Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

July 2nd: The Ultimate Trails 55k - Ultimately Enjoyable.

The drive up to the lakes was crap. I had planned on arriving in Ambleside for the Ultimate Trails 55k with plenty of time to park, register, get a good meal in me and watch the Welsh play Belgium in the Euros. Plans are great, plans rock, but when a third party gets involved they tend to go somewhat awry… In this case with major delays around Birmingham and through the Manchester area I had 3 hours added to my journey, so getting to the event base to register by the 8pm deadline was becoming even a remote possibility. Without having eaten lunch I was forced to dive-in to some services on the M6 in Lancashire to grab a burger to eat as I drove the rest of the way to the lakes as I was unsure of getting to my destination before the pub kitchens of Ambleside closed.

The route for the following days travels.
Fortunately I arrived as darkness was falling and pulled into the parking area for the event - a field next to the local football club - which was nearly full already.

I dashed across to the church hall to register just before it closed - a very professional effort with a full kit check and photo ID session to ensure you are who you claim to be, before you were issued with your timing chip. At least with this done the pressure was off for tomorrow morning and one less thing to worry about… Plus being there at the last possible moment it meant no queuing either.

Retiring to the pub I settled for a couple of beers and to catch what little was left of the game (Wales continuing their remarkable performance in the tournament by beating the Belgians) to kill some time before heading to the start line for the 110k race, listen in to some of the briefing before clapping-off the runners on their midnight start… Before hunkering down in the back of the van for the night.

The start of the 110k race.
All refreshed after a decent kip I woke at a relatively civilised time to get ready for the 11am start - much later than I’m used to kicking off a race!.. It really was a case of killing time in the morning, all keyed-up and excited to go, fired with a desire to give a good account of myself this time after my disappointing display at the Jurassic Quarter a few weeks back.

I attended briefing with everyone else, which unsurprisingly was not a million miles different from what I heard of the one for the 110, so it was just a case of hanging around in the ‘pen’ with the multitude of the other runners - around 500 of us to be precise, all of us eager to get going.

Milling around just waiting and waiting for the start!
Ambleside had been severely hit by the flooding in the area over the winter just gone and during the height of the floods the park in which the event was based was a good 10ft under water - something that was impossible to fathom from just standing there on the lush grass - ok there are 2 small rivers either side of it, but nothing that could make you think of how such a volume of water could arrive and swamp the area… A truly sobering thought, but also amazing in how the area has recovered so rapidly to the point there was no visible sign of the disaster that befell the place mere months before.

Eventually we were off - all of us dashing out of the park and on to the mean streets of Ambleside, crossing the one-way system ready to ascend out of the village, where within about a minute of starting everything ground to a total standstill! Heading up the narrow street leading out the east of the village, a delivery driver had parked blocking the road. The van had just enough space either side for one person at a time to squeeze through so we were all held here slowly passing through the gap Indian file before we were able to start moving again, climbing the long and winding road towards the beckoning green hills.

Feeling like we're leaving civilisation behind.
Soon the tarmac of country lane gave-way to trail and the impression of being out in the wilderness was upon us as the unrelenting ascent continued over the first 4 miles of the route until we hit Kirkstone Pass. Once here the trail levelled-off it was a huge relief for our aching calves to have some respite before the pay-off for this hard work in scaling 1,500ft. As we passed through the parking area for tourists driving past to admire the view, we had our first feed station of the day; its gazebo trying to offer some shelter from the darkening skies threatening rain and from the rising wind.

Hitting the wilderness.
Crossing the car park there was the slightly confusing and bizarre occurrence of a fell race starting at the other end, with lots of bemused club runners arriving as the masses passed-through, all looking very worried about this continual stream of eager well kitted-out racers mingling with them in the car park as they tried to register and keep warm for their race, some of them panicking thinking their race had started and having to be talked-out of joining-in with all of us with another 30-odd miles to go on our jaunt!

Heading through the pass.
Out the other side of the car park and we were presented with a fantastic descent through the pass for a very runnable and enjoyable 10k to the Glenridding aid station.

Starting the descent.
It was on this descent I saw a runner in front drop one of her poles, so I stooped to pick it up and give it back to her and recognised the face of someone who I had met back at Fort William where she and her friend had been as underwhelmed by the pre-race pasta party as I had!.. Today was a training run for her in anticipation of her crossing of the Atacama - a 7 day race across the dessert! Her running buddy from Fort William was also here today but already out on the course on the 110k race.
Picking a path.
Continuing the descent everyone seemed to be following the same path which was causing bottlenecks, so I decided to take a slightly different route off to the side which made me soon realise why no-one else was doing the same as I ended-up knee deep in a bog just a metre or so off to the side of the main path - at least I faired better than one lady on the main path who tried to cross a boggy bit only to face-plant into the watery mess, properly submerging her head and all the way to her chest, fortunately with no damage other than a bruising to the ego.

Fording one of the many swollen mountain streams.
Marveling at the contrast of the lush green of the grass, the slate grey of the exposed rock and matching sky I drank in the scenery as I descended to Patterdale, passing plenty with my downhill speed who had passed me before as I toiled on the ascent dragging my belly up the hillside. Even the on-set of the first downpour of the day did not phase me and it came down heavy, but at least it was warm rain so not too dispiriting… Although once on to the flat tarmac of the valley floor I began to feel the exertions of these hard 2 hours of effort to get to the first proper point for a break as I had to make the metronome tick-over at a constant to get me to shelter.

A bit grim, grey and soggy on the valley floor.
Reaching the aid station they had been incredibly cunning: the timing mat for the race was inside the hall rather than outside, so all runners had to enter and be funnelled past the food and drink that was lain out for us, all the while being visually assessed by the medics - This was a really clever touch as it forced people to make a conscious effort not to take on board any food or a warm drink. Those at the head of the race would have been able to pass through without too much of a time loss before the masses arrived to choke-up the area - so it works for the elites as well as it does those of us just out for the challenge.

The start of the next climb out of the aid station.
I had ignored the first aid station with it only being at 4 miles so I thought I’d have something to eat and a cup of tea whilst here, but none of the scran initially took my fancy; I was not over enamoured of the thought of peanut butter, jam or ham (I was not enamoured Sam I am) but then I saw a cheese and onion sanger - and I mean the cheapest sangers you get in the supermarket kind of cheese and onion and all of a sudden I knew I just had to have one (or three!) and it was the best tasting goddam thing I have ever eaten - it really went down a treat and boosted me immensely - I knew then for the rest of the race I would be hoovering cheese and onion sangers at every opportunity!.. It became an obsession. I just wanted to run as hard as I could to the next aid station to get my hands on the next helping.

The wind and rain setting-in, the hail started soon after!
Out of the aid station and the climbing commenced: away from Patterdale leaving Ullswater behind in the distance whilst following the path westwards just to the south of the mighty Hellvellyn that towers above… It was as I attempted to run up a section of the incline for a change that I felt something shift at my back and turning I saw my backpack had opened and my waterproof had spilled-out from it. I stopped to pick it up, thankful I had noticed in time and debated packing it or putting it on for the sky was looking like it was about to burst once more - so I made my choice; stowing it tightly and ensuring the zip was firmly closed and carried on my merry way… Sod’s law: five minutes later and I had to stop again to get it out and put it on as the heavens carried out their threat and opened for another biblical deluge, with the wind rising to a near gale the higher we climbed driving the rain in to our faces… 8 miles this leg was between aid stations with no cover for us. You were exposed the entire time to what the elements were throwing at you as you traversed 1,500ft of climbing over the first 5 miles and 1,800ft of descent in the final 3 and a chance for a breather.
Ruthwaite Lodge and its surrounding sea of green.

This climb over Grizedale was long and slow with the wind howling, unable to look up a lot of the time through the rain and even hail blasting you in the face if you were to raise your head… I’m sure this stretch looks absolutely stunning without the low cloud and being able to look up around you, but today you were not really able to see or savour a great deal… Until you turned around as you reached a small plateau by the grandly named shuttered shepherd hut of ‘Ruthwaite Lodge’ and saw what you had climbed. Its a pretty awesome sight.

Looking down Grizedale.
Catching my breath here I struck-up a conversation with a fellow racer Sinéad as she grimaced her way towards me up to the hut… As we pushed onwards passing the tarn and up to the highest point of the whole course, I couldn’t help but chuckle about the back-pack she was wearing - now both my girls when they were younger used to love Dora the Explorer - with her brightly coloured back-pack that stores all wonderful things inside it to help with her escapades… I couldn’t but help myself and pointed out to Sinéad that she was in fact Dora the Explorer, which in the midst of the exertion and minds addled by fatigue, hunger and pain whilst being battered by the elements seemed to amuse… And having a couple of kids of her own (or ‘wildlings’ as she says), she certainly got the point of reference.
Crossing the Tarn.
Typically, once over the top of Grizedale, the weather began to change with the wind dropping to a mere breeze, the rain suddenly stopped and the temperature rose along with the humidity, just in time for the steep descent to the valley floor and the aid station at the school in Grasmere.

The descent commences
With the clearing of the weather you’d have thought that progress would speed-up significantly, especially with the descent - but unfortunately with all the rain the going underfoot was a bit tricky so careful was the watch-word with the risk of a tumble down the side of the hill - it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your trainers, all of them are pants on wet rock!

The lake at Grasmere.
As I descended alongside ‘Dora’ we got chatting with another racer who turned-out works with the dad of one of the guys I played footy with. Once we hit the valley floor and the road it was a couple of miles along the black tar way till we hit the aid station with just over half the race completed… Cheese & onion sandwich time!.. I was dead chuffed to find some more there and washed it down with one of the cans of Red Bull I had stashed in my pack for this aid station and the last one of the day.

Out of the aid station and we were off onto the last of the ‘big’ climbs, up and over Silver How before hitting  the relatively benign loop from Chapel Style, through Elterwater & Little Langdale as we covered some of the common ground shared by the Lakeland 50 course but in a different direction for the most part… On this section we caught-up with a couple of Dora’s running buddies from her Radcliffe Athletic Club so there was more conversation to divert.

Closing-in on the last aid station of the day.
On the final third of the loop, descending through Wrynose Pass, nattering away with Dora, I was not paying full attention and my right foot slipped off the path. The trail here has a ditch on the right side, so my right leg ended in the ditch, with my left knee crashing fully down with all my weight behind it onto the gritty hard-packed surface… I couldn’t help but yelp with the pain - I knew it was not good on impact as the electric bolts of the shock and pain shot through my whole body… I decided immediately to adopt my normal coping strategy with a bad cut of not to look, ignore it and get moving again whilst the adrenaline is still strong and prevent things seizing-up with swelling. The good thing was we were descending so I was able to run/ hobble/ walk the rest of the way to the aid station along the reverse of a majority downhill route I had walked in May, arriving at the school in Chapel Stile, where I was safe in the knowledge of having got there with no ill effects and necking some paracetamol I would be ok to carry-on to the finish…

I sat down in the hall for more cheese & onion sangers, a cup of tea and some Red Bull and stretched out my leg in front so I could see what I had done - fortunately it was just a bloody mess that had oozed in to my calf sleeve all the way down to my sock and aside from seeing a fair bit of broken skin I couldn’t really tell what there was and how many stones I had gathered in it was well, although it must have been quite tasty as a lot of people were commiserating me at having to bail from the race at this late stage with an injury like that - so I just put on my best ‘Black Knight’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and insisted it was just a mere scratch and off for the final 10k stretch I forged alongside Dora.

Loved that I only noticed the stack of stones long after taking the photo.
The last leg started off with an easy tab along the flat through Elterwater before the final climbs of the day up on to Loughrigg Fell then over it to our final destination… Fair to say we knew we had it made with only at worst a 2 hour walk to the finish, so the thoughts were now on our timing and getting to the finish before darkness fell.

As we made our way in the fading light across the final couple of miles before the drop in to Ambleside and the finish, I joked to Dora about us making good time and how we stood a decent chance to get in under the 10 hours mark, so if we passed her husband coming out to meet her just before the finish she would end up just waving ‘hi and bye’ to him as she charged-onwards focusing on the finish… And sure enough about a mile from the finish, just before we descended to the park in Ambleside, Dora saw her devoted hubby wandering towards us in the gloom - she briefly slowed to chat with him as he jogged with us before she kicked-on for the tape and the bowl of soup and a roll that awaited.

Ullswater from the climb over Grisedale.
Crossing the line safely under the 10 hours and very happy with the day’s running we were presented with our medal and finishers shirt before going to the food truck to collect that promised welcoming bowl of hot soup and roll to consume in the ‘finishers enclosure’ marquee.

Enjoying the welcome hot meal with Dora and her Radcliffe Athletic Club friends I was eventually peer-pressured in to getting my knee properly checked-out as it was not ‘just a scratch’ as I was trying to pass it off as. I thought discretion was the better form of valour on this as I was outnumbered by 5-1 so I walked over to the medical tent and for the first time ever used the medical facilities as provided at an event.

Chatting with the guy as he set to work cleaning out my knee, he informed me the week before he had been crewing on the medical team for some promo filming that Strava have done in the lakes about ‘kudos’ and doing things together, so I’ll have to look out for that!

His official professional verdict on the knee was ‘it’s a mess’ and needed to be properly stitched, probably in double figures. As he scrubbed away at the open wound he couldn’t believe I was not reacting or even flinching, let alone moaning in discomfort as most people would. I explained it is not me trying to be macho, but purely because of a lack of nerve endings in that knee from a previous footy injury and I genuinely was not feeling it… As my body was cooling down having stopped moving after 10 hours on my feet, combined with the temperature dropping as darkness fell, I was beginning to noticeably shiver, so the doc advised me to go away, have a shower, get changed in to something warm and return for him to do another clean-up.

Taking his advice I enjoyed a good shower in the Ambleside FC changing rooms and sauntered back for round 2. When the doc had finished he reckoned there was about a dozen stitches worth of injury as it was a diagonal laceration across the entire knee-cap. He reiterated I needed to get it seen-to properly at A&E and made me promise to do so before leaving his charge - he asked what my plans for travel were so I told him I was intending on driving back tonight. Reluctantly he said ok to that but to get it stitched as soon as I got back to Basingstoke, if I was to reconsider going tonight he told me where the nearest A&E was to Ambleside.

Having been patched-up I took myself off to the pub for a beer and to watch the end of the footy - not the best of games ending in penalties - before retiring to the van and a kip fully dressed in the sleeping bag as I was struggling to warm-up, with the plan of leaving around 2am to get back home.

Waking in the dead of night I got in to the driver’s seat and started the engine to go home - I managed about half the distance across the field before the van became bogged-down in the churned-up mud from others leaving before me following the deluge Ambleside had experienced for the best part of the day… And at this time in the morning there was no chance of getting out of the mud and away - I tried wedging bits of old wooden fence under the wheels for traction but that did not help get a grip, so I was stuck… I was certainly not getting to A&E either back home or anywhere in the Lakes!

A good night’s sleep and I was awake and eager to get off home at the earliest opportunity, but I had to hang around till lunchtime following all the presentations before the organisers could spare some bodies to help push me out of the mud and I could get on my merry way… By the time I got home after an uneventful drive the window of opportunity to get my knee stitched was not looking good - from experience I’ve been turned away from A&E as once a wound begins to scab they are loathe to interfere with it, so it looks like it’ll be slowly healing from the inside out… Fingers crossed it will be fine for the year’s ‘A’ race, the Lakeland 50 at the end of the month.

Listening to the entertainment as we awaited the presentation.
I really enjoyed this run, which has already become my favourite having knocked the Glencoe marathon in to second place for the overall experience and atmosphere, although Glencoe still edges it on the scenery front. It was great bumping in to ‘Dora’ to while-away the miles on the trail, and it says a lot about her tolerance of motor-mouthed idiots that I did not bore/wind her up to the point that a justifiable homicide seemed a good idea!.. The course was well marked with no wrong turns taken even where the 55 & 100 courses joined and split, which is always a bonus, and I thought the organisers had made a very clever conscious decision over the aid stations and the timing mats.

Speaking to the organiser about the problems with the parking, they were pretty miffed by it themselves - there was a large hard-stand parking area that they had used in previous years under lease but this year they had been denied the use of it by the owners who instead insisted they had just the field to use whilst they provided no back-up or assistance to get the vehicles in or out - so hopefully this is something that will not be repeated. Besides this, what I will do in future is to park on the hard-stand to the side with all the camper vans to prevent a repetition, especially as I now have knowledge of the event and will hopefully arrive in plenty of time.

A big thanks to the medic as well - this was the first time I have had to use one at an event - I know they are there to be used, its just I felt a bit of a plum for being such a muppet for needing to use one.

For the record, my time over the 36 miles was 9:47:20, placing me 270/449 finishers, so I was really happy with that especially when I was so near the bottom of the Jurassic Quarter field a few weeks back!

Doing the 'moose' for the camera.
Oh and in enjoying this day out in the lakes so much despite the crappy weather, at the presentation Dora and myself were chatting about a return for the 110 next year… Its definitely an option. And to finish-off here’s what the knee looked-like after 2 weeks - yep it was a lovely oozing mess for a while from the plasma as it healed from the inside out - it fair put people off their pints down the pub the Thursday after!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

1 comment:

  1. Really good account, and very useful for my prep for the 55km this year. A seven-day race across a dessert sounds extremely enjoyable too!