After a few years of inconsistency due to injuries 2020 has been planned for sensible training and planned races, with 2 maybe 3 big Ironman and half Ironman races planned injury is something I wanted to steer clear of!
So eynsham rr decided to do a fast parkrun January, I decided to pick one, and one weekend and see where my fitness is. Buckingham was chosen and the date was set in the diary so whatever the weather and whatever the conditions I was racing that day!! The day came and after lots of rain, flooding had cancelled most park runs in Oxfordshire but thankfully Buckingham was still on. We parked and ran to the start to do a warm up and check the route.
We were notified by the organisers that the course had been changed due to flooding, and this meant an out and back including 3 laps around a small path in the park, So off we went, the 2 in front who I knew were in a different league to me, so I let them go and settled into a steady pace, we hit the first loop of the course all was fine, 2nd Lap was very busy, 3rd lap was spent mostly running on the muddy grass as the path was pretty much blocked, we peeled off to run back to the finish and I looked at my watch thinking surely that’s not going to be the full distance, and it wasnt I crossed the line in 16:12, 4.554km, well that’s a parkrun pb I will never beat!! but knowing parkrun distances are very random thought it would just stand! So we warmed down with a local runner who took us round the usual course to find no flooding and no ice so wondered why they changed the course!! Drove home happy with how I ran and optimistic that my fitness was returning, I logged in to parkrun results to find they had mis-calculated the course and decided to give the whole field 59:59 to make it fair!! Although my average parkrun time took a dive I did get a bottle of wine!! My next planned race was Newbury racecourse 10k (welcome storm ciara) and then Wokingham half, so whoever is doing that be warned I think we have snow on the way!!
I can’t report on anyone else but well done to all who ran a parkrun.
The race is set in a picturesque village in the Evenlode
Valley, organised by a band of very dedicated people who put on a well
organised event to raise money for their local village charities.
As we arrived at the venue the car park marshal indicated to
Kate to park anywhere under the oak tree, so it set the tone for a relaxed
As we listened to the Race Directors instructions, Mark
Creasey commented how typical it was of a quintessential English Village of a
bygone age, with the talk drowned out by the sound of a Vintage Biplane engine
After an horrendous rain soaked Saturday, when the race organisers nearly called if
off, the Sunday morning was a glorious autumnal day with bright blue sky.
There were 2 race distances (5k and 10K), although the Club
Championship was the 10K, due to flooding a late course change for the 5K had
We set off along a tarmac section for a short way before
crossing a slippery bridge where you were advised to walk before you started
the ascent up towards the main A3061 road.
Once running along the top field there were fantastic views of the
valley below. On the way back they even
provided in one field a knee deep shoe wash.
The race took me back 35 years or more when running en masse
wasn’t the norm as it is today, like the
first race I did from the Newlands Inn in Eynsham in the 1980s and the Great
North Run in 1989 with only 9/10,000 participants (now 57,000)!
It is great that people are out there running but this race
was more enjoyable as there weren’t the mass of runners so you had space to
look around, reflect and take your time (as in my case).
My race number was No 8 (which in Chinese culture is the
luckiest number), so although I was unlikely to win any prizes in the race, it
was a pleasant surprise to find my name drawn out for the Wine.
So all in all a great race for our car passengers, Becky who
was 2nd Lady overall, Jacky
with 1st lady vet 55 and Kate would have won the 65+ category if
there had been one.
To all you Eynsham runners who missed out on this scenic and
well organised race, put it in your diaries for next year, a great training run
for the Cross Country season.
Return of this event organised by Chris Evans and well known
athletes, Colin Jackson, Steve Cram, Paula Radcliffe & Natasha Evans
confirmed as Team leaders over this weekend also accompanied by live bands tbc.
I went to the first one held last May at Bowood Parkland,
Wilts. deciding to go just for the Friday as
it being my first festival other than food or flowers & feeling I
should prepare for an element of chaos, mud and loud music, I was pleasantly
surprised at the fantastic organisation together with beautiful surroundings. (2020
will not disappoint as it is to be held in Windsor Great Park.)
My Titanium knee then all of 3 months old I knew would incur
consideration when seeing the queues at the race registration tents, club runs,
individual and family all with chosen distances during the day time and evening
twilight also moon lit neon runs. Still undecided I wandered towards the sign
that showed Steve Cram was about to start his talk so took a seat in the marque
for inspiration, certainly it was entertaining. After that a walk over to the
tents erected for massage treatments and sports health advice, this would
certainlyget me in the right frame of mind, there was even Club La Santa with
encouraging details of their active holidays on offer. Nearby I could get the
aromas of food being freshly cooked some with nutritional benefits, some that
certainly were not! difficult to choose, but not far away were the beer tents
& Gin bars, here I did spend a little time, well there was an array of
flavours.. tis more like what I'm used to.
Began to notice runners making their way to the start
positions even joined in cheering them to the finish flags. Razorlite began setting
up on stage and people of all ages some dressed in their night clothes, well
the ones being pushed in prams, gathered to listen. So with a rhubarb gin in
one hand an amazing filled bap with chips in the other I settled down to enjoy
the evening that was ablaze with stage technical design lighting together with
runners jogging with their Neon lights. After sometime when the night was
getting late I left the event for a welcome sleep at a nearby establishment,
never did get back to those registration tents..................
Many running clubs were taking part last year, also very
much a family event. The Saturday is very much RACE DAY so that may well suit a team from Eynsham
Roadrunners to take part also as shown on the web the programme for Friday and
Sunday has much to offer.
Benjamin Pollard had expressed his interest in encouraging a
team so please do speak to him or myself to show your interest.
First release of Tickets: 25th Sept to 31st
Oct. (2019 prices) second is 1st Nov to 31st Jan. Final 1st
Feb to 21st May
A lovely sunny September morning as we set off from Eynsham
to Woodstock. Kate had suggested cycling
over but although our legs would have been warmed up for the race, the thought
of cycling back after 3 laps of the “Hill” might have been too much for the
journey back, so we took the easy option by car. Luckily for us as the original plan was to
enter via Bladon Gate, but as we drove past it was taped off with Police
Vehicles present, unbeknown to us it was the result of the “Golden Loo Heist”.
When we arrived a few hardy Eynsham runners were already
warming up and getting in those extra miles in preparation for their various
Marathon challenges later in the year, Kate and I had a short jog deciding to
use the first lap as a warm up rather than set off too fast and then struggle
on the next two laps.
Kate and I chatted our way round the first lap taking in the
views and enjoying the lovely surroundings.
On the 2nd lap Kate had dropped back a little and
I was feeling good so pushed on and overtook a few runners only to be caught by
Simon Taylor (lead bike) and James Bolton finishing his race on the final
stretch. It was quite interesting to see
James finishing for a change, he certainly didn’t seem to be feeling the
effects of 3 undulating laps but then he probably trains there all the time.
The third lap started well but by the time I reached the
Combe Gate Hill I could feel my legs tiring.
I guess it will be more Hill Training at Botley this winter for me.
There was good support from Eynsham spectators around the
course and the Woodstock marshals which helped to keep me going.
We were rewarded with an Acorn (now planted in pot) and
another fabulous Mythakulon T-Shirt for the collection (thanks Benedict).
It was another successful day for Eynsham Roadrunners with
Kate Allred winning the ladies race, Robert Storey was 2nd Male 50 and
Kate Williamson and I winning our respective age categories.
Ian’s plan had me down for 15 miles that day, but I
had entered the Hooky 6, so went for a long warm up and stumbled across
the Hook Norton Brewery, before finding my way back to the start line.
It was a two lap course and 6 miles later
we ended up back where we started.
The race, which is in the Club Champs and is the
reason why I had entered, sells out quickly and unfortunately quite a
few people were not able to get a place. There was a bar at the finish
and although Adrian and other Eynsham Road Runners
had missed out on getting a place they did not miss out on getting a
pint ready for the presentations.
Kate finished second lady overall and won a box of 3
Hook Norton beers and a beer glass. She didn’t like beer so promptly
gave the beer away to Jackie and Adrian, but kept the beer glass –
because having won the race last year she now
has a matching set. Top tip, if you like beer make sure you are near Kate at the presentations.
Jackie was then declared second in her age category and won more beer.
Jackie and Adrian had kindly given me a lift and on
the way home talk was about the Hooky Christmas Canter, which again
sells out. Adrian was telling us that he enjoys that race because as
you run round you pop into the church and get
mulled wine and mince pies. Jackie didn’t know of this, as she’d
always sprinted past the church to win the race!
I did not win any beer that day, but did complete the 15 miles and won the wine 3 weeks later.
Racing to the stones – Avebury that is, not to some gig
Ok, its an ultra of sorts, an ultra with options. I had been
looking at this event for some time, picking it up and putting it down like
some kind of ornament I had no use for. I had my reasons for dithering, these
were significant, so when Colin, whilst walking his dog said he didn’t know
what sock to wear for this event he signed up to, I decided.
It wasn’t about the socks, or even Colin. It was about
getting back on the event waggon.
After running my first and very enjoyable marathon in
October; I hadn’t been my usual active self. Maybe I needed to recover longer
than I did. Possibly, it is said you need to have more of a break than you
think, but not stop completely. Well, I didn’t quite do that.
I had a few medical issues and health scare which slowed me
down, likely at the point I should have picked up. I fully understand what it
is like to wait for a diagnosis, mulling over uncertainty and possibilities. In
the end I decided to keep busy, I called the problem ‘Jeff’, as anything would
be an assumption which could embody misdirected fears; I went on holiday and
did a few nice things I wanted to do. Jeff is still with me as a passenger and
is not too disruptive, although a concern. I wont bore people with the detail,
but learning you have a benign tumour in your lung doesn’t relieve you, or
excite you. Just exhale (metaphorically, because actually it effects breathing)
that ‘it could be worse’.
So. I’m doing this event and others to push against Jeff.
Unwanted passenger who seems harmless who might get me in the future. I should
currently be struggling to breathe going up stairs, but I’m not. Why – because
I have been active most of my life, and I’m little. Fortunate still.
Enough about me and why.
The event – a well organised machine, very accessible to all
abilities. Weather for some was good, a little on the warm side for me. We had more snacks available than was
sensible, drink possibilities that were endless, and; So. Many. Stops.
Colin valiantly declared he would follow me as he had not
done something like this before (I don’t remember being a) an expert, b) er, likewise?).
Never mind. I hope he understands how I operate…
An hour into the event walk/ jogging to get out the way of
people and chatting – I realised that it would have been better to do the whole
thing in one go, especially as I was talking to walkers who were saying my pace
was good walking speed and they were going to go through the night. Haha.
Lesson no 6. This is a different race to other events, and
it will be down to technique as well as endurance and speed.
Lesson no 7. No matter how bright your t-shirt is, some t*@*
will step on you.
Lesson no 8. The food at the stations is free to help
yourself, but don’t eat 4 times as much, or you’ll look like that person who is
shamelessly building another camel hump.
Lesson no 9. This might be a trail path, but the sun has
packed it hard like concrete, trail shoes not needed (ouch!)
Lesson no 10. Feet swell, they keep swelling and want to
escape the shoe.
Lesson no 10b. running uphill is better for you and was
easier (tiny hills)
Lesson no 11. Ibrobufen gel is a mistake. My hand was numb
from applying it, but it didn’t help with issue I had, haha.
Lesson no 12. This is a tough event, but you need to suit
yourself; being polite to someone will fail for the 5th time they
want a nice cup of tea and a sit down, and you are in agony.
Lesson 13. You have to physically do this event, but unless
you tell yourself you can, you won’t. Psychology against yourself is a mean
Lesson 14. It was a great event, well organised, beautiful timing, beautiful route; I have another chapter in my physical achievements.
Lesson 15. How can anyone wear flipflops after an event like
Thanks to Colin for the company, the lift and the
distraction. I hope you understand that you are a better athlete than you
think, because you are competitive, although stamina is your enemy.
Lesson 16. Do it once, you can then decide to regret it, or
realise what you really can do.
Sat in my car waiting out the rain, and looking at all the other
runners in their cars doing the same, I have to say that it looked like
it might be an endurance rather than a fun race. But then, with 10
minutes to go before the start gun, the rain lessened to a drizzle, and
by the time we’d reached the top of the first hill the sun was trying to
make a break through. The race is organised by the Stroud and District
Athletic Club and is part of a memorial series for one of their former
runners, Roger Briers, and if you complete the series you can join the
medals together to form a plaque (which is a nice touch). The Standish
Woodlands Chase 10(ish) miler (https://www.stroudac.co.uk/StandishWoodlandChase)
is a runner’s race! From the start line you go straight up! For quite a
long time. Infact, ‘up’ (and steep ‘down’) is a common feature of the
race. However, the woods are stunning to run through and by the time you
are on the second loop then you know where you are going and can start
to enjoy yourself. The views of the Severn valley across to Wales and
into the Stroud valley really take your breath away as you come out of
the woods ready for the fast descent to the finish line. The race was
really well organised, and all the local runners I met were really
friendly. It was a small field with 153 finishers (in which I came 40th)
but I don’t think it should become much larger - sometimes a smaller
challenging race is really satisfying. I think I’ll be looking to do
this again some time!
As I told just about
anyone who would listen on the day, my preparation for this race was unusual to
say the least. I did the Oxford Parkrun in the morning (starting slowly before building
up speed towards the end), then went to London for a drinking session with some
old friends (started reasonably quickly before slowing right down), before arriving
back at Oxford Parkway some time after 5, ready to whisked up to the wilds of the
North Oxfordshire border country.
With all this behind
me, I wasn’t sure how the famously challenging hills around Hornton would feel.
The answer was ‘not too bad’, or no worse than usual, at least. There were a
decent number of ERRs there, but with Witney out in force we didn’t quite clean
up trophy-wise as we had in recent years. Well done to Robert and Jacky for
winning their categories, and to our men’s team of Robert, the Baker boys and,
er, me for finishing a notional 2nd men’s team, which was still handy
for Grand Prix points.
presentations were quick and efficient which, whilst lacking the comic value of
last year, did mean we were in the pub in good time for our post-race meal,
organised by Tom. About 15 of us, runners and supporters alike, crowded into
the Dun Cow for some excellent food, and yes, more drinks. So maybe this regime
of race, beer, race, beer has something going for it.
Lakeland 100 is a continuous 105 mile clockwise
circular loop of the Lake District starting and finishing in Coniston. The route
is unmarked and competitors have to navigate using a route description, map and
compass and ‘register’ at checkpoints along the route. There is a 40-hour cut-off
time for completion.
6pm Friday 26 July, finished 08:23am Sunday 28 July
time awake without sleep = 51 hours
finisher = 18 years old; oldest finisher = 70 years old
Enlightenment (Van Morrison), Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan), When
the Night Comes (The Boomtown Rats), One
Way (The Levellers), And Dream of
Sheep (Kate Bush), Night Running
(Cage the Elephant), Morning (Beck), Let the Day Begin (The Call), Heaven is a Place on Earth (Belinda
Carlisle), Fall On Me (R.E.M.), The Mountain (Maddison’s Thread), Keep Moving (Madness), Clocks (Coldplay), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd), In
The Still of the Night (The Five Satins) Golden Slumbers/Carry That
Weight/The End (The Beatles)
“We are judged not by
what we start, but by what we finish.”
Leg 1 Coniston to
Seathwaite, 7 miles
Highlights = fresh legs and no blisters; the imposing
eastern precipice of Dow Crag viewed from the Walnar Scar Road; sun starting to
set over the west Cumbrian coast; the views of the Scafell Range and Harter
Fell before the descent to Seathwaite; the company of fellow runners and the
support of spectators.
village, 6.04pm Friday 27 July. 0.2 miles covered.
Mandatory kit includes hat, gloves, headtorch,
survival bivi bag, first aid kit, waterproof jacket and trousers, emergency
food, whistle, compass, map of the route, spare batteries, spare base layers,
fully charged mobile phone.
500 competitors started the Lakeland 100 in 2019. The ‘race’ starts at 6pm on the Friday
evening with a 40-hour time limit for completion. There are 15 checkpoints
along the route, each one with a race elimination cut off time. Any competitors
not leaving the checkpoint by that time are eliminated from the race and driven
back to the start in a ‘broom wagon’. The first 5 checkpoint cut offs are not
over-generous, with night navigation and difficult terrain underfoot adding to
the challenge of the first 33 miles.
Mile 5.5. 7:30pm
Friday 27 July.
Top of the Walna Scar Road with Harter Fell and the Scafell
range in the background. At this point in the race I was in about 420th
position. Although early evening it was very humid and as early as mile 5 I was
putting salt replacement tablets in my water bottles. The photo was taken by a
L100 finisher from 2018 out to support the 2019 runners. “It’s really tough,
but you’ll love it” she said.
Descending towards the
Leg 2 Seathwaite to
Boot (7 miles), 14 miles covered
The steep descent into Eskdale, hugging the fence line in single
Mile 11. 8, 09:20pm
Friday 27 July.
Eskdale is a special place that holds many wonderful memories
for me with annual summer camping trips as a boy. I have returned many times to
this magical valley over the years and I never tire of its soft and rugged
beauty. It is the only valley in the Lake District that does not contain a
lake. The winding River Esk and its mountain-born chill waters runs alongside
the route for half a mile or so and I pass by St. Catherine’s Church and the
stepping stones I played on during those summer camps many years ago. It’s a
magical moment of childhood nostalgia. Arriving soon after in the tiny
settlement of Boot (old English for ‘a curve in the valley’) at checkpoint 2 at
09:48pm, it was time for biscuits and cake and coke from the Christmas-themed checkpoint
(I kid you not, Shakin Stevens’ Merry
Christmas Everyone booming from the speakers and marshals dressed as
Leg 3 Boot to Wasdale
Head (5.4 miles), 19.4 miles covered
From Boot we join the ‘old corpse road’ that runs between
Wasdale and Eskdale, and which was, as its name would suggest, used to carry
bodies for burial. Although early in the race there are already several
competitors who have retired at the first two checkpoints.
Headtorch lights flicker along the valley as we pass the
brooding Burnmoor Tarn in the gloaming and descend into Wasdale where a barn
has been converted by Sunderland Strollers into a ‘Strollerfest’ that feels more
like a Tyrolean beer festival than a checkpoint at an ultra. Four Geordie
lasses are doing The Birdie Song
dance (yes, that one where you flap your arms manically and wiggle your legs) as
I wolf down three cheese and pickle sandwiches and, deciding that the long
ascent of Black Sail Pass is mildly preferable to The Birdie Song on a loop, I peel myself away from the checkpoint.
Leg 4 Wasdale to
Buttermere (6.9 miles), 26.3 miles covered
Much of the next hour is spent toiling up and up and up and
up, on what seems like an endless stairway, if not to heaven, then somewhere
close to it. At one point I look up and confuse the headtorch lights high above
me for stars. Far below lights are twinkling white in a long line. Just
magical. It’s still incredibly humid and at each stream
crossing I dip my head in the cooling water that runs off the fells. I’m also
taking care to hydrate well and put Tailwind and Mountain Fuel sachets into my
water bottles. Descending into the Ennerdale Valley and past the Black Sail Hut
hostel at 01:30am, I see three ‘spectators’ out on the course. Now that’s one
way to spend your Friday night! Finally, at 02:10am
on Saturday morning I arrive at Buttermere Village Hall checkpoint.
The descent from
Scarth Gap Pass to Buttermere, 01:50am and 25 miles covered.
The checkpoint theme at Buttermere is ‘The Day of the Dead’
and I’m greeted by a runner bent double and throwing up in the road and then by
a human skeleton as I dib my timing chip, or, at least, a guy in a skeleton
outfit. Inside the village hall itself the scene is one of subdued desolation.
There are about 20 people crammed into the small room and quite a few runners
who have retired here, they are sitting on chairs, head in hands, looking
disconsolate or talking about the injuries they have picked up which mean that
they can’t continue. It’s not a place to linger. I grab a couple of hot dog
sausages lathered in rich brown sauce, a couple of slices of bread and a hot
steaming mug of coffee and then I’m on my way again.
Leg 5 Buttermere to
Braithwaite (6.5 miles), 32.8 miles covered
“In the still of the night
as I gaze out of my window at the moon in its flight, my thoughts all stray to
you” (The Five Satins) What a beauty this leg was. In the still of the night. New trails
for me contouring the north-western fells above Sail Beck. A real highlight of
the race this section, lost in my own thoughts with an elongated stream of
headtorch lights indicating the twisting snaking climb of the paths ahead. It’s
very quiet and still, and in this isolated place there is no other light or
noise pollution. Whiteless Pike, Wandope, Scar Crag and Sail loom darkly to our
left as we cross Third Gill and then Addacombe Beck. I get my mug out of my pack
and bend down to the fast-flowing stream to fill my mug and pour water over my
head. I stop dead mid-stoop. Am I hallucinating, or is that a head in the
stream staring back at me? Yes, on closer inspection it is a dark
semi-submerged sheep’s head, its dead black eye fixed in its watery grave. Note
to self – don’t drink directly from the streams! Five minutes later I’m
scrambling up the loose scree of Sail Pass, and after a cut through heather on
a narrow path I’m at Barrow Door, ready for the long grassy runnable descent to
Braithwaite (pronounced ‘Brethet’ by the locals). I sit for 10 minutes or so in
St. Herbert’s Church Hall and wolf down three (yes, three!) bowls of rice
pudding and then a pasta dish with the tangiest spicy tomato sauce. I’m so
pleased that so far I don’t have any stomach issues and I’m eating and
Leg 6 Braithwaite to
Blencathra Centre (8.5 miles), 41.3 miles covered
Half an orange and then I’m out of the checkpoint, walking
on the A66 out of Braithwaite slurping a hot cup of tea as I go. I’m joined by
Gemma and we chat and run together. It’s 5am and no need for headtorches now.
Being so early on a Staurday morning there is very little traffic on the A66
and soon we are off the road and wending our way towards Keswick. Gemma has
made the journey from Devon with her husband and two young kids. I lose touch
with Gemma on the ascent of Latrigg but soon join Kirsty on the countour around
Lonscale Fell north of Keswick. “How far’s the next checkpoint? I’m desperate
for a wee! It’s easy for you blokes!” Kirsty (late 20s and from somewhere up
north) is great fun, and it strikes me that only in this kind of event would
your first conversation with a complete stranger be about going to the loo!
Chatting away, the rain starts to fall, intermittent at first and then more
persistent but we soon arrive at Blencathra Centre, the next checkpoint with a
hard rock theme and where Freddie Mercury (see pic below) offers me a swig of
whiskey from a bottle placed on the table next to the sausage rolls and peanut
butter sandwiches. I opt for a mug of vegetable soup instead, and soon I’m on
my way again, walking out of the checkpoint with another strong coffee,
mourning the loss of Kirsty to the not inconsiderable queue outside the ladies
Checkpoint 7 Blencathra Centre, 41.3 miles
“Don’t stop believing,
hold on to that feeling.”
Leg 7 Blencathra
Centre to Dockray (7.7 miles), 49 miles covered
I fall in step with Annette, 60, who has a fast walk that is
quicker than my stumble jog. We spend all of 5 minutes together before she dry
retches for a few moments by the side of the road and then shows me a very
brisk and clean pair of heels. Crossing the A66 checkpoint is mercifully quick
and before long I am on the climb towards Clough Head (memories of my Bob
Graham Round attempt from last year) and then settling into a rhythm for the
6km traipse along the Old Coach Road in the pouring rain. Half way along a
couple of dark brown wild horses join me and we walk together along the path
for a good half a mile. They hold a position to my left on the path and I start
talking to them and the lead horse half turns its head and gazes at me with a
deep meaningful look, which could mean a) What are you doing here on this long
and winding road in the pouring rain? b) Why don’t you just jump on my back and
I’ll give you a ride along this track to Dockray? c) You are not even half way
through this race and you’re already 5 hours behind the leader.
Leg 8 Dockray to
Dalemain (10.1 miles), 59.1 miles covered
Dockray is a desolate makeshift mini-marquee checkpoint that
is being absolutely battered by the strong wind and rain. I’m not overly
reassured by the dibber marshal saying “Are you feeling ok?” as I arrive. I
wonder if I’m starting to look like a White Walker from Game of Thrones with an
otherworldly look in my eye. To restore some colour to my face I wolf down a
mug of hot soup and grab a handful of cheese and pickle sandwiches. “Stock up,
love, it’s ten miles to the next checkpoint” says one of the ever cheerful
helpers, who obviously also feels I look less than sprightly. The next three
hours feel like seven. I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the experience
and take in the scenery and the views, which admittedly are stunning as we
contour Gowbarrow Fell and follow a gorgeous sinewy mountain path above the
north-east shore of Ullswater. I use the excuse to pause and take a photo
(below), and then hook up again with Gemma who is going strong on this section.
Reaching the Dalemain estate after an interminable road section I am buoyed by
the 50 mile runners who have started their race at 11.30am from this location and
are on their 4 mile loop of the estate. I have a mile running alongside them as
they pass me in waves, and I’m so encouraged I break into what can only be
described as a slow-motion sprint as they shout their encouragement. “Go on
Nick”, “Great job, Nick” “Respect Nick” “Keep it going Nick!” And then, at just
after noon, I reach the large checkpoint marquee where delicious vegetable stew
and sponge and custard await. Yes! Sponge and custard, and oh my goodness, it
tastes like the best thing ever consumed by a human. My drop bag is also
waiting for me here, which means I will now have poles for the second half of
the course, very welcome for tired legs. I also put on fresh socks but I’m
really concerned by the state of my feet, big angry blisters have formed and
the skin is albino white and shrivelled. I towel them as dry as I can and
sprinkle talc on them, but it all feels a bit late and futile as I leave the
checkpoint in an absolute deluge of rain.
Leg 9 Dalemain to
Howtown (7.1 miles), 66.2 miles covered
Very little stands out about this leg other than I was on my
own and it was raining heavily throughout. Ullswater to my right, bracken to my
left, and the path puddletastic. Every step was sharp pain in both feet. My
shoes and socks were sodden. It was impossible to keep them dry.
The long and winding
road…to Howtown. Mile 64, 20 hours in.
Leg 10 Howtown to
Mardale Head (9.4 miles), 75.6 miles covered
This is a beast of a leg, with a long 4.5km leg-sapping
climb up Fusedale to the highest point of the route at 650 metres just south of
Wether Hill summit. The clag was down, the grassy pathless top a muddy morass.
A licorice stick and a bar of Kendal Mint Cake saw me to the top and the
descent towards Haweswater was a treacherous slalom along a thin snaking path
through bracken with treacherous rocks hidden amid the mud. I passed a runner
who had broken his leg on the descent. There but for the grace of God. An isolated
and inaccessible single-file rocky cambered path runs along the side of Haweswater
in the Mardale valley. Haweswater was the site of a controversial dam project
in 1929 which saw the flooding of the villages of Measand and Mardale Green.
The path that skirts the reservoir is 6km long and is narrow, strewn with rocks
and boulders and undulates the whole way. It was also really treacherous in the
wet. There were signs that more than a few runners had fallen into the
chest-high bracken. I made tortuously slow progress and by the time I arrived
at the checkpoint at Mardale Head almost 4 hours had passed since the last
checkpoint and it was now late afternoon, with a strong wind and lashing rain beating
down on the makeshift marquee, with runners and volunteers huddling for shelter
from the elements. Shivering in the cold and wet, I wolfed down a cup of
lukewarm vegetable soup and one of the volunteers helped me to put on my waterproof
trousers, my legs struggling to respond. Kirsty arrived and was considering
retiring, or getting some sleep before continuing. A lot were retiring here,
and it was quickly time to move on.
Leg 11 Mardale Head
to Kentmere (6.5 miles), 82.1 miles covered
The climb of Gatescarth Pass started as soon as I left the
checkpoint and continued for close to an hour. The wind was raging and the rain
relentless. I stumbled down the descent into Longsleddale shadowing two of the
50 mile runners and into the appropriately named Sadgill. Kentmere is a
gorgeous valley and the route here wends its undulating way over several walls
with steps built into them, through farmland and fields. Enjoying these last
few miles of daylight it was dusk as I arrived at Kentmere Village Hall, where
Disney was the theme and The Circle of
Life got stuck in my head for the next few hours.
Leg 12 Kentmere to
Ambleside (7.3 miles), 89.4 miles covered
Many of the checkpoints are immediately followed by a climb,
and the Garburn Pass on fresh legs would not be overly taxing, but on tired
legs it seemed to go on a while. I had done a recce of this leg in March, but
with a tired head and legs and in the dark every turn seemed like a potential
navigational trap for the unwary. Eventually, however, I was winding my way
through the mystical Skelghyll Wood and hooking up with a couple of other
middle-aged men in the woods(!) for the run into Ambleside at just before 1am as
some late night revellers cheered us through the town. At the checkpoint I was
adopted by an incredibly helpful marshal who sorted me out with food and drink,
pepsi and more hot soup. After a brief stop I was determined that Saturday
night would be alright for fighting my way to the finish, despite the now
horrendous searing pain/agony that every step produced in my feet and lower
legs, particularly my right shin which was clearly unhappy with the strain it
Leg 13 Ambleside to
Chapel Stile (5.6 miles), 95 miles covered
It took me two and a half hours to travel the relatively
flat (only 234 m of ascent) and innocuous five and a half mile section to the Langdale
checkpoint, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the
physical state I was in at this point. Dark. Cold. Wet. Uncomfortably not so
numb. My headtorch batteries faded and I fumbled a battery change. I started
getting careless at loo stops too – enough said about what that meant! Finally
the ‘runway lights’ of the ‘come fly with me’ themed Chapel Stile checkpoint
came into view, the final checkpoint with a cut-off time, and I knew now that
barring complete physical shutdown I was going to finish.
Leg 14 Chapel Stile to
Tilberthwaite (6.5 miles), 101.5 miles covered
This was the leg where Annette powered past me again (I
hadn’t realised I’d gone past her again on the route) as I was having a
‘comfort break’ by the side of the path. This was the leg where a shadowy figure
just in front of me fell headfirst into an almighty deep bog, saving me the
same ignominy by seconds. This was the leg where the dawn emerged and started
to paint the colours of the new day, beautiful greys and greens and blues and
soft warm orange. This was the leg where I relaxed about any kind of finish
time, the goal was just to finish. This was the leg where I powered into the
checkpoint at Tilberthwaite and saw the ‘just over a parkrun to go’ sign. This
was the leg where I missed out on the cheese toasties they were serving at the
checkpoint, so keen was I to get up ‘Jacob’s ladder’ (the infamous
Tilberthwaite steps) and on to the finish.
Leg 15 Tilberthwaite
to Coniston (3.5 miles), 105 miles covered
"We're supposed to be athletes. This is more like the walking
wounded in Napoleon's retreat from Russia!" said one fellow competitor as
he hobbled past me at mile 104. I lost a good few places on this final section,
but I enjoyed it, absorbing the experience and reflecting on the journey I’d
been on during the event.
What did I learn?
Well, on a practical note, I learnt that if it is going to be wet for a
long event make sure that feet are well lubricated throughout and change socks
regularly. My legs and body felt generally fine. My biggest physical problem
was my swollen and badly blistered feet. I learnt that age and gender and body
shape are not necessarily indicators to stamina or performance in an ultra of
this kind. It appears to be as much about your head and your heart and about
one’s personal pain and ‘staying power’ threshold. I learnt that ‘running’ 105
miles in this way is a visceral and life-affirming experience. Not a unique
experience, but a highly unusual one which supercharges your senses throughout.
I learnt that ultra-runners are kind and generous souls with a strong sense of
community and shared experience. I learnt (and I kind of knew this already), that
I am well and truly in love with the Lake District. As Arthur Wainwright said:
“Surely there is no other place in this
whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland…no other so exquisitely lovely, no
other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of
The Lakeland 100 was a compelling and utterly memorable life
experience, which like Lakeland slate and granite is now chiselled into every
nerve and fibre. The inner glow is still burning brightly.
People have asked me why I would want to run 105 miles. To
me it is about discovering who I am, and understanding a little more about the
human condition; how we are made of fragile temporal flesh and blood, how
vulnerable we are, how strong we are, and how our mind and body can work in
beautiful harmony as well as fierce antipathy and antagonism.
(photo on the next page not for the squeamish) a foot note…
Drive for a couple of hours on ‘A’ roads and motorways and
you’ll average about 52 mph, needing roughly 2 hours to travel 105 miles. It’s
a long way in a motorised vehicle on straight flat tarmac roads, never mind
undulating uneven Lakeland trails. I
occasionally get asked ‘Why would you want to run 100 miles?’ and labelled
(affectionately, I hope!) as ‘mad’ or ‘a nutter’. It's a question I always
struggle to reply to, because to me it is the most natural and wonderfully
life-enhancing thing to do. Running long distances in beautiful locations has
provided me with so many memorable and wonderful life experiences. To me, my
character and personality is sharpened in the forge of these experiences, and I
see more clearly and deeply a mirror of who I really am. Without wanting to
sound pretentious, in part it’s about enlightenment, and an almost spiritual
communion with the natural world. This is said without any sense of judgement
on others. It’s merely an attempt to shine a light on who I am and what
enervates and excites me about life. And how lucky we are to live in this world
with so many natural wonders and life experiences to enjoy! And if you’ve got
this far, thank you for reading this.
On a warm, pleasant Sunday morning on the last day of June, a select
group of 8 Roadrunners made our way to the Thame 10k. It was my first
time at this race, and by far the biggest field I'd run with before,
with well over 800 runners taking part. Apart from a rather over
enthusiastic MC, I thought it was well organised, with the start having
different sections marked out in five minute intervals (faster runners
at the front). The course itself was, as promised by those who'd run it
before, mainly flat, with the first few kilometres taking us through the
town centre. The conditions were, I thought, very good, not too hot
with a gentle breeze providing a bit of relief from all the exertion.
Paul and Stan played their jokers, a good move considering the small
numbers from Eynsham. I'd been told that Thame was a good course to
improve a PB, and so it proved for myself, Stan and Caroline. Mine was
an improvement of over a minute, which I was very pleased about. Kate A
was the 3rd lady to finish, which was a great effort. Ian K popped up at
two points along the course, including at a crucial section half a
kilometre from the end, which definitely helped push me to the finish -
thanks, Ian! There was a bit of crowding in the finish funnel, but there
was a T shirt and refreshments at the end of it. I enjoyed my race, and
would definitely run it again in future!