The bad news was that it was only 2 weeks after the UTMB and I was trying to recover from a heavy cold. The good side was that I knew it was a great course and the weather forecast looked very promising. And it's always nice to be in at the start of a new event, for this was to be the inaugural running of the Ultimate Trails 100k, which describes a biggish circle around the South-Eastern quarter of the Lake District, starting and finishing at the Brockhole Visitor Centre near Ambleside. "100k" is in fact a rather modest description of the treat on offer as most of the watch technicians on the day had its length as somewhere between 66 and 68 miles, confirming what I had found when I reccied the route back in May. The 11000ft of climbing is also not huge, but the course has a fair amount of technical ground which makes it a rather bigger day out than say the Lakeland 50 while still being a long way short of a typical "100 miler" undertaking. My reccie over two days, missing out a couple of miles or so of the total course, had taken a total of 15 and a half hours, so I reasoned 18 was a good enough target for a single push. After two hard recent events, this should allow me to take things a bit easier and, as my friend and mentor Murdo would put it, take some time to smell the flowers.
I wandered up on the Friday afternoon, registered and met up with John and Katrina Kynaston and their friends Jonny and Frances, all of them here to run, with the ladies taking on the 50k course starting at the halfway point of the 100. After fish and chips in Ambleside we wished each other luck and sidled off to our various tents and cars for the night.
The 100k started at 6am on Saturday morning. It's not a time I'm very familiar with so I was fairly surprised to find it still dark and had to fumble around in my carefully pre-packed rucksack for the torch before making my way down to the start.
|Trying to wake up for the start (photo John K)|
I met John and Jonny and wished them well, I didn't expect to see them again. JK in particular was a man on a mission, Katrina was due to start from the half way point in six hours time and he was going to try and catch her before the finish. I think there were maybe a hundred and fifty or so in the field and we were off on the dot, a loop of the Brockhole grounds then out into the breaking day.
|Countdown to the start|
By the time we were out of the grounds it was light enough to put torches away, and it was clear that the weather forecast was good, it was going to be a beautiful day. I won't waste a lot of time describing the route (you can go back to my post on the May reccie if you're interested), I'll just recall a few random impressions of the day.
Sunrise at the top of the Garburn pass was so bright and straight into our eyes we could barely see the ground underfoot, then it was down to the first CP at Kentmere, a banana and water top-up and away. The way over Nan Bield to Gatescarth is beautiful, they really should use this route for the Lakeland 100, and the field started to thin out. I was taking things very easily at the start, walking anything that even sniffed of uphill. My cold hadn't really gone away, my nose and eyes ran better than the rest of me for most of the day and I must have presented a fairly snotty sight to marshals and fellow competitors, but it didn't really get in the way of forward progress.
|Marshal on Nan Bield posing for photo...|
Along the side of Haweswater from Maredale Head it started to warm up and I rather wished I'd brought a cap, but it didn't turn out to be a problem, though I think most of us picked up a bit of sunburn along the way. I was happy and running slowly and easily. From Mardale Head to Howtown is the easiest section (two legs in fact) of the whole route, time to relax and make some easy progress. I enjoyed the cinnamon porridge at the Brampton CP and was welcomed by Dave Troman on marshalling duty at the Cockpit on Askham Moor.
|Warm sunshine along Haweswater|
|Approaching the Cockpit (photo Dave Troman)|
We took the "Tour de Helvellyn" route down to the Howtown CP (slightly quicker than the Lakeland 100 one past Mellguards) and just coming out of here I caught up with Mark Barnes who was running with a friend of his; we carried on more or less together for a mile or two. I left them eventually and had a good steady run up Boredale, knowing it was the last easy ground for quite a way. The little hill up to the hause always seems to go quickly, then it was an easy cruise down to the halfway CP at Patterdale, which I reached in around seven and a quarter hours from the start. I hadn't stopped much up to that point but I had a drop bag so decided to have a change of shirt and a cup of tea, and a top up of food supplies. I found the food at the checkpoints suited me pretty well, I was eating crisps and ginger biscuits at each one, coke when it was available and "treats" when they were there, like the porridge at Brampton and some great soup at Langdale. The CP marshals were really helpful, and I found someone to make me a cup of tea at almost every CP from Patterdale to the finish. In between CP's I was going well enough on the odd gel or shotblok, and a half litre of water seemed enough to see me through each leg.
I sloped out of Patterdale after a stop of nearly 15 minutes (where did that go?) and on to the second half. Unlike the Lakeland 100, the second half of this event is quite a bit tougher than the first (which in itself makes the 50k a good run), but has a lot more interest and variety, a bit of almost everything that the Lake District has to offer. I carried on my way, ambling the ups, shambling the downs and trying to joggle along the flat bits. It was a gentle run for the first part of Grisedale, a steady walk up and round the tarn, then a short but technical descent down to Dunmail. I expected to see the CP on the flat ground of the Raise, but it eventually turned up in the woods above Thirlmere a half mile or so further on, another little oasis in the sunshine. I was a bit surprised to see Jonny turn up here a few minutes after me; the explanation was that he had taken a wrong turn coming up Grisedale and wasted maybe 40 minutes, very frustrating for him. We saw each other at every checkpoint after that, with me leaving just as he turned up, until he finally got his act together over the last leg and came cruising past to beat me to the finish.
After the rocks of Grisedale we were then treated to the boggy wastes of the open fell over to Watendlath. This is quite a tricky path to follow even in good visibility, but the course had been marked with wands at regular intervals (more about this later) so the navigation was very easy but you never escape from here with anything other than completely soaked feet so it was good to hit the dry land again just before the final descent to the Watendlath CP.
The next leg was the longest on the route, 9 miles according to the route map but nearer to 11 by my reckoning. I left Watendlath just after 5.30pm hoping to reach the Langdale CP (at the New Dungeon Ghyll Stickle Barn) in daylight, leaving only the straightforward trails to the finish to be covered in the dark. I was soon up and over the hill to Borrowdale and kept up a steady jog up past Stonethwaite and for the first half of the Langstrath valley. Then the path, although still virtually flat, got very bouldery and difficult to maintain an easy rhythm. I felt the going a bit tedious for the first time since the start, so I decided to walk from here until the top of Stake Pass. This mile or two of walking on the flat turned out to be a good move. I slowed down a bit but really regained some energy. The pass itself is steep but on an easy recently rebuilt path and I was now able to power up it which gave me a huge mental boost for the final few miles, especially knowing that it was the last big climb. I jogged down the other side and along to Stickle Barn, arriving well before a light was needed.
Again, I probably stayed in this welcoming haven a bit too long but I wasn't rushing and it looked like an 18 hour finish would be OK from here. It was dusk as I left but I didn't mess about tripping over in the half-light and put the headlamp on straight away.
Not a lot to say about the trip from here to the finish. I was mostly alone in the dark, enjoying moving through the countryside and thankful that the weather had stayed so fine all day. A last cup of tea at the Ambleside Church CP then it was just up through Skelghyll Woods and down the final stoney lane (real Hoka territory!) to the finish. I was home in 17:10:58, which turned out to be 37th place and good enough for the Vet 60 prize. I really had a lovely day out. Katrina, Frances, John, Jonny and I finished within a couple of hours or so of each other so gathered for tea and soup in the Brockhole cafe. John and Katrina both had particularly good runs; John finished in 15 hours 18 mins, although with Katrina managing 8 hrs 19 mins for the 50k, he never did manage to catch her!
For the first running of such a big event I thought the organisation was very good. It was a great course with evenly spaced checkpoints and the marshals were friendly and helpful everywhere. It comes at a good time of year and I hope it becomes a regular feature of the calendar. There were a few teething problems drawing criticisms from some competitors but these seem to arise with every new race and I'm sure will be ironed out next time around. Personally, my only concern was the philosophy of going for a fully marked course requiring no navigation. I've only come across this in shorter races in the UK, run in daylight and over much easier terrain, and in the big European events which are on much better defined tracks and even then have a reflective marker every 50 yards or so. We were lucky with the weather on Saturday but the Lake District can be an unforgiving place when conditions worsen so I think the requirement to have a map (the Harveys 1:40,000 covers all the course except a few miles of road) and the ability to use it to get yourself around the course would be a safer approach.
So, some success after a summer of being battered by a couple of bigger events, but what now? Well I'm going to have a few weeks off from running, something I haven't done for several years, to try and cure a few aches and pains, then I hope to be back in December for the Tour de Helvellyn and looking forward to next year. But I'll keep posting on the blog now and then, when I've had a chance to think about what this year has taught me. Watch this space.