The ‘Tourists’ Apprentice

From Training plans to Race Day – Cometh the hour !

So my attention suddenly turns from training schedules and kit to the race. This has been a focus for me for a year now and seems to have taken over life somewhat. This race does get under your skin like none other I’ve experienced to date…

In March 2012 I had a shock visit to an Orthopaedic surgeon who I thought was going to give me an injection for pain in my foot, instead he started rattling on about corrective surgery !! Wo wo wo not so fast sunshine I can’t, I’ve got the London marathon in 3 weeks I exclaimed. Well do the race and I’ll fix you afterwards. Phew an understanding surgeon. I ran VLM and beat my time from 8 years previous – result. So in June 2012 I came to have my surgery and was told it was successful but and this was a big BUT I really should stop running or at least stick to 10k or less. I was gutted and my pals told me to go and get a second opinion. I did and saw a surgeon who was himself a runner. A realistic approach this time and was told I could sit on the couch for 10 years and still develop problems so run, enjoy and manage any pain/ issues sensibly. I came out feeling I’d been freed from the burden of not being able to run.

My journey to Coniston thus had commenced having seen my good friend Darren Firth whom I first met when I did my Mountain Leaders course complete the Lakeland 50. The look on his face when he finished showed this was something special. As for the 100 this was so far out of reach for someone like me that it may have well been like trying to get to the moon. I completed the 50 in 2013 and whilst an amazing race it didn’t break me and I then started to get goose bumps at the thought of entering the 100… Surely I couldn’t, me ? nah don’t be daft fella… I entered the 50 again in 2014 with a view of improving my time and maybe just maybe I’ll think about the 100. Well this event has a habit of not being straightforward and throws surprises at you when you least expect. I’ve done the 50 before so it’ll be straightforward. Oh boy I was in for a dose of reality check. It was 30+ degrees and ignore the advise of the race directors at your peril. Marc at race briefing “if you have a time plan, throw it out the window and come up with a plan B”.. I didn’t and crashed and burned at Ambleside ‘Only’ 34 miles in having spent an hour at Kentmere, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty but I was determined to continue but looking back despite the broom wagon trying to persuade me into the bus at Kentmere and carrying on my race was effectively over having only completed 27 miles, I’d poorly paced and gone too fast !! Folks There’s no such thing as ‘Only’ the 50…

I had a choice to make and after a few weeks of reflection and some soul searching I hit the button for the 100 entry with a detailed plan to get me through race scrutiny. If I get a place I was not going to let my supporters down. I’m In and so the journey to Coniston began.

I had booked a B&B for the Thursday night in Coniston so that there could be no stress whatsoever for Friday 24th July 2015 – the race day literally of my life !! We had a pleasant and chilled journey North from the deepest South of England, Jenny and my 2 children Katie (9) and Adam (7) who were my support team were joining me. I thought the more things to make me finish can only be a good thing in my positive state of mind. As yet, not finishing hadn’t come into my mind and I don’t know why but I was happy to be in that place.

I was really nervous at home and couldn’t wait to hit the road but once in the Lakes and arriving in Ambleside I felt relaxed and at home. A quick tour of the Village to show the children Daddy’s route through and the checkpoint, stocked up on a few supplies and off to Coniston we go.

This is all starting to get a bit real now !!

A trip to the Bull was essential to calm the nerves and we met up with Steve & Bev whom I’d got to know well through pacing for him on the SDW100 and later joined by Russell Bromley and his family who I’d got to know well by doing the recce weekends together, he was similarly paced to me (slow!!) Rather than calming me down and keeping me relaxed I actually think Lakeland fever was starting to set in. I was now in town where my 105 mile journey would begin in less than 24 hours and there was no hiding from the fact that this was going to test me to my limits and probably well beyond them having never run more than 50 miles beforehand.

Friday 24th July : Race Day was here and there was no getting away from the mix of sheer excitement and anxiety but after a nice relaxed breakfast at the lovely Oaklands View guest house we headed to race HQ and the camping field. First duties were to set up camp so at least I had somewhere to crash if I finished really early ( I hadn’t even considered the DNF option and that has literally come into my head as I pitched). Once done we all headed to the hall for registration and having made the effort to come all this way I was keen for Team Churchyard to be as involved with my journey as much as possible. This went smoothly and I was chuffed to have a wrist band which reflected my reduced weight starting with an 8 not a 9 this year !!! Mission one complete, another tick in the positive box…

Team Churchyard witnessing at close hand the process of registration at Race HQ !! !!

Team Churchyard witnessing at close hand the process of registration at Race HQ !! !!

Now registration was complete it was time to finalise my drop bag – let the faff commence. I had a few mind games here and chose to put my newly issued 2015 buff in here rather than wear it from the start. My thinking was this was something for me to earn by reaching Dalemain the 59 mile half way point rather than be complacent wearing it from the start, every little thing really can help. I also didn’t wear my 2014 buff as this was a DNF in the 50, that was left safely at home.

2pm came and with only 4 hours to go until the start of the race and after 2 previous disastrous nights sleep it was time to see if I could grab an hours nap before the race briefing. Jenny took the kids to the park and I was close to falling asleep but despite ear plugs firmly inserted it wasn’t going to happen. Getting to the camping field early was great but it meant I was right next to the road and a constant flow of cars arriving hampered any attempt at sleep. S0…. with an hour or so still to go before briefing I headed back to the canteen for coffee and cake and caught up with the Lakeland legends Tony & Louise from the Sunderland Strollers and the only people in history to have got lost in Ambleside Park !! Love um 🙂

The hall was buzzing and I was failing miserably to keep my nerves in check at this point and there was nothing I could do about it. Months of prep and packing and organisation turned into last minute panic and rushing around sorting stuff which didn’t need sorting… The atmosphere was electric.

So here we are 11 months down the road from hitting the L100 entry button we’re sat in the Hall for the compulsory race briefing and wish I’d remained standing as I could feel my Hamstring / Piriformis tightening both of which had caused me issues in training. This doesn’t feel good. The Marc and Terry show didn’t fail to deliver, the briefing is worth the entry fee alone. It finished off with a very apt quote

“If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you might miss it” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

L100 Compulsory Briefing with me bottom right looking well nervous !

L100 compulsory briefing – a hall packed with nerves & excitment

Game face time arrives and at last my nerves have no where to go but to the start pen. Quick goodbyes to my children and a few others in passing as I enter and dib in with the electronic time chip system so the Race Directors know who is out on the course and then we are treated to a live rendition of Nessun Dorma which translated means ‘Non Shall Sleep’ which is very apt given a large proportion of the entrants will be covering the 105 miles over 2 consecutive nights without sleep. I knew with my race plan that I would be one of them. The 2 nights out on the course part of what lay ahead of me was not daunting due to my work which is pretty disruptive and I’m used to being up all night or leaving at stupid o’clock in the mornings. I really was relishing being out in the wilderness of The Lakes in wonderful surroundings and company for up to 40 hours.

Leg 1 – Coniston to Seathwaite: Distance 7 miles Ascent 659m Descent 606m Time taken : 1hr 59 minutes

With a count down 10,9,8 etc and with all the crowds who were gathered joining in we’re off, pretty steady pace and although my plan was to be slow I was swept along with the group but was happy to soak up this awesome atmosphere and go with it. Through the village and then left at The Bull pub and onto the Walna Scar Road, almost as soon as we’d turned left it was like someone had switched off the sound system as it went quiet. There was an eerie silence with the exception of the sound of loads of feet shuffling along the tarmac, everyone just settling into a strong walk leaving Coniston behind with the odd conversation taking place. I thought about my children Katie & Adam who were due to be running the Lakeland 1, apart from a firm arrangement of seeing them at Dalemain I really didn’t know when or where I’d see them again apart from back at Coniston of course.. It turns out Adam my son was more worried about me than I was about them or even me asking Jenny if I’d be ok out in the mountains alone – bless. The task ahead did suddenly hit me with the emotions of leaving the little people behind and it was quite overwhelming so I put that thought straight out of my head. Just as we were approaching the Miners Bridge with an unexpected sight of Bev Navesey, a lovely touch and despite only traveling about half a mile was nice to have the boost of a friendly face to snap me out of my slightly sad thoughts of leaving my children behind not having a clue what lay ahead apart from the route which I knew really well.

Only 104 miles to go !!

Only 104 miles to go !!

On our route up I met with my friend Russell Bromley and not knowing it at this point but we would end up staying together from here right the way to Dalemain. I also chatted with Tim Welch, Mark Johnson and my good friend Darren Firth although he’s a bit quick and I wouldn’t see him again until after I got back to Coniston. A bit of a push up and we crested the Walna Scar road to what was a magnificent view in perfect conditions. We were treated to a panoramic vista north west over towards Eskdale and the Scafell Massif which was a real treat and a boost to the mind, aren’t we so lucky to be out here although we could see quite a lot of where we would be heading and boy it was miles away !! The descent the other side is steep to start with and my plan was to walk anything steep or too technical. I’ll come back to my plan later on. Hitting the tarmac approach into Seathwaite and our first Check point and I could see Laura Ruxton approaching at speed and we had a little jest moment of who was going to get into the checkpoint first. I first met Laura 3 years ago on my debut Lakeland 50 event as a kit checker and have got to know here through other events she marshals, directs or takes part in. The ultra community is lovely to be involved with as you really do feel part of other peoples journeys on events like the Lakeland.

Quick dib in a piece of flap jack sip of coke and I was back out and on my way to Boot with a stop of less than 2 minutes Russell caught me up soon after leaving the checkpoint.

Leg 2 – Seathwaite to Boot: Distance 7 miles Ascent 385m Descent 419m   Time taken: 2hrs 05 minutes

Out of the checkpoint and through the woods towards High Wallobarrow. This is such an enchanting short section leading to a stunning little stone bridge gated at each end. Then came Grassguards Farm, the noisy dogs and onto the plantation which is very boggy. There has been a lot of work here including a new wooden bridge funded by the Lakeland event and for some reason I had a vision of a stone path all the way through – I was mistaken and still ended up with saturated bog covered stinking feet. I could also feel my shoes had slightly loosened up as a result, a big mistaken which would come back at me later not to tighten my laces at this point.

As we approached Penny Hill Farm there was a little girl out with her Father handing out jelly babies and shouting well done to us all – quite incredible that this race should attract the attention of the locals even in the middle of no where and at that time of night. So on to Doctor Bridge and along to the corn mill at Boot for CP 2. Over this section there were several runners who were very intermittent with their running and I felt this was definitely turning into the hare and the tortoise race with them rushing ahead then slowing and me just sticking to my plan. I did start to think that they were at risk of burning out and not finishing. Unfortunately to say I was right and a couple in that group didn’t get to see Coniston by foot. Whilst at the CP I really focused on me and signalled to Russell that I was off as I didn’t want to be caught up with the other group. He followed me out.

Perhaps at this point it would be worthwhile explaining my plan – In simple terms it was just to finish. I’ve heard so much about reasons for DNF in the 100 and I knew I was going into the race less fit than I’d hoped but mentally very strong. I had the attitude of feeling better to be on the start line under cooked and injury free than to have risked injury beforehand and not to have got there. Several runners pulled out before the race and this was highlighted on the Facebook page. I was happy with my prep. Adding to my positive and confident of finishing beliefs was the non physical work I had put in before race day, this included a superb blog by Andy Cole runninglate.blogspot, he had published a blog titled ‘A Tourists Guide to the Lakeland 100’ my plan was going to mirror this guide. With everything I’d put in, time, money, effort, fundraising, boring all my friends stupid about my journey, all my input with facebook on the 100 forum and my personal page and having my family with me for the weekend going home without  the T shirt and medal was not in the equation – I wanted this and  I was going to persevere come what may without being dangerous to get it. So I knew Andy’s blog sat comfortably with me and I thank him very much for writing it as this topped off my confidence in the knowledge I could actually pull this off. I love this section although to be fair the entire first half of the 100 is stunning, it has so many different aspects to it, low level woodland, exposed moorland and technical single track running.

Leg 3: Boot to Wasdale – Distance 5.4 miles Ascent 297m Descent 287m Time taken 1hr 40mins

Once out of Boot and now with head torches on which I had hoped to have been a little later but we were soon out onto the open fell and you could see head torches stretching out ahead over to Burnmoor Tarn. I didn’t look back and had expected to see most of the group right behind me but to my surprise I had pulled out quite a gap and was somewhat ahead. Just before descending to Brackenclose Climbing hut I caught up with a foreign couple who were going well although I hadn’t a clue where they were from or what they were chatting about. Onto the tarmac road on the approach to Wasdale  then through the short grassy track I could see and hear the Sunderland Stroller Disco. What an oasis this was and it was difficult not to enter into a bit of a Dad dancing shuffle – ‘for christs sake man you’re supposed to be running not entering into karaoke’ !!!! I stayed here a bit too long enjoying the atmosphere and I had a jam sarnie all wrapped in cling film to eat at the top of Blacksail Pass thrust into my hand by some weird guy dressed in a multi coloured one piece shell suit and as the music suddenly changed to ‘The only way is up’ by Yazoo I was off (I think this was their way of hinting to folk it was time to shift it – worked for me.. lol

Leg 4: Wasdale to Buttermere – Distance 6.9 miles Ascent 712m Descent 667m Time taken 3hrs

I love and hate this climb, I paced all the way with Russell and a guy called Tim behind me, I think it’s something to do with work but I tend to give people nick names and he was ‘little legs’ – sorry if you read this Tim 🙂 . The closer you get to the stream crossing two thirds the way up the louder it sounds and is a real measure of distance. 40 minutes to the stream bang on my recce time which I thought was great but then should I be pushing this fast ? Over the top and it becomes evident my legs felt heavy from the push up so I slow down (I forgot all about my jam butty which was a bit annoying as I carried it all the way to the next CP) The ground was wet and this is a pretty technical descent especially in the dark with a short scramble thrown in. Down to Black Sail Youth Hostel at the head of the Ennerdale valley and by this time it was roughly 01.00am so quiet was in order as we passed. No such luck with a cheeky beer unlike the last time I passed on a daytime recce so push on and up the ascent to Scarth Gap. This was my first experience of feeling a little odd so it was slow down and grab some food. This is the beauty of recces and testing your nutrition beforehand as I knew exactly what to do when I feel like this. Russell and Little Legs along with a couple of others passed me just before the crest and I was in my own little world. Hallucinations had kicked in early, I thought as I saw this guy on the col in his sleeping bag !! Nope he was real and in my state in a straight voice I said ‘you’ve picked the wrong night for a peaceful wild camp as there’s quite a few out doing the Lakeland 100 race’ only for him to reply ‘I know I’m meant to be here, well done keep going’ I didn’t really have a response to that, laughed and carried on feeling a bit of a dick for saying it…

The descent the other side is a very rough, rocky cairned path and still feeling a bit groggy I took this really slowly and made sure I hit the gap in the wall which you need to do to pick up the path down to the Tarn. I couldn’t see Russell or Little legs at this point. Seeing the shimmer of light on the lake is a lovely sight for confirmation I’m on the right path and Buttermere CP is not far away. I was looking forward to seeing the staff I knew and hoped they had a hot dog left as I was feeling hungry, I’d forgotten about that blessed Jam sandwich x 2 in my vest pack !!!  I started to pick up the pace again along the path by the Tarn and eventually arrive at the CP staffed by the lovely Kim Potter and Sue Dowker with a young new addition to the CP crew in the form of her baby daughter Evie. To my surprise here waiting at Buttermere CP was Jon & Otto and Non Davies, they looked a little deflated. I had lost track of them from the start and didn’t know if they were ahead or behind me. Jon was contemplating pulling out but I offered my encouragement for him to carry on but was conscious of needing to get on myself. Hot dog – yay, the edible kind not Otto !! some soup and 15 minutes later (we had been under stop watch scrutiny which if I’d known I would have asked for it to be set to 10 minutes as this which was longer than I planned but it was so nice to see the faces I was expecting. I had a thought about Laura and how she was getting on and did have a bit of a worry but selfishly barring any emergency for fellow racers this event is about your own race and soaking it all up to get you to the finish.

Leg 5 : Buttermere to Braithwaite. Distance 6.5 miles Ascent 573m Descent 613 Time taken 2hrs 37 mins

So the 5 of us set off, me Russell, Jon, Otto and Non. Little legs had gone before us. I love the first bit through the woods up on to the fell. If ever there is a Gruffalo wood, this is it. Chatting away we all seemed in high spirits and set a good pace and the section to the top of Sail Pass literally did sail pass. As we topped out it was getting light, short work was made of the descent but to be fair this section is a bit featureless so it passed me by without much thought. As we approached the grassy bank which then leads down into Brathwaite we had created a gap between us Jon & Non and we soon caught up with Mark Johnson who was labouring and had a nasty fall earlier, he wasn’t in great shape. My duties to my fellow race companion came first at this point and I made sure he was safe to continue alone before continuing on – see I do have a heart !! Me and Russ also separated slightly on approach to the CP. This race is funny in that everyone is going through different feelings good and bad at different stages over the course of 105 or 50 miles so it’s a bit like playing cat and mouse catching runners and being caught by the same people at other stages, meeting at CP’s but then passing through and leaving them there until the next loo stop or pause to sort kit or food out. Russell’s wife Claire was a Marshall at Brathwaite so lucky boy he was greeted with a hug and a kiss. A runner followed us in shortly after and I think he thought this was his lucky day with an extra special greeting for all runners but was swiftly corrected by Claire !!  Snogging a sweaty runner after 9 hours of running through the night and 33 miles wouldn’t be my choice but then it may depend who it was !! :))

My first proper scheduled sit down with my first proper school boy error. Plan – scoff some hot food and change socks to overcome the wet feet I’d acquired from the boggy sections between Seathwaite & Boot was in my pre race plan. Result was 1 out of 2, yep hot food, check – change of socks, massive fail. This will haunt me later especially as my shoes needed tightening which I also didn’t do.

Leg 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra – Distance 8.5 miles Ascent 478m Descent 305m. Time taken – 2hrs 49mins

Road and a flat one at that, a racing snakes dream, me? hate it so not my favourite section out of the CP but sticking to the Tourist plan I was always going to walk along the A66 which wasn’t too bad and allowed my food to settle down. Russ was still with me and we were soon caught up by Non, Jon & Otto and had a pleasant walk run up to the re entrant at Glenderaterra. The weather was stunning, not too hot and the views we were treated to back towards High Seat and The Dodd’s was amazing.

On our way to Chocolate cake

On our way to Chocolate cake

We were in high spirits and looking forward to what was clearly going to be a brilliant day in the fells. All felt good but could feel some discomfort in my feet but rather than stop to sort it out my head was already looking to Dalemain to sort this out not digesting the fact this was still another 20 miles away – doh !! We reach the compulsory CP which is unmanned dibbed in and continued on leaving Otto to bleed the streams dry and re fuel. Jon really does look after that beast well and definitely puts him first. A pleasure to run with. As we ran back on ourselves on the eastern side of the re entrant we were greeted with a runner who had missed the compulsory CP and tried to help their spirits but they weren’t having any of it and even told us not to talk to them. In hindsight I bet they wished they had allowed us to help them through that stage as ‘Grumpy draws’ who we nick named them wasn’t in a good place and we later learned that the person had DNF’d which was a pitty. A lesson possibly there for anyone, when you’re down and you come across 2 runners having a laugh and in high spirits bimbling along nicely try and get dragged along by them as it may pull you through your negative patch rather than dismissing their efforts of help. We arrive at my most looked forward to CP – Dave’s Mums chocolate cake. Yum time for breakfast !! 🙂  Note clearly displayed saying ‘only one piece each’ !! now way this cake is sooo scrumptious 1 was never going to be enough to satisfy my chocoholic taste buds. I contemplated breaking the rules (yes coppers can think like this haha) but I decided to stay on my moral high ground and stick to 1. My training plan for next year is all about getting the Blencathra earlier so I can pinch 2 pieces without feeling guilty…. you’ve been warned 🙂 Just a short stop here and we’re off leaving Non, Jon, Otto and what looked like a fair supply of DNF candidates behind never to see them again. Again another thing about this race, you just never know what’s going to happen so just keep plugging away at your own game and worry not too much about others.

Leg 7: Blencathra to Dockray – Distance 7.7 miles Ascent 417m Descent 252m Time taken 2hrs 26mins

Contrary to others I love this section (not sure I actually dislike any of the route though) and once on the railway track I get a text from Jenny saying we’re going well and it’s good to see you and Russ sticking together (obviously tracking us from the open tracking devices we had hired), use each other well. This gave me a very positive boost and yes we had been a fab partnership pacing very similarly. He also was a great guy for company and despite my plan to do it as much on my own as possible to save my race being compromised it was going really well. Maybe this was too positive though as once we came to the end of the disused railway and hit the climb up to the dreaded Coach road it became apparent I was pulling away from Russ and the heat of the day was starting to burn through. So many talk about this in a negative way but I love the undulations and the good surface which means you can get a good pace going. The views to the North looking back towards Blencathra again were stunning. I really was feeling good apart from my feet which were starting to cause me discomfort verging on pain. There’s the saying “if you start to feel good during an Ultra, don’t worry you’ll get over it” by Gene Thibeault. I decided to keep pushing on whilst I felt good and Russ will probably catch me up… Felt guilty, maybe a tad but as I’ve said before you have to run you’re own race and if it fits in with others around you at the same time then great but we still had another 56+ miles ahead of us and a lot can happen in that time and distance. Dockray arrived in no time at all and it was a bit of a midge haven and loads of runners just standing around chatting drinking and eating. One long buffet this run I tell you.. Didn’t feel totally comfortable here, not sure why but there was a bit of negativity going on and in my dry witty bubbly style tried to sound positive and gee things up but was met with a few looks of resistance so rather than be poked by someone’s poles thought I’d crack on. Just as I was about to leave Russ came into the CP so I made sure he was ok and said see you in a bit I’m sure you’ll catch me up. At this point I did feel a bit awkward and alone as deep down I felt our trusty partnership was slipping away and probably had come to an end.

Leg 8: Dockray to Dalemain – Distance 10.1 miles Ascent 370m Descent 638m Time taken 3hrs 23mins. Accumulative distance to Dalemain – 59.1 miles.

Out of the CP and there’s no getting away from the fact this section is a bit of a long haul but with some beautiful bits within it as well as a horrible 3.5 mile road section towards the end but there’s your drop bag at the end of that to look forward to. The highlights are definitely sweeping through the woods near Aira Force and around Gowbarrow with stunning views of Ullswater and I wasn’t disappointed. This is one of the best views of the route. I caught up with a few runners along this section and was sorry to See Jon Steele in difficulties just before Swinburn Park woods but he had assistance walking up for him which was great to hear so carried on. Each time you see someone going through a bad patch or worse on the verge of a DNF it really does focus your mind, make you feel grateful you’re still going and concentrate on being positive. Through Swinburn Park where I yo yo a bit with another runner it’s onto the field crossings then the road through to Dacre and eventually Dalemain. I struggled with the heat a bit along the road and my feet were far from happy. Why for the sake of 2 minutes changing my socks did I not bother back at Braithwaite ? I now reckon I’ve got at least 30 mins of foot care to do without even doing the other things like freshen up and eat etc. Muppet I said to myself out loud. I also ran out of water, was it all falling apart now? I was just glad it was Dalemain next as in my mind I needed it, needed to regroup before carrying on. But the most special reason was my children hopefully being there to see Daddy. I really hadn’t given them much thought since Coniston but a teardrop came into my eye and a lump in my throat as I shuffled along the stone track into the estate. What are they dressed in, will they be pleased to see me or are they bored of waiting, where will they be, was this even a good idea them coming up to see me now in the cold light of day ?!! through the courtyard and I was met by this beautiful adorable creature running and jumping up at me as I drop my poles….

An emotional reunion with Katie & Adam after 59 miles and 20hrs 1min

An emotional reunion with Katie & Adam after 59 miles and 20hrs 1min

Credit goes to the photographer Katie aged 9.. Gather my poles and a short jog round the corner holding hands with Katie & Adam and I’m greeted by Uncle Terry. In some ways I’m glad I arrived after you 50 sprinters had gone as that CP focused on me and it was a grand feeling. I’ve got the biggest smile on my face and wave my arms like it’s the finish line. In my head I know I can do this now. The Tourist plan is bang on. I spent far too long here and think it was something like 45 minutes but given the circumstances was worth every minute. I gather myself together and start doing some maths and know I’ve not got a massive cushion to get this job done. I even had some doubts and relied on the Lovely Angela Bardon from The Endurance Store to boost my positivity even if it was all lies to get me going again. Just before I left Russ arrived in the CP and he had doubt written all over his face. I tried to add some words of wisdom and told Angela not to allow him to stay too long or DNF. Quick shake of the hand and off I shuffled with Katie & Adam to the bridge at the edge of the field before it opens out onto farmland. One more big hug from both of them and off I went. I felt like El Cid going off into the distance (that’s lost on anyone who’s not seen the film haha) I turned round for one more wave and they’re gone.

Leg 9: Dalemain to Howtown – Distance 7.1 miles Ascent 294m Descent 285m Time taken 2hrs 57mins

So as I walked through the fields it hit me, the high of seeing my children and that feeling of it being like the finish line was suddenly behind me and I was met with a massive low of missing my children and the realisation that I was now on my own, Russ would never catch me up and in my heart didn’t think he was going to finish. I owe so much to that guy, we had an amazing 50 or so miles together and couldn’t wish for a better pacer but now it was down to me and knowing what my strategy was and knew I wasn’t going to be surrounded by loads of runners to keep me trotting along. It was Mike v the course now. I shed a tear and said to myself come on suck it sweet cheeks we’re going to do this. Through Pooley Bridge and a surprise seeing the children again. A can of red Bull a last goodbye and I was off, I felt strong and it was just what I needed. The weather was gorgeous and was still hot but was cooling down which I know was a good thing with the dreaded Fusedale not much further ahead. I walk ran all the way into Howtown CP and now was with Steve Blythe another runner I’d got to know through the recce weekends. In and out within 5 minutes and it was on to Fusedale.

Leg 10: Howtown to Mardale – Distance 9.4 miles Ascent 765m Descent 672m Time taken 3hrs 53mins

Me and Steve were within 15m of each other all the way up but didn’t utter a word to each other. This was one of those sections which just needed doing and putting behind you, in fact we hardly spoke all the way to Mardale. I think we were both going through a rough patch together. Along the top of High Kop I started to feel sick and was slowing. I used my Who wants to be a Millionaire phone a friend life up at this point and phoned Jenny but it went to answer phone – you’re kidding me right !!!! the message I left must have got through or purely coincidence as from this moment on my best friends took up the challenge and I was inundated with messages of support, even from my best friends holidaying in France. For any supporters out there wondering if they can make a difference the answer is a categorical big fat yes… It turned my race around and from that moment on I never looked back never had one negative thought and kicked ass and every message just made me stronger all the way to the finish.. I love the single track along Haweswater but my thoughts were ahead at Mardale thinking about food and drink as I managed to drop my stew at Dalemain but didn’t get it replaced so I was feeling pretty hungry and I get grumpy when I’m hungry. Mardale CP and feeling a bit tired knew I shouldn’t stay long but handed my bent pole (thanks to falling over in some bog but my Pole staying upright resulting in it bending due to me falling onto it) to a Marshall in the hope he could mend it headed for soup and bread and saw another Mate Pete who had called it a day, a big shame but no one said this race is easy but another reason to move on quick in case I got any silly ideas to do something similar. I knew I had little cushion in my time but the plan was still intact if I could just keep moving. Fed watered and to my astonishment said Marshall handed me my pole back as I left – what a guy, it’s fixed !! big smile on my face and a massive thanks to the Spartans and its Gatescarth Gap ahead of me.

On approach to Howtown looking up to the gruelling Fusedale climb

On approach to Howtown looking up to the gruelling Fusedale climb

Leg 11: Mardale to Kentmere – Distance 6.5 miles Ascent 511m Descent 589m Time taken 2hrs 57mins

Another love it or hate it section with Gatesgarth Pass being steep out of the check point with a false summit to catch those not familiar with the route out. For me I don’t mind it as it’s over quite quickly then it’s a nice run down the other side all the way to Sadgill. Oh sorry – I’m getting mixed up with when I did the 50… this is hell on earth my feet hurt and some clever clogs has chosen to put slates on their edges at right angles to the path !! To add to this state of walking bare foot on nails its getting dark and tiredness is finally creeping in after roughly 27 hours on the move and 78 miles behind me. Why are all these ladies crouched up against the wall as I’m negotiating the crystal maze of the upturned slates I’m starting to ask not 1 but about 10 in the space of that section down to the bridge. Yep hallucinations had kicked in… ‘Turn left on road, continue for 95m then over signposted stile in wall on R’ that is an extract from the road book. Well the saying ‘hitting the wall’ is very apt as this isn’t a nice little cute Lakeland dry wall, this is a V Dif climb worthy of ropes after 85 miles oh and the other side there’s a nice little quad cruncher with the drop off the last step… That said I did have a little laugh to myself about the situation – this is after all what the challenge is all about – overcoming barriers and in this case literally on your search for gold in Coniston. I entered Kentmere and it was like turning up to a party too late as well as being told the wrong theme for the party, everyone had gone home and the clearing up exercise had begun. I wasn’t stopping and I’d just run, jogged and walked 85 miles for a smoothie. I was in luck there was some left. Downed the smoothie and knew time was running out, bless those Scouts I was something to give them renewed purpose and were fussing over me but all I wanted to know was have I got time to complete this, Jason the Cow whisperer Sherwood knew where I was at in my head and checked the distance and time and gave me a quick time plan, checked me over made sure I had water even peeled a banana for me and I was off in less than 4 minutes. Thank you Kentmere you did what was needed and made me feel positive and motivated to crack on alone. CP’s really do have this way of making you feel special. (If only I could have perfected this CP strategy at the beginning rather than the end but that’s something to take into next years race)

Leg 12: Kentmere to Ambleside – Distance 7.3 miles Ascent 491m Descent 602m Time taken 2hrs 58mins – Distance so far – 89.4 miles

Garburn Pass – steep rocky and goes on a bit but at night when you’re focused and moving along like a freight train (well a slow one) this passed so quickly, before I hit the top I passed Julie Lewis and it was nice to see her briefly having last seen her back at Boot and have no idea when she managed to get back in front of me. The other side is a joy to run / walk and before I knew it all the head torches which were behind me had disappeared and I was in to Troutbeck at roughly 2am – it was so quiet. Robin Hood Lane came and went and then it was onto the woods which I skipped through previously on the 50 but was far more ginger with my footsteps as I knew a fall on these slippy tree roots or rocks could be fatal for my race despite being a little bit against the clock. Ambleside a normal busy carnival atmosphere with pub goers cheering and clapping you through was dead, through the arch of the Slack and then down Vicarage Lane towards the CP – que massive overwhelming lump in throat moment – it’s 2.45am and my kids come running towards me !! Wtf… I couldn’t believe it and until they hugged me I really was wondering if it was another hallucination. What an amazing moment, they laughed as I stumbled up into the CP and fuelled up. CP staff here were amazing and looked after me and my kids for the short time I was there. All I kept saying to Jenny is ‘I can’t believe it, thank you’ apparently she had text to say she would see where I was at 2am and whether it would be feasible to come and see me depending on where I was but I didn’t check the phone unless I needed it so loads of messages went unchecked. It is perhaps apt at this point to mention Jenny being my ex and the Mum of my adorable children. I am so grateful for her putting our situation to one side in order to share this special Journey with my children and this was above and beyond the call of duty at 3am. I’m on my own next year.

Leg 13: Ambleside to Chapel Stile – Distance 5.6 miles Ascent 234m Descent 213 Time taken 2hrs 15min

Off I go with big hugs with the kids behind me and I shuffle through the park head torch still going strong. Stone bridge at the end of the path and no trolls disappointingly and a feeling of how the hell do you get lost and miss that bridge ??

I soon catch up with a bunch of 50 runners and I end up showing them on the map where they were and making sure they ok ! I’m thinking under my breath hang on isn’t it supposed to be the other way round ? Mr Grumpy is starting to kick in and I catch up with an older gentleman and I wish I knew his name as I maybe owe him an apology. He has a GPS he doesn’t know how to use, a road book he doesn’t trust and a 100 runner who knows the course blindfolded he doesn’t believe. “how long do you think you’ll take to Coniston?” he asks me “about 5 hours”  “oh great that’s what I’m hoping to do too so I’ll tag along if you don’t mind?” NOOOOOO I can’t cope with you for another 5m let alone 5hrs. Through the gate with the shears handle as the opener  and I’m speeding up but he keeps pace, we hit the road section before Skelwith Bridge and his mate catches him up and he’s still arguing with him as to whether this is the right way. I politely say I’m sorry but I need to do this alone if you don’t mind and luckily Jenny had stopped at Skelwith Bridge with the kids for one last greeting and good luck. I’m saved !! So if you were that gentleman and I did see you finish which I’m glad about I do apologise for being Mr Grumpy but hope you understand that I didn’t have the mental strength to drag you and me to the finish. Chapel Stile and it’s now light so the Swedish Torches and fire were a bit lost on me and really missed the sight on the approach. A planned hot meal stop and the stew hit the spot perfectly. Whilst sat for a few minutes I overheard 2 older gents on the 50 talking about the 100 runners. Male 1 says “I hear they do an extra 5 miles” male 2 “isn’t 100 enough for them?” That creased me up and time to move I walked off up the track still chuckling to myself.

Leg 14: Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite – Distance 6.5 miles Ascent 387m Descent 323m Time taken 2hrs 34mins

There appeared to be more runners around now and I saw several people I knew. Perhaps everyone knew time was tight by now. The most worrying site was seeing Richard Brookes walking along through the bracken section beyond Blea Tarn with his upper body seemingly at right angles to the bottom half. His back had seized and nothing I could do apart from reassure him I’d send help from Tilberthwaite. I caught up with Emily who I knew from Centurion running events in the South of England and we had a brief conversation about how much time was left, I think she was concerned it was very tight. I knew we had this in the bag which reassured her as we approached the check point at 07.30 and had 2.5 hours to do 3.5 miles. We also got chatting to Tim Welch who I last saw on the Walna Scar road at the start 100 miles previously – so spooky. I had now been going for 37.5 hours and I felt really strong physically and mentally with the exception of my feet which were broken. It would have been nice to spend a bit of time at the CP to relish the last moments of this race but now I just wanted to finish, see my children and get that bloody medal and T shirt.

Leg 15: The final push to Coniston – Distance 3.5 miles Ascent 283m Descent 385m Time taken 1hr 38mins

This is all about the finish, how many times me and Emily said “can’t believe we’ve done this” to each other as we ascended the stairway to heaven and beyond to the top. As we hit the summit at the top of Crook Beck something Marco Consani said at the recce weekend right back in November 2014 was when you get to this point pause and look across the valley to where the journey first began. Emily caught up with me at this point and I said “look at that view where we started, it’s only a few 100m away but to us that’s 104 miles away” what a surreal moment in realising what we had achieved. Now for the descent and I could have quit right there, it was incredibly painful and just wanted the pain to be over with. Eventually hitting the miners road and decided I was going to run all the way home. I went past the miners bridge and boy I suddenly had a massive smile on my face, there was Bev and Steve Navesey. I was so pleased to see them and it gave me a final spur to keep going, I didn’t want to stop and knew they’d understand. A few people started to pass me but I really didn’t care as Steve mentioned as I ran passed him – I’m a 100 miler finisher and time means nothing to me but finishing and great memories mean everything !!

I’m now running down the road to the Black Bull pub and in a way not wanting the journey and adventure to be over, I turn right and let the clapping and cheering commence. A large group of Marshalls sat outside the Yewdale Hotel I clap back to them in recognition for what they’ve done, a full crowd in front of the Bull and that is some overwhelming feeling and more than made up for no one doing the same in Ambleside. It really is an emotional part of the race, so much has been put into getting to here. Over the Bridge and I bump into the legend Louise from the Sunderland Strollers looking like she hadn’t even run, now it’s a short uphill section past the BP garage but I’m still going, turn left and I’m hit by this lump in my throat, I’ve only gone and bloody done it against all the odds and I can see the kids running up the path towards me, we all hold hands and run over the finish line. And who would I see welcoming me over the finish line – Andy Cole, I can’t think of anyone else so fitting and appropriate. The Tourist plan had been pulled off with complete precision and I was only 15 minutes over my anticipated and planned time which over 39+ hours and 105 miles is something I’m pretty chuffed with. No amount of words will get across what all of that meant.

One of the proudest moments of my life, crossing the finish line with Katie & Adam x

One of the proudest moments of my life, crossing the finish line with Katie & Adam x

In to the Hall to the usual Lakeland Legends welcome and my job is done

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Team Churchyard with their Lakeland Bling

Team Churchyard with their Lakeland Bling

This is a long blog and I don’t apologise as this is my record of the most amazing experience and one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repeat. Special Thanks go to so many but particularly Marc, Terry and the Lakeland team for creating it, to all the marshalls who make this event happen and add that special Je ne sais quoi which makes this event what it is. To John Kynaston and Dave Troman for giving me hours of entertainment watching the youtube clips over and over again of the route and to Andy Cole for giving me the belief I could do this race in the time and manner I planned. To all the friends old and new who have put up with my Facebook humour and been there along the journey with me to Coniston but and it’s a mahoosive but to my gorgeous children Katie and Adam, you believed in Daddy and you added something amazing to this race which I will never forget, Love you to the moon and back and thank you for being the most amazing support crew anyone could want and to your mummy for bringing you xxx

 That’s All Folks – see you in the Lakes soon and good luck with your own Journey’s !

Mike

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