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Posts Tagged ‘Lake District’

I signed up to run the UT55 again this year because I wanted to go back and do a better job. I wanted to train harder; to turn up to the start fit and well-prepared, with hindsight from 2015 and a more recent recce of the route under my belt. When I signed up to this race, I was under the impression that my first attempt had somehow gone badly, and that I hadn’t yet earned the rights to call myself an ultra runner, not really. I wanted to  go back to that course and earn those rights.

Not one aspect of my training went properly to plan. I started too early and peaked too soon. I say peaked, but really there was no peaking – the long runs were the worst I’ve done for any long-distance race, and unlike last year, I never felt ready for marathon+ distances; every week I finished my long run with less confidence then when I started. I didn’t manage a single recce of the route despite numerous weekends in the Lakes. Various health issues got in the way of my training, and after a really difficult time on the marathon – planned as my final long run and a pre-ultra confidence booster – I had to reassess my intentions for the race. I considered dropping out and almost committed to it on a couple of occasions, but decided instead to enjoy what I could of the amazing route, knowing that Daniel would be around the course and ready to collect me should it be required.

The day before the race I was resigned to not finishing. I was sad that this wouldn’t be my time, but also had to acknowledge the fact that my health was the priority, and that I could come back another time when I was in better shape to put in the right sort of training [Note: I did train, and put in a lot of miles, but anaemia got in the way and my fitness didn’t seem to improve one bit]. We arrived at Ambleside that evening, and the place was absolutely heaving. I was feeling incredibly negative and the hoards of people and queues of cars only added to my bad mood. After checking in and getting some stuff together I headed out to get my racepack checked – without the mandatory kit, runners would be disqualified from the race. It was here, in the prerequisite stage of the UT55, that I found my first really positive focus. The lady who checked my bag is a familiar face on the Lakeland Trails scene, and we’ve often said hello on previous events. She asked how I was feeling and, rather than giving her my entire life story, I told her I was nervous (which I was, very much so). It turned out that she had been ill for six months, and despite desperately wanting to run the race, she wasn’t able to. She reminded me to be grateful of the fact I was there at all; at the very least, I was healthy enough to give it a good go, and I shouldn’t take that for granted. This was probably the most helpful thing that I could have heard at that moment – I promised her that I’d think of her at the top of Grizedale Hause. I didn’t tell her that I wasn’t sure I’d get that far.

Ultra day came, and the weather kept to its promise. The skies were dark and heavy, and the rain was already pouring when I first dared to peep out of the curtains that morning. MWIS promised us wind, hail, and a strike of lightening or two just to add to the challenge. My dad texted me from over halfway through his 110km run to let me know that it was cold; I packed an extra base layer and decided to set off in my rainproof – combining anaemia with hypothermia didn’t seem like a good idea, no matter how much I hate running in a coat. The start line was quite subdued, but Graham spoke some really helpful words as we gathered and I remembered that this wasn’t about running, it was about moving forwards. I also spotted an incredible dog (maybe a mix of husky and bear?), which the owner kindly allowed me to pet for a while. Anything to calm my nerves. We set off in the rain, and, for the first time in days, I actually felt ok.

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The Struggle to Kirkstone Pass

I had a race plan and I stuck to it. Keep moving. Run whenever possible (even the uphills if I feel able to). Walk fast when I can’t run. The second most important thing: EAT. The first most important thing: talk to people, receive and return positive energy wherever possible. I look back at the marathon and last year’s UT55, and on both occasions I wouldn’t have made it without the help of others. Acknowledging this was key to a good race.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the various sections (check out last year’s post for more detail about the actual course), but what I do want to say is that I ran a very good race overall. Despite all of the things that got in the way, both in training and on the day itself, my race strategy – mainly my eating and my sharing of positive vibes – was absolutely on point. I really did run as much as I could, and it worked. Running felt so positive, so it helped me keep my spirits up, and converted more positive energy into movement. My body held up incredibly well, and I had hardly any aches and pains until the very last couple of miles, but even then it was minimal. As expected, I walked a substantial amount, but mainly this was walking in the form of ploughing forwards. Later in the race I had to remind myself to walk fast as it didn’t come naturally after hours on my feet, but again, it generated positive vibes. Constant forwards motion was very helpful – I spent no more than a minute or so at the two main check points where Daniel was waiting (enough time to refill bottles and food supplies and grab a quick kiss), and passed all of the others without stopping. My eating was carefully timed thanks to the help of baby food sachets. There’s a useless amount of calories in them, but they’re very easy to take on and keep in place – I had baby banana porridge at mile 3, which meant that my stomach wasn’t empty and acidy at mile 7, so it was much easier to take on solid food. I ate baby food tactically, filling in gaps where I didn’t actually need food, but keeping my stomach lined at all times ready for when I did. It worked wonders.

It was on the enjoyable ascent of Grizedale Hause that, for the first time since March, I allowed myself to believe that I might finish; only 12 miles in – it seemed like a risky thought to be entertaining so early on. The rain was pouring, and as we reached the top the winds were so strong I was almost knocked off my feet. There was also hail, and it hurt. As I passed Grizedale Tarn the winds subsided and the sun came out, there were no other runners in sight and everything was completely still and silent. I was truly lucky to be there, totally exhilarated, fit and able enough to trek/run 15 miles over such difficult terrain. I thought of the lady at the bag-check, as promised, and sent some positive energy her way.

 

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Heading up towards Grizedale Hause in the rain

 

While I’d made it up the hardest ascent with a spring in my step and a smile on my face (very different from last year), it was the descent that I was worried about. Descents are my weakest point by far, quickly transforming me from feeling positive and powerful up the hill to being a nervous wreck who’d happily take a cable car back down. The weather made this one all the more challenging – it was slippy and the noise of the wind was disorienting. I focussed on getting down steadily and promised myself that I’d push forwards quickly to Grasmere once I got to the road section, but all plans were soon scuppered when I found myself on my bum, screaming out in pain, worried (just for a moment) that I might have done some serious damage. I looked up and a group of helpful runners were surrounding me – they looked quite worried too. The lovely lady who I’d been chatting to helped me out and reassured me that I was ok, and so I set off on my way, feeling at best demoralised, at worst injured, and definitely as if I might not be able to carry on beyond Grasmere. Well, spoiler alert: I did carry on, but it hurt a lot. My right bum cheek was (and still is) very badly bruised, and it hurt to move, never mind to run. Daniel checked me over in a car park at Grasmere, by which point a swelling had started to appear – the jury was out on whether I was ok to carry on or not, but my back felt ok and I was determined to give it a go. Just as a disclaimer, I already had my sensible hat on at the start of the race and continued to wear it throughout; I absolutely don’t think it’s ok to run through injury if the running might make the injury worse, but in this case I didn’t think it would be exacerbated by continuing on the race.

So, back to my awesome race strategy, which had been scuppered slightly by the fact that it hurt to run, because running made my bum jiggle around. It did at least make for some good jokes, and a number of people shouted ‘How’s your bum?’ to me as we passed. One lady offered to firm my jiggle up with some rocktape, and a marshall suggested that I use a Buff as a bum-holding device. So here we return to the first most important thing: with or without the injury, as usual it was the other people around me who made this day what it was. I met so many amazing people, many of them tackling their very first ultramarathon, some of them seasoned to the graft, familiar with the challenge of long days out in the wilds. A number of people were also signed up for the Lakeland 50 four weeks later – I wish all of you well! We laughed and joked our way around, sharing low points and positive energy wherever necessary. For me, the hardest part of the day was a long section around mile 26 when I was completely on my own. I couldn’t see anyone ahead or anyone behind, and the yellow flags which marked the route were my only comfort and company. As mile 26 arrived I felt a surge of tiredness so strong that I wanted to lie down in the rocks and sleep. Fearful that my anaemia was hitting and would lead to heart failure and I’d die in the rain and mud on my own in the fells, I tried to sum up some positive energy. I came up with a single positive thought – how depressing. I decided instead to sing, but couldn’t even make it past the first few lines of my favourite Green Day songs. Clearly my thinking mind had shut down in order to conserve some precious energy; I commanded myself to ‘WALK FAST!’, and managed to catch up with two ladies ahead who I stuck with for some time. Positive energy restored; Operation: Complete Ultra was back on!

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As I mentioned, my body held up amazingly. As I ran in to the final checkpoint at mile 31, a number of people commented on how fresh and lively I looked. Bum pain aside, I felt fresh and lively – my body felt great, which made the bum pain a little more frustrating than it might have otherwise been. But no time to dwell on that. By this point the light was starting to fade, which provided simultaneous motivation to press on quickly and the ultimate in Lakeland running awesomeness. After 16 miles of painful movement (and 15 miles of comfortable movement before that), I finally managed to put the discomfort aside and focus on the last 5 miles. And with this, I was about as happy as it is possible to be: running, in my favourite place in the world, the dusk chorus just starting up, the most beautiful pale light all around, running through empty fields and past still tarns, knowing that in a couple of miles I would have completed the UT55 for the second time, against all of my expectations. I didn’t want it to end quite so soon – I desperately wanted to hold on to those last few miles for as long as I could, knowing that I wouldn’t be back running in the Lake District for a long time.

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Only four miles left!

With that, the sharp descent into Ambleside appeared and I crossed that finish line. Unlike so many of the finish lines that I’ve crossed over the past 12 months, this one brought the ultimate in joy and pride. I’ve typed and re-typed and re-typed a number of sentences to follow that one, but perhaps if you are a runner (or indeed any other sort of person) and you’re reading this then you’ll know what I mean without me having to explain. The fact is that I didn’t need to have another go at the UT55 because I didn’t go a good enough job the first time around – I was already an ultrarunner (if that’s really so important anyway) before I crossed the finish line. In fact, I was slower this time, by a good hour; I didn’t necessarily do a better job – those who care only for time on a watch might say I did a worse job the second time around. But it doesn’t feel like that – I genuinely feel that I excelled myself that day, in numerous awesome ways. Getting to the end and acknowledging that I’ve done something really, truly difficult, and that I actually enjoyed myself while doing it is the best outcome I could have hoped for. Other people might run further or faster, but what anyone else does is totally irrelevant: as the saying goes ‘it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves’.

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And my bum? What was a small swelling at Grasmere ended up looking like I had a banana planted underneath my skin by the end of the race, and certainly horrified the sports massage therapist two days later. I won’t be posting a photo. I got checked over by my doctor on the return home, and aside from a bruised coccyx everything is in working order. Unfortunately, I now want to return to the UT55 when I get back from living in the USA to see if I can manage it without damaging myself on Grizedale Hause – the challenge awaits!

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I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write about this race. Partly, I didn’t want to write an account that sounded in any way like a bad review, or anything too negative. Partly, the story is kind of personal, and I can’t write about this race without going into Personal Stuff in at least some detail. But I like to write these reports for my own records, and after reading a comment on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page this morning about someone else going through something similar to me, I thought it might be of use to someone if I were a little bit open about this stuff. So here goes.

This race was almost a DNS (did not start) on countless occasions. On almost every long run I’d make it to the one mile mark and consider turning home and dropping out. I never did. My training runs were poor at best, but I did every single one, totting up some of the highest weekly mileage I’ve ever managed. Running became increasingly difficult, and when I went to see my doctor (also a marathon runner) who said I probably wasn’t over-training, I went for some tests to work out what was going on. Two days later I got my B12 anaemia diagnosis, and my first thought was that I’d finally have a real excuse to pull out of this race.

And I was looking for an excuse. In the paradoxical world of being human, I was pushing myself out on runs of up to 20 miles, when even walking around the corner to Sainsbury’s was becoming a problem. The long runs were a nightmareish story of grumbling anxiety peppered with full-on panic – I did one 16-miler without straying more than a mile from my front door, just looping around a nearby 3-mile circuit where I felt ‘safe’. To put it bluntly: panic attacks. Daily, sometime hourly, bursts of near-death experience. As I write this I’m wondering why I didn’t just give myself a break and pull out of the race.

The panic wasn’t enough to stop me, and neither was the anaemia. I found myself in Coniston on 4th June, overwhelmed by the brightness of the sun and the greenness of the trees. There was so many people, children everywhere, bright colours and shrieking from every angle I turned. There was no peace, my mind was raging with the explosion of newness around me. I really really tried to look forward to the space of the marathon the next day, but there was only dread, and under that, utter terror. After a night of almost no sleep, I found myself at the startline at 6:45am, where finally there was peace as runners assembled all with their own nerves and fears about the day (and the heat! it was already hot!) ahead. I cried into Daniel’s chest, totally resigned to feeling too fragile to run a marathon. We had agreed weeks before that I would pull out at the first nudge of anaemia-ish symptoms – I was going to start the race, that was all. A DNF (did not finish) seemed inevitable.

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And so we were off and I was crying as we set out, but soon enough it was ok. I focussed on my steps, upon setting a gentle pace that I could keep up for a while as my thoughts slowed into a comfortable rhythm. It was ok, I was ok. Not great, but ok. Not even two miles in and sweat was dropping from my face, but the heat wasn’t really an issue; if I could deal with my head I could deal with the heat no problem. At mile 8 there was a feed station and I noticed that one lady was dropping out. I could join her. A car will be coming, I could wait and get in that car and we can go back together. I carried on, reluctantly – mile 8 seemed too soon to drop out without an injury.

We got to the beautiful Tarn Hows section and I remembered walking here on the last day of our honeymoon. We talked about all of the things, it was warm and sunny, I was totally content. I tuned in to that day as hard as I could, remembering that feeling of joy and newness, tucked away in the Lake District far from all of the normal life stuff. I chatted to a few other runners here, pushing down the nausea and battling forwards. My Garmin beeped 10 miles and a small group of us cheered – 10 miles already! Around and around Tarn Hows and then up a track past some super marshalls to find James basking in the sun with his camera. I think I felt good by this point – certainly good enough to have a joke about suncream. It was hot, and not even 10am. It was getting really hot.

Coniston

Another feed station, almost 12 miles in and just before Grizedale forest. I had been looking forward to shade: there was no shade. The sun was blazing right above, and everyone kept stopping to walk, drink, moan quietly. I stopped to reapply suncream, afraid of heat stroke, alongside everything else. This was getting hard and I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. But all the time, as always, amazing runners sharing the dregs of cheer that they could muster up. Some familiar faces from previous races, a lot of new people to talk to. The next feed station was at 19 miles – Just another 10km and then I’ll see about pulling out. I looked forward to being shuttled back and sitting in the sun waiting for Daniel to finish his half marathon. Dreams of pulling out pushed me forwards, albeit incredibly slowly.

At mile 16 I saw a marshall. It had been a very long, lonely mile or so and I was at rock bottom. He told me I was halfway. But I’ve done 16 milesOh you know these events, 26 miles is just an estimate, he replied. I had done the run last year, I knew it was 26 miles, not 32. But my spirits dropped from low to rock-bottom. The next 3 miles are a blur in my mind. I was dying the entire time, seemingly encapsulated in panic, far from anyone or anything, with no shade from the sun. I was in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever run in, and I couldn’t think coherently enough to enjoy it, only feeling surges of dread all over the place as I clambered over the rocks. It was here that I encountered The Guy Who Got Me Through, though it wasn’t until later that he really saved the day. We were both in a slump – he said he’d love to be sitting at home drinking a tea. I hadn’t even had a cup of tea that day (no wonder I didn’t feel good), and all I could think of was sugary tea from there on (note: I felt too ill to eat by this point, and was relying on coke from the feed stations to get some sugar in me).

This is a long account. It was a long day.

Every story needs a hero, and there are many many heroes in this one, but my first hero (and probably that of many other runners that day) was the ninja feed station at mile 19. It was here that I was supposed to drop out – I had actually decided that this would be the case – but instead I came across a little table and two friendly people handing out water and Kendal mint cake. They had done the race before, but had decided this year to hand out refreshments to runners instead, setting up outside a friend’s house where they could use a tap all day long (bearing in mind that the official feed stations were usually tap-less, so precious water had to be shipped to us – water really was at a premium that day). Here I got chatting to a small group of people and it turned out that we were all struggling with major issues. I WAS NOT ALONE. I told them that I had decided to drop out, but that their company might be enough to see me on a little further. We ran together for a while, and stuck together on and off for the remainder of the race.

This was the turning point for me. It took 19 miles (and who knows how many hours) of journeying forwards before my mind started to calm, but I got there. By this point the heat was seriously bad, and I was aware that it would be too much for many people, but miracuolously I felt ok. I had ample water and was soaked in suncream. I also have to mention here the lovely family of one runner, to whom I’d mentioned that I was getting some chafing from my backpack. She had given her family a description of me, and as I approached them they were holding out a tub of Vaseline, complete with kind words and well wishes. I wasn’t surprised – this level of kindness and camaraderie is what I’ve come to expect on Lakeland Trails events. If you’re reading, fellow runner, thank you – and well done on such a great run 🙂

The last six miles? Easy peasy compared to the first 20. I had blisters all over my feet, I was starving hungry, I had a grumbling headache and I hadn’t had a wee for more hours than is probably safe, but I felt as if I could do it for the first time since March. I ran along chatting to the same guy who I’d met earlier (now known as The Guy Who Got Me Through since we didn’t bother asking for names), whose company and really good conversation (how is it that you can be that tired and still really enjoy a conversation?) took me from enduring to enjoying my time out on the fells. He was one of a number of really awesome people who I met – always a theme at Lakeland Trails days out!  I actually felt kind of cheerful, and when we reached the final aid station (3 miles to go!) it was a veritable festival of joy. Here I bumped into Mark (sorry I called you Jeff – was a bit delirious by this point!) who was ploughing along like a running machine, and who offered me some great words of encouragement to see me through those last couple of miles. Up a bit, then meet the lakeshore and just a couple of miles of flat from there (oh and a wall to climb over).

I petered out in the last few hundred metres and ran in a sort of ‘creeping’ style over the finish line – not the strong finish that I usually like to go for. But who cares? Somehow I’d made it, battling on past the lowest of all lows to actually gain some real positivity from the run. Ask anyone who has ever run a marathon and they will tell you that the challenge is almost completely mental. Mostly, I agree with this. But somehow this run showed something different. I had no mental strength that day, none whatsoever. The thing that got me through that marathon was the strength of others. So, while I am free to think what I want of my own mental strength, which may or may not be available at any point, at least I know that there is a goldmine of strength to be found in other people. And I really hope that I can give back as much as I take – the runner who got treated to my ‘Last few miles rap’ at mile 24 (sorry) may have something to say about that one…

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*To the tune of So Solid’s 21 Seconds, but replacing the seconds with distance as you get closer to the end…

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I continue to be impressed by the vegetarian food on offer in the Lake District, and so I thought it was about time that I put together a little summary of all of my favourite veggie pit-stops. We’ve spent five long weekends in the Lakes already this year, and every visit seems to present us with a new place to rave about; it’s getting to the point now that we rarely have time to visit all of our local favourites in one holiday. This couldn’t be more different from my experiences only a few years back, when a microwaved veggie lasagne was about all I could expect after a day out walking in the fells.

Most of these places aren’t exclusively veggie, and for me that isn’t a big deal. While I love to visit a place with a creative menu full of vegetarian delights, what impresses me the most is an omnivorous menu that doesn’t put meat-eaters at the centre of the table and hide the veggies away somewhere in the back. All of the places below present vegetarians with a choice (shock horror) of delicious food, and rather than reserving a small corner of the menu for us, our food is included in the list of meals that any customer might actually enjoy. Brilliant.

Obviously I can’t include every veggie-friendly place in the Lakes as I haven’t been to them all; do let me know if you have any recommendations of your own!

Keswick

Saddleback Cafe has quickly gained an excellent reputation in Keswick, and I can’t say that I’m surprised. Tucked away from the main bustle of the town centre, it’s always nice to escape here for a while, though it can often be overwhelmed by passing cyclists in need of a refuel. The menu is aimed at outdoorsy types, with peanut butter and banana sarnies, excellent cakes and flapjacks, and mugs of builder’s tea for little more than £1.50. They also do a great range of daily specials, one of which is always vegetarian and quite often vegan: think veggie chilli, tagine, curry – all the favourites! They really do cater for all, with a great selection of meaty, veggie, vegan and gluten-free fare on offer.

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Little Chamonix is another new addition to Keswick’s ever-improving foodie scene, and I struggle to walk past here without stepping in for one of their excellent coffees (locally roasted in Embleton): on our most recent trip to Keswick we were in here every day. Their menu is crammed with delicious home-cooked food made with locally-sourced ingredients – some are even home-grown. It’s a great lunch spot offering traditional Swiss dishes (baked camembert with bread and honey?!) as well as soups, chilli, jacket potatoes and huge sarnies. The best thing is the cakes, though, which are all homemade – their scones are baked fresh every morning and should not be missed!

The Dog & Gun stands out from this list as I’m including it mainly for it’s amazing veggie goulash. Served with garlic bread, potatoes and dumplings, this place offers post-fell refuelling at its finest! There are definitely other veggie options available, but I haven’t tried any of them because I love the goulash too much. Meat-eaters, vegetarians, ale-lovers and dogs are all well-catered for here.

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The Pheasant Inn offers a surprisingly large selection of meat-free options, considering how traditional it appears from the outside. Veggie options are included in the main menu, and on our visit I had three main dishes and one special to choose from. The food and service is very good (you can eat in the bar or book a table in the dining area), though take a solid appetite as the portions are generous!

Ambleside

Rattle Gill Cafe was one of the great discoveries of the UT55 weekend in Ambleside. We stumbled upon it by accident when in search of lunch on the day after the event, and I could have stayed a very long time enjoying their very tempting menu. Their chilli was generous and really delicious, and certainly the cakes looked to fit the bill as well. The menu is all vegetarian, with vegan and gluten free options available.

Zeffirellis is an important part of Ambleside’s social scene, offering a restaurant, cafe, cinema and jazz bar. You don’t notice at first, but it’s all vegetarian. This is our go-to place for fuelling up before races, as their menu offers lots of tasty pasta and pizza dishes (with gluten-free options available for both) as well as chillis and roast-style dishes. I also really like their pudding menu, which has lots of lighter options including fruits and frozen yogurts.

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Fellinis is the sister restaurant of Zeffirellis, and claims to be “a new modern ‘Vegeterranean’ restaurant” offering Medeterranean-inspired veggie dishes. As far as fine dining goes, this is the best vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to; it manages to get the perfect balance between really sumptuous food, delicate flavours and indulgence, all without the support of meat or fish. It’s a great place for a celebration, but price-wise it isn’t any different from any of the other restaurants in Ambleside.

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Fellbites is a lovely little place with a really relaxed feel, just of the main street in Genridding. It’s a great place to come after a day on the fells, with plenty of warming dishes for meat-eaters and veggies alike. It functions as a cafe in the daytime and turns into a restaurant at night. Friendly, with tasty food and a good menu selection.

Loweswater

Kirkstile Inn is hands-down my favourite place to eat and sleep in the Lake District. We even spent our honeymoon here, and if I hadn’t been quite so taken by the wild rice and veggie stir fry, I could have had a different veggie option every night of our stay. Not bad considering their menu is pretty small to start with! The food here is really excellent, especially when washed down with one of their own Loweswater Gold ales. Leave room for pudding – the seasonal crumble is not to be missed! And if you’re staying the night, the omelettes are life-changing – I went from omelette-neutral to omelette-mad over the course of one breakfast.

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En route to the mountains

La Casa Verde is a really magical place, nestled somewhere in the grounds of Larch Cottage nurseries. Follow the winding path through the foliage to find a magical cafe in really unique surroundings. They serve fish but no meat, and their pizzas are really wonderful, with a seriously thin base that makes them great for lunch. The cake selection is refreshingly untraditional, too. Definitely worth stopping here for a while!

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I’d been awake for over an hour when my alarm went off at 5am on Sunday morning. Most of the night had been spent lying in wait, listening to the wind rattling the window and the woman in the bunk above me snoring. We were staying in the remote and rather magical Coniston Coppermines youth hostel, nestled just below the Old Man of Coniston and about two miles up a rather terrifying dirt track from Coniston itself. Everyone in my dorm groaned as my alarm sounded, and I got up and dressed silently by torchlight, heart heavy in my stomach: I have never felt so unprepared for a marathon, and I knew that I had a tough day ahead.

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I ate breakfast with an enthusiastic Scotsman in the empty kitchen, which reeked of Deep Heat and strong coffee (neither of which had anything to do with me). He told me, with some pride, that it was the hardest race he’d ever done; it turns out he’d run a number of extremely tough ultras, so this didn’t help my cause. But by this point I was resigned to the fact that I would run that race – it was my only chance of feeling at all ready for the UT55 in under three weeks’ time.

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The startline was buzzing quietly, in a rather pleasant 7am sort of way, and the lake glistened in the morning light. Somehow it felt different from any other race I’d done, possibly due to the early start and hence the rather small number of runners (220) and spectators, and partly because this was the first time that I expected to be running for a really long time. My only deadline was the ‘Apres Trails’ celebrations, which required me to be back at base and not comatose by 3:30pm. That meant I had over 8 hours to finish the marathon, but still I was unsure it would happen. Only three weeks before I’d been ready and eager for a marathon race, but a nasty chest infection/flu dealt a massive blow to my training, and I didn’t feel I could ever get back to where I had been a few weeks before, when I’d felt at the fittest I’ve ever been. Typical.

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We set off after a quiet countdown from 10, and I started moving slowly along the familiar tracks from Coniston Old Hall and back up towards the hostel. Not even a mile in we came to a gate, and the runner ahead of me stopped to hold it open as I came through. I thanked him; “no problem, we’ve got a long day ahead”. Already, there was something wonderfully convivial about the race, and I was comforted by his thoughtfulness rather than worried by his words. I got into a steady pace and ran quietly, listening to the chatter of those around me. It continued like this for a while, and slowly but surely the miles started to pass. I walked almost every hill, stopped to enjoy the scenery, and purposefully kept to a slow pace – this was my dress rehearsal for the big day, and I wanted to stick with the ‘training run’ attitude, rather than get carried away by the race. Many of the others around me were also signed up for the UT55, so it was easy to hold back and stick to my nice steady running. It was much more comfortable than any marathon I’ve done before, despite it being by far the hardest course.

Two hours or so must have passed before the sun started to show through, and by this point I was enjoying myself so thoroughly that it seemed as if the weather was just a reflection of my mood. It still felt like a different sort of race – I hadn’t really spoken to anyone at all, and was just enjoying some quiet contemplation and spectacular scenery around Tarn Howe and the endless fells that abandoned all signs of human existence. I was running a marathon (I kept having to remind myself) but it felt more like a meditation. Just me and the gentle slosh of my water bottles, and the footsteps of those runners who I’d managed to stick with for so many miles.

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It continued like this until mile 20, at which point we came to a checkpoint and I decided to practice changing the water in my new ultravest. Only a few meters down the road I started to feel water dripping down my side, and had to stop to fix the bottle. This process repeated itself three times, before I got frustrated and decided to empty the water out and get on with only isotonic until the next water station; the trusty runners who I’d stuck with for 20 miles were long gone, and it was looking like my hopes of finishing in under 5;30 had disappeared. Slightly frustrated, I carried on, but it was hard to get back into a rhythm at this point: my Dad had warned me that the last 6 miles was the most technical, and I was finding myself having to walk much more than I had done previously. The upside to this was that I got chatting to some of the people around me, and we helped each other through the more difficult terrain with jokes about missing teeth and lost shoes. I was still having the best time of my life, and would quite happily have continued running in this race for another few hours.

At mile 23 another water stop appeared, almost a mirage amongst the long grass and hillocks in my path – I was getting desperate for water by this point, as the sugary isotonic was everything but refreshing. The marshalls were so friendly and kind – I stopped for a couple of minutes to chat with them, and we cheered on some of the passing race runners, who had started two hours after my race and were doing amazingly well on such a tough route. Not long after this stop we descended to the side of Coniston water, and we really were on the home straights. For some reason this was the point when I really started to tire, and runners who I’d been ahead of for the entire race overtook me in this final stretch. I kept tripping over and had to walk any technical bits as I couldn’t really focus properly: I’d been running for almost 6 hours, which is by far the longest time I’ve ever taken in a race. I thought I saw a snake on the path at one point, and when I realised it was actually just a twig I knew I was starting to get a bit delirious. This wasn’t something entirely unfamiliar – during training for my first marathon I’d experienced similar things (one time I thought someone had grabbed me from behind, and turned to find no one there!) – and I knew that it just meant I needed a rest, ASAP. My watch called out mile 25 just as the path widened out and became much easier underfoot, so spurred on I pushed ahead and picked up the pace – I could still beat 6 hours if I had a good final mile. But the final mile was anything but good.

In slow motion, I started falling forwards as my feet somehow gave up from under me. Perhaps I tripped, perhaps I just really wanted a lie down, but my increased pace meant that I hit the ground with a serious wallop. Unfortunately my hands were elsewhere in my time of need, and my face hit the floor with a bang, the force pushing my head back upwards and hurting my neck. Silence for a moment, and then panic. The blonde girl who I’d been running with and encouraging on a moment ago was kneeling beside me in an instant, and I was shaking as I tried to stand, knees hurting badly as they unfolded from under me. I spat out a large amount of ‘lakeland trail’; lots of blood followed, but luckily no teeth. I was in a bit of shock as I’m incredibly squeamish and there appeared to be a lot of blood, but my saviour assured me that I was ok – my nose wasn’t bleeding and my bottom lip was still attached. I rinsed out my mouth with isotonic and carried on running shakily – as if the final mile of a marathon isn’t hard enough! Luckily the fall had also given me an adrenaline boost, and I seriously wanted to see Daniel by this point, so I pushed ahead, adamant to finish before I keeled over again.

And, to cut a rather long final mile short, I did. Rather than dipping my legs in the lake, as I’d been dreaming of for two hours, I spent the first post-race 15 minutes in the first aid tent. After some recovery shake and a large pot of chick pea tagine I was feeling a little more revived, and we sat in the sun being serenaded by Pete Lashley, on a high after a brilliant weekend that I’d been quietly dreading for a couple of weeks. Final mile aside, I’d just finished the hardest and most enjoyable run of my racing ‘career’ so far, and even in that first post-race hour I started really looking forward to my first ultra experience.

DSC02673I must have said it three times already, but this race was simply magnificent. I can’t imagine that it could be beaten in terms of route, support, friendliness and difficulty – there’s no wonder it’s up there with the world’s best marathons. A massive thank you to everyone involved, especially Coniston Mountain Rescue who provided fantastic marshalling support, and all of the other marshalls and friendly faces along the way. I am seriously looking forward to my next Lakeland Trails event…let’s hope it doesn’t get too hot and sunny between now and then!

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Escaping to Keswick in May is becoming a yearly ritual in this house; neither of us are ‘summer people’ so this is the perfect time of year to get out into the mountains for some fresh air before a busy summer of conferences begins – it tides us over until Autumn, which is our preferred time for a main holiday. This year we decided to time our trip to coincide with the Keswick Mountain Festival; I missed out on my annual Keswick Half Marathon fun this year but we planned instead to take part in the trail events put on at the festival – Daniel signed up for the 10km trail race, and I opted for the 25km race as a training run for my upcoming ultra.

We took the Friday off work and headed up to Keswick early that morning, under the usual cloudy skies and with the inevitable promise of challenging weather. The town was already buzzing when we arrived just before lunch, and we struggled to find a spot to park in the rabbit warren of streets around our B&B: every single window declared that there was ‘no room at the inn’ – Keswick was packed to the rafters for the weekend! We headed to our favourite Saddleback cafe for a much-needed mug of builder’s tea and some lunch; this place has just opened when we first found it last year, and it was brilliant to see how well they were doing – very pleased! (Is it just me or is Keswick really lacking in great places to eat and drink? Finally this appears to be changing!).

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After lunch it was time for the first challenge of the weekend: to get myself kitted out for the ultra marathon. I managed to spend a rather disproportionate amount of money on some ultra lightweight waterproof running trousers (costing about £5 a gram!), and also picked up some funky new shorts and a super comfy bra – chafing is starting to become a problem, and Keswick is the place to fix that! Then it was time for Running Inspiration of the Weekend #1 to take place: Graham Patten, race director of the Lakeland Trails events, was due to finish the Bob Graham Round at about 17:40. I’d been keeping an eye on his progress with an online tracker that afternoon, and noticed that he was well ahead of schedule, and would be finishing at 16:30ish instead. I changed into my trainers and ran to the Moot Hall, to find him sitting on the steps with no shoes on looking as bright and as lively as could be, surrounded by a friendly support group. I was disappointed to miss his arrival but so pleased to be able to congratulate him in person – he was running to raise money for BLISS, and can be sponsored here! “See you in three weeks!” I said, as he headed off to celebrate in the pub. GULP.

I regret to say that it wasn’t long after this that we decided to hit our favourite pub – we had a talk to attend at 9pm and wanted to secure some food and some chilling out beforehand. Plus, it was very cold outside and pretty windy – I hate cold weather and could find no better reason to tuck up in the Dog and Gun. If you’ve never been to the Dog and Gun then I would suggest that you brave the crowds and try it out if you’re ever in the area. It’s hard to get a seat (for good reason!), but if you’re prepared to prop up the bar for a while you usually get lucky, even if you have to share with strangers. They serve an excellent goulash (meaty or veggie) with dumplings, potatoes and garlic bread – there is surely no better way to fuel up or recover before/after an energetic day in the hills.

We got chatting to another couple from Yorkshire who were attending the festival along with everyone else in the pub, and it didn’t seem two minutes before they headed off to the music along with most other people and we were able to get a seat. Not long afterwards a wiry and weathered-looking old man sat down at the adjoining table with his wife, but at the same time a better table came free and we shifted places again. As I sat down I realised that we’d just passed on an opportunity to share a meal with Joss Naylor – legendary fell runner and retired shepherd, whose talk we were due to attend in a couple of hours! I couldn’t help but kick myself, but luckily the enormous bowl of goulash was enough to distract me from this silly mistake!

The talk was held at the Theatre By The Lake, and featured Joss Naylor and his ‘rival’ Steve Birkinshaw, both telling their own stories of their completion of the 214 Wainwrights: Joss was the fatest man to complete the round, in seven days and one hour, in 1987, and Steve was the first runner to beat his time, bringing the record down to 6 days and 13 hours in 2014. Both men were excellent to listen to, delivering completely different but equally entertaining and moving accounts of their own attempts. It was quite startling to hear Joss Naylor, known as ‘Cumbria’s Iron Man’ or ‘King of the Fells’, describe his amazing achievement as ‘done badly’; it was very humbling to listen to them speak so frankly about what was no doubt an equally torturous and amazing venture. I finally got to meet Joss in person afterwards when he signed my ticket and put up with a rather bumbling conversation on my part. We left the venue feeling very inspired: there was no ‘celebrity’ involved in the evening – it was just two runners talking about running, and I was so glad that we decided to attend this event.

Me and Joss getting on famously, of course..!

Me and Joss getting on famously, of course..!

The next morning, after an excellent breakfast spread provided by our hosts Sue and Iain (seriously, if you need somewhere to stay in Keswick, their B&B is the place), I decided to make up for my missed Keswick Half Marathon this year and run the route on my own. Door-to-door it would be about 15 miles, which alongside Sunday’s trail race would make for excellent back-to-back training for UT55. I set out towards Portinscale, weaving through the hoards of people and their teeny tiny dogs (one of my serious running (and normal life) pet hates) in the town centre. It took a while to get onto quiet roads, but once I did it was absolutely marvellous. I’ve only ever run this route in a race, so this time I had chance to slow down a bit and enjoy the views, and even take some photos. Such a gorgeous course. But – and I say this every time – I swear it gets hillier each time I run it! Barring a bridge closure at Stair the run went really smoothly – I did have to go cross-country to get back on course here, but I was running steady and in no rush to get back (Daniel had gone for a morning hike). The last three miles of the course is along the rather hairy Borrowdale Road from Grange, and here I decided to play it safe and take to the lakeside trails instead. It would have been wonderful, but as I was wearing my road shoes I wasn’t confident enough on some parts, as I had no grasp of the terrain. It was cool to notice how different the off-road experience is when not in the right shoes, though.

Views towards Buttermere

Views towards Buttermere

The last couple of miles into Keswick coincided with the running leg of the triathlon, which was taking place that day, and I found myself coming back towards Crow Park alongside some of the runners – it was a bit awkward when people started cheering for me, and I had to explain that I wasn’t actually taking part in the race (they continued cheering anyway)! This was a great way to end a brilliant run though, and I started to really look forward to my race the following day.

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We spent the afternoon browsing the tents and stalls in the festival village. It was so cold, and I was so tired, and definitely didn’t enjoy this bit as much as I’d have liked. We decided to take refuge in a large tent where a great folk band were playing a brilliant variety of music from around the world, including a few Yiddish tunes. The plan was to come back for the evening music after some food, but I was spent and longing for a good sleep before my race the next day, so after some triple-carbs (seriously, lasagne AND chips AND garlic bread in one meal?!) I headed back to the B&B while Daniel went back to the festival to watch Seth Lakeman’s set.

I’ll review the trail race in a separate post, but all in all the Keswick Mountain Festival was a great way to spend an outdoorsy weekend: sport, music, talks, food and drink, in one of the loveliest locations in the UK world. Keswick was busier than I’ve ever seen it, but if you plan ahead AND allow yourself to go with the flow it does work well. It was strange to spend an entire weekend in the Lake District and not find any real space or peace, and I admit that I returned home feeling less rested than when I set off (and am paying for it now with the flu – a serious impediment to my training!), but if you arrive prepared for that, or perhaps plan in some solitary time, then it’s less of a problem. Thanks to the organisers for putting on such a fun weekend!

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