Joe Faulkner, veteran adventure racer and navigation guru from Nav4 (www.nav4.co.uk) has just completed his second Lakeland 100 ultra marathon. That’s 100 miles across the fells and mountains of the Lake District, non-stop, self-supported and on foot. Joe has completed countless endurance feats, with varying degrees of post-race elation. This one was different – in a downbeat sort of way – and he tells us why.
A love-hate relationship
I have a love-hate relationship with Lakes 100. The route is contrived in parts and the start time simply bizarre and incongruous with my target time. There is also a certain amount of over-hype that I find distasteful and many entrants seriously under estimate the terrain and skills required. Good navigational skills and ‘hill craft’ are essential, not just a flashy pair of trainers and several hundred Twitter followers. Nonetheless, it’s an epic event, and one I completed this year in a time of 32:03:51.
I guess I should be pleased; even elated, but I have very strange and mixed up feelings about it. I’m pleased to have finished but very disappointed not have broken my target of sub – 30 hours. That leaves me with mixed feelings and I don’t know what to make of them right now. In 2011 I ran the distance in 30:30, finishing strongly and with little pain and no real blisters. This time I’m nursing some over sore feet and agonizing over what might have been. So far I’ve yet to file the experience in either the ‘awesome’ or ‘hideous’ folder. It’s still in the in tray.
OK, the Lakes 100 is a tough route (105 actually) and covers a large loop around the Lakes. The route is a really mix of trails and lanes, some tough going over rough Lakeland Passes, with rocky terrain underfoot. Navigation skills are needed, and experience in the hills is essential. I know the terrain like the back of my hand. I’ve raced here, lived here, walked, biked and run here. My feet are molded to the shape of the rocks here. Or so I thought.
What went wrong?
So why did it go ‘wrong’? This year the weather was warm and humid for the first 24 hours before Saturday evening thunder storms, initially welcome, later turned into heavy cold rain. All this meant that, after a 6pm Friday evening start, I wasn’t to finish at 2.00am on Sunday morning.
In a nutshell, I slumped in the last 20 miles, losing two or three hours against a 29/30 hour schedule. My feet had started to blister fairly early on, perhaps due to the humidity or the heat. It’s not something I’m used to. The blisters weren’t too bad, but prevented me from running the flatter and downhill sections, which is crucial to maintaining a good pace. And once the body, soles (and soul?) starts to decline the issue of ‘enduring’ becomes bigger than endurance. So, Saturday’s evening finish dragged into Sunday morning, with darkness and heavy rain adding to the factors against me.
I’m pleased I kept going; a rational decision would have been to withdraw at Ambleside (90 miles) but I endured. That last 15 miles took me 6.5 hours with some very painful rocky descents.
So, I’ve done a ‘pw’ for 100 miles, which is something that sticks in the throat. I’ve completed over 20 races of this distance, and it’s not just about the time but the quality of the performance; how much you enjoy it, the fun and banter you have with other runners, the sense of well being at the end. And that is where I’m confused and disappointed. It just wasn’t that fun.
My post-match analysis report is pretty blank right now. The blisters were painful and I can’t explain them. I wore the same socks and shoes as previous successful events. I guess I might have skimped a little on training, being complacent about my experience in this distance. I may have been complacent, and certainly missed out on a few long days out in the past few weeks due to the very hot weather and spent the days road biking instead. I suppose my legs didn’t have much running in them, and cramped up across the top of my quads from around the 40 mile mark. Stretching helped greatly for a few hours but I finally resigned myself to the Long March if Doom just to reach the end.
I still maintain I was well prepared in that I know the terrain, am a confident navigator and have hundreds of miles and scores of hundreds in my legs. There’s a lot about recce-ing the course on discussion pages about the race, and although it’s important, you can’t short cut navigational skills, experience and hill skills. But maybe I should take this experience as a gentle reminder that no result is guaranteed, and just be glad I finished. There is a fifty mile event that starts around halfway at Saturday lunchtime and completes roughly the second half if the 100 route, so you are being passed by fitter and fresher runners. Although it was fairly soul destroying being told ‘well done’ by around 200 of these runners (when you don’t feel you’re doing it well at all), I guess when it comes down to it I still did 55 miles more than than them and lived to tell the tale!