Thursday, 29 July 2021

Lakeland 50: Part 3 - Things That Didn't Go To Plan


In Part 2 I listed the things that did go to plan in our race. Unfortunately, the list of things that didn’t go to plan is rather longer and is set out below. Mick has commented in proof-reading this post that it comes over as entirely negative and like I had a miserable time. Well, it is entirely negative (see Parts 2 and 4 for the positives!) and I did have a miserable time … whilst at the same time having a reasonable degree of fun (yes, that is possible). If Mick was to write a similar set of posts then there would be much more positivity, because many of the issues that affected me didn’t affect him. Anyhoo, here you go with… 

Things that didn’t go to plan:

  • Starting in a rested state. In a completely irrational attack of anxiety (really, I had a lot of hours to think through all aspects of what could be worrying me and the only thing that had any rational basis was the Covid risk of the bus ride to the start, but I’d worked through all the stats on that earlier in the week and resigned myself to it) I managed just 3.5 hours of broken sleep on Friday night.
  • Pre-Event Eating. Associated with the anxiety referred to above, I awoke feeling like I would never want to eat again. It took me an hour and a half to force my usual bowl of porridge down. It took me an hour to eat the single wrap I’d made myself for lunch. What a fine start: a lack of sleep and food. At least I was going in well hydrated, wasn’t I…
  • Pre-Event Hydration.  I’d taken electrolyte tablets the night before to give my body the best chance of hanging onto as much fluid as possible, yet I still had to get up for about 87 wees overnight (an outrageous exaggeration, but it is what it felt like each time I crept out of bed trying not to disturb Mick). Then there was the bus ride, which meant that I didn’t dare drink too much until we got to the start at Dalemain, but at least we would be there an hour before the start, giving me plenty of time to neck a decent amount of water…
  • The Bus journey. A whole fleet of coaches take competitors from Coniston to Dalemain. 1134 people started the 50-mile race this year, some of whom had lifts from family and friends. The rest went by coach and clearly that requires a lot of coaches. Only one of those broke down en-route and that was the one we were on. A hose ruptured on the way up Dunmail Raise and by the time the driver found somewhere safe to pull over alongside Thirlmere the engine had dumped its water over the road. The driver happened to be one of the bus company’s mechanics, which would have been handy if he’d had any tools available to him. In the absence of tools, it would have been handy if we hadn’t been in a mobile phone blackspot, but as it was a busload of competitors was stuck in a layby with no immediate way to let the organisers know. Fortunately, there were at least 5 more coaches of the fleet behind us and each of them was flagged down and any spare seats filled. I suspect that the one Mick and I got on was bringing up the rear, given how many empty seats it had. We then hit traffic just before Dalemain and finally made it into the car park to disembark with 2 minutes to spare before the race was due to start (not that I had any intention of starting until I’d visited the Portaloos and drunk some water). We eventually crossed the start line at 1150, only twenty minutes late. Starting late was of no great importance, as official timings were based on individual trackers rather than the clock (although had we started in the 16-18 hour position in the start pen, would we have been held up so much later? We’ll never know).
Loitering in a layby with a broken bus
  • The First Check Point. We were focused on not getting sucked into a vortex at Check Points and our objective for CP1 was 4 minutes. We would enter with water bottles in hand, get them filled, grab some food off the table and leave. What a blow then to find ourselves in a 300m queue just to reach the check point. It took us 28 minutes to get to the front of that queue. 28 minutes of standing in the heat of the day, whilst likely everybody we’d passed as we ran the previous kilometres caught us back up. I was completely demoralised. To add insult to injury, the queue transpired to just be for water; if we’d known* we would have carried our water filters and used streams. (*We couldn’t have known; apparently there’s not been a queue there in previous years)
    Many thanks go to friend Vic for grabbing this screenshot from the live feed of CP1. I think it conveys nicely our contemporaneous feelings about the queue. 
  • Fusedale. A significant difference between our recces and the event (other than the number of people around!) was that in the intervening period the whole landscape had been changed by the growth of bracken. Paths that had seemed reasonably wide were now hemmed in. The impact on Fusedale was that, in a location where I knew we could make reasonably good time, overtaking proved difficult, giving us great stretches where we were limited to the speed of the slowest person in front of us. On the one hand it made the going really easy, but on the other hand I hadn’t spent 5 months training hard to go up here at a slow walk.
  • Haweswater. I already knew that there were limited opportunities to overtake along Haweswater and that was made worse by the bracken. The only people we overtook along this section were those who stood aside for us. The impact of the delay at CP1 and the ‘speed of the slowest person in front’ in Fusedale and Haweswater was that, even taking into account the Dalemain Loop at the start (which I’d not been able to recce), we arrived at Mardale Head over 2 hours slower than the times I’d done in training. Had there been any easy way of getting back to Coniston from Mardale Head, I would have taken it, having decided I’d much rather cover the distance on a different day by myself rather than in a ‘follow the leader’ fashion. I suppose I should count my blessings that getting back to Coniston from there would have taken 8 hours*, as the congestion/narrow path issues ceased to exist from that point on. Theoretically things should have got better from there…
Not my photo, and thanks go to whoever took it. It's Mardale Head CP before it was beseiged by competitors. Look how low the water in Haweswater is!

(*We arrived at Mardale Head at 6pm. The next bus was scheduled to leave at 11pm and it’s advertised as a 3-hour journey back to Coniston.)

  • Indigestion agogo. I had a nice time up Gatescarth Pass, walking a good distance of the way with someone we know, before putting a spurt on to catch Mick who by now was on the other side of the pass (I caught him 30 seconds after he’d sat down to wait for me; he was most miffed!). Alas, coming down the other side I started getting indigestion (on reflection: I knew I was dehydrated at Mardale Head, yet didn’t drink any extra water there. I then ate a packet of crisps (the tastiest and best crisps I’ve ever had in my life!) whilst walking. Dehydration + movement + fatty snack = recipe for indigestion). For the next 10 hours I variously felt pretty rough, absolutely awful, and ‘is this actually a heart attack?’. Ridiculously, on the way to Kentmere I spent a couple of miles contemplating that I might feel better if I consumed some antacids, before I paused for the ten seconds required to get them out and eat them. Over the course of this event, I reckon I consumed more Rennies than I have in total over the last 30 years.
  • The running bits. Theoretically from the top of Gatescarth Pass we could finally do the running we had trained so hard for, but that plan was scuppered by the indigestion. There was a direct relationship between speed of movement, how much pain I was in and how poorly I felt, so I resigned myself to walking until the indigestion resolved itself. Even with my antacid consumption, that didn’t happen until after the finish.

 One of a series of motivational signs on the way into Kentmere.
  • Keeping on top of food and water. We’d also trained hard to make sure we could eat whilst running and run immediately after a meal, but that was of no use when I lost the ability to eat. Once the indigestion hit, I could only manage the tiniest bites of food without making myself feel worse and I could only manage little sips of water too (although I sipped so regularly that I felt like I was well hydrated for the whole second half of the course). I’m pretty sure the root of the problem was drinking too little before the start and in the early stages, in the hottest part of a hot day, so I only have myself to blame.
  • Surveying the food table at the final Check Point at quarter past four in the morning. I was sure I wanted something to eat, but I had no idea what, beyond the fact that whatever it was, it wasn't on that table (which is no bad reflection on the CP - they had lots on offer)

Oh dear. What a tale of woe! I'll be back in Part 4 with some more positivity.


  1. I sympathise with your coach story having had an unbelievable epic journey to get to the start pf the GR10, Missing the coach from Lancaster to Stanstead at 3:00 am however was only a small part pf the story. Your capacity for analysis is impressive.

    1. I blame Mick for the bus debacle. It seems to me that more often than not, when he's with me for a bus journey, the bus with either breakdown or not arrive. Out of loyalty to him, I didn't point our his culpability to any of the other competitors stranded in a lay-by!