6:15 minute per mile at 40 miles into a 50 mile ultra is never going to be a good idea, unless you are trying to break into the lead of the race. Two things are likely to happen at this pace; you either pull it off and gain the lead and win or you turn yourself inside and destroy your legs. It was a gamble and I was willing to take that gamble to try and win the British Ultra Trail Champs at the Montane Lakeland 50.
The Montane Lakeland 50, being the British Ultra Trail Champs this year, was going to attract a top quality elite field. There was last year’s Champion Lee Kemp, Danny Kendall who finished 5th at MdS this year, Kim Collinson who had ran a brilliant race at TV in May, international mountain runner and former training partner Martin Cox, and fellow Team Montane member Stu Mills. Unfortunately last year’s winner and CR holder Ben Abdelnoor was injured. It was a star stunned line-up and the race could be as hot as the weather we had been experiencing.
The morning of the race was another hot and sunny day, and with the added nerves it felt warmer than the last few days. My build up to such a key race hadn’t been my best, I felt I lacked edge, my calf had cramped at 6am in the morning and I was still concerned how my kidneys would respond racing hard in such heat only 12 weeks post rhabdomyolysis (Kidney failure).
With the temperature rising as the sun shone down on all of us amassed in the starting pen, I knew with the heat that it was not a day to race for course records, it was going to be a race of survival.
As true to form Stu took the race by the scruff of the neck and led round the 4mile loop at Dalmain House, my legs felt heavy and my mouth was already dry. I let the lead group of five runners set the quick pace, I was happy sitting a minute behind. On the tarmac climb up from Pooley Bridge Stu was dropped by the lead group and I passed him just after the fell gate. I could see the lead group on a charge towards Howtown.
I was several minutes down by the time I arrived at Howtown, at last my legs were starting to wake up, they were soon deadened on the long climb up Fusedale, and I resisted the temptation to increase my pace to close the lead group down. The heat was increasing on the climb up Fusedale, and even the descent down to Low Kop didn’t offer any cooling breeze. The path along Haweswater was hard going, I was running out of water and my brain felt like it was being boiled in the heat as the sun glared down on me, I felt l was losing more time of the lead group as I filled my drinks bottle in a stream. Could I cope with this heat? I felt like the heat was draining everything out of me as I contemplated pulling out at Kentmere.
As I came up the track into the Mardale checkpoint my left hamstring cramped up, I also saw the lead group had fragmented, Kim and Danny where leading the charge up Gatesgarth, Martin was off the back and Lee was just leaving the check point. Was I still in the race?
I quickly caught and went past Lee on the climb up Gatesgarth; he looked like he wasn’t enjoying the long hot climb and I was now up to fourth. The long descent down into Longsleden was tough on tiring legs and I couldn’t see the three leaders ahead. At least if I don’t make it on to the podium then I won’t have come back down to Coniston tomorrow I thought to myself.
My left hamstring cramped up again as I began the short climb across to Kentmere, I felt like I was moving really slowly. At the summit of the ridge my girlfriend and Tim Taylor (Chia Charge) were out on the course taking photos, I told her I was feeling rubbish her reply was ‘Danny said his legs feel shite – go catch him!’. Could the race still be on? I tried to pick up my pace on the way into the Kentmere, both legs cramped up as I climbed over the stone wall stile; I ran the cramp off till the next stile.
I was relieved to arrive at Kentmere, I was well down on course record pace, I downed a smoothie and as I was drinking some water and coke Terry Stephenson from Montane handed me some paper towels ‘here you need this’, I looked at the towels ‘what’s this for?’ I asked. Then I suddenly realised that in my hurry to down the smoothie I had managed to coat my beard in banana strawberry smoothie. Not the best look. In the checkpoint I was told that Danny wasn’t feeling great and Martin was struggling with his knee.
I came out of the checkpoint rejuvenated and I reminded myself that it was still an ultra of survival and not racing with the sun and temperature still high. On the climb up Garburn I could see Danny up ahead and Martin not much further, I was moving quicker than both of them, as my early easy pace was paying off. By the top of the Garburn pass I was in 2nd place; Danny was feeling rough and suffering with cramp and Martin was struggling with his Achilles.
I didn’t know how far Kim was in front as I cruised down Garburn and up through Troutbeck, my hamstrings would periodically cramp up as I hit a climb, I kept getting time gaps from 100 competitors and folks out on the course, they ranged from 2minutes to 10minutes. I just wanted to keep moving and if I could close Kim down then that would be great.
The crowd in Ambleside was inspiring and lifted me. Aanother quick turnaround at the Ambleside checkpoint as I tried eating some crisps but my mouth was so dry even with all the water I had been drinking. I was told that Kim was only 2 minutes ahead. Could I still close the gap? I was feeling good other than the bouts of cramps which locked my legs down on any climbs.
At last it was getting cooler as I came over Loughrigg and as I came along the flat track towards Elterwater I could see Kim, could I take the lead? Could I win? Would my legs hold out?
Without realising it my pace was quickening and just before Elterwater, I caught Kim up, I expected to cruise past him as I came by him, he had other plans, he sat on, so I quickened the pace to 6:15min/mile, we ripped it into Elterwater and raced into Chapel Stile, my legs were screaming at me my head was questioning my pace but my heart was screaming BRITISH CHAMPION BRITISH CHAMPION at me! I eased off the pace as we came through the campsite to save my legs for possibly my next attack. Kim and I came into the checkpoint together, I refuelled took some more coke on and we set off out up the Langdale Valley. My heart screamed at me again, so I turned the pace up, it felt fast and furious… would we both last this pace? Would one of us crack?
As I climbed a large wooden stile my legs completely locked down with cramp and I had trouble moving as I came off the stile. Kim was now pulling away. In my vain attempt to win I had destroyed myself, my legs struggled for the next few miles as they kept cramping up, and I spent longer at the last checkpoint than I should have, eating a lot of fruit and taking on more fluid. The final climb out of Tiblethwaite wasn’t as bad as I expected and I cruised down the miners track to a raucous welcome by those sat outside the pubs in Coniston. My legs were screaming my head was swimming I felt dizzy, but I was going to finish 2nd and get Silver in the British Champs. I crossed the line in 8 hours 6 mins, a lot slower than I had expected and I had lost a lot of time on Kim who very deservedly won. Danny had come back stronger and had been closing me back down finishing 3rd and fellow team mate Stu had dug deep to finish 4th. Jo Meek had a storming run to win the womens race and finished 6th overall! Husband and wife Marco and Debbie won the 100 race.
I don’t think I ever ran an Ultra in such hot conditions, they sure did make the demanding course even more demanding. I am pleased with how my race panned out, my cautious start paid off and I have recovered quickly from the race.
Well done to all those Legends who finished the 100 and 50 and to all those amazing supportive marshals who encouraged us along and filled my water bottle at each check point. And well done to Marc Laithwaite and his organising team – the Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 is surely the Ultra Trail race to do in the UK. More photos taken by Jen are on flikr
A big thanks to my sponsor Montane, Clif, Osmo Active Hydration, La Sportiva, Petzl and Injinji for helping me get round a hot long day in the Lakes.