston to await his arrival. Loud exclamations of incredulity were shouted at the windscreen all the way back.

Terry at Tilberthwaite.

Forty-one minutes after arriving at Tilberthwaite, Terry came running down the road to dib in at the gates of the John Ruskin School, Coniston, looking as fresh as a daisy considering what he'd just done. He smashed 20 hours. His time of 19:50 was 2 hours 8 minutes faster than his own record of 2011. I never thought it would be possible but my idea of reality does not match Terry Conway's world. The crash mat was prepared in the hall for him to recline on in case he was overcome like last year. With all the marshals at his disposal he was treated like royalty.

We continued to follow the results screen and guessed how much later to expect the runners after they entered Tilberthwaite. The welcoming committee was outside ready for Barry Murray and Paul Tierney, who breezed effortlessly down the road to finish equal second in 22:01. That was 2:34 faster for Paul and 3:50 faster for Barry compared to last year. They looked as fresh as Terry did. Their training has obviously paid off.

Paul Tierney and Barry Murray run home for equal second.

Ian Symington loped down the road in 4th place in 22:47 to maintain the Irish superstud theme. All the finishers so far seemed to be Irish, though not so sure about Terry. I won't call him a stud either because he might object. It's just a run, remember? ;-) Alright, I can't resist. TERRY YOU'RE A STUD.

Stuart Mills seemed to be the first one who was suffering and forcing a run out of reluctant legs as he finished 5th in 23:46. He commented that he hadn't looked after himself properly and suffered towards the end. I know what he means. That's normal for most of us even if we do look after ourselves. It was evident the next day as he hobbled around on atypically trashed quads that he really had pushed himself to the limit. It got him a PB by 25 minutes over 2010 though, so I'm sure the pain was worth it. His achievement is even more impressive for someone who's nudging the M50 category. Well done that man. I'm not far behind you, in age but certainly not in speed.

Gancho Slavov was hot on Stuart's heels so I missed his arrival. He was 6th in 23:49 and the final runner to finish in under 24 hours. That's a record for this event and proof that the talent is hotting up year by year. Last year only one person (Terry) finished in under 24 hours. In 2010, no-one did.

Warm glow of success from Gancho and Stuart.
As Stuart collapsed into a seat after finishing, and detecting his depleted condition, I asked if he wanted a cup of tea or anything else. He said no, 'but you can remove my shoes if you like'. I sat cross-legged at his small and once perfectly formed feet (before he took up ultra running) like a humble servant to a king and pulled one of the sodden lace ends. It was fixed solid. 'Ah right, a double knot. This could take some time.' It's a good job I don't bite my fingernails because they were needed, clamped either side of the most likely part of the knot to pull, tweak and wiggle from side to side until something started to give. Then it was possible to tease the knots apart to the standard lace knot where a tug of one end released it. I was careful not to just pull the shoes off because of the counterforce that would be required. I know from experience that this can set off calf cramp if it's lurking in the wings. I made sure to hold his ankle with one hand while I pulled the loosened shoe off with the other. (Did you notice the loving care and attention I lavished on this shoe removal process, Stu?) My offer to remove his socks as well to begin the foot drying and recovery process was politely declined. I can be thankful for small mercies.

1 hour and 21 minutes after Gancho, Kevin Perry ran down the road to finish in 7th place in 25:10. Kevin is an impressive M50 stalwart who just keeps going and producing impressive times in the process. His son Adam is following in his footsteps, but he wasn't running it this year.

Hot on Kevin's heels was 8th place finisher Alan Lucker. Again, he looked effortless and running well within himself (which you have to do on extreme Ultras like these otherwise you might never finish). His time of 25:11 was nearly three hours faster than his last completion in 2010. Everyone had certainly upped their game for this year. He had an interesting recovery strategy afterwards.

Alan recovers.

Scott Bradley was the 9th finisher to run without any apparent stress to the finish in a time of 25:29. I suspect that his Dad might have been even more elated than he was.

Dave Troman completed the top 10 finishers in a time of 25:52.

The first female finisher and 27th overall was Rachel Hill in a time of 28:48.

In the L50, Steve Angus was the first to finish in 8:30:51. He looked a little used up for a while, seemingly having pushed hard to the finish. Perhaps it was because 2nd and 3rd were not far behind. Grant MacDonald was second in 8:34:36 and Matty Brennan was a very close third in 8:35:40. The first female finisher and 5th overall was Tracy Dean in 8:38:08. She jumped up and down with the most enthusiastic celebration of any. F2 Annie Conway was close behind, finishing 6th in 8:41:35.

Garry Scott (he who suffered to a 36:33 finish last year) completed this one with much wetter underfoot conditions in 31:03. I knew he would. Good effort Garry.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be mingling at the finish from the word go as the runners began to return. We became quite adept at guessing when each runner would arrive after passing through Tilberthwaite. It is an occasion I would never normally get to experience. Incapacitation through lurgy can have its benefits. I carried on chatting and made myself useful on another rubbish clearing round before retiring to my car at gone 2am on Sunday for 4 hours of fitful slumber. The rain hammered on the roof in fits and starts. I felt sorry once again for all the runners still out there.

A 7am rise and more finishers to applaud, more chatting to bleary-eyed runners, more litter rounds to be done, more food to be consumed (very reasonably priced yet £4,000 was raised for a disabled chidren's charity) and more tea to be drunk. I like my tea. I even had my own mug for the purpose.

The endorphins I experience from completing major challenges like these were starkly evident in all the runners I chatted with. The positivity, the highs, the achievements are so infectious. This was proven as I chatted to one of the kitchen volunteers (they are true stalwarts in their own right who toiled for 48 hours to feed the masses - an army marches on its stomach an' all that). This volunteer, although tired had an exited and fulfilled spark of life in her eyes. She knew she would and could never do what the runners had done that weekend, yet she had been so enthused by what she observed from behind the serving hatch that she wants to marshal in the event next year. What the runners undertake and go through makes the volunteers want to serve them to the best of their ability to ease their journey and ease their pain.

I waited until the 1pm presentation. Marc gave his usual entertaining performance as he gave the results, presented the prizes and told the funny stories. Apparently, Mark Willett encountered Paul Potts on the path to Langdale. Nessun Dorma - None Shall Sleep. Was it a hallucination? Twitter was consulted. It was true. (I had no idea who Paul Potts was but Marc explains very well. He tells a good story.)

I said something similar last year but it's even truer now: the Lakeland 50/100 has matured into one amazing, well-supported, world-class challenging Ultra marathon. I hope it retains the goodwill of Coniston and the highly pressured rough, tough outdoor recreation region known as the Lake District so it can thrive for many years to come. It deserves to considering the money it brings into the area, not just on race weekend but throughout the year on all the organised and personal reconnoitres that take place as well. I did my puny best to maintain the goodwill of Coniston by scouring the road, pavements and verges outside the school for litter. None of it was from the event. It was just the usual school kid detritus, but it got cleared anyway.

I took nearly 400 pictures until the camera battery ran flat. Here's the pick of the crop. I ain't no SportSunday photographer and my equipment is small and amateurish (missus), so the outcomes will not be a patch on theirs. However, with all the faults arising from the puny inbuilt camera flash that causes uneven lighting and horrible shadows, I hope my efforts complement SportSunday's to provide an even more complete pictorial record of the weekend. I don't feel guilty in saying that mine are free for download as always, since we did not take the same pictures; we complement, not compete (that's the disclaimer sorted. ;-)


  1. Brilliant stuff Nick, a great insight into the L50/100 from a non participants perspective (this year anyway!!) great photo's too, thanks Nick

  2. Great write up as ever Nick and it was nice to briefly meet you on Sunday morning.

  3. Thank you all (commenters and lurkers who chat at the events). Final batch of photographs just uploaded this evening. I hope to do the L100 next year, UTMB or no UTMB. It's just too epic to miss.

  4. Great report Nick, interesting to read a non-runners perspective and a very good job done by you and all other volunteers who - alongside the Lake District itself - make this a great event. Especially good job on the TLC you took with Stu's shoes :)