|What lies before us!|
The event is a weekend long festival of running in Coniston. Based in the grounds of the village’s school with pretty-much everyone competing camping on the playing-fields, it turns them in to a sea of tents and camper-vans full of excitable outdoorsy types, their families and supporters as only a lucky handful manage to snap-up the few b&b/ hotel rooms in Coniston village itself!
|Being briefed, where we were told we are not 'only' doing the 50, we're doing a tough 50 mile race!|
The compulsory kit list for the race is quite a comprehensive one and this year there had been an addition with all runners required to carry a cup on top of everything else (First aid kit, waterproof top and bottoms, spare base layer top and bottom, head torch, phone, whistle, hat, gloves, foil blanket, map, road book, compass & emergency food - 2 mars bars or 400kcal equivalent to remain uneaten at race end). This addition of the cup had proved to be a bit of a debating point on the race’s Facebook page (not all of it serious I may add) which made a change from people banging-on about whether ‘cheating sticks’ should be allowed (walking poles to the uninitiated) and if they are any good and whether Hoka’s really are just expensive ‘clown shoes’.
|Ubiquitous Starting pen shot!|
Now all registered I was on a quest for something to eat. I rushed up the hill from the school to the main road through Coniston to get to the chippy around the corner, which caused LSS to have a melt-down at me walking too quickly for her, only to get in the door just as they went to lock it and secure the only thing they had: a final half portion of solid crunchy dark coloured chips off the bottom of the fryer that were about to be binned as they cleaned-up for the night. Emerging with this paltry prize from the now closed chippy (which the bastards had the gall to charge me full price for) LSS appeared around the corner, so we did the only thing we could do which was head to a pub for some liquid dinner.
|Suzanne & the Carthorse|
Having slept well after drifting-off to the symphony of tent dwelling snorers, I awoke to a lot of buzzing people all very eager to get going. After breakfasting I made my way in to the school for the briefing. The event is tracked so on a projector screen in the hall there was a chart showing where the 100 runners had reached - with amazing distances already covered by the front-runners and predictions of it being a record-breaking year… I had suggested to organisers that when people drop-out of the race they should show their pictures on the screen and have the sound of a canon firing just like in the ‘Hunger Games’, but it seemed they had not adopted this idea.
|The first tentative steps on the course.|
The drive to the start of the 50 at Dalemain was a slow and boring affair. We were dropped-off in the middle of the Dalemain estate that serves as the notional ‘halfway’ aid-station for the 100 with all the racer’s drop-bags there for them to access. In reality for the 100 milers there are only 46 miles left at this point. For us runners of the 50 we have to complete a 4 mile circuit of part of the estate before we are let-loose on the course for real.
|On the lap of the fields of the Dalemain Estate.|
Awaiting in the pen for the start I bumped into fellow Farnborough fan ‘Carthorse’ and his better half Suzanne. About a year ago, Carthorse left his old life in Farnborough behind to start afresh with Suzanne up here in the lakes and it really seems to have lifted his spirits no end; certainly proving a very good decision for him. It also means he has all these wonderful hills and fells to scamper over in his free time to practice, unlike back down in our part of Hampshire.
11:30 came and we were off, lumbering en-masse across the unremarkable fields of the estate like a migratory herd of wildebeest before being unleashed onto the course proper and the first leg down to Pooley Bridge, or just ‘Pooley’ as it was after the winter’s storms when the bridge was swept away in the floods. Fortunately there’s a new bridge now, although completely lacking in the character of its lovely stone predecessor.
|The stretching 'field' amongst the fields|
|Everyone just wants the lap over and to head out on to the route!|
|The 14th Century Dacre Castle.|
|The new Pooley Bridge|
|Finally into the wilds.|
|On our way to CP1 at the 'Bobbin Mill'.|
|Ullswater once more.|
|Still plenty of runners around.|
|The start of 'effing Fusedale'.|
|Nearing one of the false summits on Fusedale.|
|Cracking view from up high.|
|Finally topping-out on the moor.|
|The next vicious climb away from Mardale Head.|
|A last look at Haweswater.|
|Ascending to the wilderness once more.|
Having recovered some of my scattered faculties I continued the ascent to the top. It was along here I bumped in to Joanne & Chris from across the other side of the Penines on the Yorkshire coast - both ultra running vets with extensive palmares, who took pity on me and allowed me to tag along, picking our way through the bracken covered rocky path, where after one stumble too many Joanne took pity upon me and lent me her spare hand-torch, so I was able to see once more!
Through a hillside field of highland cattle, with their bemused faces above us and below us on the slope lit-up by torches as we ventured onwards in the darkness, down through a farmyard trying to keep our voices low past the houses and we made the last aid-station.
Joanne & Chris pushed-on through the stop much quicker than me - I just felt like having a final rest before climbing the ‘stairway to heaven’ up in to the quarry being careful all the way not to stray off the wide grassy path with its plummet into a gorge on one side and the quarry on the other and a small scramble over some of the rocks on the path to boot.
This final leg was a mere 4 miles - albeit commencing with a sharp climb, crossing the moor and descending down through the treacherous terrain of a slate quarry to Coniston and from there to the finish.
|One of the many inviting waterfalls for dipping the cap to cool-off.|
|Still had some people behind me!|
The three of us crossed the line together (me placing 430/672), and personally delighted to have had made it in a qualifier time for the 100, albeit by just a half hour, but a qualifier time nonetheless - especially after my head-torch failure had cost me I think around 2 hours… Walking around the corner I found LSS & Spud, a very tired duo who had waited-up for me to finish, which for me was as unexpected as it was lovely as any sensible person would have been in bed hours before, so I had a big hug from LSS and a welcome kick in the nards from Spud!..
|The long uneven descent to Kentmere.|
The next morning I was not walking well to say the least!.. As well as the onset of DOMS I found the soles of my feet were agony with every step!.. Taking advantage of the warm sunny conditions, LSS & Spud slowly shuffled with me to the cafe by the lakeside where we settled for some lunch before the 90 minute drive back to Chorley & LSS’s parent’s house.
|The valley opening-up before us.|
|Sunlight now waning.|
|Lake Windermere in front in the lengthening shadows.|
I don’t do races for the swag or the bling - its not important to me and I have a collection of more tech tees from races than you can shake a big stick at these days, but I love the tee they gave us for this race - its never going to be run in, only worn with immense pride.
Speaking of tees, the ‘Eat Pies’ got plenty of love from marshals and passing walkers alike. I love the way the shirt makes a lot of people smile and helps to brighten their day.