Lakeland Trails 55km Race Report

“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

Montane Event and the Oldham Way Ultra x 2

It’s been a busy time at “All Hail the Trail” towers over the last few months and despite thinking I may never end up running the Oldham Way Ultra, I inadvertently ran it twice.  I’ve also sold a house in Birmingham, purchased a house in Glossop and am currently awaiting an overdue baby, when of course it will suddenly become a whole lot more chaotic.

I had the pleasure of attending the Montane showroom near Kendal a few weeks ago to try out their new Via Trail range and went for a run and interview with Debbie Martin-Cosani.  Whilst I’m still reviewing the kit which will follow in due course, here is an overview of the day on RunUltra along with an interview with Debbie (click the pic below).

So why did I run the 40 mile Oldham Way twice? The official race was on 18th March and those with good memories will remember that the UK had a somewhat unusually harsh storm – the Beast from the East.  Despite valiant efforts to get there, my buddies and I were admittedly struggling in the snow and about halfway there the race was cancelled anyway.

With the baby due on the 25th April and the rescheduled race set for the 22nd I was dubious about me being able to do it. So on Easter weekend three of us set out to do the route as a social. Forty-two social miles, half of Chadderton parkrun and a little over ten hours later and we were finished – job done.

Oldham Way Ultra “recce”

Even before my legs stopped aching my brain was contemplating how fast (or slow) I could get round in potentially drier race conditions.  After carefully planting the seed with my understanding wife she accepted that, if the baby hasn’t arrived, I could do it. On the strict conditions that I never utterred the words Oldham Way Ultra ever again.

Preparation was a bit strange, because I’d peaked then tapered for the 18th March, floundered for two weeks, ran the route as a social and then had three weeks thinking that I probably wouldn’t get the chance to run the race so just generally plodded a bit, bought baby things and spent time on the phone to mortgage providers and solicitors. It’s not the standard way to prepare for an ultra.

I’m not going to write a “full” report on the race this time.  It ended up being quite a quiet affair with around 50 entrants as unfortunately about half of the original entrants couldn’t make the new date.  This doesn’t stop the enthusiasm though and everything was looking well organised at Team OA race HQ. I ran most of the first half with a group of people but after the first 20 miles I stopped at some incredibly well timed toilets and after that I didn’t see anyone at all for the remaining 20 miles, and ended up crossing the line in 8:03.  I’d made a few navigation errors and ended up doing an extra 2 miles overall so I think the sub-8 should have been achievable.

Real life obstacle course racing

Glossopdale Harriers ready for the off

Somewhere on the Oldham Way

I’m now full speed ahead reviewing the Montane gear and the rather smart Scarpa Neutron 2’s.  Whilst there’s various races coming up on the Race List, the next biggie is the Lakeland 50.  My biggest focus needs to be on efficient training, with an imminent baby I’m clearly not going to be able to train the way I used to so its all about training “smart”.  We shall see……

Feel the heat!

Do you know where you’ve been all year?  Well I didn’t, but thanks to Strava heatmaps I can find out!  I moved to Glossop in February so most of my running has been in and around the local area, trying to get up into the western Dark Peak (largely around Bleaklow).  Below is a screenshot of all of my local runs.

Glossop and surrounding area heatmap

I really find this technology facinating – obviously cartographers have painstakingly creating maps over the centuries but here just by movement (and fantastic GPS tech of course!) I’m creating my own map of the local area just by running around it.  Combine that with your local running club, or anyone else for that matter and you have a true pattern of how people move around an area.  Blistering red in city centres and main paths/tracks but thinning out as it spreads out far and wide tracking something thats probably never been done before – mass human movement.

Of course this only records those who choose to use fitness watches, but as smart watches and activity trackers are becomming more common place it could be expanded to all movements whether exercise or not.  What a fabulous dataset to record movement in the 21st Century!

My Strava movements in the north-west

On other news/reviews for this site: –

  • Race planning! I’ve tried to properly plan my 2018 races HERE.  Nothing too exotic, and this largely encompases my local club (Glossopdale Harriers) road and fell champs with the odd extras here and there. My big focus being the Lakes in a Day Ultra in October.
  • A couple of other new pieces on RunUltra; a review of the auto updating training plan Train As One HERE and they’ve very kindly wrapped me up in baselayers over the winter which will be published any day now.

Here’s to a great 2018!

On the mend?

It seems like forever since I’ve run “properly”.  I spent most of 2016 training hard but 2017 has been a bit of a flop with a few races, but not to the extent I wanted due to various injury issues throughout the year.  I’m currently waiting to see a specialist and am managing to do some low mileage so keeping things ticking over.  This site isn’t about moaning though, so here’s an update of other items in All Hail The Trail world….

In an effort to defend last years (Wo)man vs Barge shock first place, I went back again this year.  To spoil the story completely, I came 9th and ate a monsterous chip butty at the end.  Full report will be published in Novembers’ Men’s Running magazine.

More gear reviews for RunUltra, here’s my thoughts on the Craft Breakaway range.  Click the pic below:

In my longest section of non-running I decided to crack on with 6 x 10km laps of the Conti Thunder Run.  For a full race report click on the link below:

For the first time I’ve also entered Cross Country for Glossopdale Harriers which hopefully will be a nice end of the year getting back into training and racing again! Onwards and upwards!

Gear Reviews

I’d always intended to post various gear reviews on here, but didn’t actually get round to it.  Since then I’ve had a kind offer from RunUltra to undertake some reviews for their site.  It’s early days yet but here’s a couple just published, one on running gear newbie, Ripl, who have an interesting concept to encourage people to run and the second on the Scott Jurek FKT vest.  Click the pics to see the review.

Also coming up is my review of some other gear from Craft Sportswear

Click pic above

Click pic above

Hopefully lots more to come.

The Dreaded DNS

I’ve just started doing some writing for “RunUltra” a great website dedicated to ultrarunning.  Unfortunately I didn’t start the Lakeland Trail 110km so wrote about my feeling on a DNS, click on the pic below:

Check out all the great articles, training, events etc. from the main page:

I’ve also started to do a few gear reviews for them, so i’ll link to them soon!

Shelf Stones – Superfortress

I took a trip up to Shelf Stones earlier to the crash site of “Over-Exposed!”, an RB29 Superfortress which crashed on Bleaklow on 3rd November 1948.  Whilst running and “proper” photography don’t really mix, I really wanted a few pictures so took these on my phone and tried a bit of tweaking when I got back.

For any more info on the crash click this link – http://aircrashsites.co.uk/superfortress-44-6199-over-exposed-2/

The total route was around 14km from the centre of Glossop.  I headed up to Old Glossop and took the route up Lightside and over towards Shelf Stones, with the crash site a few hundred metres away but you could easily miss it (unbelievably).  I came back down quite randomly (access land) working my way down to Doctor’s Gate and back to Glossop.  It was a great run with fantastic views from Lightside and Doctors Gate, and of course the wreck itself.

Liverpool to Manchester 50 miler Report

I’m not a morning runner.  I’m not even a moaning runner, but I do moan about mornings.  Especially 4am ones somewhere on the outskirts of Liverpool.  Of course, it’s a lot easier to get up for exciting things such as jetting off on a remote holiday.  Or running an ultra.

As is the norm with such races I’m standing in the middle of a field with a bunch of compression clad warriors decked from head-to-toe with the latest stretch fabric, multi-bottle, hydro-ultra-tech-lightweight rucksacks crammed with expensive waterproofs that no-one wants to actually use.

This is the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra Marathon, a 50 mile jaunt along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) starting close to Aintree in Liverpool and finishing in Didsbury in Manchester.  For those who have a strange desire to run back to Liverpool there is 100 mile option (on a different date).

Silence falls over the field for a minute in honour of Stephen Carragher before an enthusiastic cowbell signals the start of the race.  My strategy is to take it easy at the start, running around a 6 minute kilometre, but knowing I’ll slow down and hopefully finish in 8-9 hours.  Others clearly have different plans as I glance concerningly at a stocky fellow powering past me during the first kilometre huffing and puffing like a steam train.  I hope he didn’t misread the distance when he entered this one……

The marked route was easy enough to follow although it soon begins to blur into one, moving from long sections of road/tarmac to basic trails.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a smell permeated my nostrils that is so foul my carefully planned nutrition strategy is almost ruined but I know immediately where I am.

Widnes.

I had experienced this smell some 18 years earlier when I worked there for several months and it was almost like I’d never left.  My pace quickens as I continue out of the area into the fresh air beyond.

As an extra twist the race organisers have offered up Gold medals to the top 50 finishers, silver for 51-100 and bronze for all finishers after that.  Deep-down I want a gold medal but as the pack thins I don’t really have any idea of my position, so I just concentrate on moving forwards.

Ultras are a great social experience and I chat to loads of people along the route, many saying this is their second time at the L2M after the inaugural one last year.  Somewhere after halfway I start running with Dave Fort from Burnley (more accurately Padiham), and we soon stick together to start ticking off the miles and discussing how we felt about the race so far.  In one of those “small-world” moments, it turns out Dave knows my auntie, but then I imagine most people in Padiham know my auntie, but that’s a different story altogether……

Men being such fine examples of humanity, we soon start discussing how “stomach problems” can become an issue on ultras.  Earlier on I’d made a rather horrific trip to the bushes which emotionally I hadn’t yet recovered from.  Dave casually announced he just popped in to a luxurious Premier Inn (I’m still dubious about the existence of this) along the way which made my hunt for a secluded spot seem ludicrous. Note to self – mark Premier Inn’s on race maps in future.

With around 25km to go, one of the friendly aid station volunteers let slip that Dave, myself and Paul Carse (who we’d also spent some time running with) were in 42nd, 43rd and 44th position.  Now this is serious!  We know there is a lot of time to gain some places, but also plenty of time to lose some places.  The focus moves on to keeping position, so with military type enthusiasm I scoff another pork pie and we plough on.  Our heads regularly spin around like paranoid owls as we keep checking if anyone is on our tail.  Occasionally runners crept into our rear view so we push on as hard as we can knowing that our gold medals are at stake.

We have a minor panic towards the end as we took a couple of wrong turnings but emerged victoriously into the final field where, in one last cruel twist, the route continues past the finish, around a large field before crossing the finish line.  Job done.  I complete it in 41st position in 8 hours 43 minutes.

Can you order me a lager please?

So how would I rate this race?  The organisation was top-notch, especially considering the three recces to covering the entire route offered in advance.  There was lots of social media buzz, plenty of information sent out and a true enthusiasm towards getting people through an ultra.  Reflecting on the route I’ve realised I like to be inspired by running down a valley, remote woodland trails, or climbing a peak to witness natures beauty stretch out below.  Whilst you won’t get this at the L2M, what you will get is a solidly organised race, huge support at the aid stations and a great crack at a 50 mile PB!  Thanks GBUltras!

Pimp my medal

Free Running?

I just started adding up what I’ve spent on running and swiftly gave up so as to not cause serious fluctuations on my Garmin HR monitor.  I enjoy gadgets, buying new stuff and seem to delve quite deeply into a “hobby”, so taking up running was a recipe for credit card trauma.

Of course, on the purest scale running is free.  A simple pair of trainers, which most of us own anyway, and jogging round the block is as cheap as it can get.  No matter how obvious this is, many of us can’t help gazing longingly at all the new running gadgetry available, with promises of better performance, more statistics and a vague possibility of looking like a running magazine cover model.

Then what about races themselves?  I added up the cost of doing a 15km trail race in the Lake District a couple of years ago – whilst the entry fee was around £30, I spent another £470 hiring cars, hotel, eating out etc.  Of course there would have been cheaper ways to do it, but I imagine many of us often way exceed the entry fee.

So is all this spending necessary and could we get away without it all?  Well of course as runners haven’t always had access to such kit, but if I’m out for several hours on the trail then a certain amount of kit is sensible to keep me comfortable and safe.  It does start to add up; trail shoes, tops, shorts, baselayers, rucksacks, watches/GPS (at one point I went out running with three watches …… there was a reason honestly), nutrition/gels, race entries and associated costs.

So how much is too much? As with any hobby, is there a point where it becomes beyond reasonable? I think so and if it comes to the point where you’re spending more time reading about and/or buying kit than actually running then clearly it’s become a problem.  But if you can afford it, then does it matter?  Maybe not, but if all the purchases are an attempt to enhance performance if you haven’t already nailed the fundamentals of training and nutrition, then you really need to consider your priorities.

In this modern world with endless tech being released all the time and the internet thrusting it all down our throats with modest performance gains offered to all levels of runners, it’s no wonder our cupboards are bursting at the seams with trainers!

I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not a triathlete.

Sunny Weekend Running

Being a fully signed up northerner, the North Downs Way is a remote prospect.  I ventured down there for the Project Trail photoshoot around September 2016 and had no idea when, or if, I’d be back.  This weekend I’ve been back.  My top running buddy, Michelle, decided it truly is grim up north and moved to London late last year.  Always on the look out for a running opportunity we decided to meet up and get a good old long run under our belts, and run we did.  Michelle is renowned for her route planning (two in a year at the last count) but had woman’ed up and planned a couple of route ideas from Guildford expanding out from the town and dipping into a few parts of the north downs way.

The sun firmly gripping the sky I headed down early Saturday to arrive to a beautiful day.  Potential late-afternoon BBQ talk running freely, we headed off for a 20 miler through the busy streets of Guildford, shopper dodging, chatting and feeling fully weekend-ready.  This being my longest run this year and last big run before the Liverpool to Manchester 50 miler in a few weeks time, I was hoping this would be a relatively comfortable experience.

This was a mixed bag of woodland trail, lovely open sunny paths, bits of road and generally great running territory.  The country seems to have been blessed with sunshine this weekend so there were large gatherings of humans around the busier areas of the route.  In true form we got lost several times and trudged completely off-path praying to the GPS-Gods that all would be OK.  A wild deer and several squirrel sightings later we were back in Guildford for a well-deserved pub dinner and few beers!

Weird Shining Ball in the Sky

Team Lost-in-the-North (but it was the south this time)

Great weekend.  Liverpool to Manchester… bring it on! 🙂