By Doug Alsop
31 July 2015
a different experience.
I’m not sure how I got into this, but I have my suspicions of certain individuals who shall remain nameless. The longest I had run was 50 miles, so to undertake an event twice as far was a massive leap. In the weeks leading up to the event I was full of apprehension, how would I cope with the sleep deprivation? Would I have sufficient energy reserves to see me through? Would my knowledge of the last 50 miles of the course be an advantage or negative factor? Would I be able to get my socks on the day after?!!
At 5:30 on Friday night we assembled with 300 other runners. Cornwall was well represented with 5 from St.Austell Running club alone in the line up – Duncan Oakes, Phil Montgomery-Smith, Tim Adams, Dave Speake and myself. There was also a good contingent from the Mud Crew. I recalled that when the club started in 2007 I was one of the experienced runners but stood on the start line now I was the rookie, as all the rest of the team had completed at least one 100-mile event. Following a live performance of ‘Nessum Dorma’ (None Shall Sleep) we were away. With the advice of Geoff Bazeley “Don’t go off too fast” ringing in my ears, we ran through Coniston and into the hills – Dunc, Phil and Tim towards the front whilst Dave and I start at the back. My plan was very simple, concentrate on efficiency, run when I could, walk when it was either too steep or dangerous and keep myself hydrated and fed at the checkpoints. I kept up with Dave for the first two sections but he was in great form and much quicker than me over the ground. Night was falling as we started the third section which involved a long moorland run from Boot to Wasdale Head. This was boggy and despite my best endeavours both feet got a good soaking and I also went full length into the mire at one point. This was just the sort of softening up I needed before we hit the mountains. In the crepuscular light we stumbled on until eventually we had to switch on our head torches. A s those ahead and behind did the same a ribbon of light spread across the moor behind us and up the dark mountains silhouetted ahead.
After the checkpoint at Wasdale Head we started the ascent up to Black Sail Pass. At this point the walking poles were a godsend. I doubt I would have been able to complete the course without them and moreover, I could well have injured myself, as they were my saviour from numerous trips, stumbles and ankle twists in the miles that followed. The descent from the Pass can only be described as reckless. My training in the boy scouts many years ago stressed treating the mountains with respect but here I was, high up, scantily dressed in the middle of the night after running for six hours in the company of ultra runners. Say no more……….1
After the descent of the Black Sail Pass we went by what must be the remotest youth hostel in England with a couple of chaps sitting outside encouraging us on. The next climb took us over the summit of Scarth Gap where we were treated to the sight of a supporter wrapped in a sleeping bag under the stars and lying by an empty pizza box. One of the runners quipped that they didn’t realize that Dominos delivered this far out!
Another dodgy descent on indistinct paths eventually got us down to the shores of Buttermere where the ground underfoot improved. At the checkpoint I consulted my route book and noted that the next section had only 1880ft of ascent compared to the 2336ft of the last section. I foolishly allowed myself to think it would be easier. However, the climbing was relentless and very hard on the feet as they were constantly pushed sideways where the ground fell away steeply to the right, so a stumble regularly caused a bit of a dive off the path and into the bracken. The fellow following me reckoned I was a liability as he heard yet another ‘aarghhh’ followed by a flash of poles before I arrested my dive down the mountain.
Dawn broke on Saturday to reveal yet more hills. Due to the terrain and the constant climbing and descending, the distances of 7 or 8 miles bore no resemblance to what we are used to, sometimes taking several hours to complete. Then surprise surprise! As we were running down through a wooded section by Aira Beck (which seemed like the middle of nowhere) there was Geraldine and Nadia giving full voice to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” -Ooh we’re halfway there, ohh ohh – The runners around me were greatly impressed by this animated support, not to mention the volume!! Eventually the eighth leg brought us into Dalemain with almost 60 mile completed. This is where the Lakeland 50 starts. As I entered the estate and stumbled along I was being overtaken by those just starting out on the 50, fresh legged and bouncing along they were all shouting words of encouragement to me. I have to admit I was quite emotional but it gave me a great boost and strengthened my resolve.
At the checkpoint there was Geraldine and Nadia again with Sherlock who gave me a great soggy lick. I saw Andy Young, who was doing the 50, and wished him well before I tucked into food they were offering. This was where you collect your drop bag which enables a change of clothes and socks plus a look at the feet – not a pretty sight. Then off again – by now gathering a loose collection of people who are moving at about the same pace. Martin from Copenhagen and Emiko, a Japanese girl living in London, were happy to run with me as I was familiar with the second part of the route. As we slogged up Fusedale I met Laura Millward from Carn Runners and we wondered if Tywardreath Trotter might not have been a better option!
On the stretch between High Cop and Low Cop, Andrew (who was also responding to ‘Steve’ due to my confused state!) made the point that if we were careful and kept moving at a steady pace we could finish inside the cut-off time. Andrew had completed the 100 once but last year he had to drop out at Ambleside. We agreed, as all of us were dealing with various issues, and we didn’t know how going into the second night was going to affect us. So our group with the addition now of Brian and another Andrew grew to six and we focused on getting to the finish and using one another for support.
This really helped as both Andrew (aka Steve) and I had done this part of the course twice and the group being together kept us relaxed. We knew we had sufficient time in hand to take sensible comfort stops at the check points and barring any major problems we would make it OK.
This was a different experience for me to be focused on finishing and not worrying about time or being overtaken. Staying with the group meant that we went at the pace of the slowest member as long as it still gave the correct finish time. There were times when, had I been on my own, I might have run where we walked but on the other hand, had I done so, my energy might not have lasted and my wobbly legs might have caused me to fall and injure myself. As it was, going uphill was still relatively comfortable but downhill was really difficult and again, I was thankful for the poles.
We managed to get to the checkpoint at Kentmere before dusk and were met with the sorry sight of Tim, who had had to withdraw at that point with a groin strain. Tim had pushed hard and had nothing left but also has to do the Indian Queens Half next Sunday to continue his 100 consecutive GPs target, so he made a tactical decision. However there was a bright side, as Georgina and Hannah came to pick Tim up and their friendly faces and encouragement were a great help out there. Half way up Garburn Pass we needed to put on the head torches again- we were into our second night with no sleep (Nessum Dorma). So we proceeded into Ambleside and then on towards Chapel Stile. At this point our group was about ten but there waiting for us at 3am was Geraldine and Nadia – again the group were very impressed with this show of support – true St. Austell style I assured them.
This left us just the final two stages which I had only ever done in darkness. So it was with some relief when dawn started to break on Sunday and it eased the navigation. We decided not to stop at the final checkpoint but push on towards the finish. There are some huge steps both up and down on the last leg and it was slow going but eventually we made it to the point where there was only road between us and the finish. Even this was slow, as our quads were screaming, but we stuck together. We had a consultation and Andrew2, who was suffering the worst, felt he could only run about 15 paces so we walked until near the end then ran in all together as if we had run the whole way, all 105miles and 38hrs. and 13mins.
What a finish – there was the gang to greet us and the big announcement “Six more 100 finishers” which elicited huge cheers from the waiting crowd. We were elated as we received our medals and tee shirts. Of my running highlights this is right up there with the best of them. Yes, my energy held out, Yes, I didn’t suffer from sleep deprivation and No, I still can’t get my socks on! It’s only because I still can’t walk that this report is so long!!!
Split times and STARC results