I am strangely positive about this weekend’s race. Given my poor physical circumstances, it will be a miracle if I get round, but I am excited for it.
Those that know me will know that I am not sandbagging when I say that to finish will be a miracle. The menopause combined with arthritic knees makes training a game of hide and seek. I am constantly seeking the energy needed to train, and the strong knees of three years ago are so well hidden, I’ll never find them.
Despite this, I still have the urge to push myself beyond reasonable limits. I still have a fire in my belly to go for ridiculously long distances.
I feel I should write more about the menopause, but in all honesty I’m sick to death of it. Nothing has really changed in 3 years, despite being on HRT and testosterone, that “magic” formula. I’m still exhausted most of the time. I just live with it now, still in the hope that I’ll pop out the other end, a beautiful and energetic butterfly, past the slug stage (both mental and physical).
It does make me more determined not to be restrained or restricted by it. If I need to hike this race, I bloody well will so long as I can stay ahead of the cut offs. I did a 27 mile recce in February, so I KNOW I can do distance. And I did it within target pace too.
The last time I ran anything over 50k was in 2019 when I did the Fellsman. Doing a silly long race with a silly pointy profile still gets my heart racing and I am excited to test my mental strength against this broken body.
Mentally forcing myself to do things is probably what got me into this position in the first place. But I think I have learned some lessons and I have got myself in the best place I can be, to give myself the best chance of finishing. Because there is a faint chance of finishing and that is what I will be chasing on Saturday.
So if you feel like watching the slowest ever dot move across one of the harshest landscapes the UK, then I would welcome your support ❤️
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!
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!
Well. On the one hand I’m totally speechless. On the other I have so much going through my head about this race.
We knew the weather was going to be interesting. The debate leading up to the race was whether to start with waterproofs on; what to wear, what layers to pack. I really don’t mind weather so long as I’m prepared for it. And I was. I knew I was going to run; I wasn’t going to hang around, so wore my long sleeved merino hoody under my OMM Kamleika, long merino socks under tights, with my inov-8 waterproof ultra light over-trousers. At no point did I regret my clothing choice, except for wishing I had more at the very end.
Anyway, to the race. Once I realised the usual arrangement of meeting a coach at the finish of the race first thing in the morning and taking it to the start had been changed, I arranged for a taxi to take us from the finish to the start. The rain had woken me at 2.30am and by the time we drove across the moors to Guisborough, the roads were fully flooded and we were very grateful for our grand Land Rover Discovery taxi as it ploughed through the waterlogged roads.
Our registration passed without comment and my friend Con and I hung around like you do, waiting for the start. We said hello to another Hardmoors old hand, Nige Hargreaves and was supposed to meet up with Chris Randall too but the Scout Hut got busier and busier, eventually forcing us out of the main hall and into one of the side rooms. We found Helen and from there we got hotter and hotter so decided to go outside to wait for the start at 8am, which was only 5 minutes away. It was raining hard outside and we quickly became wet and cold, getting restless as 8am came and went and nothing seemed to be happening.
Eventually, at 8.18am, something happened at the front and people started shuffling forward. We were off!
Down in Guisborough, although the rain made itself known, the wind was quiet and we had an uneventful mile or two to the bottom of Highcliff Nab. I have gone up here once before at the start of Hardmoors 60 but the mud surpassed my memory and much mincing and swearing ensued as the still closely grouped runners slipped and staggered up the steep hill.
When we reached the top the wind hit us and we staggered at its force. Wow, ok. So this is what it’s going to be like. We set off down the flag stones, with the next stop Roseberry Topping.
In case you don’t know about the Hardmoors series, check out their website here. Hardmoors 55 is a race run between Guisborough and Helmsley along the Cleveland Way but this was a special year; not only was it the 10th anniversary of Hardmoors 55, but it was also the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Way so the director Jon Steele decided to make this year’s race “special”. The race was reduced to 50 miles (he is notorious for all his races being over the advertised distance) and we spent the entire race trying to figure out where on earth he had changed the route to make it supposedly shorter. However, the one obvious difference was Roseberry Topping. We had to climb it twice. Great!
The actual climb up it isn’t so bad in my book, but the wind at the top took our breath away. Take a look at my periscope clip to get an idea of what it was like. Then we had to descend off the right side of Roseberry Topping (the phone got put away as I saw it meant climbing down!) and down we went, fighting the wind as it tried to snatch our footing from us, dodging people coming up who were already on the return trip. This descent was never ending! Down the stone path, through a gate, down a muddy path, switch back, all the time making way for runners coming up (we are all still bunched up at this stage), down through the woods to a checkpoint at the bottom. Turn straight around and go back up! Ugh.
It was a long ascent but eventually we got back up underneath the trig and off down the path returning the way we had come. Con flew off as he loves whizzing down the descents but I was more lady-like (of course). Not only was I wearing Hoka Challengers but I was cautious to pace my legs as I knew there was nearly 10,000 feet of elevation coming up and I wanted to keep my powder dry.
Next stop was Kildale, a drop bag checkpoint. When I was arranging our drop bags the night before, Con questioned why a drop bag point was only 10 miles in. I didn’t know the answer, but I did think that I wouldn’t need to carry any food at the beginning and any weight saved is a bonus to me, considering the fairly hefty mandatory kit we had to carry. As we ran, however, I realised we had had breakfast at 5.30am and by the time we arrived in Kildale at 10.45 we would be hungry. I was looking forward to my cheese and pickle sarnies and stuffing my vest with goodies to see me through Bloworth Crossing.
I knew the next 8 mile section very well. I had done it in both directions, and had also waited anxiously when I was crewing for a friend on the other side of it. I knew it was a long slog and mentally a tough challenge even in calm weather. Once we had climbed up onto the moor again, it was a long rocky track to Bloworth Crossing itself – a convergence of trails and tracks up on the moor. This was where American Werewolf was filmed and you can see why the lads were advised to stick to the path.
There is a stark beauty to these moors and when you look in detail at the flora and fauna around you it is stunning, but taking in the big picture I find it very bleak; moors stretching in all directions to the horizon, the wind whipping across with no natural features to stop it until it hits you. And that’s on a calm day. On this day it was anything but calm and the rain lashed across us horizontally, the track flooded with water, turning it into a river and the immensely strong gusts of wind trying to push you over.
The race director had sent an email out before the race suggesting that some sort of goggles might be a good idea in case the weather was similar to the previous year (heavy snow). However, in these windy conditions I was very grateful for my goggles and put them on. Although my vision wasn’t great with them, the footing wasn’t precarious enough to matter and the sharp needles of rain on my face were very painful. By pulling up my buff and tucking them under my goggles, I was protected. Con said I looked like I was about to fly a biplane but frankly I didn’t care!
I knew once we reached Bloworth, we were more than halfway to the next checkpoint so I was pleased when we finally reached that point. Con and I couldn’t talk in this weather so we had been running along together in silence and sometimes another mate of ours Dennis would catch us up, chat for a bit, and keep going. He was struggling with an injury but when he was running he looked very strong and always ran past us but then we caught him as he kept stopping, I assume to stretch.
Finally we descend down, out of the wind (how is it possible it was in our faces the whole way??) and to the Clay Bank checkpoint. Another memory point – both of my previous DNF at HM110, when my mate Gav was crewing me and was at the gate to meet me with a cup of tea, and also the place where I, in turn, had crewed him and waited anxiously for his arrival off the moor in the dead of night.
The first of 3 Sisters after the Clay Bank checkpoint. Con looking well chuffed!
And now we had the 3 Sisters to look forward to – 3 sharp little hills which somehow weren’t nearly as impressive as I remembered from before. Perhaps training in the Peaks really has helped me. As I came to the top of each hill, I was still strong enough to immediately set off at a trot and although my legs had complained crossing the moor, suddenly they felt loose and running at a good trot came easily.
I knew Con was struggling with foot pain and he dropped back slightly but I wasn’t concerned. I knew he’d get his second wind soon enough. However, a couple of miles from the next checkpoint, Scugdale (these place names are so glamorous), I glanced over my shoulder to check he was there but found myself staring at a complete stranger behind me. Oh no, it’s ok, that must be Con behind him. No. My gaze slipped back to each figure along the flagstone path, searching for the fairly easily recognisable silver overtrousers but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Shit!
I was appalled and instantly felt guilty. We were mates and were running this together and somehow I had dropped him without even noticing. I got my phone out but it was soaking wet and although I keyed the right password in, it said I hadn’t and locked me out. I turned and started running again; without him in sight I must crack on. I had an agenda and even despite that, you absolutely couldn’t stop for long without getting very cold, very quickly.
I pause when I reach the checkpoint, try my phone again and get locked out for even longer – ffs!! I wanted to check the tracker to see how far back he was. But again, I didn’t dare hang around long and cracked on towards Osmotherley.
The next few miles passed without me noticing much – all my focus was on running while my legs felt good. Walked the steep hills, jogged the creepy-uppies, run everything else. I was leap frogging with a couple of friendly guys who I’d had a quick shoe chat with (imagine!!) and came down with them into Osmotherley, 30 miles in, 20 to go and the second drop bag checkpoint.
By this point my brain was starting to fry I think and although I was compos mentis enough to produce my headtorch at the spot kit check, when I retrieved my drop bag I looked vaguely in it and stared at the food laid out on the tables and had a momentary brain shut down. I wanted to push on. I had said to Con when we got here I’d take my shoes off and give my aching feet a rub, wring out my socks etc but my feet were feeling fine and I had this sense of urgency to move on. I grabbed a sandwich and bag of fruit out of the bag, put the bag back in the pile for Con to retrieve later, and left within a few minutes.
I was now surrounded by strange people, not the familiar ones I had been frog hopping with for miles before. It’s funny isn’t it how you get used to the people around you even if you don’t talk to them. But my new companions were a miserable lot so my head went down again and now my focus was purely on getting to the White Horse checkpoint before dark. Once I was there, it was 10 miles downhill to home. Easy.
We looked happy at the beginning!
Ha. Perhaps this is where I went wrong. I was so focused on getting to White Horse, that when I did, the wheels kind of exploded off. I did slow down in the last couple of miles and I did have to get my headtorch out just before I reached it but the descent to the checkpoint took its toll, and the never ending track to the checkpoint itself through the woods, a nasty muddy track, slowed me to a walk. My back was aching, my stomach was aching, my arms were aching. I was simply exhausted.
After staring blankly at the checkpoint marshals, I pushed on but just before climbing the steps out I stopped and got out my microfleece. I knew I was struggling, it was now full dark and it would get very cold. I did a bit of a sort too and emptied the pockets of my stuffed vest into my dry bag in the back and set off again. Once I had climbed back up (I may have used the handrail here), you had to run back along the same track you had run in on and here I passed several headtorches on their way to the checkpoint. I looked at them all carefully in case one of them was Con but they weren’t.
Don’t get me wrong – I can and do races by myself but when you enter with friends, so long as everyone is roughly of equal pace, you stick together and keep each other going. It is one thing to enter a race alone, mentally geared to running alone, but quite another to suddenly find yourself alone when you had been running with your best friend. Coupled with the fact I was feeling guilty anyway, I did feel a bit sorry for myself at this point (ok, I threw my toys out).
Soon enough I had to turn off the escarpment path and turn east for Helmsley. I got a little lift when my watch said there was only 9 miles to go – I thought it was 10 so that was a bonus. But my heart sank when the path turned to very wet, very thick mud. I slid and staggered along, my feet getting very cold and wet again (in the last 5 miles or so the rain had stopped so I had pretty much dried off under my coat and leggings.
My back was sore. My feet were sore. My stomach was sore. My arms were sore. My poor biceps had been carrying my forearms in the 90 degree position for 11 hours and they weren’t used to it!! I thought I would design little slings on my vest that I could hook my arms into to rest them. Yes, as you can see, my poor brain had gone.
My death march continued on, getting passed occasionally by people still able to raise a jog. I arrived at a road and again stared blankly around me. Where to go? I remembered I had a watch that could helpfully tell me this important information and I consulted it and continued on, staggering down a road into the face of an oncoming car. I managed to avoid getting squished.
I didn’t remember this bit at all but my only memory of this section was from 3 years earlier in reverse, so I wasn’t surprised I didn’t know where I was. I heard footsteps behind me and I exchange a few words with the chap who joined me, then I heard a familiar sound. The sound of a breath being forced out sharply, as you do when making an effort. Con!! I turned, saw him coming up behind me and gave him a huge hug.
We exchanged our stories; he had dropped so far behind because he had waited at the checkpoint thinking that perhaps I had gone to the loo but he had started feeling much better quite quickly after losing me and when comparing our split times afterwards you could see him reeling me in as the time between us dropped from 20 mins to 8 mins at the previous checkpoint.
I explained I was done in and death marching in. Whilst slipping in this infernal mud. I might as well have worn road shoes but I still didn’t regret my shoe choice. I had to keep stopping to stretch my back, my feet were still incredibly cold and painful and whenever I tried to jog when it wasn’t muddy, I immediately felt nauseous. It was a very long, very painful slog back and took us 3 hours to cover that 9 miles. You’ve all been there and I don’t need to describe it further.
When we got back we found out there had been over 100 DNFs out of the approximate 500 entries. The provisional results show 300 finishers so that means there were about 100 DNS. It was very cold and if you couldn’t run, I can see how there would have been many casualties. On our march back to Helmsley I got very cold, miserably cold but I knew the end was in sight so kept walking fast (something to thank Chris Randall for!).
Although I was utterly miserable for those last three hours, and disappointed that I had imploded so much after running so well and strongly to the White Horse checkpoint, I have only taken positives away:
I am much stronger going up hills.
I am much stronger mentally at running along the boring flats.
I went into this race knowing my endurance wasn’t great so I am not surprised that I only made it to 40 miles. But I made it to 40 miles very well considering the conditions and elevation and that was the point of this race after all; to boost my endurance.
Although my back went again, I had been managing it throughout most of the race well. It had been twinging during the drive up so I suspected it would give me trouble but I was able to keep on top of it. Everyone has their weaknesses and when you are exhausted from battling 40 mile an hour winds, when every muscle has been tensed to fight the next gust, if I didn’t have a back problem something else would have started hurting to slow me down.
I finished. With these sort of races, I think finishing is something to be proud of.
So, the first part of my training for Lavaredo has gone to plan and completed successfully. Next up? Watch this space ;0)
As many of you will know, the last couple of years have been a tough battle with my back. I dnf’d all ultras in 2017 despite seeking help from doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists and even an acupuncturist. Throughout all of this I went to a gym and had a private coach for 6 months doing strength training with me. None of it worked.
However, towards the end of 2017 there was a glimmer of hope as I finished the South2North 2 day Peak District race which was 30 miles on day one and 25 on day two. With some gentle but consistent training over winter, I successfully completed my local Peddar’s Way Ultra which was 48 miles. South Downs Way 50 was also successful, as was a 30 miler 2 weeks after that, recceing a new course with a friend. But this hopeful start was dashed by an epic DNF at Skye Trails Ultra in May but then a successful SVP100 finish in August. There is no rhyme nor reason. The cause is muscular and if I catch it early I am able to fend off the pain by focusing on lengthening my spine, keeping my pelvis at the right angle. When I am tired I tend to arch my back and logically one can see the added pressure this brings to bear over distance.
Then a friend helped me with a completely new training plan leading up to Hardwolds 80 in November last year. Rather than just running randomly, he suggested an 12 week plan which included two blocks of 60 miles a week for three weeks, with one rest week in between. I had never done this mileage before but was up for giving it a go and the difference I felt in myself was amazing. Perhaps there is an element of psychology here as I’ve always felt getting the miles in was important but being a single mother has made consistent running hard. But having the 60 mile weeks as a goal not only got my miles up but ensured I was running consistently, every day except Mondays as a rest day.
At the end of the last block of high miles weeks, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon as my last long run before tapering for Hardwolds. I was feeling so good, so fit and lacking in any pain, I decided to run it hard. I had a great race, felt strong and hammered the hills, up and down. But the following week, going out on a normal run, my back seized and I was forced to walk home. It continued to spasm over the next few days, forcing my decision to DNS Hardwolds 80 that weekend.
Despite this, however, I was feeling decidedly optimistic. The training had gone really well – being strong and fit clearly helps me control my back. It was a stupid mistake to go so hard at the marathon, and I clearly need to improve my form going up and down hills, but I felt no disappointment at missing out at Hardwolds.
Last September the same friend suggested I enter the Lavaredo ballot. To me, going abroad for a race was a whole new level and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it but I thought there was no harm in entering the ballot. To my amazement, when I received the email confirming my entry in October, the excitement I felt at doing this race surpassed any feelings of wanting to go back to finish a race I had failed at before (I had entered Hardmoors 110 too). Having been to Chamonix, running with friends for a few days last August, I realised that I love those technical mountain trails and even the climbs and actually I’ve had enough of English winter mud.
So not doing Hardwolds was no issue for me and my plans for 2019 took place; with every run and training week planned, leading up to Lavaredo at the end of June.
So, here we are. Hardmoors 50 is this weekend. I’ve done some good training although I feel it has slightly lacked long runs. But that is what this coming race is for – getting my endurance up gradually over the next few months. I am happy to endure the English mud for the benefit of training and getting stronger and I am looking forward to starting this race for a 3rd time. In 2016 I ran this race the opposite way with friends, and did it in 11 hours 48 minutes. You can see how happy we all are above 😉 but I shall be aiming for the same time, albeit over a supposedly shorter course and going from Guisborough to Helmsley is technically easier as the big climbs are in the first half of the race, with the last 10 miles being generally downhill.
Will my back go? I have no idea. But I have done everything I can to prepare myself and as this weekend’s race is merely a stepping stone, I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t go to plan. I am looking forward to running with my best mate and other friends who have all been so supportive to me over the last, very hard, year.