I really like it when a story starts in the middle or at the end and then swings back to the start. However, it’s been done before and, since this may be my last big story of the year, I thought I’d do it differently. Rewind to a week ago, a week before the race I’d been training for all year, the Lakeland 50.
I’d been debating with myself whether or not to write a pre-race blog that laid out my intentions and then to compare it with what actually unfolded on the day. Having been coerced into the race in 2015 and doing surprisingly well in a stacked field, I was optimistic I could do better. This is a bit controversial but, I’m not a fan of running in the Lake District. Give me a rolling coastline, a national trail or a spooky forest and I’m happy but I don’t really enjoy the steep descents and ridiculous amount of loose rock in the Lakes. I hadn’t been confident on the more technical terrain; I was in the middle of the Hardmoors Grand Slam (my priority) and I wasn’t ‘racing’, but still pulled off a top 30 place and 4th lady in just under 9 hours 45 minutes. After some great recce and training runs, some good results and words of encouragement from some folks what know stuff – Eddie Sutton telling me I should aim for 8 hours 45minutes for example! – I was confident I could deliver what I wanted to come race day. So, I thought writing something about my 9 hour and podium finish goal might be interesting. Then I got superstitious. The Curse of Jim Walmsley could hit: I could tell the world what astounding feats I would achieve then have to drop out after an hour. The shame. I’ve never thrived on pressure and am pretty sure it makes me worse, so was I setting myself up for a fall? Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn and I were also exchanging messages and I eventually agreed with her Zen approach to just enjoy it and run. So there was to be no pre-race musings. Instead, I tried to just relax and get on with the lead up.
On the Thursday, Jayson and I travelled over to a handy car park area about 5 miles outside Coniston and stayed there in the motorhome. As it was Jayson’s last nights sleep before the 100, we watched a film, the very underrated Serenity, and got some good rest.
Friday dawned and we went to bagsy some prime spots on the field early doors with Dave Toth and Tony and Shelli of Let’s Run fame, then hit Deano’s for second breakfast. I managed an easy 30 minute run/walk up to Walna Scar then back down the start of the 100 route to stretch the legs then relaxed for the afternoon, pottering around and chatting to friends and taking goofy pictures with Chia Charge.
Wishing Jayson a good run, Gail Smith, Jason Ellis and I set off to walk up to Walna Scar to watch the 100 runners come through. I think Jason probably hated me a little when he realised how steep the road was! The weather was not nice either and the rain really set in as the runners came past us. I was very pleased not to be doing The Big One. I had the rest of the evening to myself but found it hard to fully switch off as I was tracker watching and worrying.
Go time. I was as ready as I was ever going to be with solid training, tested fuelling and ace kit. It was hard not to think about the other women in the line up though. This is only my third year of running ultras and some of these ladies were far more experienced and far more race savvy than me. Plus, it makes me feel guilty to want to beat my friends – what’s that all about?!? Tony and I managed to blag a lift from lovely Jo and Nancy Hauxwell who were there supporting Jamie on the 100, so we didn’t have to brave the bus experience and could hopefully get to the loo before the masses arrived. It was still an entertaining journey thanks to Tom Humphries and his banana skin shenanigans, ooer. En route, we learned that Shelli had dropped from the 100 and would be at Dalemain. This is one brutal event so to try and walk the whole second half would have been torturous for her. I only hoped Jayson was faring better.
Dalemain – Pooley Bridge
After quite of lot of loitering in my waterproof, eating a cocoa and peanut butter Chia Charge flapjack and chatting to Dawn Metcalfe who assured me as ever that she wasn’t ready (and then went on to PB and finish 4th lady!), I decided to get the guns out and get dibbed in. Eddie and I stood together at the start with Katie not far in front, all with our vests on. It turned out to be a good idea after about 5 minutes running when all around us were taking layers off! The countdown commenced and off we went. The start is not nice. I imagine it’s like cross country and since I never did cross country, I’m not great at it. Charging over the lumpy field, I tried to keep pace with Eddie without going too fast, as I wanted to get to Howtown in decent time but not blow up. We eventually got to the more civilised bit on the estate tracks and passed by the crowds once more. There are a lot of gates before Pooley Bridge and not that much gallantry at this point, so Eddie and I stuck together over the first few miles, going at a decent lick but not wanting to get sucked in to racing this early. Katie had gone off fast, I don’t think even she realised how fast in comparison to us and another lady I didn’t recognise was also ahead but there was still a long way to go.
Pooley Bridge – Howtown
The climb out of Pooley Bridge is one that I walked up in 2015 and that wasn’t going to happen again. I remember Debbie Martin-Consani passing me very comfortably and telling me I looked strong which was a big fib, as I has started too quickly and was already a bit knackered. This is where Eddie pulled away from me though, so I just kept chugging and had a Spring Long Haul gel to get me to the first checkpoint. I felt good as we headed down to Howtown but not great: it’s most inconvenient but it always takes me at least 10-15 miles to get into it. This was where my pals were though and it was great to see so many familiar faces in very weird outfits! Cowboy Peter Hunt filled up my bottles and I asked Lisa Clarke how Jayson was when he came through. She said he was fine and I believed her but it wasn’t a ‘great’ or a ‘strong’ so I knew he was not having the best time. I grabbed a few jelly babies and left the checkpoint, seeing two other ladies on their way down as I did. Jess told me I looked good – thanks! – but it just reminded me how close we all were 11 miles in.
Howtown – Mardale Head
The next stretch is one that people dread but I quite like having a good walk after such a crazy start. Fusedale is a very long slog up and then comes the tricky drag along the side of Haweswater. I think it was around here that I caught Eddie again and my Pickering Running Club mate Simon Jones, who had been with us through Dalemain. Simon is super speedy with some ridiculous 10k and marathon times but has been lured into ultras in the last year or so. This was his first Lakeland and he was pacing himself well, aiming for a similar time to me. We chatted as we climbed and eventually overtook Eddie, who I didn’t see again. I was hoping she’d be with me on the podium as she had worked ferociously hard too, and I was expecting her to pick me off for a long time, but it turned out to be a bad day at the office for her. Summiting Fusedale and making our way over High Kop, it was clear how much wetter underfoot the course was going to be than usual. The bog was boggier and the mud was muddier, all making it trickier to get into a rhythm. Simon left me on the way down to Haweswater as I was dawdling, not being able to see my feet amongst the bracken. I think we all ruined a lot of walks down here, as some people did not look pleased as they stepped aside to let us by. I recall having a good chat to someone on this stretch, although I don’t know who it was. I know it was his first time doing the race, so I told him about how great all the checkpoints were and then was proved right by the Delamere Spartans at Mardale, checkpoint 3 at around 20.6 miles. It was still early on, but I started in on the coke in my handy little free cup which folded nicely into my shorts pocket – thanks Petzl! I took a couple of cheese and pickle sandwiches and got my march on up the next big hill.
Mardale Head – Kentmere
Eating sandwiches whilst trying to breath and walk up hill is quite hard, so I had to chuck my crusts. My hair is curly enough already. They tasted great though and I powered up to Gatescarth Pass before hitting a descent that I really don’t look forward to. And hit it I did. This has some of that loose Lakeland rock that I don’t get on with and usually, I just plod down cautiously with a little voice telling me I’m going to fall on my face. For the first time, that actually happened. The sniper got me and I hit the ground hard, then skidded head first down the hill. My hands were stinging like mad, so when I got up and walked down a bit, all I could think about was rinsing them off to see the damage. I had mud all down my front and on my bottle top, which was probably the most annoying thing. Thank goodness I’d finished my sandwiches and didn’t have to sacrifice them. I washed my hands in a puddle when it levelled out and there was barely a scrape on them. I did, however, have a stream of blood down my right arm, my right hip and both shins, so looked pretty hardcore. In hindsight, falling probably did me some good in the long term, because it wasn’t as bad as I though it might be! Although my scabs are really starting to itch… I eventually caught up to Simon again and a chap called Ben who seemed to know of Jayson. He wasn’t sure of the route so said he would stick with us and did his fair share of gate holding and closing to pay us back. We came into Kentmere strongly and were greeted by the Mountain Fuel sheep flock. I was desperate for some fruit but had to settle for jelly babies. Cat Simpson very kindly attempted to wash my elbow as it was caked in mud but it had dried on pretty solid, so I decided to just crack on and deal with it later.
Kentmere – Ambleside
This section is much more my cup of tea. The ascent to Garburn Pass is not too tricky and there is some nice running on the way down to Troutbeck. The time passed quickly with Simon and I chatting about work and life stuff, and finding out more about Ben. We saw Debbie Martin-Consani here and I managed to show off my wounds. I didn’t catch everything she said but there was definitely a ‘badass’ in there.
We all got into Ambleside without incident and with nothing interesting to report. I had resolved to not go inside the checkpoint this year to save some time and there were plenty of sandwiches outside, so I dibbed in, sandwiched up and walked out ahead of Simon and Ben, drinking cola and eating.
Ambleside – Chapel Stile
This should be a good section for me. Once the climb out of Ambleside is done – and it’s not a bad one – there is a really runnable section through Skelwith Bridge and along Elterwater. I was so busy chatting to Ben though, that Simon had to shout us back to take the right turn to Skelwith Bridge, so I think I could have been more focused. When we hit the long, flat path, I should have been able to turn it up a notch, but I struggled along here. I think in hindsight, it may have been that I was not having the food I would normally choose myself: sandwiches, yes but more jelly babies than fruit, no. Ben and Simon were moving a little quicker than me here and I had to have a loo stop so I caught them up again just before we arrived in Chapel Stile. It was along here that I caught a glimpse of the lady in the orange t-shirt who was in second. I was not happy with this turn of events! I don’t really like chasing as it feels too pressured, and I worry that I’ll blow myself up. We were steadily gaining on her though, and by the time we dibbed into Chapel Stile, we were seconds apart.
Chapel Stile – Tilberthwaite
Having resigned myself that I was going to have some kind of race, I decided that I would at least be civil about it. The lady was called Amy and we ended up running in a little four pack until virtually the end. Simon had already tried to gee me on a bit and implied that he would help me to second place by staying between us, but at that point, I wasn’t bothered as long as I kept my podium place and got sub 9 hours. He kept to his word though and as we approached the gate that leads onto the boggy Blea Tarn, Simon and Ben were holding Amy off me and letting me take the lead. This is another section I find tricky though and with people tapping away behind me, I took another tumble. I bashed my right knee hard and it started bleeding again, so I had a short walk and the others went ahead. Amy and I stumbled our way over the boggy, rocky section to the road and it was then I noticed she was clutching a map. I asked her if she had been navving the whole race and she had! Turns out she was an orienteer, this was her first ultra and she didn’t know the route! I also found out she was a sub 3 hour marathoner so I did think that if she was ahead of me at the end, I would have no chance on that road! She had done so well and I was a bit in awe to be honest. She definitely kept me going into the Tilberthwaite checkpoint where we found some melon. Fruit at last!! I think I ate about half the plate, had some cola and we all started up the Stairway to Heaven together.
Tilberthwaite – Coniston
As we ascended, I saw Chris Bland of Chia Charge scooting up the hill in front of us. He had been out all night filming Jayson and was now capturing the final moments of the front pack of the 50. The photo he got of me was pretty badass, even if I do say so myself. Pink pants notwithstanding.
It was around here that Simon and Ben started a race of their own. Once we reached the top of the steps, they began to pull away and were running the gentle ups that Amy and I were walking. I had also started thinking that it would actually be fairly ace to get second place and try to be not too close to the wire for my 9 hours. The last descent is one that doesn’t scare me anymore but I do take it steadily, so I resolved to push on and try to get a gap between us. Reaching the start of the descent, I started talking myself down. It’s a bit hokey but I say things like ‘easy’ and ‘you’ve got this’, probably to take my mind off thinking my way down. I felt like I was going well when I hit the level section and dared to glance round. I could see Amy, but I knew if I could just go, I would get there before her. Tarmac is something I can do quite well at the end of a race, especially downhill, so I just let the silly noises start coming and caned it. The end of this race is awesome: passing the pub on the corner, the people in town and then rounding the corner down to the school are all such a buzz. So much so, that my last mile took me 6 minutes 35 seconds! I was even faster on the last section than I had been on any recce runs, probably because I was being chased! Dibbing in at the end and lying down again, I felt pretty good. I wasn’t allowed to lay down for long again but it took a while to get into the marquee. Jayson greeted me and although his race hadn’t gone as he wanted, he had done it and was probably more pleased for me. Katie also appeared, all showered and finished in an utterly incredible time. She looked a bit dazed by it herself and I was so pleased to know that I would be on the podium with her after she had such a monumental race. We eventually went in and I did a little dance when I got announced. It transpired that Simon was 10th and first V40, and I was 12th overall, something that I would never have thought possible two years ago. It turned out to be a good day in the Lakes.
The title of this blog is nicked from a post from Katie that struck me. It was something like, ” But what if I fall?” ” But my dear, what if you fly?” I’ve been scared of falling on races like this and I think it has held me back in the past. It turns out, falling isn’t that bad. It hurts, but you get up, you keep going and the pain passes. Each fall will teach you something that brings you that bit closer to flying. I did fly on Saturday, but I know that I can fly higher and stronger. Time to embrace the fear and work on my wings…
Chia Charge vest – awesome for a gunshow
Scott RC shorts – these are so comfy and light, and the pocket held my Petzl cup
Scott RC pack – really comfy with lots of room at the sides. It easily held all my kit and the side pockets are really easy to open and roomy.
Inov8 hot peak cap – keeps the rain off!
Stance socks – I got these for free at UTMB and they’re very comfy. No blisters except the pesky hard skin I still haven’t had removed.
Scott Supertrac RC shoes – there has been a lot of hype around these and I think rightly so. If it hadn’t been so wet underfoot, I don’t think I would have fallen, but nothing short of Mudclaws would have been grippy enough on some of the course when you’re not that sure footed. They are comfortable, light and responsive. A great racing shoe.
Precision Hydration – again. I’ve said it before, and will continue to do so. Great product.
Spring energy gels – I used two Long Haul, two Power Rush and one Hill Aid near the end. They go down well and I do like them, but I think they need to be supplemented with other food like sandwiches. The Hill Aid certainly helped my final push but I think with that, all the cola, a few cups of tea afterwards and the adrenaline, it took me hours to get to sleep!
Chia Charge – I ate several mini berry flapjacks near the start and had two peanut butter and cocoa flapjacks on the way to the start and when I arrived. I love these bars: real, honest food with no rubbish and they taste fab.
Kendal Mint Cake – cos it’s the Lake District.
Forever Move – this is a supplement I was taking for about a month before the race and am taking for a few weeks afterwards. It is a natural product based on eggshell membrane and curcumin. I can honestly say my legs feel the best they’ve ever felt after a race like this. It may be a combination of things, but this is the only new factor, so it will be interesting to see how I recover with it. Buy it direct from here
Or just message me on Facebook if you want to know more 🙂
If you made it all the way to end, well done! You must be really interested in ultra running, eh? After learning a lot these last few years, I now feel I can help other people to achieve their running goals too, so I’ll be teaming up with Jayson and offering a coaching service myself. If you’re interested and want to know more, Facebook message me and we can have a chat!