Where do I start? The terror. Oh the complete nullifying terror of this weekend has given me nightmares about running packs, falling of rocky paths, feet disintegrating rain, faulty headtorches and………. The list goes on. I took part in this event last year and got to Ambleside and just gave up! I had some very valid and pretty scary reasons at that point but ever since then I’ve been haunted by that decision. What went wrong? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why didn’t I just sit down and chill and make a decision afterwards? Dimwit!! I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and I didn’t let anyone down. I felt like I should have tried harder so ever since then I have. I’ve pushed and pushed and trained and tweaked until I could just keep on going no matter what. The recent failures after North Downs Way 50 brought back all the nightmares of failure. I really did not want to fail this time. I wanted to face my adversity. There was a pre-race speech with mentions of firemen and kittens, it was a – you had to be there – moment.
I arrived on the Friday after battling the M6 traffic; ultra-driving at its best. As soon as I arrived in Coniston I put on my race ready running pack and went to find Lesley, John and Karen at the school. The 100 participants were getting their race prep speech and I found my friends chilling out on the grass in front of the school. I was there, this is it. It’s real. Ugh!! That feeling of excitement and vomit inducing nerves. I kept repeating to myself – everything will be okay, everything will be okay, everything will be okay, oh good grief what am I doing, everything will be okay…….
We watched the 100 competitors from the bridge in Coniston. Every one of them having that look of determination, the occasional smile broke through but these athletes were on a mission. Awe inspiring stuff.
Afterwards I got my kit checked and myself registered and weighed. Heavier than last year, hmmmm. Too much carb loading? Or more muscle? It didn’t matter; there was nothing I could do about it now. A lovely meal in one of the local pubs and then Lesley and I headed off to get some sleep before it was our turn to start the next morning. Much faffing and kit checking later we got some sleep haha!!
Saturday morning was looking sunny and bright. The B&B we stayed in put on breakfast early for us, thank you. The morning just rushed by and suddenly I was sitting in the school hall with other 50 competitors getting briefed on what was to come. A whole load of why we were doing this. To confront adversity. If this was easy it wouldn’t be a challenge. Firemen and rescued kittens. Get out there and be awesome. The kind of people who work in IT. Don’t quit because it’s too difficult. Be awesome!
A quick toilet stop and we were being loaded onto the coaches. The day was staying sunny and the coach was warming up on our trip to the Dalemain estate. I had suncream to apply and one last pack check to perform. This kept me occupied a little on the coach. An interesting journey later and we’re at the estate ready to go. One more loo trip and we’re watching weary, hot 100 competitors whilst we pack ourselves into the starting pen for the start of our own adventure of 50 miles across the Lake District. I had agreed with Lesley before we started to run our own race. If she felt strong then keep going and I would keep going myself. I managed to keep up with Lesley for just over a mile before she started pulling away. My ankles felt like rocks, my feet were cramping, my knees just didn’t feel like working and the heat was energy sapping. Not my best 2 miles but I kept going, kept repeating to myself that it will get easier and I knew this bit. Get to Howtown, checkpoint 1, bag food and climb like it’s the last hill in the race!! What I forgot was there was a climb before Howtown, hahaha!! Yeah! It was that funny – not!! Every time I felt too tired to go on I would stop, turn around and take in the view. Awesome, beautiful views. Then I would get back to work, step after step up those hills.
The Howtown checkpoint arrived really quickly – 14:16. Bottles refilled, food bagged and I headed for the big climb up one heck of a hill that just keeps on giving! Just when you thought you were at the top there was more uphill to go. This hill may have felt the most difficult but I knew this one was the easiest climb. A nice clear path with no rocks that could be tackled with a steady pace. At the top I had a sit down and munched on my checkpoint bounty whilst cheering on other competitors as they arrived at the top of the hill. I got some bemused looks and some big smiles. TOP OF THE HILL!!!!! Then it was onto the next checkpoint at Mardale Head. Lots of twists, turns, rocky paths alongside Haweswater reservoir and soon you can see the checkpoint. More rocky paths then a bridge or two later and I was welcomed into the Mardale Head checkpoint – 18:06. Cola, drink, water bottles filled, food noshed and bagged, quick loo visit and I’m heading up the next climb. This time it’s a rock path that keeps twisting and turning. Lots of unwell looking competitors this time. I took my time of this one. I would stomp uphill for a while and then take a rest on a rock, more stomping, more rock resting, more stomping, more rock resting, enjoy the views, more stomping and so on. Bit by bit the hill was tackled and again at the top I cheered on others that had reached the top whilst I had a sit down and munched some food on top of the hill. The route from there to Kentmere was a blur or rocky footpaths, roads, wall styles and bracken. I met a couple at this point and we kept each other company until we got to the Kentmere checkpoint – 21:02. It was getting dark now and it had started to drizzle when we arrived so I got a very sweet cup of tea, slice of pizza, loo break, sweet tea, slice of pizza, half an apple. Then got myself changed into my waterproof bottoms, rearranged my pack so I could easily reach my head torch and my poncho, swapped my cap for my buff to keep my head warm, made sure everything was secure and agreed to help out another competitor, Bob, to Ambleside. Most of the route from Kentmere was easy going, there were a few climbs but nothing like before. Bob was going strong and kept up with some faster competitors so I was alone for most of this leg. Creepy dark lanes with my head torch as dim as I could comfortably get it to preserve the battery life. The rain after Kentmere was heavy but blissfully brief. I kept myself occupied with singing songs to myself and dancing when I came to tarmac. A few runners past me but being alone along that stretch was really odd. By the time I reached Ambleside at 00:34 I was in a really happy place having talked to myself for a good two hours!! My feet were really sore at this point so I decided to undress a little, get myself comfortable for the next stage and give the food I was stuffing into my face a bit of time to work its wonders before getting up and heading out of that checkpoint. It took a good 15 minutes for my feet to stop throbbing and another 10 minutes for the food to settle enough for me to get organised and out of that comfortable warm cosy checkpoint. I knew this next section well and the night reccie earlier in the year was flooding back to me at each turn on the route. Out of the checkpoint, into the park, over a bridge and yep, up a hill hahaha!! It was during this hill climb I met Ann and Nicola who were appeared strong but they felt they were struggling with the directions. I was confident and agreed to help get them to the next checkpoint. After the climb from Ambleside this leg of the route felt the flattest. I’m not sure if that was good or bad but my feet and legs hurt more from the constant walking pace than climbing and descending they had been put through so far. I enjoyed the clear night sky and kept up a good pace to the next checkpoint at Chapel Stile – 03:28. This was an inviting checkpoint with a log fire outside to get toasty and sleepy with. I kept myself on mission with a desperately needed loo break, kit check, sweet tea and custard to settle my stomach that was trying to figure out what the hell was going on at this time of night!! I had no appetite for food at that point but I knew I needed something that would give my poor stomach something to work on whilst I kept moving through the night. Ann and Nicola were ready to leave, it was so difficult to pull myself away from that lovely warm fire but we needed to keep moving. My feet were starting to complain constantly now and I was managing the pain well. The next section was a mixture of tricky rocky paths and open fields. I had planned to change my socks at the unmanned checkpoint because I knew there were two sections of boggy ground to cover but my feet never got wet or soggy because we followed the trampled path the other competitors had made for us. That was a very welcome and nice surprise. This section also had the most beautiful change in sky colour. When we left the last checkpoint the sky was black, by the time we reached the unmanned checkpoint the sky had changed to purple, dark blue then light blue. Awesome!!
After the unmanned checkpoint I was trying to remember where a section of really tricky rocky path was. Had we already gone past it? Was a remembering the route wrong? I was doubting myself. As soon as we reached the farm at the bottom of the road I remembered where that horrid rocky path was. We were heading straight for it. My feet were really starting to complain now and my legs were getting very tired of the constant motion I was asking of them. I really didn’t like that section to Tilberthwaite but we did it. Ouchy, ouchy OUCH we did it!! We arrived at 06:53 and I knew if I stopped to sit down I really wouldn’t want to get up. I wanted this over with. I knew that next hill would be tough and the downhill afterwards would be terrifying. The finish was a mere 4 miles away! I couldn’t stop. I grabbed a sweet tea, said good luck to Ann and Nicola and headed for the steps of DOOM!!!!! Oh those steps hurt. My feet hurt. My arms hurt. My back hurt. I couldn’t tell what wasn’t hurting so just agreed to let everything hurt as long as I could keep moving. Every few steps I would stop to catch my breath and then push on again. Not long after I started climbing Ann and Nicola caught up with me. I’d gotten them this far and they didn’t want me to face the pain alone. Bless, add heartache to the list of pain I was going through. Those ultra gals were awesome!! Bit by bit we kept moving till we reached the top of Old Man. Now we just needed to get down the craggy steep slope the other side. With tired pain filled legs this took all of my concentration. For every 100 mile competitor that passed us I felt inspired to push myself that little bit more. Some looked fresh as daisies, others looked in so much pain it was painful to look at them but they were moving faster than I was and they had covered far more mileage than I had. If they can do that then I could push myself that little bit more and finish this thing!! It felt like a really long time to get from the steep rocky path to the road but we were there. Sore, painful feet being forced to continue. It wasn’t long before we reached the tarmac road and people from Coniston were cheering us onto the finish line. So close!!!!!
Lesley and Veritie were at the bottom of the hill and they ran/walked with us to the finish line – 09:03.
I cried, smiled and downright enjoyed the cheers as we walked into the school hall. I DID IT!!
Ann and Nicola from Holborough Harriers – THANK YOU SO MUCH. I thoroughly enjoyed your company, you were both amazing.
The checkpoint volunteers were amazing. Thank you so much for looking after us. So much help and food on offer and always with a smile. Totally fabulous.
Will I go back and do it again? My initial answer whilst I was removing my painful feet from my shoes at the school hall was an emphatic NO. I’m not sure what my answer will be when it comes time to enter again. At the moment I’m so pleased I managed to get myself around such a tough event with only swollen feet and one blister to show for it. Time for some rest and relaxation.
Keep on running.