At midnight tonight (PST - so actually sometime tomorrow morning for me) the entry closes for next year's Western States 100. After I completed the West Highland Way back in 2010 the Western States 100 became my dream ultra race. It was at the top of my bucket list. How amazing would it be to have run two of the oldest and most prestigious ultra races in the world? It was my ultra dream having now completed my first dream ultra.
Then along came two pregnancies and my world changed beyond anything I could imagine. Your dreams change. My new dream was to be able to dream - as in actually get some sleep! Joking aside I've made no secret of the destructive nature of sleep deprivation in my life. It has been hell - when you are so tired you feel like any moment your body will simply crumble into a pile of dust because it no longer has the strength or energy to hold itself together. It can be scary.
Luckily things had settled down over the summer and both children were doing much better at night. Then I started university again (I know! The timing could not be more ridiculous.) The stress of trying to keep up with all my studies around work and kids has been full on to say the least. I'm not a good sleeper myself, and have suffered insomnia previously and when I have a busy mind I find sleep difficult anyway. So with being so tired and 'luckily' having a foot injury it has meant I have barely run. I simply wouldn't have had the time anyway. It wasn't even a case of maybe squeezing in a half hour here or half hour there; I literally haven't had a single spare/empty minute (beyond the 3 times hubby literally shoved me out of the door before I exploded). Every minute of every day is accounted for. And unfortunately it's not a case of get up an hour earlier in the morning; I'm already up at half five (in bed by half ten) and in recent weeks my poor wee boy has been really, really poorly, so I'm up for at least half, if not most of the night as it is. The all-encompassing exhaustion is nothing compared to the pain he is in. Times like these make you realise that sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to put your dreams to one side and live very firmly in the present, especially when there are children involved. Mum comes first, Vicky comes second.
My life is on a particular path at the moment and it doesn't involve the Western States 100. Perhaps I will return to that dream down the line or perhaps I will find new dreams. My priority is and always will be my family, and my work (you know, unless I win the lottery 😉), and my studies. I can only hope that I get back to some regular running, and soon.
As such, with time being of the essence, blogging is taking a back-seat. If you want to keep up with my sporadic running follow me on Instagram @vickyrunstrail and the same handle on Twitter.
And apologies to those waiting for final instalment of my Lakeland 100 blog, I'm not sure it's going to happen.
Happy running folks. Be thankful and make the most of what life gives you.
I felt a sense of urgency as I headed down the steps and
across the field. My legs were screaming
at me and tears were flowing down my face.
I couldn’t believe I was still stuck in this nightmare race and I’d done
it to myself! I was going to stop. Why
didn’t I stop? Now I had another 8 miles
to cover. But maybe that was okay. Even
thought everything hurt, at least then we would be sure that it was the right
decision and that I had really thought it through. Oh god, trying to get over that stile onto
the road. Clearly I was going to stop. I
needed to stop. If that was how much pain I was in at 41 miles then there was
no hope of me getting past Dockray (49 miles), then to Dalemain (59 miles).
There’s no point even thinking about Coniston anymore.
I had created a new playlist on my Ipod especially for the Lakeland 100 so I felt I
may as well use it for this section before I was done. My earphones went in and I started running
down the road. I turned it up loud to drown out the demons in my head. Near the bottom of the road I caught up with
Steve. I remember Steve from the first
climb out of Coniston. He went flying
past up that hill with his poles. I
wished I had my poles right now. We
briefly chatted before I Steve pulled away again. I really need to thank Steve because he was
the carrot that pulled me along the railway path and then then up the miserable
climb up to the coach road. I’m glad he
was there, pulling me along as I think I would have been much slower otherwise
and certainly wouldn’t have found the drier route up through the boggy area to
the gate. So thanks Steve.
I’m not a big fan of the coach road. Since the flooding last
December the erosion has made a real mess of the road for the first couple of
miles so it was even less appealing than previously. I think half the trouble
is that you can see where you are going for a long, long time as the track
stretches off into the distance. Some
people might enjoy that but I don’t. I
didn’t need reminding of how far I still needed to go, and how frustratingly
slow my progress was.
I tried to keep close to Steve but he was running more than
he was walking and I was walking more than I was running. Gradually he went out
of site but there were a couple of other runners that I used to pull me along.
I was grateful for my music. I had
selected some songs that would inspire and motivate, and others that were
simply happy songs. I thought long and
hard (as instructed) about what I was feeling and how much I was hurting. Annabel’s words repeated over and over in my
mind, as did Paul’s. Did I really want
to go back to the cottage at Coniston where I would be able to see all the
others finishing and then spend the next week in the village with the constant
reminder that I’d given up and I was the only one walking round without a
I didn’t want to give up.
I didn’t want to be weak. Whilst
the dizziness, fear and confusion I’d faced during the night was gone, the pain
was not. My legs were in complete
agony. My feet felt like every single
bone was broken in them. Whilst I had
chosen well with my shoes (plenty of cushioning and good grip for the trail)
the underfoot conditions on the 100 route really are the most brutal I have
experienced and my feet simply hadn’t had enough miles pounded into them. But I
was still moving forward. And is that
not all I had to do? Embrace the pain
and use it to push myself further than I’d ever pushed before. The pain was unbearable and yet I was still
going. If I could get to Dockray within
the time then why not just keep going to Dalemain? It’s only
another 10 miles. And then at least at
59 miles I would be reaching the virtual halfway point in the race. By the time
I would get there all the L50 runners would be long gone, as would their
supporters so the humiliation of stopping wouldn’t be so bad then right? And getting to Dalemain is pretty respectable
isn’t it? Plus, then I will have raced along the entire route as I only ran
from Dalemain in the L50 last year.
It was starting to sound like it made sense, and the closer
I got to Dockray and the closer I got to seeing Paul and Annabel and Daniel
(who were going to pick me up when I handed in my chip-timer) the more I wanted
to keep going for one last ‘glory’ leg.
I passed one more runner just before Dockray and this gave
me a wee boost. Not in the ‘I’m going beat you’ kind of way but more
in the ‘thank goodness there are still
other people here’ way. And on arriving at Dockray checkpoint I went
straight into the gazebo and asked for tea and soup. I said nothing about stopping, and Paul
didn’t ask. The soup was cold and tasted burnt (which is not surprising by the
time I got there!) and I left it and just drank my tea and ate a sandwich and
some crisps. I packed away my Ipod as I
needed to concentrate on the next section.
I said goodbye to Paul and the kids and set off down the road.
Dalemain (10.1miles, 59.1miles total)
I walked down the road.
My quads hurt too much to do anything else. Paul and the kids came past in the car and
gave me words of encouragement. I could
tell Paul was impressed that I was still going and that gave me a much-needed
boost. I do enjoy this section (mostly) so I wanted to try and do the best run
I could, especially if this was going to be the end. Whilst I was walking down the road Angela
pulled up alongside me. She was in much better spirits than me and was moving
well so I wished her well as she continued running down the road.
I tried to be as positive as she was and managed a short jog
as I reached the village. There were a
few people around and walkers out and about, so again, not wanting to look
rubbish I tried to keep jogging as much as my legs would allow me. As I travelled down the path past Aira Force
I heard a few comments about ‘crazy runners’ from people out ‘touristing.’ Who can blame them though? Angela came into view near the bottom of the
path. She was taking off her rain-jacket. Mine was tied round my waist as I couldn’t be
bothered trying to put it back in my pack, and I figured I would be going so
slowly I would probably need it again very soon.
As I made my way around the side of Gowbarrow Fell and then
through the forest I kept expecting Angela to come past me. Instead I seemed to be passing other runners.
This really came as a surprise as I didn’t see how anyone could be having a
worse time than me. Each time I caught
sight of somebody I used them as a target to reel in. It became a game almost. I found myself running (in relative terms)
really strongly, and for increasing amounts of time. My legs were utterly trashed but somehow this
game became my new coping mechanism.
Just before I reached the field crossings before the road
section John Duncan was waiting with hugs and encouragement. I told him that
the race was just ridiculous and the Fling is a far more civilized affair ;-)
If I had been doing the Fling I would have been finished long ago. See, far
more ‘normal’ and ‘sensible.’ John was
waiting for Noanie and said she was in great spirits so as with Angela, I
expected her to catch up to me at any minute.
The fields went by really quickly. There was very little bogginess for the first
time ever! Well, the first time ever for me anyway. So that was a bonus. And I spotted my next pair of runners to tag
onto; and then one more, and another one on the road section, which I ran most
of. I was definitely coming out of my
funk and running along those last couple of miles before Dalemain I made up my
mind. If I could still run, and could
still pass people, then there was no reason I should be stopping at Dalemain. I
was running better than the other runners around me and they were still moving
forward so I had no choice but to keep going. The awfulness of the previous
night was in the past. I’d put it in a
box and moved on. I needed to get through
Dalemain. Once I was through there,
there was nowhere else for me to go but Ambleside, and if I got to Ambleside,
then I was basically at the finish, there’s no stopping at Ambleside right? I could do this. So long as I could move, with some running, I
could do this. I would do it. I told myself over and over.
As I approached Dalemain I saw Susan first, and beyond her
Marian and Paul and the kids. “Hold it
together Vicky. Don’t fall apart now.” Susan hugged me. It hurt!
I hadn’t realised that absolutely everything was hurting, not just my
legs and feet. I was so focused on
getting to Dalemain that I blocked out so much.
I guess that’s the only way to get through these things. It’s all a question of how well you can block
I dibbed in at 20 hours and 34 minutes, which was almost 1.5
hours inside the cutoff time. I had made
up a whole hour in time between Blencathra and Dalemain. The momentum was with
me and I had to use that. Inside the marque it was absolute carnage with broken
runners all over the place. The marshals
were busy supporting runners so Susan grabbed my drop-bag for me, Marian got me
a chair and I sat outside and we set about getting me sorted for the second
half of the race: feet cleaned, new socks, new shoes, a change of top,
re-stocking my fluids and food. I ate
some soup, it was not good. I ate some
bread, had some banana bread from my drop bag, drank a couple of cups of tea
and ate a banana. I had put a can of
Diet Coke in my drop-bag too. Oh that
was good. I know lots of people swear by
regular CocaCola during races but I just can’t touch the stuff. It makes me
want to throw up. But the caffeine and
the bubbles from the Diet Coke was just what I needed. I had lots of cuddles from Annabel and Daniel
and before I set off hugs from Marian, Susan and Paul. I told him I would see him at the
finish. I was definite in my mind that I
would finish and he wouldn’t need to leave Coniston again to collect me. So having picked up my poles (from my
drop-bag) I just had the small matter 46 miles to get through.
As I set off
power-hiking across the field I felt a sense of this being a pivotal moment in
my race. I was one hour inside the cut
off, my legs were destroyed and in absolute agony, and even my new shoes couldn’t
mask the wreck that my feet were. Physically I had absolutely no right to
finish this, but my mind was in a new place.
I had come out of the worst low of any race I had ever done and I was on
a mission. I had put myself through
absolute hell for the previous 21 hours – I didn’t want that effort and the work
of the past 2 years to be in vain. This
was why we were we all there after all – to see if we can push through, to push
beyond what we thought possible and find new strength and a new drive to
succeed. This was the point where we would all find out what I was made of…
It was a strange feeling walking out of Braithwaite. I felt defeated and just not up to the
challenge I had set myself. But now that
I had decided I was done, and I just had to get through the next 8 miles,
however long it took, and then I would be free. There was a little sense of
relief with that thought, knowing the pain and distress I had been through was
almost over. The dream was over I had to let it go.
Before I had even reached the edge of the village the very
lovely Mike Churchyard appeared at my side. He was in good spirits and we
chatted a bit. I didn’t let on that I
was going to pull out at Blencathra. I
was too ashamed. He advised me to change
my socks if I had a spare pair in my bag. All these little things can help make
or break your race he told me. 105 miles might be a big thing but it’s all the
little things that decide whether you’ll get to the finish or not. I took his advice and stopped on the edge of
the village; partly because my feet had been wet for a long time and dry socks
would definitely help (even just for the few miles left) but partly because I
didn’t think I could handle having company at that point. I thought I might crack and turn into a big
blubbering mess. I needed to be alone,
to think about my decision and to brace myself for seeing Paul and my wee girl
and boy. I knew that was going to be
I trotted along on and off by the roadside. I didn’t want to be seen walking along a flat
road with early morning traffic going by; the shame of it. I needed to keep a little false sense of
respect for myself, at least publicly. I was relieved when the route then cut
away from the road and along the railway path where I could again hide from the
world. Since the path was flat I jogged
on and off still, feeling like that was what I ought to be doing. I came across
a fellow runner asleep by the side of the path.
She woke as I passed and we jogged along together. She was saying she
just couldn’t stay awake. That she was falling asleep whilst running and that
she thought her race was over. I didn’t confess much of my own situation.
We were together as we arrived at Keswick. I had a moment of panic when I saw the two
Johns (John Kynaston and John Duncan).
How was I going to act like everything was ok and that I was just
suffering a bit? I couldn’t bear to
confess how I was really feeling. They
were both so cheery and supportive. I
felt a terrible fraud, especially when I knew how much JK had suffered during
his first L100 and still finished in a great time. I tagged onto two more runners as they came
down the road past us. The lady who was
struggling to stay awake pulled out at this point. I believe she went back to
Often times when I have been down in the Lakes I have walked
or run up Spooney Green Lane and up round Latrigg, I have wondered how anyone
could possibly run up it after thirty-five miles. I would always struggle when it was the first
miles of a run. Oddly, it didn’t feel any worse than any other time I have been
up. I have never managed to run the
whole thing before and so made no effort to this time. The knowledge of being near the finish helped
me get up to the car-park but once the trail was less severe I found I
struggled more. As I rounded the
hillside towards the start of GlenderaterraValley golden rays of sun were
breaking through the clouds and sprinkling their light over the lower slopes of
Clough Head. In the previous 12 hours I had lost sight of the beauty of the Lake
District. I had sworn not
only against ever trying a Lakeland
race again but I never wanted to visit the Lakes again at all. I was done with the place. I took out my phone and took a picture for
the second (and final) time in the race.
I figured it didn’t matter if I used up my phone battery or stopped for
a couple of extra seconds to catch a photo of the new day.
As I slowly made my way along the valley my legs were aching
with each step and any downward step sent spasms of pain around my pelvis. I lost count of how many people passed me. It could have been 5 or 50, I was so spaced
out at this point and I’d given up caring.
I just wanted to get to the unmanned dibber so that I could start going
down the other side of the valley. It’s
a real battle going up and down that valley.
The whole time you are heading north you can see the far side of the
valley, and your route, heading south.
The further up you go, the further down you will have to come. Eventually I made it to the dibber and then
followed the steep and painful downhill to the bridge before starting the final
journey back down the valley and towards my finish.
In between the tears I tried to look back across the valley
to see if anyone was still coming along behind me. I saw the occasional moving black dot but not
many. I figured I must be very close to
last coming along the trail. I knew John
had been waiting on Noanie so I supposed he wasn’t far behind me on the trail
and was fully expecting her to come past me at any given moment.
I texted Susan to let her know I was pulling out of the
race. It would take too long to explain
but it was all over for me. She texted back saying she was crying for me as she
knew how much the race had meant to me. If I hadn’t thought I could feel any
worse, I was wrong.
A runner came along the trail towards me. He had no race number so I assumed he was one
of the aid station helpers. He informed
me that I only had a bout half a mile to the checkpoint. I felt a rush of relief. My legs, my feet and
my heart could all rest soon. But first
I had to steel myself ready for the emotional onslaught that I knew was close
Soon the car-park was in sight. There was Paul, Annabel and
Daniel. And to add to my torment John K. was there too. Suddenly it was all too real, and too
painful. This was it, this was the end. My poor heart was breaking. I felt like I was letting them all down but
it was just too much. I just couldn’t do
it. I’d given my best shot, and I simply
wasn’t good enough. But how do you
explain that to people who want nothing more than for you to finish having seen
all the work and sacrifices that have gone into the race?
I couldn’t look at Paul.
I couldn’t look at John. Daniel
was being a busy little boy, like he always is. I felt comfort in that. He didn’t understand what was going on. He
had just missed mummy overnight but here she was again, all is well with the
world. Annabel, well, she’s very clever
for a 4 year old. A strong and
passionate little girl, she loves the outdoors and loves to run. And she loves her mummy. She ran up to me and
hugged me. It was both wonderful and
painful at the same time. I think John said something encouraging but it’s a
bit of a blur. Paul was asking all the right questions, as I knew he would but
I was determined to be steadfast in my decision. I was holding up, just. Then Annabel said “I finished my Mr Fox race
mummy, I want you to finish your race.” Have you ever watched a slow-motion
video of a glass object fall to the ground and splinter into 1000 tiny pieces?
That was my heart in that moment.
Perhaps my heart had only been cracked and a bit battered up until that
point, but now, it was most definitely and completely broken. And that hurt more than anything else, more
than my feet, my hips, my quads or my pride.
It was everything.
How could I let my little girl down? What sort of example
was I setting for her? Paul I knew would
understand. He’s an ultra-runner. He’s had more than his share of racing
trauma. Whilst I felt awful for letting
him down, I knew he ‘got it’, but Annabel, how do you explain it to a wee
girl? How do you explain ultra-running
and all the depths that you go through to somebody who hasn’t been there? I
didn’t know what to say other than “I can’t baby, I’m sorry.” And I walked down
through the car-park, with my head low and hurting in every possible way. It was done.
I found my way down to the Blencathra checkpoint and went
inside. I said to the marshal as I went
in the door that I was done and that I wanted to pull out. He asked me what was wrong to which I replied
“Everything.” I found out afterwards that this was Little Dave I was talking
to. He told me to get a seat, have a cup
of tea and have something to eat and see how I feel after that. The other marshals sorted me out a cup of tea
and I grabbed some of the famous and very delicious chocolate cake made by
Little Dave’s mum. I was close to tears.
Oh who am I kidding, the tears were coming, leaking out of their own
accord. But I wasn’t sobbing, which is
what I felt like doing. There was a sign next to the cake that said something
along the lines of “quitting is the easy part it takes true strength to
continue when things are against you”.
I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist. Another punch in the stomach as
if I wasn’t hurting enough.
Paul came inside with the kids. He’s a savvy runner and he
knows me too well. He knows how to push
my buttons. Armed with his emotional arsenal and the beautiful faces and voices
of Annabel and Daniel it was inevitable.
I wasn’t going to win was I? “I
want you to finish your race mummy,” Annabel again pleaded with me. We agreed I would go onto Dockray. There was no harm in that. It was less than 8 miles with lots of runable
bits. If by then I hadn’t been timed out
and I was sure it was over, then we agreed that would be it.
What do you mean timed out? Holy cr*p, I was only 30 minutes
inside the race cut-off!! How had that
happened? If I didn’t get shifting I was
out of the race whether I wanted to be or not!
This was not what I had envisioned when I had started this race. If I was going to be out, then I would be out
on my own terms! And with that, I kissed
Paul and the kids goodbye, I said to Little Dave that I had changed my mind and
I was going to try and make it to Dockray.
And with that I was out of the door, still in the race, still crying and
still in pain.
I couldn’t believe how many people had turned out to line
the streets of Coniston as we set off. Whooping and cheering, videoing and
high-fiving, it was incredible. I was trying to look out for my friends and
managed to hear Keith and Caroline shout for me. Round the first corner and there I found
Susan and Dawn. I was so pleased to see
them there as they’d helped me with my last wee bit of race preparation whilst
Paul had been unpacking our bags with the kids at the cottage. They both thought I was a bit crazy
attempting the 100 but had really encouraging in that final hour before the
start. I thought Paul and the kids would be at the road junction but panicked
when I couldn’t see them. A minute further up the road heading out of Coniston
and there they were. I stopped as I
wanted to give them all a kiss and cuddle (which I did) but Annabel was shooing
me along saying “mummy, don’t be last”. She
is very ambitious for her mummy.
I ran off, waving behind me.
If all went to plan I would see them again sometime in the middle of
Saturday at Dalemain. Once out of sight and as the gradient increased I
steadied myself into my hike up the track.
There were small groups of people at the side of the route cheering us
on and just as I reached the miner’s bridge and a big bottle-neck of runners I
got a shout of encouragement from Dave Troman which was lovely.
A few of the runners seemed frustrated about having to wait
for a minute or so to get through the gate, but I was quite happy for the wee
break, listening to all the chat and cheers.
There was a long way to go and a minute’s wait wasn’t going to make much
difference. Or so I thought at the
time! Through the gate, and this felt
like we were starting the race proper. Out there on our own, away from the
crowds and the applause and the giddiness was over and the hard work had to
You can’t really choose your pace up the first section of
the climb (unless you’re up the front!) so it’s a case of follow the ultra-train
and try not to get your eye poked out by any poles while we were all so tightly
packed. I tried to avoid any major
puddles or muddy bits, without going too out of my way. I didn’t want to get wet feet this early in
the race. At one point a runner called
Stephen (I think) went charging past everyone swinging his poles along and that
was the first of many times our paths would cross. He, like many others, seemed
a lot stronger than me on the climbs. I
thought I had started near the back of the field but I seem to manage to still
have a steady stream of people passing me.
I didn’t mind within the context of the race, but it was a little
frustrating in the context of my training as I had really worked on my hills.
The climb goes on for a really long time. I think it’s about 5.5 miles before you
finally reach the top. That’s a really
tough way to start any race, never mind one that is 105 miles long. I’d forgotten how long it went on for. But you go into the race knowing you have
this series of big climbs throughout the race so there is a feeling of
satisfaction knowing that you’d ticked the first one off. The descent to Seathwaite is a great
one. If I was just out for a jolly I
would have absolutely bombed it down there – proper eyeballs-out, freewheeling
trail fun. But, with my sensible head on
I just took it steady trying to save my quads for the miles ahead. I passed a few people, and a few passed me
and there was still some nervous chatter between us.
Perhaps it was the fact that I was trying to ‘save’ my legs
or perhaps it was just bad luck but before I had even reached the tarmac at the
bottom of the hill my hip flexors were tightening up and my left one in
particular felt rather uncomfortable, almost painful. As we trotted down the road into Seathwaite I
was in a group of maybe 6 or 7. I got
chatting to one man (whose name escapes me) and he had numerous 100 finishes
and said he was bang on schedule so I felt happy that I had made a good enough
start to the race.
We arrived at Seathwaite Village Hall at race time. That seemed ok. In my head I think I probably hoped to be
there quicker but it was all about running by feel and so I had to be happy
with that. I grabbed a cup of blackcurrant squash and then set about refilling
my bottle. This was the first of many times that I would get p*ssed off with
this task. I had a new race-pack, a
Montane Jaws 10, which I adore. I
absolutely love it. It’s so comfy and
fits me perfectly. It comes with soft
flasks, which is my preference, but they have a narrow top. If I was just drinking water or maybe using
something like a Nuun tablet for my drinks, then this wouldn’t be an issue, but
see trying to pour a sachet of Tailwind into one of those flasks, it is not
fun! Time consuming and messy, but I
needed to just suck it up as I needed to make sure I stayed on top of my
nutrition. But honestly I could have
really done without all that faffing.
Seathwaite to Eskdale (7 miles, 14 miles total)
So the checkpoint took a minute or two longer than planned,
but once out of the door I put the frustration of the bottles to bed and
focused on Leg 2. I headed along the road feeling comfortable and looking
forward to the next few miles along to Grassguards. I heard someone shout
behind me to tell me I, and the others close ahead were going the wrong
way. I knew we weren’t, as did the
others, and I did worry for the runner(s) as he seemed to want to go heading
off through some random field. As I glanced back a second time I was relieved
to see he was reading his road book. Hopefully they made it round without any
This is a beautiful little valley and I was looking forward
to running through the woods. We were trotting along and arrived at the first
bridge, I followed the runner in front up onto the bridge but mustn’t have been
entirely paying attention because, BAM!! I whacked my head off an unfortunately
rather solid branch just to the side of the bridge. I swore under my breath
thinking “are you freakin’ kidding me?! I’m only 7 miles into this thing!” Angrily I raced on past the runner in front
of me as he was walking on a flat part.
This was supposed to be the fun bit, and now I had a throbbing
head. This was not in the plan. By the time I arrived at High Wallowbarrow
Farm I had chilled out again. This was
where I first met chatty Pete. He came chuckling through the farm from the
wrong direction saying he knew that wasn’t quite right and then followed me
along through the gates before we headed up the hill and then along the track
towards Grassguards. It was good to have someone jolly around after my earlier
disagreement with a tree. We ran together on and off along this stretch along
with a few others, regularly changing places with others. The one point where I
was on my own on this stretch proved to be another minor disaster for my
already throbbing head. About half way
along the track you go through 2 deer gates.
When I did my recent recce of this section a few weeks ago I didn’t open
the gate wide enough and whacked my head off one of the upper bars of the
gate. You would have thought I would
have remembered, especially it was only a few weeks beforehand, but clearly the
memory had been knocked out of my head as I did the exact same thing again!
What a muppet! Now I had a bang on BOTH
sides of my head. Fortunately I was alone at this point so I was free to swear
as much as I wanted, and I did.
Grassguards soon arrived and there were two young lads
waiting at the farm gate cheering everyone along. Impressive I thought considering
the amount of midges around but they were probably used to them.
Grassguards I imagine is one of the least favourite parts
for 100 runners. Only about 10 miles or so into the race and unless you are
lucky (like I had been on my second recce run) this is where your feet will
inevitably get wet. Previously I had been able to get as far as the final bog
before the descent into Eskdale before my feet got wet, but this time I was
barely a couple of hundred metres past the farm. We all tried to keep our feet
as dry as possible but it was just so wet and muddy up and through the
plantation. Then it was so boggy on the
far side that inevitability we all ended up just charging on through the bog as
there was simply no way around it.
The soggy feet did not take away from the beauty of the
sunset we were running towards as we began our descent off Harter Fell into the
valley below. It was absolutely
stunning. I was so impressed I actually
took out my phone and took a photo. My
phone battery is a complete liability so I hadn’t wanted to take any photos so
as to preserve the battery as long as possible but it really was a majestic
Had I by some miracle managed to get through the bog with
dry feet, they would have been wet soon after.
There were stretches on the rocky and steep descent that were above
ankle deep and it was unavoidable. The new fence has done much to improve the
descent – something to hold onto! And with it being so wet and slippery we were
glad of its presence. Unfortunately a
new fence can’t save us all and this was where I saw my first casualties of the
race. One fellow runner took a nasty fall on a particularly slippery rock and
another chap (not quite as unlucky) broke one of his poles.
It was strange going down the hill with so many other
runners around me as I was sure I was going to be going through this section
all by myself given how long Leg One took me.
I was glad of the company though as I was having a real struggle with my
head. The descent again had been painful
and even when we reached the valley floor and headed along the beautiful river
path my left leg was radiating pain. My left hip, quad and glute were all
throbbing and super tight, and I was really starting to doubt if I could keep
this up for another 90 miles. I couldn’t help but let thoughts of the full 90
remaining miles creep into my head. I
had been trying really hard to just think one leg at a time, one mile at a
time, but the mental crush of the hundred mile race held me in a vice-like
grip. These easy two miles along the
river should have been joyful. It’s so
pretty along here and holds happy honeymoon memories for me but I was really
I knew Debs was going to be helping at the checkpoint in
Boot and I had jokingly said to her in the lead up to the race that I would
still be happy at Boot, and that I wouldn’t be crying until I got to
Buttermere. I had said it in jest and
now I was worried that I might actually cry when I saw her. On the half-mile stretch of road before the
checkpoint I gave myself a real talking to. I couldn’t throw my toys out of the
pram in front of Debs barely 14 miles into the race. FFS she got hit by a car 50 miles into a 60
mile race and still broke the course record – Debs is an ultra-running ninja! I
had managed to compose my head enough and appreciated the applause from the
pubs before arriving at the Checkpoint 2 at Eskdale. More annoying faffing
around with the Tailwind was followed by getting my buff and headtorch on. I used my mandatory cup for the first time to
get some water here and grabbed a couple of digestive biscuits before having a
hug and some encouraging words from Debs. Phew, made it through without making
an idiot of myself (I think).
Eskdale to Wasdale
Head (5.4miles, 19.4 miles total)
This was one of the two sections I was dreading in the race.
Not the climb out of Boot itself but once up on the moor I knew it was going to
be tricky to navigate in the dark. Dusk had long since left and we were
definitely into night time now. I had
left Boot with a line of 4 or 5 runners just in front of me. This was just what I wanted as I didn’t want
to be trying to work out my way across this moor alone, especially knowing how
easy it is to miss the path to the right to get down to Burnmoor Tarn. There was no moon but there were no clouds
either. Nobody seemed to want to put
their head torches on. It almost seemed
like a competeition to see who could last the longest without switching it
on. Inevitably I was one of the first as
my eyes are truly rubbish in the dark. I
still managed to stumble on a rocky patch but I was glad for the extra
light. Still most of the others around
me didn’t turn theirs on so I kicked on.
I really wanted this section over with as I wasn’t happy so I pushed on
ahead and ended up in front and then alone on the very section I hadn’t wanted
to be alone on. I felt like I needed to
be proactive though: to do something positive to help with the negative frame
of mind I had been in for too many miles. So I pushed hard across the moor
desperately hoping I might catch a glimpse of a light somewhere ahead.
Nothing, I couldn’t believe my rotten luck. I must have been
in complete blackness (other than my own light) for a good 10 minutes before I
caught a glimpse of the tarn twinkling in the faint light of the night sky. And
there, snaking along the right side of the tarn were lights! Head torch lights! Oh what a relief, a sight
to behold. I had no lights showing me where the turn in the path was but I was
just glad to see where I needed to get to.
I turned slightly too early but managed to find my way to the vague
path, came over a ridge in the path and found more lights just approaching the
tarn. Bonus! I charged down into the night, reinvigorated
and relieved. My left leg hated me every step of the way but I didn’t care at
that point. I was using the adrenaline
whilst I had it.
As I trotted across the stepping stones I caught up with the
runners head. A quick glance around and I saw the futility of trying to avoid
the water and splashed on through the river. I quick glance back and I saw the
head torches of the runners behind me winding back up the hill. Out of the other side and on the final part
of the moor crossing and Pete caught up with me again. We laughed about me rocketing up across the
moor and he chided me for being too busy chatting, and then he and a fellow
runner decided it was time to pick up the pace again starting our descent into
Wasdale. I tried to keep up, but my left
leg, the entire thing was screaming at me by this point. It was a slower descent than I hoped and I
was glad to reach the carpark. A random runner greeted me at the bridge so I
felt I needed to push on along the flat road so forced my legs to keep moving
over rather than stop for the walk they were crying out for. By the time I
reached the bridge though I had to walk.
There just wasn’t the movement in my left leg. It wasn’t far to the checkpoint now. I just focused on getting my first cup of
soup. Blocking the pain from my mind I
just kept thinking ‘soup and sandwich, soup and sandwich will make it all ok
again.’ Of course I knew it wouldn’t fix my leg but my mind needed sustenance
as much as my stomach and legs. Here we
are, one mile at a time again: back in the zone. It was midnight and I dibbed in at Wasdale
Head, checkpoint 3.
More carnage: I wondered if we all looked equally
terrible. One girl was in tears, another
man looked like he had no plans on leaving.
I knew I needed to get myself in and out as soon as possible or else I
would be tempted to stay too long and possibly add to the crying girl numbers. A man in a white boiler suit (or something?)
sorted out my drinks for me whilst I got myself some soup and a cheese and
pickle sandwich. Soup drunk, drinks packed and after a quick stretch I headed
out towards the massive climb up to Blacksail Pass. As I left I saw chatty Pete was still
there. I was pleased that I must have
managed to be pretty efficient with my stop, but figured most of the runners
there would soon catch me on the climb.
Wasdale Head to
Buttermere (6.9 miles, 26.3 miles total)
I left the checkpoint glad that I was on the move again and
feeling ready to give the climb my best shot.
I knew it was going to be a hell of a long slog up to Blacksail Pass but
it was just going to be a case of head down and one foot in front of the
other. At least I could take comfort in
the fact that there wouldn’t be any flat or descent to run on for a good while
so at least that pain would subside for a while (silver linings!). Looking up I
saw one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen during an ultra; a line
of twinkling lights winding their way up the mountainside and towards the
ink-blue night-sky and scattering of stars lighting our way into the
night. It was so beautiful. I could have sat down there and then and
watched those lights all night. Actually
I think I would have much preferred that. An ultra high quickly followed by an ultra
Surprisingly only a handful of runners passed me on the
climb, and this was in the first quarter mile and included chatty Pete. That was the last I would see of him until
Langdale. The climb is not too bad for
the first half mile but then it takes a severe turn upwards as you climb the
rocky path with the sounds of the beck growing increasingly louder. This was the second part of the race I had
worried about. Not the climb. It’s a huge climb, massive really, but I had
more than doubled my hill training this year so I could tackle these climbs. No
it wasn’t the climb, but crossing the beck about half way up the climb. It was a fairly hairy crossing when we did it
at the official recce back in November, and it daylight and I had company. Not
fun. I had thought it wouldn’t be so bad
come the summer months but the heavy rainfall in the couple of weeks before the
race and reports of the water being really high I was particularly nervous. In
the road-book it says “If water levels are high, follow stream bed up (NE)
until safe to cross and regain main track).”
So the higher I climbed, the louder the beck roared and the more nervous
The line of lights up the mountainside ahead and the lack of
screams in the darkness assured me that it was safe to cross but my nerves were
still fraught. Finally the crossing came
into sight and of course I had built up the drama in my head out of all
proportion. The water was pretty high
but it was perfectly crossable with some careful foot placement. I guess that’s what happens in the middle of
the night when you’re alone, in the dark, with many miles ahead: everything
Once across the beck I knew this was where the real work of
the climb began. The relief of crossing
the beck didn’t last long. The more I climbed, the more the mountain seemed to stretch
up above me. The beautiful twinkling
lights that I had been mesmerised earlier were now mocking me: taunting me with
their distance and my inability to close in on them. The week before the race a fellow
ultra-runner had shared an article on the Lakeland 100/50 Facebook page about the
stages of an ultra. During the last part of the climb up to Blacksail Pass I
was definitely in the ‘This is bullsh*t’ stage. I was actually muttering that
under my breath as I climbed. I was
seriously p*ssed off. And I knew I
wouldn’t even be able to enjoy the descent with my leg being the way it
was. I was in a serious funk and nothing
was going to pull me out of it at this point.
It was a painful and stupidly slow descent off Blacksail. It
certainly felt like it, but I still managed to get caught at the back of a que
of traffic at the tricky rocky scramble near the bottom. I was past caring about having to wait to get
down though. Once down I stuck to the
right and the noise of the stream and soon enough arrived at the bridge
crossing. The undulations past the youth
hostel felt huge and I couldn’t run a single one of them. I was beat. And my legs and my mind were
trashed. I could barely manage a jog
along the fire road. I tried to cheer
myself up – the climb up to Scarth Gap is only half a mile, a piece of cake
compared to Blacksail. And on the bright side, I never ever have to climb up to
Blacksail ever again. It was done, in
the past. I never have to see it again. Once
over Scarth Gap I would have the lovely soft trail alongside Buttermere, such a
joy to run along and the next checkpoint and more soup. I was telling myself
all the right things and force out the negative and soon enough I reached the
top of Scarth Gap and got a good line across the top to the left of all the wet
and rocky bits. We had made a bit of a hash of this in the dark on the recce run and had a total
mare on the descent going dangerously off-course on the descent (proper scary, clinging to grass for my dear life,
almost in tears type nightmare).
Luckily, multiple daylight recce runs meant that other than my legs
being in agony the tricky rocky route down to the gap in the wall was no bother
at all and I was glad to have no extra drama there.
I’m not used to being overtaken on a downhill (except by
proper fell-runners) so I knew I was in a bad way when multiple runners came
past me. I was so slow that it wasn’t surprising that they passed. I was
wincing with each step. My left quad and
hip felt like they would explode with each jolt. I wished for the flat along the side of the
lake to hurry up so I could get some respite and hopefully start a bit of
running but I couldn’t. It was
horrendous. I felt utterly helpless. I
couldn’t even run along one of the gentlest trails in the whole of the Lake
District. What hope was there that I could
survive another 80 miles? My misery was compounded by being used as a mobile
feast by the midgies due to my slow progress: easy pickings for them. The first
thoughts of a DNF were lurking round the edges of my mind.
I love Buttermere. I have spent lots of fun times around
here and along these gentle trails and throwing stones in the lake with my
kids. Happy, carefree times so far from where I found myself now. The pain in
my leg was starting to be mirrored in my right leg. Not to the same extent but it was certainly
starting to make itself known. I walked
dejectedly through the edge of the village and braced myself ready to face the
checkpoint. I made no attempt to smile
for the video camera they could take me as they found me, as I wobbled my way
up the steps to the big black bin of water. I spoke something fairly incoherent
to the marshals but they must have understood what I was said as they helped
with the joyful task of refilling my bottles with Tailwind. I give so much credit to these amazing
people. It must be such a task to help
all us broken runners passing through their little haven in the middle of the
night. Once sorted with my fluids I headed inside for some soup and a dry piece
of bread. The soup was welcome, although
the dry bread was hard to get down so I dried to eat it whilst having some
water in my cup. Once it was down I grabbed a digestive biscuit and although I
really wanted to have a seat and to stop and have a huge crying meltdown I
forced myself back out into the night, alone once again.
Braithwaite (6.5 miles, 32.8 miles total)
I had never thought too much about the first part of this
leg up through the woods, but now I was doing it in the dark it was
unexpectedly scary; a narrow, sometimes slippery section of single track
gradually climbing higher above the fast flowing beck somewhere down to the
right. This leg was the only other part of the route that I had been worried
about being alone on (after the section over Eskdale Moor). I felt a sense of
relief as a pair of lights and voices approached behind me as I reached the end
of the woods. Thank goodness, I was so
glad I would have company for this stretch as I had been super nervous about
it. The relief was short lived. Those
lads were going at some rate and I could barely keep up for more than 100
meters or so, and soon they were gone.
No lights in front and no lights behind.
I was alone on the very worst section to be alone on. I had tried to run flat out to keep up with
the lads but my legs were screaming at me. Despite keeping on top of my fuel I
felt completely drained. I could barely
run along the flat and I was so worried about trying to keep on top of the
navigation on this section that my whole body wanted to give up and turn around
and go back to the checkpoint. It was
then I realised I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to find my way back. I felt so disorientated. I couldn’t use my
garmin to work out how far I had gone as it was playing up on me. The key to
navigating this section was based on sticking exactly to the road book,
measuring how far you were going and looking for those cairns and sheep
scoops. How many had I seen? How many becks had I crossed? Was Third Beck stills second or was it
fourth? I had taken a mental note during
my many recces of this section about the irony of Third Beck not being third
and now I couldn’t remember which number it was and couldn’t remember how many
I’d already crossed. Where was the steep
indistinct climb up from the beck searching for the well-worn path? I had no idea if I’d been on it or if it was
still to come. I couldn’t make sense of
anything. There were no lights around
me. Had I gone horribly off course? I
couldn’t tell. I thought I was being
careful but I was so confused. Suddenly I found myself slipping my way along a
narrow path going sharply upwards towards a beck crossing ( I hoped) when I was
sure it shouldn’t have been this steep, and why was the beck so far below me to
my right? I don’t remember going along
beside a drop this high on my recce runs. Where the hell was I and where was
everyone else? I was in full on panic
mode. I felt dizzy. The ground around me
looked so alien and I felt out of control.
How could I have got it so horribly wrong when I thought I had been so
careful? My race was over. I was
done. I was scared for my safety, dizzy
and in more pain than I have endured in a race.
Continuing was a fool’s errand. I
just needed to get myself out of the situation and whatever it took, get myself
to the checkpoint at Braithwaite. I was done with the Lake District. I wanted out. I hated it. I hated the race. And I hated myself for
being foolish enough to think this had been a good idea.
I have never felt so low and so utterly filled with despair and
misery during a race. This was a low
beyond anything I could have anticipated. Everything felt against me and I didn’t
have the strength to continue and I just bring myself to care anymore. Why had I put myself through this misery and
pain? I was never going to get a fast
time or be ‘noticed’ by anyone when I
finished. It was just my own
self-indulgence that had led me to this point.
I wasn’t an elite runner with people watching my every move. Nobody would care if I pulled out. Nobody would notice. I was just an also-ran with ideas above my
station. It was time for a reality
check. It was time to call it a day. Get
out of the race and get out of ultras.
Who was I kidding anyway?
Who was I kidding? It
didn’t matter, what mattered was moving forward and getting myself slowly to
somewhere that looked familiar. I looked
behind and lights were heading my way.
If I was off the route then they were too. At least we’d be off the route together. We weren’t. Across the next beck and there
was the familiar scree slope. Finally I knew where I was and realised I had
been on the right route all along.
Whilst I was relieved to have the runners pass me and have someone to
follow up the final ridiculously steep climb up to Sail Pass my head and my
heart were gone. My legs and now my feet
were in so much pain and I just couldn’t bear to spend another minute out on
My recent recce runs paid off in that I had no trouble
finding my way across Sail Pass and the descent from the top. But suddenly was
head-torch started flashing and then soon after faded to half-light. I couldn’t
believe it. I must have switched in onto
the wrong setting when I left Buttermere. Momentarily distracted I mis-stepped and
stumbled down the rocky path twisting my left ankle. “F*ck!!!!” I screamed. And
then I got up and forced myself back down the path. I just wanted to get off the trail. I hobbled along the rocky trail and down onto
the flatter section where, in a panic I thought I better get my spare
head-torch out of my pack. In that moment, stopped at the side of the trail, I
couldn’t hold back anymore and the tears came. Tears of excruciating pain,
tears of misery and disappointment, tears of relief at knowing it was almost
over, tears of shame. I was beaten and
now I had to phone Paul (at 5:something in the morning) and tell him I was
Luckily I didn’t need to use my spare head-torch as dawn was
breaking. By the time I reached Barrow Door (where many go wrong in the dark)
it was light enough for me to easily find my route over and start what should
have been a wonderful descent into Braithwaite.
It’s a lovely gentle and soft open expanse and if you had the legs you
could fly down here like a child pretending to be an aeroplane. It’s probably
the easiest and most enjoyable descent in the country but I could barely jog
down and by the time I was halfway down I had built up the courage for that phone call.
Paul was awake, as I expected. Very early mornings are
familiar things in the Hart house.
Surprisingly the kids were still asleep, fortuitously perhaps. It was a
difficult and emotional conversation that lasted the remaining way into
Braithewaite. In short, I had been instructed to get myself into Braithwaite,
take on lots to eat, have a rest and think hard about what I really wanted to
do. Ask myself if I could really stand being in Coniston for the next week
having not finished the race? As the kids were still asleep Paul would wait for
them to wake and then meet me at Blencathra where we could then head back to
the holiday cottage. Whatever happened I
knew going into the checkpoint that I had to get myself into a frame of mind
that would get me another 8.5 miles along the route
I felt so sad arriving at the village hall. I had nothing
left to give. I faffed around a bit: I
couldn’t decide what to eat and found myself incapable of even pouring some
sauce onto a bowl of pasta. A checkpoint
marshal took pity on me and helped me out and gave me a cup of tea, and then a
second. I ate the pasta and some meat
pie and then some crisps. I must have been there about 25 minutes or half an
hour and got to the point where I couldn’t just sit there anymore. It was time
to face the race again. But just for one
last section, and then it would all be over.