Monday, 29 July 2013

Lakeland 100

I've just completed The Lakes 100 in a time of 32:03:51, and have very strange and mixed up feelings about it.  Why? Well, I'm pleased to have finished but very disappointed not have broken my target of sub 30 hrs. In 2011 in ran 30:30, finishing strongly and with little pain and no real blisters. This time I'm nursing some very sore feet and pondering over what might have been and 'Why?'

OK, the Lakes 100 is a tough route (105 actually) and covers a large loop around the Lakes. The route is a really mix of trails, some tough going over rough Lakeland Passes, with rocky terrain underfoot. Navigation skills are needed, and a few recce runs can be very useful, but overall good 'hillskills' and experience are very valuable for success.

This year the weather was warm and humid for the first 24 hours before Saturday evening's thunder storms, initially welcome, later turned into heavy cold rain.   What all this means is that after a 6pm Friday evening start, I was to finish at 2.00am on Sunday morning.  I have a love-hate relationship with Lakes 100.  The route is contrived in parts and the start time simply bizarre and incongruous with my target time. There is also a certain amount of crass over-hype that I find distasteful and many entrants seriously under estimate the terrain and skills required.  

There is also the fifty mile event that starts around halfway at Saturday lunchtime from Dalemain and completes roughly the second half of the 100 route, so you are being passed by fitter and fresher runners, which can be a bit of a mixed blessing.   When the majority of those 200 passing runners have all said, 'Well Done' or 'Awesome effort Mate'  ...and you are feeling crap and know you've under achieved again, it's sometimes a struggle to be positive!  Oh well, I've done 55 miles more than than they have!

So, what happened? I basically slumped in the last 20 miles, losing two or three hours against a 29/30 hour schedule.  Unfortunately, my feet started to blister from around halfway, not too badly but it prevented me from running the flatter and downhill sections, which is crucial to maintaining a good average pace. And once the body, soles (and soul?) starts to decline the issue of 'enduring' an event becomes bigger than endurance.  So, Saturday's evening finish dragged into Sunday morning, with darkness and heavy rain adding to the factors against me.

I'm pleased I kept going; a rational decision would have been to withdraw at Ambleside (90 miles). Afteral, I've nothing to prove and did my aprenticeship of hobbling around for a few days decades ago, and this week I've got three days on the fells assessing a Mountain Leader Expedition.  So, I've done a 'pb' for 100 miles, (my worst from c.20x 100 milers) and that last 15 miles took me 6.5 hours mainly due to some very painful, and very slow rocky, wet and slippy descents. 

But to me, it's not just about time but the quality of the performance; how much you enjoy it, the fun and banter you have with other runners, the sense of well being at the end. And that is where I'm confused and disappointed. 

Blisters? Why, same socks and shoes as previous successful events, did the hot and humid conditions cause this?  I guess I let myself down with regards to training. I may have been complacent, and certainly missed out on a few long days out in the past few weeks due to the very hot weather and spent the days road biking instead in order to get the breeze. Consequently, my legs didn't seem to have much 'running' in them, and I cramped up across the top of my quads occasionally from around the 40 mile mark. Stretching helped that greatly for a few hours but I finally resigned myself to the 'Long March if Doom' just to reach the end, from about 30 miles out.

A quick scan of the results show that I didn't slump too badly. My running mate Sharon McDonald pushed on from the 70 mile mark and finished in 29:20, and excellent performance in her first ever '100' and despite bad blisters.  I've just been reading some stuff on the Lakes 100 Facebook page and there is a thread about what makes for a successful result. There is much to be said about reccing the course (after all it gives you specific experience of the terrain) but equally so, navigational skills, experience and hill skills are just as important and contribute to a strong finish. There is no doubt the event organisers do a great job of marketing their commercial recce's but equally, if you don't recce at a realistic pace and distance then it will lull you into a false sense of security.   Professionally, I'm really concerned about people throwing themselves ill prepared at events, especially when they lack hill skills / navigation, etc. By just recceing the route in short fast sections you are playing a dangerous game. It's rather like just learning one recipe in the kitchen. I might be great at making that one dish, but throw in a few variables such as bad weather, getting off route and having a 'mare... and the plates will stop spinning.   Ok, so this is a bit of a plug about 'navigation skills' but people with such skills tend to have good hill skills and experience too. They can cook and few dishes, and improvise when the menu changes at short notice.  Take a look at for info about m Tour de Helvellyn and Lakes Mountain 42 events, as well as our 'Mountain Running Skills' training days which will give you a good insight into navigation skills, hiilcraft and much more.

I'll finish now; suitability bemused. Perhaps I'll be able to write part two and focus on preparation for 2014 once I've had a nice glass of Merlot and a snooze! 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

BG - Leg Three

My Race Mate - Sharon McDonald completed a Bob Graham round a few weekes ago. These are my thoughts having paced Legs Three and Five.

I have a love/hate relationship with Leg Three.  To be blunt, it's the Leg when people usually start to suffer, and often BG attempts grind to halt.  I'd paced this leg twice already this year and both contenders bailed out around Esk Hause and then faced the long trudge down to Wasdale.  On the positive side, this is also the Leg where a successful round starts to build momentum and so the rewards are there for the right person.
Sharon before the start. Very calm ...and trying to sneak a chip?

Weather (and darkness) plays a big part in BG success.  It's well documented that Sharon was blighted with poor weather for her round and I'd sent her a few emails about the 'What if' scenarios of arriving at Dunmail having had a hard night leg.   I was only being pragmatic, in effort to save a wasted drive around to Wasdale ... but suffice to say Sharon didn't respond to my emails. I'd also spent couple of weeks explaining how it is possible to make up a lot of time on Legs Four and Five.

So ... What Happened?  Well the weather was crap and Sharon arrived at Dunmail a little bit down on (23hr) Schedule but in good form and having had good support along Leg Two, especially navigationally from Alex Pilkington.

Being slightly down on a 23hr schedule means you are actually nearly an hour up on a 'Completer Scheduled' and I truely believe that if anyone was to continue on schedule it would be Sharon, due to her strength and ability to cope with bad weather. Our Leg Three went Ok; we were ten or fifteen minutes behind two Irish runners leaving Dunmail and slowly caught them over the next few hours, mainly because Andy Jackson and myself are good navigators and we have a lot of local knowledge and experience. The Irish lads did really well considering they were self navigating with little local knowledge.

Conditions were poor but not too horrendous. It was windy and blustery, but there were breaks in the rain so it wasn't as bad as it had been on Leg Two, but cold enought to make me stop and point and extra fleece layer on and warm gloves.  (We probably lost a few miuntes here as I struggled with numb fingers)

It's an Alien? - No Sharon approaching dawn.

Basically, my aim was to continue sustaining a good pace, maintaining good form in terms of mind and body and not losing any more time due bad navigation, not eating or drinking etc.  Sharon was going well; both Andy and myself thought so, but I confess that I had forgotten to bring a schedule so was bluffing abit when Sharon asked me once or twice about times.   Sharon did say that she found the ascent of Bowfell hard, which was the only time she made any negative comment.

I really believe that the 'average 23hr' scheduled available form the BG website is too fast for Leg Three, especially over the high Peaks from Esk Pike to Scafell. So, 'Yes' we did lose some time but it wasn't too much and we were moving as well as we could given the wet rocks and blustery conditions. Broad Stand was not possible due to the weather but we blasted up Lord's Rake instead.  The only time I felt we were a bit slow was coming down from Scafell. We didn't seem to find the best path, but Sharon showed no signs of weakness or slowing apart from taking a painkiller on the final descent from Scafell.

I know Sharon was a bit worried about the time, but with two legs still to go and a slowly improving weather window the chance of succes was still high.  However, everyone has a bad patch somewhere on their BG, and I believe this happened on Leg Four?  Indeed, as I was mentioning this possibility to Graham and Jill, (her excellent roadside support) we saw Sharon climbing steadily up Yewbarrow with a few uncharacteristic pauses.

Cut to Honister and I was a bit surprised that she was arriving with just over three hours for the final Leg Five.  Three hours is OK, and any less can be a bit scary.  Meeting Sharon part way up Grey Knotts it was eveident that she was again moving very well, and talking with her pacers she had gone through her bad patch as was now running well, being able to descend as well as climb strongly.

A good strong climb up Dalehead and then run around towards Hindscarth proved that she was gaining on schedule and the 24hr target was safe as long as she kept moving. Sharon had a big support team on Leg Five, so lot's of good banter, but she was now very sore with a painful knee. We managed to get very good runnable lines all the way down to the road and had just over the hour for the five miles of tarmac. Easy ...just keep jogging on the flat and walk the up hills!

Some people really suffer badly on the final run-in, and I've also seen people fight much tighter deadlines. Sharon had about 10-20 minutes spare as we passed Newlands and climbed towards the Swinside Inn. I'm not really sure what was going on in her head at this point, but at some point she asked me if she would make it, to which I jokingly replied. 'Maybe? quickly followed by a more accurate prediction as she grimaced and glared at me.

'Of course you'll do it.' I replied.  Which is something I'd be saying for a few months really.