Here follows an almost mile-by-mile account of my first 100 mile event – purely for selfish reasons as I don’t want to forget any of it! If you want a bit more background, my account of my 2017 Lakeland 50 race is here. I’ve split this race report in two so you can have a break (lucky you!) Get yourself a cuppa and enjoy.
The countdown to my first 100 was going well. I’d completed 95% of my training runs and come out fitter. I felt cool, calm and collected; I didn’t freak out when people asked about it – in fact I felt less nervous and more prepared than I had for any other race…probably because I’d been preparing for the majority of my running career! Tapering was going well – I was eating lots of whole foods, running easy and doing lots of foam rolling and self-massage…until lunchtime on Wednesday.
The curry tasted a bit off, but I didn’t think anything of it. It’s been years since I’ve had food poisoning, and I’m super blasé about Use By dates… I’ll think twice next time. Within two hours I was violently throwing up, and feeling incredibly sorry for myself, while listening to podcasts to try and distract me.
“One excuse is more convincing than two.”
Trail Runner Nation Podcast, 21st July 2018
So the planned final run didn’t happen. Instead I got up at 2am on Thursday to foam roll my aching back and try and get some cereal in me…Nope. Too early. Chucked that up too. I felt pretty weak and pathetic (mainly kicking myself for making such a simple mistake when it mattered the most) for the rest of Thursday, whilst making jokes about ‘carb depletion’, but managed to drink lots of electrolytes and eat some plain food, including a rather subdued homemade pizza (leftovers for the dropbag!) in the evening.
On Friday morning I woke up at 5am…not exactly feeling like it was Christmas. More like I had an exam that I hadn’t prepared for… But I did the last minute prep, managed some breakfast and some kit photos – most importantly, did a little skip and remembered that I was excited about this!! I had a stern word with each of my toenails. “You’re gunna stay, you’re gunna stay, you’re going to be loyal…” Soon we were on our way to Coniston. “The next time I’m home, I’ll have done 105 miles…” I managed not to add “hopefully”. You have to believe.
After the smoothest possible drive along *those* country lanes (thanks Andy), Hannah met us at registration, where I was trying not to shake while my dibber and tracker were attached to me. The internal monologue was pretty much exclusively saying “ahhhhhhhhhhh”… I had time for a “nap” – lying in the tent with a mild breeze, feeling super comfy and relaxed, actually managing to enjoy the stillness. “I won’t get to close my eyes again for a good two days…” Didn’t sleep though! I decided I would pretend I’d had a fabulous sleep – a technique I perfected over the next couple of days: gaslighting myself. Parents arrived; perfect timing, and I got some pasta, pizza, and of course, Kind Cake Company pie down me.
Into the briefing, and I started panicking. I’d visualised sitting with Eluned and Kate but instead I sat surrounded by strangers who seemed to know each other and know what they were doing…they were also all wearing their kit, but I still had flipflops on. I did see a familiar face, Sharon Sullivan, which made me a bit more at ease.
“Shake the hand of the person next to you. Odds are, one of you won’t finish.” Thanks Marc. Mild panic again. I was relieved to see how many people were there for their first attempt too. Uncle Terry said something about ballsacks, which diffused some tension… I was relieved to find Kate and Laura on the way out, but still had some faffing to do so headed back to the tent, my toes rubbing together from the flipflops (“can’t get a bloody hotspot before the bloody race starts!!”).
The pit stop crew were ready for me, and seeing them all stopped me from freaking out. I couldn’t believe it was finally here.
It was great to see Delamere Spartan Andy and Eluned Malone who I’d met volunteering on UTS, and Eluned and I found Kate and entered the pen together. In true Team Kit Faff fashion, I found some bits of KT that I’d forgotten to apply to my neck… At least I wasn’t still in flipflops.
Nessun Dorma was less emotional than I was expecting as we were right at the back and couldn’t hear very well. The minute of applause for Tony Holland, along with little Jacob starting the race, were really lovely touches that reflect the generous nature of the Lakeland Family.
6pm. Go. The start was unreal. There were sooo many people lining the streets of Coniston – pretty sure I shed a tear before we’d started ascending! Soon it was up the road and I settled into a gentle stride, not bothering about the many people that passed me. Glancing behind was a little scary though, as there weren’t many after me! “Good. Means you’re pacing yourself properly. Chill the f out.”
As we went up Coppermines Valley, someone inevitably pointed out the path on the right – the one that the race finishes on. “I’m trying not to look”, I mumbled, glancing anyway into 104 miles into the future. Gulp. The first climb is a bit of a blur of queueing, dust and searing heat. I made sure I looked around briefly at the view down the Walna Scar zigzags, which is one of my favourites. The first time we felt a breeze was the best feeling ever. That first night, breezes were my favourite. I will never take a breeze for granted ever again!
“Don’t know about you lot, but I’m just going on a little pootle to Seathwaite.” It’s a simple trick. Break it down into manageable sections. The worse you’re feeling, the bigger the chunks are. I’d done the first 27 miles in a oner twice, so I knew that once we got past Buttermere that’d be a nice chunk ticked off. One mile at a time. One step at a time. “You never have to do this bit again. One more hour done. One more checkpoint done.”
I felt pretty weak, but kept plodding, and soon we were on the descent to Seathwaite, which felt greeeeat, and Andy was crouching in wait, having a break from his Turner Landscape recce. I also managed to throw some cheesy grins at the photographers, and pick a wild raspberry which went sooo well with my chocolate Trek bar.
Seathwaite was the first time of many that I took my shoes off to empty them of grit. It’s not a problem I’ve had before, must have been the dry ground, but it was pretty annoying, and got increasingly painful as the event went on! I walked straight past the chairs and sat on the floor like a weirdo. “Beware the chair”, many a wise soul had told me, so I’d resolved to not be tempted for a good few checkpoints! My fancy new Injinji socks also had a fantastic feature of a gaping bit at the back, which allowed many rocks and branches in throughout their 59 mile lifetime, although I was able to scoop those out without removing my shoes.
The next section went without much incident – had a nice chat with Phil about stats (oooh we love stats) and thought about the other times I’d been at Wallowbarrow – with Steph, with Caitlin, and climbing many years ago on the day I got together with Andy.
I was chuffed to get into Boot without putting my headtorch on – this strange competitive, possibly risky tendency I have! Got to the checkpoint and it was pretty busy and overwhelming, maybe it was all the vikings… Saw Debbie Martin-Consani (#ultracelebrityspotting) and Kate and Laura, who were stopping to sort out their feet. Got some orange squash, which would be my go-to for the remainder of the race. As I was donning my light, I tried to hand someone a rock. “You’ve dropped your- oh.” Time to press on!
Had a nice conversation with Emma (who made me a bit paranoid about frogs and rancid water!!) as a small group of us discussed the definitions of ‘bimbling’, ‘plodding’ and ‘pootling’, and soon it was time to put on our waterproof tops for the first time, thought it was still bloody warm. The weekend was very much ‘waterproofs on, waterproofs off’, but I mainly managed to minimise that faffage with zips are rolling up sleeves.
Burnmoor Tarn was one of the most magical moments I had on the course. Sadly there was no sign of the blood moon, the meteor shower, the lunar eclipse or even the moon at all that first night, but looking back at the tarn there were some stunning reflections of people’s headtorches. My favourite part of racing overnight is the trail of headtorches and the comfort that brings, knowing we’re all in this together.
Soon we were in Wasdale! One of the guys in our little pack was a Sunderland Stroller – they host this checkpoint – so his excitement fuelled us on along the short road and nice path to the barn. The bridge was lit up beautifully, and everyone was dressed as superheroes! Someone mentioned we were about 45 minutes up on cutoff…shit. I’d not even considered cutoffs. It’s all very well saying “I just want to get round in the time”, but if you’re taking it easy and timing it fine, it’s probably a good idea to be aware…fortunately most people around *were* aware of such things, and they informed me that this was one of the tightest. Phew. I recognised Spiderman/Luke from the previous year’s 50 – he’d been running the 100, but this year we’d switched and he was doing the 50. “Maybe I’ll see you at Dalemain?!” I said optimistically.
I found Phil again and I was reassured to have company for the next section – a lot of the people around me had been pretty quiet, so it was nice to have someone to natter at on the next climb. I decided the steep ascent out of Wasdale was a good time to tell the longest joke in my arsenal, and we were soon at the top!! It may have been my imagination, but people seemed to be overtaking us or dropping back to avoid us, hmm…
I found the descent quite straightforward so it was nice to help others around me, although in the dark it was more sustained than I recalled! This was probably the last time I put my poles away, as my cunning stashing solution was getting pretty sore on my ribs. No matter, my new best friends and I would stay together on both climbs and descents for the remainder of the event.
At Black Sail I was struggling a bit so had a gel… “Phil, can we talk about something? I need to talk but literally can’t think of anything right now.” So he asked me random questions and we chatted away again. It was glorious to get to the top of Scarth Gap.
Buttermere CP was full of people looking broken. Possibly because of the Christmas theme…which I of course loved. Along with the motivational signs, which I pointed out to Sarah with glee. “Pain is temporary, but internet race results last forever”. I squatted on the floor next to an empty chair to faff with my water bottles. I was pretty ecstatic that there were crisps! And Skittles! And Jamie, who I knew from helping on the Spine…best checkpoint so far! Kate and Laura appeared and we left as a little gang of four, Laura leading the way as the only one who’d been here in the dark before.
Laura and Phil broke off from Kate and me…giving me the perfect opportunity to tell my joke again going up Sail Pass. We came up with a clever technique to brave the soily crappy descent (“arse out, plant your feet, squat”) and two exciting things happened: we turned our headtorches off, and we had to make a navigational decision. A little fork takes you ‘left over the shoulder of Barrow Door’, which is what the instructions say… There were people striding confidently in both directions. Shit. The lower path looked to be going into the wrong valley, so we took the high road…then the majority of people were going low, so we had a nice trudge through the heather. Heather in our shoes. And found the correct line left, avoiding a lot of ascent.
Coming round the corner, all the bracken had been mown down. We came up with a hilarious joke “Uncle Terry, when you said you’d cleared the bracken, you didn’t have to do all of Barrow Door…”. Well, it was hilarious at 5 o’clock in the morning. We also started telling ourselves we’d had such a great sleep. “Y’know, I think I’m just super groggy because I got too much sleep.” Sunrise is a great boost, they say, and they’re right. We dashed (probably didn’t) down to Braithwaite, where there was delicious pasta for breakfast (I chucked half on the floor), a toilet (the queue was too long), and coffee (managed to choke on it coming out of the checkpoint).
The next section, running on and parallel to the A66, was Hard. Flat has always been my weakness, but I made myself keep running at least as Ricardo Avocado told us about his diet, and we approached Latrigg and a much nicer bit. Now it was me and Phil – talk about a second wind, Kate! – on the gorgeous trails.
I was feeling pretty good as we went around the silly but breathtaking wiggle of Glendaterra, and I suddenly remembered music! Haven’t put my music on yet! So I got a nice butterfly (Baddha Konasana) stretch in as I was getting it out, and then I was off. I felt incredible – this was where I had a super low patch on the recce in March, questioning all my life choices…Not today. I zoomed past everyone, stopping to have a chat with Angela who I’d run with on Lakes Five Passes, who’d been feeling rough for ages. I stopped to put my waterproof on as it started pissing it down, even dared to jog some uphill bits, and zoomed into the Blencathra Centre. “Good morning!” “Ughhh, how is it still morning?!” Kate and Laura were there, ready to leave. I knew I’d catch them up feeling like this, so they went ahead while I had a faff, trying to get the right configuration of earphones, wires and hood. Didn’t quite succeed. I caught Phil as I left and pointed out the checkpoint dogs – he’d been dreaming of Dalemain puppies.
I zoomed out of the checkpoint, down the hill, and, being on my own for the first time in a while, immediately started doubting myself (that’s a long bloody road!), so got the instructions out and focussed my efforts on memorising the instructions. This paid off as I was confident navigating us under the A66. I was moving so well at this point that I even managed to run with the instructions in my hand (I guess my poles were in the other hand…?!)
By the time I caught up with Kate and Laura, my music was proper pissing me off – the one droplet of rain that had got onto the ipod touchscreen just reeeeally wanted to listen to Mumford and Sons on repeat, so away it went. We stayed together for a short time but maaaan that coach road is long. I picked up Jon Steele’s water bottle and returned it to him (another celebrity) and got my gloves on as I knew my hands wouldn’t be able to work soon with the cold and wet.
At Dockray checkpoint I found Laura and Kate again (and MELON!!!), had my first sit down in a Chair (bloody stones in my bloody shoes) and asked a marshal to have a look at the massive hole in my back, as it felt like the chafing might be bleeding. “Oh yes, I can see a mark…” It was bloody agony! But the kind people gave me some vaseline and I didn’t feel it again. Eep, next stop Dalemain! Although it was one of the longest sections, 10 miles…
The three of us stayed together for a bit along Ullswater, just like on the recce in March. I had a bit of a singsong which kept other runners at bay!!
“None of this is going anywhere
And pretty soon we’ll all be old and
No one left alive will really care
‘Bout our glory days when we sold our souls…”
Frank Turner, The Ballad of Me and My Friends
Andy and Hannah were lying in wait for us, which was fantastic. They said a quick hello and took some pictures. It was a massive boost, which made us all the more eager to get to Dalemain.
The roads into Dacre and then the track through the Dalemain are the longest in the world, I swear. We could see one stretching all the way to the horizon… Music in. Jog on. Let’s get this done. Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” appeared on shuffle…
Part 2 is now available here