Christ … the blog that is longer than the race!!

* Short Version *

I started.  It hurt. I finished.

* Long Version *

I really thought this would be the easiest of all blog posts to write.  As you all know I can ramble on for days and certainly have no issue with saying exactly what’s on my mind.  Why is this one so bloody hard then?

It took me 10 months to get to the Dalemain Estate in Cumbria.  10 months of fun, pain, fear, poo stops, recce runs, laughter, lessons learned about me, lessons learned about others but most of all it took me 10 months of doubt.  I signed up for Lakeland 50 on the back of getting caught up in the amazing atmosphere up there last year when I was part of the team crewing James (Elson) on one of his BGR attempts and round 2 of that battle happened on Lakeland weekend. (he won that battle on round 3 … #proudcrew).

Lakeland weekend is kind of like the annual get together for the UK ultra scene and this became ever more apparent to me in the months leading up to race day when I started seeing the buzz on social media building.  I think it’s this buzz that started making me feel some doubt.  I put all kinds of hours into my training but could have done more on the quality side.  I could sit here and have a list of excuses such as crazy long hours, love life issues, blah blah but at the end of the day these are exactly that .. excuses.  I took on this challenge.  Me.  Nobody forced me to enter this so it was time to step up against my worst enemy and prove her wrong.  Me.

Way back on September 1st 2014 when entries opened I somehow not only managed to get myself a place but also signed my friend Kat up to run too.  Those of you who know how quick this races sells out will know what a total score that is (I think it sold out in 19 minutes or something close to that).  I am sure at the time we might have said something about doing some training together but in the end we never did a single run together.  This was going to be interesting.  Poor woman.

The plan for the weekend was for Kat to spend the night at mine on Thursday and we would head off at about 6am to get up to Coniston with time to set up, wander around etc before the start of the 100 (they go off at 6pm on the Friday).  KAt was a tad late but that’s not a shocker with the trains out of Brighton.  We managed to get to bed at a decent time of about 11pm after having a quick drink and a catch up natter.  I felt quite sorry for her though … I’m not convinced my sofa bed is too comfortable and that’s twice now she’s had to endure it.  Not sorry enough to give up my comfy bed.  Obviously 😉

We set off about 6:15 and after a couple of coffee stops we made it to Coniston about 11:30 so I was quite happy with that.  We quickly pitched the tent as the sky looked a bit gray.  It was the tents first outing since I’d used it during the aforementioned BGR attempt the previous year.  I was surprised it didn’t fall to pieces when I took it out of the bag as I seem to recall I put it away wet.  Slight musty smells just add to the atmosphere of the weekend though yes?

We plodded off to the school hall to register.  Kat took her credit card with her as she had not brought a spare base layer (I won’t tell anyone you didn’t actually read any of the race instructions Kat, honest I won’t tell a soul).  It’s really hard as a race organiser to not cast an eye over what other events do and take some mental notes.  In fact on the Sunday I was chatting with one of the Lakeland directors, Terry Gilpin about this and he agreed that it can only make the sport stronger if good practice is followed (note : I am not endorsing blatant nicking of race ideas and passing them off as your own).  So walking into the school hall it was like heaven for me.  Anyone who has attended a Centurion event in that last couple of years will know we have become a fan of what I like to call the ‘Ikea effect’.  Give a person a logical route to follow and it makes things run like clockwork.  This applies to most things not just running out on the trails.  So it was …. kit check (and boy are they tough – Kat who is a doctor failed her first-aid kit check!), number allocation, pack collection, dibber wristband and then the dreaded weigh-in.  I asked the young lady weighing me to just write #FatChicksCan on my wristband in homage to the #thisgirlcan campaign.  She declined.  I had managed to lose just under a stone in the 5 weeks leading up to race day but the fact is I just didn’t take seriously how my weight gain would affect me on the day and when she wrote those numbers on the wrist band I could have cried.  Why oh why did I not do more to get back to where I needed to be.  There began the weekend of doubt folks.  I looked around the school and canteen and suddenly all I could see were people who looked so bloody prepared and fit.  What was I doing here?  Why did I have the audacity to think that I deserved to be here when I know for a fact that there were many 100s of runners who would’ve killed for my race number.  Well, not killed but you know what I mean (although my mate Jacqui might have killed me if she thought she could get my coveted place).

We headed back to the camping area to get our kit ready.  I had taken my stuff to registration in a box as I had been warned they would make me take it all out of my pack anyway so there was little point in properly packing before hand.  So as we sat there on the grass both sorting out our kit, putting race numbers on packs, attaching trackers (thanks to James from Open Tracking), discussions on shoe choice, and chat about clothing etc.  I then noticed the two guys who were camped up next to us looking really relaxed and enjoying a beer.  Again, more internal panic.  Then when they commented that we were amusing them I almost cried.  Good job I have the ability to put that ‘laugh at myself’ shield up.  Christ, what was wrong with me.  I am the most self-assured person I know and this race now had me in bits.  In fact let’s be clear here on the word ‘race’.  I am under no illusions that I would be racing anyone.  I was here for a speed hike interspersed with some jogging.  It was at this point that I again let Kat know that I would not be offended if she wanted to go off ahead rather than stick with me.  She’s a much better runner than I and as we have not so much as run a a mile together I really didn’t want it to turn into an uncomfortable weekend for either of us.  What if she started resenting me for being slow?  What if I started resenting her for resenting me.  Oh, I can do this for days.  The ‘what if game’ as I like to call it.

After we had got our stuff sorted we walked back up to the hall and it really surprised me how many people I knew and even more so how many had been reading my blog.  Scary.  Must learn to write better.  Found James, Drew and Debs (Marco was sleeping) and we headed for some food.  I absolutely love hanging out with Debs.  She has such a wicked sense of humour and between the two of us I think we put fear in James.  Debs ran (and won the ladies race) the 100 last year and this year was running the 50 due to having UTMB coming up so she agreed to meet up just before 6pm and walk up the hill towards Coniston Copper Mines so we could see the 100 runners coming up the hill.  That was so much fun sitting there watching the 300 runners coming up and again I was so surprised by how many I knew.  Lots of hellos and good lucks shouted out then it was back down the hill where Debs had to go off and chase a fox (don’t ask) and Kat and I decided to grab some dinner and a drink before getting an early night.  Thank god Kat had some spare earplugs as some guys didn’t seem to think being quiet was the thing to do.  Although the shouts of ‘Shut Up’ from fellow campers may have eventually done the trick.

I’d like to say I had a good nights sleep but that would be a lie.  I think I managed about 3 hours before finally giving up.  The plan was to grab some food from the school canteen and being the typical Londoner that I am I had no cash and only a credit card.  I’m like the queen and rarely carry cash.  D’oh.  Good job Kat had some money and she fronted me some tea and toast.  I was still wandering around in my PJ’s at 8am chatting to folks.  I honestly think I was putting off getting dressed so as to avoid the reality of what I was there to do.  However race briefing at 8.30 would probably not be best attended in my old UT football shirt so get dressed I did.  My plan to wear shorts probably shocked a few who know me as I absolutely hate my legs.  However, I planned to try to even out my weird runners tan a little.  Of course, as I applied rock tape to my right knee it occurred to me I was in store for a donut tan on my knee.  Oh well.

The start for the 100 mile race takes place at the school in Coniston and does a massive 100 mile loop finishing back at the school in Coniston.  The 50 mile race starts out on the loop at the Dalemain Estate.  The Lakeland organiser arranges a fleet of coaches to take the 50 runners out to the 50 start but no matter how some might feel this is all part of the event I was happy to skip this and get a ride out there with the wonderful Bev (Navesey) whose husband Steve was also running the 50.  So myself, Kat and Debs jumped in the back and listened to Steve chatter away.  I have to be honest and say I can’t remember much from that journey except for Debs telling me quietly that she was nervous.  That totally floored me.  This woman is tough as nails and she was nervous?  I suspect she might have been lying to make me feel better because quite honestly I was crapping myself.  We get to Dalemain and the bloody amazing Bev has made some wraps for us (as I totally fell in love with her wraps on one of our recces a month earlier).  As I was standing staring around at the other runners and also at the 100 mile runners who were coming into their checkpoint I started to feel quite sick.  Bev looked at me and asked if I was ok.  I got a bit teary and when she hugged me I told her I didn’t feel I should be there.  Debs saw this and bless her she too gave me a hug and whispered something motivational that’s not repeatable.  I bloody love her.

At 11.15 we got herded into the start pen.  We all had to ‘dib in’ so we could be accounted for and then we had to make sure we did the same thing at each checkpoint (and one unmanned dib point) on the course.  Kat at this point said it was my last chance to tell her if I wanted run alone.  I assured her that I really wanted her to run with me (but in my head I was convinced she had been hoping I would tell her to run off … seriously, I really am my own worst enemy).  Some good luck hugs with Chris Mills and Steve Navesey and a start line selfie and we were off.

Start Dalemain to Howtown : 11.2 miles

We started out with an annoying 4 mile loop of the estate.  I hate running in fields.  Once that was over though we headed to Pooley Bridge and it was really quite lovely running through and people were clapping and cheering us.  Also saw the lovely Bev, Nikki Mills and Co.

I don’t really remember much about the run to Howtown checkpoint apart from really struggling to get my breathing sorted.  I can’t explain it but I just couldn’t seem to properly catch my breath and relax.  When we got to the checkpoint (which was using a cowtown theme) we literally filled up bottles and grabbed some snacks.  Kat made me laugh as it was here she settled into her role of Drill Sergent (Eddie would be proud).  She got us in and out.

Planned time 2:20 – actual time 2:37:55 (Bollocks, already 17 minutes behind plan)

Howtown to Mardale Head : 9.4 miles

This is probably the hardest section for me as it has both Fuesdale which is a tough old climb and then Haweswater which is an uncomfortable lake side slog.  The climb up Fusedale is deceptive as it’s at an angle so you think it’ll be easy but it just seems to go on forever.  I hate this hill the most.  The view at the top is just totally spectacular though.  The only saving grace of this section is the run between Fuesdale and Haweswater being the fabulous stretch across the top.  I simply love this bit and I actually ran here.  I also love the run down to Haweswater.  Now that I get it right that is.  My famous loop-de-loop on the other side of the stream here is now well-known.  Once getting to Haweswater though it’s a long stretch to get to the next checkpoint.  It was funny as through this section I kept remembering the many funny things that happen to Jacqui and I when running.  The conversation had on out training runs should never be repeated to children or the police.  This is the stretch where the most interesting wall in the world is and where someone planted a bloody low hanging tree over a footpath (only makes sense if you’ve read this blog through the last 10 months).  We get to Mardale Head checkpoint and I had quite simply the best cup of soup I have ever had.  Oh and a jam and crisp sandwich thanks to the suggestion of another runner there.  I was trying to procrastinate a little here as I knew what was coming.  I get the glare from Kat so off we go.

Planned time 3:15 – actual time 3:49:23 (this really is not going well, 52 minutes behind plan)

Mardale Head to Kentmere : 6.5 miles

This is where I get to show Kat my ‘true toys out the pram’ personality.  Gatesgarth never ends with its bastard switchbacks, rocks and cheery bloody runners skipping past me.  I genuinely wanted to cry.  This hill breaks me every time I go up it and this time I didn’t have Jacqui agreeing to stop and check the view every 500 steps.  I hate this hill the most.  Yes, this one not the last one.  Normally when you get to the top of a hill you at least get that fabulous joy of knowing you get to run down the other side.  Well bollocks to that theory.  The run down the other side of Gatesgarth is like the trail gods got together and had a little smoke of the funny weed and threw some rocks down haphazardly and then onto a downhill road that seemed to go on forever.  It is a painful descent only brightened by more of those cheery runners coming by me.  It was during this descent I had to make a pit stop behind a wall because I was lucky enough to start my period 12 hours before this race started (oh don’t roll your eyes boys, you’re not 12).  It was at this point that the lovely Sharon Sullivan came skipping by and for some reason I felt the need to tell her I had to change my tampon.  What the actual fuck is wrong with me?  Sorry Sharon but thanks for the tip although I think as a gay woman it’s going to be hard to get my GP to write me a prescription for the pill.  Anyway, everything sorted and onwards we go.  Up through Sadgill Woods which is quite a nice bit of track and then out on the road for a short few steps before having to drag my already broken knee over the stone wall stiles.  You know the ones I mean.  Yes, the ones with the scary wobbly rocks that you go to grab hold of and scare yourself silly when they move.  Finally we get to the checkpoint at Kentmere where I got a hug from the lovely Justin Horrocks.  I asked how his fiance Jackie was doing and have no idea what he said but I do remember he got me a nice bowl of pasta and a beautiful cup of tea.  A lovely lady came over dressed as a Bon Jovi fan and my request for a G&T was refused but she assured me that I could get one from the team at Tiberthwaite.

Planned time 2:35 – actual time 2:39:34 (considering that bastard hill not too bad but still 56 minutes behind plan)

Kentmere to Ambleside : 7.3 miles

When we left the checkpoint it had gotten quite cold or rather the checkpoint was so warm that we felt the cold more.  Kat put her jacket on and I couldn’t be arsed as frankly I was getting a bit cranky.  I hadn’t actually said the C word out loud once and I think I was having internal Tourette’s.  I can’t remember too much about this section except that Kat started singing to me.  Well, not to me.  To anyone who would listen.  Sheep, birds, exhausted 100 mile runners we happened across.  It was quite sweet.  I was so tired I thought she actually knew all the words to various show tunes but turns out she was just singing the same lines over and over again.  I also started seeing little animals here.  When I say little I mean like little miniature versions.  I didn’t want to tell Kat as I was already feeling a bit dizzy and slightly nauseous and think if she knew I was seeing miniature giraffes she might declare me dead.  Although I guess that’s ok as I just now remembered that Chris Mills did ask me if I was running with a doctor so she could sign my death certificate out on the course.  When we got to the post office in Troutbeck I had to sit on the bench for a minute, for a teeny split second I wondered if I could get phone signal and if the broom wagon would pick me up here.  Yes folks this is where I actually considered I was sick of looking at a radius of about 3 feet around my own bloody feet  and this is where I fell in love with Colin.  When we stopped in the services on the way up Kat bought some Colin the Caterpillar sweets and it was here that she broke them out.  I fell in love.  Folks if you ever need a race saving treat this is it.  I remember getting quite disheartened here as in my plan we would be coming into Ambleside about 10.30pm ish.  I wanted to get some moral support from the folks outside the pubs.  I remember last year coming through here with Drew when we were crewing James on his BGR and we witnessed the local support of the race.  I wanted some of that and it looked like I wasn’t getting any so why bother trying to make up time now.  Instead we hit Ambleside checkpoint about midnight.  In fairness though we still got some subdued cheers from folks standing around in Ambleside who were obviously waiting for runners.  Either that or there are just strange folks who stand around in the dark doorways … like being back in London really.  At the checkpoint there was then the added insult of steps up.  Inside it was too warm so the lovely Laura grabbed my sandwich bag and filled it for me as I couldn’t find the food (even though it was on a table in front of me).  I got a cup of tea, used the toilet and we headed back out.  Changed headtorch batteries outside and off we go.

Planned time 2:40 – actual time 3:07:23 (oh FFS this is getting worse now 1 hour 23 minutes behind plan)

Ambleside to Chapel Stile : 5.6 miles

I cannot tell you how much I had been looking forward to leaving Ambleside as for me this signified I had ‘broken the back’ of this thing.  16 miles left and they are my favourite 16 miles.  Well except for the first climb up and up and up Loughrigg (spelling?).  I hate this hill.  Not the other two  This one.  How can you not love this section.  My only regret is that Kat didn’t get to see this in daylight.  Simply beautiful.  When we got down to the Skelwith Bridge Hotel I was back on a high.  Came along the river, past the bridge where I was meant to do some stretches (sorry Jacqui I was on a mission), through the most boring stretch with the man-made path through the park type area, through the wooded bit, along more path, on the road up to the mine entrance, along the river some more, past Wainrights Inn and on to the houses with swing outside.  No cats there today.  Coming through the Baysbrown Campsite I actually started to get a bit worried as I couldn’t see any checkpoint lights and I guess being dark I just assumed I would see them as soon as we turned into the campsite.  We kept going along the path and I was starting to consider maybe I had missed something at race briefing about the checkpoint not being there and would we have enough water to get us through and then suddenly out of nowhere this amazing oasis of a checkpoint appeared.  I can’t describe it and I didn’t take a picture.  A massive outside fireplace, music, gazebos, soup, tea and the dreaded sofa of doom.  I stayed well clear of the sofa.  Kat got me some soup and informed me I had until the end of the song (oh how I prayed it was some club song with at least a 15 minute instrumental).

Planned time 2:15 – actual time 2:08:05 (What?  We picked up the pace?  No way! 1 hour 16 minutes behind plan)

Chapel Stile to Tiberthwaite : 6.5 miles

It is here dear readers that I am about to fail you as I am wracking my brain trying to remember anything significant from this section and all I have is that I now know why the lead runners go so fast.  It has nothing to do with winning.  It’s so they don’t have to climb those big fuck off wooden wall ladder stiles and put their hands on the sheep shit left there by 700 runners ahead of them.  Seriously.  I am sending a mail to the trail gods asking for door mats there.  Oh and I remember falling in the boggy bit before the unmanned dibber on this section.  It didn’t look deep and suddenly … well … suddenly it was.  The absolute best bit here though was coming down through Mardy Farm (I can’t remember its real name but it got renamed that months back when I had to ask the farmer for water and you would’ve thought I had kicked her favourite child).  Mardy Farm it is.  Getting here you can see the checkpoint at the bottom of Tiberthwaite steps.  What a beautiful sight.  As we rounded the corner I was suddenly overtaken with the urge to be sick.  I tried to breathe properly to stop it.  No doing.  Sorry to Kat for having to turn back and see me bent over double.  Got into the checkpoint.  Got handed a sweet tea and sat outside.  I suddenly remembered what the lady at Kentmere had said but still no bloody G&T!!  Kat stands over me and informs me to get off my arse.  Lovely.

Planned time 2:45 – actual time 2:50:43 (I love how my times on this section are close to my plan but still 1 hour 21 minutes behind plan)

Tiberthwaite to Finish Coniston : 3.5 miles

At the bottom of the Tiberthwaite steps I look up to see that Kat has only bloody well run up them.  I had a fleeting thought that I could throw my pole up in a javelin style and spear her.  Oh well.  Going up the scramble bit I had to relent and let Kat take my poles for me as I simply didn’t trust myself to be able to do it and hold them too.  Then I had the ledge along the wall of death (ask Jacqui) to deal with.  It’s hard when you think you are walking normal but your knees and feet are doing the opposite.  My right knee has been screaming at me for about 6 hours now and each step feels like a hot poker is being shoved under the kneecap.  Funnily enough while I had thought this section would be hard (and it was) it was my most enjoyable.  I was quite internally emotional.  I had done it.  The only thing that could stop me now would be to fall on the hideous downside to the copper mines that would come once we had gone over the top.  Speaking of that downside … did it get steeper?  I swear it did.  I have never been so glad to get to a tarmac road in my life.  Yet even that offered no respite.  Slowly, agonisingly slowly we made our way down.  Then out of nowhere, there at the side of the miners road sat Debs Martin-Consani.  That wonderful, wonderful woman who had placed 2nd woman in the 50 race (11 hours earlier!) had sat there waiting for us for an hour.  I love my friends.  I really do.  Debs … that meant the world, thank you.  I couldn’t stop as Kat said I had to keep shuffling as she wanted us in before 7am (I won’t share why).  We shuffled onwards.  Coming into Coniston, turn right and coming past the petrol station.  I wanted to walk but my legs said ‘Fuck off, we’re almost done’.  Turned left, down the hill towards the school and there at the side of the road was the best recce crew ever.  Bev Navesey is the best support a gang of crazy runners can have.  Taxi, wrap maker, shoulder to cry on, laughs, and a stern word … she delivers it all.  I was crying.  I came under that gantry and just couldn’t stop smiling.  I did it.  I only fucking did it.

Planned time 18:00 – actual time 19:08 … so I didn’t hit plan but I simply don’t care!

I am fully aware of just how many of you got me here.  The words of encouragement all through this journey, the laughs, the banter, the messages before, during and after have meant so much to me.  Sometimes I struggle to let my walls down but you lot have climbed in.  You all know who you are.  My oscar thank you speech could go on for days but I hope you all will understand if I limit it to just 3 people here.

Kat – I really can’t say enough about how awesome it was to run this with you.  Your quiet way of encouraging me, your way of talking at the right time but simply not talking too was great.  I know how much better you could have done without me but yet you stayed with me every step of the way.  If you EVER need crew … you don’t have to ask twice.

Eddie – How do I say thank you to the most amazing coach a girl could have?  Seriously.  You get me.  We had a plan.  We had to tweak the plan.  We got to the finish.  Big plans for 2016.  I know I’m at the opposite end of the scale of your other clients but I love you for having faith in me.

Jacqui – I am actually getting teary just thinking of how you have shared this journey with me.  Running with you simply works.  Our friendship simply works.  You actually stayed awake all night long watching a dot on a map and sent me text messages as I came past certain parts.  When I got to a signal and turned my phone on that totally made me cry.  I’ll get you back for that.

Right, I have 400 cals of emergency food to eat while I try to decide what to do next.  Thanks everyone for following along for the last 10 months.

Nici x

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3 responses

  1. Congratulations Nici! What a fantastic run and a brilliantly written report. I felt your passion all the way through that, and the elation at the finish! Enjoy those emergency supplies and looking at that medal knowing that you bloody well earned it!

  2. Absolutely amazing – what an epic adventure you’ve had. I’ve enjoyed reading all your updates on this journey. Medals are earned, never given ! You damn well earned this one so walk proud and eat everything in sight for the next week (or two !!). Congrats on getting it done!

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