Not the London Marathon – but the London Championship Marathon Virtual Relays!!!
Didn’t know they existed? Well they didn’t, until last weekend, when 6 somewhat frustrated locked-down Striders (Stephen J, Michaels L and M, Emma T, Corrine W and I) took to the roads, treadmills or anywhere else as deserted and flat (or ideally downward sloping) as possible, and hurtled their tired legs through exactly 1/6 of a marathon as fast as they possibly could. This varied rather amongst team members – notably Stephen Jackson and I may have differed a little in the actual outcome of running as fast as possible. Nonetheless we all got suitably exhausted from our efforts, and then added up our times to see how we fared against our natural competitors (Mo, and the likes of…).
So – we managed an awesome 2 hours and 36 minutes and a few seconds (I forget…). Which really does make you realise just how fast our friends Kipchoge and Mo are!! But hey, if we did 400m relays and had a really huge team, I’m sure we would stand a fighting chance against those giants – as long as they were doing the full marathon.
Other benefits of our version of the race included the Very Short Toilet Queues. And a really nice Zoom meeting afterwards (we had to do it by Zoom because Stephen appeared to actually have gone to London and to be sitting in the bar at St Pancras station. Or had he?? I’ll have to teach him how to set his Garmin for time and distance travel – so much easier!)
Confession – due to other pressures this race was extremely poorly advertised, i.e. not at all. This had the foreseeable consequence that we were the only team entering and therefore we came first. And, simultaneously, last…
On Sunday morning while thousands of runners should have been doing the 40th London Marathon, coronavirus had other ideas and as a result, people across the country were being encouraged to do the 2.6 challenge instead. Since all my scheduled races (Keswick Half Marathon, Pier to Pier, Bridges of Tyne) as well as my beloved parkrun had been cancelled, I have eased off on my running. My daughters wanted to do the NHS C25K so we have been doing that for the past 4 weeks – it is the only time they have left our home. In addition my friend Jill nominated me for the 5k Run for Heroes, which I completed and I am part of Louise Collins’ whatsapp ‘Louise’s Lace-up Lassies’ group and I’ve been doing the weekly challenges which each have taken up to about a half hour. In line with current government guidance, I consider all of this as being part of my daily exercise allowance.
For Sunday’s challenge I thought I would run 2.6 miles from my home on a road route I hadn’t completed before. If I was feeling ok and enjoying it, I thought I might extend it to a 9/10k circular route. I informed my husband of my plan and explained that I would be back home within the hour.
Within 200m of my home I waved to two runners from Crook and Evenwood Road Runners and later passed two runners with Shildon and Aycliffe vests. I wondered if they were doing the same challenge?
It was a very pleasant April morning and with the 2.6 miles completed I was feeling ok and decided to continue. Once the steep hills were completed it was either downhill or flat for the last 4k. I might have even been on for a negative splits run! However this is when things went badly wrong. At a roundabout, I ran over one carriageway and on the traffic island managed to get my feet tangled on a wire ring and landed head first into the other carriageway. As I was running downhill at speed, my face and head took the full impact of the fall. It all happened so quickly, the next thing I knew was that a lady was helping me off the road and a car was inches away from me. Three motorists had stopped and the lady also provided me with a packet of wipes for the blood. Other motorists also stopped and expressed concern. I think people thought I had been knocked down. A cyclist stopped and offered me her water. People were incredibly kind, particularly given the issues with Covid 19 and social distancing. One man rang my husband and then waited with me until he arrived to take me to hospital. After a thorough examination by a wonderful member of the NHS, I was sent home with painkillers, etc. and a list of the signs of concussion to watch out for.
What this whole episode has made me realise is that the outcome of my Sunday morning run could have been very different for me and my family. As stated earlier, my husband roughly knows where I am going when I go for a run but I only ever have a basic garmin watch with me, I don’t run with a phone. I had no identification on my person. When I do parkrun I have my barcode and I have the necessary information on the underside of my race number at races but I carry no identification when I do a solo run. In reality, carrying identification or an emergency phone number when solo running is probably more important than at organised events. If I’d been unconscious and hospitalised, no-one would have known who I was.
During this Covid episode, unless with the people we live with, we are all having to run on our own. Therefore, when I recover and am able to run again, I will be carrying my I.C.E (In Case of Emergency) with me, either in a pocket or pinned to my shirt. I would strongly recommend that you do the same.
Like many others, I was due to run the London Marathon, for Crimestoppers – the independent charity that gives people the power to speak up and stop crime – 100% anonymously (and one of our chosen club charities this year). I devised an alternative – a 26 bridge challenge as part of the national #TwoPointSixChallenge campaign.
I’d initially come up with the idea of doing a ‘home run’ – a garden-based lockdown run and ran 5k around my garden with my Wife on 12th April (many, many laps!). I encouraged others to do their own ‘home run’.
The reason behind this was to raise awareness for Domestic Abuse, in support of a Crimestoppers campaign in the North East and to raise awareness of what Crimestoppers do to make our communities safer.
As an independent charity who has helped millions of people over the years, Crimestoppers asks those with concerns or information about a crime to pass on what they know whilst staying 100% anonymous. Always.
To give information anonymously:
Crimestoppers never asks for your personal information and does not track your device. Call 0800 555 111 or use the anonymous online form.
When I considered my options as an alternative to the London Marathon, I decided to expand my ‘home run’ to a 26 bridge challenge and encourage others to join me in their own #TwoPointSixChallenge. I’m so grateful for any participation, support and donations: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thehomerun
I framed the challenge, aiming to run 26 local bridges, with some rules:
1 – Maximum Distance Half Marathon (I think we have to run sensible distances these days)
2 – Stay Local (DH1)
3 – No written routes or prompts allowed
4 – A bridge only counts once
5 – An ‘under’ can only be used once as a ‘joker’.
I set off and hit the first three bridges at the Low Newton Junction Nature Reserve, crossing the East Coast Main Line to cross back over it again dropping through Hopper’s Wood into Durham where I followed a loop of the city, with many twists and turns, the farthest point being near to Shincliffe.
Meeting Andrew Davies (who was taking part in another club challenge) en route was a welcome boost! I’ve included a photo subject to social distancing guidance.
Rather than subject you to a list of many bridges, I captured them as photographic evidence, with location data appended using what3words, who provide a really simple way to talk about location.
I’m pleased to report I completed the challenge without having to use my ‘joker’ (the first bridge, metres from home).
My warm-down was 26 laps of my garden which is what I’m encouraging others to do.
When this is all over, please let me know if you want to join me in a Bridges of Durham run!
Around AD 990, when the monks bearing St Cuthbert’s coffin came to the area where Durham now stands, they rested on the hilltop of Warden Law, but when they attempted to resume their journey they mysteriously found themselves unable to move another step. For 3 days they were immobilised, until the image of Cuthbert appeared in a vision to one of the monks. The saintly vision instructed the monk to carry his coffin to ‘Dun Holm’.
The monks had no idea where or what this instruction signified until a day later a milkmaid appeared, searching for her ‘dun cow’, which an old woman informed her had last been seen at a place called Dun Holm. Dun in this case refers to a dull greyish-brown colour. The monks followed the milkmaid towards the nearby hilltop of Dunholm, or Durham, where they established the saint’s final resting place on the cliffs overlooking the River Wear.
Constructed between 1093 and 1133. It was founded as a monastic cathedral built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, replacing an earlier church constructed in his honour.
A tragedy occurred in 1137 when a tightrope walker was employed by the Prior of Durham to entertain the monks. The man attempted to walk along a rope stretched between the Central Tower and one of the Western Towers, but he slipped and fell to his death. SPLAT!
Following the bombing of Historic German cities the Nazis launched their own offensive.
The raids were referred to on both sides as “Baedeker raids” derived from a comment by a German propagandist. Gustav Braun von Stumm a spokesman for the German Foreign Office, who was reported to have said on 24 April 1942, “We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide”, Stumm’s off-the-cuff remark “effectively admitted the Germans were targeting cultural and historic targets, just what the German leadership did not want to do, and Goebbels took steps to make sure it did not happen again”
On the night of 30th April 1942, a force of some 38 German bombers passed over the North East coast and carried out raids on Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields and Jarrow. A number of bombs were dropped in the vicinity of Durham, which was much less heavily defended than the industrial towns and cities of the region. Four fell near Carville, on the outskirts of the city, others at Beamish village, and two bombs fell at Finchale Priory, which perhaps had been mistaken for the Cathedral.
Many believed that the Luftwaffe had been aiming for Durham that night, but for some reason had missed their target. However, it was a bright moonlit night, and the Cathedral is hard to miss – it towers above the peninsula in the River Wear and is visible from miles around. Some local residents, including the chief Air Raid Warden George Greenwell, had recounted that a mist had suddenly and miraculously descended upon the city, rendering the target all but invisible to the marauding German aircraft. Many local people attributed the fog to divine intervention, perhaps on the part of the Cathedral’s resident saint, Cuthbert, and it became known as “St Cuthbert’s Mist” This is now represented in a stain glass window in the west end of the Cathedral.
On the 27th June,1942, south of Mersa Matruh North Africa, Private Wakenshaw was a member of the crew of a 2-pounder anti-tank gun. An enemy tracked vehicle towing a light gun came within short range. The gun crew opened fire and succeeded in immobilising the enemy vehicle. Another Nazi mobile gun came into action, killed or seriously wounded the crew manning the 2-pounder, including Private Wakenshaw, and silenced the 2-pounder. Under intense fire, Private Wakenshaw crawled back to his gun. Although his left arm was blown off, he loaded the gun with one arm and fired five more rounds, setting the tractor on fire and damaging the light gun. A direct hit on the ammunition finally killed him and destroyed the gun. This act of conspicuous gallantry prevented the enemy from using their light gun on the infantry Company which was only 200 yards away. It was through the self sacrifice and courageous devotion to duty of this infantry anti-tank gunner that the Company was enabled to withdraw and in safety. The original gun is currently in storage by Durham county council after the closure of the DLI Museum.
Michael Heaviside was born in Station Lane, Gilesgate, in October 1880. The Heavisides were a long-standing Durham City family, and Michael was the grandson of Thomas Heaviside, who owned a pioneering photographic business in the city. Whilst still a boy, Michael moved with his family from Durham to Kimblesworth, where his father worked in the colliery as head keeker [inspector] and Michael went to the local Council school. Later, the family moved to Sacriston.
On the evening of 5 May 1917, the battalion returned to their barricades on the Hindenburg Line, near Fontaine-les-Croisilles, France. Only one hundred yards separated the British and German positions but the terrible fighting of the preceding days had died down. Snipers and machine gunners were, however, still active and any movement attracted deadly fire. Then about 2 o’clock the next afternoon, 6 May 1917, a sentry noticed movement in a shell hole about forty yards from the German barricade. A wounded British soldier was desperately waving an empty water bottle. Any attempt to help this soldier in daylight would result in almost certain death for the rescuers. Michael Heaviside, however, said that he was going to try. Grabbing water and a first aid bag, the stretcher bearer scrambled over the barricade and out into no-man’s-land. Immediately, he came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the German positions and was forced to throw himself to the ground. He then began to crawl sixty yards across the broken ground from shell hole to shell hole to where the wounded soldier was sheltering. One eye witness later wrote –
“We could see bullets striking the ground right around the spot over which Heaviside was crawling. Every minute we expected to be his last but the brave chap went on.” As he crawled closer to the German lines, the firing increased. –
“The enemy seemed to be more determined to hit him, for the bullets were spluttering about more viciously than ever.”
When Private Heaviside reached the soldier, he found the man nearly demented with thirst for he had been lying badly wounded in the shell hole for four days and three nights, without any food or water. Michael Heaviside gave the soldier water, dressed his wounds and then promised that he would return with help. That night, Michael Heaviside led two other stretcher bearers out across no-man’s-land to the wounded soldier and carried him back to safety. Without doubt, he had saved this man’s life. The London Gazette announced the award of the Victoria Cross to Private Michael Heaviside on 8 June 1917 for his “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.” He was the third soldier of The Durham Light Infantry to gain this award during the First World War.
Today, I should have been running my 3rd marathon and on the anniversary of the 1st. With the onset of Covid-19, ‘Lockdown’ and the postponement of Manchester and other spring marathons until the autumn, I must admit, I put my training to one side. I may have done a little happy dance when the email from organisers came through on the Friday before I was supposed to do my last long run.
Although I knew I wouldn’t be running a marathon today, I had already decided that if we were allowed, I would be running something today. On Thursday, to tire out my boys, we went for a family 5k. My 10-year-old then added another 2.5k to his. He has previously run 10k with me in November at the Saturn Remembrance Run, and he said he wanted to do so again.
So, this morning in the glorious sunshine, we laced up our trainers and headed out along the lines towards Willington to run a ¼ of a marathon. I know it isn’t much of a difference between 10k and 10.25k but it made it a little bit more special. It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t the most enjoyable run I have ever done, but we did it together (and Henry knocked 4 minutes off his 10k PB). As Covid-19 makes us all reassess what is important, finding little moments of happiness are important. It may not have been a marathon, but it was a ¼ of one. Manchester will happen, but for now, stay safe everyone.
I had been following Allan’s marathon training plan – albeit now without a marathon to train for. I have found it hugely helpful to continue to follow the plan, as it’s given me a sense of purpose and consistency in a world which at the minute is unpredictable and forever changing. The plan on the other hand is a constant in a sea of change. It tells me what to do, and I do it. It also keeps me feeling connected to Allan, and to Anna whom I had been training with for London.
Usually the plan is fairly straightforward – it gives me a number of miles to run, and Allan’s advice was to run the majority of these “by feel”. This is what I have been doing, although I am very aware that how I feel is now a lot slower than I would have been had I still been training for a marathon which was going to happen. That’s partly because of everything happening in the world, and the mental and physical exhaustion that I feel as a result. It’s also purposeful – as an NHS doctor I am a key worker, and I feel strongly the responsibility to do all I can to stay well and at work. This means not putting my body under undue stress and pressure. Too many long or hard runs may reduce immunity, and a long hard run is definitely off the cards at present.
So today’s run was a conundrum. The “special run” is one of the stalwarts of the plan. It’s a marathon pace driven 15 mile run, with some intervals thrown in just for good measure! The original plan which Anna and I had created was slightly bonkers – we’ve learned that having some bonkers plans in amongst the serious stuff keeps our running fun! We’d planned to take Friday 3rd April off work, stay over in Roker on the Thursday night, go for a nice carb loading Italian with a mutual friend, then run along the coast together following the Special Run pace plan on Friday morning, enabling me to get back to Durham in time to catch the train to Manchester to watch Rory, Nik, Karen and numerous other Striders run the Manchester Marathon on the Sunday. Given the fuss I was making about London I had also planned an indulgent weekend away with Rory, who had missed out on a Good for Age place in London by 19 seconds when they adjusted the time goals.
Clearly now none of these previous plans were going to happen, so I needed a creative solution to the “special run”, and so began the forming of a plan…… I decided I was going to run 15 miles starting at home and following a route that would be special to me. This was to run routes which reminded me of happy times – and for me this meant Striders training sessions.
I loved this run! Whilst I had to run it alone, and at stupid o’clock in the morning to make sure I was assured of observing social distancing on such a long route, running these familiar routes meant that I was accompanied by memories of friends throughout.
I ran from home along the A167 towards County Hall. This initial stretch of the A167 was part of a 7mm 10 mile route which Anna and I had offered to lead on a Wednesday Striders night– we had no other takers! It was a lovely run though just the two of us, reminiscent of our Brampton to Carlisle run in distance and pace but had felt more comfortable than B2C– a sure sign that our training was going well.
I then arrived at County Hall and did some reps of the car park with a couple of efforts up the hill (clearly I can’t stop myself from doing some pace work – the competitive Type A personality is strong!). I had Stephen in my mind, telling me to maintain my form, Jan encouraging me up the hills, I was remembering Peter pipping me to the finish on the final hill rep, and chasing Michael and Graeme up the hills (not winning that one!). I was remembering friendly hugs from Juan, and drinks and chat with Wendy and Chris afterwards.
From there I made my way down to the riverbanks, and ran the final stretch of Parkrun – again unable to resist putting in an effort and pretending it was a sprint finish! I was reminiscing on a number of previous fast finishes there, personally when pacing 25 min with Kathryn and Malcolm finishing just close by. Lovely chats with Karen and Lesley afterwards, and hearing about David and Juan battling out the finishes.
Next up was a cut through the woods towards Maiden Castle, and a run along the riverbanks, across the bridge opposite the Rose Tree, then back along the other side of the banks towards Noisy Bridge. This was a route that Anna and I had run often as a warm up prior to our early Tuesday morning track sessions with Allan. Frosty mornings had not deterred us, although today was sunny and warm by comparison. As I approached Noisy Bridge I had Allan in mind again, his spot at Parkrun provided an opportunity to think of him and to be thankful for all he gave so many of us. The track was not too far away, and that also provided a number of lovely fun memories of times spent there – the Christmas run being the most recent with inflatable Santas, Mince Pies and chocolates! I toasted the front of Maiden Castle with a Kendal Mint Cake gel – my new running food of choice. I was imagining Striders gathered outside MC doing stretches and cool downs, and the good humoured banter that goes along with that (including Lesley’s scarecrow joke which had Phil, Mark, Rory and I in stitches – for all the wrong reasons!)
Onwards to the club run route – I ran one lap this time round, remembering the first time I had done this route. Stephen came flying past towards the middle of the first lap, looking supremely comfortable. I had commented to Alex B that it was so unfair that Stephen looked so comfortable – Alex said something that would stay with me – he pointed out that the “speedies “ were trying just as hard as the rest of us, and it wasn’t easy for anyone. Too true! Running through the woods today was brilliant – quiet, peaceful, birds and squirrels galore.
After the club run route I headed up towards the science site, remembering a club run there a couple of years ago which was great fun. Michael and Fiona had organized a 3 drill run – reps of the hill, laps of the carpark, and a Parlouf style run towards South Road. I had been paired with Anna M, and we’d had great fun. I again couldn’t resist a couple of efforts on the hills and flats. Going up the hill I had Allan R in my head – “go, go, go” – how he has the energy and breath to shout encouragement whilst still going at some speedy pace himself I will never know!
I then returned to South Road and made my way to the Theatre of Dreams. This holds so many happy memories – I was a regular last year and that was when I really started to see my times improve. I thought the track was for speedies, and had avoided it in favour of 10k routes around town, but the idea of running round a car park was not so intimidating so I really took to it and the interval training it provided reaped big rewards. I had really enjoyed chasing Peter, Mark, David, Alex, Matthew C and Anna M round in circles – we were all very close in pace and had great fun lots of Wednesday evenings. I enjoyed watching Michael and Mark K go flying past, often joined by Graeme in close succession. Seeing Lisa L improve her times here, along with so many others, made it a lovely social occasion.
The last stop was Low Burnhall where I had Elaine in my mind, funny warm up dances, and setting off far to quickly on the first efforts at a pace that I could not sustain throughout despite desperate attempts to do so. I’m not naturally a cross country runner, but I do enjoy trying. Memories of Nina and Jan encouraging me to try to catch Elaine, and of Barrie going flying up the hills, as well as lots and lots and lots of mud….
Back along the A167 I had meant to jog the final mile, but the legs felt good, so I decided to go for it – and ended the run to find I’d got a second place Strava trophy for the “A167 short section” segment, only behind Tracy Millmore on the leaderboard – not bad for the end of a 15 mile run! Clearly my legs are still in decent condition, and the urge to race has not left me! In fact perhaps I’d better to back out and try for that crown soon……
This was a great run – showing that although we are socially distancing, we are not socially distant. My Striders friends were with me throughout that run, in my mind and thoughts. I look forward to the time when we can be together again in person, but until then the Striders family remains a source of strength, inspiration and great memories!
Newton Hall to Kepier hospital on the sands. Hope this relieves the boredom a bit and I thought it apt to talk about the leper hospital. However bad we feel stuck at home we could be John Bulmer.
STOP 2 KEPIER HOSPITAL
The first hospital chapel (now St Giles Church, Gilesgate) was dedicated in June 1112.
Kepier hospital was refoundedbeside the River Wear at Kepier, c.1180, by Bishop Hugh le Puiset with an establishment of thirteen brothers, serving around thirteen (male) inmates as well as travelers and pilgrims. Many were lepers a common disease.
St Giles was the patron saint of beggars and cripples and Godric of Finchale was a doorkeeper of the hospital church before settling at Finchale and further becoming St Godric. Naturally Kepier was important for its hospitality and in 1298 King Edward I was among those entertained here.
Not many years later in 1306 the `visit’ of Robert the Bruce was not so warmly welcomed. On June the 15th of that year Bruce’s Scottish army swarmed towards Kepier and severely burned the building.
Kepier Hospital was inspected in 1535 as part of Henry VIII’s ValorEcclesiasticus survey of monasteries. It was shown to be the richest hospital in the diocese, devoting 25% of its gross annual income of £186
Henry ordered the closure of the lesser monastic houses (including Kepier) prompting the doomed Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. The Master of the Hospital supported the Bishop of Durham in opposing the Pilgrims, but its (lay) steward Sir John Bulmer was executed for participating in the rebellion. It was the “most serious of all Tudor rebellions”, it was a protest againstHenry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances. John Bulmer was found guilty of treason was tied to a hurdle and dragged through the streets of London. Bulmer was taken to Tyburn and was hanged, almost to the point of death, revived, castrated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered .Later that day Margaret Cheyney his wife was burnt to death at Smithfield.
Lakeland 50, 2019: a lock-down inspired race report of my first ultra
“Do these paracetamols belong to anyone?”. Blank stares all round. I pop a couple. It’s cheating a bit, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to podium, so it’s probably okay.
I’m at the second check point (Mardale Head, 20 miles in) and, as well as cheating, I have just sat down ignoring some advice I had read in a Strider race report: ‘Beware the chair’. It’s lashing it down and windy, so the checkpoint makeshift ‘shelter’ isn’t really doing its job (think market stall with a few seats under the canopy). Still, the biscuits and sandwiches are a welcome distraction and the marshals have had to drive out to the middle of nowhere to set this up, so I think myself lucky.
I’m starting this report at check point two because it’s where the challenge began for me – it’s when the endurance bit of the race started. It hadn’t really been necessary to stop at the first check point in Howtown (10 miles in) but it was nice to use the loo and get out of the rain. Here, Ash and I were in pretty good shape. Ash is good friend since university days and we were doing the race as a pair. After this stop, the tallest climb on the route (about 2,000 ft at 11 miles) had taken us up into the hills away from the familiar sight of Ullswater and it wasn’t too bad at all. We had hiked up in mud and trotted down the other side without any drama. We were chatting to friendly, soggy competitors, all in good spirits, but it wouldn’t be long before things started getting difficult, for me at least.
It was between 18 and 20 miles that I had grown uncomfortable jogging and when leaving check point 2 even my walking was limited by increasingly tight knees. I didn’t say anything to Ash but when we began the next 1000ft climb it became obvious I was struggling. While he maintained our normal pace, I started to fall behind quite quickly. I was hoping I could just ‘walk it off’ but doubt set in as I carried on with small steps, zig-zagging up a normally unchallenging rubble path. I caught up with Ash who was waiting for me periodically and then he would head off up again. As my legs didn’t improve and I inched up the slope, I started to mull things over. We had clocked less than 25 miles. Not even half done and my knees were sore to the point of wincing with each lift. I was asking myself whether I should be just realistic and call it a day? With all the preparation and excitement that would spell a small, personal disaster.
What I needed at this point was someone to convincingly say: ‘this isn’t the end of your race, it’s the start of the next bit’ and that ‘to finish you need to accept sore legs and crap weather, move forward and do not stop, it’s going to be worth it’. I have now read books that tell you that it is the last third or the last quarter of your big challenge where you have to rely on your determination more than your body. I didn’t really understand this at the time, and perhaps you can’t until you have done something like this already.
It’s doesn’t make for a good story, but I didn’t make a single, determined decision – there was no ‘I’m going to do this!’ moment, I just carried on as best as I could. A big consideration was that if you start Lakeland 50 as a pair then you need to finish as a pair. Alternatively, you both DNF. I didn’t want to balls-up Ash’s race, too, so I plodded on aware I was eating into our 16hr target time. To make things worse Ash was, at times, literally skipping along.
We eventually reached the top of the big climb and, as the landscape levelled, I realised that I was relatively comfortable on the flattening path. This changed my outlook: it was mountainous terrain but parts of it were going to be flat, and perhaps downhill would be okay, too? I now figured that the event was, possibly, doable.
Pushing through the next few miles, I wondered why my knees went so early on given that our pacing had been very sensible; I was expecting a recurrent calf problem to be the issue if anything. During my training in months prior, I had been running half marathons off-road at weekends and shorter runs in the week. Not ideal in terms of distance, but I had at least included quite a lot of steep hills and step-up workouts. Maybe I should have ran with my full pack more, or perhaps my knees were always going to be a problem without better training? I’m none the wiser now. Anyway, we managed to make it to the next check point at Kentmere (mile 27) without pausing.
All the check points have small stories in their own right, for which there isn’t time. For example, at Kentmere I realised I had left our hard cups at the last checkpoint. Ash took the news well and was distracted anyway as he thought he had forgotten to dib his electronic dibber and was stressing about DNF’ing as a result (#newbies).
At each point, Lakeland 50/100 marshals and volunteers do a great job; some are even in themed fancy dress (what is it about runners and costumes?). A key thing for checkpoint for me was that, even though most were indoors, I started to lose body temperature and shiver whilst in them (drying out a bit, resting and eating). After leaving Kentmere, a concerned marshal even asked me if I was okay because I had full on body shivers and was setting off in slightly the wrong direction. I said I was fine – I knew that I just had to get moving again to warm up, and because of this I was actually looking forward to cracking on with the next looming hill.
Up and up again, we were now heading to Ambleside. The rain had been patchy all day, but the cloud hadn’t spoiled all of the elevated views. The weather was deteriorating now though, as was the daylight, and some of the paths had turned to total mush.
As night fell, we trapesed through flooded steep hillside fields, slanting rain, up to our ankles in mud, the only head torches in the darkness. Such places made me appreciate just how much harder it must be to do the race solo at 50miles and particularly at 100miles. We had passed quite a few of the tail-end Lakeland 100 competitors a number of whom, in all honesty, seemed like broken, shuffling phantoms in the night. I’m not being derogatory: they had already completed our distance and were cracking on to do the same again in pretty horrid conditions. Some were happy to exchange a few words, where others just grunted in recognition, or pain, as we passed.
We descended down into Ambleside and I was happy for the pavement, well-wishing people out on a Saturday night, and the camaraderie, salty veg soup and boxes of crisps in the parish centre. Out of town, we sploshed our way through some more miles. Occasionally disembodied sheep eyes reflected our torches in the distance; some waited, unspotted in the darkness and then bleated loudly as we passed. (‘Mint Sauce – you little buggers!’) It wasn’t all tough: there were sizeable flattish sections where I was able to lead because my energy levels were pretty good (it was just my stupid knees on the climbs). In fact, I distinctly remember thinking on some level single track that my shadow, cast by Ashes torch, showed how I was power walking rather than limping along, but I might have been a bit delusional at this point.
Next up was Chapel Stile (40 miles in). This was a brilliant checkpoint. An open fire heated the Marquee where some kind marshals provided us with quality brownies. We exited the tent and Ash pointed out there was only 10k until the last check point which was Tilberthwaite (46.5 miles). We were both rested and in a good place. It sounded very doable and we strode off enthusiastically. At the time we probably both could run 10k in around 52-54min. It took us 2 hours 15min. There had been a steep 500ft climb though and we were having to dig deeper now being weaker at the business end of the race. There is only one unmanned, open check point in the 50 mile event at Blea Moss. We had to do quite a lot of bog trotting, but navigation was aided by small ribbon flags some kind soul had set out to show the way where the path wasn’t clear. Approaching the dibber area, we saw a man in his 60/70s standing in the rain dressed in country walking clothes. I remember reading that the organisers had tracked him down – it turns out he is a local widower who likes to guide people in and provide support at this point each year. What a legend!
We approached Tilberthwaite, quickly grabbed an odd cheese toasty, which had been cooked using an outdoor log burning stove. We then headed straight off as we had agreed not to stop ‘so close to the end’. We had no illusions about how tough the last 3.5miles would be. Jacobs Ladder is no secret and it begins the final proper climb of around 800ft. At the beginning there are nicely defined steps with lanterns highlighting each one trailing up into the hillside. But at some point, god knows when, it got steep (think easiest grade rock climbing at times), muddy and endless. This was the only stretch of the route where at one point I was on all fours.
We found our way to the last summit and started to wind our way down to Coniston. We were ambling and chatting now. The weather had cleared, and we had realised some time ago we were going to miss our 16-hour target, so we were content just to finish. The clouds above and below us were starting to lighten with the dawn and, a bit later on, looking back up the mountain I could see a string of tiny head torches tracing the way we had descended. It was a nice view and also good to know that there were a lot of competitors behind us.
Coniston at dawn was very quiet and we strolled up to the finish and had a hug and a selfie. We were led back into the main marquee where the calmness was shattered by light and noise as we were announced by someone banging a pot and lots of people (those who had finished) cheering. We got our finisher’s medals and a picture taken and met Mark our friend who had completed hours before us and who was sporting a big grin. He had drank lots of coffee and was our designated driver. We swapped a few war stories on the way back in the car, but Ash and I lasted about 20min into the drive before we both snoring.
Will I try another ultra? I am not sure. It’s a lot of time to train and a big ask of the family. I am sure about this though, as a result of signing up for this event, I found a new hobby in off-road running and I also found a great running club. Both of which will have to tolerate me for years to come.