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

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!

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

Liverpool to Manchester Preparation

The Liverpool to Manchester Ultramarathon is a fifty-mile jaunt along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) starting close to Aintree in Liverpool and finishing in Didsbury in Manchester (unless you’ve selected the 100 mile run and have to run back as well!!)

This isn’t one for the mountain dwelling beasts out there with only around 300m elevation over the whole route.  However for those dipping their toes into ultras or anyone who just wants a flat out fifty mile PB its perfect.  Since I’ve moved to Glossop I seem to get 300m elevation when I go and fetch some beers, so the climbing isn’t too concerning but the race is certainly a big mental challenge as there’s really not much to break it down – it’s just a long ol’run.

I did a recce of the route last weekend arranged by the Race Organiser www.gbultras.com.  They’ve actually done recces for the whole route in three sections but I’ve only been able to make one of them.  What a great option to give to entrants though!

That’s me on the left and last years winner (Matt Rushbrook) behind.  I guarantee this is the only time I’ll be in front of him

With less than four weeks left, here’s a few things that need to get sorted before a big race.

Gear choice: Get it nailed.  I already have my “favourites” so not too much trouble here.  I’ve just kicked off a new pair of shoes (Columbia Montrail Rogue FKT) to make sure I’m completely happy with them.  Many suggest doing this race in road shoes but having done the recce, I’m sticking with trail – nothing too grippy though!

Food plan:  I know what food I can stomach and my plan will be to eat very regularly from about 30 mins in and at similar intervals.  I’ll be building up a more detailed plan to take out the choice when my brain is frazzled.  Oh, and i’ll be drinking like a horse.

Know the route:  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to attend all of the recces, but the route should be well marked and is largely along the Trans Pennine Trail.  Stories from last year suggest there were a few wrong turns, so I have the GPX file loaded to my watch – again to stop any need for thinking (difficult after hours of running).  I’ll also have the map stuffed in my bag which I’ll have studied (probably…. 😉 )

Mental Preparation:  I definitely need to (wo)man up for this one.  Quite a challenge as my training has suffered due to tightness in my hip.  I’ve tried all sorts, rest, extra stretching, pilates, sports massage, strengthening exercises and just about seem to be getting past it but still feel a bit “awkward”.  What it boils down to is my longest run is likely to be 20 miles with very little speed training.  This is definitely not how I’d like to be going into this but not really much I can do to change it.  Now is not the time to panic train.  I’ll be sticking to the same plan as the Wendover 50 – stay positive, avoid negative thoughts and have fun and ENJOY IT! We enter these because we want to run ultras right?

Don’t worry, be happy

Getting through this one will give me a great mental/physical boost for the 110km Lakeland trails run in July, especially given the issues I’ve had with training.  Not getting through it, for any reason, would be really tough to deal with knowing that the next race is longer and tougher….

The finish line doesn’t move, you do!

Wondering whats for lunch.

Also I’ve finally added a few reviews to the gear section HERE

Wendover Woods 50 miler

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

You could be accused of being over dramatic if you replaced the word “space” above with “Wendover Woods 50” but for those who did it, at times it felt like it.  But anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself…..

The wait was over, the training was done, the miles were in the bank and there was no more time for worrying.  The Wendover woods 50 mile race was here and I started brilliantly by stepping out of my car, in a cold field in Tring at 7am, into a giant poo.  Undeterred, I squelched my way to the start line and looked around for the other Project Trail guys.  Soon meeting up with Nic and Jon, we were a mixture of excitement, compression gear and fear.  Glancing around the field I could tell this was for the big boys, with the Centurion Running Grand Slam title at stake some people were going to be flying round this.

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Project Trail 2016: Daniel Stinton, Nic Porter, Jon Gurney

The Wendover Woods 50 is, as the name suggests, “a 50 mile foot race consisting of 5 x 10 mile loops on forest trails, entirely within Wendover Woods”.  Just for fun though, nestled within those beautiful sounding woodland trail laps was 2,900m of climbing.  Which, I can now tell you from experience, is a lot.  The race organisers, Centurion Running, had tactfully named some of the sections; “Hell’s Road”, “The Snake” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” presumably to somehow keep the spirits up!

Since winning a place in this race from Men’s Running and their Project Trail feature, the pressure was on.  We’d been featured in the last five issues of the magazine to report on our progress and had training plans devised by Robbie Britton (Team GB Ultrarunner) to get us all ready for the day ahead.  I’d trained hard, and had some great races and running experiences along the way, but nevertheless earlier in the week did have quite a flap about my ability to actually run 50 miles.  By the time race day arrived, I’d decided to put those worries behind me and thought the best tactic was to just get on with it.  I had a proper “plan” for this one; eat as much as I possibly can, drink as much as I possibly can, take it easy at the start and finish strong.

I knew that the first couple of laps just needed ticking off, and the Project Trail guys and I had suggested we start together.  This was great to take it reasonable easy, have a chat, keep the spirits up and get used to the course.  During the start of the third lap I slowly peeled away and realised it was time to go this alone.  The laps consisted of magnificent forest trails, some mud and numerous short(ish) sharp climbs.

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All very happy because we’re going downhill

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I took the opportunity to have 30 seconds rest by pretending I needed to take some photos

Somewhere around the third lap I saw Gary Dalton, an ultrarunner I’d met the previous year at the Adidas Thunder Run.  He was doing a couple of laps in reverse as moral support for the runners and our exchange went something along the lines of……

“Hi Dan, how you feeling?” said the self-confessed moany trail runner.  I gave an honest reply saying that I was feeling pretty good.

“Well why are you walking then!?” came the response.  I processed this for a few moments and came to the conclusion it was a very good question, so run I did.

… and so the day went on, taking each section as it came.  At one point during the “Power Line” segment I emerged into a large open field.  This is a brief pleasant change to the woodland trails and due to the time of day, the sun was coming down bathing the woodland surroundings in a beautiful light.  I actually outstretched my arms and leant my head back, either praying to the Great Running God, or to take in as much vitamin D as I possibly could.  As I crossed the field I bumped into my number-neighbour (284), a young lady who I can see from the results was Rachel Dench.  We had a quick chat and I started wittering on about what a fantastic moment this was and hopefully sharing some of my current positivity.  A short while later, re-entering the woods, we shared some jelly beans and and I was on my way.

In a bizzare mind-game I was actually looking forward to lap four.  Well past the halfway point I’d already decided this was going to be a self-indulgent lap so I put my headphones on some to blast out some of my favourite songs and really started gritting my teeth to get round.  I had a couple of moments of euphoria during this lap as I knew I was well on my way to complete it, and nothing was going to stop me.  I was doing my two favourite things, running in the woods and listening to some crushing metal and hip hop, I had a few moments of dancing and punching the air – sorry to anyone who saw that and thought I’d gone barking mad but in some ways I think I probably had.

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Ten miles to go.  Feeling the burn.

Finally I was at the business end of the race and strapping on a headtorch for the final lap.  This one needed a bit of focus as tiredness was setting in and you really had to concentrate to stay on track through the winding woodland paths, but it has to be said the course markings by Centurion Running were excellent.  I started the lap with a nice chap called Mick and we had a good chat but I soon pushed along and ended up running most of this lap alone. The field had really spread out by now so other humans were few and far between.  After a final push during the viciously steep last 2km, suddenly (well, more accurately, 11 hours, 2 minutes and 15 seconds later) I was over the finish line.  My friend, and top-running buddy Michelle, had come along to the end for moral support and was probably twice as cold as I was, so massive thanks for making an appearance!  Immediately people were thrusting medals, t-shirts and minestrone soup at me, which was a great way to finish.  The whole Project Trail experience has been fantastic, its magnificent to have completed it, but of course I’m slightly sad its over.  Not one to mope, I can now enjoy a little relax and look forward to the ultras I already have booked for next year.  Game on!

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Cold and needing a beer……  I was a bit chilly as well.

A few of the details and stats below for the true running geeks:

I finished in 43rd place with the laps times below:

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I think the main thing I’m pleased with (other than finishing!) is that my laps were reasonably consistent. OK, I slowed down a bit for the fourth lap but then somehow negative split the last one in the dark with a head torch.  Despite the inevitable tiredness I just wanted to get this lap done.

Not that I’m an expert at these things but I definitely learnt a few things during this race and got great advice from Robbie Britton.  Here’s some summary thoughts, a mixture of my own experience and advice given:

  • De-hydration will shut you down.  Drink, drink and drink some more.  I added electrolytes to my pack at every lap when I filled up.
  • Lack of nutrition will shut you down.  Eat, eat and eat some more.  Right from the start.  I really followed points one and two even when I didn’t feel like it, and have to say I felt as energised as could be expected.
  • Stay positive.  People had talked to me about “dark times” on these long ultra runs but I decided I was having none of that.  I tried to stay happy, be positive, talk to people, have a laugh at the aid stations (which were great)and just keeping moving and enjoy each lap.  Its what we’ve been working towards and looking forward to for so long, so why not enjoy it!?
  • Get everything right during training.  I had a definite plan on the type of foods that agree with me and had a load of it with me on this run.  However, I caved in to a ham sandwich on white bread at one of the aid stations that sat uncomfortably somewhere in my digestive system for at least an hour.  Know what you can eat.  And eat it.
  • A more personal one, but I discovered one of the best things about my running is my walking.  I realised I can get a really good march on, even on the steep sections which probably helped me climb from 84th place on lap 1 to 43rd at the end.
  • I’m going to go all Matrix on you, but you have to believe Neo!!!🙂🙂🙂

Finally, a quick shout-out to all the people and gear that have helped me along this; Men’s Running Magazine, Rick Pearson, Isaac Williams, Robbie Britton, TrainAsONE, Centurion Running (the organisation, marshals, aid stations and route markings were brilliant), Michelle Edye for the solid running training and chat, Johnny Fuller (Sporting Therapy), Columbia Montrail, TomTom, Adidas Eyewear, Petzl head torches and High5 nutrition.

And to the other project trail guys, Nic Porter and Jon Gurney (and support and photographs from Chris) – fantastic effort all round and achievement for us all! And of course Vicky Stinton for putting up with my continuous training and talking about running!