Okay so me and this event have a terrible history of failure, misadventure and catastrophe. It’s not that I’ve just had a bit of bad luck and bogged up just the once; I’m now actually a serial bogger upperer having failed to finish in 2013, again in 2014, failed to even start in 2015 and now, in 2016, having quite magnificently made it to the start line, failed to finish yet again. Here’s a brief résumé of all of my Lakeland 100 disasters – be warned, it reads very much like an instruction manual for failure.
So feeling super fit but a bit worried about running the full 105 miles on rubbly Lakeland trails in my trusty mudclaws, foolishly at the last minute I decided to buy some brand new Hoka One One’s from the running gear guy in the school at Coniston. I mean I’m surrounded by loads of other ultra runners doing the 100 and they all seem to be wearing Hoka’s – they must be good right? My normal non-running shoe size is an 8 and in Inov-8’s I take size 8½’s and they fit like gloves. After trying on several shoes it’s the size 9 Hoka’s that seem to fit me best. The shoe sales guy actually let me go for a run around the field in them and, apart from feeling bouncy and weird compared to my low profile fell shoes, they seemed to fit really well.
And….. jump forward to Howtown at 12:30 pm on the following day and my feet are absolutely smashed to pulp. From Howtown I managed to climb Fusedale okay but actually running along the ridge after the climb was impossible and my slow waddle turned into a slow agonising, walking on knives, stagger for the descent to Haweswater. And as for the death march along the side of the lake to the CP at Mardale – it was excruciating and never ending. Getting from Howtown to Mardale all told took some omething like 4 hours and 10 minutes and was a nightmare.
I think my feet were perhaps too narrow for Hoka’s as they seemed to move about in the shoe even though the fit was quite cosy. That or my feet had swelled up in the heat (and it was hot) and had been crushed against what seems to be a darn small toe box in the Hoka’s? Or maybe I just needed size 9½’s? Anyway, whatever the problem, it felt like my toes had been turned to strawberry jam and, on removing the shoes at Mardale, I almost couldn’t bear to look at what I expected to be a gory mess. To be honest my toes didn’t look quite as bad as I’d expected but it was just impossible to carry on. Both big toe nails were doomed and they, and the adjacent toes, still bear the scars of this pulping to this day. In hind sight I might have been able to do the distance had I changed my shoes at Dalmain but I didn’t for some stupid reason. Oh and a tip from the top – never EVER decide to stop at Mardale.
Hester ran the 50 whilst I was attempting the 100 and did magnificently with a time of 11:42, coming in 76th overall and 8th lady.
So 2014 comes around and this time the LL100 is a big gamble. Firstly I’d knackered my left achilles running a mid-week local fell race (the Gill Garth Gallop) on 18th June and was barely able to walk on it for a couple of days afterwards, let alone run. (This injury also killed a run every day streak that I had had going for nearly 3 years). But, in true Stolly fashion, after a couple of days rest, I decided to bash on with my running, albeit carefully and pretty darn painfully.
This devil may care attitude wasn’t completely with the LL100 in mind, although it played a part, but was primarily because me and Hester had a big Cornish Coast path expedition planned for 7th July and I needed to test out my ankle – we’d ran/yomped the northern Cornish coastpath in 2013 and now needed to deal with the Plymouth to Land’s End southern coastline bit. This coastpathing expedition was obviously a real risk to my LL100 plans too as it was 160 odd miles with shed loads of climb, spread over 9 days, with us backpacking all our gear and camping as we went. Furthermore the long planned expedition didn’t finish finish until 15th July, just a week and a half before the LL100. I guess I may have been somewhat over confident with my fitness eh?
The Cornish Coastpathing though, as expected, was just fantastic – a brilliant, brilliant holiday with many exciting adventures, including Harry our border collie being bitten by an adder on the last day, and I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything. We only really had the early part of July to do it in that year so my gut feeling at the time was to go for it and the LL100 back to back and see what happens. And, for the coastpath, my achilles sort of held up too, although I could definitely feel it on the up hills, the down hills and the alongs🤔, but in fairness we did end up doing a lot more yomping than running.
Never-the-less it was a lot of mileage so close to the race and, probably to no one’s surprise, completely fooked up my LL100. Long story short my quads started to ache on the first descent from Walna Scar (is that even 5 miles in?) and come Wasdale they felt totally shot. My achilles hurt like bejabers too and, making matters worse, it was also another really hot one and, by mid morning on the Saturday, I was really struggling with the heat, my quads were totalled and I was limping with my achilles.
This time I didn’t make it to Howtown until 2 pm and I was wasted. I know I could’ve perhaps rested up and looked to hobble it out (and now kick myself a bit for not giving it a go) but, at the time, I’d just wanted to do the whole thing well and to what I thought in my little brain was the best of my ability and, another 40 miles on trashed quads and an achilles of doom and in the hot sultry Lake District heat 😎 didn’t particularly appeal. Nor did struggling on to Mardale and having to bail out again in the CP that time forgot 🙂. I took the southern softy option (I am originally from down south so am allowed to say that) and bailed instead at Howtown, went for the best ever swim in Ulswater ever and then was fed and watered by the fantastic Howtown support team with loads of slices of pizza.
Hester ran the 50 and, despite also having knacked quads from coastpathing, she (of course) finished brilliantly in 12:01. She was starting to embarrass me.
And this one I didn’t even get the chance to properly screw up on. We were on holiday in the Scottish Highlands for the last week or so in June and, towards the end of it, I’d started to get a deep dull ache between my shoulder blades on the left hand side of my back. Anyway on the 5th July, and now back home, I was running around the 3 Peaks of Yorkshire with Hester and some friends and started to get weird chest pains (on top of the back ache). I managed to trudge out the 23 mile run but, later that day, started to feel quite sick and wonky. Without going into all the detail I called NHS Direct who called the ambulance and, after the paramedics had taken a couple of blood tests and a few ECGs, I was rushed all the way to Leeds General Infirmary with a suspected heart attack! With poor Hester having to follow in her car and worried sick.
After being given the works by the completely brilliant cardiac team at LGI (an angiogram, a heart ultra sound, chest x-Rays etc) and staying in over night, thankfully I hadn’t had a heart attack at all (phew). In fact I had a fine specimen of a heart as it turns out. But what I had wasn’t particularly great – I was diagnosed with pericarditis which is a swelling of the pericardium (the fluid filled sac surrounding the heart) and, to make matters worse, no one’s completely sure what causes pericarditis, although some kind of reaction to a previous virus or infection is often thought to be the culprit.
Pericarditis can I think sometimes clear up quite quickly – I was just given paracetamol and strong doses of ibuprofen to take to sort it – but can in some circumstances go on ‘for a bit’. The Consultant at LGI told me to take the ibuprofen for three days and rest for a week or so and it should sort itself out. That though wasn’t exactly how things panned out…
In a nutshell it took me the best part of 9 months to fully recover, suffering shortness of breath for a while, chest and back pains, blood pressure issues, heart palpitations, nausea, absolute knackeredness and various muscle spasms. I also suffered gastritis for months too due I think to the strong doses of ibuprofen I was taking upsetting my tummy – I thought I’d got a stomach ulcer at one point and had a couple of tests for Lyme disease aswell, both of which were thankfully negative (Lyme disease can also cause pericarditis). This long lasting problem with pericarditis though isn’t at all unusual and in fact my GP said it was pretty much the norm in his experience – google ‘running after pericarditis’ and you’ll see lots of real horror stories.
Anyway although I did take the Consultant at face value and try and continue running with a vague hope of still getting to the start line there was no chance of being right for the LL100 and I had to pull out.
I had been due to run the LL100 as a pair with Hester and, tough old boot that she is, Hester checked with Marc Laithwaite if she could run the LL100 solo, got the go ahead and then went and completely beasted it, finishing in 31:56, 83rd overall and 7th lady. And running a beautifully controlled and well paced race while she was at it. I still remember following her progress at the school whilst, at the same time feeling awful with horrible heart palpitations – all the yahooing in the school hall, whilst of course brilliant for the competitors, can I just say was a bit inconsiderate for us pericarditis sufferers 😉
But what a superstar Hester was
So 2016 and this thing is f**king toast!
So after all of my 2015 running year, my ‘runnus annus horribilus’ I dug in and managed to get my running shit together for 2016 and, despite having a hacking cough for most of the month leading up to the LL100 (my doctor, worried about a possible chest infection and the potential for a repeat attack of pericarditis, got me to have a chest x-ray but fortunately that came back fine), I arrived at the start line I thought in pretty damn good nick. I also felt very ‘Lakeland 100 wise’, following all of my previous (half arsed?) efforts and hard lessons learned (and Hester’s boringly repetitive successes), and found myself smugly nodding in agreement to all of Marc Laithwaite’s wise words in his pre-match briefing. Yeah me and Marc know what we’re doing here…. Plan A is to get round, yeah…. Forget chasing a 30 hour finish, just do it…. Pace yourself, yeah…. You’re as best as you can be, right on brother….
I’d especially prepared myself to get the running shoe choice right. I obviously will never ever wear a brand new pair of running shoes straight out of the box for an event like this again and, having bought a new pair of Inov-8 Ultra 290’s in advance of the 2015 race which, because of my dropping out, I had only run about 80 odd miles in last year, they were my ideal choice. I had worn them in the main as besties for going out to the pub (I run in mudclaws most of the time hereabouts), but earlier this year I started running in them again on rough trails and maybe added another 130 miles to them to get full acclimatisation- they were super comfortable, fitted me like a glove, gave great protection over rough ground and seemed the ideal balance of a great shoe that was nicely worn in with about 210 miles on the clock. Perfect then…..
After setting off nice and steady, my shoes decided to basically completely and utterly explode apart on me during the first 14 miles of the race. More to the point they ‘exploded’ in a way I’ve never experienced with any fell or running shoes ever, and definitely never with any of my many, many pairs of mudclaws, which (just to add some perspective here) I get through roughly 3 or 4 pairs each year of, with 500 ish miles of running per pair. The ultra 290’s both simultaneously decided to split like flappy clown shoes at the front during the mud splattered stretch between Seathwaite and Boot such that, by the time I got to Boot, I was having to stop periodically to remove small stones and rubble from the gaping front ‘flaps’.
This then was my first 2016 LL100 disaster and I was not only hampered by them flapping and picking up stones but, especially when contouring, my feet also seemed to slide away from me within the shoes uncomfortably, making grip and balance tricky. And I also had the small problem of the 45 hard miles from Boot to Dalmain before I could change them and I had massive doubts as to whether they’d hold together that far.
Anyway not content with just the one disaster I decided to ramp things up and add another 🙄. Having gone over Black Sail Pass in the dark, I was dropping down the path beside Sail Beck when I slipped down a large 45 degree rock face and crunched both of my feet into some sticky out rocks and boulders below. I landed particularly badly on my left ankle and got one of those full body electric shocks right through me, like when you badly tear ankle ligaments. It wasn’t a ligament stretch or tear though as far as I could make out as I don’t think I’d even turned my ankle. It felt more like my ankle had been compressed upwards by the impact, but either way it didn’t feel good.
I bashed on though, although I had to walk down to Black Sail Hut and then over Scarth Gap. And it was a fricking nightmare then descending over all of those boulders and crap from there down towards Buttermere. I had managed to dunk my ankle in pools of water on the way though and this did help a bit and, by the time I reached the woods beside Buttermere, I was able to carry on running. Maybe, just maybe, I could run this off….. in my flappy shoes…. that keep collecting stones.
After Buttermere it was mainly about the climb over the pass beside Sail and my shoes and ankle seemed to hold it together okay, and again for the trot down to Braithwaite. One of the support team at Braithwaite happened to have some tape handy and we had a crack at taping up my shoe flaps (but unfortunately the tape fell off after a couple of miles). The stretch to Blencathra CP went okay though and we again tried (and failed) with some shoe taping there. But after starting off again from Blencathra my legs started to have a rubbish period and I struggled to run. I definitely couldn’t run along the Old Coach Road, not particularly because of my legs but because of my flaps collecting rubble, so I just decided to dig in and yomp all the way to Dockray.
Fortunately I got a second wind at Dockray and I picked up my running again down to Aira Force and actually started to enjoy the climb up along the side of Ulswater. Unfortunately though my wheels started to fall off by the time I reached the road at Bennethead. My ankle was hurting a lot by now and my legs were going through another bad patch too.
Finally I trudged into Dalmain to meet the smiling Hester (who wasn’t running this year) but I was feeling, and I’m sure looking, doomed. As I walked in (I couldn’t even manage a trot despite the cheering crowds of LL50-ers) I caught Marc Laithwaite’s eye near the CP tent and I think he caught mine – we don’t know each other or anything but I think we both gave each other a dead man walking look of acknowledgement. My ultra 290’s had made it all the way to Dalmain somehow but, when I took my shoes and socks off to change shoes, my left ankle immediately decided to balloon in size. One of the medic guys strapped it and I started off for Howtown to see how things went but my ankle hurt like heck now and half way to Pooley Bridge I called Hester and bailed out a-flipping-gain.
So….2017 is my year!
So its Groundhog Day all over again and, with a bit of luck and providing I can snap up a place on 1st September, I’ll be back. I’ll actually be aged 60 next year and part of me thinks that its in my karma to succeed next year. All the same, come rain or shine and disaster or success I absolutely love this event and I’ll be there if humanly possible.
I’ll. Deffo. Nail. The. Bastard!
Just in the last couple of days I’ve been able to recommence a semblance of running. The ankle feels like its on the mend and I should be good to go for next week’s camping, hill running and lake swimming holiday in the Lake District. Inov-8 to their credit got wind of my Ultra 290’s ‘exploding’ and replaced them with a brand new pair of Trail Talons. Top customer service Inov-8 and thanks very much 😊