This year was the third year we have run the Buttermere CP for the Lakes 1000 ultra race. I've personally raced in the mountains for the last 10 years, on and off. I never do loads, just enough to gage my fitness level and massage my ego. I started fell racing, tried mountain marathons and got hooked and now I'm seeing the distance in ultra running. Its never really struck me as something I would be interested in, but as the years have ticked on and ultra running has become the next best thing, I've found myself gravitating to longer distance races.
We got the honour of being able to look after the Buttermere CP the year my friend, David White, ran the 100 and came 7th, this was in 2011. I gathered a few willing, but non the wiser, like myself to man the CP, overnight, and look after the 100 runners as they came through.
I've been on the otherside of the fence before, planning the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon roughly a month before and it was the best buzz, bar running, that I have ever had. Being on the otherside, watching others compete but still being involved is something special. You get a real sense of how they are feeling, how they getting on. You feel there buzz, their struggle, its a really amazing thing to be involved in.
The first year we did it, a guy called Jim, from America, came in 45 mins after the CP closed, I wanted to let him go on, so I left the room, hoping he would have taken flight seeing I was gone. When I came back in, I had been talking with Marc Laithwaite, one of the organisers, he had told me to pull Jim from the race. Unfortunately for Jim, he never got my jist before I left, because he was still there when I came back in, raring to go, waiting for an answer. I knew Marc would have to say no... Jim was more hopeful than me, it was a hard thing to do to tell him he couldn't continue, he was gutted.
This year I added more people to the CP, so I could get sleep after trying to think I could run the 50 after last year on the CP, even though I never got to bed. When I got back to Coniston to drop the CP kit off at 7am, I resolved to pull out and have my dibber cut off, knowing 50 miles would be a killer with no sleep. At home at 10:30am, 3 miles down the road from Dalemain, after 1.5 hours sleep, I really wanted to go and start and kicked myself for not keeping my dibber on... sufice to say that by 2pm and after watching the 50 runners heading up on to Barton Fell, passing the 100 salwarts, I realised it was a good idea not to start. So this year I added more people to the CP to help me man it, so I could get some sleep. It worked, btu the hardest thing I found was each time I got ready to head off to bed, someone came in that I knew. First was Chris Bayham-Hughes, a Dragons Backer from last year, then it was a steady stream. At around 12:30, after seeing Braddan Johnstone, came in Sal Ozane and Anthony Cooper (my website designer) and I was buzzing again... it was 1am before I got to bed, 2am before I dozzed into sleep.
I woke, felt pretty tired, has breakfast, cleaned the final bits of the CP with crew who were now 4. We left the CP by 9:30am. Tourists slowed the driving down and by the time we had reached Watermillock to pick up my forgotten Injinji No-Show Run socks supplied by Beta Climbing Designs, I was slightly stressed, not the way I wanted to start the day. Final bits of packing, powder bombs made, Clif Shot Blocs with caffeine in the spare bottle pocket, as I still thought it was going to be drizzling by 1pm... should have had a final weather check. I poretty much did everything wrong over this morning/last nights evening for preparation for my race.
I didn't prepare properly the week before. I didn't get to bed early enough and when I did get to bed, the gate leading out of Buttermere and up onto the fell kept me awake with its bang and squeak, as people moved through it.... shouldn't have parked the van so close to the gate. When I woke I drank coffee, bad for de-hydration. I never drank enough water over the evening/following morning. I ate a sausage sandwich, bread always causes heaviness and bloating for me, pre-race this is not good. We set off late to get to Watermillock/Dalemain. I was stressed making final changes to my kit & finishing stuff off. When we got to Dalemain I ate a pear and bananna with-in 20 mins of the start. All this added up to bad preparation. Friends tell me that Poor Preparation makes Piss Poor Performance and thats exactly what I suffers.
The race started, I was 10 rows back from the front, I'd been talking with Tony Holland, a star from the North East who is sponsored by Montane as well, so a fellow Montane athlete. Tony was going to take it steady, this was my plan as well. Marcus Scotney was at the front, chomping at the bit to get out of the blocks, he was rev-ed up for a record time run. I was going to take it steady to start with, move faster when I felt my body had warmed up.... more fool me, I should know better, I was instantly in the lead group, running far too fast and getting hammered for it. I struggled the hills around Dalemain, a fast start is not my thing, yet it always happens. On training runs I don't get going properly for 10 to 15 mins at least, more like 1/2 an hour. I was roasting before we even left Dalemain. Pooley Bridge was quick to reach, and the ascent out of it and up onto Barton Fell began. Nicola and the kids had seen me off at Dalemain, now they were at the cross-roads before Barton Fell, it was great to see them again. I started to struggle slightly ascending Barton Fell, but I held it together, but it should not have been feeling like this, it should have been easy at this point.
A few folk past me, I latched onto them to keep my pace. The stretch along Ullswater was fine, things even flowed a little. I got the Howtown CP, looked at the food and didn't feel hungry for it yet. I grabbed water and set off. Should have at least taken a little flapjack or something, as a just in case. The slight pull out of the CP told me I had trouble ahead, as my legs were suffering and they shouldn't have been. The pull up and out of Fusedale became punishing and my legs turned to lead!! Warning sirens started in my head. I tried to dispell them, but the voices started. I was only just past 8 miles in and the voices started!! Oh f**k is all I could think. Whether Hill came and went and I kept moving, at a descent pace. Hawswater was like dropping into HELL. I never saw the devil, but I could feel him breathing hot air on me as I ran/walked (warning sirens again, shouldn't have been walking anything yet) along the shores. It was soul destroying heat, or thats how I felt it anyway. For some others passing me, like Matt Brown from Inov8, it seemed tolerable.... but it was killing me. It was on the shores of Hawswater that retiring really crept in. I could stop at Mardale Head, it wouldn't be so bad, Terry Conway had stopped at Butermere, he'd had a cold all week he said. I had had bad earache at the start of the week, was this enough to stop this torture... SNAP... come on brain, forget the negative.... but it was creeping in. This is the beginning of the end, unless you fight it away, like the impending darkness that fills the ceiling when your a child and you lie in bed, unless you tell yourself its nothing and really believe it, then the vampires will find their way in, under your bed, or in your head and before you know it they are sucking you dry.
I saw Joe Faulkner at Mardale Head, he said he was seising up as he left for the ascent of Gatesgarth. He was on the 100.... I should have been spritely at this point. I sat down in the CP, bad idea... the chair was so comfy, I could have put my head back and slept. Oh dear!! 3 rounds of sandwiches of shit ham and I was off to conquer Gatesgarth. I met with Joe again at the head of Longsleddale, he held the gate for me so I could keep running. I felt quite good at this point, maybe the demons and vampires had burnt away with the food and sunshine. Longsleddale was ok, and the ascent onto Sadgill was alright, I caught a guy at the top of the hill and we ran into Kentmere together, albeit fast, it was good to move with someone.
Kentmere CP was hard, I should have moved straight through, but I didn't. I went to the toilet, my urine was brown. My kidneys had been aching along Hawswater and I was conscious of this. I'd been drinking plenty, but think I entered the race mildly de-hydrated and therefore was on the backfoot already. I had 2 fruit smoothies, thanks to the Montane staff at the CP, one I added salt to, it tasted surprisingly good. I chatted with a guy who had been in front of me, he had a specific time in mind, like myself and was canning it. He lived in Ings, less that 5km away and had had enough. I became seduced by his retirement, nearly joined him and then on a whim I stood up and left the CP. Off to Garburn it was. The ascent was fine, I passed a few folk, but as I crested Garburn I could see what lay ahead and although there was only 20 miles or less, my body started to ache, my mind got the better of me and all the things I had to complete work wise and family wise started to rear its ugly head. I had a week to get on top of stuff before I headed off with Inov8 to teach Natural Running Sessions down south... that was the straw that broke the camels back and I took off my pack, reached for my phone and rang for a lift to pick me up in Troutbeck and take me to Coniston to retire.... Oh well, you win some, you lose some, but at the end of the day, its only a race and there is always next year. This type of situation is rarely life or death....
The aftermath and thoughts:
So, I canned it. Only 30 miles completed. How will this effect me? I could have felt all down, I could have felt like a failure. I didn't.....
I felt empowered that I had taken the decision to stop... not to give up, as after all, what would I have been giving up? Pain, recovery and injury. I was not fit enough to run the course in the time I wanted. I have only trained for maximum of 20 miles a week for the last 3 months. I have a 7 month old baby and family to look after. I am not physically where I want to be. I weighed 76.9kg on the start-line, this is around 5kg more than I should weigh....
So what to do now?
Well, all the race has done for me is to make me recognise how much I need to train for next year, what I need to do in order to get the time I want, in a comfortable way. Of course it will be tough, but it shouldn't feel tough after 6 miles, it should have still felt comfortable or easy at that point. Yes you get up's and downs in a race, but you should generally feel good. You should be enjoying it! Otherwise, whats it all for?? Pain and suffering?? I'm not into that, unless I can enjoy it ;-)
Footworks, an Edinburgh Running Shop, hosts the 2nd Scottish Barefoot Running Conference at the park across the road...