Tuesday, 30 August 2011

UTMB 2011

Well if I was going to have a bad race this year I would have preferred it not to be this one, but c'est la vie. I won't tell a long tale, I'll leave that to those who had more successful outcomes, but here is the outline of my trip.

I was a hundred percent certain I would complete the course, I'd had a good year so far and felt fit and ready to go in the run up to the race. On the day itself I didn't feel so great; not unwell, just a bit uncomfortable, I put it down to a bit of nervousness or eating too much in the twelve hours before the start, but it persisted through the following night and day. The start was delayed by five hours until 11.30 on Friday night to allow the runners to chase rather than get fully involved in the passage of a cold front through the region, but the delay was communicated well in advance so was really no problem.

The weather was nevertheless interesting. We had a pretty constant downpour in the few hours up to the start and which continued for the first three or four hours of the race, getting everyone thoroughly soaked, as well as making the downhills very slippery. Then the stars came out and we hoped for a sunny dawn, which unfortunately was not to be. Daylight over the Bonhomme brought clouds, a drop in temperature and a very cold wind. My section of the field was treated to a proper snowstorm over the Col de la Seigne, but by Mont Favre the sun had finally come out and we enjoyed a warm and pleasant run down to Courmayeur.

Despite never feeling on top form, I had a good enough run to Courmayeur, keeping spot on my schedule which was to work up gradually to a couple of hours ahead of the cut-offs by that point, after which you can beat them at a very much slower pace. I was eating and drinking OK, certainly better than on my previous attempts on this course, and while I certainly wasn't going to break any records I was still confident of getting the trip. I enjoyed the final steep descent to Courmayeur and jogged into the checkpoint feeling better than at any point so far.

It was great to get into some dry clothes after being wet for about fifteen hours. Feet and shoes seemed to be coping well, so after I was sorted out I went to get a meal. Problem was, after I'd had a bit of ham and bread, I just couldn't seem to eat any more. I eventually managed half a plate of pasta and a couple of cups of coke. I decided I could sort it out as I went, and started the long climb up to the Bertone hut in the now warm sunshine. I made sure I sipped water and took salt tabs on the way up, and though it felt like a bit of a pull I didn't stop, overtook as many people as overtook me, and reached the Bertone on time. But once out of the trees, although still sunny, it was immediately cold, a freezing wind at 6.30pm. Everyone was putting all their warm clothes back on and I followed suit. I still didn't feel like eating so I drank some coke and set off for the Bonatti hut. This is where my race really fell apart, the cold and wind seemed to drain me of all energy, and apart from a few sips of water and the odd fruit pastille I wasn't doing anything to combat it. The section took me 45 minutes longer than it should have done and I arrived at the Bonatti very cold and tired. I tried sitting down for a bit but nothing improved. The hut staff said I could warm up inside, I said I would like to sleep for an hour so they found me a bunk and some blankets and said they would wake me in time to get down to Arnuva before the cutoff. I was shivering with all my clothes on under the blankets but eventually warmed up and slept a bit.

I felt a bit better when they woke me up, but as soon as I put my jacket and shoes on and hit the outside air I started shivering pretty uncontrollably. No options now though so I downed a couple of cups of hot coffee hoping they would put a bit of life back in me and set off down to Arnuva. I improved from freezing to just cold but was still feeling weak and I was very slow even on the downhills. I got to Arnuva just after the cutoff but the marshal there said they had been extended so I was OK for a half an hour. I thought about it. On a warmish night I might have pressed on and hoped to get through it, but I've been over the Col de Ferret in bleak conditions before and I knew deep down it wasn't very sensible in my current state so I called it a day.

Of course, as usual with a DNF, you wake up four or five hours later feeling absolutely fine but this time even the morning after I knew I'd made the right decision. It was a tough outing and I have great respect for those who made it round. Of the 2309 starters, 1131 finished, a lot fewer than usual. Not an excuse, I just wasn't up to the trip this time, I need a few more things in my favour. But in any case it was still a great experience in the unusual conditions, and anything learned in these hills is never wasted. I will complete this event one day but this just wasn't going to be the year.

Congratulations to the finishers who all had great runs in the various races, to Ritchie, Mark, Bob A, both John M's, Neil, Borkur and anyone who I know that I forgot. Commiserations to Jon and Shirley, George and Karen, Helen, Flip, and above all Jez for whom it must have felt very disappointing. Next year will be better, guys. But for me the inspirational performance of the weekend has got to be  Graeme.  After a year of injury, disappointment and inactivity, he had enough determination to dream that he would be running through Chamonix last Sunday having completed the UTMB. He was.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Touring in Style

With only 4 weeks separating the Lakeland 100 from the UTMB I wondered what to do about training, how to keep ticking over without doing anything too punishing. In the end I decided that a couple of 5 milers a week and a bit of hill walking around the middle weekend would do the trick. When I discovered that on August 10th I would be seeing Julia off back to Gatwick from Geneva airport after a week's climbing it all became too clear, the best hillwalking in Europe was on the doorstep, I would just have to do a Tour. About 4 days should cover it without too much stress so I booked a flight home for the 14th. With all the usual TMB paraphenalia, plus a sheet sleeping bag, towel and washkit, enough spare clothes to deal with weather changes and to make the evenings a bit more pleasant for both me and my fellow refuge/gite occupants, sunscreen for 4 days and a couple of maps, I certainly wasn't going to travel light, in fact my sack weighed in at over 6kg, but that wasn't the point, this was to be a walk not a run. And in fact that's the way it turned out; I walked every step of the flats and uphills, and only broke into a shamble on the downs when it was easier than walking, the steeper descents in practice.

Day 1: Chamonix to the Refuge Croix de Bonhomme, 27.9 miles, 9504ft ascent, 9hrs 45min.

I left the faded but somehow still charming grandeur of the Hotel Richemond at 8am on a cloudless morning and was soon off alongside the river to Les Houches with the Col de Voza on the skyline. When I reached the col I still hadn't decided on a detailed game plan. The classic TMB walk skirts the valley side around to Les Contamines, losing no height, whereas the UTMB trail drops way down to St Gervais almost 700ft lower than Chamonix. I pondered over a Mars bar, then made a decision. I would follow the UTMB trail in its entirety - at least that meant I wouldn't have to make any more decisions.  I set off up to the Chalet at La Charme, then down the 3000ft drop through the treelined ski area to St Gervais.

Les Contamines and the distant Bonhomme pass from La Charme
Chalet at La Charme
Down the piste toward St Gervais

The reward was the beautiful Sentier de Val Montjoie all the way through woods and pastures along the stream up to Les Contamines, where I sat eating a late lunch at around 2pm in the town square. But there was till a fair way to the Bonhomme col, gentle for the first part up to La Balme, then tougher up to the top

Towards La Balme
Final ascent to Bonhomme (lowest point on ridge ahead)
In the UTMB race all this territory from La Charme to the Bonhomme and beyond is covered in the dark, so it was a real joy to see it all in daylight. From the Col de Bonhomme the trail traverses the ridge to the left, slightly rising again to the Croix de Bonhomme refuge at around 2500m altitude. I reached the hut at 5.45pm, plenty of time to carry on down to Chapieux but I like being in the mountains rather than the valleys so I checked in for the night, feeling that I'd earned my dinner.

The Bonhomme refuge

Day 2: Refuge Croix de Bonhomme to Rifugio Elena, 32.6 miles, 9715ft ascent, 12hrs30min.

This was going to be my big day as I was aiming for the Elena right from the start. I was first out of the hut at 7am and down the long descent to Chapieux. This is tricky at night because it's steep and in many places there are numerous pathlets rather than one clear trail, but in the daytime when I could see both the detail and the bigger picture at the same time it was a real cruise and I was down in under an hour, just about coinciding with the general leaving time at Chapieux. It's 3000ft from here up to the Col de la Seine, but the first 1000ft are done on a traffic-free road  - traffic-free that is apart from the donkeys which seem to be gaining popularity as a means of carrying your bags while walking the TMB!

Down to Chapieux
And up towards the Col de la Seine
The climb to the col itself is steady but with a very smooth track and goes quite quickly. I was greeted on top by a chilly wind  - I've been up there half a dozen times and never known it different. For some reason I decided to take a photo of my sack at the summit cairn, after which my camera kindly informed me that its memory was full, so that was it  - and I hadn't got to any of the spectacular views yet!
But then it was down into Italy and the warm sun was beating the chilly wind so things were looking up again.

I spent all of this day gazing upon the spectacular wild side of the Mont Blanc range, none of your tasteful trees and gently-sloping glaciers here, all rock and sun and crazy tortured ice. I remembered climbs done in the past, the soaring South Ridge of the Aiguille Noire; the remote Gugliermina pillar on the Aiguille Blanche where we had a freezing bivouac on the Col Innominata after not quite making the trip in the day;  later on, the beautiful Route Major on the Brenva face of Mont Blanc, and the long tiring way down from the Grands Jorasses after climbing the Walker Spur on the north side. A bit wistful too for I know my days of Alpine Grands Courses are over now, but I still love these hills and it was a privilege just to be there and reflect on "those happy highways where I went, and cannot come again".

But I was playing a different game now and the day passed easily enough, quickly down to the Rifugio Elizabetta then up again to the Arete de Mont Favre, the lovely descending traverse ending so unpleasantly in the ski resort desecration of the Plan Checrouite. But the descent to Courmayeur was good, no dust cloud being kicked up by runners ahead today. Although I knew it would probably cost me my dinner at the Elena, I just couldn't resist stopping for lunch in Courmayeur, raw ham paninis and ice cream washed down with a litre of coke. Fortified by that the near 3000ft back up to the Bertone didn't seem bad at all, I didn't bother to get my poles out, just drifting up the well graded zig-zags to the hut.

Not far beyond the hut I had a bit of cow trouble. Picture the scene: the trail is a horizontal balcony maybe three feet wide, above and below is very steep grass, and coming round a corner I came upon a herd of cows parked on the path. They didn't want to leave the path and neither did I, we all thought it better for our health that we stayed on the horizontal. I herded them along in front of me for maybe a couple of hundred yards, looking for a better place; there wasn't one, neither were they inclined to move very quickly  - their territory I suppose. Eventually we reached a spot where the uphill slope relented marginally and I scrambled up and round. Further along the path for the next mile or so I came upon narrow tracks that left the main trail on the uphill side, ran parallel for thirty yards or so then returned. Next to a superb track they could only have one purpose  - I just hadn't been patient enough to keep herding until one of these "bovine bypasses" turned up.

This is one of the very best parts of the whole TMB, a good track and spectacular views. But eventually the bit of up to the Refugio Bonatti arrived and so I came to the hut. At 6.15pm I could justify staying here the night, but it was great weather and I was feeling good so I pushed on. A loping descent to Arnuva (the half-way point in time for the majority of UTMB competitors though at over 60 miles well over half the distance) then a little sting in the tail with the best part of 1000ft back up to the Elena. I arrived at 7.30 and as I walked into the Rifugio people were eating. The crucial question, was I still in time for dinner? The chef would be consulted. The word came back, it was OK, eat now, check in later. The plate of spaghetti was a good enough meal, but it was followed by veal and ratatouille with polenta, apricot tart, fresh fruit and coffee. I do love Italy.

Day 3: Rifugio Elena to Col de Forclaz, 25.5 miles, 6607ft ascent, 9hrs45min

The Col de Grand Ferret is the high point of the TMB (unless you take the Fenetre d'Arpette from Champex to to Forclaz, which the UTMB doesn't) but at the Elena you're quite a long way up already so in less than an hour from starting out at 7,30am I was up and over, arrivederci Italia and bonjour La Suisse. The trail down to La Peule is normally brilliant, except last summer when it was a slippery slide all the way, very runnable but this time I just strode out at an easy but fast walk. The sun was warming up and I stopped to take my long-sleeved top off at a spot where six years previously Jan and I had sat and watched a huge bird of prey, a lammergeyer we thought and hoped, circle effortlessly in the thermals with hardly a flicker of wing movement. Today I had to make do with the squeal of a marmot poking his head out of a hole not twenty feet from me to see what the day had to offer.

At La Peule the TMB trail goes straight down to Ferret then along a valley trail to La Fouly, and so did the race last year due to the difficult conditions; but this years race takes two significant detours, one to the left before Ferret and one to the right after it, both of which involve significant height gain but are both stunning tracks (if you're in a state to appreciate them during the race....). I followed these then the trail down the river and along the amazing Crete de Saleina down to Praz de Fort. I was hoping for a cafe there but no luck. But all was well and I got my cheese sandwich and pint of coke at Issert just a bit further on. 

Issert is the beginning of the end, for although you are still a long way from Chamonix, this is where the roller coaster 30 mile home stretch starts. From here there are almost no flat bits, it's up or down all the way to the end. The first climb up to Champex winds through the forest along the Sentier des Champignons, along which are many carved tree stumps -  mushrooms yes, but also all kinds of animals and insects, and at one point a pot of soup and a bottle of wine. Champex was Jan's favourite stop when we walked the Tour six years ago, and when I got there this time I saw a vintage Bugatti (her favourite car) parked outside the Hotel des Glaciers (where we had the best meal of the trip)  - I just had to send the text. Then I was up and out of the town and on the track down to Champex Bas. At one point I came upon an adder crossing the track in front of me. It didn't like the hot stony ground much as its movements were quite jerky, but it seemed completely oblivious to me as I stopped to watch it.When it reached the grass its became much more silken and the beautiful creature was soon out of sight. 

Next came the climb up to the Bovine Alp. I was tempted to go over the higher Fenetre d'Arpette because it was a beautiful day and I hadn't been up that way since traversing the ridge of the Ecandies at least twenty years ago, but I had made my decision to follow the UTMB course and I would stick with it. The Bovine climb preys on the minds of UTMB suitors because though it's not the biggest, it is one of the toughest on the course and it comes quite late on.  After passing that way a few times now, I divide it into four sections, the jeep track, the steep track, the stream crossings, and the "bad news" (this is how the guide book we used on our first Tour described the final pull up over the boulders and tree roots through the trees to the alp), and taken one at a time they're not too bad. 

Then it was the long gentle descent to the Col de Forclaz, reached at 5.15pm. Again I had time to go on, but I had no personal knowledge of places to stay in Vallorcine, Trient is a gloomy little place down in its almost completely sunless valley, and I had stayed at the Forclaz before. I was happy to get checked in, have a shower and spend the next hour and a half sinking beers on the sunny terrace. Now when Jan and I stayed here in 2005 we had chicken and chips for dinner. Daughter Julia, who had done the Tour a few years earlier with one of her friends, said "yes, we had chicken and chips there too." No prizes for guessing what the menu was going to be.then; they feed you well here, but if you came two consecutive nights I suspect you might be a tad disappointed.

Day 4: Col de Forclaz to Chamonix,  18.4 miles, 5548ft ascent, 7hrs30min

The final run in but still no pushover. I was away after the best breakfast of the trip and soon down to Trient in the cool of another cloudless morning, though the waitress had warned there was some risque d'orage apres midi. As I stopped to take off my fleece in preparation for the next climb, a large tick landed on my rucksac. Well, better there than on me I thought as I knocked it off with a pole. I been close to literally hundreds of animals on the trip, and hadn't given these bugs a thought, I would be a bit more circumspect in future.

The climb up to Catogne is long and fairly steep but well engineered and with a good surface. A great place for poles, I wouldn't be without them on this sort of terrain. On bouldery and more technical ground I find they just get in the way, but ascents like this are what they were made for. I got into that effortless rhythm that you normally only achieve on a ski ascent, where every move is identical and economical and you can let your mind wander without having to concentrate on the ascent at all. I must have wandered off a bit too much, because it was only on emerging onto the alp that I discovered the sky had covered over completely and a wind was springing up. But familiar sights started to appear to let me know that I was getting nearer home  - the Emossons dam across the valley, Mont Buet behind it, and on my side of the valley the Posettes chair lift, accessing a lot of excellent but not too serious off piste ski-ing if you're ever passing that way at the right time.

Down in Vallorcine I felt a chocolate deficiency so I called into the station bar for a Mars bar and a Coke. As I left to set out on the Chemin des Diligences (the old coach road) up to the Col des Montets, there was a clap of thunder from across the valley. Slightly unnerving. I've had my fair share of electrical storms in the mountains and while the experience may well be character-building it's definitely unpleasant at the time. But looking at the sky and feeling the weather, it seemed less of a hot weather storm than a gradual change in the weather, may be a new front coming in. In these circumstances you usually get a bit of precursive unpleasant but not too serious weather for a few hours before things start to go bang in a big way. I decided it was going to be OK.

By the Col des Montets it was raining steadily so for the first time in the trip I pulled out the waterproof and set off up the claimed sixty zig-zags to the final high point, the Tete aux Vents. With the rain and the rocky track it was rather like a normal summers day in the Lake District. By the time I had traversed halfway to the Flegere however the rain had stopped and the atmosphere was much warmer again. I could finish in comfort, but good old Mont Blanc had had his say, just letting us know who was really in charge around here. I stopped for lunch at the Flegere, but there were lots of people and lots of noise, I had really finished up at the Tete des Vents, the spell was broken now so I sloped off down through the trees to the big town below.

Overall  104.4 miles,  31,374ft ascent,  39hrs30min.

Interesting that without hurrying at any point my total walking time was well inside the 46 hours allowed for the UTMB. This proves or prevues nothing of course, it's a bit like saying that if you can do individual Bob Graham sections within the time allowed then the round itself will be a cruise. But what it does reinforce I think are the wise words of my friend from Yorkshire, who always says that to get round these big events you don't have to be fast, you just have to keep going.

But the real reward for me was that the trip, which started out as a bit of a training exercise, turned into a wonderful journey through the mountains. I was very lucky with the weather. At times, particularly early and late in the day, I saw very few other souls for many miles and was able to take in fully the beautiful and dramatic environment through which this often overused and abused trail wanders. It's an experience I won't forget for a long time.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Lakeland 100

I had a bit of unfinished business with the Lakeland 100, having had to pull out last year with 89 of the 105 miles completed; on the other hand with the UTMB coming up just 4 weeks later I didn't want to feel too trashed at the finish. This is a big, burly event, nearly 7000m of climbing, difficult ground underfoot for a lot of the way and tricky navigation on the wilder sections which nearly all come in the dark. I thought 36 hours would be a reasonable target on which to base a timetable.

A few familiar faces appear in Coniston, Jon Steele, Shirley Colquoun, John Vernon, Flip Owen, all enjoying the warm sunshine just before the 5.30pm start. Then Joss Naylor sounds the hooter and we're off. One of the four big climbs, up to the Walna Scar pass, is in the first leg but everyone has lots of enthusiasm at this stage and the 7 miles and 2200ft of ascent go quickly with stunning views everywhere, getting me to CP1 at Seathwaite in 1hr34, 10 minutes faster than planned and around the middle of the field. The next two legs to Eskdale then on to Wasdale Head have no big climbs (around 2000ft in total for the 12 miles) but plenty of opportunities to twist an ankle or get your feet wet - even on a dry weekend like this the knee-deep Lake District bogs can catch you out. I arrive at CP3 Wasdale Head after 4hr45 feeling pretty good but knowing that this is where the real work starts.

Soup, tea and coke, then on with the headtorch and off to tackle Black Sail pass. Wasdale to Buttermere has over 2300ft of ascent in the first five miles, up and down stony paths and almost paths. Tonight there is no mist or rain so you can see headlights ahead, I still have to think a bit to find the right stream crossing going up Black Sail, the way down the other side, the bridge over the river before Black Sail Hut, and the gap in the wall coming down from Scarth Gap but it all goes OK. I'm followed over all this territory by a French guy, who declares at that "surely no-one can find this route without some local knowledge!" - not really true but I get his point, this is not like the TMB. There is no moon tonight but no clouds at all, and descending into uninhabited Ennerdale gives us fantastic views of the stars. Eventually we reach Buttermere lake, then it's a gentle couple of miles jog around to CP4 in the village. I'm there a minute or two past 1am and with the cutoff not until 3am that's fine. I stop for a drink and some food and just as I am about to leave Shirley arrives and carries on through almost right away. We catch two other guys at the first turning point, and the four of us then do the majority of the next climb, the third of the four big ones over (another) Sail Pass, together. I remember that the final mile or so down to Braithwaite has a great angle and surface, so I say I'm going to run it all. Shirley comes with me and we arrive at Braithwaite together, 33miles in, at 9hrs44 from the start.

Again Shirley pushes on almost straight away, but I say I'm going to take some time here. I decided beforehand that around 24 hours is the most I can manage effectively in a single push, so I will break this event into four sections and have longer "recuperation stops" at Braithwaite (33m), Dalemain (59m), and Kentmere (82m).  These are big checkpoints that serve meals, and also have space for you to sit (or lie) around for awhile to get your head around the next section. Braithwaite in particular is a great place to reach, marking the end of the really wild part of the course and coming before the easiest 25 miles or so. I take in plenty of pasta, rice pudding and tea, change my wet socks for dry ones, and leave after about 30 minutes rest.

There are two completely flat miles out of Braithwaite, but I'm feeling good and I don't want to spoil that with indigestion so I settle for a steady walk. Somewhere along here it gets light enough for the torch to go back in the bag. A longish but not arduous uphill then gets me to Latrigg and the Back'o'Skidda track, by which time I'm ready to run again. These sections from Braithwaite to Dalemain contain lots of runnable ground so I try to make the most of them. I run the first one to Blencathra Centre mostly on my own. From here the route drops down through a few steep fields to a disused railway line which we follow for a mile or two, and along here I catch up with Jamie who seems to be going about my speed so we carry on together. Just before the end of the railway we catch Shirley again; she says she's not doing too well, being unable to eat very much. There's a significant climb from here up to the Old Coach Road. I take it very slowly and steadily, Shirley and Jamie a bit faster so they reach the high point well before me. The Old Coach Road, another very runnable track, snakes off across the moor towards Dockray for another 3 or 4 miles. I overtake Shirley who has stopped for a breather, and just before Dockray catch Jamie again. Dockray is the nearest checkpoint to halfway in distance (49 miles) and I still feel remarkably good. Jamie and I run almost the whole of the next long (10 mile) section together. It goes downhill on tracks through woods at first then follows a beautiful rising balcony singletrack above Ullswater. By now it's around 9am and starting to get warm, it's going to be another cloudless day. Jamie and I reach Dalemain just under 17 and a half hours after leaving Coniston, good going as my plan was for 18. 

Another half hour stop and a good meal here, more pasta followed by Swiss Roll and custard, with the usual (for me) pint of tea. I have a fresh pair of shoes here too but decide not to change  - for the first time in a real event I have been wearing the relatively new super-cushioned Hokas and they have proved excellent; in fact after changing my socks at Braithwaite I don't look at my feet again until I get back to Coniston. I head out at a steady walk along the river towards Pooley Bridge. Jamie comes with me, he is clearly a faster runner but this is is first long ultra and he says he thinks my tactics seem to be working so he'll tag along. Dalemain, which I leave at 11.30am is also the start point for the Lakeland 50 race, which leaves here at 12.30 for a 4 mile preliminary loop then follows the same course as the L100 until the finish. We calculate that the first L50 runners will start passing us at around 2pm.

The stage from Dalemain, through Pooley Bridge and over to Howtown is one of the easiest on the course, 7 miles, less than 1000ft of climbing and easy underfoot. We walk strongly to the highpoint at roughly halfway, then run the rest to Howtown. The next leg from Howtown to Mardale Head is an altogether different proposition, beginning with the biggest climb on the whole course up to High Kop on the High Street ridge. Initially the climb is just steady, but it is by now a very hot day and there is not a breath of wind. Fusedale feels like a furnace. Just here the leaders of the L50 come past - and these guys are running! But another great feature of this event is that from here to the finish we will be passed by L50 competitors who always seem to offer a word or two of encouragement to those of us who have reached exactly the same place by a rather longer oute. The final 1000ft of the climb are steep and tough. I sense that Jamie is falling steadily further behind me but my rule is never to stop on a climb so I shout back a word or two of encouragement, he says keep going I'll get there. I don't see him again and found out later that he stopped at the next CP, a shame because he was going really well up until then. At the top, a few hundred yards of easy walk is followed by wonderful downhill grassy slopes all the way to Haweswater, so the running is easy again. I'm not going as fast as most of the L50 runners however, and down here one of them recognises my West Highland Way teeshirt as he goes past and shouts to me. It turns out to be Steve Weston who ran in the WHW this year, and is having a good run today also.

But when we reach the lake the second problem of this long (9 mile plus) stage kicks in. Four miles of tortuous singletrack along the lakeside, rocky ups and downs and hot hot hot. I'm relieved to reach the Mardale Head CP, feeling for the first time pretty battered. Tea and soup changes the outlook a fair bit, and I resolve to take the next climb up to Gatescarth Pass fairly slowly. I do, and it goes, then I run (or rather jog!) all the way from the top down Longsleddale to Sadgill. The little climb up from here takes more out of me than it should, as it did last year, and I can't run down the other side. I feel a bit queasy here, normally a sign of low electrolytes. I've been taking Succeed caps but maybe not enough for the hot conditions. I take another now, but I don't really have enough water left to dissolve it and I throw up almost immediately. I sit by the track for five or ten minutes to compose myself then walk the final mile or two to the Kentmere CP very slowly.

Entering the hall at Kentmere I feel pretty awful. I certainly can't contemplate eating or drinking anything, I just stretch out full length on a bench. Although I assure the checkpoint staff that I'm OK, just need a rest, that's far from how I feel. My race has fallen apart in a very short time, I can't imagine going on from here. Half an hour later I feel no better. I'm going to have to pull out again, I've not even got as far as last year. Maybe these long events are just too big for me. I'll have to pull out of the UTMB too, it just wouldn't be sensible to start. I've reached my limit in ultra running.

Eventually, the voice of reason gets heard. You've got lots of time left, why make a decision now? Just hang around a bit longer.

After about an hour and a quarter I start to feel just a bit human again. I have a cup of tea and a small plate of pasta. I don't relish them, but it's a start. No good reason not to go on. I'll take the next climb up Garburn pass very, very gently. Maybe I'll get by. I get up and over the pass,  then walk steadily down the other side in the company of a L50 runner who insists his name is just Moose - a local from Cockermouth and a really nice guy, he helps me a lot. On the next climb up from Troutbeck I tell him to go on, I'll take it steadily, so he does. It's now dark again, and as I walk up to the high point above Jenkin Crag I remember being here last year, seeing John Vernon's light getting fainter and fainter as he pulled ahead of me into the distance. It occurs to me that I'm going better, and feeling better, this year - maybe I'm on the way back! My pace quickens on the downhill to Ambleside, more tea in the CP there and I'm good to go, though still tired.

I know the way over Loughrigg to Skelwith Bridge having walked, run, or biked it many times, and I pick up three L50 runners who seem happy to tag along, and I'm happy to have the company now well into my second night out. On the short road section down to the bridge we meet Sarah, a L100 runner who joins our band, and the 5 of us continue together for most of the way to the finish. At the next CP at Chapel Stile there is a log fire and beef stew on offer, it tastes wonderful, and for the first time since Kentmere I'm confident again that I'm going to make the finish.

The first three miles of the next leg comprise a rocky, boggy, undulating, difficult to follow track along the south side of Langdale. Sarah is an Ambleside local and knows it; the rest of us are more than happy to let her do the work. Then it's a steep climb up to the pass above Blea Tarn, down to the tarn and then probably the worst track on course skirting Blea Moss down to the Wrynose Pass road. By the time we reach the road we are all soaked to the knees again, but on the plus side it is starting to get light. Down the road, then a simple two mile "up hill and over" jeep track to the final CP at Tilberthwaite. I'm starting to feel really good again now, and vote myself a cup of coffee, the first of the event, for a bit of added go on the last steep climb. I'm wanting to get away now but unwilling to leave the other four who have definitely helped me over the last couple of legs, so we set out together on the final steep 900ft climb. By the time we get to the high point there are three of us, the others have said carry on they'll get there soon. By now my bad patch is well and truly over and I feel I could carry on for hours. We discuss running down to the finish but it's rocky ground, so we walk. A few hundred feet and then its an easy walk to the finish. The L50 guy decides to wait for his companion so Sarah and I carry on down the last mile or so together. We could run now, but we agree not to. She's tired and I always find these last few minutes of a big event too precious to waste in an effort for a few minutes off the clock. We actually lose 5 places in this last mile or so to people jogging, but for me this is nothing compared to letting the high go on for a few minutes longer before you have to face the music at the finish. We save our presentation run for the last hundred yards or so, and cross the line back in Coniston 37 hours and 39 minutes after setting out, 94th out of 226 starters.

I feel great, the Lakeland ghost laid. I get a meal, then a shower, then wander off for a few hours' sleep before the prizegiving.

A great event, certainly the biggest and most satisfying one I've completed. The course, organisation, checkpoints, and all the people who run them were superb. The winner's time of under 22 hours, breaking the previous record by nearly an hour, was an amazing performance. This race is a classic, every serious ultra runner should give it a go.

(no photos sorry - I'm currently in Chamonix for a bit of climbing and can't make the portable technology work!)