Sunday, September 23, 2012
The Montane Lakeland 100 2012
From the time I finished this race last year, I knew I wanted to come back and give it another go, and use the experience I had gained from 2011. However, being a greedy bugger, I had my sights on another "little event" at the end of August. So knowing how wrecked I felt after this race last year, I wasn't sure whether doing both was a very good idea. But as with all these things there is only one way to find out and I resolved to give the Lakeland 100 a good effort, and pick up the pieces for the trip to Chamonix afterwards. Some people would look at UTMB as the bigger race - and they'd be right in terms of sheer numbers, coverage, difficulty, razamatazz, hype, and profile of the top runners. But the Lakeland 100 is special, made so by all the various elements that go in to putting it on. Marc Laithwaite and Terry Gilpin (helped by so many other great people) have created a gem! So for me, this is the race that I wanted to be in better shape for and I'm glad it was before UTMB. All the hype in the world can't beat what this race means to me. The friends I have made, the experiences I have gained and the scenes I have witnessed make this much more than just another race. The course is brutal and beautiful at the same time. It is relentless and slowly but surely breaks you down. But ultrarunning is a funny old game, and I can't really remember feeling pain out there. It has been erased from my memory and replaced with elation and a feelgood haze that will last until I return next year.
I had been lucky enough to visit the Lake District 3 times this year before we made this journey for the race. On 2 of those occasions myself, Terry and Barry (and Dan on the first occasion) recced sections of the course so I definately had a better idea of the route this time round. Sandwiched between those two trips was a jaunt around the Bob Graham Round in May. So people may notice a pattern developing here. Yes, I'm sort of fond of the place!!! The running has been great, but without wanting to sound soft, the equally pleasing aspect of our trips has been building friendships over there.
The race itself was a blast. As far as I can remember (my own fault for not writing this earlier), everything felt pretty comfortable for the first 30 miles or so. Terry, Barry and myself were running along, chatting, joking and generally doing what we would always do on a long run. It was great to have the company of two friends for the early stages because 100 miles is a long way to "race", and anything you can do in the early stages to relax will be greatly appreciated by mind and body later on. The views around Wasdale, Black Sail Pass and Buttermere also helped. I think Barry mentioned it in his own write up about the race and I would echo his seniments about how stunning the view down to black Sail Hut is at that time of the evening.
I think the first time I really felt uncomfortable was on the ascent up to Sail Pass after Buttermere. (This low point lasted pretty much all the way to Mardale Head at mile 75, so maybe it was a little more than just a point!!). The darkness aided us in getting lost just before the descent in to Braithwaite. It was only for 5 minutes or so, so it didn't really matter too much and we were quickly back on track. Stuart Mills caught up to us on the track down to Braithwaite and breezed past us to the checkpoint at the town hall. He seemed to be moving well which was great to see as I thought he had been feeling a bit rough at Wasdale.
On the climb up towards Latrigg we caught back up with Stuart and went past him before the carpark at the top. I didn't know how many guys were still ahead of us but I was more concerned with just getting through this lingering low point. I couldn't wait for the sun to come up which I find normally lifts my spirits during events like this. Perhaps its the body's natural response to the dawning of a new day. However we had a few more hours to get through before that.
Heading through Dockray was where I thought the rough patch was going to mean losing contact with Terry and Barry but I just about managed to stick with them as we skirted around Ullswater on one of the more picturesque areas of the course. As we entered the grounds of Dalmaine Castle we were all together again and entered the "halfway" (mile 59) checkpoint as the morning was beginning to dawn. Terry exited the checkpoint ahead of myself and Barry and thats the last we saw of him until the finish line in Coniston later in the day. He showed his class over the next 40 miles or so to take an emphatic victory and smash his old record. But it was good to share 60 miles of trails with him and learn a little more about how this game is played.
Meanwhile I felt like I was absolutely stuck to the ground for the next 10 miles or so as I tried to get going again. The 10 and a half hours it took to get to Dalmaine seemed to have taken their toll and in my own head I wondered how the hell I was going to get through the next 45 miles. I think Barry felt equally rough so it probably helped both of us to know that the other was suffering. So we continued to plod along in the hope that things would get better. And true to form the crap feeling I had finally subsided as we trotted over Wether Hill and headed for the beautiful setting at Mardale Head. We were passed by Ian Symington as we neared the checkpoint, only to pass him again at the top of Gategarth's pass after he decided to have a snooze. I thought he was dead so it was a relief to see him pop his head up when we called him. After the bone shaking descent down the other side we could see a figure up ahead and set about catching him. Nearing the bridge at Sadgill, we passed Ed Batty who appeared to be suffering badly. He was still able to give a smile and a "hello" but unfortunately he would have to pull out shortly after this.
So we were now in joint second place and both feeling a good deal better. Myself and Barry differ a little in our outlook on racing and although we were working well together, in hindsight I would have liked go "every man for himself" and see what happened. But we had said we would run the rest of the way together and that's the way it went. Barry would argue that it didn't matter where we finished in the placings and the experience was what counted. I agree that there is nothing more satisfying than running long distances in such a beautiful place. It's almost meditative. But that's why we go and do these runs outside of the races we enter. Racing is something I do because it satisfies my competitive side, as well as being a great social occasion, surrounded by like minded people. It wouldn't necessarily matter where I eventually finish the race, as long as I feel I have given my best but there is a part of me that feels I didn't do that by running with someone else. I'm not suggesting that Barry held me back or that I would have finished ahead of him but it stands to reason that if you run for that long with someone else there will be occasions when you dont run your own pace, thus meaning you haven't run as well at all times as you might have. While speaking with Ian Corless of Talk Ultra after the race Barry suggested that "we" aren't worried about racing and that "it's all about the journey". I dont feel that way. I, more than most, love to run in beautiful places like the Lake District. But I'd prefer to "race" when the time comes.
Anyway we continued along the track towards Ambleside, arriving there with the rain beating down. This checkpoint is a bit of a milestone, given it is 89 miles in and well supported. There was just one more section that I wasn't really looking forward to and that was the largely flat and uninspiring run to Chapel Stile. After that I knew the rest of the way was quite enjoyable to run and that we hadn't far to go. The weather improved again as we reached the last checkpoint at Tiberthwaite. Terry had won the race by now and we were safely in joint second. But there was still the possibilty of getting to the finish in under 22 hours so I suggested we pick up the pace. Barry didn't feel the need to go any quicker and so we continued on and down towards Coniston. As we neared the Miner's Bridge we still had 7 minutes to get to the finish in sub 22 and this tme I insisted we go for it. In the end we crossed the line just a minute over the 22 hour mark after smashing ourselves on the last section in to town. It felt great to finally be able to relax and we were greeted by Terry, My parents, brother and his girlfriend as well as Gaynor who was still working hard as part of the race organisation.
The rest of the evening was taken up with meeting friends at the finish and enjoying the type of atmosphere that a well organised and special event tends to create. Tracy came flying over the line later on to win the women's 50 mile race in record time followed a few minutes later by Annie to round off a great day for the Conway/Baumber household. It was a real family affair for them with Matt (Annie's brother), also finishing the 50. Adam, who had provided us all with expert physio care before the race, came home after a tough few months dealing with an injury. It was great to see him do it and I think it will be the first of many more Ultra races for him.
I can't imagine not doing this race again next year after the experiences I have had in the Lake District. The race is already full and the excitement has begun to build for so many people again. Roll on next July!!!