Wednesday 29 July 2015

Montane Lakeland 50 race report

After running the Montane Lakeland 100 for the past two years, it was time to up my game and join the sprinters in the Montane Lakeland 50.  Actually, it fitted better with my plan for running Spartathlon in two months time, but I prefer the first story. 

Lakeland 50 was my main focus after running the World 24-hour in April.  It's no secret that I'm more competitive at longer distances, but I wanted to give it my best shot. 

I called on my friend, Centurion Running team mate and endurance coach Eddie Sutton for her help and guidance to transform me from a 24 hour plodder to something that might resemble a hill runner.

No mean feat, but after weeks of killer hill sessions and race-paced runs on the course, I was in a better place. Not just physically, but I actually believed in myself.

Using my race-paced runs as a gauge, I'd worked out a realistic race target of 9:05.  Adding some adrenaline and a bit of competition, I was hopeful I could sneak under nine hours.

In it's 8th year, the Lakeland 100/50 has grown from strength to strength.  The atmosphere is electric. Attracting a field of nearly 1000 athletes - from the super fast to the super terrified - nobody is out of their depth as the camaraderie is magical.  It's not just a race, it's a festival.  There is always a huge sense of relief at the finish line, but it's sad to drive out the campsite on Sunday afternoon knowing it's over.

Top right by Jen Regan. Bottom right pic from Susan Graham
The Lakeland 100 starts on the Friday evening and circumnavigates the beautiful Lake District. I was lucky enough to win the ladies race last year, which rates quite highly in my life's best moments.  The Lakeland 50, which starts late morning on Saturday, is basically the same route from half way. Simple, right?  Not quite.  It's a bit bumpy, boggy and baffling.  It's unmarked, unrelenting and the weather in the Lakes is unpredictable to say the least.  But if you get to the start line, you're one of the race's "Legends". And if you make it to the end?  Well, you're part of the 50% that do.

After seeing off the 100 competitors on Friday evening, I felt quite smug about the prospect of not losing a night's sleep.  Really I should have just done the race, as I had about two hours sleep after spending the night pressing the refresh button on a mac in the school hall for results.

Pic by Jen Regan
After the race briefing on Saturday morning, it was off for the long journey to the start.  Thankfully the lovely Bev and Steve (the makers of Paul) offered me a lift, sparing me the cattle bus journey. Nici and Kat - also running the 50 - were in the car too.  A mix of nerves and mild hysteria made for a jovial  journey.

The weather was perfect.  After last year's heatwave, this concerned me the most.  It was heating up a bit, but promised to be clear and dry.

The race was off at 11:30am.  A 4-ish mile loop around some hilly fields and then we hit the route for the 45 miles to Coniston.  I hadn't covered the opening section before. Thankfully it was first, as it was the only unpleasant part of the race.  A grassy underfoot is my least favourite terrain.

Like most races, go off fast and you'll get caught short.  And like most races, loads of people still do it.  I just did my usual and stuck with an effort level I knew I could maintain and was confident I could pick my way through the field.  My race plan was all about consistent momentum.

Prior to the race, I'd researched splits of previous placing ladies.  I knew I had to keep to the slower end of the spectrum if I didn't want the wheels to come off after Ambleside (35 miles).  Not that I could have recreated CR holder Tracy Dean's early times - even if the race was just to Howtown.

Arriving in Pooley Bridge (5 miles) I was in my groove - on the trails and in very familiar territory.  I wanted to jog all the hills, to keep the rhythm.  I often feel if I start to hike the hills too early in training runs and races, it's hard to break the cycle.

I got to the Howtown checkpoint a little slower than my race plan, but that was fine.  Good, even. Having not covered the first section, the time was a bit of a guess.  I dibbed in and was straight back out.  One spectator commented on "my good checkpoint action".  My plan was always to save time by topping up fluid at streams and carrying all the food I needed.  Which worked out as not a lot of food.  No shock there then.

I was also actively avoiding anyone giving me updates on Marco's race in 100. After watching the live results through the night, I knew Marco was having issues.  I was pretty sure there was going to be lots of shitting-in-bushes chat to follow.   For purely selfish reasons, I just had to focus on my own race.

Heading towards Fusedale - and the highest point of the course - the race breaks up fairly quickly.  I was passing 50 and 100 runners.   I wasn't quite sure how it would be passing runners in, essentially, another race.  I'm not sure how I would have dealt with being passed if I was in that situation.  But I really enjoyed the exchanging of mutual respect.   I have been there twice and know what that climb does with 70 miles in your legs.

Pics by Jen Regan
Fast hiking to reach the peak, everything felt like it was starting to come together.  My head was in its happy place, my legs felt light and my energy levels were tip top.   I'm not the best descender, but I passed a few chaps and then hit my favourite section of the course, along Haweswater.  I'd been given some information about race position by other competitors, which I took with a pinch of salt. When I got to the Mardale Head checkpoint, I knew Mel Varvel was about a minute ahead in second place.

Call me a race w*nker, but I'd done my research and knew who my competition was going into the race. The favourite was GB ultra trail team athlete, Sally Fawcett.  Also on my list were Mel Varvel, Kim England, Joanne Hazell and Tracy Entwistle

As I've already outed myself as race w*nker, I may as well add that If someone comes back to me in a race, I will most likely overtake them.  With Mel is my sights on the climb up Gatescarth, I gave myself the target of moving into 2nd before Kentmere.  Mel is a super endurance triathlete and has some fine ultra results, but I kinda sorta actually knew she hadn't been racing for the past two years. Sorry, Mel!

My next target was to find John Kynaston.  Over the years, John and I have had quite a few friendly race challenges.  Usually involving me winding him up and his love of competition.  I think he's still yet to win one.  If he has, no doubt he'll be the first to comment. So, the challenge was that he was going to hold me off until Ambleside.  Now, I'm shit at maths, but I was pretty sure going by his race targets and my race targets - even if they went a bit astray - that I would pass him before Kentmere. And I did.  A few miles before Kentmere.   He was so gracious about it. I think we were both just happy to see a friendly face.

Between Mardale and Kentmere was went the calf and quad cramp started.  I didn't come to much, but it was causing me great concern.  I'm not sure whether it was humidity or the intensity, but it's not something I've really experienced in a race.  I even considered not packing s-caps, as I'd never needed them before.

I got to Kentmere in 2nd place.  Phew!  As I knew Eddie would be watching the results.  I downed two cups of a coke and was out like a shot.  My legs were shooting all over the place with cramp on the ascent up Garburn, so I tried to stay off my tip toes.  Which felt completely unnatural to me.

On the descent I was trying to thud my feet down because on Planet Debs that would help clear what was causing the cramp.  Don't ask!  I added my one and only electrolyte tab to some water I'd picked from a stream and that gave me some relief for 30 minutes.  The S-Caps did nothing.

Pic by Perky:  Everyone is staring at me like I'm bonkers ;-) 
At Kentmere I was back on my race splits - to the minute - and wanted to stay that way through Ambleside.  I was in such a good place, mentally, and was loving the race.  Just enjoying the present and the great experience.

As always, the reception in Ambleside was amazing, but I didn't stay around to enjoy it.  It looked so much fun, I wouldn't have left.  I must have been so focussed that I missed running passed marshals dressed as clowns! Two cups of coke and I was off.

Video leaving Ambleside (35 miles) by Bev

Only 15 miles to go.  I didn't think about positions or finishing, just on my own personal times.  I wanted to get there with enough in the tank to run some of the hills, and I did.  Although at one point I tripped and then kicked a rock and my leg shot rigid.  No more hiking, as jogging was the only thing that loosen my legs off.

Above Ambleside.  Only 14 miles to go 
Thankfully the sight of  Matt Wilson's back along Elterwater perked me up and kept me on pace through to Langdale.  Although I got there bang on time and it pretty good shape - considering - it was the lowest point for me. Possibly for Matt too, when he spotted me approaching.

I lost a few minutes from Langdale to Tilberthwaite because of cramps, but I just kept chipping away at it.  Bryan passed me at this point.  Not quite sure where he had been the rest of the race, but he looked pretty fresh.

Prior to the race one of my mini goals was to run up the last long climb before Tilberthwaite (Fitz Steps?).  I think I did about 80% of it.  Or at least I made sure I was running whenever Matt looked back.

We ran in and out of Tilberthwaite checkpoint, with Matt a few seconds ahead.    Those steps!  And that hill!  Always a sting in the tail.  I was another few minutes down on my sub 9 schedule.  9:05 was looking my realistic.

I passed Matt, who looked like he didn't care. We exchanged a few words.  Not sure what they were though.  I passed another and then spotted Forest Bethall.  I was keeping similar pace to him, but he shot off down the hill.  Hitting the track, I was closing in on him. And he knew it.  I wasn't bothered about passing him, I was just using him to keep focussed.

Arriving in Coniston for the sprint finish, I had full on tunnel senses.  I could see people and hear people, but I was just hanging on to Forest.

I got there in 9:04:30.   If I was told when I signed up I was going to run that, I wouldn't have believed it. So, I'm not going to allow myself to be disappointed that I didn't hit the elusive sub 9.

I was second lady to the amazing and super lovely Sally Fawcett. And 10th overall.  10th!  That's the best bit. Closely followed by NINE Strava course records :-)

Mel had a cracking come back race to finish third in 9:21.  She's a little powerhouse. Once she gets her ultra legs back, so will be a force!

I managed to avoid updates on Marco, but chuffed he finished second.  And as suspected there was a lot of toilet chat.

Full results here 
My Strava overview here 

Thank you to the organisers, marshals, supporters and sponsors who brought together comedy and misery to make dreams come true.  I can't wait until next year.  But will it be the 50 or the 100? Decisions, decisions.

Which allows me to finish with a response to the question I was asked a few times over the weekend: Did I find the 100 tougher than the 50? Or vice versa?  It's hard to say.  It's like comparing a 10K and a marathon.    Both require differing levels of effort, but you still cross the finish line completely fecked.  With both, you leave a little bit of yourself on the course, but you take home pride, achievement and the knowing that you've been a part of something wonderful.

I didn't visit those dark places, destroy my feet or peel layers of skin from my back.  But I didn't have time to enjoy the ride, take in the views, share the journey with new lifelong friends, use the hills as a rest hike or even pee!  Say what you like about me "only doing the 50".  Just don't call it the fun run.


Sarah said...

Fantastic running, and another great write-up too. Well done, missus. x x

Unknown said...

Fantastic result for you Debbie, well done


Well done on a brilliant race. Great report too.

flanker said...

Great write-up and equally good race. You were probably the most cheerful and talkative off all the front-runners when you went past up fusedale. I was working well, however you saying I was 'owning the hill' was probably stretching things a bit :-) After 6 years on the 100 I was considering a 50 - you may just have convinced me! Well done again.

Elizabeth Kautz said...

Thank you to the organizers, marshals, supporters and sponsors who brought together comedy and misery to make dreams come true. I can't wait until next year. Multilingual translator is a vital thing for people who are interested in this topic. I didn't visit those dark places, destroy my feet or peel layers of skin from my back.