Tracey, a supermotivated running friend of mine sent me a Facebook link to the Lakeland 100. It is a 105 mile round of the Lake District, with just short of 21000ft of climbing. (There’s also a 50 mile race, which starts at the half-way point).
I thought “Why not!” So I entered on the spot.
Then… During the big freeze of last winter, where the mountainous streets of Morley were encased in ice for weeks on end (the steps down to the railway station must have easily been Scottish grade VIII) and when the temperature hovered well below freezing for months, I felt quite smug about the strap-on running spikes that I’d bought in a summer sale. Running was a breeze, even on the hardest of sheet ice.
Until, one day, when I glanced out into a murky grey dawn and saw that all the snow had gone. I’d just bought a new ice axe, (the purchase of any winter gear usually starts an instant thaw in my case), it looked like the warmer weather had arrived. So off I went, into the darkness, with my trusty Gamma headtorch, but no spikes.
It didn’t last long. There had been a thaw, but it had been short-lived and had left behind some rather nasty black ice, which I discovered on the first bit of technical downhill. A short ridge, with steep drops on either side; trees on one side, a pit full of house bricks and builder’s waste on the other. I lost my footing. Somehow I regained control, then lost it, then lost it again, then found myself at the foot of the slope, on two feet, but with a sharp pain in my lower back.
Amazed to still be in one piece, I jogged on home and had a cuppa. During the day, my back gradually and dramatically felt worse and worse. After 2 days, the pain was unbearable. I’ve broken my ankle, collarbone, snapped tendons and dislocated my shoulder (although not all at the same time). This was 100 times worse!
Like all runners, I wanted a quick (ie. instant) solution. My GP prescribed me a cocktail of pills that would have made Sean Ryder blush. I had torn my Erector Spinae muscle, which was pressing on a nerve, hence the excruciating spasms. A bag of frozen peas became my best buddy, the relief was fantastic.
Then, after a very blurry week, rather than spending my hard-earned on some new trainers, I splashed out on some professional help. It was worth every penny! A fantastic chiropractor got me walking again and after a month I was even able to go swimming! Two months later, I started running again.
I was always going to be tapped for time, so rather than deciding on a definite “yay” or “nay” for the big race, I set myself some targets. 2hr run, 3hr run, 4hr+ run, Ennerdale Horseshoe, big days out in the Lakes, double Three Peaks. Until I could run up to about 10hrs without too much trouble. Sussing out which food/drink works on-the-hoof is mega-important on longer stuff. Past experience told me to include some savoury stuff (and not to OD on flapjack!).
Running used to be such a simple game. Look at early photos of legends such as Joss Naylor and Billy Bland; they were wearing the kind of gear that I used to wear for PE at school! No Gore-Tex cag, no high-wicking compression garments with silver thread to prevent odours, nor the latest in supersticky low-profile fell shoes. The legend Bob Graham (on the very first Bob Graham Round) wore a pair of plimsolls and a pyjama top (with a pocket for boiled eggs!) George Brass crossed the finish line of the 1962 Vaux Lakeland Mountain Trial wearing just one shoe (plus he was the only finisher!).
Nowadays, gear & sports nutrition is big business. Off-road running has experienced a boom & events are becoming more and more popular. (At the time of press, there were 240 entries for the 100 miler & 423 opting for the 50 miler).
So, with just over one week left to go, I am easing off the training. There is little that one can do in the final week before an event, to improve one’s chances, except resting and eating (the easy part!).
Will I get round? Will the infamous Lakeland weather be kind to us all? How many runners will get to the start line? (How many runners will get to the finish line?) How many will succumb to blisters/chafing/stomach problems/navigational diversion???
I’ll tell you after the weekend!