Friday, 13 January 2017

Not the Spine Challenger

Well, this morning I should have been on my way over to Edale for the Spine Challenger registration, but I wasn't. The race starts Saturday morning, I won't be there.

The Challenger covers the same ground as the Spine Race but only as far as Hawes, about 110 miles. After my inconclusive brush with the Spine Race last year I ended my blog post with " I put in an application for next year's Challenger  -  all I need to do now is to learn to love those muddy brown moors. If I get a place, I will get to the finish."

After the last longish event of last year, the "Lakes in a Day" in early October, I concentrated on preparing to deliver on the promise I had made to myself. I was looking at the Challenger not only as an event in itself but a sort of "entry test" to see if I could make a reasonable attempt at the whole Spine Race again at some time in the future. Looking at the results over the years, it seemed to me that runners who complete the Spine in good order are capable of getting to Hawes in good shape in around 48 hours or less. It has been done by runners travelling slower but it seemed to me from their splits and reports that the stress of making the intermediate cut-offs and the subsequent sleep deprivation often took them very close to their limits; this is not really my style (for reasons, see my post last November "It was brutal!"), so I made 48 hours my working target. I think I prepared reasonably diligently.

1. Fitness

After the Lakes in a Day I put in a solid seven week block of training, all off road and mostly in the hills, averaging 42 miles and just short of 7000ft of ascent per week. I then throttled back a bit as I wanted to spend more time on leg muscle strengthening exercises in preparation for the following summer, but over the next four weeks I still turned in 25 miles and 4000ft a week. I was fit enough.

2. Course familiarity

I had reccied the whole Spine except for about 30 miles last year but I decided to do the Challenger section again. I find that knowing landmarks (turning points, what key gates/stiles look like, etc) can save a lot of navigational time whatever the weather conditions. Using the excellent train service covering the southern 100 miles of the Pennine Way I was able to cover the ground in 5 day trips. In my original reccies in 2015 almost every step of the PW had been in rain, so a real bonus in the late autumn/early winter of 2016 was the stunning weather we had almost continuously, making every day out a real joy. A day of near frozen fields from Gargrave to Malham followed by crossings of snow-covered Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Gent was particularly memorable.(Although just as reminder of more normal conditions in these parts my final day over the Cam road from Horton to Hawes was done in a howling wind and continuous horizontal rain.) But I was confident I wouldn't get lost.

3. Shoes

In my (albeit brief) participation in last year's race I felt I lost a lot of time and used too much energy sliding around in the mud. I had been a Hoka convert since almost as soon as they arrived in the UK and then moved on to the equally comfortable but lighter and more manoueverable Skechers GoRun Ultras. I'm currently on my 8th pair (with pairs 9 and 10 already bought and in the cupboard awaiting their turn). I've found them brilliant for almost all conditions, but the one surface they can't cope with is sloping muddy fields; and there are a lot of those on the PW so I needed an alternative. I've kept up with Hoka developments and bought a pair of Speedgoats a while ago; others may disagree but I've found them an unhappy compromise, giving away a lot of the original Hoka comfort without really much increase in grip over, say, the Stinson Evos. 

Before my original Hoka conversion my go-to shoe was the Salomon Speedcross, but my problem now was that after 5 years of running in much lower drop shoes, I couldn't (nor did I want to) re-adjust my running style to make the Speedcross feel right again. After a fair bit of research and playing in shops, in October I bought a pair of Scott Kinabalu Supertracks. I've now clocked up about 200 miles in them including a couple of 35 mile outings and they seem to do the job for me. I was happy that I could cope with the mud this year.

4. The Rucksack

It was clear to me last year that one of the major aspects that makes the Spine different is the weight of your rucksack. We can all debate about what should or should not be included in the mandatory kit but that's not really the point. Most of us would take things out but put what we considered more useful back in anyway, so the result is that in a winter race with 40-60 miles between checkpoints you're going to have a fairly heavy sack. I didn't think carefully enough about this last year, and found that even on the horizontal slab sections any sort of running at all was so much effort compared with a steady walk as to be not worthwhile. Most people around me seemed to have come to the same conclusion. But we must be missing a trick because the guys up front are running, cutting down their times between checkpoints and so running a much safer race. I felt the key was that I hadn't practised in advance, it was a new skill to be learned.

I knew well in advance exactly what was going in my pack. OK, it would trade up or down a bit depending on the weather expected (plus/minus a puffy jacket or fleece or two) and the ground underfoot (Yacktracks or Katoolahs) etc but these were minor weight changes. Basically I knew my pack was going to be 7,5kg. I also knew that I would definitely be wearing a jacket (Paramo) and in all probability overtrousers, continuously. So for absolutely all my outings from late November onwards (after the Wooler Trail Marathon) that's how I went; jacket, trousers, rucksack. It felt strange and cumbersome at first, but gradually I learned to cope, how best to adjust the pack fitting and so on, and I worked up to a steady 11 minute mile pace on level ground, an easy shamble on the downhills, and I could even jog uphills if the ground was easy enough without using too much energy. I got up and down Snowdon at better than 15 minute mile pace and did laps on my local hill. Of all the Challenger preparation I did, I feel this was the most valuable; to get comfortable with the pack.

5. The Dark

I don't mind the dark. In fact I'll quite often go out for a run in the dark from choice if it's a nice night. But I couldn't navigate efficiently in the dark; not a knowledge or experience deficiency, just that I couldn't see the map.  I've needed glasses for I guess around 20 years, for the past 15 I've worn varifocals mostly all the time. But this comes from doing a job where being able to see things in detail was required. If I don't wear glasses I don't fall over things, so in normal daylight conditions I can go running without them. Running at night I slow down a bit because my judgement of the footfall isn't quite so good, but I still prefer this to wearing glasses. Glasses outdoors at night are a real pain, being affected by rain, mist, your breath if you zip your jacket over your chin, and lots more. Reading a map or a GPS involves stopping, cleaning glasses, focussing quite badly on the job in hand and so on. Goggles add even more potential misting problems.

I've had this problem for years but it hasn't stopped my activities because the events that I've done at night have been characterised by relatively short nights or easy to follow trails, so little if any compromise is required. But I found last year that I was really resenting having to stop to check navigation on the Spine because with so much darkness it can cost so much time, and that's not a good frame of mind to adopt. The easier it is to check, the more you do it, the less you get lost.

I explained the problem to the optician who suggested contact lenses, so at the age of 68 I tried my first pair. I should have done this ten years ago. I now have the sort where you use one eye for distance and the other for close-up and your brain adjusts to this. Sounds crazy but it works. They're not as precise as glasses for everyday use, but for running, especially at night, it's magic. So now I could see the map.

The final bit of preparation I did was to head off potential illness by having my free flu jab, something that I normally don't bother with.

All round, in the run-up to Christmas, I was sure that I'd done all I could. I wasn't bothered about the weather, I couldn't do anything about that, I had all the stuff to be prepared for pretty well anything.

6. And then the bad news

I had my last outing, a gentle one up our local hills Moel Fammau and Y Fenlli, on 22nd December. The family, including Jan, had colds. I wasn't bothered. I don't often catch colds (looking back over the diaries, the last one I had was December 2014), and in any case with over three weeks to the race even if I caught one it would be well over by then.

The next day, I got the cold. The normal stuff. Sore throat followed by thick head, lots of nose blowing, sinusitis, generally feeling groggy. We went up to Keswick for New Year. I seemed to be on the mend. Two days of lovely weather on the 1st and 2nd of January saw us out for gentle walks. On the 2nd, our 46th wedding anniversary, Jan and I walked up the modest Ling Fell in beautiful crisp, cold conditions. 
Ling Fell

The following day we came back to Chester. I felt worse. The cough arrived, stayed all day and night, I didn't sleep properly for several days. Then it subsided to sporadic but still there. I kept telling myself that the next morning I would feel better but I didn't. I couldn't imagine it would continue two weeks into January. I seemed to be getting there, gradually. On Tuesday 10th I went out again over Moel Famau to see how things were. I felt lethargic but otherwise all right. It looked like it was going to be OK. Then I coughed all night again and by morning felt as bad as ever.

Ever hopeful, I resolved to delay the decision until this morning when I would need to drive over to Edale. But last night it was clear I wasn't going to make it so I threw in the towel. I still have a cough, a raw throat, a chest achy from coughing, a thick head and the feeling that everything is just too much effort. After this one I don't think I want another cold.

I feel that I made all the preparations that I honestly could, just to get beaten by the one thing I couldn't control. That's life I suppose, you're never totally in charge. Best Wishes to everyone starting the Spine Challenger tomorrow and the Spine Race on Sunday - I'll be watching the trackers for another year!

Will I be back? Really not sure this time. I have other plans for next year and after that I'll be in my 70's. But never say never.

I'd stayed away from Facebook for a while, not wanting to get caught up in the manic hype that seems to be a feature of the build up to any significant event these days. When I looked back in I was made aware of another little problem I have to resolve. Every year since 2010 I've entered the UTMB draw. I've never been lucky in the ballot, only getting into the race when I got to the "guaranteed place" year which was originally after one ballot rejection but in recent years has been after two ballot rejections. This year I put in my application in December as normal, expecting to get my usual rejection followed by a double chance in the hat next time round, so I've already planned and entered my races for this year.

For the first time in five ballots I've been accepted.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review of 2016

Well, the first thing to say is that I haven't been very diligent in keeping the blog going, only 20 posts all year, must do better! I've always maintained that I would only post when I felt that I had something worthwhile to say, but even with that proviso I ought to be able to manage an effort at least every two weeks  -  so that's one of the New Year's resolutions for 2017.

Now back to 2016. In 2015 I decided to record all my outings whether running or fellwalking, because it was sometimes difficult to decide which was which. But that led to inflated numbers in terms of both the miles covered and the total height gain, and quite a lot of that, in company of friends and family for instance, was covered at an extremely enjoyable but rather pedestrian pace of probably no training benefit at all. So for 2016 I decided only to record outings which included at least an element of running. This resulted in the year  comprising 2086 miles run and 315,000 feet ascended, an average sort of year judged over the last decade.

The events were a bit of a mixed bag; of 12 planned I finished 9, some in good style and some with more difficulty. Reports of all are in earlier posts but here are the headlines:

1. The Spine Race: I started off the year with a dismal DNF. Basically I got bored and wondered what I was doing there after only 45 miles. Should have worked that out before I started,

2. Northumberland Coast Ultra, 35 miles and 1,500ft of ascent: A relatively fast, flat course over stunning beaches and coastal country. Finished in 6:04:50

3. Manchester Marathon: I entered this to get a "good for age" entry time for the London Marathon, which is 4 hours for me. It was a good course and I had an enjoyable run on a sunny day, finishing in 3:52:56. After that, I forgot to enter London before the time deadline expired.

4. Pembroke Coast Ultra, 35 miles and 3,600ft: Another lovely course but I was starting to have a recurrence of a long-standing calf problem, so took it relatively easily and finished in 6:51:52. It was a great drive to and from Pembroke though, right down the centre of Wales in my (now departed) Caterham.

5. The Northern Traverse, 190 miles and 28,000ft: A true delight. I took it easily enough so the calf gave no problems and enjoyed it from start to finish in 81:28:11

6. The West Highland Way, 95 miles and 14,700ft: I should have known that starting a 95 mile event two and a half weeks after finishing a 190 mile one was not too sensible. I compounded the mistake by setting off on a 25 hour schedule, the wheels fell off just after half way and I finished in 30:48:20.

7. Lakeland 100, 105 miles and 22,500ft: By now the calf injury had cleared up but I had developed a hamstring one to take its place. But I know how to approach this event sensibly and finished in good order in 37:29:01

8. UTMB, 100 miles and 32,800ft: The hamstring was really no better so I carried my "just get round" strategy of the Lakeland 100 into the UTMB. It required that nothing went wrong, but 35 degree temperatures on the climb out of Courmayeur ensured that something did. I was timed out at Arnuva after 60 miles and around 17000ft of effort.

9. High Peak 40, 40 miles and 5,500ft: After 3 weeks of diligent recuperation, I took this one very conservatively and finished in good shape. 8:51:29

10. Lakes in a Day, 50 miles and 13,100ft: Again a relatively conservative effort, but in good conditions I managed my best time (of three finishes) over this course, but I still don't look at the watch often enough to be aware that a significant target is achievable when I get near the finish. 15:00:41 !!

11. Wooler Trail Marathon, 28 miles and 6,000ft: A new event over a brilliant wild course. In good but cold conditions I finished with no muscle issues at all in 6:40:41.

12. Tour de Helvellyn. I've entered this esoteric but superb event five times but only got to the start line (and then finished) on two occasions. This year, family and social commitments intervened and I watched from Chester as it was run in conditions closer to mid summer than mid winter.

After the UTMB I decided that if I was going to carry on running for a reasonable length of time into the future, I really needed to sort out the calf and hamstring problems that had plagued me since late 2013. Injury and re-injury have always come from running quickly and/or with too little warm-up, so I set out a three point plan:

1. Always warm up sufficiently before running.

2. Recuperate through the Autumn by limiting the maximum speed and building up slowly. I ran no faster than 12 minute miles in September, 11 in October, 10 in November and so on, including in events. This has got me to 9 minute miles so far, and I'm not intending to push above this until I'm absolutely confident; it's fast enough for all the events I want to do and I can easily exercise at a higher effort by running up hills.

3. Weight-bearing exercises to strengthen calf, hamstring and quad muscles. I got a programme from my physio and have been doing these for three months now.

I'm hopeful.

The tail end of the year I spent a few days re-familiarising myself with the first hundred miles of the Pennine Way again, from Edale to Hawes, because I've entered the Spine Challenger which covers this ground starting on the 14th January. Unfortunately though the whole family has been afflicted by a bad cold since just before Christmas; I haven't run since 20th December and can't see that situation changing for a few days yet at least. I hope I can make the start line.

But whether the Spine Challenger works for me or not, I have a whole year of exciting plans for 2017, so out with the old and in with the new!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Wooler Trail Marathon

Ian B noticed it first and said it looked like a good day out so I thought I would give it a try. In truth there was nothing not to like; a 28 mile trail run with 6000 ft of ascent in an area that I had never visited. Then in the glow of the finish at the Lakes in a Day run I tried to persuade John K that October was too early to knock off for the year and he should come along too. In the end Ian didn't make it but John did, accompanied by Katrina who had entered the half distance event to be run on the same day.

I always rather naively assume that all places in "the north" are close together, so I was surprised to discover on the day before the event that the AA predicted a two and a half hour drive from Keswick to Wooler and I needed to be there by about 7am.  No problem on near-deserted roads on a Sunday morning, although as the outside temperature hovered around -2/-3 degC all the way and it wasn't clear whether the final 30 miles along the A697 had been salted, not without its moments. I wasn't sure where I was going to park in Wooler but as I approached the town in the dark and a bit of early-morning fog two obvious race marshals appeared on the main road and directed me straight to a big free car park - a pointer to the great organisation overall on what was to be the inaugural running of this event.

The base for the day was Wooler YHA, a five minute walk from the car park, where I found a rapid and simple registration, John and Katrina who had sensibly come the day before and stayed in the hostel, a welcome from Garry, one of the "Trail Outlaws" organisers, and plenty of time for a cup of tea or two before the start. It was daylight when Garry and his co-director Tim briefed the marathon runners outside the hostel before a short walk to the start for the off at 8am.

Race briefing 

The weather forecast for the day was pretty good, especially compared with the havoc that Storm Angus was predicted to wreak further south. It would be chilly but no precipitation expected and almost no wind.

I wished John well at the start as I expected that he would get round at least an hour faster than me, then we were away.

Ready for the start
The six miles to the first checkpoint were easily runnable on good paths and jeep tracks over open moorland, gradually gaining height but at a gentle angle before a final descent to the CP. I settled into an easy jog, not worrying too much about the field streaming out for what seemed like miles ahead. I had decided that I would run the flats and downhills and jog the uphills when they were gentle; I had originally thought I might finish in somewhere between 6 and 7 hours, but after a comment from Garry to John that he would normally consider 7 hours normal for a training run I suspected that it might be quite a bit more (Garry's a proper runner). The cold conditions made the ground underfoot nice and solid and in the lack of wind I soon warmed up. My windproof and gloves came off fairly soon, and apart from the gloves going back for a short distance over the higher part of the course, stayed off all day. The course was fully marked with yellow arrows at each route option and occasional yellow flags along the way to confirm you were on the right course. I normally like the navigational aspect of events but I must admit that occasionally it's quite relaxing just to follow the signs. We had been told that we must have a map in case the signs got obscured/ damaged/ stolen etc.

4 miles from the start (photo by Trail Outlaws)

Immediately after the checkpoint there was a steady climb of about 1800ft over two and a half miles up to the summit of the Cheviot, the high point of the course. I walked the majority of this, only breaking into a jog on the odd occasions that the angle eased. Most people around me seemed to be adopting the same tactic, and as it was a long straight path following a fence line you could see the field strung out both ahead and behind for quite a long distance. The ground underfoot here was obviously normally boggy but today it was nicely frozen so we were getting good conditions.
Looking back down the path up Cheviot

For the last few hundred feet we got up into the cloud so we lost the panoramic views we had been enjoying so far. I kept thinking we would get through and above it, because it was clear that the sun was not far above us, but unfortunately the summit arrived before the top of the cloud. There were at least three stalwart marshals spaced out over the summit plateau, pretty hardy guys as the temperature was reported as around minus ten up here.

Trail marker near Cheviot summit
From the summit, the track followed a section of "Pennine Way" style slabs for quite a way. I had considered bringing Yaktrax for these because I'd found from my Spine explorations that these slabs can be nastily slippery in cold conditions; however, by the day before the event the hills around Keswick were completely snow-plastered and I assumed from this that the slabs would be covered and Yaktrax unnecessary. As it turned out there was almost no snow on the Cheviots. There were icy patches on the slabs but by concentrating you could avoid them and it was easy enough to make fairly rapid progress. After the longish ascent it was good to get going at a reasonable speed again. I chatted with a Scots runner for a while along here, we both knew the Glencoe area and the West Highland Way path.

A mile or so after the Cheviot summit, the route joined the Pennine Way just before the Auchope Cairn, with a steep descent just beyond this down to "Hut 2" on the PW path. After the slabs on the plateau being quite easy, a lot of us found running down this slope on a frozen surface of grass and mud still needed some concentration  -  I had several slides but managed to hold them before they turned into falls.
Across the slabs on the plateau.

On the final level bit before the hut we could relax a bit with no chance of each step being a potential slip for the first time for a while. Then the hut, which was the second checkpoint, emerged out of the mist and the first marshal to greet me was Phil Owen who I've known for quite a while. Even down here, quite a bit lower than the Cheviot and now out of any snow, it must have been a chilly job.

Approaching the Checkpoint at Hut 2

Phil, who took the previous photo,
marshalling at the hut

The route then followed the Pennine Way northwards for several miles. I've read reports from Spine competitors who have done this section in all sorts of dire conditions, dark, knee-deep bogs, equally deep snow, gale force winds and so on. A cruise for us today, an easy path to follow, no wind and frozen apart from one or two puddles, dry feet all the way if you were careful. It was still probably the worst ground underfoot that we had all day because of the mixture of grass, frozen mud and heather, but easily joggable apart from one or two short rises such as over the Schil, a little hill a mile or so beyond the hut. A bit further on I paused to go through a gate and noticed that I was just 14 miles from the start, exactly half way. The watch said I'd been out three and a half hours; I expected that I might slow down a bit from tiredness over the second half, but we had done the great majority of the climbing now, so it looked as though a finish in under seven hours would be possible so long as I just pushed on steadily.

At the Pennine Way option point, our course took the high level main track rather than the low level bad weather route which goes directly down to Kirk Yetholm. From here  we came down out of the mist and also the ground improved hugely so we had a couple of miles of wonderful running, gently downhill on a wide track with a dry grass surface. A final short ascent over White Law and down the far side led to a junction with St Cuthbert's Way. Here we would leave the Pennine Way and follow St Cuthbert's all the way back to Wooler. Checkpoint 3 was a self-clip checkpoint on the signpost at this junction, and a lady runner who was just ahead of me waited for me to catch up so we could clip each other's numbers without having to take off our sacks, and we carried on together for three or four miles. This was her first trail marathon but she was a mountaineer so we had plenty in common (except age, where I suspect the gap was rather large!). Again the running was good underfoot and gently gently undulating though gradually losing height, we even got a bit of sunshine at one point.

Great conditions on St Cuthbert's Way

We carried on through Checkpoint 4 at the 18,5 mile point and along maybe a mile of minor road to the tiny hamlet of Hethpool. Apart from a couple of remote farms, this was the only inhabited place on the entire route; sparsely populated, this corner of Norhtumberland. We had agreed to go on at our own pace if one of us wanted to push on, and without really realising it I lost my companion on the uphill out of Hethpool. She had thought the cut-off for the finish was seven hours but when I told her it was eight and a half she said that would let her take things a bit easier.

Checkpoint 5 turned up soon afterwards. This was the turnaround point of the half marathon, so from here it could not be more than six or seven miles to the finish, my watch said less than six if the overall 28 was genuine. A final handful of jelly babies (these were available at all checkpoints except the self-clip, and together with a couple of Mars bars were all that was needed to see me round in good shape) and I was off on the final stretch. This started with a bit of a hill which I mostly walked, but once the high point was reached about a mile after the CP, the run all the way back to Wooler from here was brilliant; easy to follow paths, great underfoot, mostly level or slightly descending and with great views all the way. I didn't go flat out because that wasn't the aim of my day, but I enjoyed a steady run all the way and afterwards my watch showed that my three fastest miles of the day came here. The last three or four miles of an event sometimes seem to pass slowly but today I seemed to be back on the track back to the YHA on the outskirts of Wooler in no time.

Fnal few yards into Wooler (photo by Trail Outlaws)
I finished in 83rd place (from 154 starters) in a time of 6:40:41, which would do nicely for a lovely day out with not too much stress and never feeling I was really going hard.

John K had waited around for me to finish. As I suspected he had come in well over an hour earlier in 29th place, another good performance from him. Katrina had also had a good race, finishing the half in two and a half hours and winning the Ladies V50 prize.

Thanks and congratulations to Garry, Tim and all the Trail Outlaws gang and their marshals. For an inaugural running of the event, the thing went like clockwork. I'm sure they have a winner here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

"It was brutal!"

You may take this as the ramblings of an old duffer wanting things to be a bit slower in an age where everyone expects to be able to do what they want immediately; you may be right and I won't be offended. Equally if I offend anyone, it is not intended. If it makes you think a bit, even if you disagree, then that's enough.

We live in an age of hyperbole. In almost every sports interview or report you come across nowadays, nearly every aspect of the story is "incredible" (incredible: beyond belief or understanding - Collins English Dictionary) and performances are frequently "epic" (epic: an episode in the lives of men in which heroic deeds are performed or attempted;  heroic: distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, fortitude, etc). We've got used to this over the years of course, but I had sort of thought and hoped that the quiet backwater of ultra running might have escaped the trend.

When I somehow drifted into this world about 10 years ago my daughter, who had watched a lot of my progressive immersion from the sidelines, observed that ultra runners appeared to be "a sociable bunch of rather attractively deranged characters who behave as though what they are doing is entirely normal." I warmed to the description and I think that's how it was. A bit like rock climbing before it became establishment. You went out and did what you did, learned from the relatively few people who were around in the game, had a beer and went home. No fuss, no hype, no Facebook.

Now don't get me wrong. I welcome the explosion of the ultra running scene over the last ten years, lots more events to go and enjoy all over the place, and without a doubt the top practitioners these days are real world-class athletes. But.

A couple of weeks ago I participated as a running marshal on a Lakeland 100 "recce", an activity which I'm now in my third year of enjoying. You cover a section of the Lakeland 100 course in the company of runners who have turned up to get a bit familiar with the route and your brief is to deal with any safety, injury or major navigational problems (don't let people get too lost). It's always a good day out with nice new people to meet in a beautiful area. This time the section was from Coniston to Buttermere and we had the normal well-organised outing. Some found it a bit harder than others but that's what recces are for, to give you an appreciation of what the event itself involves.

Afterwards though I heard and saw one or two comments describing the course as "brutal" (brutal: cruel; vicious; savage; or harsh; severe; extreme) Well actually, no. We had near perfect conditions for the time of year and followed paths that are used frequently by many Lakeland visitors who would describe themselves as walkers or ramblers. I'm not singling out Lakeland participants in particular, I recently saw Offa's Dyke described as brutal, and similarly extreme descriptions have been used about many other relatively benign courses.

Ah, but you will say,  it's not the ground that makes it extreme.  It's the distance we do in a day, the weather we're likely to meet, it's the overall package that puts it out of the ordinary.  And I might have to agree; even on our modest Lakeland recce, 26 miles is probably a bit more than the average rambler would cover between tea shops; and while many of us have enjoyed a gentle sidle up the Pennine Way in September, the same path in the middle of January is an altogether different proposition. But these are difficulties that we introduce for our own enjoyment; and here's the rub.

Up to now you could pass me off for poking some gentle fun at a bit of natural over-exaggeration in a fast-growing sport; but there's a more serious point here. We participate in an activity that we can engage with at a variety of levels to suit our preferences, skills and experience. As the difficulty level of the event rises we willingly accept a bit more discomfort and potential hazard because we believe for us that the rewards of achievement are worth it. But the more we use extreme language to describe our activities, the more we promote the idea that extreme effort and its consequences (extreme fatigue/exhaustion, injury, long recovery times) are a natural part (sometimes the major part) of the game. We recall with pride how we pushed on close to our limits, enduring screaming joints and muscles,  eating and drinking problems, navigational extra-curricular activities, sleep-deprived losses of judgement and other demons, to arrive broken but triumphant at the finish. And the more we do this, the more it becomes it accepted that this is the norm for the game.

My concern with this is that as the sport grows, with more and more near-exhausted competitors being out in potentially hazardous conditions, accident rates to both runners and those required to get them out of difficulties are going to rise. We have had mercifully few deaths in this game so far, but I think we've been lucky; and if they do start to arise, the individual tragedies involved will not be the only consequences. The media attention they would generate would have a significant detrimental effect on the sport.

Trail and mountain running is an "adventure" type sport that needs a bit of learning to build up skills and experience for progressively more difficult events. Parallels that I have some background in are mountaineering and ski-touring, but there are many others  - ocean sailing, diving, and so on.  To a certain extent these are "Catch 22" games - to survive you need experience, to gain experience you need to survive. Courses help but can only scratch the surface of real knowledge won by the individual. The key is to progress at a rate that gets you out of your comfort zone sufficiently to extend your knowledge but not so far as to put you at unreasonable risk.

The elephant in the room here is that trail running involves organised events whereas the other games I have mentioned are normally played by individuals or groups devising their own outings. An event has a set course (wholly or in part) or covers a known area which is covered in general by marshals "for your safety".  You can afford to push yourself to your limits because if it goes wrong the organisation will get you out. Make the phone call, push the button on your tracker and all will be well. Except that it doesn't work that way. Get into trouble in the less accessible areas of country covered by some of our UK races in bad conditions and you might as well be on the moon. The race co-ordination may have some idea of where you are but be powerless to extract you without significant further personal risk being involved.

We all get unlucky sometimes; accidents happen; while in full control we can still make bad judgements. Everyone in the outdoor game understands this. What I think is unacceptable though is to get yourself into trouble by attempting an undertaking that was beyond your capabilities right from the start. Other than making use of the facilities available to every competitor (food and drink at checkpoints/aid stations, etc),  I think that if you have to resort to the help of others to get you to the finish (navigation, decision-making, provision of food, organisation of kit, etc), then I don't believe you can honestly say you completed the event.

My view, and as normal I don't expect everyone to agree (but I'll try to convince you nonetheless!), is that any competitor about to enter a race should ask themselves the following questions:
1. Have I the competence to complete this event with something in hand?
2. If things turn out more difficult than I believed, have I the judgement to stop before I become a liability?
- and be able to answer a completely honest "yes" to both.

What do I mean by competence to complete?

I think this falls into three main areas.

1. Fitness. If you've never done it, it's an illuminating experience to be at the finish of a demanding event when the leading runners come in. These guys are tired for sure, but almost without exception you get the impression that after a bit of a sit down and a cup of tea they could go out and carry on performing at the same level. Whatever else happened along the way, lack of fitness wasn't going to compromise their race. At whatever level you perform, I think you need to be fit enough so that at the end of the event in normal conditions, you could actually have gone on for several miles and a couple more hills if you had to. I'm often amazed by the amount of heavy breathing I hear in the first quarter, or even the first ten percent, of a long race. Now, it may just be that it's just the individual's particular style, but it doesn't sound good or give me any confidence that they will finish. You need to have enough in the tank to see you through in good shape, and then a bit more.

2. Navigation. We all make mistakes - but the key is can we recognise and correct them? I've been in events where I've seen  lots of runners whose navigation was so sketchy that they were clearly relying on those around them to show them the way. I don't believe they can be considered to have completed the event. Now I'm not denying that when conditions put you up against it then two brains are often better (or to be more precise, faster) than one in solving problems, but that's where both are contributing, not one relying on the other. I think before you enter an event you need to ask yourself "Can I navigate this course totally alone? In whatever conditions are thrown at me. And when my GPS fails. If you can't answer an honest yes to these, then you shouldn't go.

3. Staying safe within the conditions, for the duration of the race. For 30 miles along the coast or around a lowland forest in summer, this is not likely to require a lot of thought or experience. If you set out on a multi-day trip through the mountains in uncertain weather with checkpoints maybe only coming once a day then you need to ask a lot more questions. Have I got the right kit? Not the mandatory kit which is sometimes there only to meet the organiser's insurance requirements, but the right kit which will keep me warm enough, dry enough, and in good enough shape to keep making progress. Have I tested all this in the conditions in which it might be critical? Do I have a proven food/liquid strategy that I know will carry me through the duration of the event? Have I the experience of the amount of sleep deprivation the event is likely to present? How will I react if it rains for 24 hours, if I face gale force winds, if my water bottles freeze at night? Do I have a plan if I have to abandon my race but I can still walk? And if I can't walk? You get the picture. And between these two not-quite-extremes lie the vast majority of events that need an honest assessment of your ability to cope. 

As a final comment on competence, I'll reflect on where I came in. I really think we have to get away from the idea that the hallmark of success in an event is to battle on "heroically" through pain and exhaustion then somehow get to the finish through a supreme effort of will.  For me, the way to finish an ultra is to understand the challenge, decide honestly whether you can meet it, prepare for it fully and execute it competently.

I have huge respect for anyone who has the energy and commitment to organise an ultra event. Without them we would not be able to go out and play. My only comment to (some of) them is that they should be a bit more consistent in attracting and managing entries. "This will be the hardest thing you have ever done" combined with a non-existent (or token) experience qualification does not make sense. I can't see how running events with a regular drop-out rate approaching 50% benefits anyone (one or two "designed to minimise finishers" events excepted!). Most good events these days are fully- or over-subscribed, so I personally think more stringent entry requirements would not only up the completion rate but allow organisers to sleep a bit more easily in that there will be fewer runners out there approaching (or over) their physical or technical limits.

And from our side, we the runners should be a bit less driven by the publicity and status of the race, than by an honest assessment of whether we actually have a chance of completing it safely in the worst conditions. 

In short, runners should attempt events that are going to provide a real challenge without putting either themselves or others at significant risk.

It wasn't brutal, it was just beyond our experience at the time.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Preparing for Dragons

I'm writing this as a sort of "message to self" if you like, to keep my mind straight in tackling next year's Dragons Back race. Now if you've already completed this little jaunt, or have entered and are just wondering how you are going to while away the long evenings between completing each day's running and dinner, then this isn't for you, click out now. But if like me you realise that this is possibly the most demanding undertaking you've attempted in the running game it might be worth staying with me for five minutes or so.

I tried the event in 2015 and didn't finish. If you want to spend another ten minutes reading the full story it's here, but basically I wasn't fully fit so I hatched a strategy to allow for that; there was nothing wrong with the strategy, it allowed me to operate to the best of my ability at the time but it wasn't good enough to finish the race and I ran out of time before the end of Day 3. I was close enough though for me to believe that with a bit more fitness and a slightly better plan another attempt would be worthwhile so I have entered the 2017 race.  This post is about what I think I learned in 2015.

1. Don't underestimate just how tough the route is

A lot of people do. In the 2015 race, 126 runners left Conway, a fully vetted field who had to have demonstrated in their applications that they had at least a reasonable chance of making the finish. 65 actually got there (51%).  Looking sensibly at the statistics for the first three days helps to see why:

Day 1  -  31 miles, 12,500 ft of ascent
Day 2  -  34 miles, 11,600 ft of ascent
Day 3  -  43 miles, 12,200 ft of ascent

These are fell-running figures. To the best of my knowledge there is no trail race currently run in the UK that matches these rates of climb. Day 1 has an average ascent per mile of 403 ft (it's actually double that because half the miles are downhill, but a good enough figure for comparison). The figure for the first 33 miles of the Lakeland 100 (generally thought to be by far the toughest third of an event which is a yardstick for a gnarly UK 100 miler) is 260 ft. And the ground underfoot in the Lakeland is much easier. On the DB Day 1 all competitors will use their hands on some sections. Most runners will find Day 2 harder than Day 1. For the slower (less fit) contenders, cumulative fatigue will make the first half of Day 3, where around 27 miles and 9000 ft have to be covered at an average of nearly 3 miles an hour, the toughest section of the week.

I think as a rough guide, each of the first three days presents a challenge at least equal to half a Bob Graham round (which coincidentally also has a climb rate of just over 400ft per mile).

2. Don't play cutoff roulette

I've done a couple of week-long "continuous"  races where basically so long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other and stop for a couple of hours sleep occasionally you'll finish in the time allowed.  The Dragon isn't like that. Moving over the ground that it covers would often be very problematic in the dark, even with gps, so it makes sense for both runners and organisers that it is run as a stage race in daylight (mostly!). So even on paper, seven hours out of every day are not available for forward progress. In practice, it's more than that. In 2015 I planned to be out on the course for 15 hours a day and set my speed accordingly. I completed Day 1 in 14 hours and Day 2 in 16 (I made a navigational bad judgement on Day 2 which cost at least an hour) so I was hitting my pace plan fine. But I found it didn't leave enough time to recover each day. If you arrive at the overnight camp at 10 or 11pm (when the more competent competitors have been resting and eating for several hours), by the time you've had something to eat and drink, got the worst of the mud off, sorted your feet, unpacked your sleeping stuff and got your kit ready for the next day, it will be well after midnight. And if you want to be away at the first opportunity (6am), you need to be up early enough to have your overnight bag packed and be first into the breakfast queue, so you won't have had a lot of sleep.

I decided that I was just too close to edge last time. For 2017 I will try my best to get fit and competent enough to complete each day in 12-14 hours to leave a better cushion for rest and the odd glitch. I'm going to spend a lot of time between now and next May running in the hills and doing a lot of uphill. 14 hours seems an awfully long time for 30-40 miles of progress. It isn't. For me, it will mean running (jogging) as much of the downhill and flat as I possibly can. In 2015 my strategy was to walk the uphill and flat, and only jog the downs; it wasn't fast enough.

3. Look after your feet

I've done a lot of long races in a lot of bad conditions, and I've never had blisters or any other foot problems. Until the DB.  By the end of Day 2 the medics were telling me I was borderline to get through the week. I think it's safe to say that each day, sooner or later, you will get wet feet. The continuously hard ground will work on that and if you don't spend the time to sort things out, even if it seems too much effort at the day's mid-point stop or by headtorch in a tent at the end of a hard day, it's easy to get into a downward spiral. I won't make that mistake again.

4. Get the route wired.

We're lucky for 2017. We know the route ahead of the event, a luxury that competitors in the first three runnings of the event didn't have. We won't have to make route decisions after the gun has gone off. I have no knowledge of the route beyond Elan (midway point of Day 4) but I will make sure I do by next May. I know that pre-knowledge of the route is thought of as "impure" by some runners, even looked upon as cheating, but if the event is near your limit you need every bit of edge you can get. The gps trace on the race website is, from my knowledge of the areas involved, the easiest way of linking up the probable checkpoints; maybe not the fastest for a real fell-runner but certainly the best for me, so that's the route I'll take. I won't be too proud to use my gps, even on ground which I think I know, if the conditions make it the sensible choice. I can use a map and compass as well as the next guy but gps is much faster. If we get the checkpoints confirmed in advance I'll put them on my gps trace. I suspect that in the conditions we got on the day, the first half of Day 1 in 2015 came as a bit of a shock to anyone who didn't know the ground and wasn't a competent navigator.

So I've got a fair bit to work on during the winter and spring. 

There has been some discussion on the DB Facebook page about suitable preparation races for the event. Well, my view as I alluded to above is that I don't think there are any that truly replicate what you're up against in the UK, certainly not in the winter/early spring. Later in the year you have stuff like the Clif Lakes 10 Peaks, the Lakes 3 x 3000 and the first part of the Lakes in a Day, and I'm sure there are others (such as the Lakes Sky ultra which I haven't done yet but have signed up for next year), but all are too late as warm-ups for the DB. But I personally like to have an event every month or so to keep me sharp and enthusiastic, so for what it's worth here's my run-up to next May, chosen to be fun, to contribute in some way to DB preparation, but above all not to compromise it:-

Late November:  Wooler Trail Marathon  - 28 miles 6000ft
Late December: Tour de Helvellyn  -  38 miles 6000ft
(notice these, and most of the others that follow, are nowhere near DB rate of climb)
Mid January: Spine Challenger 
(planned before my DB entry decision - no help at all to DB but should not compromise it at this stage)
Early February: South Devon Coast Ultra  -  34 miles 4800ft
(coastal series are the most reliable for reasonable weather early in the year)
Mid March: Hardmoors 55  -  55 miles 8000 ft  
(for a longer day out)
Early April: Exmoor Coast Ultra plus  - 45 miles 11,800ft
(best final warm-up I could find, if height figures are to be believed, I did the Exmoor "standard" ultra three years ago which was 35 miles but only about 6000 ft)

No big distances except the Spine Challenger which by it's nature will be a fairly slow affair. Of the others, I find I recover fairly quickly from anything that takes 12 hours or less, especially as I will be treating many of these events as training rather than races. So I think this is a reasonable programme interspersed with the hill training (which will mostly be in the Lakes) and I'm looking forward to it.

That's about it, well enough for now anyway.

If you're a potential DB "tail-ender" like me, hope the training goes well and see you in May.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Lakes in a Day 2016

Saturday 8th October saw the third running of the "Lakes in a Day" event organised by James Thurlow's Open Adventure team. I had taken part in and enjoyed the two previous ones so what was not to like about a third trip down the course? The run starts in Caldbeck, over in the north lands "back o' Skidda", and winds its way over High Pike and Blencathra, Clough Head and the whole Helvellyn/Fairfield chain to Ambleside, then down the west side of Windermere to Newby Bridge, finally finishing half a dozen miles further south at Cartmel. It has a bit of everything the Lakes has to offer and is a great day out, though at 50 miles, 13,000 feet of ascent and plenty of tricky ground underfoot it's no soft touch, much more challenging and varied than say the more famous Lakeland 50.

By this time of the year I sort of feel that the season is winding down gently, after the training effort of the spring and the major target events of the summer, it's time to take things a bit easier and tip the balance a bit more in the direction of enjoyment rather than achievement. That's the way I have approached the Lakes in a Day in the past and I saw no reason for changing now. A fine autumn day out amongst the hills and woods of the Lake District will do fine for an October Saturday, albeit quite a long one as my previous times for the event have been 16hrs 34min in 2014 and 15hrs 38min in 2015.

A 4.30am start from Keswick saw me down at Cartmel in time to catch the buses back to the start. I'd said I would look out for John Kynaston who was also taking part, but across 3 buses in the dark at 5.30am the task proved too difficult so I just grabbed a seat for the sleep up to Caldbeck. On arrival it was straight into the pub for coffee and a sit in the warm until 10 minutes before the race start  -  I've played this particular game before. Venturing outside again, about the first person I saw was John who then immediately interviewed me for his blog, asking what were my two top tips for the day. I suggested that he should not miss filling up with water at the Grisedale Tarn outflow as it is the only source on the long second leg, and to watch the navigation over the final few miles in the dark. John was shooting for a time of around 13 hours so I didn't expect to see him again all day  -  I said I would probably show up around midnight if he was still awake.

James is pretty strict about getting his races away on time so at 8am precisely we were off down the road and then soon up and out onto the fells. As usual I was very near the back after the first 10 minute cavalry charge but started passing people as we got stuck into the first climb up High Pike. I spent a fair bit of this in company with Jacqueline who it turned out had done the race in 2014; we discovered that we had finished within a few minutes of each other, both beating Jon Steele when he was "docked" half an hour for missing the route. This is another feature of the Open Adventure events, they work on a set route on a map which you are given; there are no "dibbers" but each runner carries a tracker and all your timings are based on the information relayed by that. And if you are seen to to have taken an unwitting "shortcut" then time penalties will be applied!

Both previous runnings of the Lakes in a Day had seen good weather and today seemed to be following the pattern, just a few high clouds and an almost perfect temperature, it was shaping up to be a lovely day. After High Pike you're treated to a bit of easy level running along the Cumbria Way track, but when it dives off down to the left our route carries straight on over the more or less trackless Coomb Height. I had mentioned to John K to navigate carefully to the jeep track descending the far side, otherwise you find yourself with a few hundred yards of knee-deep heather, but I needn't have bothered. Since I was here last year all the heather had been removed by a fire so you could run almost anywhere on the hill with no difficulty at all!

The next obstacle is the River Caldew. It was running very high in 2014 so James's team had built a temporary bridge, then last year it was so low that you could skip across the boulders without getting your feet wet.  This year was more typical conditions, necessitating a few yards of knee-deep wading  - not to bad if you don't fall over! After the river is the climb up Blencathra, "Well, an hour of uphill from here" remarked the guy behind me. And actually, that's more or less what it turned out to be. It's hard work for the first two thirds, up deepish and sometimes tussocky grass with no path, but then gets easier as the Bob Graham path is joined for the final third. Joe Faulkner was marshalling on the summit  -   he seems to pop up at most of these Lakeland events.

After that it was an enjoyable easy scramble down Hall's Fell Ridge to the village hall in Threlkeld and Checkpoint 1, which I reached in just under three and a quarter hours from the start. I later found that I was in 169th place at this point which surprised me as I thought I must still be quite near the back, although I had been passing people steadily after the first couple of miles.

For today I had decided against eating lots of the good food available at the checkpoints, on the basis that this slows you down for half an hour or so afterwards, so my main calorie input was Mountain Fuel, which I've been playing with for a year or so now, supplemented by a couple of Shotblok bars and flapjacks. So I was at Threlkeld just long enough to refill the bottles then out again. Outside I saw Keswick Locals Dave and Tracey Troman, so I stopped for the briefest of chats. Dave said that John K was only about twenty minutes ahead of me, but we'd just covered the ground that I suspect John was least comfortable so I expected him to be hours away by the finish.

The climb up Clough Head is quite stiff but it's shorter and much easier underfoot than Blencathra so seems to go relatively quickly, then you are rewarded with a great ridge for miles, only short uphills, all the way to Helvellyn. This is a trip that I do fairly regularly, it's good running with nice views and a frequent bus service back from Ambleside to Keswick. This was probably the section of the course that I did fastest relative to the rest of the field and I arrived at Helvellyn two and three quarter hours after leaving Threlkeld. A bit more easy ridge now but at the back of your mind is the final big effort of the day, the climb up Fairfield. So down the rocky path to Grisedale Tarn, refill a water bottle and get stuck in. It's not long, probably around a thousand feet of vertical, but it's steep and fairly unrelenting and comes at a time when you're starting to tire, having been on the go for six hours or so by now. I felt I was slow but that's relative as I continued to overtake people on the way up. I passed one lady with my usual comment "How's it going?" and she said she had run out of water. On reflection, I suppose it wasn't very helpful to point out she'd just passed a full lake of it. I told her that is was only about five miles to Ambleside though, mostly down hill when you've cracked Fairfield.

And it is. I jogged easily over the rocky tops of Hart and Dove Crags then started the wonderful four miles of continuous gentle downhill. The only "problem" here is that a wall runs the entire length of the ridge with a path on either side and it's easy to convince yourself at almost any point that the one on the other side is better, which can often lead to a lot of crossings. Today I decided to avoid this mental game altogether and stick to the left hand side all the way down. The usual bogs were minimal and it was a lovely run down. Just before the bottom though the mountain wouldn't let us go without a final snap at the heels and we were presented (I was with three or four other runners at this point) with an obvious section of deepish bog ahead, only avoidable by crossing the wall. The general feeling was that as we had fresh shoes waiting in Ambleside, ploughing straight through was the obvious option.

Odd to be running through crowded Ambleside on a sunny Saturday afternoon after over eight hours of relative quiet on the fells. A few cheers though from people who knew about the race, and a great reception from those around the checkpoint at the Church Hall. I reached Ambleside in 8 hours 44 minutes from the start, now in 110th place. The only drop bag you are permitted in this race is a shoe change at Ambleside because the ground underfoot changes quite markedly from fell to trail at this point. I changed shoes and socks, had a couple of cups of tea, refilled water bottles. I must get some better water bottles. I normally use proprietary PET bottles that have had drinks in - Coke, Lucozade, etc - because these are much lighter than the specialist "running" ones and you don't get any PE flavour. But the ones I had brought today had narrow necks and it was taking an age to get each sachet of Mountain Fuel into the bottle; I refilled six or seven bottles during the day so the time added up rather frustratingly. I ate a quick slice of pizza and shoved another in my bag "to go", then was off again, but my inefficiency here was huge, I spent nearly 20 minutes at Ambleside.

From Ambleside, the route follows undulating prepared cycle tracks and country lanes for several miles which I jogged along steadily at maybe 11/12 minute mile pace, then it crosses Claife Heights, a climb of a few hundred feet and descent down to Sawrey and eventually the Windermere shore. In the woods going up through Claife I was passed by four runners going at a good pace; they said they had just worked out that if they cracked on they had a chance of finishing in under fourteen hours. I hope they made it, it seemed like a long shot but I didn't see them again. The ascent through the woods is easy enough, then you are out into open country again for the descent, a lovely track down past two little tarns and then into the sort of pastoral farmland that tells you that you're starting to leave the fells behind. 

When I reached the lakeshore beyond Sawrey it got dark enough to get out a torch. It seemed that I had got further than on my previous completions of this run so I must be going a little bit faster, but I hadn't bothered to look at my previous splits so this could have been due to different conditions or the date being different.

But when it gets dark I'm hopeless. Outside in daylight, even if it's quite gloomy, I can operate pretty well without my glasses and have good enough vision to see distance, the track, my feet and the map/gps/watch etc all perfectly well. But in the dark all that changes. I need my specs and as these are varifocals I have a continuous battle to keep tabs on the track ahead, the ground underfoot and any device I need to consult. It was a fine enough night on Saturday, but if conditions cause the lenses to get steamy or wet the situation gets several times worse. The result is that I'm very liable to trip on rocks, roots, etc. In longer events I compensate by going much slower at night, often dropping to a walk even where I could otherwise run, but in a 50 miler like this you want to keep pushing along a bit. So I was resigned to slowing right down on any uneven ground and just speeding up when we got to bits of easy track or road. I'm seeing the optician next week to explore whether there might be a contact lens option that could work better, but I'm not over-hopeful.

Tracks that would be lovely in daylight but are a bit tortuous in the dark, both to navigate and to run, lead along the lake shore through woods, fields and beaches for several miles, only interrupted by a short stretch of road in the middle. Then a couple of miles before the next checkpoint at Finsthwaite the route leaves the lake near the YMCA centre climbs a few hundred feet again up to a little tarn at High Dam, then down a rocky path through woods to the checkpoint in the village hall. 

The whole section of the course from where you first hit the lakeshore to the finish in Cartmel, about 15 miles in all, can be tricky at night. There are many paths and options, a lot of turnings you have to get right, not much permanent signage  and in some places the paths you need to use are not marked on the OS maps. To make things easier, on the first run in 2014 James's team put luminous arrows on the section from the YMCA to Newby Bridge, about 4 miles in all. A lot of runners, me included, still took wrong turnings and had to find ourselves again, particularly on the bit south of Newby Bridge, so in 2015 the YMCA to the finish was marked which made things a whole lot easier, and was a major factor in my improved time over the two years. This year, the whole of the route from Ambleside to the finish, I think about 22 miles in all, was marked!

I reached Finsthwaite 12 hours and 37 minutes from the start, in 102nd place. I reflected that if all had gone to plan, John K should just about be hitting the final couple of miles of road into Cartmel by now (he was). Tea, soup, change of shirt as the night was getting a bit cooler, refill one bottle. These things should take no real time, yet checking my watch it was on 12 hours 53 as I walked out of the door and back into the night.

I wasn't really bothered though. I had had a great day so far, and with over 3 hours left to cover the 7 or 8 miles to the finish I was going to make it easily before midnight. Three or four runners were behind me as I tackled the short but steep little up and over through the woods from Finsthwaite to Newby Bridge. I asked if anyone wanted to pass but everyone seemed happy enough with my pace, brisk walk up gentle jog down. They all went past as we hit the road in Newby Bridge though as I stopped when a voice from the darkness exclaimed "Hey, Andy Cole!" It was Billy Burns who has a caravan in Newby Bridge, and with whom I had shared the "sweeping" duties at the Lakeland 100 reccies earlier in the year. A brief word or two then Billy jogged with me as far as the Swan pub, where we wished each other well. There was good support from people outside the pub and other bystanders as we went through the village, then it was out into the darkness again.

I expected the bit of low moorland to Brow Edge to be boggy and it was, but then I knew that the markings would make the final bit of cross country round Bigland Tarn to the Cumbria Coastal Way and over Speel Bank easy to follow, and they did, then I was out onto the final two miles of narrow country lane to the finish.  I should have looked at my watch here but I felt I had made my pacing decision back at Finsthwaite so I didn't bother. The road dips down past a farm then climbs for about half a mile, up a slope which is runnable after the first short distance, then it's a gentle downhill all the way to Cartmel. I jogged down enjoying the evening and the satisfaction of having completed this great event for a third time; I felt in pretty good shape for a pensioner who's just covered fifty mountain miles.

There was encouragement from outside the pub in Cartmel, then it was soon through the village, out to the school and the finish under the arch. I arrived in 96th place, finally breaking into the top hundred and the first third of the field. My time was 15 hours............and 41 seconds!

There is always good food at the end of this event so I went through to the hall and dropped my bag on a chair. As I was getting my first cup of tea John K appeared, pleased that he'd had a good run and finished in a minute or two over 13 hours, his "gold medal" target. I got some food and we chatted for a while. He said this would be his last event of the year but I tried to persuade him to come to the Wooler Trail Marathon next month (a few days later, I found that I had succeeded!)

The Lakes in a Day is a great event, one of the very best the Lakes has to offer, a wonderful course and great organisation by James and Open Adventure. I would recommend it to anyone. I can see a fourth entry on the horizon already.....