I am an ultra runner. I have one daughter and Mac the lab; my family. I want to run and explore and travel and see beautiful places. I am passionate about living life honestly. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I love writing about and sharing my experiences in Holly Cottage. It has been hugely rewarding to find and make this place my home.
I’m pretty sure that every runner reading this will have had their plans, dreams and hopes dashed one way or another. Without wanting to belittle the huge impact Covid-19 has had on everyone’s everyday life, in our running community it has had an enormous impact on races.
What do we do about it? Personally speaking, I had my first race cancelled last weekend (21st March) and going forward I have entered Old County Fell Tops in May, 5 Passes and Thirlmere Trot in June, Ultimate Trails 55 and my big one of the year, Lakeland 100, in July.
Apparently Old County Fell Tops has been cancelled outright, but I have not yet heard from any of the others. On checking the websites of each of them, Ultimate Trails and Ascend Events have postponed earlier races but UT55/100 and 5 Passes are still planned. Upon making a misguided visit to Facebook, I saw a raging debate on the Lakeland group over whether the 50 and 100 mile races should be cancelled now or later. I left my tuppence worth and crept away again…..
From the Race Director’s perspective this must be an absolute nightmare. But from our perspective it’s very different.
If you have races coming up in the summer, the questions we are faced with are what are the chances they will go ahead; how do I plan logistically for these events and how do I train for them given the current social distancing rules?
Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
Wash your hands as soon as you get home
Do not meet others, even friends or family.
You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.
My social media of choice, Twitter and Strava, are awash with arguments over running. Interpretations of the guidelines seem to range extremely from people driving to scenic locations and running marathons to others finding the risk of running too much and now walking from home for their exercise.
Personally, I shall stick my neck out and suggest going off and running a marathon, even if it is from your door, isn’t really what the Government had in mind when they asked us to stay at home.
Right now, I think all races are cancelled, certainly up to the end of May, so there is nothing to train for specifically in the next 2 months.
But we are allowed to go out for exercise so this doesn’t mean we can’t run. I would interpret reasonable exercise as going out for up to an hour and this is more than sufficient for keeping up a decent level of fitness for those of us wanting to be ready to roll at a moment’s notice.
My new coach would also remind me that this is an excellent opportunity to get some strength work in (groan). So really, a combination of a run and some strength work and we can’t complain that our fitness will disappear.
Some of you may complain about keeping up endurance….. I would suggest that these things are out of our control and we just have to hope that restrictions lift with enough time to get the long runs in before our races. If not…. then scratch it all and start again.
There’s no doubting this is a terrible situation, but whether or not we are able to get long runs in is, I’m afraid, at the lower end of the priorities list when it comes to the Coronavirus.
Motivation could be an issue now for many. Initially my motivation flattened out as I was suddenly left with little reason to run. I have always enjoyed having something to aim and work for; I strive to improve and get back to a level of competitiveness I’ve not had for years and each race gives me something different to work towards.
Without a race to train for in the immediate future, where does that leave me and others like me? I shall now refer you to the kitchen and cupboards that are full of food now we are stuck at home. The fact that I am making cakes for my family is making its presence known on my hips and ta-daaa! Magically my motivation has returned!
The news, however, isn’t all bad. Not all races have been cancelled. Those that have been postponed are now there to look forward to later in the year. Perhaps there are some of you breathing a sigh of relief the extra time this period has given you after an injury or illness set your training back.
All this re-organisation must have been a nightmare for race directors, so I asked Jeff Mitchell, of Ascend Events, a few questions and he kindly blew away the mysteries surrounding this topic. He postponed Derwentwater Dawdle in mid March from the end of April to September.
“Obviously as a race organiser you watch closely as events like this develop. As it started to escalate quickly in mid March we moved to start making contingency plans and create the ability for us to postpone. When it was announced by the government that everyone should WFH when possible and there a was a sense this would last longer than a few weeks I felt had no option than to postpone Dawdle.
Health (of participants and volunteers) is far and away the biggest factor when looking at this type of situation. Literally everything else becomes effectively irrelevant and it’s just a case of minimising financial exposure and losses, while trying to look after participants as much as possible.
We opted to provide several options to our participants when we postponed Dawdle. Participants could stay registered in the moved event, defer to 2021, waive their fee towards costs, donate their fee to charity (Mountain Rescue) or 90% refund (10% covers charges). I felt these gave all participants an option that should work in some way.”
From Jeff’s perspective as a Race Director, postponement seems to be the preferred option, but there are many factors to take into account such as available dates, the amount of time in the future from the current restrictions and whether there is still enough daylight for his participants to finish in (he welcomes walkers as much as runners).
Ultimately, despite not having to offer refunds, Jeff has chosen to do so:
“…..our T&Cs effectively say no refunds….. We recognise this is a difficult time for everyone, not just race organisers & felt it was the right thing to offer regardless of the risk it exposed us to.”
I try to avoid the arguments and complaints I’ve seen on social media about cancelled races and refunds or deferrals. I do think there are now big differences; from large, corporate races run on a business plan to the small organisers doing it because they love it.
Personally, I would not expect money back if I were to injure myself and have to pull out of a race. With accommodation I have always tried to minimise cancellation costs if at all possible, for the same reasons. The Race Directors are reacting to an unprecedented event and I don’t see why they should be out of pocket.
But I also see no reason why some money, after all costs have been deducted, can’t be refunded if deferment to the following year or postponement are not possible. Of course all races have different costs, hence this large grey area and it is, I suspect, the basis of most arguments between runners and race directors.
But let me finish with some good news from Jeff:
“It’s this: I have realised that we have a lot of fab participants on our events. Many are recognising how difficult this situation is for us. Their support and generosity has been amazing – and despite this being one of the hardest experiences I’ve been through, it reminds me why I do it”.
I loved this race. I think it helped that I went into it with no expectations and relaxed about my ability to do it. Despite the first and last 10 miles being an out and back – something I am loathe to do generally, I loved this course.
Put on by Nav4 Adventure I really enjoyed the lack of mollycoddling. You were expected to know what you were doing up in the mountains and look after yourself. More and more events, dare I say down south, have become so safety conscious that many aspects that appeal to me personally about running have disappeared.
For this race, however, you needed to carry everything you needed for a day in the unpredictable mountains of the Lake District. And know how to navigate. There was no long winded RD lecture reminding you to look before you crossed a road – just a kit check at the start and you were off.
There was a rolling start between 7 and 9.30am but we planned to start early to allow as much daylight as possible. We knew it was going to be a slow run although Chris reckoned it would take 10 hours, I was leaning more towards 12 hours. He was carrying his full Spine kit and I wasn’t cutting any corners on kit, knowing how cold I get in the mountains.
Kit I carried:
Waterproof jacket and trousers – full winter weight
Spare hat and buff
Cheese and pickle sarnie, Dairy Milk and a Kendal mint cake
Compass and whistle
First Aid kit
Just as we finished our kit check, the guy at the door ready to scan our cards as we left announced it was raining. Everyone did an immediate dither, reluctant to step out and start the timer by being scanned until coats had been put on. I decided to put my waterproof on and Chris didn’t.
Off we set, in the pitch black still, just a few minutes after 7am. I had the gpx on my watch and Chris had the map in a case round his neck – we felt very secure on the navigation and started marching up the first gentle climb to Askham Fell.
Once past The Cockpit (don’t ask, it was dark), it was then a lovely downhill amble towards Ullswater where we soon joined a path familiar to us both – part of the route of Lakeland 50. I remembered bombing down this path but this time we went down with more decorum as I was already struggling with the weight of my backpack.
In fact I did a rather splendid face plant coming down the track on a rock that I tripped over but then in doing so moved it nicely in line with the foot that would have saved my fall and down I went. A couple of grazed palms and a sore knee already!
We went on, down towards Hallin Fell and split from the L50 route to go through a field and down onto the road. As we entered the field, which was grassy, wet and steep, I started to say “watch it here as you might sli….” just as I heard Chris land on his arse, sliding on the grass. 1-1 so far then. His shoes really were rubbish! We continued along the road to Martindale church and our first checkpoint. Here we removed our headtorches and my waterproof as the rain had settled into a fine mist and we kept going down the hill heading towards Boredale.
This was a long lane that turned into a track and then into a path up the fell side to a narrow cut through the top of the dale. Sadly, we were in the cloud so the stunning views had to be imagined rather than seen.
Having met an old mate Gary in the village hall at the start who I knew was running, I was pleasantly surprised to see another old mate Dennis as he caught us going up Boredale. A quick catch up and then Gary too passed us – I knew we wouldn’t see either of them again as they are both fast and strong runners.
Up and over Boredale Hause, we then began the descent into Patterdale and the one and only checkpoint that had food. I was annoyed with myself for forgetting my small flask as I was planning to bring it so I had tea on tap, but I made do with a collapsible cup of tea that I had to drink quickly before it grew cold.
Both of us being old hands at this game we didn’t linger long here and were straight out, me slurping tea and grasping a couple of ginger nuts as we walked away from the checkpoint towards the start of the monster climb of the day up to Sticks Pass.
I recently read the blog of someone who had done the Spine Challenger and in it he recounted how it was his routine to take a painkiller at regular intervals to stave off any aches and pains. This was something I had never considered before – taking painkillers before the pain. But it made sense to me – so often by the time I accept that perhaps a paracetamol might help me, I’m usually way beyond it helping me!
In all honesty I think it took me those first 10 miles to that 2nd checkpoint to get my head in the game. But then as we wove out of Patterdale into Glenridding we both decided to take a paracetamol and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The general back and knee aches fell away and we were ready for the next climb.
We could see far ahead of us, up to the old mine and the seemingly sheer face of the fell we were to climb and the tiny blobs of people moving up it. Chris was cheerfully pointing out that if we looked at the size of the people relative to the mountain around them it didn’t look so bad did it? Hmm…..
We left the gentle slope of the road and once we hit the old mine the climb got much steeper. There was a clear, rocky path that zigged zagged up the mountain but I spied a grassy track (much preferred on the feet) that looked like it cut a couple of the zigs out. I checked with Chris he was ok going steeper, but shorter and up we went.
Now this is what I really enjoyed. It’s as if you are climbing the stairs two at a time – except instead of solid stairs the footing is slippery grass/moss/loose rocks. A few people followed us and eventually we found ourselves back on the track and we had definitely made a few places! I like this game.
Back on the main path again we quickly disappeared into the cloud and I began to be concerned that we had missed a footbridge we were supposed to cross that had a checkpoint on it. Surely having climbed so much we must be near the summit by now? But the footbridge eventually emerged in the gloom with some very cheerful volunteers to greet us and scan us through.
Sticks Pass turned out to be a very pretty valley between Stybarrow Dodd and Raise. Having seen lots of exciting photos of thick snow up on Helvellyn and Grisedale Tarn, we were slightly disappointed to see only patches of snow here and there but it still lifted the spirits and even in the gloomy mist it brightened the day slightly.
We trotted on until the land suddenly dropped away sharply and my granny knees immediately winced at what was to come. We slowed to a walk initially as it was so steep but when the checkpoint at the bottom came into view, and there was a split in the path; the main one continued in a traditional hairpin but the other cut straight down I couldn’t resist a little race with Chris who I knew would stick to the main path with his lack of grippy shoes. It was a tie!
At the bottom, we turned sharp left and started paralleling the road through the fields for a couple of miles to the next checkpoint. This, I have to say, I found hard to get any speed on. It was muddy and very rocky in places and with an extra 4kgs on my back I simply didn’t have the agility or fitness at this stage to enjoy running over this. I know I held Chris up here but I wasn’t in a position to force myself when I still had so far to go.
So it was a bit of a trudge for us along here but eventually we arrived at the welcome sight of the checkpoint that had tea and biscuits. Such simple pleasures are so appreciated. Again, I walked away holding my tea and biscuits and after a quick consultation with the map, as my gpx trail was going in a different direction, we set off down a wide forest road.
Having finished the latest snack, we started jogging. We had travelled 17.5 miles with serious elevation and I was starting to tire. If you read my last blog you’ll know I had been unable to train properly through ankle sprains and general life getting in the way plus the loss of the motivation to do so once I was able to.
I had managed a very slow 19 miler the previous week and before that a 20 miler back at the beginning of October. Are you getting the picture here? I have very little endurance at the moment.
So luckily, I had packed a can of Redbull. I was going to take it at the next checkpoint, just before we started the climb up to Grisedale Tarn but Chris suggested I take it straight away as for him it takes a good 20 minutes to kick in. So I gulped it down, burped out the bubbles and continued our jog through the wood.
Jogging along the forest road Chris started doing sums in his head and suddenly announced concern at how much time we had to get back to Side Farm before the 4.30pm cut off. This added a sense of urgency to our pace and it was nice to feel we were getting through the miles a bit quicker now we could run properly.
Eventually we came to the end of the track and cut across some fields to the base of Raise Beck. After crossing the roaring river at the base, we started up the steep climb, keeping the river on our left. Up and up and up!
There had been a small group we had been leapfrogging which, at the bottom, were just ahead of us. I was determined to get past them and keep them behind us this time so I steamed up the path being relentless in my stride and soon over took them and left them behind.
I heard Chris call me and I stopped to turn and he called out “See Santa!”. I looked back up the path and indeed, there was Santa looking down at us. By now my brain was definitely losing priority on the oxygen intake and it took several steps before it dawned on me he was a photographer. I then lost sight of him behind some rocks before he reappeared ahead of me. I waited for Chris to join me and shared a laugh with the photographer who was, I think, John Bamber.
It was interesting watching the river shrink as we climbed up and by the time we reached the top it had disappeared into the general moistness of bog. Now we had to find our way to the track that led around the tarn.
Unfortunately we could barely see the tarn a few meters away in the gloom so at this point we were relying on the line on my watch to stay on track. Which worked fine so long as I was zoomed in – on the default setting we could be several feet off track but it would look like we were on track – something that would catch me out later on.
We waded across the bog, correcting the slight deviation we made and soon found the track. Finally, we could run again. We came down the steep head then followed the path down and down, passing a man, running easily and well. Was the Redbull still working? I’m not sure but I was happy as anything and the additional urge of wanting to get back to the checkpoint with plenty of time was spurring us on.
Down and down we went, looking for signs of habitation and Glenridding. Finally on my watch I saw the junction of the road we were on with the road we had taken out. Now, we would be retracing our steps the whole way home.
We stopped for a brief rest at the checkpoint – more tea and biscuits and to put our headtorches on. I decided to put on a warm and dry hat and buff – gosh what a difference that makes! I instantly felt snuggly and warm and I also put my waterproof back on. As the darkness fell I knew it would get colder and despite the last sharp climb ahead of us, I’d still get cold.
Off we set, buoyed up by the knowledge we would make it regardless. I was really happy considering the lack of training and I still felt strong, albeit slow. Up we went again, climbing and climbing. I considered what had happened to the woman who, just a couple of years ago, would have been crying going up here. Now I seemed to relish going up, and the steeper the better. However, that pleasure had replaced the speed I used to have so I guess it’s not in me to have both right now.
Here I went wrong following the line. And I even knew to look out for the turn off just after one of the trees on the side of the path and still missed it. But because the path was just a few feet away, but a few feet above us, not to the left or right, I missed it following the trace on my watch and we had to retrace our steps.
We made it up and over and scrambled down the difficult rocks at Boredale Hause and made our way down the valley again. This path was easier than the one leading to Glenridding and pretty soon we could trot the whole time. But by now we were tiring and the trotting started to be interspersed with walk breaks. The soles of my feet started killing me on the road.
I was wearing a new pair of Hoke Torrents and they really were brilliant. Great grip, comfortable and enough cushioning for the distance over trails. However, even they struggled to give me the cushioning I needed on the road after being on my feet for several hours but I could bear it knowing we’d be back on the trail soon.
We made it to the last checkpoint back at Martindale Church and cracked on, now only 6 miles left. All we had to do was go along the road, up through the slippery field, on to the L50 track, up to The Cockpit (still dark, still don’t know), then down the hill to Askham. Job done.
There had been a caution to make sure you took the right path from the Cockpit back to Askham, but although by this stage some heavy fog came in, we had no problem finding the route. As always in these situations when you are looking out for landmarks, they seemed to take forever to appear out of the fog.
Finally, however, we crested the last hill and we managed to raise a tired jog down the hill, through the gate and into the village hall to finish.
I was so happy. One of those races where I was positive mentally the whole way round. For me, to finish was such an achievement after a really rubbish autumn. I think my positivity came from so many elements; a lack of expectation; a goal of just being out to enjoy a day in the Lakes; reaching the couple of cut offs with plenty of time to spare and then being able to relax over how long it took to get home.
I do feel my poles and shoes gave me a huge advantage and paired with Chris’s heavy Spine pack, I don’t think I held him back too much. Taking a paracetamol twice throughout, plus the redbull halfway round, I’m sure contributed to keeping me positive. I was able to run whenever the path allowed, even at the end. I’m really happy with the overall average pace which remained surprisingly consistent. For me anyway.
We got back just in time to make dinner in the local pub. Much pasta and coke was consumed (as well as a wee Drambuie for me) but by that time I was starting to fade badly. Have you ever noticed how recovery food is the same as hangover food?
It’s a great course and if you are happy navigating I’d definitely recommend it. Add to that the fact it’s held on the shortest day of the year and you have a great run where you are treated like a responsible adult who knows what they are doing. Not sure how I got in then 😬
Autumn hasn’t been kind to me, running wise. Each time I have tried to start training seriously I’ve been set back, either by turning my ankle (twice) or manthrax (once).
Initially I viewed my first race in 6 months with some trepidation. The Tour de Helvellyn, the weekend before Christmas on the shortest day of the year, is not a run to be taken lightly.
But actually I’ve realised I’m not as unfit as I thought. Walking Mac with Charlie recently, I noticed my 13 year old daughter huffing and puffing up out of the dale while I was breathing evenly and hadn’t even unzipped my coat.
I’ve done several 10-15 mile runs which have been no problem to me, albeit I’m not breaking any speed records.
I’ve got some good experience of being and running in hard conditions and I do have some idea, with all the gear 😉
And I’m running Tour de Helvellyn with my boyfriend who is using it as a kit check for the Spine Challenger a few weeks later. So we’re not planning on racing round anyway (we could stop for a jetboil cuppa halfway round perhaps?!).
I often see comments from people on Twitter complaining that they have lost their mojo, a term I hate. If you don’t feel like running then don’t! Is there a reason you don’t want to? Over training? Bored? Or, as we all secretly worry about, are you actually just bone idle and you’ll get fat if you don’t run?!
I think, apart from it being winter and cold and miserable and wet, I’m just bored. Bored of running every day. Bored of having to go out and do a certain mileage every week in order to maintain a super fitness.
So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Do things differently. We do this for pleasure, as a hobby, so it must be fun otherwise there’s no point. My focus is definitely the mountains now. The only racing that excites me next year is in the Lakes and the hope of one or two in the Alps.
But then I have Chicago in October. Again, something completely different that I hope will get me back running after no doubt a lazy summer resting after L100.
If you are struggling at the moment don’t worry! Have a think about what you could change because we can’t keep doing the same thing again and again. And have more confidence in yourself as a runner.
So I’m now very relaxed about it all. Our bodies need rest and I’m happy to give it that over the winter. Many exciting (non-running) plans are happening and I’m quite happy to potter along quietly, just doing enough to keep the mince pies off my hips.
So if you’re stressing about losing your “mojo”, chill man! L100 is my big race for next year and I have several smaller but interesting ones lined up before it for training. Until then? I think I’ll have another mince pie….
The other day I planned a long run around Kinder Scout. I’ve been building my training slowly, in between lurgies, job hunting and driving around the country visiting loved ones. This was to be my first proper long run since Lavaredo.
Weather was set fair but as always I packed a vest with extra kit just in case. Waterproof top and bottoms, my Rab synthetic gilet (possibly the most useful piece of kit I own), and a headtorch.
Why the headtorch? Well….. I’m not great at getting up early and I’d had to do 2 pre-5am alarm calls over the weekend so I wasn’t in a hurry to get up! Which of course has a knock on effect at the other end of the day.
Cheese and pickle sarnies packed, dog in car and we were off. A sharp shower started just as I arrived so I put my jacket straight on. I parked at the bottom of Mam Tor and we were off, straight up the first little incline before whizzing down the other side into Edale.
The rain stopped quite quickly and I got very warm so stopped to take off my jacket as I knew there was a stiff climb out of Edale the other side. The sun was shining and it was glorious up there.
I was exploring a bit today and although I started out along a bit of my favourite Edale Skyline, I was planning to cut across Edale Moor and down towards the Snake Inn.
The plan then was to run along the Snake Path back towards the Pennine Way and then rejoin the Skyline back round to Mam Tor. Sounds easy doesn’t it!
As Mac and I trotted round I realised how windy it was up there. In the live shots of Mac, his ears are flapping madly. But the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.
We successfully negotiated our way round and passed Madwoman’s Stones (no comments please!) and reached Blackden Edge.
I have never been round this side before and it was just as stunning as the Edale side. Lots of wonderful rock formations and yet so much quieter – I saw one person for the rest of my time there before reaching the Pennine Way much later.
Eventually I came to the path I would take down Gate Side Clough towards the Snake Inn. It involved a bit of scrambling over rocks (does that count towards qualifying for one of the Sky races?!) then down a very steep bit of grassy, rocky ground.
There was a faint path though and as the descent became less severe, I started running again.
BAM! My ankle turned, made a horrible snapping sound and immediately filled my body with excruciating pain. I went down on my arse as my other leg slipped out from under me when all my weight was thrown on it.
I think we all know that feeling don’t we. That deep throbbing pain, makes me feel sick in my stomach, and I’m clutching my ankle, thinking the quicker it fades, the less severe it will be…. come on…. come on.
Eventually it eased off. Mac had come to lay next to me, bless him. I lay there for a minute considering my options.
I looked at my watch. 7.5 miles and 2 hours from the car. I looked at my map. I couldn’t be further away from the car if I’d tried! There was no direct route back – I couldn’t see any other direct paths back across Edale Moor and I wasn’t going to be testing the open moorland.
Time for a cheese and pickle sarnie. And my jacket. The wind was unrelenting and I was quickly getting cold. I shared my sandwich with Mac as the nausea was still there and I didn’t fancy the rest.
I also got my medical kit out of my vest and the small, self adhesive bandage kept in there. It was a long way home whichever way I took so I’d need some support. I also took an ibuprofen to stem the swelling.
A good 15/20 minutes had passed. Time to test the ankle and get up. It was sore but ok. Going on definitely wasn’t an option so I had to climb back up the clough. It was slow going but I got there and considered my options again.
Retracing my steps was shorter but also involved descending into and ascending out of Edale. Going on around Seal Edge meant I was cutting the corner slightly from my original, longer, route, but I felt staying on the Edge, which was relatively flat, would be easier on my ankle. I would just hike back.
So that’s what I did. Within a mile I had to stop again though. That wind was cold and relentless and I decided to put everything I had on in order to stay warm. Over trousers, gilet under the jacket and beanie all went on and to my relief I felt much warmer.
As I trudged my way round the Edge feeling very sorry for myself, I began to think What If? What if my sprain had been much worse? What if the weather had been worse? What if I hadn’t been able to move? What were the worst possible circumstances I could imagine, and would I have been prepared for it?
If my injury had been worse, I think I would have tried to continue down the clough to the road and looked for help either from a passing car or the Inn.
If I had been miles from civilisation, I could have called for help. Randomly that one spot on the hillside was the only time I had reception on the phone until I got back round to Kinder Scout.
But what if I’d had no reception? Well, I have set my Garmin tracker to auto start on any activity which is sent through to a designated friend. As it happened that friend was abroad, but realistically, it would have taken them a long time to call the alarm.
And given that the tracker uses mobile reception to send data, and knowing how often my tracker drops because of the lack data in so many of the areas I run in, how long would it have taken them to raise the alarm?
As it happened, I’d sent this friend my planned route purely out of interest so I like to think they would have realised fairly quickly something was up.
What if the weather was shocking? Freezing rain? I definitely wasn’t prepared for that. I was just about ok if I kept moving and was regretting not throwing my gloves in too as my hands were cold.
What if the weather was appalling and I couldn’t move and I had no reception and I had no extra clothing? It’s a scary thought.
All things considered, I think I did ok. How could I have been better prepared? I could have thrown a warm layer in the vest; a bivvy bag and gloves. Basically, the mandatory kit most races ask you to carry.
Of course I made it back to the car (just before the sun went to bed) and I’d managed an extra 13 miles and even raised a bit of a jog across the flagstones on Brown Knoll. And the ankle is grumbling but ok and it will be fine with a few days rest.
So I ask you, dear reader, to ask yourself “what if…” next time you plan an adventure. Ask yourself what if the very worst possible scenario that you can think of happens and would you be prepared for it?
I was out running this morning. Along the Dale. When I saw another runner coming towards me. It may surprise you to know this is very rare so we exchanged a smile and a nod and when I came to a gate, as I glanced down to unlatch it, I noticed I was wearing my Hardmoors 60 t-shirt.
I felt a little pride when I realised this. HM60 in 2015 was one of my best races. Indeed, up until the Fellsman this year, I’d have said it was the toughest 100k race I’ve done. It’s also the fastest 100k I’ve done and if I remember correctly I was 11th woman. I was damn proud of that run, which you can see here.
Ah. Those were the days. I was ok then. Since then I’d say the only time I’ve come close to being as fit and healthy as I was in 2015/16 was when I was training for Hardmoors 80 last year. But then I wasn’t that healthy as my back went which caused a DNS.
But my hunger is still there. I can beat that time for 100k. I know I have it in me. But I don’t just want to go faster. It must also be a challenging and interesting course.
I want to set myself this challenge. A 50-60 mile race, in the hills and really train and go for it exclusively. Nothing else before or after. Just focus on training for that race.
So, I’m thinking something in November. The end of November gives me 12 clear weeks to train once Charlie goes back to school. Train hard, race, rest over Christmas.
It’s a tricky time of year. Anyone have any suggestions? Something hilly; something low key; something runnable! I don’t actually mind a bit of mud – it’s the ankle deep bogs I object to. I want to RUN a race, not trudge it.
Well, looking back I guess the result was inevitable. It was all too much and in the end something had to give.
I’d had a good flight and drive up to Cortina; I was in great spirits. I went into town soon after arriving at 1pm and registered and visited the Expo. I met up with Jon Crooks for a drink who was doing the Cortina Trail on Friday.
I slept well on Thursday night clocking up over 10 hours sleep and felt great on waking. Then I had a 2 hour nap from 1.30 to 3.30, which of course I felt groggy waking up from. And I then continued to feel sleepy for the next 24 hours!
If I’m honest, my reflection on this race isn’t great. Arriving for the 11pm start at 10.20pm, the square was absolutely heaving with people. I was trying to meet up with mates Emma and Ryan but there was clearly no chance of that happening.
Then, when I saw people lining up inside the funnel I thought I ought to go and join them at the back. But then I realised there was a queue to join the queue and I was stuck at the back, on the outside of the funnel, looking the wrong way.
30 minutes still to go. I actually played Backgammon with a friend to while away the time but already I was yawning. I was putting that down to my relaxed approach to the race.
Eventually we were aware of the music changing and a hullabaloo going on and we realised we were starting. So began a long squeeze into and around the funnel, and finally out under the banner into the streets beyond. The crowd watching were amazing and making an incredible noise which was fun. You can see my Periscope here of the start.
I found the going hard from the outset. It felt hard physiologically. Although my heart rate wasn’t particularly high, considering we were going up hill from the off, it felt much harder than it should have done. I was gasping for breath. I wondered if it was the altitude (no idea if we are at any altitude in Cortina?) or just the frenetic pace of the start.
Soon however respite came in the form of another queue at the trailhead. I resigned myself to wait and eventually got on the first trail. For the next 11 miles the routine was then run behind someone else, slow to a walk/halt when whoever was ahead slowed or stopped. You could sneak past people in a few places but I didn’t think it was worth it.
Up and up we went, in the pitch black. Our surroundings were thick forest but I did get a glimpse of Cortina below us at one stage. Otherwise all was black.
My new poles, bought at the expo, came out (Leki Trail Carbon Pros) which I absolutely loved. Once we eventually reached the top of this climb, there were some good undulating runnable bits.
The poles folded down easily and because they were so slim and light I spent much of the runnable bits just keeping them folded in my hands. I much preferred this to running with them “out” – I curse anyone who does so; it makes it so hard to overtake on narrow trails.
By now we are on a much wider (and dull) stoney track; like most fire breaks in forests. There was an occasional glimpse of imposing rock walls or sharp black drop offs next to the trail but still everything is black.
Except for the dust cloud. Imagine 1,500 odd runners passing along the dusty trail and I’m sure in daylight you would have seen a large cloud over the trail. I was aware of it tickling my throat so had to drink regularly to stop that irritation.
Up until now the temperature has still been hot. I started the race wearing a t shirt and it was boiling being part of the crowd, whether standing at the start or running up and down the mountains in the throng.
But coming up to the first checkpoint at 11 miles I’m suddenly aware of a chill in the air and decide to dig out a long sleeved layer at the CP. I’d been sipping on the juice in one of my flasks so needed to top up water anyway.
It was chaos. You weren’t allowed to help yourself so the runners thronged the tables, all with their arms out, holding the water bottles, crying Agua like lost children begging for water. The volunteers had large jugs and were constantly yelling for them to be refilled. I think I stood there for about 10 minutes before mine was filled.
On the table underneath were bowels of food – what food I didn’t know because the bowels were either filled with spilt water or empty from the visiting locusts. Nothing that was left looked appetising so I put my top on and moved on.
I’m feeling really tired now. Running the runnable bits is taking much more effort than it should but again I put that down to the time of night. But the people I started with started to drop me as I slowed down more and more. At one point I had to stop – my eyes were drooping so badly I literally falling asleep on my legs. I sat on a log at the side of the trail and gave myself a bit of a talking to. I dug out my earphones and put on some loud dancing music and set off again feeling much better.
As I was little bit more awake now and we were going downhill, I put the poles away properly and started running properly. To my amazement, I passed absolutely everyone in my sight. Seems they don’t go down hill very fast over here because if I’m over taking them, they must be slow. The downhill was long but despite risking my quads for the rest of the race, I continued down, not at breakneck speed, but it was plenty fast enough to overtake one runner after another.
They also don’t like getting their feet wet because whenever we got to a stream, they’d peel left and right looking for a way across and of course I just went straight through the middle.
Down and down I go and I start to feel great. I can see the faintest glimmer of light in the sky so I know dawn is fast approaching and I’m thinking finally I’ve shaken off the drowsiness and my race can start.
I’m so hot from running down the hill, and because dawn is coming I feel it’s time to remove all the layers. It is warm as I continue and soon we reach the next checkpoint, 20 miles in.
More chaos but I manage to get topped up quicker and I’m straight out and on. I look around for the timing mat but can’t see one so continue on. About half a mile down the track I see it at the junction with a road. Weird but ok.
The next checkpoint is 10 miles further on and I have 6 hours to get there. Even I should manage that!
However here things start to blur again. The drowsiness returns and I’m back to fighting a battle I know so well from my regular runs to the Peaks. When the eyes want to shut, it’s a very hard battle to win and I’ve learned the best way to deal with it is to pull over and sleep for 10 mins.
I come upon another Brit who I say hello to – the first person I have exchanged words with since I left the hotel the night before. He’s got his own struggles however so I don’t press him and drop back.
I see people lying by the side of the trail catching some sleep; something I am desperate to do. But they have a mate with them, keeping an eye. After all, you don’t want to fall asleep only to be continually woken by concerned passers by asking if you are ok. This wasn’t an option for me.
I drop back more and more, struggling up another hill, this time on a cursed road. We dive off into the woods and there’s a magical path through the trees; it’s stunning. But all I do is focus on the narrow path ahead of me and every now and again stumble or trip as my eyes win the constant mini battles I’m raging with them. I look for somewhere to curl up but it’s thick forest or narrow trail. No floor space to lie on.
Friends are keeping me going with text messages and updates on CP timings, cut offs and encouragement. I’m immensely grateful for this one source communication – I feel so isolated otherwise.
I struggle hugely over the next 4-5 miles to an intermittent checkpoint at Lake Misurina where I get a phone call. This cheers me no end and finally I’m not struggling against sleep. But I’m so slow now. I’m pretty much broken. Somewhere further back it got cold again and I only put my waterproof jacket on. I’m still freezing as I walk, no energy to stop and dig out the other top. It’s frustrating to see the sun yet be moving constantly in the lee of a mountain or inside woods. But I knew soon enough I’d be in the sun.
I’m happily chatting when I notice a man, in hiking gear, pass me and tear off the trail marking flags. My first thought this was someone maliciously removing them and I looked around to see a few runners coming up behind me. I shrug and continue chatting for a bit when I realise one of the runners is walking next to me, wanting my attention. It suddenly dawns on me this is the sweeper and he looks regretfully at his watch, does a cut off sign with his hand and shrugs at me.
Oh! Having just been discussing the fact I had 3 or 4 hours to do 3 or 4 miles, we had thought I had loads of time. Perhaps the cut off is superseded by the sweeper catching you?
To be honest, I’m so tired and moving so slowly I’m hugely relieved. I’d enjoyed about 1 hour of this run out of nearly 12 and frankly it wasn’t worth it to me.
For what it’s worth, that last hill took forever would have killed me anyway. It did take our sorry little party nearly the whole time to reach it and we finally reached the Refuge at 10.15. I was cursing the whole way up knowing I was being forced up there only to be driven straight down again!
Sanctuary at the base of the mountain – so near and yet so far still!
Lessons learned? Lavaredo was one of the first races on my list because of all the wonderful things I had heard about it. But really, it wasn’t my cup of tea, and even had things gone right for me, those things that annoyed me wouldn’t have changed. It was an experience to do one of the big European races but I’m definitely sticking to the small stuff in future. Not small length-wise of course, just numbers-wise 😉
And I do miss running with my friends. I’m not a loner and while I’m happy to put my head down and do the job in hand for a marathon, for the long stuff I do seek companionship. I count myself very fortunate that so many friends run at a similar pace and I look forward to further adventures with them.
I am really not remotely bothered about DNFs. In my opinion people put too much pressure on themselves to finish at any cost. We do this for love and I think people should trust themselves more that they’re not actually skiving if they feel shit and want to stop; acknowledge it’s just not your day and live to fight again another time.
As I write this blog a panicked text conversation with Charlie has highlighted the need and desire to focus on her and my new home for the next few months. And I’m ready for a rest.
I really can’t complain. I’ve had a great 6 months of running this year and made so many improvements: running Hebden 22 with Mac; finishing HM50 with Con despite my back; The Fellsman with Chris and Dan; smashing my marathon PB at Halstead and learning new skills and finding a new love of the mountains at Scafell. There’s so much still to look forward to!
I’m sitting here, on a flight to Venice, in a slight state of shock, still not able to grasp the job ahead of me.
In 40 hours I’ll be starting a race I’ve planned running since I entered the Ballot last September. A race I’ve been excited about since I dared consider doing it. But right now, I’m totally relying on the fact I’ve spent so much time preparing and training for it because for the last few weeks I’ve not thought about it at all. Not once.
I’m thankful I’m organised enough to have booked flights, accommodation, and hire car all well in advance. I’m relying on notifications my phone pings to me to do things like check in and print off rental car voucher.
I’m thankful that I’ve trained hard and long, since the end of December, with the sole goal of being ready for tomorrow night’s start because I’ve not run more than three times in the last three weeks since Scafell Sky Race.
I really should know by now how stressful moving is. In 2005 I moved our entire household to Africa (whilst 6 months pregnant) and then moved it all back again in 2008. I moved house in 2010, 2016, 2018 and now again in 2019. Each time it seems to get more stressful – probably because I have less and less money each time and must do more and more of the work myself.
I’ve attended to loved ones going through stressful times themselves; Charlie is finishing her last couple of weeks at a school she’s been at since she was 3. The next stage is understandably frightening to her and she’s very anxious.
Because she’s finished her exams, the school put on a wonderful array of activities for the senior children while they wait for term to end. I’ve had to ferry her about the country while she visits her new school but doesn’t want to miss out on the activities her current classmates are doing.
I lost my job at RunUltra in May. Sadly it’s been coasting without power since funding dried up, although in my spare time (!!!) I’m continuing to field emails and keeping an eye on the website in the desperate hope someone wants to buy it (anyone?! Expert web admin comes part of the deal 😉).
Because of this, I brought forward the move north in order to rent out the Bury flat earlier to help with cash flow. It’s been impossible to look for work as well as focus on the move and Charlie and Lavaredo. I want to be around for Charlie over the summer: to help her settle into our new home as well as prepare her for the terrifying thought of a new senior school in September.
So. The movers came in Tuesday. Charlie is in Snowdon for a week and goes to her father this weekend. Now finally I can think about running Lavaredo. But it’s a bit late. I am genuinely going to have to turn up and hope for the best. I’m exhausted; I’ve not slept properly for weeks so I’m hoping to catch up a bit in the next 40 hours.
If you fancy dot watching, here is the link and I’m number 123. Just cross your fingers for me the dot doesn’t droop and stumble off a mountain edge and somehow I can gather myself for one last monumental effort before I can collapse, in just over a week’s time, in Mallorca with Charlie and friends.
Scafell was the last major run I had planned before my number 1 race for 2019; Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
Although very different races in their own right, they are both an exciting step in an entirely new direction for me. I also believed Scafell would set me up nicely for Italy as it was the only opportunity I would have to get some longer ascents in.
I can honestly say I loved it and this long planned weekend far exceeded the expectations I had of it. Whilst I’d seen video shots of runners skipping along boulder fields and down scree slopes, nothing can prepare you for the real thing and I realised I found this sort of running so much more exciting and engrossing than some of the ultras I had done recently.
I planned a long weekend for this event. As I had at the Lakeland 50, I booked a room at the Sun in Coniston for a luxurious 3 nights. I anticipated some major leg pain and didn’t want the prospect of a long drive on the Sunday to prevent me from running my best. While I didn’t plan on racing Scafell hard, I did want to push myself to a certain degree to make it work for Lavaredo.
The race is well organised by Race Director Charlie Sproson and registration, with a full mountain kit check, was done on the Friday evening. It was pouring with rain then and it wasn’t expected to be any different the next day.
Having done registration I rocked up a bit casually the next morning at 7.05 to find there was no room where the race briefing was being held. Lots of people were standing on the stairs, or trying to go round to other entrances of Sticklebarn, to no avail.
We had all been keeping a weather eye on the forecast (😬) during the week and it was looking pretty grim with heavy rain and wind but Charlie had kept everyone up to date via Facebook and email and it was decided the full course would be run, to the relief of all the competitors. After all, we’re there to test ourselves on the route and terrain, not cruise down the valley bottoms keeping out of the weather.
I met a lady waiting outside who said all she knew of the course was that the Great Slab would be taken out. Great Slab? I felt completely clueless but decided ignorance was bliss and I would charge on regardless and hope that any course changes would be clearly signed posted. Otherwise, I assumed the safety briefing was like any other; take care of yourself and take care of others.
My one mistake on the kit list was where I thought the mandatory long sleeved top could be worn or carried: turned out it had to be carried as an emergency layer. This meant I was faced with wearing a t shirt for the start as I hadn’t brought a spare long sleeved top. Bugger. It was cold!
So I started in a t shirt (merino though of course) but also put my waterproof top and leggings straight on too, because not only was it raining but they kept the wind off too. However we felt down at the bottom, it was only going to be windier and colder at the top.
We were dibbed into the starting area and after a brief word from Charlie, we were waved off.
I started roughly in the middle of the pack which streamed out of the yard and into the fields behind the venue. Straight up of course. Unfortunately, when you are a middle of the pack runner, it does tend to mean you get caught up in all the pinch points and there was a particularly bad one going over a ladder on a wall that seemed to take ages.
So far, so normal. Like most hills I had done. A bit of a path, a bit of grass, people popping round each other as they settled into their ascent pace.
The higher up, the harder it got to overtake. The path either narrowed or disappeared completely. People tended to follow each other in a line but although I tried to follow my own line up, I noticed at the switchbacks people crowded together and didn’t want to you to squeeze in if you hadn’t queued as politely as they had. So British 🙄.
Of course, being the Lake District this ascent was longer than usual for me but I was feeling fresh and full of energy and happily ploughed onwards and upwards, eyeing up my next prey to overtake.
As I’m going up I realise it wasn’t just colder but very cold. I’m going to have to work hard to stay warm and cursed my error roundly. I suffer the cold a lot and am normally much better prepared but as I was moving house it meant I’d taken my eye off the ball for this weekend slightly.
We get to the top, and almost immediately descend. Two things become apparent. My leggings are billowing in the wind and causing my feet to catch and my shoes aren’t tight enough. I run on for a bit, enjoying passing people going down hill for a bit but reluctantly come to the conclusion I must see to both problems sooner rather than later.
Gritting my teeth as all the people I’d just passed streamed by me, I bent down and whipped off my leggings, gaiters and hauled at my laces. I got running again fairly quickly and while that wind on my legs was sharp, I was able to descend with much more confidence.
We go round Stickle Tarn (or rather round it then through it – the first of many shin-deep river fords) and then up again on the next ascent towards High Raise. The wind and rain are almost exactly the same now as they were at Hardmoors 50 in March. Visibility is much worse and although the course is beautifully marked with flags, sometimes it was really hard to see from one flag to the next; barely 100 meters.
I’m not good at converting kilometres to miles but I was sure that the main checkpoint that had food and drink, CP5, was about 6 miles in. My watch screen was permanently on the gpx of the route so I had no idea of time or distance; made all the worse by the weather and the terrain slowing things up.
I don’t remember much about coming down from Greenup Edge into Stonethwaite but I do remember being surprised by a dibbing checkpoint at “ground level” So to speak. There was a bit of roadwork here which immediately took it’s toll on my legs and a long stream of vintage souped-up Ford Escorts going by before I crossed a road.
I’m pretty sure I went past an area I recognised where I did a recovery run with Johnny and Sarah after Four Passes in 2017. My mind was already going a bit foggy! Another couple of miles and I finally reach CP5 and food. To my surprise (and joy) I rotated my screen round to show distance to see I had gone over 10 miles. This is great news to me – only a few more and I’m more than halfway. I have barely touched my two bottles so I grab a piece of soreen loaf and fly on through the dibber.
Now I am feeling tired and I am starting to be concerned about the cold again. Out of CP5 we went straight up again on another big climb next to a waterfall.
It was got quite technical and it reminded me of the last climb in the Lakeland 50 in the pitch black, headtorch lighting our way as we climbed a small technical bit but listening to a huge roar of a river, and clearly a big drop off the side, as we went.
I knew if I was tired I would be slower and if I was slower I would get colder. As I was already on the edge of being cold, I had to do something then before I hit the top. Where the land sloped more gently after the main waterfall, I stopped and took out the waterproof leggings and the long sleeved top. I wasn’t sure if putting it on would disqualify me but I needed it and would accept the consequences if so.
Onwards again, trying to make up the places I had just lost. We are now getting to one of the most technical bits of the course as we approach Great Gable and circle it underneath the summit. May I just remind you, patient reader, that the weather is still doing it’s best to power wash us off the mountain.
Here the sides of the hill slope steeply away to our right. There are smooth boulder fields which are actually giant ice cubes; each foot placed immediately starts sliding unless you can wedge your foot between two of them.
There are scree slopes to traverse, along which a faint line has been trodden down to make a path. There are medium size rocks of random sharp shapes, with no discernible path of flat rock to tread on at all.
The focus needed here was absolute. There was no looking up, around or sideways to enjoy the view (well, I did but only briefly and you must stop; don’t try to look whilst moving forward!).
This actually helped me greatly. My attention was on everything but the chill factor and my legs were getting a sort of rest as I hopped around, over and through rocks. I promised myself a cheese and pickle sarnie and a can of red bull at the next checkpoint so I was really looking forward to that.
At this point I’m in front of a couple of other runners; no idea who they were as I didn’t dare look behind me. We’re crossing a (thankfully rough not ice cube-style) boulder field and as I stepped from one rock to another, my left leg got caught between two boulders. This made me topple forward, pivoting on the ankle, my right leg tried to find purchase but couldn’t so I went splat.
I slammed into a large rock and gripped it tightly as this large rock happened to hang out into open space. I was literally clinging on for dear life as if I was sliding down the neck of a bolting horse, on which I’d lost my stirrups.
I carefully wriggle my left foot free of the rocks, highly aware of the two runners behind me who had stopped to watch with interest, gripped the rock I was hugging tighter, remounted it and moved on. “Mind that one” I said in a slightly shakey voice.
The next challenge was just after another scree field where there was a scramble. But the rock was so slippery, and the ledge so high, that there was a volunteer there hauling people up to the ledge he was on by grabbing their vests. I’m sure the Health & Safety Executive would have kittens if they saw that.
Onwards and round; I suddenly appear to reach a ledge with a drop away to nothing below it, where I must hug a boulder to inch round it. No. Surely not…. please no. The runner behind said “up” and I look slightly left and up and thankfully the path goes a different way. I’m so aware of the drop to my right and focus fiercely on my hand and foot placement but daren’t stop to admire/grimace at the view because of the runners behind and the CP ahead luring me on.
Finally, we are out of the worst of it and I can see a runner ahead actually running. The lady behind me said she thought the CP wasn’t far away. Thank goodness. I look down and see my beloved inov-8 trousers are ripped beyond repair from my fall. My merino gloves are in a similar state. This rock hopping is an expensive business!
With huge relief I get to the checkpoint point at the Sty Head Stretcher Box and I am told Scafell Pike has been taken out of the course for safety reasons. It does seem somewhat ironic that the one part of the course removed was the mountain the race is named after but I was also relieved. I ate my sandwich as I walked but it was still very cold. I drank a can of redbull as quickly as I could and with spirits much lighter I run on – only 6 miles left!
The course now went straight across to Esk Hause. From there we climbed more boulders up to Esk Pike then on to Bowfell but these reminded me more of climbing in the Cairngorms and bothered me less. The weather had also calmed down greatly and I was climbing strongly again so it was with a loud “Wahoo!” I summited Bowfell, much to the amusement of the checkpoint volunteers.
Now it was all downhill. There was some tricky rocks at first which slowed me down, to my great frustration. But faster and faster, as the boulder fields dropped to more occasional boulders here and there and finally to the path, which although filled with tourists, I flew past. All the while thinking the finish was at the bottom of this bloody great mountain and what a relief it would be to finish.
The stone path was still wet, so I avoided it where possible by going down the grassy bits on the edges. Focusing fiercely again on foot placement, glancing up occasionally to see people ahead that I would pass, walkers and runners. I was loving it and letting myself go, knowing this was nearly the end and I didn’t have to save my quads for anything more.
Down and down, the path changing from gravel to stone and back again, always hunting the grassy slopes either side. I passed a guy I’d exchanged a few words with coming into CP4 much earlier, his race over judging from his limp. A quick check to see he was ok and onwards – I’ve been in that position so many times I simultaneously sympathised and determined to make the most of the fact my body was still working.
Down and down, there’s a crest and I see the farm finally at the bottom. I increase my speed even more, relishing the feeling of being at the end. I race through the farmyard and pop straight out onto a road, with a runner I’d just passed now hanging on to me, giving me pressure.
Wait, what….. road….? I glance down at my watch and see the line continuing on, off the screen, no sign of the finish. I look up and see the bobbing heads of other runners ahead over the tops of the walls and hedged lining the road.
I quail but it can’t be that far. Now I must dig in even more and use that endurance I’ve spent all year building up. The road is still slightly sloping downwards and I use it to my full advantage.
It hurts. My legs are screaming but my focus is entirely on finishing as fast as possible. We come to a zig zag in the road, up through another farm. I finally remember from pouring over the map that we return along the Cumbria Way. As I go through the farmyard and get back on a footpath, I finally see the finish on my watch. Probably not much more than a mile to go. The path is painful, rocky with steep little slopes in places but the end is in sight at last.
I get to the finish, dib in and bend over desperately trying to get in air. I’d finished and what a relief. My tracker and dibber were removed without me even noticing.
Although the weather, or more honestly, my lack of preparedness, made the first half of this race hard, looking back within 5 minutes of finishing I knew I had loved it. As a newby to this sort of terrain I was also slightly star-struck…. “did you SEE that scree slope??” but I am sure the next time I run down or across a scree slope I’ll be waaaay cooler about it.
I’ve suspected for a while now this type of running suits me. I have huge admiration for those who are able to run, get in a rhythm and keep running all day. They are the 100 mile vets, the ones who can grit it out no matter what.
But I am not like that. More than a marathon of running in one go and I get bored. My body feels like it’s run out of oil and I’m forcing metal against metal when I run. I love terrain variety. I’m happy with heights and happiest going up hill, knowing there’ll be a flat bit or a downhill after that. It lets the different muscle groups rest as I rotate through between quads and hams and glutes.
I didn’t discover what the Great Slab was until home after the race when I googled it. It was pretty much as described and certainly in that rain it would have been lethal. I’m not sure where it was though because my watch didn’t show a deviation off the route again.
By the way scree slopes are much easier than you think – dig your heels in and keep your body over your feet and you’ll be fine. Give it a go! It was such FUN!
I ran the Halstead Marathon last Sunday. I ran a Personal Best of 3 hours 44 minutes. I loved it.
In 2012 I ran my first marathon at Halstead. I did it in 4 hours 34 minutes. I hated it.
I don’t know why I chose to do a marathon. I can’t remember the thought process that got me there. What I do remember is coming back from Africa in 2008 and piling on the pounds.
Although I’ve always run as a means of fitness, I stopped in all the chaos of moving continents with a 2 year old and two dogs, not to mention a husband who was too busy working to help at home.
So when I got tired of being slightly dumpy, I started running again the following summer. I didn’t run in winter in those days. How different life is now.
On one particular run I did 8kms. 8!!! I returned home ecstatic with this immense distance I had achieved. The feeling of achievement and accomplishment filled me with excitement. The next day I set out to do exactly the same again.
Within a mile I rolled and tore my right peroneal tendon. I was horizontal on the trail for some time with the pain; a dog walker found me; husband was called to rescue me and I spent 6 months seeing a physio and getting back on my feet.
But that feeling of euphoria stayed with me throughout that winter. I champed at the bit to get back running and find that feeling again.
On 1st March 2010 I set off on a 3 mile jog on a beautiful sunny day. And started entering 5 and 10k races. I honestly can’t remember why I made the leap straight into marathons, but I did.
I joined Halstead Road Runners after a riding friend suggested I join her club and it was through the club I learned about the marathon they organised. It’s held all around the beautiful, quiet and surprisingly hilly lanes of north Essex.
I followed a marathon training plan, from an app on my phone. I have to say, even at the time, I felt it didn’t provide enough long runs, or even that the long runs were long enough. But I followed it and toed the line in May 2012.
I hated it. It was a classic case of train just enough to get to 20 miles then crash. I still look at the formulaic marathon plans that you can pick up off the internet and wonder why the long runs only go up to 20 miles.
I ran with my friend happily chattering round and as things started to get harder towards 20 miles I started grinding to a walk and my friend eventually (and rightly) kept going.
I then spent a tortuous 6 miles walking and jogging painfully, my glutes seizing regularly, cursing and feeling an absolute failure. I finally waddled in 4 hours 34 mins and practically burst into tears at the finish. I had walked. I was a failure.
Before people criticise me for saying that, I must just point out that no marathon finish is a failure. But if you set yourself a goal and if you don’t meet that goal, you feel you’ve failed. To me running a marathon was just that. Running. Walking meant I hadn’t trained enough.
Of course, despite vowing off running marathons ever again, I did actually plan on running in 2013 and I started training in the January with every intention of training better. But in March/April I was struck with cold after cold and training became non existent and I simply wasn’t starting unless I felt confident my training had got me fitter.
And that summer, Facebook suggested I might like to follow a new page called SVP100. What was this? A local race! That ran literally along the bottom of my road. But wait a minute…. 100 KILOMETRES?? What was this madness?
I followed the page with interest. Read the comments posted by runners leading up to the event, read the comments made by runners after the event. And, most importantly of all, I read the blog of someone who started SVP and would later go on to be a friend, mentor and coach; Dan. This blog was instrumental in giving me the idea to do this mad race. I’ve blamed him ever since.
Why? Dan DNF’d the race. How could that persude me to try it? It was reading not only his account of the race, but his reasons for not finishing and the reasons that he was OK with not finishing. Reading this took away the fear of failing and it actually gave me the confidence to give it a go. Because if something didn’t work out, and I couldn’t finish, it wouldn’t be the end of the world; I wouldn’t be the failure I thought I was after the marathon, and it would all just contribute to my experience and knowledge going forward.
I signed up for SVP100 2014 the moment entries opened in October 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve run Halstead a total of 4 times and I believe this year is my last. I’ve run many other marathons in between, but Halstead will always remain the best for me and so special for starting me on the road to ultras.
This is possibly the first race I have started which I actually felt prepared for. Mentally I was in a good place; I knew it was going to be the hardest run I’d ever done; I knew the weather was potentially going to be horrendous; I knew it was going to be a long hard slog.
Physically, with the exception of the odd difficult week, training had gone well since I started at the end of December; Hardmoors 55 was a confidence boost at which I’d felt great throughout until my back went. Plus the weather there had toughened me up.
Where to start?
I was sharing an Airbnb cottage with mates Dan and Chris and we all arrived there early evening on Friday. I imagine the scene that ensued will be familiar to everyone; despite going over kit 100 times in the preceding weeks, we all set about emptying our bags and going through our kit again. Chris cooked us supper; much to my alarm….
…. but it turned out to be delicious. While dinner cooked we set off to Threshfield to register and have our kit checked.
We arrived at registration, which was at the finish in the local school, and started with being told all the later buses in the morning, taking runners to the start, were full so we were allocated the 6am bus. Ugh. We then approached the kit check with some trepidation, as it was taken very seriously.
Unlike at other races where a spot check is taken, absolutely everything was inspected and checked. I had a mild moment of panic when my Custom design OS Map I’d had done for the Fellsman was queried by one of my inspectors for not being Explorer OL2, OL30 or the specific Fellsman one you could buy. Thankfully, however, the other one said as it was an OS map with the whole route on it, it was good to go.
We all passed our tests and skipped off back to the cottage for some food and an early night. Ha!
Shepherds pie wolfed, we then had to repack our packs with all the gear. And add those last bits like battery packs. Another dither over whether to pack that extra gilet…. in my case the answer should always be yes. Eventually, I think we went to bed around 11.30pm, having set my alarm for 4am.
Why on earth 4am? Because I need to snooze at least once before I get up. I need time to faff in the mornings. I need time to make tea. I need time to contemplate whether or not I can go to the loo at that hour, usually not. And we had to drive to the Fellsman car park and get a shuttle bus to the finish in time to catch the bus to the start.
We left the house at 5.15am, and set off in search of the car park. Turned out to be in a quarry outside of the village. I bagged a sneaky spot by the gate and as luck would have it a mini bus turned up straight away. Oh and do I need to tell you it was raining? No. The 2019 Race Weather Fairy has clearly buggered off on holiday.
We got to the finish about 15 minutes before our bus. People were drifting in looking a bit pie-eyed and wandering around. Breakfast could be had if you’d ordered and paid for it but we had chosen not to. I had been very organised the night before and made myself a peanut butter sandwich for this time; eating before I left was simply too early for me. Sadly I lacked the wherewithal to bring it with me.
The bus arrived, we all trooped on. Dan and I sat together and Chris sat across the aisle, with a Fellsman veteran next to him, and Chris wasted no time asking for tips. I drifted off to sleep listening to the man giving instructions about which side of the wall to stick to…… go up the left side of that gully…… I hope Chris is taking notes…..
The start in Ingleton was in the Community Centre and the huge hall quickly filled up with runners, all in various stages of dress. Looking outside, the sky was fairly bright but it was raining so we agreed to start the run wearing full waterproofs. Jamie found us – another Twitter mate long known but never met so it was great to meet him.
With echos of Hardmoors, we troop outside for the start in the rain and much to our amusement, as the field slowly started across the playing fields, it immediately split into two groups. I didn’t expect to use the nav on my watch so quickly but we decided to go with the majority who branched left. From the moment we left the playing fields we went up and didn’t stop until we reached the Ingleborough trig 3 miles later. It was to be the easiest ascent of them all.
A friend Lio was crewing for the 3 Peaks which was also being run that weekend and said he’d hop over to run a few miles with us. I met him coming down from Ingleborough as I was on the way up. Chris and Dan were already slightly ahead of me so I spent the next few miles chatting to Lio and learning a great deal about descending from this amazing runner from the Alps. We caught up to Dan for a bit, and jogged together through Chapel le Dale and started the next ascent to Whernside, where I lost Dan again. Lio stayed with me until the trig and peeled off back to his car and crewing duties.
I turned back on myself and started the run back down Whernside wondering where the boys were. The plan had always been to run this together. But I was reluctant and stubborn enough not to be lured faster than the pace I felt was sensible given what was ahead of us. I realised I wasn’t going to catch them up and they weren’t waiting for me anywhere so I started to mentally prepare myself to continue this journey alone.
The next climb was Gragareth. The steepest and nastiest climb I have ever done but only the first of many such climbs and the poles finally came out and were appreciated going up this muddy gradient.
You’ll notice a familiar theme through most of the photos; fog/cloud/rain/murk with bog/grass/steep gradient. We really had all the weather throughout the day but mostly it was simply wet. Even after the dry weather we’ve been having, my feet disappeared into bog up to my knees several times. No, the poles don’t help here.
I made good time running along the ridge from Gragareth to Great Coum. Although the ground was very wet up here, I seemed able to skim along the top without great issue and seemingly made up a fair bit of ground as I found the boys waiting at the next big checkpoint at Dent, 20 miles in. Tongue lashing given, I quickly forgot my ire as my relief took over at finding the boys, not only because I wanted to be with them but it also meant I wouldn’t be grouped alone with strangers for the night section later.
On we went, along a short road section, before the start of another long climb to Blea Moor and then down to the next food checkpoint at Stonehouse, about 27 miles in. We had just arrived in the tent and sat down when a huge hail storm hit. Several people were hanging onto the tent while the clowns fed and watered us. I had two bowls of the best pasta ever here.
Onwards we went, again another monster climb up to Great Knoutberry Hill, a particularly disheartening out and back where the trig never seemed to get any closer. My legs were pretty dead now and we noticed at the top how there appeared to be clear skies over to the left of us and clear skies over to the right of us but ahead, in the direction we were going, was still black and menacing clouds. Hey ho.
We started the descent and found a good route around the bog down to the next major checkpoint at Redshaw. After another thorough dousing Dan started fantasizing about the next checkpoint being a village hall; where we could change into our dry clothes for the night in warmth and comfort. Where there’d be a loo (something I’d eaten wasn’t sitting right in my tummy).
Of course it was another damp but warm tent, albeit with the cheerful volunteers manning it. We spent a long time here, and it was also where we were to be grouped for the night as dark was falling quickly.
One of the interesting aspects of The Fellsman is that, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to cross the moors at night alone (too many werewolves?). So groups of 4+ are made at various checkpoints depending on the time of day and when you happen to turn up. You must stick together until dawn, when the next major checkpoint after sun-up allows you to disband.
We changed into warm, dry clothes and when we were ready Chris told the CP manager and he grouped us with 4 other people and we became a party of 7, with Chris in charge of the group listing, which had to be checked off at each CP over the night to ensure we stuck together.
So, with these random strangers who set off ahead, we went back outside into the cold wet evening, straight into the longest stretch of cold wet bog we had experienced. I was slightly irritated I’d just changed into my warm dry socks but I didn’t regret the change and as is the best way, just shrugged and walked through most of it.
Chris and I at The Fellsman in 2019
Our new team mates seemed to know what they were doing navigation wise. They had various means of navigating, as we did, but they seemed keen to be ahead and I occasionally put in my two pennies worth when there was a debate over direction. It was a system that was to work fairly well throughout the night. By this stage I was tired and fairly withdrawn so wasn’t really up to chatting with strangers and I hope they didn’t think I was too aloof.
The next climb was Dodd Fell and we went straight up into a heavy mist as full dark came upon us. I took the lead for a change, and we headed down off the hill. Eventually, after a bit of confusion and scrambling over a couple of walls, we were on track for Fleet Moss checkpoint. Another good stop, resting and eating, we moved on to the next bit that our team mates were moaning about but Chris, Dan and I were actually looking forward to – a road section!
Everyone was muttering about the huge change to the route that prevented us crossing the moor and forcing us down the road before cutting back up to the moor, presumably around someone’s land who didn’t want us on it. It seems to me that saved us a lot of time – it was a good few miles to the next checkpoint and doing that straight across the moor would surely have taken us a lot longer.
Apart from the steep descent that had my quads screaming again, it was bliss to be on a firm surface and getting some forward momentum. Although we wanted to trot earlier, it was clear to us none of the others was interested in running so we didn’t suggest a trot along the road at the bottom.
The next instructions were to go back up to the moor, via a route that was to be strictly adhered to and which had our team mates struggling for the first time to find the elusive checkpoint on Middle Tongue.
This is the 3rd occasion I’ve gone through the night (running that is, not clubbing) and as on the previous two occasions, I hit the wall at about 1am. It is particularly hard to fight the urge to sleep when you are also climbing a slope that looks like a wall in front of you, and some complete strangers are clearly leading you astray and off course. When they stopped again, Chris sat down and told me to stop and rest too for a minute.
I gazed around blankly then got my map out and checked myself to see where we were and if the others were looking for the right coordinates. Chris reckoned we needed to be further east and he was right. We went back on ourselves slightly, crested another rise and bingo, there was the tent, lurking with the volunteers not getting out but punching our tallys through a gap in the zip because it was so cold.
We turned and saw a sudden horde of headtorches approaching up the hill so we cracked on towards the next CP at Hell Gap. Progress is slow; we are still walking directly across moorland so the poles had been superglued to my hands for hours now. However tough the going is, because your speed is so slow you really don’t retain any body warmth and it turned out Dan was starting to suffer. To my surprise and sadness he said he would drop at the next CP; he was simply too cold and his quads were shot.
Having got past Fleet Moss and heading towards Hell Gap, I really felt we were on the homestretch; in fact we were merely in the last 1/3 and there was still a long way to go. Unfortunately the CP at Hell Gap was only a man in a truck trying to stay warm under a duvet (!) so Dan had to push on, luckily only another mile down the road to a proper CP with tent and food.
I was very sorry to see Dan stop. He’s a great mate and good company on a long haul. But I know what it’s like – once you are that cold there is no coming back. Having taken on more food and drink (I’m just drinking tea and eating the odd biscuit now) we set off again.
One of our team mates immediately announced he had a tip from someone at the crew stop and instead of following the path down the road, we went straight across into a wet boggy field. Two of them went ahead to scout which way and the rest of us trudged wearily across yet more bog (will my feet ever dry up?).
We were in a random field, climbing ridiculously steep slopes; then we had to clamber over huge dry stone walls with wire across the top and I watched enviously as headtorches bobbed along the nice dry road below us. We continued to clamber up and up, searching for Buckden Pike, the next peak to summit.
I was suddenly aware of a huge drop to my right. Don’t look don’t look don’t look and to my relief we crested that particular climb to see Buckden Pike ahead of us. Was that light the first hint of dawn behind us?
To our collective horror, the drop that had been on our right curved round in front of us and a huge cut lay between us and Buckden. There was no way we could get down and back up the other side and a quick check of my map showed the original path lay on the other side of the gap. I cursed and just as I was about to round on the navigator, one of the others suddenly whooped and showed us the valley head was just to the left of us.
Huge relief all round and we trooped round the amazing natural feature and on to join the original path up to Buckden Pike. I was feeling good again so led the way up to the summit, another mountain accomplished.
So, just Great Whernside to go; surely we were only a couple of hours away from the end now? I had absolutely no knowledge of the area at all. I had only visited once before to run with friends from Malham, so I had no concept of where we were in relation to the start or finish. The tracking card I usually make (see above) to carry had crumpled to nothing in the wet so I was literally going on the gpx from my watch or map reading and had no clue anymore as to the distances to the next checkpoint, or even the finish.
We made it to Top Mere (a complete blank – can’t remember that one at all!!), then down to the checkpoint at Park Rash where the night grouping was disbanded at last. The other team bid us farewell and went off, leaving Chris and I to finish together. It was here it dawned on me that we still had 10 miles to go – which could easily take us another 3-4 hours.
Strangely that didn’t perturb me particularly. I was tired but unsurprised and it was just time to get up and keep going. It helped greatly to know I had nowhere to go on Sunday so it didn’t matter how long it would take us – we’d passed the last cut off easily and no matter what now we would finish.
Chris and I started the climb to Great Whernside – the usual heavy bog at the base, then the steep climb up the side of this monster. Sunday had decided to be benevolent towards us and the day was sunny, albeit still windy and chilly. It was lovely to see it out and see the stunning views. I really hadn’t expected the vastness of the landscape that was so reminiscent of the Lakes; those huge glacier-carved valleys are truly stunning and I was happy to stop and rest and take it all in every now and again.
I had pulled a little ahead of Chris towards the top of Great Whernside where there were great boulders lying around all over the place so I lay down briefly on one, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Chris arrived and pulled me up and on we went, finding the CP, getting the clip and of course visiting the trig before turning for home.
The descent off Great Whernside was the most dispiriting; whether because it was literally miles of bog or because I was just exhausted beyond belief I’m not sure. But it took forever, down and down, Chris now navigating. One of the defining memories I’ll have of this place is the scale of the walls. Every single one of them, without exception, was at least 5ft high. Did this used to be Troll country? Why on earth were these walls so big? We passed stone wall after stone wall, counting them to find the right one to turn down.
At last, we leave the moorland behind and start crossing livestock fields, which then turned into a track. My feet were killing me at this stage – little toes squashed and angry from all the uneven terrain and although I’d put on blister plasters at Park Rash, everything was screaming again.
There were still a few miles to go so I stopped briefly and downed a couple of neurofen and 3 Pro-Plus. Chris, going through his own pain and down patch, was then subjected to my sudden annoying cheerfulness and verbal dissection of the stock fencing we were going past – sorry Chris!
We hit the road, the last checkpoint (24 of them!!), and started down the final part of our journey. Chris was grumbling about the never ending road and the steepness of the descent, but although my quads were painful too, I was hitting that high of knowing we were at the end – we had done it! Or it might have been the Pro-Plus. Whatever. I was so so happy.
I texted Dan. When he dropped it was agreed he would take my car back to the cottage to sleep and wash then come back to collect us. Dan was waiting for us just outside the school – it was so lovely to see him.
We staggered in like the walking dead. I’m still feeling a little spaced, Chris is clearly shattered, Dan is running around after us as if he hadn’t just gone through the night himself. We were given Fellsman buffs and our tally discs were taken off us to be checked and sent to us later.
I am really the most proud of finishing this race above all others. It was one of those occasions when everything actually came together and worked and more importantly my head and back were in the right place. Plus its reputation as a tough route is warranted – many of you will love this race and I would definitely recommend it.
Did the poles help my back? I’m sure they did. But I’m also sure the long checkpoints helped too. Sitting down and resting always helps. At the end of Hardmoors, when my back had been at its absolute worst for 10 miles, cramping and stopping me regularly with pain, after sitting down for 10-15 minutes I was able to walk back down the road without any pain at all.
Dare I say Hardmoors looks like a parkrun to me now – all those flagstone paths are so easy to run on! I’m not good at running across moorland – I don’t like it and don’t want to so don’t be put off by our slow time. This was always going to be a long hike for me and many of you would complete it much quicker.
The Fellsman encapsulated everything I hate the most. But that’s why I did it. If I can go for that long in that terrain and hate it, it should set me up for doing a similar distance and elevation but in a stunning location I want to be in. So I go forward feeling great about Lavaredo and Scafell. They’re both huge challenges in their own right, but at least I can say I’ve set myself up in the best way I can for them.