Thursday, 4 August 2016

UTLD 100 2016 - a sorry state

The pre-amble

After a successful completion last year I was keen for another go at this iconic race, hoping to better my time and learn from last year’s experience.  The family had booked a little cottage in Coniston, just up the road from the bridge, to use as a base.  My wife and the kids planned to help out at HQ on an ad hoc basis, and the Iron Man was up to drive the Broom Wagon picking up the broken – he had to be at Coniston for 8am to help out and collect his minibus.  The piles of kit and food were apparently very impressive.

IronMan ready to drive his minibus:

We arrived in the early afternoon and I got myself registered, weighed (4kg less than last year- really??) and dibber attached.  After last year’s completion I felt more relaxed about 2016, and therefore slept a bit better on the Thursday night (falling asleep was a big bugbear last time).  I’d also packed some caffeine pills just in case.  I had tightened up my timings in my plan, mainly to beat the new and tighter cut off times up to Blencathra, but also to aim for a time an hour quicker than last year if I could keep ahead of plan.

Marc at the briefing, having a basketball moment:

Terry receiving his medal and being complimented on his cup:

We had some lunch in one of the local pubs, I had baked potato and tuna mayo.  We then got booked into the cottage and then went to the briefing.  After this it was a case of getting into the pen and awaiting the end of Nessun Dorma, then getting going. 

The event

Leg 1 - Coniston to Seathwaite
Leg:  11.3km  659m ascent
Total:  11.3km  659m ascent
Planned time:  1:50
Leg time:   1:47:41
Planned total:  1:50
Total time:   1:47:41
0:03:19 ahead of schedule

I ran as far as the steepening in the track to the miners bridge.  I carried the poles until Walnar Scar Road, as the initial climb is quite tight and I didn’t want to whack anyone with them.  All went Ok on this leg and got to Seathwaite feeling good.  David Cowburn passed me a couple of minutes before the CP, although he’s a lot quicker than me so I was surprised he wasn’t miles in front.  Quick dib, drink and biscuits and off.  This year I took a small plastic bag to put a few biccies in to nibble between checkpoints, which worked well.

Leg 2 - Seathwaite to Boot
Leg:  11.1km  385m ascent
Total:  22.4km  1044m ascent
Planned time:  1:55
Leg time:   2:06:42
Planned total:  3:45
Total time:   3:54:23
0:09:23 behind schedule

The climb past Wallowbarrow went better than last year, and it felt cooler.  Grassguards was sopping wet though, and with water to mid shin in places wet feet were inevitable.  This is where it went wrong for me this year.  I’d worn my Inov8 GTX shoes, which were great last year for dry feet.  This year, once filled with water, they stayed filled.  It was tough going through the bogs to arrive at Boot, so a bit slower than planned.  Another quick stop and away.

Leg 3 - Boot to Wasdale Head
Leg:  8.6km  297m ascent
Total:  31.0km  1341m ascent
Planned time:  1:45
Leg time:   1:46:59
Planned total:  5:30
Total time:   5:41:22
0:11:22 behind schedule

Since there was minimal moonlight, the torch was on shortly after the CP.  The new compulsory mug was actually quite handy as I repeatedly took the brew with me on the first bit of each leg, which I think saved time.  Unsurprisingly this leg was very wet too, and the standing water around Burnmoor Tarn just added to the foot problems.  I was glad to arrive in Wasdale, as this feels like the start of the event in some ways.  The usual Stroller disco was in full force so I had some soup and sandwich, and took some coffee with me to head up Black Sail.

Leg 4 - Wasdale Head to Buttermere
Leg:  11.0km  712m ascent
Total:  42.0km  2053m ascent
Planned time:  3 hours
Leg time:   2:58:26
Planned total:  8:30
Total time:   8:39:48
0:09:48 behind schedule
Now the work begins.  This ascent felt OK this time, maybe the poles helped more than you may think.  Up and up to the gate, then down the tricksy path to the YHA.  The Scarth Gap climb started OK, but then I felt really sick and was heaving as I went along.  I hadn’t eaten since the CP, so I suspected it was a case of needing more on board.  I had a mouthful of water, which very nearly came back.  Using my mother’s old technique of deep breaths, I managed to keep the nausea under control whilst I nibbled on some biscuits.  By the time I got to Buttermere I felt OK.  I walked the lakeside path with a guy (Andy Cole, I think looking at times and John Kynaston’s photos.  He finishes in 37:29!) whose plan was to walk most of the course.  This is what I ended up doing from here on in.  Soup and a brew at Buttermere and off again.

Leg 5 - Buttermere to Braithwaite
Leg:  10.5km  573m ascent
Total:  52.5km  2626m ascent
Planned time:  2:30 hours
Leg time:   2:28:15
Planned total:  11:00
Total time:   11:08:03
0:08:03 behind schedule

This feels like the biggest single climb on the course, and it felt the same this time around.  There had been some land slides from the floods earlier in the year, but in general the ascent went well.  Andy caught me at the Sail Pass summit after having spent longer in the checkpoint, so we stomped down to the checkpoint together.  We went slightly differently at the final drop, but it all ends up in the same place.  Rice pudding for me, and Andy ate two bowls.  I was out and plodding pretty quickly – this was problem number two.
Last year I changed socks at Braithwaite.  This year, the tightened cut off time at Blencathra was preying on my mind for some reason.  Despite being well ahead of cut offs, I didn’t feel that I could take the time for foot care at this point.  My entire focus was getting past Blencathra – I was to pay for this mistake later.

Leg 6 - Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre
Leg:  13.7km  478m ascent
Total:  66.2km  3104m ascent
Planned time:  3:00 hours
Leg time:   2:40:36
Planned total:  14:00
Total time:   13:48:39
00:11:21 ahead of schedule

I was 26 minutes ahead of last year at the end of this leg, mainly as I wasn’t asleep for any of it this time.  The dull bit along the A66 was dull, but seemed to pass quite quickly.  Spoony Lane ascent went fine, and the whole thing was pretty good really. Apart from some pain under my left foot, but more of that later.
The obligatory big up for Little Dave’s Mum’s chocolate cake – I signed the card that was there for her as a thank you – and off I went again.

Leg 7 - Blencathra Centre to Dockray
Leg:  12.3km  417m ascent
Total:  78.5km  3521m ascent
Planned time:  2:30 hours
Leg time:   2:32:17
Planned total:  16:30
Total time:   16:20:56
00:09:04 ahead of schedule

I still don’t really like this leg, even with the amended course and new dib under the A66.  It’s just that coach road.  It’s very uneven, and this was where the feet started to really suffer.  Why I still didn’t change into my dry socks I really don’t know.  The ascent to the coach road was very wet this year, and once on the track itself I just got my head down and put one foot in front of the other.  Half way along I became pretty bloated and my guts were most unhappy.  I was glad to get to the checkpoint, as were my feet, and went straight to the portaloo for some relief.  Phew.  After that I was OK for some soup and sandwiches.

Leg 8 - Dockray to Dalemain
Leg:  16.3km  370m ascent
Total:  94.8km  3891m ascent
Planned time:  3 hours
Leg time:   3:24:59
Planned total:  19:30
Total time:   19:45:55
0:15:55 behind schedule!

Last year IronMan and I ran the downhill road section – this year I couldn’t due to the pain in my feet.  I was starting to find that going downhill was a struggle, but the ups were fine.  It hurt a lot going past Aira Force, but the Gowbarrow contour was OK. I got quite frustrated with the group in front of me who I felt were going too slowly for my plan and ended up going past them before the road crossing and field section.  They all caught me up on the rocky road on the Dalemain estate, where I slowed right down again due to the pain.  At Dalemain I sat on my towel with bare feet for half an hour – trench foot had set in and I hoped allowing them to dry would sort me out. The right foot seemed to do OK, but the left remained very macerated and painful.  A few blisters going around, but nothing major.  Knowing how boggy it had been, I opted to put my second pair of Inov8 GTXs on rather than my Hokas that I used last year.  I think this was the final mistake that broke the camel’s back.

Leg 9 - Dalemain to Howtown
Leg:  11.5km  294m ascent
Total:  106.3km  4185m ascent
Planned time:  2:30
Leg time:   2:42:16
Planned total:  22:00
Total time:   22:28:11
0:28:11 behind schedule!

I set off with brew in hand and went slowly initially (and slower later!).  The right sole felt a lot better after being dried and having new shoes and socks.  The left one had improved but was still very painful.  Passing through Pooley Bridge and up to the Cockpit went OK, and the long down section I ended up walking all of.  Interesting my leg time was still much the same as last year’s when we ran this section.  Down to Howtown for some sweets and biscuits – the team here seemed keen to get rid of their stocks and I ended up with a big bag full of sweets which I ended up finishing off two days later.

Leg 10 - Howtown to Mardale Head
Leg:  15.2km  765m ascent
Total:  121.5km  4950m ascent
Planned time:  4 hours
Leg time:   4:03:09
Planned total:  26:00
Total time:   26:31:20
31:20 behind schedule

Still a leg I don’t like.  Perversely, it had been lovely and cool and cloudy up to setting off and then the sun came out (damn you Fusedale!).  The plod up Fusedale was done in warmer temperatures, but I managed (going uphill still OK).  Heading over High Kop  was really boggy again and we passed a guy in distress (turned out to be Gareth Swain who had entered last year and stopped at Mardale Head – I’d spoken to him when we were marshalling the Delamere nightrunner).  His mate was dropping down to Haweswater to raise the alarm.
The descent wasn’t nice this time, but once on the side of Haweswater my feet slowed me down more.  I was left behind by the others in the group I had climbed Fusedale with, and I started getting more stomach cramps and bloating.  On and on the path goes – I think it’s only about 6km but it feels a lot longer.  I was on my own now but kept on moving, although the rocky path was agony.  A couple of km from the checkpoint my stomach cramps got a lot worse and I was forced to nip behind a bush.  Feeling better, I then managed to make it to Mardale Head with little issue.  This is usually the point where mentally I know I’ve got it nailed, but this time was very different.  I was really happy to get here but also well aware of the last 30 miles I still had to cover, although the remaining thirteen and a half hours should be enough…

Leg 11 - Mardale Head to Kentmere
Leg:  10.4km  511m ascent
Total:  131.9km  5461m ascent
Planned time:  3 hours
Leg time:   3:29:56
Planned total:  29:00
Total time:   30:01:16
1:01:16 behind schedule

The wheels felt like they were starting to come off, and looking at timings (see later) they certainly were.  Gatescarth Pass climb was alright (climbs still went well) but the nasty drop down the other side certainly did not.  Everything I stood on caused pain, and I was going ever more slowly.  I was being overtaken left right and centre now and people were asking if I was OK.  Not a good state of affairs.  I hobbled onwards and was so pleased to hit the tarmac just before the bridge in Sadgill.  The next up section went OK (No hallucinations this year), and then the long drop to the road felt rotten and seemed to last forever.  My brain was going round thinking about timings and what I had left to do, and I was coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t cope with another ten hours of this pain.  I was going to stop at Kentmere and have done – I didn’t feel this was giving up as I simply couldn’t do much more than hobble forward now.

Leg 12 - Kentmere to Ambleside
Leg:  11.8km  491m ascent
Total:  143.7km  5952m ascent
Planned time:  3 hours
Leg time:   3:29:56
Planned total:  32:00
Total time:   33:58:21
1:58:21 behind schedule

Whilst the last leg had only taken a few minutes longer than last year, it felt infinitely longer and had been pretty grim and I was now suffering a lot.  I managed to drag myself up the steps into the checkpoint, and there was the IronMan to greet me.  For some reason I hadn’t expected to see him at all during the event, so it was a nice surprise for him to be there.  I’m sure I didn’t look great at this point, and I recall moaning about my feet.  However, since he was there I couldn’t drop out now even though the cut off for Ambleside was under four hours away.  Eventually I ate some pasta, and stubbornly walked out the door as the IronMan drove his bus with a couple of runner in it in the other direction.  I knew I was to be in for some fun.  I got pretty cold at this point and ended up putting on both my thermal layer and my Minimus jacket.
Once more, the uphill was not too bad and I rapidly overtook a lady called Lizzie (who would pretty soon leave me behind on the other side).  I felt good on the uphill, as long as I was extremely careful where I put my feet.  Once at the top, I again found that I was struggling.  The rough track and the descent were a real trial, and Lizzie passed me easily (to finish in 39:56).  It seemed a long way down to Troutbeck, but the climb around Robin Lane was not too bad (uphill again) until the drop down to the left.  Slow again here, and then came the woods.  What can I say?  This was horrible, the tree roots and rocks were misery on every step and I wished it was over.  Once on the tarmac I had hoped to speed up but it wan’t to be, and the cut off time was fast approaching.  I was going to be timed out before hitting Ambleside.
Through the back roads I went, and for some reason struggled a bit finding the archway you pass through off the main road.  A marshal in the street egged me into a “run”, pushing me to make it in time.  I did, by a matter of under two minutes, and passed straight through (despite me telling him I was done, he seemed to compel me onwards) into the park.  A couple of guys left with me, asking if I thought I could do the next leg in the allotted two hours – I said I doubted it.

Leg 13 - Ambleside to Chapel Stile
Leg:  9.0km  234m ascent
Total:  152.7km  6186m ascent
Planned time:  2:30 hours
Planned total:  35:00

Once more, I managed fine on the ascent and kept up with the two guys without difficulty.  Once on the rocky open fell road, I hit the descent which leads down to Skelwith Bridge and was really in a mess.  I started the drop down but after a few hundred yards I’d used up 40 minutes and got nowhere fast.  I was hugely indecisive, turning back and then going on, but eventually admitted to myself that I was in no shape to make the next CP.  I turned round and went back to Ambleside – the 40 minute uphill took me 1:20 on the way down.
At Ambleside, the checkpoint was closed, packed up and locked.  I had to phone Chris to let him know, as I was still active on the system and they wouldn’t have known where I was.  A minibus was duly dispatched. I texted my wife to let her know, and when she got the text she thought it was the update to say I was at Chapel Stile.  ‘Fraid not.  A bit of a text mix up meant that she came to pick me up, but the minibus got to me first.  Back at base I was logged as stopped, picked up my drop bag and wandered back towards the cottage.  My wife picked me up on the way, and took me back.  Taking my shoes off revealed blood blisters over the toes, and nasty maceration under the left foot.  A bath and then a few hours sleep revived me, and frustratingly I felt generally far better than last time.  My left foot and ankle are like a sausage though, really swollen and painful.


William Naismith described a calculation for walking speed way back in 1892, essentially stating 1 hour for every 5km plus an hour for every 600m ascent (although he described it in imperial).  If we apply this to the stages of the Lakeland 100, we can see where the wheels (feet?) came off this year.  Basically I’ve divided the distance by 5, the ascent by 600 and added them together.  Comparing this to the time I took on each stage gives a ratio of actual vs expected speed.

I’m a bit surprised that the Leg to Mardale Head hasn’t a higher figure too, as I hate that bit and it felt like a long slog along the side of Haweswater.  Dalemain to Howtown is slightly skewed as I spent half an hour at Dalemain checkpoint.

Part of me is pretty gutted that I didn’t finish, clearly not the result I wanted.  However, up until my feet became unmanageable I was on for a reasonably comfortable finish and physically I was pretty good.

So what now?

Next year.  I don’t want to end this tale on a low, so I think I’ll have to have another try next year.  I have, however, learned more and can think about how to apply these.

  1.  It is possible to complete the event in time whilst walking the whole thing.  Whether this is desirable or not I don’t know, but my times weren’t too shabby until it all went wrong.
  2. GoreTex shoes were good last time, but certainly don’t convey advantage once water is in them.
  3.  I should have stopped to change socks before getting in as much of a mess.
  4.  Whilst I failed this time, I have one completion and one 90 mile retirement under my belt.  This is a reasonable record to take forward to next year.
Bottom line?  I need to sort out a method to avoid foot issues and blisters.  This is always my problem, and I’ve never retired due to anything else.  As far back as I can remember I've always suffered from blisters, whether doing running, fell walking, Scottish winter, Alpine or whatever.  I have 12 months to find a solution……

See you all on the trails, and at the Lakeland 100 2017.

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