Monday, 26 August 2013

Cracken Edge fell race 7mi. 07/08/2013.

Race 8 of 10 in the 2013 Hayfield Championship series.

I'd been looking forward to this long Wednesday evening lung burner for a long time, hoping to do it better justice than I did last year. A dry sunny evening brought us perfect conditions, and not too wet underfoot.

Put on by Kinder Mountain Rescue Team and a fundraiser for them, the route takes us from Hayfield up to the top of the lane near Shedyard Farm where we turn left onto the Bullock Smithy Hike route towards the 'Chinley Churn' checkpoint. Before we get there we turn right at New Allotments down to the lane, left down the lane at Throstle Bank then left onto the path up the old quarry workings at Cracken Edge. This is where the burn sets in as we continue to run uphill when we'd give anything for a walking break, but you don't take walking breaks on short races where you don't have to save yourself for later. Climbing over the stiles will provide all the breaks we'll be getting.

Finally we turn left steeply upwards to the top of the escarpment, where Andy Howie is snapping away with his compact. Where are the photos, Andy? We descend the gentler grassy slope behind the escarpment, now on the reverse of the Bullock Smithy Hike route, to New Allotments again where we turn off right onto the long rocky path back down towards Hayfield.

I have been to-ing and fro-ing with other runners, our speeds only marginally different. They overtake me on the easier gradient but then we come to the steep, narrow, rocky descent through the woods and suddenly they are holding me up. I'm stuck behind them unable to see far enough ahead to prepare adequately for my next foot placements. Finally the path widens a little and I'm able to overtake, too slowly for comfort but it's all I dare. I'm barely in control but I'm hoping for the best. My legs are weakened and my reactions slowed by the effort. I'm going faster than I should but I have to open up a gap. I'm just about holding it together; it's getting perilous; I'VE GONE. Suddenly I'm heading for the ground, brand new camera clattering onto the mud and rocks and my right calf muscle switched on hard to a rammage of rock-solid cramp. I writhe and moan as I try to massage it away.

It hasn't switched off when I drag myself up again as those I'd just overtaken catch up and ask if I'm OK. I hobble and limp, expecting to have to drag a useless limb behind me to the finish, but the forced attempt at running switches off the cramp, just leaving the feeling of over-stretched and torn muscle to work through. It's not far back down to the finishing field as I get overtaken one more time. I race down to the line and check my watch. 0:59:04. PB14 of the year, by 7 minutes. I half expected it but not by that much. As for a sub 1-hour finish, I'd never dared to think of such a possibility. Even Ian Winterburn commented that I've got faster. I was 'only' 3:40 behind him. ;-)

I guess I didn't have any of the Lakeland 100 still in my legs.

Here are the pictures. (The camera survived the tumble, thankfully.)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Montane Lakeland 100. 26-28/07/2013.

At last, here it is. You'll need to stick with it.

A successful and ‘pain-free’ Lakeland 100 experience without hallucinations depends on a relaxing lead-up that includes SLEEP. If you get it right, the second night feels as good as the first. To that end I arrived in Coniston on Thursday afternoon to check into the excellent Lakeland House B&B. The weather was already very warm and a prolonged shower had made it oppressive as well. The last forecast I had seen just before leaving home predicted a warm and dry weekend with a rain front moving up the east but only brushing us in the far west on Saturday night (if we were unlucky).

Wandering around to the school, the carnival atmosphere was already in evidence. Montane Lakeland 50/100 posters and banners were everywhere. Passers-by gawped, asked questions and tapped away on their bits of glass to find out what it was all about. They exclaimed with reverential awe when they realised what was about to occur in their midst. I wandered down to the lake shore to contemplate what they had just discovered and which I would soon be a part of.

On Friday morning after a good night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast, it was time to drive around the corner, get parked on the camping field and go through the check-in process: get weighed and recorded (“have you lost weight, Nick?”), kit check, packet pickup, dibber fitting and SIS goody bag collection. Then continue to the Endurance Store stand for that long-delayed purchase, a Montane Minimus Smock to replace my ancient torn windproof. Since it has taped seams and meets the kit requirements of the L100, and in view of the good forecast and warm temperatures, I used it to replace the bulkier OMM jacket I was originally going to take.

There was plenty of time to kill to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, chat to others as they arrived from all over like bees around a honeypot for another grand ultra-runners’ reunion, and doze anywhere that wasn't too hot in the sunshine. The compulsory briefing from the smiling Marc and slightly dourer Terry came and went, and then we had just one hour left before our 6pm start. It was difficult to relax after that in the throng and the nervous excitement.

Our start would be half an hour later than in previous years, whereas the 50-milers would be setting off half an hour earlier at 11:30 on Saturday, giving them a 1-hour head start on us. I hoped I'd be able to get to Dalemain in time for their start because they provide such uplift for we flagging 100-milers 58 miles into our journey. Apart from that, my good friend Stuart Blofeld would be running it and I didn't want to miss him.

Finally it was time to file into the starting pen and perform our first dib to signify a race start and wait a bit more before the theme tune was played (an operatic dirge that could hardly be classed as a rousing Ultra theme for blasting out and stirring the emotions). We were counted down and sent on our way to the blast of an air horn and a cheering crowd. (One of the many things the Lakeland 100 does is to make you feel ‘special’. I've done a few Ultras around the world and this one’s right up there, and it gets better every year.)

The first dib.

Coniston to CP1 Seathwaite

The evening sunshine got the sweat flowing as we toiled our way upwards out of Coniston. Ben Abdelnoor shouted out enthusiastic encouragement as we passed through the car park at the bottom of Walna Scar Road. I'd set out at what felt like a conservative pace, yet I found myself ahead of those who should have been ahead of me. ‘Little Dave’ Cumins, Garry Scott and Jon Steele caught me up at the summit but I left them behind again as the fell-running legs kicked in for the rocky descent towards Seathwaite.

Little Dave at the summit of Walna Scar Road.

Seathwaite to CP2 Boot

It was a busy ‘smash and grab’ refreshment stop at CP1 before the next section through what would normally be the first unavoidable feet-wetting, yet this year we had no difficulty in keeping our feet dry. ‘Little Dave’ went steaming ahead on the first climb, never to be seen again until the finish. However I did get to enjoy the company and banter of Garry and Jon for the next few miles. The new logging activity had changed the face of the landscape where we had to cross the logging road to regain the footpath on the other side. CP2 took a longer time coming than I recalled. I was alone and wondered whether I was on the right path, but all was well when I emerged onto the lane in the evening light, cheered on by spectators up to CP2. I spent more time here to make sure I was properly fuelled and hydrated.

Jon crosses the logging road.

Boot to CP3 Wasdale Head

Out of CP2 comes the immediate, long but gentle climb onto Eskdale Moor. Burnmoor Tarn looked the same as ever, sulking reflectively in the calm dusk air. There was less steam than usual because of the warmer than usual atmosphere. Wasdale remained just visible below us in the fading light. We just arrived at CP3 without needing head torches, which I was pleased about given our half hour later start. Coloured disco lights, sparkly decorations and 1970s retro get-up cheered up the checkpoint like never before.

Burnmoor Tarn.

Wasdale Head to CP4 Buttermere

With head torches now on, we left Wasdale Head entertained and with a new spring in our step. I was now running with Simon Webb. On the climb to Black Sail Pass I looked back to see a line of head torches winding its way down from Eskdale Moor, along Wasdale to CP3 and upwards to us. Although on a much smaller scale it did remind me of UTMB and it was an impressive sight.

The descent from Black Sail Pass was steep and rugged and gave us our first feet soaking. Another look back up from the valley and Black Sail Hut revealed another impressive array of head torches in pursuit, although this time they seemed to be scattered more haphazardly across the fell side due to the absence of any obvious path down. You have to pick whatever route seems the least dangerous within the light beam of your head torch.

Our next climb took us over Scarth Gap, where I was feeling quite strong, to the long descent to the shores of Buttermere, where I was not. As usual I struggled along the long flat stretch into CP4. I needed a good refuelling stop and I needed to empty the stones that had found their way into my shoes. I had now completed a marathon and it had taken me 6hrs 52mins (my fastest ever on this event).

Looking back on the climb to Black Sail Pass.

Buttermere to CP5 Braithwaite

I love this section. I remember reconnoitring it in the early years so all the twists and turns are etched on my brain. Added to that, the refuelling at Buttermere always gives me a new lease of life. I power hiked or ran my way up to Sail Pass and beyond, leading anyone who could keep up. Some head torches way below in the valley to our right revealed the ones who had failed to take the left fork steeply up the scree slope. Upon seeing our head torches they began to struggle uphill through the bracken to meet our path. I assume they made it in the end.

The descent to Braithwaite seemed longer than I recalled and the fork left was a lot later than I recalled too (I'd been wanting to fork left on every little sheep trod that appeared). I was glad of the company I’d just caught up with to keep me on the right path. For next time I need to remember that the fork left comes after the lights in the Newlands Valley below have disappeared out of sight behind Barrow.

We were greeted by Tony Dudley and crew at Braithwaite church hall. I needed some more serious refuelling but wasn't sure what. A mini pork pie, tea, Coke and watered-down Appletise formed part of my fuelling strategy. With 32.5 tough miles done, Braithwaite always seems to be the place where a longer pause for more recovery is needed.

Tony welcomes us to Braithwaite.

Braithwaite to CP6 Blencathra Centre

I set off running along the roads across the flatlands toward Keswick in the frigid pre-dawn. The council had done a good job cutting the grass verge for us to run along, while at the same time a line of traffic cones along the edge of the main A-road reserved a strip of Tarmac for us to run along in relative safety from the Lorries that use the road at that time of the morning. Preoccupied as I was with all of this, I failed to find the right turn over the barrier onto the old railway track bed and went back and forth searching for it. I found it in the end; I just hadn't gone far enough.

Running was going well until the climb out from Keswick as dawn began to break. Something wasn't right. Despite my continued fuelling I was slowing dramatically, with nausea creeping on and energy disappearing from the legs. Soon I could only walk. On the outward leg up the valley to the first self-dib point I found myself looking out for the first convenient rock to sit on because even walking was deserting me. The rock was sloping, knobbly and quite uncomfortable. I spied a much flatter rock a few yards further on but couldn't be bothered to move.

My nausea felt the same as when I don't drink enough electrolytes, but then my shut-down stomach sloshes and gurgles like a wind bag of stagnant water. This time there was no gurgling or sloshing, so I diagnosed too much electrolyte instead. (It was almost all I had been drinking since the start.) I started to sip only water but I needed something to soak it up and I needed energy back in the legs. I munched on a Focused Nutrition flapjack I'd received in a recent Sale Sizzler goody bag. Within a few minutes I felt able to walk again, up to the self-dib and across the valley to begin the descent down the other side. Any attempts at running were painfully slow and short-lived. I'd been getting overtaken a lot since daybreak.

I dragged into CP6 and, in the absence of any spare seats, collapsed cross-legged to the floor. (I prefer it like that anyway; it brings much better relief to the leg muscles.) I contemplated retiring. A woman came into the checkpoint at around the same time; she was in a worse state that I. She had already been vomiting. I felt sorry for her. I rarely get to the stage of actually vomiting. Putting self pity to the back of my mind and being thankful that I was injury free and nothing was hurting, I refuelled as best I could and got up and out before any more negative thoughts could make me do something I would regret.

The view from my resting position in the Blencathra Centre.

Blencathra Centre to CP7 Dockray

I shuffled my way downhill to the disused railway bed and proceeded to trudge along that eminently runnable stretch. The climb up to the old coach road came. Conditions underfoot were amazingly good, all bogs having dried up. I was barely moving at 2mph as the early morning sun beat down. Once onto the coach road the trudge speed increased a little but it didn't last for long. I found myself sitting beside the track again. I'd never finish the event at this rate and I'd certainly miss the L50 start at Dalemain, which was another 10 miles beyond Dockray. I'd never even make Dalemain. I'd been hoping for a sub 34-hour PB finish but that was pure fantasy now. I'd have to retire at Dockray, except it isn't allowed even though it's accessible by road. In that case they'd have a collapsed runner at some indeterminate point between Dockray and Dalemain. Negative, self-pitying thoughts overwhelmed me.

I pulled out my final, 2-day-old ham sandwich to munch on, washed down by more plain water. Others continued to overtake me, including Stephen McAllister (one of our team members on this year's Fellsman) and Daniel Page, who I found out later was suffering from a diarrhoea and sickness bug so he was running on empty all the time, in addition to the multiple inconveniences. They asked if I was alright. “Can't go on” came the reply. “I'll have to retire at Dockray, except it's not allowed. I’ll never make it to Dalemain at this rate” They offered to relay my predicament to the marshals at CP7.

I might have been feeling low but I was still injury-free, and past experience has taught me that if you are injury free, you can still go on. The mind is a powerful thing. It can all too easily stop you when you don't have to, but it can also get you through the low points. “Damn the preconceived targets, bring on the pig-headed stubbornness and just get on with it!” With the sandwich eaten I felt myself beginning to revive. I got up and began walking again, more energetically than I'd done for hours. I caught back up with a group that had just overtaken me.

As we approached CP7, two marshals were making their way back up the track in a hurry. I hoped they weren't setting out in search of me. I tried to ignore them, keep my head down, pretend they weren't there, pretend I wasn't there. One of them called out: “Is 117 among you?” I had to own up. Ooh I felt such a fraud. I blame the rancid ham sandwich for the fraud but I thank that rancid ham sandwich for my final comeback. One of the marshals encouraged me to jog into the checkpoint with suitably supportive words, where I sat down in recovery for a most interesting cup of soup and dry bread; Thai curry with lemon grass if I'm not mistaken. The cup of coffee as a chaser was probably a mistake but at least it made me drink even more water.

Dockray - soup dispensary of repute. Stephen sorts out his footwear outside.

Dockray to CP8 Dalemain

I set off running down the lane feeling better than I'd felt since before Braithwaite in the night. I soon caught up with Daniel. I was now overheating with the increased effort and the warm morning sunshine. I had to stop to remove the T-shirt I'd worn through the night. A hen soon appeared making inquisitive clucking sounds as it foraged for scraps around my rucksack. Stephen caught up with me again.

Hen searches in vain for scraps.

[Daniel impressed me with his perseverance and tenacity when so unwell and so depleted. He would normally be so much faster than this, but he was driven by the fact that he was getting himself sponsored for Cancer Research. He shouldn't have started at all but he couldn't let his sponsors down.]

The next section was a delight as I ran with Stephen as company. The sections above Ullswater always seem to be hot. This year they were brown and arid as well. I was experiencing an almost miraculous comeback now that my hydration finally seemed to be in control and I was able to run again. I eventually went on ahead of Stephen and continued to catch up other runners who had overtaken me earlier when I thought it was all over.

Hot and arid beside Ullswater.

On the lane in Bennethead a cyclist powering towards me suddenly shouted out my name and shouted words of encouragement as he passed. I had no idea who it was and stopped to find out, but he told me to carry on; he didn't want to hold me up. I found out afterwards that it was ‘stustod’ Stuart Stoddart. Thanks Stu. That really lifted me.

I was feeling unbelievably good as I continued to overtake others on my way to Dalemain. I looked at my watch and it began to dawn on me that I might make it before 11:30 after all. And so it came to pass. I arrived to the amazing welcome that was extended to all the L100 runners – rapturous applause and cheering from spectators, supporters and L50 runners – 15 minutes before the L50 was due to start. Stu Blofeld came running across like a madman to give me a hero's welcome. I filled up with emotion; I never thought I'd make it this far, let alone make it before 11:30.

A rousing welcome at Dalemain.

I entered the checkpoint tent where my drop bag was already waiting for me (word had gone ahead – such efficiency). Tony Dudley was there continuing his devoted service after closing down the Braithwaite checkpoint. Stu looked on from beyond the forbidden zone (for him) for as long as he dared until his race start. A change of socks, a good refuelling and restocking saw me fit to continue onwards.

Who's excited then? 50-miler Stu Blofeld, aka Captain Haddock, looks in on the forbidden zone.

Dalemain to CP9 Howtown

I felt fitter than ever before at this stage as I left Dalemain for Pooley Bridge. Now that fuelling and hydration were stabilised, my legs felt strong. My feet felt very comfortable with not a single sore spot (thanks as always to La Sportiva Crosslites). I ran alone in the hot midday sun across the fields to the marshals at the road who were waiting for the L50 onslaught, then onwards through the woods to Pooley Bridge. Spectators and photographers lined the route, waiting eagerly for the 50-milers to come steaming through. I warned a few members of the public on the narrow footpath of what was about to occur.

The first L50 runner passed me as I began my climb out of Pooley Bridge. It was 15 minutes before the next two runners passed me. (This time difference surprises me, making me wonder if the first runner was an L50 runner, but I'm sure he was.) The third group soon to overtake contained eventual winner Ben Abdelnoor, who announced his arrival by shouting out enthusiastic encouragement from behind. I had no idea he would be running the L50 when he cheered us on Friday evening. I was impressed that he was cheering me on again even though he was running his own serious race now. I cheered him on in return as he sped on ahead.

Stuart caught me up on the rocky path to Howtown above Ullswater. He was happy to loiter awhile for photos and chats, during which he expressed envy for the beautiful countryside we get to play in up here. Too right Stu; I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Then he was off, joining the other L50-ers at their faster pace. He completed his race in 11:09:29. That's a good time. By the time I arrived at Howtown he was already on his way up Fusedale.

Ullswater from the other side.

Howtown to CP10 Mardale Head

Refuelled and refreshed once again I set out on the hike up Fusedale. I exchanged a few words with L50 runner David Donaghue. We had an appointment at the pub on Sunday evening. It was one of the thoughts that were keeping me going.

It was hot once again in the sunshine with no cooling breeze. For the third time this year I had to dip my cap in streams to cool my head down (previously done on the White Peak Walk and Osmotherley Phoenix, also in July). We also had to refill our water bottles in the streams; I was drinking like a fish by now. I found myself catching and overtaking L50 as well as L100 runners. Some of them were resting by the path looking a little worse for wear.

Climbing to High Kop.

Finally we topped out at the highest point of the course (High Kop) before running down the grassy ridge, where I got overtaken again by those I'd overtaken on the climb; then came the steep, rugged and eventually quite outrageous descent down hidden rock faces through rampant bracken overgrowth to Haweswater. The water level was well down. The technical, undulating path alongside Haweswater was as interminable as ever. It takes an age to get around the top end to the checkpoint on the other side, by which time you are guaranteed to feel depleted, so long and tough is that section. As we neared the checkpoint an L50 runner ran past at speed, mentioning something about his team-mate having become injured and he was running to the checkpoint for assistance.

The 'undulating' path beside Haweswater.

CP10 across the other side.

CP10 is an essential refuelling and regrouping stop. It is more than likely that you will feel wasted and unable to go on when you arrive, but give the food and drink time to act. You’ll soon be up and running again. I was surprised to see Roger Taylor here. He's fast and should have been way ahead, but he seemed to be suffering from a bigger than average dose of the symptoms I've just described and was going to retire. Before we bade our farewells he dropped the little bombshell that it was going to chuck it down by midnight. “Surely not”, said I, “It didn't predict that on Thursday”. “It did on Friday” came the reply. Oh spiffing. I almost began to envy this harbinger of doom retiring at that point and avoiding a soaking.

Mardale Head to CP11 Kentmere

Ominous storm clouds were already drifting across from the other side as I began my climb up to Gatescarth Pass. Fortunately they passed over without producing anything. It was still far too warm to be putting our jackets on. The clouds thickened again as we descended the rocky track from the pass. After several false starts of big thunder spots leaving saucer-sized splats on the ground, the rain threatened to reach an intensity that would have us soaked within ten seconds. I was forced to put my camera away and put the jacket on. The rain didn't last and I was rapidly basting in my own juices. Rolled-up sleeves, open zip and hoisted-up jacket just about kept my temperature down to a level where I was able to keep running. The first claps of thunder rumbled behind us towards Mardale, where the clouds were going. I was thankful I wasn't still back there.

Distant thunder continued to rumble in all directions. I had caught up and was now running with some L50 runners, one of whom was Robert MacFarlane. I led the way to checkpoint 11, by which time the rain was in full flow again. I feared it might be set in for good. Roger's doom-laden prediction had come to pass 5 hours early. I admit to feeling a bit miffed. Adopting my favoured recovery position cross-legged on the floor as I refuelled, I kept glancing out towards the open doorway to check on the rainfall intensity. The heavenly strawberry smoothie lifted my spirits, as did the music being played on that bassy docking station once again. It doesn't arf sound good. I put on my waterproof trousers in readiness for venturing back outside. I was in no hurry and made sure that I'd taken care of every possible thing to ease the on-going journey.

Storm clouds gather on the descent from Gatescarth Pass.

Kentmere to CP12 Ambleside

By the time we re-emerged, the rain had miraculously stopped. We started running but I soon had to stop to remove my jacket. Running is so much easier with adequate cooling. I was enjoying the running company and was happy to continue leading the way. I felt strong and we ran at a good pace with the added bonus of no rain. As we entered Skelghyll Woods, where we had to switch our head torches on in the gloaming, I described the upcoming left or right route choice, and that I always take the more direct left route. We came to a bit of a junction and I confidently descended left. WRONG. I'd turned too early and we emerged onto the main road out of town way too far to the left. We then had a long run into Ambleside along the main road in the final remnants of dusk light as rain began to spit once again from a heavily overcast sky. Members of the public clapped and cheered as we went. Advance warning of the event, including a large banner in Ambleside, seemed to have worked well. Everyone seemed to know what these scantily-clad crazy people were up to as they ran through the streets of Ambleside on a damp July evening.

The new checkpoint location in the church hall was further on than before, yet even after my navigational gaffe and what I thought was a long stay at Kentmere, I had made up a lot of time on that stage compared to my previous best in 2011. Looking at the post-race splits, after being nearly one hour behind at Dockray, I was now ahead of schedule for the first time since Braithwaite! We climbed the steps to the church hall and more bassy music, this time from a computer and impossibly small yet impressive-sounding speakers.

They had all manner of sweet and savoury sandwiches here, and tea and Coke. We filled our boots good and proper. I was eager to go and ‘give it some’ over the final 15 miles. I could not believe how strong I was feeling. I asked Robert if he was ready. He was nearly, but not quite. I felt guilty about hurrying him along but my sense of loyalty made me not want to go off and abandon him; I'd stick with him and continue to show the way.

Ambleside to CP13 Langdale

The rain was more noticeable when we emerged from the church hall. We knew it wouldn't be stopping now so we stopped under the shelter of a tree in Rothay Park to put our jackets on for good this time. We made solid progress and caught a few others on our journey to Chapel Stile and beyond to the new checkpoint location in Great Langdale, although I did sense that Robert was beginning to flag a little. There was less running and more hiking now.

Checkpoint 13 appeared like a glowing oasis in the increasingly wet night. Mini braziers each with its own burning log lined our approach to the marquee with its warm welcome, wood-burning stoves, comfy chairs, chill-out music, hot-and cold drinks service and life-restoring hot stew. As we refuelled, the rain drops hitting the roof increased a little in intensity.

Langdale to CP14 Tilberthwaite

I was ready to go. I'd been keeping my eye on Robert sitting opposite me see when he'd be ready to go, but I sensed that he may be staying a while longer. He had that middle distance vacant stare and he didn't respond readily to his name. With a certain sense of guilt I sought his permission to continue without him. I ended up tagging along with some more 50-milers. I was pleased for the continued company because my recollection of the next mile from here was a little hazy.

It wasn't long before our group stretched out and fragmented as we caught sight of more head torches ahead and I gave chase. I caught up with team "The Hopefulls" (50-milers Kieren Hanlon, David Nevill and Sam Hughes). Kieren was moving amazingly quickly over the rough ground considering he had no head torch. The poor bloke had left it behind at an earlier checkpoint and he was having to run by the light of the others’ torches. I lent him my spare.

Our new group of 4 successfully navigated our way through the open fields with no floundering back and forth in search of the stiles, like has happened in previous years. I led the way left uphill to climb above the woods, which remain invisible unless you’re very close (but you don’t want to do that) or you have a searchlight. Then came the steep climb left to the stile at the col below Side Pike. My energetic climbing speed with not a hint of nausea still beggars belief even now whenever I think about it. I'd never felt anywhere near that good at that late stage of the Lakeland 100. The norm for me would have been a slow, nauseated trudge, yet now I was Superman and I was flying! I paused at the top to wait for the others. It wasn't long; they were moving well too.

Once onto the path that would take us past Blea Tarn (which remains forever invisible in the inky blackness whenever I pass that way) we were able to run. What an amazing bonus to be covering the ground so efficiently, comfortably and effortlessly. The rain was pouring quite heavily yet I felt utterly contented.

The next section to the big boulder and right fork on secret trods through the overgrown bracken is technical, unrunnable and takes much longer than expected. I was already prepared for it to take a long time after the last reality check in 2011, yet even then I started to wonder whether I was leading everyone astray.

The boulder-riddled hidden trods through the rampant bracken finally delivered us to open fell. With memories of the instruction to keep high along the bracken line to avoid the bogs, I turned right uphill and promptly fell into a bog. The others asked if I was alright as I dragged myself out. I looked ahead to where I thought we should be headed and saw a dim blue-white light in the far distance. “That must be self-dib 2”, I called out to the others. I started to move towards it and soon realised I could see the gate in my torchlight. It was much closer than I had thought, just very dim.

Four bleeping dibs later we turned to run down the road. The rain was now falling and bouncing back up with rare intensity. A violent, gusting wind was now blowing to add to the drama. On the long tracks (again much longer than I recalled) over to Tilberthwaite, the paths had become streams and floods, while trickling streams had become raging torrents as they squeezed their way, heard yet unseen down valleys and under little bridges. What was dry and somewhat arid (for the Lake District) was now flooded. The driest Lakeland 100 ever had suddenly been transformed into the wettest Lakeland 100 ever.

Finally we hit the lane and ran to checkpoint 14. We had now completed 100 miles. The wind was doing its best to demolish the gazebos as the rain hammered down on the roof. I wondered if the marshals would still be allowing us over the top with its rock face climbs and steep drop-offs in such conditions. Of course they would!

A figure enshrouded in a foil blanket sat hunched and shivering in a chair opposite. The other three in our group set about eating and drinking for the final stage, while one of them sat down to rather belatedly and very ponderously put on his waterproof trousers. I guessed he'd got chilled and slowed. The other two remained in shorts which concerned me a bit, but they seemed happy enough. I was glad I'd put my (lightweight) waterproof trousers on way back at Kentmere. They'd kept me perfectly comfortable with only shorts underneath.

Most unusually for me I was still feeling strong and felt no need to sit down (which was a good thing because there weren't any spare seats anyway). I stood, poised to go as soon as everyone was ready. It took a while and I'm afraid to say I was feeling a bit impatient. I'd checked my watch and had realised that my original dream of a sub 34-hour finish was miraculously back on track. The way I was feeling I was likely to smash it, but I NEEDED TO GET GOING. However with my feeling of loyalty to my new team there was no way I was going to 'do a runner' without them. I wanted to make sure everyone got over the final top to the finish safe and sound, especially in those inhospitable conditions.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston FINISH

Finally, everyone was just about ready to wander back out from the shelter when the checkpoint marshal said, “Hold on, he’s coming with you, stick together, strength in numbers, blah blah”. The shivering figure teetered up from underneath the foil blanket. I'm sorry but my heart sank. There's loyalty and there's loyalty. At the speed he was likely to go, my time target would be dashed and I'd get hypothermia imposed upon me for the privilege. (The Montane Minimus smock was proving to be marginal under those conditions and I could not afford to slow down that much.)

We slowly wandered out towards the quarry steps. I voiced my concerns to others in our group but didn't want to swan off and leave them in the lurch with the navigation. I started to climb without pushing the pace. We quickly spread out then the inevitable call came from below. “Stop, he’s getting left behind, we’ll have to wait.” I could have screamed in frustration, when mercifully one of our group (sorry I don’t know which one) said: “It’s OK Nick, you go on. We’ll manage with the navigation. There are plenty of head torches to follow." With an overwhelming sense of relief washing over me I gave a quick synopsis of the navigation to the top (keep left, don’t cross any stream valleys, cross stream higher up at lone tree above waterfall and continue ahead up the rake to the top). Then I was off, unfettered and unshackled, free to fly, like Superman.

I climbed (carefully) up the rock face then RAN up that winding path whenever I could. The wet rocks were now very slippery and the mud and puddles were back with a vengeance, so I stumbled, tripped and fell a few times. Even though the rain was pouring and the wind was blowing, strangely enough the cloud was not down so we had a clear view of the head torches all the way to the final high point. They became my targets. I rapidly caught them up one by one, 50-milers and 100-milers alike. With words of encouragement exchanged I overtook them as if they were standing still. I felt superhuman and marvelled at what the human body (MY body of all things) can do after over 100 tough miles when it's optimally fuelled and hydrated, and optimally cooled at my effort level in the tenuous cocoon afforded by Montane.

I paused briefly at the top before running down the other side as far as the terrain allowed before the path became steeply rocky and treacherous. I still caught and overtook others even on the technical hands-and-feet descent to the Coppermines track. Never looking back I turned left and let it rip, running every step of the way in blissfully hydrated and fuelled comfort without ache, pain or niggle to the orange street lights of Coniston. Without slowing I turned right over the footbridge, up the rise past the petrol station, left down the road and right into the school to fairy lights, cheers and a hero's welcome, in the pouring rain. A marshal held up the final dibbing box for me to register my finishing time (I had a bit of trouble 'sticking it in' in my emotional state.) I was asked which event I'd just finished as I was led into the hall to a shouted proclamation: "We have a 100 mile finisher!". The hall erupted with applause. Every finisher gets the same hero's welcome on this amazing event. The camaraderie, enthusiastic support and atmosphere are unmatched by any UK Ultra run, in my experience.

I sat down while the finisher's medal was draped around my neck and the dibber was cut from my wrist and plugged into the final box to get the final splits. They even put the printout in a little bag to protect it from the wet before handing it over. 33:37:39 - a PB by 36mins 42secs - unbelievable after so nearly dropping out near halfway when I thought all was lost.

The next most important thing was to get out of my wet clothes before I got chilled even though I was inside. Striptease down to shorts ensued but I didn't know what I was going to put on, apart from the T-shirt that had just been presented to me. One of the marshals suggested: "What about your emergency dry clothes in your rucksack?" Good thinking, I hadn't thought of that. I pulled out the pristine, warm and dry long-sleeved top from my very wet rucksack. There's good enough reason to take the necessary kit. Even if you don't need it while out doing the event you might need it after you've finished and it's peeing down too much to go to the car for your kit bag.

For the next few hours I joined everyone else 'chewing the fat', cheering new arrivals, eating, drinking (tea) and, for me, dozing on the crash mats. After he'd finished, Kieren came up to me with a sheepish look on his face to admit that he'd lost my head torch now (as well as his own). It must have popped off his head as he approached Coniston. Being a man of honour he bought me a replacement. Kieren, sorry it must have turned into an expensive weekend for you where torches are concerned. Thank you and all of team "The Hopefulls" for your company from Langdale. I'm relieved you made it back safely without any nav problems. Thanks also to Robert for your company between Kentmere and Langdale.

This year proved to be surprisingly tough for many as there were 55% DNFs. (DNFs generally vary between 45% and 55%, which tells us how tough the Lakeland 100 is.) In the earlier hot, dry period there was a lot of nausea and vomiting as runners battled to balance their hydration, then later on Saturday night and into Sunday during the wet and windy period, hypothermia, chafing and blisters started to take their toll. I don't know whether anyone suffered trench foot but I was bordering on trench hands by the finish; the palms of my hands had turned white where I'd been holding my drinks bottles.

Below are my checkpoint time differences in 2013 compared with 2011. Negative times mean I'm ahead (faster). I experienced an amazing comeback after Dockray once I got my hydration sorted. I have never experienced such a strong finish after such a long, tough event. I can only put it down to the big ramp-up in regular short races since my return to the UK in April.

CP1       Seathwaite  -03:46
CP2       Boot  -10:30
CP3       Wasdale Head     -11:12
CP4       Buttermere -13:01
CP5       Braithwaite -03:15
CP6       Blencathra Centre +18:56
CP7       Dockray +54:04
CP8       Dalemain +38:44
CP9       Howtown +31:26
CP10     Mardale Head      +11:43
CP11     Kentmere +04:44
CP12     Ambleside -01:35
CP13     Langdale +01:20
CP14     Tilberthwaite -17:04
FINISH   Coniston  -36:42

Stuart Mills pulled off an impressive win with a phenomenal time of 22:17:50. It always strikes me how he seems to be prepared to brutalise himself more than anyone else to get the best possible performance out of himself. Post-race he is always the most crippled. I remember last year when illness forced me from competitor to spectator and I got to see the fast ones finishing, he was the only one who really seemed to be suffering as he ran to the line. He has a high capacity for pain. He almost seems to embrace it - revel in it. The man's a machine.

Winner Stuart Mills gives his speech.

Scanning the L50 and L100 results I suspect the shivering figure at Tilberthwaite might have been 100-miler John Osborne. John, sorry for leaving you but I knew the others would look after you. I'm glad you all made it back safely.

Here are the pictures I took, which had to stop when the rain started before Kentmere. Once again I apologise for the poor quality from the old camera (not for much longer).

And finally some yawning facts and figures. This was my:
3rd Lakeland 100
13th PB of the year
17th hundred-miler of all time
7th ultra marathon this year
165th ultra marathon of all time

GONG! The first one's for Lakeland 50 2009.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Goyt's Moss fell race 7mi. 24/07/2013.

Race 3 of 4 in the 2013 Goyt Valley series.

Since this is in the GV series and I'm aiming for the lot, it had to be squeezed in no matter what. Wednesday evening, two days before Lakeland 100, so what? It's only 7 miles. What harm could it do? In any case I hadn't done this race before and I wanted some of it.

The evening was warm and humid and many of the usual suspects were there - the serial compulsive fell racers like Chris Jackson and Caitlin Rice of Glossopdale Harriers and Peter Bailey of Buxton AC. Last year's winner Steve Vernon of Stockport Harriers was there to try for another win. He broke the course record last year with 42:56. James Scott-Buccleuch and Robert Goulsbra, also of Stockport, were there too. Robert, normally way ahead from the beginning, overtook me well into the race. Eh? What's going on? "I started late."

Based at the top of the Goyt Valley at Derbyshire Bridge and beginning with a run down the lane before veering left up the fell, the race takes in parts of the Shining Tor fell race route before crossing over the valley to Berry Clough and subjecting us to hidden footpaths through head-high bracken. Rampant it was. Give it a few more millennia and we'll be like New Zealand, with bracken evolved into tree ferns.

The route was testing, with lots of ups and downs, but what else do you expect with a fell race? I felt pleased with my efforts and enjoyed quite a strong finish. Even so I still finished in the bottom 42%, which I found disappointing. This race must attract an elite field. ;-)

Steve Vernon did win again, but in a slower time of 45:45. Well done Steve for another win.

Coming back down to Earth with a bump, my time was 63:28, position 72nd out of 124 starters.

I managed to take some blurred pictures once again. Blurred pictures during the race are mostly because I was fell racing. I had to throw away loads. :-(

White Peak Walk 26mi. 13/07/2013.

Although primarily a walk, runners are allowed on this low-key event from Monyash that sells out months in advance. A small and quite capable bunch of speedier ones is always in attendance and I could never finish first even though it is a ‘walk’ and I run it as if my life depends on it. It has the same principal organiser as for the Baslow Boot Bash in June. Peter Skinner’s attention to detail knows no bounds so everything is guaranteed to run like clockwork, from the personal welcome at registration to the pie-and-peas meal and cups of tea at the finish.

In light of recent race performances I was expecting a possible PB this year – that is until the heatwave arrived. After a hot and arid week, Saturday brought the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures hitting 31C, making it the hottest ever WPW. In stark contrast to last year’s mud and floods, the ground was baked hard and dusty and grass was turning brown. Livestock tried to shelter from the inescapable heat – sheep flaked-out on the ground and making no attempt to move out of our way as we passed, cows squeezing onto the track we were following to shelter under the trees. One cow was even sheltering under a railway bridge where it was enjoying a cooling through-draught.

Spot the cow.

It had been warm for so long now that even the Headstone Tunnel through which the Monsal Trail passes was less fridge-like than I’d been expecting. Relief from the heat was only mild and too short-lived.

Cool tunnels were a bit of an obsession today. Laura enters the Headstone Tunnel.

Just like last week on the Osmotherley Phoenix, I dipped my cap in every available stream to cool my head down, although the opportunities were few and far between. One time on the approach to Youlgrave I was temporarily blinded as the dripping water washed salt from my forehead into my eyes.

I enjoyed the rare privilege of running the majority of the event with someone. Like last year, Laura Appleby provided company on what otherwise would have been a solitary affair, with the faster runners ahead and the walkers way behind. (The slowest ones would take over 12 hours to complete, by which time it would nearly be dark.) Thanks for your company once again, Laura.

The heat caused quite a few retirements and a universal slowing down. During the course of the event I drank over 2 litres of electrolyte and over 1 litre of water. Because I kept well hydrated I finished feeling a lot better than after Osmotherley last week when the electrolyte drink ran low. My time of 5:17 was 22 minutes outside my PB of 2009, but I estimate the heat added half an hour onto my time.

Well done to Andy Robinson for being first finisher in 4:39 and well done to everyone for finishing in those conditions. Bad luck to Steve Temple who had to retire, jet-lagged from only just having returned from business travel in USA. (I suspect that he might have finished first otherwise.)

The old blurred camera was pressed into service again for some more pictures of the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, of which I will never tire to my dying day. I'll leave you with an image of one of the less runnable parts of the route.

The climb out of Cales Dale shortly before the finish.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Short races hone running skills

…. not just fell races but flat(ish) traily ones and Parkruns too.

Wed 10/07/2013 - Offerton 10k
This was the second year running and third time for me at this testing evening race around Woodbank and Vernon Parks. The weather had cooled temporarily just for the day to make it a little more bearable. I was delighted to get a 12th PB for the year and an all-time 10k PB, with those three hills. I had half expected it but not by that margin. Race times for my three completions are:
2005 0:48:32
2012 0:48:28
2013 0:46:18 (improvement thanks to more fell racing).
Thanks once again to Stockport Harriers for putting on such a superb, friendly race. I can’t wait for the Stockport 10 (mile) in December now.

Sale Sizzlers
This is a series of four Thursday evening 5k races put on by Sale Harriers in Wythenshawe Park. This year they occurred two weeks apart on 4 July, 18 July, 1 August and 15 August. It’s a flat course and times are quick – up to a minute quicker than the Woodbank Parkrun course.
There were no PBs for me this year, due partly to the high temperatures as the heatwave really took hold with high humidity and temperatures hitting the low 30s C.
The Lakeland 100 five days previous added a minute to my 3rd race time. (If it hadn't been timed I wouldn't have known as it didn't feel any different to normal – same old ‘just give it all you've got until you've finished’.)
The 4th race was a championship event and several Olympians past and present honoured us with their presence. The only one I recognised was Ron Hill. Many photographs were taken but not by me this time (scenery too boring ;-)). Large numbers meant more hold-ups than usual on the initial circuit of the track, so I was pleased to get my fastest time of the year. 21:42 remained 14 seconds outside my all-time 5k PB from 2006.
Those who completed all four races received a medal handed over by an Olympian, a current one judging by her young appearance and tracksuit (sorry but I have no idea who, since I don’t follow any professional sports).
This year’s statistics are:
Date      Time Excuses
04/07  0:21:46 Hot
18/07 0:21:58 Even hotter
01/08 0:22:46 4 days after L100
15/08 0:21:42 Humid and crowded
The photo is an arty creation from Harry Shakeshaft of HSPhotos taken near the finish line of the third race. Pretty cool, eh? You don't get that special treatment when you purchase from other race photographers.

Sat 20/07/2013 - Woodbank Parkrun, long and technical edition
I included this because the funfair in the park forced us around the back of the athletics track down the rooty twisty turny single paths beside the river. The climb back up to the park was steep and long enough to force me to walk, even on the first loop. The distance was over, which I was informed is necessary with Parkruns when alternative routes have to be used. I have to say I was in my element as I danced down the narrow paths making sure not to trip on all the hazards. Fancy having to put fell-running skills to good use on a Parkrun! My time of 23:54 was 1:30 slower than for the normal course but my finishing position was the highest ever (9th out of 93 finishers and 1st V45-49).

Sun 21/07/2013 - Gravy 6
A first time for me, this was a 6 mile trail race from Hadfield around the reservoirs of the lower Longdendale valley. Much of it used the railway bed of the defunct Woodhead line. I was pleased to be able to run this after missing the ‘Round The Resers’ race earlier in the year, which covers a similar route.
I took some pictures this time with my old blurred camera.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Osmotherley Phoenix 33mi. 06/07/2013.

Race 7 of 12 in the 2013 Runfurther series.

Britain's summer heatwave was well underway for this year's annual pilgrimage to Osmotherley, to make it the hottest Phoenix ever for me and for the event, by all accounts. It made it more of a (de)hydration suffer-fest than usual for many. My three tablets for 1.5 litres of electrolyte (in addition to the water I was drinking) proved not to be enough and caused a major slowdown after I took the above picture. Emergency water supplies using every available container were out there on the course.

Before 9am under the blue sky and bunting of the Osmotherley Summer Games, the familiar announcements were being made for our send-off. A new amplification system was in use but seeing as it was battery-powered and woefully underpowered, only those of us at the front could hear them. Something that’s plugged-in with ten times the power output might be better for next year.

Once underway, the contrast to last year couldn't have been starker. The mud and puddles had been replaced by mostly dry and hard ground – much better for faster times except for the heat. As the day progressed, the temperature built up to the high twenties. Only a slight breeze on the tops brought some welcome relief from the oven-like conditions lower down. The conditions would cause several retirements, several shorter route choices and one collapse (fortunately nothing serious). For some of us who battled to the end, the light-headedness that usually catches us in the final stages of this event was accompanied by nausea as well as we struggled to maintain electrolyte balance and adequate hydration.

After Carlton Bank checkpoint I was impressed by the purists who continued ahead to the top to take the tougher route along the Cleveland Way via Wainstones. On such a perfect day the wide-ranging views were more important to them than the shade and speed of the easier lower level route through the woods, but they still beat me anyway (too fit for my own good if you ask me) ;-). However I did get to experience something they would have missed - the scent of the trees, especially the pines, brought out by the hot sun. Another runner commented to me that it reminded him of running in southern Spain. It reminded me of California.

With the way thing have been going for me this year I sensed a PB might have been on the cards. However, as would be expected in the hot conditions with my slowdown and dragging my electrolyte-imbalanced arse across the tops and back down to Osmotherley, a PB eluded me, but it wasn't a PW either. 7:05 was faster than last year and the year before, so not bad considering.

As for the 'elites', the winning time was phenomenal given the conditions, apparently only 1 minute outside the record. First male was Jayson Cavill in 4:32, with Simon Deakin and Ed Williams finishing equal second in 4:57. First female was Charmaine Horsfall in 5:57, with Cathy Wood hot on her heels for second in 5:59. They knock my time into perspective.

Recovering at the finish line.

My pictures are here.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Whaley Waltz fell race 5.75mi. 29/06/2013.

Race 2 of 4 in the 2013 Goyt Valley series.

Photo courtesy Max Thickett.

I ran the Woodbank Parkrun again in the morning before taking the train up the Buxton line to Whaley Bridge for this friendly afternoon fell race. It is an annual favourite of mine that runs on the day of the Whaley Bridge Carnival. We watch the floats, bands and processions pass along the high street and disappear out of sight before we get to run in their wake, cheered on by the crowds of spectators lining the road. (Thank goodness that bypass was built otherwise this could never take place.)

Occurring as it did at the beginning of the 2013 hot spell (our summer), we enjoyed warm sunshine for our run up to Windgather Rocks and back down to plunge into the river before the final few yards up to the finish line. 52:17 turned out to be a nice PB (11th of the year).

The busted camera means no pictures from me this time.

Kinder Trog fell race 16mi. 23/06/2013.

Race 7 of 10 in the 2013 Hayfield Championship series.

I ran the Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday 22nd in preparation for this, one of the longest fell races from Hayfield that seems to include parts of every other fell race in the area. The wind and rain came with unexpected intensity on the top of Kinder, writing off my camera in the process with its first dampening, the useless delicate item. (The previous one still works after multiple soakings and full immersions, though its lens is irretrievably contaminated internally to the point of uselessness.)

It's good how the wind and rain don't bother you when you're getting on with the job of running a race and keeping yourself warm in the process. I remember feeling quite contented despite the conditions up on top.

I was well pleased with a 2:43 finish and to be able to run strongly pretty much to the end - so much better than my Kinder Downfall effort back in April when it took me 2:01 to 'run' 10 miles.

All pictures I managed to take are here.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Fun On The Fells 3.12mi. 14/06/2013.

This was a brand new, almost impromptu Friday evening race up Lantern Pike that was combined with Hayfield School summer games. It was a tough and testing route, like all Hayfield races are, with the novelty of competing with juniors who ran the same race at the same time. I always find it humbling and impressive to compete with youngsters, plenty of whom are able to run me ragged and wipe the floor with my best efforts. The bonus was the barbecue at the finish and live music in the school hall before the prize presentations.

Pictures are here.

Wormstones fell race >4mi. 12/06/2013.

A bit of drizzly dampness (the first since Kettleshulme two weeks ago) had returned for this Wednesday evening race from The Beehive pub in Glossop. Thankfully it stopped just in time for our race, which was a 'long' 4 miles with lots of up and down, as you would expect from around these parts. It was my first attempt and this year it was a designated Pennine Fell Runners championship race. A Pennine runner (Simon Coldrick) broke the course record with a time of 31:26. I was well pleased therefore to finish in 41:47.

My pictures are here.

Baslow Boot Bash >26mi. 08/06/2013.

This was my second running of this walk that allows runners (thank you) from Baslow through our beautiful White Peak. A PB by 45 minutes (10th one this year) was the reward, in warmer conditions and with navigational errors.

Pictures are here.

Boar's Head fell race ~7mi. 05/06/2013.

Picture courtesy Mark Fermer, taken at the highest point.

A nice evening run to ease the legs three days after Northants Ultra. It was very local to me, winding its way through Lyme Park and along parts of the Kettleshulme fell race route of a week ago. I could not believe how much the ground had dried within a week.

After a slow start I managed to pick up and pick off other runners on the descent to the finish. My time of 1:04:35 might have been slowed a little by the Northants Ultra but as this was my first time I had nothing to compare against.

My pictures are here.

Northants Ultra 35mi. 02/06/2013.

Race 6 of 12 in the 2013 Runfurther series.

Hosted by Go Beyond Ultra, this was a 35-mile run in the beautifully warm, sunny and dry Northamptonshire countryside from the grand old pile of Lamport Hall. The route is undulating and very runnable as opposed to steep and technical, which adds a toughness of its own because you have to keep on running. In my third running of this event I was pleased to just scrape a PB (no. 9 of the year) with 6:22:13.

Pictures are here.