Wow, that was tough. I expected as much, but by the sounds of the experienced trail runners I was talking to during the run – that was really tough.
A 55km Ultramarathon, that was actually 58km, in the Lake District climbing over 1800m. i had to write that to make sure I keep remembering what I ran on Saturday. Here I will go through what I remember of the race, the ups, downs & flats (not many flats).
At midnight on Friday night (Or Saturday morning, if you’re one of those people), the real race started – 110km. Not for the feint hearted, or the people with 5 months of preparaton under their belt. When I signed up, I had considered doing that one. How glad I am that, for once, common sense won a fight in my head. So to my race. After a good nights sleep in our little cottage in Ambleside, I woke up at 7am (a lie in!). Downstairs pretty much straight away for breakfast number 1 – crumpets. Followed by TV and breakfast number 2 – porridge with raisins and apple sauce. After that, I checked that I had everything that I needed, water bottles were filed up and we headed down to the starting area for around 10am. We stood around, awkwardly, occasionally chatting to other people as what normally happens at the start of races. Numerous small talk & toilet visits later & the pre race safety talk started, followed by the announcement that we would be delayed slightly as the leader of the 110km race was going to finish about the same time we started so we would cheer him in. 10 hours 45. That is a ridiculous speed. Fair play to him, GB ultra runner and from brief conversations with him on the Sunday – a nice down to earth guy.
So as he sprint finished, we cheered, whistled and clapped, he walked through the crowd of 55km runners awaiting to start, probably wanting to do nothing but lie down rather than smile and get patted on the back lots. THen our count down started from 10 and we were off. I had a race plan. I did not follow my race plan from moment one. Adrenalin can be a bitch. Stay in the middle pack, don’t hare off and conserve your energy. Off I went, into the front group. First 15 of us breaking out of the park, then the hill started and there was 10. The hill carried on – 5 of us. The hill reached half way (3km) – 4 of us. When we had completed the first climb of 6km, we had a feed station. I didn’t really want it at that point but I took a bit on board and carried on. In third place. I said to myself that when we start going down hill, the fell runners will take over, I will have overcooked it and hundreds of people will go past me. This happened… Except for it was 3 fell runners. For the next 10km I kept two of these guys in my site as I struggled down what they made look easy. It was a techinical, twisty trail route tht required my full concentration to ensure I didn’t fall/break an ankle/die. This was where error 1 came in. I didn’t eat. My race plan was the eat every 5km and at the top of climbs. I was concentrating too much on keeping up with these guys that I forgot my plan. Rookie error!
We then came to the next climb, the first guy was gone – and turned out to be the eventual winner. The other two were within site, and my climbing skills won another battle. I scooted past them relatively early in the next climb and found myself in third at the top of the massive climb. What I did do correctly, and am happy with myself is choose when to run and when to walk well. If the hill was so steep that you were running at the same pace as you were walking, then walk. Simple. I got to the top of this climb and felt good, I looked down on Grisedale Tarn and it looked beautiful. But I didn’t eat – idiot moment number 2. I looked back and could no longer see either of my friends, but I knew they would get me on the downhill. I started my descent well, and with the occasional look over my shoulder, neither were still in site. I was in 1.5km of the next checkpoint – where Chloe was waiting – when I heard the first guy behind me. Then I realised how hungry and thirsty I was. I didn’t eat or drink the whole of that climb and descent – idiot number 3. I stopped and got some food out, downed some drink and the two guys passed me. Down from 3rd to 5th – but the stop was needed – so I thought. I trundled into the next check point to find a very surprised Chloe – I was fifth. This checkpoint was amazing, and that was my downfall. Into the school building and there was coke, water, flapjacks, noodles, crisps. I had a bit of everything (except the noodles). I saw the guy who was 4th inside the building and he was drinking his own drink – shit! I hadn’t drunk my peronin. Peronin is a drink essentially made for people who need energy but don’t/can’t take on solids. Used in a variety of endurance events and probably has a better history than I have just given. Anyway, as I walked out of the school to have Chloe’s phone in my face taking some flattering photographs, I downed that. On top of all the food I had just ate. Idiot mistake number 4 – binge eating/drinking. I felt awful, I was half way, but I was in 5th – 5th!!! Okay, 6th, as I drank the Peronin, someone else nipped through. Bastard. On we go.
I had looked at the course previously and there was one climb after this checkpoint and then it got easier – idiot mistake number 5 – don’t judge on pretty elevation drawings and maps on the computer. It was a km or so until the climb and I felt good – I was catching the other guy up so I decided to carry on running up the hill until it got too steep. Brilliant, 20m behind him now. I felt awful, and after two minutes of stop starting up the climb, everything I had eaten or drank in the past 30 minutes emerged. Sorry for ruining the natural beauty of the Lake District. The only bonus was that Peronin takes 6 minutes to get into your intestines and for your body to make great use of it. It had been about 15, so that was in my body. I drank all my water to get the taste out of my mouth and replace the fluids I lost – normally a wise plan except I had another 7km until I got to the next checkpoint and it was 25 degrees. I got to the top of the climb and started the descend, near the bottom of this, two more guys caught me up. Down to 8th and feeling awful. Another one, 9th and feeling like quitting. I had no energy, I was dehydrated and a marshal has just told me I have 4 miles until the next checkpoint. I stood still next to the marshal, took in a deep breath and looked at where I was running to. It was a slow, steady incline – one of those horrible ones that burns your quads and calves so much – stuff it. Let’s go. I am so glad I did. It wasn’t 4 miles, it was about 3. That is a huge difference. I was making my way through a woody area when another guy made his way past me, and another one. Outside the top 10 now, The ridiculous thing is, I never would have been anywhere near this in my mind yet I was so disheartened. Then a noise that has never sounded so sweet – cow bells. A checkpoint!! I completd the hill to find the next check point – I hadn’t expected it for another 10 minutes so this was amazing news. More people got to the point, a couple left but I took on fluids and food. I filled up my bottles and as I was leaving the marshal pointed out that I now had some colour back in me. Surprisingly, it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Positive news.
4 of us left at the same time as we ran through the woody section of the race and we stayed together until the next checkpoint – occasionally someone would find some energy and get a bit of distance, but they would stop for food or drink and everyone would regroup. This section was tough. The terrain was proper traily. That sounds silly, but it just was. We went from running on tree roots to big stony paths to marshes – it was great but tough. Not much really happened during this section, we stayed chatting about various things and time disappeared. We were not going overly quick, but I had now gotten over the idea that I could finish in the top 5, 10, 15 or even 20. I was now back to my original aim – completion. My energy was recovering and I was starting to feel normal again. Although still not eating much, I was drinking a lot more. I timed my drinking in distance until the next checkpoint and with 1km to go, finished my water – finally, a plan followed properly. In we came to Sticklebarn pub to the site of a lot of 110kms leaving – they had been walking/running/trekking for 16 hours. It gave me a bit of inspiration to keep going. The four of us sat in Sticklebarn filling our fluids up and snacking on the greatest snack of all time (maybe an exaggeration, but at the time, this is what it felt like) of salty freshly cooked chips.
And off we went. 12km to go.My energy was up, was stayed together for a bit, walking up the next climb and then we found a flat. I looked down and realised how small my strides were – probably around 70cm when I normally strides around 124cm on an average run. I stretched out, it hurt a lot, but it also felt good. I told the guys that I was going to push to see what I had left in the tank, and then didn’t see them again until after the finish. Off I went, making god pace considering all that I had been through. Going past the 110kms in front of us who were walking their final section as well as a few 55kms who were just too cooked to run anymore. There were a few climbs were really not wanted at that point, bringing me back to a walk when I had found some rhythm but I made sure I got running again. And then a descent. A really steep tarmac descent. I was about 200m down it when I heard the tannoy at the finishing line. I got a bit excited and then remembered that we could still go away from it before coming back towards it. Then I heard trainers slapping on tarmac – a guy I had overtaken up the hill suddenly had energy. As he shot past me he shouted, 300m to go! I tried to peer down to the bottom of the steep hill to see if it was a trick, or that he was wrong. I decided to trust him and let myself fly down the hill, almost making friends with a stone wall as the road hairpinned. Down to the bottom, over a small footbridge and into the park. 100m run and then a right turn and there it was. The finish. As the tannoy announce my number and name, I relaxed as I crossed the finish line. Chloe informed me she thought I was in the top 10, I wasn’t so sure, but she had been at the finish for a while watching people come in so I trusted her and couldn’t believe it. I’ll take that for my first ultra, even if I have regrets. Next time, I shan’t be so rookie.
So to answer my question in the heading of this article, I will go for both. It was a great first ultra, but it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I think I lost about 20 minutes in the middle due to being sick and having to refuel. That would have had me within 10 minutes of the leader – something I would had been informed of when getting to the last checkpoint, which then would have spurred me on. Could I have done it? We wont know. But the competitor in me would have given it a bloody good go anyway!
9th place out of 521 starters. 7 hours, 18 minutes & 38 seconds.