Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Beaten Track

I suppose I’ve been long overdue a “sh*t happens” themed race report.  I’m always the first to tut at race excuses.  But after running a grand total of 12.5km at the Barcelona 24 hour track race - one of my A-races for the year - I better explain myself.

The reasoning: Although this a stark contrast to Sonic’s 24-hour debut in Tooting, the reason why I signed up for Barcelona 24 was because I was so inspired by the event that I wanted to have a crack at a track race.

I’ve only ever run a 24-hour with an international vest - One for Scotland and two for Great Britain.  And with that comes a whole lot of pressure and expectation.   I’ve always come away from the events with an armful of ideas and tips on how to improve.  I don’t think I’ve ever got a 24 hour right and wanted to use Barcelona test some things in an open race.  So, for those who didn’t understand why I’d want to put myself through when I have already run above the qualifying distance for the Great Britain team (twice), that was my reason. 

Plus, I had bit ambitions that I was really confident that I could back up on the day. If I could feel like I did during the Lakeland 100 or the Glencoe Marathon, then I’d be on to a sure thing.

Testing:  This was the list of new things to try during training, taper and the race. Most which, of course, remain untested.

1) I gave up caffeine for a month prior to the race.  From eight cups of two-spoons coffee per day to nothing.  This was probably the most heart-breaking aspect of the DNF.  No coffee. For a month. For nothing.

2) Two-runs-per-day.    For the last six months, I have used my easy/steady run days to run twice.  So, on a Wednesday and Friday I ran to and from work.  It’s only five miles each way, but I really think it helped build endurance.  As well as an effective use of time and saves me battling rush hour traffic.

3) Training with a heart-rate monitor.  This was new to me, but after reading Dr Maffetone’s book on Endurance Training and Racing. I followed the plan of running below my maximum aerobic heart rate for six weeks (NB, it should be eight weeks) following the Lakeland.  Not only did my pace improve within that zone, but I got my resting heart rate down to 37 (from 42) prior to the race.

4) Track training.  And I don’t mean proper track sessions, I mean just jogging around for hours and hours.  It didn’t bore or frustrate me and it really helped me get my head into it. Plus, I got through a few audiobooks too.  The best thing was that I never count the laps.  That’s usually the first to break me in looped courses.

5)  In the run up to the race, I did more hill training.  It was easier on the back of training for the Lakeland 100 and Glencoe Marathon, but I didn’t do any long road/flat run.  Plus, I ran on the hills and didn’t use them as an excuse to walk/skive.

6)  Following a five year break, I started Yoga classes.  That was a shock to the system as I didn’t realise how tight my hamstrings were.  I’m not exactly bendy, but a few months later and things are improving.  I’ve even started a Bikram yoga class in the hope that it might stop me unravelling in the heat.

7) My feet problems have been well-documented on this blog. In other 24-hour races I’ve been too nervous to try anything different, but for Barcelona I was going to use some of my steps with only Drymax socks.  It’s work during training and stopped the “burning”.

8) After reading Andy Milroy’s Trainingfor Ultra Running and taking on board some of the traditional techniques used by sport’s greatest, I binned expensive foot and chaffing cream in favour of good ol’ Lanolin.   Yep, a £5 tube of the wonder stuff – marketed to feeding Mothers as a cure for cracked for nipples – is working a treat.

9)  My nutritional plan was to take in more protein (but mixed with carbs) in the early stages.  And in the latter stages take in more gels, but with water only. No sports drink.  Tips I’d picked up from Matt Fitzgerald’s New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition to eliminate stomach issues.

So, there you have it.  There was method to my madness.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  I started vomiting before I arrived at the airport.  The day before the race was a complete write-off.  I kept thinking it would pass, but after redecorating the hotel bathroom the night before the race, - with the GM holding my hair like a flashback from our youth -  I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  

I shouldn’t have even have got on the plane, let alone start the race.  But it’s a long way to go, not the cheapest of trips and Sonic had endured an epic journey – via London – to be there on the Saturday morning. 

I gave it a shot, but I was hanging over the railings vomiting within the first hour.  There was nothing in me. I really had to give it everything to get to 12.5km.  And do you know why?  Because I all I could think about was how much I’ve mocked the Crazy German since his 5K bail-out at the CCC in 2010!!

Once I’d mopped up the tears, I tried (probably unsuccessfully) to put the disappointed to one side to help Jen Salter and Karen Salter (1st and 2nd lady) reach the qualification for the GB 24 hour team.  They ran 217km and 210km respectively and were by far the best runners on the track. 

After the race, Karen collapsed and needed medical attention.  After seeing the same thing happen to many ultra-runners we all knew she would be fine, but the medics were adamant she went to hospital.  I volunteered to go with her, so at least I got a tour of the city – blue-light style.  It was a little concerning that the 12-year-old ambulance driver was using the sat nav on his phone to find the hospital.  And then had to circle the car park to find the entrance!

Of course, she was fine with a few hours but the hospital was a riot.  It was like a scene from a war movie with bodies lying everywhere. At one point, Karen was dozing off when a nurse came along and snapped an oxygen mask on her face.  Then after being shouted at by a doctor came along took it off Karen and put it on the patient next to her.  Who was male and about 80!

But the drama hadn’t ended.  Sonic was then spewing on the way home…Thankfully dispelling the pregnancy questions.  And I kindly passed it round the rest of my family.

Not the best end to 2013’s races, but as I’ve heard a thousand times since “better to happen in that race, than in one that matters”.

Even though we don’t know the date or the venue of the World 24 hour and cannot plan any other races, I know for sure Barcelona 24-hour in 2014 with be on my hit list.

Happy New Year J

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Supporting SuperSonic at Tooting Bec 24

After three years of supporting yours truly during 24-hour races, Sonic decided to throw down the gauntlet and go for GB qualification himself. After his phenomenal run on the West Highland Way Race, I bullied him into submitting his entry form for Tooting Bec 24-hour track race. Note: I’m only on the second sentence and already taking credit for it.

Sonic doesn’t lack confidence and self-belief, which is something that will take him further than his skinny legs.  He had a goal that some people may have quaffed at, way beyond the 235km minimum team standard qualification.  But as they say: Fortune favours the brave.

When we arrived in Tooting on Friday afternoon, I told Sonic to rest up and I would go and do all the shopping. Apparently four bananas would not suffice, he needed “at least 12”. Eight slices of caramel shortcake wouldn’t cut it.  At least three packs were required.  Yes, 24 slices of caramel shortcake. Along with 20 9-Bars, chicken breasts, a family-sized block of cheese, various snacks and a million litres of drinks. Four trips to Sainsburys – and a broken back – later I was done. And done in. 

I decided to go for a little run and check out the track location.  Tooting is crazy busy and after an afternoon of negotiating my way through the High Street – with their pound shops, halal meat counters and betting shops aplenty – I was glad to head to the leafy area of Tooting Common.

I was glad to have done the recce run – I do love a good recce – as the taxi driver in the morning would have have taken us to the wrong sports’ centre.

It was a bit surreal turning up to a race with only 45 participants and trackside packed with tents and open-boot buffet displays. 

We found some spare grass and after asking another runner, Marcus, to move his car over (I know, the cheek of it!) we pitched up next to Fionna Cameron’s pit-stop - with the lovely Keziah on duty - and Richie Cunningham’s crew of Drew Sheffield and Claire Shelley opposite.  The official Team Scotland camp!

Team Scotland. Richard Brown centre
You know you’re in a new age of social media friendship swhen you find yourself more and more having introductions that start like Nici’s:  “You don’t know me, but I follow you on Twitter” and Ali’s “I read your GUCR report”.  Supporting Stephen Woodus (aka Woody) they were an absolute riot to hang out with.  And thankfully they were around to help erect a brand-new-out-of-the-packet gazebo we had brought down for the occasion.  I kind of looked like a Punch and Judy tent, but it did the trick.

Just to put the GB pressure on, my team mates Emily Gelder and Karen Hathaway came along to help me out.  A team manager, Richard Brown was there scouting for fresh kill. 

I’m not going to write about the race.  Mainly because I didn’t run the race.  And Sonic is threatening to write his own blog post!  So, here’s the lowdown on Team Scotland.

Scottish Athletics report here

Sonic:  1st place with 248km (154miles)

For the purpose of this report, I will now refer to him as SuperSonic.  If you followed the race or happen to be one of his aforementioned “social media friends”, you will know he absolutely smashed it. The most impressive bit was he managed to keep a lid on it at the beginning.  Even when he was knocked to eighth place because of his scheduled walking breaks.  Pushing through he took the lead a few hours in and pushed a bit more to finish with a mere 20-mile lead.  

He was overly smug about beating my 100K time and I was overly restrained to tell him that I’ve only ever run one 100k and it was a piss-poor performance.  Then he hit 100 miles at 14:31 and broke through the 235km GB team qualify with an hour and a half to spare.  

I’d secretly packed a Union Jack and asked the lap counters to make an announcement so he could do a victory lap.  Then whipped the flag off him and sent him on to punch -out another 13 kilometres.  A total of 620 laps to clock 154 miles (248km)

That’s the best distance by a GB athlete this year.  Third on the all-time Scottish list – behind the records and seemingly unbreakable 166m distance set by Don Ritchie and 154 miles by Mick Francis. All in a debut 24-hour race. 

Just for the record though, he only ate four bananas and two slices of the caramel shortcake.  If you see any flightless birds around Tooting, don't blame me!

Fionna Cameron: 1st lady, 2nd overall with 216km (134 miles)  Another sterling debut performance, with 134 miles (216km). There must be something in the water at Aberdeen Asset, as Marco and Fionna work in the same office.  

Fionna is lovely, yet very determined.  Actually if you were to look up “lovely” in a Thesaurus, Fionna could be the first alternative. The 24-hour did something strange to her character though.  There was spitting, snot-rockets and tantrums.  Thank god!  Don't want her showing up the GM and I at the next GB outing.

Stephen Mason: 5th with 198kms and (123 miles)  I ran with Stephen on the Scotland team in my first 24 hour race in 2011. He went round like and train and came through a few – understandable – rough patches.  At one point I had to shout at him, as he was running around having nodding off.  I kid you not! 

Richie Cunningham: 7th with 194 kms (120 miles)

What can I say about Richie?  He showed he’s a true Scotsman by spending the vast majority of the weekend spewing and slurring his words.  I’m not sure when he starting the projectile vomiting, but it pretty much lasted the duration.  Heroic or stubborn?  Either way, there was no stopping him.  Even defying the medics.  Like a Weeble:  He just wobbled, but he didn’t fall down. I’m not sure how he did it but he clocked 120 miles on absolutely no fuel. 

The Aftermath.

This was when the fun started. Firstly, Sonic collapsed. Personally, I think he was just enjoying lapping up the attention of the female medics.  Then he proceeded to thank EVERYONE within a mile radius for their amazing support and encouragement.  Not even a single mutter to me, who had spent 24 hours on a trackside!  And, quite frankly, you should never underestimate the difference an experienced support crew can make ;-)

After leaving him in the capable hands of the professionals, I went off (in a huff) to pack up the stuff and get Sonic’s after race kit.  On return, Richard Brown accused me of “being very nonchalant” about the distress my husband was in. I would have explained, but I’d already chewed my tongue off by that point.  Then Sonic collapsed again.  When his lap counter appeared to congratulate him, he was practically crying with gratitude. I might look really tired in this picture, but I’m (shamefully!) contemplating whipping my legs out from underneath his head ;-)

All very childish in the cold light of day.  I've been there and I know how grateful you are.  Let's put it down to sleep deprivation!

The prize-giving was lovely.  It was so nice that everyone’s efforts were recognised.  Especially, Geoff Oliver who at the grand age of 80 had set SEVEN new world records during the race.  Then turned up in the prize giving in a shirt and tie and gave a wonderful heartfelt speech. It was an honour and a privilege to watch his amazing performance.  Sonic was obviously using his race tactics to take him out during the hours of darkness (see left).  I would like to know what Geoff was listening to on his ipod though. 

Then we had to get the train from Euston to Glasgow.  And we still had to get the Tube to Euston. For both of us, this could officially be the worst experience of our lives.  Sonic was broken, sick and emotional and I was carrying three duffel bags through London.  It was nothing short of a nightmare. I liken it to trying to negotiate with a bad tempered drunk. 

On the tube, Sonic decided he was going to drop down and sleep. At the door!  I couldn’t even help him, as I was trying to balance all the bags on my body.  My head was going to explode with the weight on my shoulders and I’d lost all feeling in my hands.

This picture makes me laugh so much, I have used it as the contact picture on my mobile, so pops up every time Sonic calls me.

There were works on the tube line, so we had to get three trains to Euston.  Of course, I did my best support job and accepted that everything was my fault. Of course.

I did have to giggle when I looked back to see him shuffling along, muttering expletives to himself  It was less comical though, when he decided he was too warm (also my fault) and stopped dead in the middle of an unforgiving fast-moving hoard of people to roll up his trousers.  That really set off the look.  Thankfully it was London and therefore no one bats an eyelid at neurotic behaviour.  Even when he staggered along the platform with his trousers rolled to his knees – his carrier bags of trophies in each hand – and then stopped to slide down the wall in tears.  In hindsight, it’s hilarious.  Hey, don’t judge me.  Sonic posted a video on You Tube of me after my first 24-hour race.   If had any feeling in my hands, I might have done the same.

Then we finally made it to Euston.  Of course our reserved seats on the Virgin train had to be at the opposite side. I swear it took us 15 minutes to walk the length of the train.  I’ve never been so happy to sit down - or for Sonic to pass out -  in my life. 

Even after all that, whoever says supporting is harder than running is at it. I had a great time.

Some random pictures on Flickr here

Tuesday 24 September 2013

GB ladies' Three Peaks Challenge

Karen Hathaway, Sharon Law, Emily Gelder et moi
Since we first met at the Commonwealth 24 hour race in 2011, where we ran for our respective countries and then went on to qualify for Great Britain, we have become really good friends.  Running 24 hours together – three times – certainly fast tracked the bonding process.   Despite the inevitable despair that comes with the event, we’re a really tight team and have always had really good fun.

After the World Champs in Holland, we decided to have a wee girlie weekend without the pressure of racing.   A bit of training, some personal achievement and a few beers thrown in and The National Three Peaks Challenge seemed like the obvious solution.

An achievement, more than a race, the challenge involves climbing the highest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell, Lake District) and Wales (Snowdon, Llanberis) within 24 hours.  Which also includes about 10 hours of driving between Fort William and Llanberis.

The ascent up Ben Nevis was amazing.  I’ve been up there about five times and have only ever once got a view.  As one of the wettest places in the UK, it’s rare for Fort William to be basking in sunshine.  Usually on Ben Nevis, you can’t see passed your feet because of the mist.   
We met the Crazy Germans 

It was Baltic freezing at the summit (1344metres) though and the GM’s signature hotpants certainly turned a few heads.

Scantily-clad and on a tight schedule, we practically barged onto the Cairn so we could get this picture and start descending quickly.

The Ben gradual gradient means it can be quite time consuming to ascent, but you can make a relatively rapid and safe descend.  

Ticked off in 3hrs 20mins.

After wasting too much time faffing about in Fort William – this is when a support driver would come in handy – we were en route to Scafell.

The torrential rain on the motorway and then fog on the minor roads made the journey quite arduous. 

On arrival at Wasdale Head we were greeted by a group of men standing in the carpark in their underpants.  Obviously another 3PC party, who looked slightly broken and soaked to the skin after completing Scafell (989).   I later learned that all decorum would go out of the window for us too.

It was after midnight and even though we weren’t overly excited about what lay ahead, we dressed quickly – with an abundance of layers and waterproofs – and headed off up the hill.   The GM had been down to recce the route the week before, but I made the stupid mistake of leaving the GPS and the GM’s map in the car.  We debated going back for it, but decided to press on.

I will skirt over this bit as not to provoke the critics of my navigational complacency.  We came off the track on the ascent, so retraced our steps and followed another route to the summit.   Longer than anticipated, but done and dusted.  We were delighted.  That would not last though,  as we got spectacularly misplaced (never lost) on the descent and ended up going back to the summit a further two times.   All I’m going to say is that it was daylight before we finally made it down.  That’s all you’re getting.  Over six and a half hours to do what can hardly be classed as a mountain!  It was epic, but we haven’t stopped laughing about it since. 

We were down, but not out though!  With the GM behind the wheel (and her own version of the highway code) we were on our way to Llanberis – on a mission.

At the carpark at the foot of the Snowdon (723 metres), the attendant said he knew we were Three Peak Challengers because of our accents.  Or maybe it was because we looked like we’d been up all night.  He then said it would take about 5/6 hours if we made good pace.  We only had 2 hours 40 to complete the challenge in under 24 hours.

To put it bluntly, we whored up and down that mountain – practically knocking women and children out of the way.  I’ve never been on a hill so busy. I suppose the fact that there’s a train to the summit helps!  There was a Rat Race going on too and we were going against the grain. 

We did it though. In just over two hours – finishing the challenge with 19:38.  We could have stopped in café at the top after all. 

We celebrated that evening with some Indian food and few too many beers.  We had a brief chat with a couple at the table next to us who were proudly displaying their well-earned medals from the 20-mile Rat Race that day.

We overheard their conversation about the 20-mile Rat Race being the “obvious step-up from the Three Peaks Challenge”.  So we’ve decided if we train really, really hard we might be able to make the step-up next year :-) 

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Centurion Running Ultramarathon Team

Centurion Running organise a series of ultra-distance events on some of the UK's best national trails. Their first race was held on the North Downs Way in August 2011 and now comprises six 50/100 mile races, a grand slam and the infamous Piece of String Race - The fun run that is billed as "The world's most pointless race".  Basically runners don't know the distance of the race. It could be 10k or 100 miles.  Or even the route.  Only the race directors know.   At the start of the race, there are five possible race configurations in envelopes.  A runner will pick the envelope and that will be the race. Only two runners finished last year.   I know, like me, the more you read into the race, the more you will want to do it?

Robbie sporting the yellow jersey
Of course, there's a very serious side to the organisation and James Elson has certainly earned his strips as a top-notch Race Director.   The races are full supported and racing and finishing are encouraged in equal measures.    Anyone who read my Thames Path 100 report from March, will know that on any other circumstance that race should/would have been cancelled, but James spent the week planning, consulting with experts and re-routing the course, so the show could go on. 

Centurion Running also provide coaching service, an online store and an Ultra Team.  I have recently joined the team as the first (and only!) female to wear the yellow jersey.   I was secretly hoping that James would ask, so was delighted when he did. 

A bit about the team "One of the many great things about our sport is the enormous range of challenges open to each of us. Each member of the team has completely different goals and ambitions, taking different paths to those ultimate aims which sometimes converge at the same or similar events throughout the year. Of course, the over-riding thing about each of these runners is their love of running and that for each of them, it doesn't always require racing to feel fulfilled"

So I join the bevy of boys which includes: Ian Sharman (needs no introduction), Robbie Britton (my GB 24 hour comrade), Craig Holgate (of ridiculously fast on flat stuff), Paul Navesey (one to watch), Neil Bryant (who just casually ran across Europe), James Elson (the main man who seems to have done everything from MdS, Badwater, Western States, UTMB, Leadville 100 and Comrades.  Oh and Ironman too) and Drew Sheffield (who knows everybody, has an impressive list of race finishes and is good for gossip) 

Looking at the list of their previous races, I was a little nervous about penning my running CV.  It seemed a little lame and parochial in comparison.  

I’m delighted to be the first female to join the boy band that is the Centurion Ultramarathon Running Team. Based in Glasgow, I have represented Scotland and Great Britain in 100K and 24 hour races   I like road, hills, towpath and trails.  Actually, I just like running. Except cross-country.  I don’t do cross-country.  The longer the better for me, so don’t ask me my 10K time. I’m married to an ultra-runner and fit training around a full-time job and our four-year-old son, Cairn.  Juggling is my forte.  I also do my own stunts and could fall over fresh air.  Skinned knees and bruised limbs is my signature look.  I like to do one thing each year that scares me. 2011 was my first 24-hour, 2012 was the GUCR and this year the Lakeland 100.  2014 is still to be decided.   
Top five:

Devil o’ the Highland 43 mile race:  This was my first ultra-distance race back in 2007 and my comeback race after having my Son in 2009.  It’s a firm favourite, not only because it’s special to me, but it takes you magical journey through Glencoe and finishes in Fort William.   This views don’t get much better than that.   I haverun the race five times and finished on the podium every time.  Took me to my 5th attempt to win it though.

GUCR 2012:  I was the outright winner of the race in 28:01.  The first female to ever win the historic event.  Although I’m not famed for the performance.  I’m known as the numpty who fell in the canal in the middle of the night.  Remember what I said about stunts?  I also managed to ruin an iPhone, iPod and Garmin en route.

IAU World 24 Hour Race:  I have represented Great Britain at the event in 2012 (Katowice, Poland) and 2013 (Steenbergen. Holland).  I was a counter in the medal-winning team both times, set a new Scottish 100mile record of 15:48 within the race and personal best of 220km for 24 hours.

West Highland Way Race:  The trail starts close to home and is the playground for many training runs.  I have run the race three times 2008, 2010 and 2011 with my best time being 19:38.

Lakeland 100 2013: Imagine taking nearly 2.5 hours off the previous women’s record, and still coming in second.  Well, that’s what happened to me. Still, I was happy to finish faster than my goal time.  And with a full set of teeth.

Past races and results

100 miles PB - 15:48
200km PB - 20:55
24 hours PB – 220km
West Highland Way Race 2008, 2010 and 2011. Best time 19:38
Devil of the Highlands 1st lady in 2012 in 6:54
Highland Fling 53 miles (2010 and 2011). Silver in the UK trail championship
Anglo Celtic Plate 100K – representing Scotland 9:03
Commonwealth ultra-distance championships North Wales 2011 –representing Scotland in the 24 hour race.
Grand Union Canal: 1st overall.  Female record holder.
IAU World 24 hour championships 2012 Katowice, Poland. Set new Scottish records for 100m, 200km and 24 hour. Bronze team for world, silver for Europeans
Thames Path 100 2013: 1st lady and 4th overall
IAU World 24 hour championships 2013 Steenbergen, Holland. PB of 220km.  Team European bronze.
Lakeland 100 2013: 28:02. 2nd lady.  13th overall

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Lakeland 100 report

Three 100+ miles races in four months was always going to be a big ask, but I never treated the Montane Lakeland 100 as a suck-it-and-see race.  Since the 24-hour, two months before, I threw everything I had left at it.  I’d recced the course as much as I could.  Well, with life and logistics, I recced it as much as I could fit in. I’d pretty much covered the endurance aspect, I just need to get hill fit and knock my quads into shape.  I spent evenings and weekends on the hills and trails with circuits on the Kilpatricks, jaunts on the West Highland, loops of Ben Lomond and throwing myself off the Ptarmigan Ridge.

I went into the race fully accepting that is could be my last big race of the year.  The recces taught me that the route was nothing short of epic and with a drop-out rate of up to 60 percent, it could quite frankly end me.  And I wasn't going into it half-hearted either. I’d set myself some ambitious targets.  I suppose now it's safe to say - without the fear of sniggers - that I wanted to take two hours off the (then) women's course record.


The week leading up to the race was met with the usual taperitus symptoms – sniffles, sore throat, fatigue, lead-like legs. Now I realise, if I don’t get severe taperitus, I should be more worried.

After dropping Cairn off at nursery on Friday morning – and hugging him like I was going off to war – the GM and I heading down to Coniston, arriving before noon.

The campsite would fill quite quickly, so we set about setting up: A tent for the girls and another for Sonic and Cairn, who were due to arrive on Saturday afternoon. Not only was it wise to bagsy the space, but it would good to keep the audience of the comedy show that was our tent erection to a minimum.  Well, it was the GM and I.  Need I say more? Although the GM’s vocal reference to the fly sheet as “the flyover” did turn a few heads. To be honest, we did a bit of a half-arsed job, because we knew Sonic would sort it all the next day ;-)

We went off to registered and go through the kit check process.  We were sent outside to a line of scales.  Like most girls with “issues” I don’t like the pre-race weigh-in bit.  We were comforted with a promise that weights were not announced. Phew!  You were just giving a florescent band with your weight written in marker to wear around your wrist for the duration of the race. Subtle.

Picture by JK
I didn’t want to get caught up in the pre-race hype, so retired to the Scottish quarters – Richie had joined us by then – to chill in the sunshine.  JK, who was down on official duty for the weekend came over for a long chat, while the GM and I set about the foot preparation process. Nice.  Then it was time for the pre-race briefing and time for me to repack my drop bag and backpack for the 27th time. 

Start to Seathwaite: 7 miles. 659m of ascent. Position 76

Even at 6pm, it was hot.  I was secretly hoping it would be raining, to wipe out half my competition in the night. But I was also thankful to have had a month of hot weather training, so was comfortable I wouldn’t keel in anything above my optimum race temperature of 14 degrees.

The tension was building as the race theme song Nessun Dorma was played to signal the countdown to the start. 105 miles over 7000m of ascent, circumnavigating the English Lake District.

The first few miles were met with the deafening sounds of silence and fear.  Although it was more frightening the speed some people went off. 
Picture by Dave Troman

The first ascent was on a single track, so runners’ pace was dictated by the person in front.  Or even the person 50 in front.  This might explain why people went off so fast. C’est la Vie.  It soon broke up when we hit the wide track to the car park at roadhead and I lost contact with the GM.

I know I shouldn’t have – it was way too early to bother – but I was already counting the female runners ahead of me.  I’m not sure if this pushed me, but arrived in Seathwaite ahead of schedule, so much so that I slowed down to a jog on the road to the checkpoint.  Not because I felt overworked, but I didn’t want anyone to see the live feeds (namely, JK) and wonder what I was playing at.

To explain my schedule:  I didn’t know the route well enough to write my own race plan.  Originally I was aiming for 28 hours (ish).  But the better my training went and the more confident I got, I carried Dave Troman’s splits for reference.  Not because I was gunning to beat Dave’s time, but because I trusted his pace and judgement.  Dave ran 25:52 in 2012, moving from 99th position to 10 place overall. I’ve never used anyone’s race splits before.  Dave might not appreciate this, but this is the highest compliment I could bestow upon a fellow runner J

Seathwaite to Boot: 7 miles. 385m of ascent. Position 60

It was a quick in and out, dib in and bottle fill, as I was way thirstier than I expected so early on.  Coming out of the checkpoint and along the road, I wasn’t overly concerned about not seeing the GM, as I hoped she was being sensible and sticking to her 1:30 section pace.

Along the trail and up one of many nasty hills, I spoke briefly with Catherine before hitting the narrow muddy swamp track through plantation.  Last time I came through here, I was knee deep in shoe-sucking bog, so I was glad the nice weather has made it a little kinder.  I was chatting to a chap behind me for some time, but I don’t even know what he looked liked, as I couldn’t take my eye off my feet through fear of falling.  I was so focussed on my feet that I blindly followed the runner in front and we missed the stile to cross.  Thankfully, we were shouted back.

First detour.  Closely followed by the first fall on the grassy descent.  I was quite spectacular, as I did a full roly poly and end up back on my feet and running again.  A la Sonic the hedgehog style. Nothing hurt, but my pride as I was witnessed by a small – giggling- audience.

I chatted with Ivan from North Ireland before we reached the Boot checkpoint, which was manned by Petzl and Centurion running.  So nice to see the smiling faces of James Elson and Drew Sheffield. Again, just a water top up and I was gone.

Boot to Wasdale Head: 5.4 miles. 297m of ascent. Position 49

Walking up the hill out of Boot, I need to pee so badly, I was in danger of causing myself some internal injuries. I managed to find some bushes where I thought I was out of sight, but I doubt I was being very discreet.

I was really glad to be doing the open fell section in daylight, as I was concerned about finding the Tarn and the ascent out.  During one our famous recce runs, the GM and I took a detour.  We found out way back on track into Wasdale – with a map and GPS – but it was messy and time consuming.  

There was a lot of leap frogging with other runners on the section.  I mostly chatted with Troy – I know, how cool is that name? – and ended up in a small group of four into the disco checkpoint.  I kid you not, there was a 70s themed party going on in there.  Again, I just filled up my bottle and went.

Wasdale Head to Buttermere: 6.9 miles. 712m of ascent. Position 40

Leaving Wasdale was the end of daylight for me.  I was about a mile in before I felt the need to switch on my headtorch.  I was being a bit of a rookie and trying out some new gear: The Lensor Led 7 SEO7R.  From the offset I was really impressed with it.  Very light and beam was amazing.  Previously I’ve struggled with vision on night runs, so was a little bit in love with new bit of kit.

Nathan passed on the ascent.  I was to see a lot of Nathan throughout then race.  Then I was joined by Thomas who was powering up the hills with his poles.  I chatted with Thomas about the usual running stuff before we started on the breakneck steep descent.  Even in daylight I don’t have the confidence to descend with any pace, but holy moly Thomas didn’t have the same fear.  He went down like a dart, as I gingerly tiptoed down like a big Jessie.  

Over the marshy ground before the bridge, I practically did a belly flop on the waterlogged grass.   Fall number two.  Passed the youth hostel and up the next cheeky climb, I could see a red light flashing on my headtorch. Then boom, the lights went out.  I was cursing myself for not changing the original batteries! Thankfully I had the sense (First. Time. Ever) to pack a small handheld torch.  I changed to the back-up battery pack and off I went.  I caught up with Nathan and then Thomas again before heading into Buttermere.  I was informed there that I was third lady. 

Buttermere to Braithwaite: 6.5 miles. 573m of ascent. Position 32

I had only managed to fit in one recce of this section, but wasn’t overly concerned as I thought it was fairly easy to navigate.  Yeah, in daylight!  HUGE difference in the dark.  After following the track next to the river – with the nice 40ft drop to the right if you happen to trip over one of the many tree roots – everything was just dark.  Just the faint bobbing of head torches in the distance.

I caught up with Kevin, Martin and Andrew and just stuck with them.  They hadn’t run this section at all, so were following the road book.  Of course, I was giving them dodgy advice.  I knew what was coming up, I was just a few points ahead of myself. I’m not sure how it happened (apart from the fact that I was involved), but we managed to take in another hill top, instead of going round it – what’s another hill on the grand scale of things? – before descending into Braithwaite.  A remember on the recce run seeing another built up area in the distance and just prayed we were heading to Braithwaite - otherwise I could have been strangled with a platypus hose!  Thankfully it was just a long way for a short cut and we joined the right track into Braithwaite.  I chatted with Andrew – who was to be another companion for the race.

Braithwaite to Blencartha: 8.5 miles. 478m of ascent. Position 24

The checkpoint at Braithwaite was like walking into an Italian Bistro.  Tables clothed and packed with an abundance of lovely delights and greeted with a smiling face ready to take your order for food. I suppose for competitors out for the social or just to complete, this would be a welcomed treat.  I, on the hand, threw back a cup of coke and was out the door.

Nathan caught up with me and pushed on as we were leaving the village.  He had earphones in so I interrupted that as he wasn’t up for my sparkling chat, so I just tailed him all the way passed Keswick.  I was glad he didn’t see me face plank on the pavement though. Third fall of the day.

I really like the climb over Keswick, although I’m never quite sure how to tackle it.  It’s runnable, but there’s a fine line between gaining time and wasting precious energy. I jogged up with Nathan, who was a little more chatty at that point. Once through the carpark, Nathan pushed on as I needed to go to the little girls’ room.

Then drama struck with the familiar sight of the flashing red light on my headtorch.  It wasn’t even 3am and I was out of light.  I’m sure my screams of “f**********k” must have bounced off all the hills.  My last minute decision to pack the handheld was my last straw.  Otherwise it was game over.

I just had to box it and move on.  Although my thorough research of lightweight handheld torches certainly paid. I’d purchased a G3 Cree Q5 from Amazon at the nifty price of £2.90.  It quite literally came on the slow boat from China, but it was certainly worth the wait. 

Heading up to the unmanned dibber, which was placed shortly before the disguised right turn, I had to shout Nathan back as he was heading straight on.  Heading down the track to Blencartha, I was willing it to get light, but I knew there was at least another hour.  And I knew the next section along the old railway track was going to be dark and impossible without a light source.   I don’t like running with anything in my hands, I’m convinced it knocks my form.  And I was convinced the light was getting dimmer, so by the time I reached the checkpoint I was in mild panic mode. I’m ashamed to say, I would have rather pulled-out than have to sit out the darkness.

I knew it was a longshot, but I asked the marshalls if they had any batteries, but not joy.  Then the little voice from the corner came: “you can have my headtorch”.  A sad looking runner who had retired was giving me his.  I could have hugged him.  OK, I did hug him.  I later found out my saviour was Chris Perry.  I think I thanked him a million times after the race, but one more time – thank you, Chris!  I liken it to taking the shoes off a dead man, but I was out of there like a shot.  Only to return as I forget to fill my water bottles.  I sure the marshalls were probably a little shell-shocked by my whirlwind visit, but I bet they were glad to see the back of me!

Blencartha Centre to Dockray: 7.7 miles. 417m of ascent. Position 22

I was happy as Larry and practically skipped over the next few miles.  I was slightly concerned about negotiating the boggy bit at Newsham and finding the indistinct path in the dark, but I could switch off the headtorch soon after reaching it.

I really enjoyed the old coach road all the way to Dockray.  The guys at the checkpoint there were Über cheerful and ringing in the new day with a cow bell.  On approach I was half expecting Lucy Colquhoun to be the person behind the cowbell – it’s her signature race support aid after all.   It was only then that I found out I was second lady.  Lizzie Wraith was an hour in front by then, but I really had no idea what happened to Nicky (or the “tanned lady” as she had been referred to previously.  Did I pass her in the dark? Had she pulled out? Or got lost? Looking at the checkpoint stats now, it looks like the latter.

Dockray to Dalemain: 10.1 miles. 370m of ascent. Position 20

I really love this section.  The views over Ullswater were absolutely spectacular and such a wonderful way to start day two, but all I could think about was getting to Dalemain and getting my drop bag.  On through the woods, it was only after 6am, so I was quite surprised to see a smiling couple at the wooden stile cheering me on.    The lady was on the phone and stopped to ask me my name, to which she replied “Fergie’s on the phone and says hi”.  That made me laugh.  Fergie is everywhere!

I passed through the mucky field with the “bull”.  Is it a bull? It’s got horns and therefore in my head it’s a bull.  And hit the road to Dalemain, quite literally counting the minutes until I arrived at Dalemain for my one and only drop bag.

Dalemain to Howtown: 7.1 miles. 294m of ascent. Position 20

The checkpoint tent, located in front of the historic Dalemain House, is a sanctuary in the midst mayhem.  A bit of timeout to restock, fill up, pick up and fix anything that requires fixing.  As the only drop bag location, it was the one and only chance to do so.

On arrival I quickly guided by a lovely lady and plonked down on a chair.  Heaven.  My memory’s not the best during races, so I’d typed out and laminated a sheet of everything I needed to do.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times in races when I’ve got into a support point thinking I need xyz only to forget and curse it when I’m back going again.  This time, I had a step-by-step guide 1) put on suncream 2) drink coffee 3) change socks 4) pick up sunglasses etc. 

Duncan and Andrew arrived shortly after me.  In the still of the morning I could hear the voices of constant chatter behind me for few miles. It was so rapid, I thought it was the GM closing in on me. Nathan appeared soon, looking a little, erm, tired.  The lovely marshalls were flapping around attending to their every need, telling them just to drop anything that’s to be repacked or disposed of.  I joked with the ladies: “like men need to be told to leave everything at their arse” J

I always make a point during races to be in and out of a support point as fast as possible, but this is the first time I’d done an unsupported race.  15 minutes passed like a blink of an eye.

As I was about to leave I saw Nicky using poles to walk along the flat tarmac surface. It didn’t look good.  And when the GM still hadn’t appeared, I knew something was wrong there too. 

Then I was out, embarking on the second half of the journey.   I’ve run this section twice in training and never got the first mile through the fields right.  And it wasn’t to be third time lucky.  Andrew shouted me back and I followed them in the right direction.  I joined Andrew and Duncan for most of the journey to Howtown. It was really nice to have some company.

Howtown to Mardale Head: 9.4 miles. 765m of ascent. Position 21

I’d previously joked about rural ladies sporting moustaches, but at the Howtown Bobbin Mill they really did.  Thankfully they were of the stick-on joke variety. They were really excited to see another girl coming through, so that gave me a little boost.  I didn’t need anything – because I’d picked up enough to feed an army at Dalemain – so just dibbed in and heading straight out.

I’d picked up my running poles at Dalemain – after only using them for 10 minutes on a previous training run – with the hope that they’d help with the ascent to High Kop (the highest point in the race).  I think they just helped hold me up. The morning was starting to really heat up, I’d run out of fluid and hit a really bad patch.  It was a long, hard slog on the relentless grassy hill. I think this hill could break you on even fresh legs, but it was getting the better of me at that point.

Nathan caught me and passed me at the top.  As I ran along – what I thought was the correct route – Nathan started to descend though the ferns and I could see Duncan and Andrew behind me going down into the valley.  I was torn.  I could see the bridge at Fordingdale bottom that we were all heading too, so I knew I wasn’t lost.  We were just coming at it from different angles.  I just went with what I knew and followed the path down.  When I got to the bridge and looked up, Nathan had barely made a dent in descent through overgrown flora.  Sorry, Nathan, I did feel quite smug as I knew there was no way you were going to trust my navigation.

I picked up some much needed water from the stream and Duncan and Andrew appeared behind me after taking the “racing line”.  You can’t beat local knowledge and I cursing myself for not sticking with them.  Along the undulating tracks we went in single file. Then I ended up flat on my back after headbutted a tree. Doh!

I was so dehydrated that I hit a real low. I couldn’t believe how much I had been drinking during the race – about a litre an hour - and was filling up my bottle at every stream I could find.  Given the fine weather, they were few and far between.   Even running down the hills was a task.  I was quite literally stumbling along the trail when I arrived at Mardale Head checkpoint.

Mardale Head to Kentmere: 6.5 miles. 511m of ascent. Position 16

My spirit was still good, so I knew I just needed something to fix me physically.   Thankful the kind chaps filled me with the equivalent of a pint of coke, some gels and filled my bottle and off I went on the next climb.  Better, but not great.  I started to come round by the time I’d (eventually) hit the top.  And once I got going on the descent the pain in my glutes dispersed.  I knew it was a case of just grin and bear it for a few minutes, but my lord my ass hurt.  As I came out the other side of the bad patch, I passed a few wounded soldiers and started to pick it back up again.  I moved up from 21 to 16 in the space of about five miles.  How’s that for recovery?

Picture by James Elson
Then I saw the distinctive sight of the yellow T-shirts in the distance and new the Centurion chaps were out.  I shouted a big “woohoo” to hear Drew reply “Debs?” I could have cried with happiness to see friendly faces.  And then I saw the GM.  It was the first time I knew she had pulled out.  Regardless, she was hyper and so excited about how things were going for me.  Saying all the right things – probably lies – but I was lapping it up.  It meant so much to see everyone and it really put a spring in my step.  So much so that I passed Duncan and Andrew for the last time and practically skipped into Kentmere.  The spring was assisted by me singing away to Taylor Swift on my iPod.  Don’t judge me!

Kentmere to Ambleside: 7.3 miles. 491m of ascent. Position 14

As with all the checkpoints, the marshalls at Kentmere were fantastic.  I guess it’s more accessible by car too, as there was a little crowd cheering. I was offered a fruit smoothie, but regrettably declined.  I hadn’t eaten any proper food since Dalemain.  I was fuelled on coke and gels.  Actually I hadn’t taken any food from the checkpoints at all.  I ate only the food I carried from the start. 

I felt good, so I didn’t faff about – or delay the inevitable – and started on the last climb before descending into Ambleside.  I saw another runner was half way up the hill when I approached.  At that stage and on such a twisty route, I was pretty sure that if I was closing in on another competitor that I was going to pass them.  Up the hill and on way down to Troutbeck, I pass Chris who was having problems with his feet on the terrain. I asked if I could help, but short of giving him a new pair of shoes, I was pretty useless.
I pushed on, taking full advantage of an energy surge, to be greeted with JK snapping away with his camera.  

Picture by Mike Raffan
It was so lovely to see him full of enthusiasm and praise and providing me updates on runners’ form and their positions.

Picture by Mike Raffan
Going into Ambleside was amazing.  I wish I could relive that moment.  What a welcoming.  The pubs were packed with cheering crowds and I lapped it up while trying to negotiate a safe road crossing – unsuccessfully.  I’m not sure if it was my slow reaction times or my focus on getting to the checkpoint, but I pretty much made the traffic stop for me.  I guess that wouldn’t make me popular in one of the Lake’s busiest towns on a sunny Saturday afternoon. 

Mike Raffan and his wife were on duty at Ambleside and they helped sort out my scatty head.  I decided to offload the (non-emergency) food I’d been carrying - and had no intentions of eating – for the last 22 hours!  The cheese portions were by then little sacks of hot oily goo. Nice! And then they booted me out to door.

Ambleside to Chapelstile: 5.6miles. 234m of ascent. Position 13

I was a little emotional at that point.  Although there were three sections to go, I always thought of leaving Ambleside as embarking the final straight.  I really wanted to see Sonic and Cairn.  I was tempted to phone Sonic, but decided I needed the thought to drive me forwards.

The sun was beating down in full force now and I was getting hotter.  My rucksack had been rubbing on my sweat-soaked back for the duration of the race and it was starting to take its toll.  I didn’t have any lubricant, only a cheery lip balm.  I know what kind of airhead swaps a Vaseline pot in favour of lip balm?  Anyway, I smeared that on my back and nearly crumbled.  The sting was unbelievable.  There was a group of young lads who practically blushed at the language I used.

Heading on towards Skelwith Bridge Hotel a few miles in.  I took a wrong turn.  I put it down to tiredness, as I’ve done this section twice before I never had any problem. I knew I had gone wrong and tried to backtrack, but got myself into more of a muddle.  I saw a carpark that I didn’t remember and went back and forth until I realised it was just cars parked at the side of the road.  Eventually I got back on track and even then I couldn’t believe how dim I had been.

There were lots of families and dog walkers out enjoying the afternoon sun. I must have looked wasted running along the riverside and into Elterwater and through the Baysbrown campside, as people were staring at me in disbelief.

Into the checkpoint at Chapelstile was very surreal.  There were nice comfy sofas in a marquee in the middle of the field. The marshalls were really cheery and gave me lots of juice.  Still couldn’t get enough fluid in me.  I left before I found myself bedding in.  I later found out Richie fell asleep there.

Chapelstile to Tiberthwaite: 6.5 miles. 387m of ascent. Position 13

Leaving here I had a full on fairy invasion going on.   I was running with my hands behind my back holding my rucksack away as the sting was unbelievable.  I stumbled a few times on the grass, so happy I didn’t lose my teeth.

On the track around Blea Tarn, Ben Abdelnoor winner of the Lakeland 50 (which started in Dalemain at 11:30am) went flying passed me.  And I mean flying!  We exchanged mutual praise and he was gone.  I expected there to be flurry of 50m runners, but it was quiet for a long time.  I was looking forward to seeing Marcus Scotney and Paul Navesey, as even seeing Ben gave me a real boost.   I read in his race report

As I skirted Blea Tarn I overtook a female 100-mile competitor, the first runner in either event I’d seen for well over an hour. A little while later I looked back to see the same lady making her way along the path, closely followed by a runner dressed in black, and shifting very quickly. It was unlikely a 100-mile competitor would have suddenly picked up such pace, so it could only be a 50-mile competitor running a well-paced race with a strong second half. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen? Suddenly my vision of a glorious run into Coniston was turned on its head. I was going to have to run for my life thinking I was being chased”. 

I’m not sure what/who Ben saw but there was no one around at all. I never saw another sole in front or behind until well after Tiberthwaite.

Over the hill into Tiberthwaite, I was mentally working out my estimated finishing time.  I knew I would be close to 26 hours, but I thought it would be about 26:10

Tiberthwaite to Coniston: 5.5 miles. 283m of ascent. Position 13

I wasted too much time chatting with the marshalls there. I think I was just lonely out on the trail and really craved human interaction.  I was still feeling quite chipper and enjoyed joking with them.  And eating their Doritos – which was the first thing I’d eaten in 12 hours.  I don’t even like Doritos! But the salt was fantastic.

They practically pushed me out of the checkpoint and were still shouting out me as I made my way onto the final ascent.  And one of the cheekiest climbs on the course.   Off I went, again, thinking 6:10.  I couldn’t see anyone, so I wasn’t worried about losing position.  I knew other 50m runners would appear though.  I was right at the top when I saw another runner approaching - frantically looking behind.  Thought I might have been Marcus. Then the close he got, I recognised him as Richard Ashton.  I told him to stop wasting time looking behind as no one was there.  I also said that Ben was almost an hour in front to which he told me everyone has said that all day.  Oops.  Oh well, I had heard something quite similar all day too.  We congratulated ourselves on our second place position and he pushed on.

The descent was tricky.  Not because of my legs hurt, but my brain was tired.  Once it got a bit flatter, I started to move swiftly.  Again, checking my time.  Sub 26 looked unlikely, so I stopped for a pee.  Mainly because I didn’t want to have a bloated belly in the finishing pictures. Seriously.  Then I met Tracy Dean who was heading up the hill for a run, so I chatted to her for a bit. 

Picture by Paul Navesey
Heading down I used the time to reflect on the day.  Weirdly enough, I didn’t have the burning urge for it to be over.  I actually enjoyed this bit.  On arrival in Coniston, I was greeted by a large cheering crowd around the local pubs.  The first person I saw was Terry standing at the bottom of the road and out the corner of my eye I saw the Chris the headtorch saviour sitting outside the Black Bull Inn.  The response was overwhelming.  I felt no pain or discomforted, just utter happiness.  I passed through the village and turned the bend to the school.  I could hear Sonic and the GM.  Cairn was playing in the park, but I waited to take his hand to cross the finishing line.  26:02:00. Do you think I’m kicking myself for those two minutes of blatant faffing around?  You bet your ass I am.

Picture by JK

Imagine taking nearly 2.5 hours off the course record and still coming in second!  A similar situation to Sonic’s blinding West Highland Way run, so it could be the Consani curse.  Still I’m delighted to achieve what I set out to do.  Lizzie Wraith blew it out of the water and set a new course record of 24:15.  I’ll happily sit second to that.  Actually, the top three ladies all broke the previous record.

On the grand scheme of things, I was really pleased with my run.  Apart from the colossal meltdown between Howtown and Mardale, I felt really good.  Legs were ok.  Glutes took a hit, but my quads were brand new.  The Ben Lomond reps worked a treat.  However, I did experience the worse chaffing ever.  I’ll spare you the graphics, but here’s a snippet of my back.  The worst bit was when I woke up on Sunday and my T-shirt had stuck to my back.  I swear you would be forgiven for thinking a pig was being sacrificed in my tent. 

It was an amazing experience.  The whole event is head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever participated in before.  Truly world-class.  Thank you to Marc, Terry, Clare and rest of the organisers and to the marshalls for putting on a great show.  The checkpoints really were a show. 

Congratulations to everyone who took part, especially those who made it back to Coniston.  I take my hat off to the competitors who had to go through a second night though, as the conditions really turned.  I can’t even imagine where they found the strength to go through a full night, then a day of hot weather and humidity and then into another night with torrential rain and storms.

Picture by Nick Ham
Marc Laithwaite certainly got a laugh when he opened Sunday's awards presentation with: "And that's why we ask you to carry the mandatory kit".

Men's Race
1st  Stuart Mills 22:17
2nd Charlie Sharpe 23:02
3rd Ed Batty 23:07

Ladies' Race
1st (8th overall) Lizzie Wraith 24:15
2nd (13th overall) Debbie Martin-Consani 26:02
3rd (26th overall) Julie Gardner 28:16

Full results here. I was so pleased to see the Kevin and Martin won the team prize (28:20) Phew!  And Andrew and Duncan finished in a great time of 27:04