I’ll start at the end with this one too….

‘OK Wayne’ said Andy Mouncey
I think I just nodded
‘Just restoring the equilibrium’?
I think I just nodded
‘Do you need anything? Tea, Chips?’
I think I nearly vomited (again)
‘Tea would be great mate thanks’ I said
‘Great, you just lie back and rest’ he said
I closed my eyes and lay back on the floor in the Stickle Barn Inn, contemplating what lay ahead. It was 3am, and we’d been on the move for around 21 hours. The end of the Ultimate Trails 100k was so close now, but we were moving so slowly, I knew it would be between four and six hours before we finished the final section between us and Brockhole where the finish was. Added to this, was the state of Liz’s feet, which was causing her to cry with pain. I looked up and she was trying to wrap some tape round them to hold compeed in place to give her a bit of cushioning. Added to that, was the fact that I had been retching consistently since the top of Stake Pass. Oh, and I could apparently no longer walk forward in a straight line. Which was a novelty I could well do without.
I looked up at Liz who was eating a chip butty. She asked if I was ok. I shook my head. We’d already discussed pulling out, and I was done. This was very different from the Lakeland 50 though. I felt that I’d put in a shedload of effort, and was just exhausted by it all, as well as the issue about being unable to walk forward.
We got a lift back to Brockhole from one of the marshalls, which was a nightmare. He seemed determined to crash, or make us barf in the car. We got out in the car park, and the few chips I had eaten, along with two cups of tea, made their way out of my stomach in a lovely spray. Then we went and found our tent….
Back to the start, and this event couldn’t have been more different to the Lakeland 50 for many, many reasons. I felt really comfortable on the start line in comparison, and the atmosphere for me felt less competitive (not that I ever compete against anyone other than myself!). It’s hard to remember all of the details of the 21 hours, but there’s a few real highlights for me, of one of the most incredible days I’ve spent on the fells with my mates (with one noticeable absentee – Chadders hadn’t made it to the start line following the Ring of Fire withdrawal)
We had a great time moving out of Brockhole, in the darkness, and up the fells on to the path that leads down into Troutbeck. It was starting to get light, and it was already looking like it was to be a truly stunning day. I was taking a few pictures of the views as we went, and was chatting to a few of the other competitors as we went along – the likelihood was that we would be seeing each other regularly throughout the day anyway. Going over Garburn pass, one of my neighbours Richard was on the top in his Mountain Rescue capacity, and his wife Zoe was there taking pictures of us all as we passed. The sun had just risen and was warming our faces as we descended into the Kentmere valley and Checkpoint 1 at Kentmere Institute. I took a picture of the cursed phone box outside the Institute, and shouted that I wouldn’t be need it today. There was a bit of a group of around 10 of us moving along together including Andy, Glyn, Liz, Ruxers and Sue at this stage, as well as some others we’d acquired. Andy was on his usual form, and we were introducing the ladies to some of our usual banter, most of which is unrepeatable. We carried on up the valley towards Nan Beild pass, with regular breaks, mostly because, as Sue said ‘ we couldn’t laugh, breathe, and walk uphill at the same time’. This section between Kentmere and Mardale Head still feels like the most enjoyable part of the day for me, and the Lake District was truly on display for us. We got to the top of Nan Beild Pass, said cheers to the marshall on top, and started the descent to Mardale Head. On the way down, we passed a runner who’d had a bit of a fall, every single person who passed asked if they were ok, despite the two walkers stood with him. I think this is one of the things that really stands out for me in ultra distance races, if you’re in the crap, you’ll have no shortage of assistance if you want it.
We made it down to Mardale Head, and then it got a bit boring for a while in my view. I always find it hard going down alongside Haweswater, and today was a bit of an exception. It was quite different running the ‘wrong’ way down, in comparison to the Lakeland 50 route that we were all so used to. The banter was still continuing, and Andy was ‘chatting up’ Liz in an attempt to encourage me to murder him and throw his body in the lake. We got to the end of the lake, and a pretty horrific road section into Bampton commenced, which was incredibly tough on legs and feet. We got into the Bampton checkpoint, where there were bacon butty’s (the very last of them!), porridge, and noodles. Coming out of Bampton and more road was starting to wear on the nerves, then we made it off-road onto Askam Fell and a bit of happiness re-appeared in the world! It’s a really good section there to Howtown and feels mostly downhill, so the banter continued. I had a pork pie, and it really got the engine turning, so I flew into the next Checkpoint and all was feeling good in the world.
We had a bit of scoff at Howtown, and carried on. The next checkpoint was at Patterdale and we would already be at the halfway point. We were making good time, well within the cut-off points, and we were looking good to make it to Dunmail before the cut-off which meant we would have to wait for a guide to take us over the tops to Watendlath. All was going peachy. We started moving up the road, following the flags that marked the route. Then more road, and more road, and it was looking like road all the way up towards Boredale Hause. This was turning a bit grim, and wasn’t much of a trail race. I was with Liz, Andy and Glyn now, and I was struggling to keep up for some reason. It was similar to the feeling I’d had at the Lakeland 50 and I couldn’t get it. I was eating plenty so that couldn’t be it. I was chugging loads of liquid in the checkpoints and drinking regularly in between too. I think that, on reflection, I could only put it down to carb/sugar hangover, but more on this later on.
I carried on slogging away keeping up with the others who seemed more than happy with the pace that we were setting, and I thought I’d get through this bad patch at some point. Then I looked up and saw the climb up to Boredale Hause for the first time and my heart sank. That was the last time I looked up until we reached the top! One foot in front of the other and slog it out. The sun was shining right into our faces now, and it was quite a hot day, but nothing in comparison to the Lakeland50 earlier in the year. I got to the top, and started descending to Patterdale along with Liz, Ruxers and Sue. I felt pretty good going down, if a bit sluggish still, and it felt really good when we got to the playing fields at Patterdale to see Andy’s partner Sarah, along with her mum and dad, and the legendary hound that is Dibble (or fat head as I affectionately call him).
We got into the tent which was the checkpoint, and grabbed our ‘drop bags’ which had turned out to be plastic bags. Fresh socks, compeed, bit of lubrication on my undercarriage, and I was ready to feed and water. We needed to get out quickly to make it to Dunmail Raise before 6:30pm or we’d have to wait half an hour for a guided run to the next checkpoint. None of us were keen on a half hour wait so we got a wriggle on. Out of the checkpoint and feeling good, but I struggled to run at all, then I started slowing again, and slowly fell off the back of my friends. Increasingly I was getting negative about missing the cut-off, and wasn’t bothered about my pace. I moved with Glyn for a while, then we got to a steeper section and he took off so I was on my own for a while until I noticed Andy waiting for me. He helped me keep moving through this bad stage and we got to the top of Grizedale Hause. I got a bit of nagging off Liz, Glyn and Andy, who persuaded me to have a shotblok to buck me up. It had the desired effect and we moved off down towards Dunmail Raise. Checking my watch constantly, I realised that we could still make it before 6:30pm if we got a wriggle on. I was keen to set the pace, even if it was just a fast walk, so we moved on down the rocky path.
As we came down the path, we could see the A591 that ran down to Grasmere ahead of us. I was fully expecting the checkpoint to be in the field right at the bottom of the path but it wasn’t there. We trotted a bit along the trail, and still couldn’t see it. I realised that it must be down in the wooded area between us and the road/Thirlmere and my heart sank a bit. I thought it was another mile, and we were running out of time. Nothing to do but carry on plodding. As we got through a gate and into the woods, we met Geoff coming up the track, who was one of the marshalls, and the guide that would take us on if we missed the cut-off. He indicated that it wasn’t far, and we soon saw the tent that marked the checkpoint. No time to wait as we were inside the cutoff by minutes, so we grabbed crisps and handfuls of jelly babies before moving off quickly across the road and alongside Thirlmere.
The next section is a bit weird. We relaxed a bit as we’d hit the cutoff, and would easily make the next one at Watendlath, despite the climb that was ahead of us over Watendlath Fell. You go through some pretty varied terrain on this section – very steep rocky climbs up bridleway, then on wide forest trails, then you emerge from woods and it’s bog and moor. We got on to the tops and two marshalls pointed the way to follow the flags and fluorescent markers, advising that itwas ‘pretty wet’ ahead. No kidding. It was rank. It was starting to get dark, and it was a stunning evening with the moon coming up. We got our head torches out eventually. I lost count of the number of times that Liz fell over, and she got a good soaking as the ground was very wet. I think all of us put our foot down a rabbit hole, or into a ditch or another hole at some point, and it was quite frustrating all round. I think that this is where Liz really started to have issues with her feet as it was soaking underfoot for a long while. It seemed to take quite a while until we were descending and saw the lights of the National Trust building at Watendlath where the next checkpoint was. Disappointly the checkpoint had run out of milk so we couldn’t have a decent brew. It was getting cold now too, so after a short refuel, we went back into the darkness
I’m not sure exactly what time it was when we left Watendlath, but it was pitch black. And things generally get a bit weird in the night on ultras anyway (see any of our other posts, but particularly my MdS experience!). We were chatting away still, but a bit subdued now I think, and it was around 14 kilometres to the next checkpoint at Stickle Barn Tavern in Langdale, with a chunk of climb up Stake Pass in between. Liz and I were walking together, and before long we realised that Glyn and Andy had disappeared and we couldn’t see any other headtorches anywhere. We thought at this stage that they’d taken a wrong turn and gone through a gate we’d passed some time before. With no way of knowing where they could be, we decided to carry on and hope that they found the track. It felt like a very long way in the darkness, and I thought that it was a shame we couldn’t take advantage of the stunning scenery around Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite. There’s an incentive to move a bit faster next time!
We had a few issues getting mislaid at the bottom of Stake Pass, partly due to confusion and partly due to lack of glow sticks to guide the way fully but we eventually got there. I was surprised again at how easy it was to get up Stake Pass on the whole, as it’s just a serious of zig-zags which help cut out a lot of steep climb. We got to the top and saw the two marshalls tucked up cosy in sleeping bags. I think it was about now that I barfed for the first time. And retched a bit. Then barfed again. And this was to carry on all the way down the Pass into Langdale. Liz was really starting to have problems with her feet, a mixture of the earlier bog and wet, compounded by some rocky trails from Watendlath. We set off down the track at the bottom of the pass, after saying hi to the marshall stood there. Liz was increasingly yelping with pain in her feet and eventually had a cry. She seemed determined to take it out on the Herdwick sheep that were lying in the path, and managed to pole a few of them, much to both of their surprise. Things were a little trippy now, with big rocks, and sheep merging into one. With glow sticks and sheep eyes becoming the same. I was staggering off diagonally to the left every time I tried to walk forwards now, and it was tough going to keep shuffling back to the right of the track and try all over again. I was still throwing up, and it was becoming increasingly tiresome. I’d had the same trouble in the first year of the Lakeland 50 after a bad reaction to ibuprofen on an empty stomach so it wasn’t new, but it’s still not pleasant!
The final couple of kilometres to me were a killer. There were a few unexpected climbs which were draining, and then we were behind the next checkpoint. We’d already agreed to pull out, but then I thought it would be a shame after coming so far, so thought we should wait and see. As we walked into the bright lights of the Tavern, it was all a bit of a shock. Then I saw a couple of friendly faces in Andy Mouncey, and our neighbour Richard were there and it felt safe again.
I’m not sure what happened to make me want to pull out at this point, but it still doesn’t feel like the wrong decision. After the event, people have said that the distance turned out to be around 112k rather than 100k, so we had a fair way to go still after Stickle Barn. Depending on who we listen to, we made it to either 56 or 59 miles, of what should have been 62 or thereabouts. This is the furthest I have ever been in one event, so I can’t be too unhappy. Both Liz and I have discussed our ‘DNF’ a number of times and both feel comfortable with our decision to withdraw, and I definitely have no regrets about it being the right thing to do.
As we came into Stickle Barn, Richard told us that Glyn and Andy had already been in, and had waited a while for us to arrive but had started getting cold so had moved on. They eventually finished the event early on the Sunday morning, and we were awake back at Brockhole when they arrived.
I mentioned earlier that I think I suffered a bit from carb/sugar hangovers. It was only well after the event that I recognised we have been training heavily which a mixture of peperami and pork pies, but on the event i barely touched them. The only time I had a pork pie, was coming into Howtown and it had (on reflection) an incredible effect on me. I do wonder whether this can explain my slowing down, and an inability to keep up with everyone. It’ll be one to watch out for in the upcoming training for the Spine Challenger!