On the 28th July, Dave Waddington and Graham Millington took on their first Ultra Marathon as they tackled the Montane Lakeland 50.
First up Grahams Report:
With a mere 5 miles of the 2012 Lakeland 50 completed a glimpse at the Garmin told me that I was rattling along at around 7 minute mile pace on the descent towards Checkpoint 1 at Howtown. My pre race strategy of a cautious run/walk up the inclines and a steady pace for at least the first 15 miles had long since been abandoned in a frenzy of adrenaline and excitement, as fresh legs had me arriving at the first CP 30 minutes faster than my most optimistic prediction. At the time I took this to be a good thing. As I was soon to learn in the most emphatic terms it was anything but good!
The Lakeland 50 is an an event I had been targetting for at least 18 months, with only a rare moment of sanity stopping me from entering in 2010. Misplaced self confidence had flourished enough to overcome that caution by 2011, and as soon as entries opened I pledged myself to 10,000ft of incline over the 50 rocky miles of mountain trails that make up the course. Fellow Harrier Dave Waddington also succumbed to the siren call of the Lakeland fells to prove that lunacy is infectious.
That 18 months of antcipation probably contribued to the very nervous stomach that I began the day with. I managed only a light breakfast of scrambled eggs before numerous trips to the loo dissuaded me from any further pre-race fuelling. A sandwich on the coach up to the start at Dalemain didnt do much to fill the gap.
482 runners set off from Dalemain at the north end of Ullswater to begin the 50 mile event. After a grassy loop around the grounds of the estate we were soon being applauded through Pooley Bridge. Fresh legs and exuberance carried me up the first incline out of the village with hardly a thought to my pre-race plans, and I was soon hammering out a suicidal 10k pb pace barely a handful of miles into a 50 mile race. I reached Howtown in a wholly unrealistic 87th place and proceeded to compound my collection of mistakes. The next basic error was to be breaking the golden rule of not trying anything new on race day as I downed a cup of energy drink I’d never had before.
The half banana I guzzled did little to boost the energy reserves before Dave and I set off up the long slog up Fusedale. This section grinds on for over a mile of soul sapping tussocky tracks and covers 2500ft of ascent to the high point of the course at High Kop. This was the last I was to see of Dave as he threw himself at the mountain and charged on up the rugged trail out of sight. I had always struggled on this section during the recce runs, but usually made up for it with the swift running possible across the boggy ground over the summit. I began to realize that the breakneck pace of the first few miles may have been a mistake as I struggled to find any pace across what was usually one of my favourite sections.
The lactic that built up on the climb just didint seem to clear. The boggy ground felt much heavier than usual and even the descent to the shores of Haweswater seemed to take more effort than I’d expected. By the time I’d reached the rocky, technical path around the shores of the resevoir it was clear that I was in trouble. My hip flexors and glutes seemed to have seized up and my running was reduced to a painful shuffle. By 15 miles I was feeling sick and fnding it impossible to run more than the easier downhill sections as I was forced to face the fact that my race was just about over.
Whilst I wasn’t ready to retire, it was clear that I was in no state to cover another 35 miles in my current condition. I was determined to keep going as long as possible but it was more a matter of when I’d be forced to stop rather than if. I was saved from descent into a state of complete self pity by the arrival of Michael from Carlisle. Michael had taken a fall on the descent from High Kop and twisted an ankle after also having set off too fast. Despite our dire straits his cheery optimism lifted me enough to manage a shuffling jog to the Checkpoint at Mardale Head as the sunny skies vanished with the first chilly showers of the day.
Mardale Head had something of the look of a refugee camp with its army green tents and collection of weary runners flaked out on various deck chairs within.The rain battering down on the canvas roof suited my dejected mood as I hauled on an extra layer and contemplated if I could stomach a cup of the tomato soup on offer. Into my mind came the advice of Jayne Howarth based on the experience of her sister Sally during last years 100 mile event: “eat everything – doesnt matter if you don’t like it – just eat”.
Half a cup of tomato soup later and I was beginning to feel human again. A second cup had me up on my feet and beginning to consider the possibility that this race may be back on again! The rejuvenating power of some real food cannot be underestimated on a run like this. The lack of it had reduced me to a shambling mess on the verge of a DNF, and a cup of soup had me up on my feet and full of belief again. It was a different runner that left Mardale full of life and ready to tackle the quad busting climb up Gatesgarth Pass.
We topped out at just under 2000ft at the top of Gatesgarth, and began a gentle run down the treacherous trail to the Longsleddale valley. This isn’t good running territory, made even worse by recent rains that have washed way large sections of the path. I was glad to have safely negotiated the smashed rock and ankle snapping terrain of Longsleddale to take on the less demanding climb over Sadgill.
Somewhere along this tretch we were caught by Kevin “doubleDNF” Doherty of Blackburn Harriers. I’d met Kevin on a previous recce gong over the Garbun Pass and enjoyed his company on the run in to Ambleside. The fact that it had taken to around the 22 mile point for a runner of his abilities to catch me merely clarified how stupidly fast I had gone in the beginning. Kevin was proving the effectiveness of his fellrunners approach to the distance by religiously walking the inclines and tearing past everyone on the descents. Given.his eventual 12:56 finish time this is clearly the way to do it.
Kentmere village Hall at Checkpoint 3 marks the 27 mile point and means that with a marathon already covered there is only a marathon to go! Once inside I tried to sort myself out with a bite to eat and a brew but the wonderfully simple system that processes runners through the hall utterly defeated me as I seemed to have lost the ability for clear thought. It seems I was running on low reserves once again and it took the assistance of an angelic volunteer to sit me down with a coffee and a bowl of rice pudding.
They really do look after you on the Lakeland 50 and are expert at dealing with confused and weary runners mucking up the simplest systems. Each and every checkpoint staffer and marshall I met was unfailingly cheerful and helpfull throughout the day. That’s an endurance achievement to match any distance run in my opinion, and we all owe them a huge vote of thanks.
Just as I was leaving I bumped into my two lovely lady companions from the Beacon Bash earlier this year. It was a real boost to see familiar faces, and on their advice I topped my lunch with a fruit smoothie on the way out. It seems odd to say but on my way up the path to the Garburn Pass, 27 miles done, all alone and clutching a fruit smoothie I was filled with a huge sense of cheerfulness as I realized I was truly enjoying this event.
Garburn is almost home ground for me being just 6 miles from my regular base at Staveley and part of my regular Sunday run when up in the Lakes. I had misplaced Michael somewhere in Kentmere and chatted happily with a variety of runners up and over the Pass. after a good section of running down nto Troutbeck I was joined by Ian Winstanley from Bolton. On the hike up to Skeghyll woods we struck up a chat that was to last for the next 20 miles almost to the finish. Ian had previously completed the Marathon des Sables so I felt myself in good company as we ran down through the woods to Ambleside.
It was along this stretch that we came across Sally Howarth of Trafford who was an incredible 80 odd mile sinto the L100 by now. Sally was in remarkably good condition and I felt quite guilty to leave her as we trotted on towards the checkpoint. I also felt a bit of a wimp as I worried about the twinges of cramp begining to bite at my calf.
The arrival in Ambleside was incredible. The first to spot me as I ran down the Lake Road into town was my loyal running buddy: the dog! As we ran on into the town centre the whole place seemed to be clapping and cheering giving a huge lift to weary legs. I felt like a champion. Club mates Jayne Howarth, Dave Collins and Jaqui Jones were gathered on the run in and I was in danger of becoming emotional as my little girls appeared along with the wife and my Mum.
What a luxury to have friends and family fetch the soup and rub out some calf cramp whilst I sat there in Lakes Runner enjoying the attention! My eldest told me she was tired and wanted to go to bed and asked would it take much longer for me to finish this race. I promised to get it done as quick as I could! It took a huge amount of effort to drag myself up and out of the shop as Ian and I set off again into the gathering gloom, (although I was relieved to have left the Lakes Runner shop without being at least £80 odd lighter for once!).
Within a minute of runing off heroically into the night, myself and Ian were huddled in a shop doorway putting on waterproofs and hats as the rain came in. Then it was uphill once more as we climbed the flanks of Loughrigg, passing the inspirational Sally once again as she had leapfrogged us in the checkpoint!
The gloom gatheed and we realized it was probably time to don the headtorches when we nearly missed the turning to Chapel Stile on the way out of Elterwater. We realized just in time to shout to a pair ahead of us who had also missed the turn. On another event runners may be tempted to take full advantage of a competitor who had gone the wrong way, but the Lakeland Ultra is characterised by its cameraderie and support. As the night grew darker and the distance greater that spirit of of mutual support amongst the runners seemed to grow. An involuntary team spirit took over as we were all in it together to get to the finish.
Chapel Stile CP came into view looking like Santas Grotto lit up with fairy lights in the night. A bowl of beef stew and another gulp of that magic Rola Cola topped the fuel stores as I resisted the call of the settee! (no kidding – there is a very comfortable couch in the tent at Chapel Stile). It was here than I bumped into Michael again who volunteered me as navigator for the group of runners he was with. I paused a few moments to wait for Ian and they were suddeny off into the darkness assuming they were following me I guess!
From here onwards the pace slowed dramatcally as we tried to negotiate the mixture of mud, bogs and slippery rock paths in the dark. This was the bit I’d been most looking forward to though: the adventure of running through the night over Lakeland Fells was the part that had me signng up in the first place. Despite the now constant background of pain in my legs and the building fatigue, I realized that with 40 miles gone I was truly and totally enjoying every minute of it.
Along with not going off too fast and the importance of correct fuelling, the other lesson I learned on the event is the importance of positive thinking. There is absoloutely no room for any negative thoughts on a run of this distance. A little moan or gripe can quickly snowball out of all proportion and feeds the self pity waiting to wallow up and persuade you to back off or pack in. I had talked myself into such a positive frame of mind I suspect I may have been positively irritating in my cheerfulness through the night!
We splashed on up the Langdale valley before the sharp climb up towards Little Langdale had leg muscles squeaking and creaking. The numerous recces of this section paid off in the dark over the tricky navigation across the boulder field of Blea Moss. The strings of headtorches told the tale of a dozen or more lost runners sploshing about the soggier areas of the Moss. Once such group that fought their way back up the hill side to find the path turned out to be Michael and the group of runners who thought they were following me!
Once we had found the unmanned checkpoint on the road, it was a straight-forward trot down the tarmac of the Wrynose Path before heading over the penultimate climb towards Tilberthwaite. As the rain picked up and the wind began to gust, so did my strength and energy levels. The finish was less than 6 miles away, and although that was still a good 90 minutes over the terrain to come, it became increasingly likely that I would actually finish this daft endeavour!
The first view of Tilberthaite valley as we crested the ridge will live with me forever. The cloud cover was total so that there was no difference in the blackness of the fell and the dark of the night sky. No difference that is apart from the chain of sparkling diamond lights that snaked their way upwards into the sky itself as strings of runners made their way over the final climb. For a moment or two it was mesmerising; a magical image; then I realized that the near vertical ascent described by those dancing headtorches marked out the final brutal climb I’d also have to tackle in a few minutes!
We lingered longer than we ough to at the Tilberthwaite checkpoint, savouring the hot coffee in the depth of the night before setting off up the steps out of the quarry. with just a couple of mles to go everyones spirits were high and the line of runners slogging up the hill swapped cheerfull banter as we went. It really was quite an odd situation to be slogging through the blackness of a lake distict fell in the early hours of the morning with a group of complete strangers. Someone said they felt as though they were “sneaking over the border”.
Once over the summit we only had the final clamber down to the miners path to go before it the relatively easy surface back into Coniston and the finish. Before I knew it I was trotting down the tricky rock section at increasing speed before finally breaking out into a proper run. Myself and another guy were suddenly leaving the group behind as we charged down the fell and made a dash for home. I suppose the feeling that as you whooping out loud as you run through the dark is called euphoria – or possibly hysteria?
Either way I was on an absoloute high as I finally emerged from the darkness into the sodium lights of Consiston and began the final few hundred metres back to the school. I had dreamed about completing this section so many times in the build up to the race, wondering what it would feel like, what state I would be in and even if I’d ever make it this far at all. It was quite surreal to be finally doing it, and doing it at a fair old clip as adrenalin and relief powered me home. Once past the petrol station I could hardly believe that I was hurtling back down the road we had left so many hours ago in a convoy of coaches heading 50 miles away to the start of the race. I had made my way back like a lycra clad homing pidgeon to sprint towards a finish line I’d barely dared to imagine I could reach.
As I turned the final corner celebrating like I’d won the event, (always celebrate like you’ve won it!), the finish line marshal stepped out with the final dibber point check. I tried to stop, but the Inov8 Roclites that had provided such sure footed grip over miles of fellside just didnt do it on wet tarmac! I was skidding along like a snowboarder without a board before crossing the finish line itself sliding along on my backside.
It had taken me 14 hours and 17 minutes to make my way back to Coniston from Pooley Bridge. For my first attempt at anything over 26.2 miles I was more than pleased with both my time and a top half finish in 237th place, (from 482 starters). I entered the hall still buzzing and quite shamelessly milked the poilte applause every finishing runner gets from those already home. I believe I was punching the air and grinning like a Cheshire cat but managed to refrain from any Industrial language!
From the first nervy recce runs on my own over Tilberthwaite, (where I got horribly lost in mist first time out), to the magnificent back to back long days myself and Dave undertook in the final build up, I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of my L50 journey. I can’t praise the organisers and race crew highly enough for their faultless organisation and relentless postivity. This is obviously a labour of love for Marc Laithwaite and Terry Gilpin along with the most enthisiastic and encouraging bunch of marshalls I’ve come across. On a personal level I owe a fair debt of gratitude to my supprt crew in the form of my hugely tolerant family, and particularly my long suffering mum who sat around in many a remote spot waiting to collect me after another epic recce run!
I cant wait to do it all again!
From the runners