Well, my preparation was not greatest. The link between my car accident many years ago, and the metal pins in my leg as a result, and the recent discomfort in my quad, turned out to be a red herring. I had an x-ray and it suggested that everything was still in order and so my doctor (a fell & marathon runner himself) put it down to soft tissue damage. To be honest, I’ve kind of got used to it now anyway and it’s not holding me back at all.
The problems I’ve been having in the top of my foot and underneath my arch didn’t seem to be getting better with the exercises the physio had given me, so I put it down to loose fitting shoes and splashed out on some new Salomon Speedcross 3. Whilst I was at it, I got the new Salamon S Lab Race Vest and an OMM fully waterproof super light, super comfortable, running jacket with the all-important taped seems!
I thought I’d get all the expensive purchases out of the way in one go and boy was it an expensive trip to The Endurance Store, but I’ve been really happy with my purchases in the lead up to the recce and on the day itself.
I also bought some new Oakley sports glasses, which were as expensive as all 3 of the above items combined! It’s something I’d been thinking about a lot. I’ve always ran in contact lenses, but I’ve never been able to wear contacts for long periods in everyday life. I’ve been worried therefore about wearing them day and night for 30-40 hours whilst significantly sleep deprived come the big day. I’ve also been frustrated with the whole question of whether to carry sunglasses and swapping and changing glasses in everyday life and so wanted to solve this conundrum too.
Hence, I forked out over £300 on some glasses that I can wear 24/7 whether out running, down the pub or at work. They are sports glasses, so they don’t move around when running, but they also look good for everyday wear and have transition lenses, so I look like Roy Orbison when I walk back in the office after lunch!
So what about actual running? Well, having had 4 weeks off running to try and fix the leg/foot issues with little or no success, I had just 5 weeks to build up to the recce, which meant a steep run up with long runs increasing by 5 miles each week and lots of mid-week and weekend runs in the hills around Oldham.
The one issue I did have around this time was that I kept falling over. The first fall was after wearing my new glasses for the first time whilst out running in the hills one Saturday morning in constant rain. Despite also wearing a cap, my glasses were speckled with water and were steaming up. Towards the end of the run, on the last leg home down the canal, I tripped over a rock and went down hard, landing on another rock presumably with my forearm. It hurt a lot and I had to gather myself a bit before starting to walk, then jog, then finally run again. When I got home I realised I had a fairly deep cut and spent the afternoon in casualty getting some butterfly stitches.
I then fell again two weeks later. This time I can’t blame the new glasses. I was running away from a Doberman, which I’m pretty sure was intent on ripping me to shreds. I don’t mind saying I was terrified. I slipped on a rock on a narrow path with a big drop on one side, so it could have been much worse. I scrambled to my feet and carried on running out of pure fear, but once I got far enough away I realised I was quite hurt. Just a knock and scrape, but I was getting a bit bored of hurting myself by now. Little did I know what was to come.
The night before the recce
I arrived in Keswick an hour or two before the talk was due to start in the Parish Hall and checked into the YHA where I would be spending the night.
Being a Parish Hall, I assumed (incorrectly) that it was at the church of the same name, but the local Vicar put me right on that one and so I whizzed across town and found the right place in time. On the way in, I saw a chap who I’d seen leaving the dorm at the YHA as I’d arrived and he recognised me too and shouted over. We introduced ourselves and I was immediately grateful that I had someone to talk to from the get go.
The speaker we should have had couldn’t make it and so we got Marc Laithwaite, the race organiser himself, which I was delighted about. As a regular listener of Talk Ultra on which Marc has a regular slot on ‘Talk Training’, I couldn’t think of a better person to talk to us about LL100 Training Plans. It was good too. A kind of whistle-stop tour of the science of a good season-long training plan in the lead up to one all-important event. My only criticism is that it wasn’t focussed enough on LL100 (more geared towards increasing speed for the LL50 event). It was quite generic I guess, but the science on running efficiency was fascinating and something I’m really going to focus on.
Things finally drew to a close a few hours later at around 9pm and Steven from the YHA and I headed into Keswick town centre for a cone of chips and a couple of pints to round off the evening.
The morning of the recce
Sunday arrived with the promise of clear skies all day and we weren’t disappointed. Of course this meant freezing temperatures; ice covered our car windscreens and the roads were treacherous. So much so that my little car was struggling up Honister Pass from Keswick to Buttermere on the icy road. The route down, which carried spectacular views, was even more frightening and at one point I slid straight off the road.
When we got to Buttermere, where we were meeting the coach to take us back to Coniston for the start, I could see my fellow runners milling about near their parked cars and most were wearing all the running clothes they could including tights, jackets, hats and gloves. I was one of the few with bare legs and I think I got that right. It was a very cold start, but as the sun shone all day temperatures eased.
The coach driver was running around everywhere trying to find grit to put down and did not look happy about the initial descent on setting off, but eventually we made it away from Buttermere and an hour or so later we arrived in Coniston for the start.
Coniston to Seathwaite (7 miles, 2,162ft ascent)
Chatting to my room-mate Steven in the pub the night before, I began to realise he was quite quick. His 10k time suggested he could run a sub-3 marathon, which he was planning to put to the test at the earliest opportunity and so as we set off running together I should have been asking myself if this was wise.
It always takes me a good 4 or 5 miles to warm up and I would usually take these early miles quite steady, but as it was I found myself struggling to keep up with my companion as we headed up out of Coniston, up the first big ascent of the day, up and around ‘The Old Man’.
When it came to the descent, Steven and a couple of other front-runners that we had caught up with on the climb, shot down the mountain like runaway trains!
I think without realising it I probably then tried to push myself to run down faster than I would have had I been running at my own pace. Whether this was my undoing, I guess I’ll never know, but as I eventually caught up with Steven near the bottom of the descent, I went over on my ankle. It was one of those ankle rolls where you go right over so that your ankle bone makes contact with the ground and then the force of your downward movement and gravity pushes all your weight down hard stretching the ligament to the max.
I stopped in my tracks and put my hands on my knees, wincing with pain. At that moment I could feel it swelling up. For a few terrifying moments I considered that all the planning and preparation (and all the travel) that had got me to this point, might be for nothing if I was unable to carry on.
I think under ‘normal’ circumstances, not carrying on would have been the right thing to do. Running with an injury is always likely to exacerbate the problem. But I guess I was treating this as my last important run (if not a race as such) of the year and so quitting was not an option as long as I could physically carry on. What would I have been saving myself for?
So I started to hobble, then broke out into a jog and simply took it slowly for a bit. Steven had waited for me, but we’d already discussed how we wanted to get down the last descent of the day before dark and he had a drive to Rugby at the end of his run and so it wasn’t fair for me to slow him down. I told him to go; to run on ahead without me and not wait. We shook hands and off he went. Top man.
I then felt a bit of relief as I think I was worrying about keeping up. Having sustained an injury I just needed to focus on the here and now, on myself. I needed to take it easy for a bit, get to CP1 at Seathwaite and then take it from there. If there is one thing I’ve learnt running ultra-distances, it’s that you to break it down into bit-size chunks and don’t worry about the whole.
Thankfully from there, the run into Seathwaite was fairly flat and straightforward to navigate and I was starting to relax into my running a bit by the time I got to the unmanned checkpoint at mile 7. I hoped the next 3 legs of this run would be a little less dramatic, but by now I think I was starting to notice a particularly painful blister on my right toe as well!
Seathwaite to Boot (7 miles, 1,263ft ascent)
So I began the second leg with a sore left ankle and a sore right toe! That said, I didn’t feel they were slowing me down and I latched on to a group being led by someone who clearly knew the course. It was a relief not to have to worry about navigation for a while so I kept the pace – hang on, didn’t trying to keep up with others get me in trouble once already?!
As such, I eased off a bit. The group started to get strung out as this leg of the run unfolded, especially on the climb, and by the time I got to the forestry plantation I’d lost sight of those in front and couldn’t see anyone behind. I’d heard that this was a tricky bit too with the path being difficult to follow now that a lot of the trees had been cleared, but I did OK with the help of the trusty Road Book.
Now, I’m used to running in boggy terrain with all the peat bogs I traverse on the moors near where I live, but this was fairly extreme bog! I could really feel my ankle and toe on this section as I leaped around trying to land on safe ground.
I was eventually caught by a fellow runner and at one point he was in front of me, we were chatting away, and he suddenly lost almost his whole leg into the mud, right up to the middle of his thigh! I have to say that whilst I was in some pain and starting to think a lot about how hard this was going to be when it comes to running the whole course, I was really starting to enjoy myself on this section. Mud, glorious mud!
I eventually made it to CP2 at Boot. A makeshift checkpoint had been arranged by one of the volunteers, Terry. He’d parked his minibus by the side of the lane and had cake, flapjack, water and cola all lined up on a wall and camping table. It reminded me of how Johnny and Rowena had supported our run around The Oldham Way in Johnny’s Ultra-van!
Boot to Wasdale Head (5.4 miles, 974ft ascent)
The easiest section of the day. The climb up from Boot was fairly gentle and the view coming down to Burnmoor Tarn was superb. Looking down on it with the sun behind me, the water was a brilliant blue. Then having ran around the edge of the tarn to the other side, I stopped and looked back at the sun bouncing of the water – beautiful.
Wasdale Head to Buttermere (6.9 miles, 2,336ft ascent)
The climb from Wasdale Head to Black Sail was long and hard. It was getting late in the afternoon and much of this early part of the final leg of the run was moving up through the valley and with no sun you could feel that the temperature was dropping.
The climb got steeper and steeper as the path turned from loose rocks eventually to stone steps in the rock. I could see others up ahead, much higher than me, but I tried not to think about how much fast hiking I would need to do to get to where they were. It was now a case of head down, breathing hard, getting into a rhythm, and trying not to think about how much my quads were screaming at me! False summit after false summit, it kept going up until finally arriving at the top of Black Sail Pass.
It was cold up at the top and the light was starting to fail a bit now. There was snow on the ground around me and I decided it was time to add a third layer – my jacket – and some gloves. I then started my descent and for the first time all day I went a bit wrong. It was difficult to see where the path was and I suddenly found myself trying to make my way down on a rough grassy, rocky hillside with no clear path and the gradient getting steeper and steeper. My ankle was really hurting now and I started to go over on it again and again. I was cursing a bit, but refused to panic. I didn’t want to stop enjoying this, so I stopped and thought about how I was going to do it.
I spotted the runners ahead of me eventually on the valley floor like ants moving from right to left and could see the path they had taken, which I then traced back. I could also see The Black Sail YHA in the distance, where they were headed. I worked out the direction I needed to go in order to re-join the path and follow them. On doing so, I looked back across the hill I’d just circumnavigated and saw Adrian, a chap I’d met earlier, doing the same thing I’d done. We eventually met up further down and ran together for the rest of the run.
Adrian was good company as we came down past Black Sail YHA (bringing back memories of my Ennerdale 50k race last year) and Adrian spotted where we needed to peel off and head up to the summit of Scarth Gap; the last climb of the day. Adrian was in great spirits as we chatted about football and our respective running histories and injuries and the like, and he kept me in a strong frame of mind too.
As we dropped down to the lake, day was becoming night and we stopped in the forest by the lake to put our head-torches on before tackling the undulating lakeside run into Buttermere.
As we approached the village, Adrian noticed that our time for the run was 6 hours and 55 mins, so we put our combined foot down and finished strong in under 7 hours.
Blimey, what a run! Tough. Tough. Tough. But a fantastic experience. I loved the whole trip, made some good friends and yes I am now terrified at the thought of doing that + another 79 miles on top of it next July. But at the same time I’m more motivated than ever and can’t wait for the next recce in January, which we’ll be doing in the dark!
The week that followed
I naively thought that a few days rest and I’ll be running again. By Tuesday I couldn’t see my ankle. I no longer had an ankle and a calf, I had a cankle!
I took myself off to A&E on Wednesday night and after a 2 hour wait, the doctor had a look at me. I told the doctor what had happened and she was, well let’s say a little surprised that I had ran for over 6 hours and around 22 miles of a 26 mile run with a sprained ankle. The diagnosis is ligament damage, most likely caused not be the ankle roll itself, but by then running on it for as long as I did – oops.
No regrets. I would be much more unhappy sitting here now having not finished the run given everything I put into it. It might take up to 6 weeks until I can run again, which is Xmas, but hopefully not. I’m going to work hard to get the swelling down and really look after myself; resting as much as possible. I’m also going to use this time constructively in terms of planning, then in a week or two, really get into the strength and conditioning work in the gym and back to Pilates.
When I am ready to run again, I’m going to start with short distances and focus on form and running efficiency, and maybe even some speed work before then starting to build up to the long run miles next year and gradually back to marathon distance by mid-Feb when I’ll be doing the Osmotherly Marathon in North Yorkshire for my 40th birthday! :-)