“I think you’re in 12th place mate. If you pushed a bit you could get top-10!” says a smart young chap leaning casually against a gate in the Lakes.
This is news to me because I didn’t even know if I was on the right route – I’ve been following red flags for about a kilometre when I was supposed to be following yellow. I was nervously carrying on but had that heart-sinking feeling that I may need to back-track at any moment…
I’m around 40km into the Lakeland Trails 55km on a rather rare scorching day. The news of a potential top-10 finish is not something I’m used to hearing and it immediately triggered a response in my brain and I knew I was going to start running like an idiot. The front of the pack would be very spread out by now – Damien Hall was on the start line and would no doubt be leading if not already finished. Of course, your position in any race simply depends on who turns up, but this was my moment to see if I could dig deep during those later stages and climb the ranks as much as I could.
Winding back to the start of the race at 10am it was humid – not necessarily blazing sunshine but an uncomfortable mugginess hung in the air. This was my final “training” race before the Lakeland 100 at the end of July so I had no real expectations other than an enormous desire to finish. I’d had a rocky start to the year with injuries which had already meant two DNS (Surrey Half and Manchester Marathon) and it would have been a big mental hit for a third to go wrong mere weeks before the biggest race I have ever taken on.
The last 6 or so weeks of training had gone reasonably well with a few runs around 20 miles but most importantly relatively consistent running five times a week, with strength and plyometrics making an appearance too. Even though I’d only topped out at a 50-mile week, I knew this was all I could fit in around my life at the moment so it would quite simply have to do.
As we all know, the best way to start an ultra is easy paced, but of course many runners shoot off into the distance. I’m becoming better at managing my body and knew in this heat today was going to be tough. One of (probably my only!) strengths is my ability to walk uphill quite fast so on the first climb up I overtook a lot of people – including my clothes doppelganger who was sporting the same Ashmei top and Montane Via Trail rucksack (which I reviewed HERE).
After what seemed like a whole load of minor undulating running we arrive at the start of the climb to Grisedale Hause. I knew this was my moment to give it a big push as it was the largest climb in the race (just before halfway). I’d been drinking litre after litre of water so felt hydrated albeit hot so just carried on pushing hard to the top. The descent was a technical rocky affair which suits my running so got to the bottom in good spirits.
Fast-forwarding to the later stages, whilst this was a “training race” for the Lakeland 100 in a few weeks, once I knew there was a potential for a top-10 finish, I just went for it. It’s always hard to know just how spread out the field is, but I gradually start passing a few runners and somehow got over the line in 7th.
I’ve reflected on what helped me during those last couple of hours and I think it was largely due to body management in the early stages of the race. I drank and ate a lot, I kept the pace steady and tried to pace hard uphill, but it all worked and kept me going to the end.
What about the race itself? Organisation is pretty good, but I would have liked to have known about the campsite arranged for the football ground more than a couple of weeks in advance – I’d already booked somewhere further afield and ended up losing my money for that. The route, whilst hilly, had far too much tarmac for my liking and mainly weaved through valleys rather than get up on the tops. As it was fully waymarked, I hadn’t studied the route to any level of detail so it was a bit strange not really knowing where I was (this is my fault of course). Checkpoints were all good with a great selection of food and drink with an extra drinks station put in due to the heat.
Whilst it’s a massive mental boost when things go well, the thought of doing three-times the distance in a few weeks is terrifying. It’s my first 100 miler, but I’ll be following the same principles – take it easy and drink/eat lots. Perhaps equally importantly, I need to stay positive. I love running and everything about it so don’t generally struggle with wanting to run – I just need to make sure I bring that positivity up to Coniston at the end-July!
Me and my big sister